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Maybe nobody really knew Adrian Peterson would be on target to rush for 2,000 yards so soon after a devastating injury. But everyone knew that the talent and his ability were there. Before he got hurt he was the best running back in the league.
And maybe nobody expected Peyton Manning to return from a serious neck injury and play like the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Then again, that’s exactly what he was before he got hurt.
So yes, in some ways, those were unexpected – but not totally out of nowhere. To find those—the truly unexpected, shocking, surprising, or out-of-nowhere performances of the 2012 season—you have to look a little deeper.
Here are five players who no one was expecting to be major stars prior to the season. Yet with just two weekends to go before the playoffs, they have most definitely arrived.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson – There was no one anywhere who imagined Wilson to have the kind of breakout season he had, mostly because few imagined him as the Seahawks’ starting quarterback. They had bought Matt Flynn in free agency and it was all but certain that he would get the job.
Then Flynn hurt his elbow, Wilson won the job and the Seahawks became one of the biggest team surprises in the league, sitting at 9-5, in control of a wild-card spot, and nipping at the San Francisco 49ers’ heels. Wilson, meanwhile, has been a model of efficiency, completing 62.9 percent of his passes for a pedestrian 2,697 yards so far.
Less pedestrian are his 21 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions – an impressive ratio for a rookie who was never supposed to start.
Green Bay WR Randall Cobb – Everybody knew that Cobb had speed and breakaway ability, but on a team with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, he figured to be a nice fourth option in the passing game – maybe even fifth behind tight end Jermichael Finley.
Instead, thanks to an opportunity presented to him due to injuries by everyone ahead of him on the depth chart, Cobb was able to show he’s a true No. 1 receiver and not just a kick returner with offensive potential. His breakout season has included 77 catches, 892 yards and seven touchdowns so far. The Packers wouldn’t have expected much more from any of the other receivers had they been able to play in Cobb’s place.
Washington RB Alfred Morris – Two things were working against Morris when his rookie season began: The fact that he was buried on the depth chart, and Mike Shanahan’s penchant for playing musical running backs. But Shanahan saw something in Morris early in training camp and never looked back.
The result was the best season for a Redskins rookie running back ever. With two games still to go he’s at 1,322, nine touchdowns and a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. He’s as big of a reason as the more heralded Robert Griffin III for why the Redskins have revived their season and are sitting in first place in the NFC East. And some opponents believe he’s the bigger weapon in the Washington offense.
San Francisco LB Aldon Smith – Houston DE J.J. Watt got a ton of preseason publicity and a lot of early season hype after he recorded 9 ½ sacks in his first six games. Meanwhile, even though Smith was coming off a 14-sack season, he didn’t get nearly as much publicity – in part because with Patrick Willis on the 49ers, Smith wasn’t even considered the best linebacker on his own team.
That proved to be shortsighted because, after a slow start in which he had 4 ½ sacks in the first six games, he’s sitting at 19 ½ with two games to go – tied with Watt in their pursuit of Michael Strahan’s NFL record. Granted he’s been helped by one 5 ½ sack game against the Bears on Nov. 19, but he’s been a consistently disruptive force and has had 4 ½ sacks in the four games since that explosion against the Bears.
Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin – Maybe this should’ve been expected for a first-round pick, but he was no certainty to take the reins from LeGarrette Blount when he was drafted. But he did and has been a steady workhorse ever since. His coming out party, of course, was his 251-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders that had fantasy football owners howling.
And while they haven’t all been like that, he does have four 100-yard games and 1,250 yards for a young and struggling team.
—By RALPH VACCHIANO
With nearly one-third of the NFL coaching jobs expected to be vacant by year’s end — including sweet gigs like the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints, as well as the revolving doors of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars — silly season is officially upon us.
As always, the normal retread head coaches and rising star coordinators will be rumored for nearly every job opening. But so will a slew of big-name, high-dollar college football coaches. And with the recent success of the San Francisco 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh (formerly of Stanford), Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll (USC), Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Greg Schiano (Rutgers) and New York Giants’ two-time Super Bowl champ Tom Coughlin (Boston College), the stigma of hiring coaches from the college ranks has faded away.
Here’s a look at the top 10 college football coaches for NFL jobs, along with their pro resume, upside and downside, potential coaching style at the next level, and their odds of eventually ending up on an NFL sideline.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Notable NFL experience:
Head Coach, Miami Dolphins (2005-06; 15–17 record)
Def. Coordinator, Cleveland Browns (1991-94; under Bill Belichick)
Pros: Proven winner with NFL experience. Had a 9–7 record with the Dolphins in 2005 — with Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels as his starting quarterbacks.
Cons: The Nick-tator walks on water in Tuscaloosa, where he has a statue just like Bear Bryant and is playing for his third national title in four years. Why would Saban leave?
Imagine: Bill Belichick excessive expectations with Jeff Fisher reasonable results.
Odds: 2-to-1 — It may not be this year, but Saban will return to the NFL one day; he’s too good to coach anywhere other than the big leagues.
2. Chip Kelly, Oregon
No NFL experience
Pros: Fearless, innovative offensive mind. Kelly’s influence is already being felt at the NFL level, with the Patriots’ implementing some of his fast-paced philosophies.
Cons: Not only does Kelly lack any NFL experience, he only has four seasons of head coaching experience on any level under his belt, having gone 45–7 at Oregon.
Imagine: Mike Martz mad scientist with Mike Shanahan mentality.
Odds: EVEN — As soon as the Fiesta Bowl is over, Kelly will fly the Ducks’ coop faster than his hurry-up offense can snap the ball.
3. Les Miles, LSU
Notable NFL experience:
TE Coach, Dallas Cowboys (1998-2000; under Chan Gailey)
Pros: Bold personality who takes charge and manages egos well. Miles has a persona that precedes him and could conceivably command respect in an NFL locker room.
Cons: The perception that LSU does more with Les is based on a history of odd behavior and poor clock management. Miles is a wild card with boom or bust potential.
Imagine: Barry Switzer swagger with Rex Ryan press conference quotes.
Odds: 10-to-1 — One day Jerry Jones will hand the Mad Hatter a white cap with the Cowboys’ blue star on it and Miles will accept the offer.
4. Jim Mora, UCLA
Notable NFL experience:
Head Coach, Seattle Seahawks (2009; 5–11 record)
Head Coach, Atlanta Falcons (2004-06; 26–22 record, 1–1 playoffs)
Def. Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers (1999-2003; under Steve Mariucci)
Son of Jim E. Mora, retired NFL head coach
Pros: High energy, likable personality with NFL pedigree. Mora has a division crown and NFC title game appearance from his days with Michael Vick in Atlanta.
Cons: Mora’s NFL win total went down in each of his four seasons, from 11 to eight to seven to five. He was replaced by two college coaches, Bobby Petrino and Pete Carroll.
Imagine: Jim E. Mora “playoffs?!” offspring with Dick Vermeil enthusiasm.
Odds: 3-to-1 — When the NFL calls, Mora will answer; if he has a few more seasons like this one at UCLA, the phone might ring again.
5. Lane Kiffin, USC
Notable NFL experience:
Head Coach, Oakland Raiders (2007-08; 5–15 record)
Son of Monte Kiffin, retired NFL def. coordinator
Pros: Wunderkind whose experience is remarkable for his age. Kiffin has already coached in the NFL, the SEC and at USC. Lane Kiffin is great at getting hired.
Cons: As impressive as his resume building may be, Kiffin has yet to establish himself as a good coach. This season’s fall from preseason No. 1 to unranked was embarrassing.
Imagine: Josh McDaniels entitlement without Bill Belichick’s blessing.
Odds: 15-to-1 — The youngest coach in NFL history (31 years, 8 months upon hiring) may be gun shy after being burned by Al Davis.
6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Notable NFL experience:
OL Coach, Baltimore Ravens (1996-98; under Ted Marchibroda)
OL Coach, Cleveland Browns (1993-95; under Bill Belichick)
Pros: Belichick disciple who looks the part and can talk the talk. Ferentz has NFL experience and a history of producing quality O-linemen and D-linemen at Iowa.
Cons: The game seems to have passed by Ferentz, at least on an elite level. Ten years ago he was winning conference titles and would have been an exciting hire. Not anymore.
Imagine: Marty Schottenheimer calm under pressure with Chan Gailey intensity.
Odds: 20-to-1 — Overpaid to underachieve for the Hawkeyes, Ferentz has turned down too many chances to change his mind now.
7. David Shaw, Stanford
Notable NFL experience:
QB/WR Coach, Baltimore Ravens (2002-05; under Brian Billick)
QB Coach, Oakland Raiders (2001; under Jon Gruden)
Son of Willie Shaw, retired NFL def. coordinator
Pros: Rising star whose ascension through the ranks has yet to slow down. Shaw is an intelligent grinder who played for both Bill Walsh and Dennis Green at Stanford.
Cons: Much of Shaw’s success has been credited to Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck. He is still in the infant stages of running his own program as a head coach.
Imagine: Jim Harbaugh formula with Jason Garrett sideline demeanor.
Odds: 5-to-1 — Young enough to stay at Stanford for a decade and still make the jump, Shaw should coach on Sundays if he’s not a Cardinal lifer.
8. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Notable NFL experience:
QB Coach, Oakland Raiders (2004; under Norv Turner)
Pros: Go-getter with tremendous upside. Sarkisian was on the NFL radar even before becoming a college head coach.
Cons: For all his potential, Sark has yet to show he’s anything special — posting a mediocre 26–24 record in four years at UW.
Imagine: Sean Payton confidence with Joe Vitt winning percentage.
Odds: 25-to-1 — It’s too early to call for Sark, who got a taste of the NFL coaching life but didn’t stick around for more than a cup of coffee.
9. Will Muschamp, Florida
Notable NFL experience:
Def. Coordinator, Miami Dolphins (2005; under Nick Saban)
Pros: Fiery personality with respected defensive mind. Muschamp’s Dolphins defense ranked No. 15 overall and allowed 19.8 points per game in 2005.
Cons: Muschamp is a loose cannon who may not have the temperament for big time college football, let alone the pressure cooker of the NFL.
Imagine: Jack Del Rio-level strategist with illusions of Bill Cowher grandeur.
Odds: 50-to-1 — Muschamp’s demeanor is that of a retired NFL player, but he’s not. That act works in college but would not fly in the league.
10. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
No NFL experience
Pros: Big name who would be an instant-gratification hire. Meyer is a calculating coach who can run a football factory, with two BCS national titles and two undefeated seasons.
Cons: Meyer has no NFL experience, has retired or taken a leave of absence twice for health reasons, and runs an offense that is not currently being implemented in the NFL.
Imagine: Steve Spurrier money-grab scheme with Bobby Petrino exit strategy.
Odds: 100-to-1 — If Dan Snyder opens up his wallet or the Cleveland Browns get desperate enough, Meyer might just take the money and run.
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look at how each all-conference team ranked as high school recruits with the first-team All-SEC team.
2012 Offensive All-SEC Team as Recruits
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (2011)
The Aggies' superstar wasn’t considered a can’t-miss quarterback prospect back in 2011 when he signed with Texas A&M. Other than TAMU, only Oregon, Stanford, Baylor and Iowa State offered him BCS scholarships. The Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product was a three-star quarterback who was ranked as the No. 14-best dual-threat signal caller in the nation and was the No. 45-rated player in the state of Texas. After a year of learning the college game as a redshirt, Manziel proved most everyone in the recruiting business wrong by winning the Heisman Trophy.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (2012) AC100
The star freshman tailback wasn’t even the highest-rated running back recruit from North Carolina to sign with Georgia. That honor belonged to Keith Marshall. Gurley, who was no slouch in the recruiting rankings himself, had the better first season in Athens. The Tarboro (N.C.) High four-star prospect was the No. 5-rated player in the state and the No. 11-rated running back in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 83-rated overall prospect in the Athlon Consensus 100. He sported offers from every major Southern power.
Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida (2009) National Recruit
The Deland (Fla.) High runner was a four-star prospect by Rivals.com. He ranked as the No. 33-best running back in the nation and the No. 257-best overall player in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was No. 236 overall by Rivals and was the No. 42-rated player in the Sunshine State. He held offers from Auburn, Clemson, Michigan, Ole Miss, Mississippi State as well as Florida.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (2010)
The big-play wideout from Madison (Ala.) Academy held offers from just two BCS programs: Kansas and Vanderbilt. Arkansas State and Tulane were his only other FBS offers. Matthews was listed as a three-star receiver by Rivals and didn’t register on the Alabama state rankings or any national rankings.
Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas (2009)
This talented wide receiver played his high school ball in Texas, but as close to Arkansas as possible at Texas High School in Texarkana. He was a three-star prospect whose offer sheet far exceeded his middle-of-the-pack ranking. Auburn, Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Nebraska, TCU and Kansas State were all after the star wideout. He was the No. 63-rated wide receiver in the nation and the No. 64-rated player in the state of Texas.
Jordan Reed, TE, Florida (2009) National Recruit
How many four-star dual-threat quarterback prospects come out of Connecticut? The answer is one. Reed was the No. 25-rated quarterback prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports and was No. 276 overall regardless of position. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound passer picked the Gators over Oregon, Tennessee, Maryland, Iowa, Duke, UConn and Boston College. Rivals ranked him the No. 2 player in the state behind North Carolina wideout Josh Adams.
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (2010) National Recruit
The offensive tackle from Arlington (Texas) High barely missed landing in the AC100. He was the No. 106-rated overall prospect in the nation regardless of position. He was No. 13-rated offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 13-rated prospect in The Lone Star State. His offer sheet was incredible with names like Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Nebraska, UCLA, Arkansas and Texas A&M atop his wish list. As a draft eligible potential first-round pick, he now becomes one of Kevin Sumlin’s top recruits once again.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (2010) AC100
Matthews is the fourth member of the Aggies' 2010 offensive line class to land on an all-conference team (Andrew Norwell, James Hurst, Luke Joeckel). He was the No. 3-rated player in the nation at his position and was the No. 33-rated overall player in the country — ahead of all three of the aforementioned blockers. The O-line legacy from Missouri City (Texas) Elkins was the No. 5-rated player in the state of Texas by Athlon. Rivals gave him four stars.
Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (2009)
This big blocker from Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake picked Alabama over Auburn, South Carolina and Rutgers. Warmack was ranked as the No. 29 player in the state of Georgia and the No. 20 offensive guard in the nation by Rivals.com. He was a three-star recruit.
Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State (2009)
The three-star recruit from Liberty (Miss.) Amite County held just two offers coming out of high school. Southern Miss was the only other FBS program to offer him a college football scholarship. Rivals ranked Jackson as the No. 91-rated offensive tackle in the nation and the No. 28-rated player in The Magnolia State.
Barrett Jones, C, Alabama (2008) National Recruit
This Memphis (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian stud was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee (which included Dont’a Hightower), the No. 17 offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 146-rated player nationally regardless of position. He possessed offers from nearly everyone in the southeast but visited only Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. Jones helped Nick Saban sign the nation’s No. 1 class in 2008.
Cordarrelle Patterson, AP, Tennessee (2012) JUCO
The electric athlete was the No. 4-rated junior college prospect in the nation in the Class of 2012. Originally from Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern, Patterson spent a year at North Carolina Tech without playing football. But he made a big name for himself as a two-time NJCAA All-American at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas the next two seasons. His exploits earned him offers from LSU, Georgia, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Miami and many others, but he ended up in Knoxville.
Related: The Athlon Consensus 100
Star ranking breakdown of the first-team All-SEC (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Defensive All-SEC Team as Recruits
Sharrif Floyd, DL, Florida (2010) AC100
Few players on the SEC’s first team were ranked as highly as the Philadelphia (Pa.) George Washington product. Floyd was ranked the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the nation and was the No. 10 overall player in the nation by Athlon Sports. The AC100 recruit was the top player in the Keystone State. He signed with Florida over major powers like Michigan, Ohio State, USC, Miami, South Carolina and dozens of others. Rivals gave him the elusive fifth star.
Sheldon Richardson, DL, Missouri (2009) AC100
Until Dorial Green-Beckham announced his decision last February, Richardson might have been the most highly touted prospect to ever sign with Mizzou. Athlon Sports ranked the St. Louis (Mo.) Gateway prospect as the No. 8 defensive tackle in the nation and the No. 1 player in the Show Me State. He was the No. 66-rated player in the nation overall in the AC100. Rivals ranked him the highest of any recruiting service giving him five stars as the No. 4-rated player in the nation. Florida, Oklahoma, Miami and many others lost to the Tigers in his recruitment.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (2011) AC100
The Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe defensive end was the unanimous No. 1-rated prospect in the nation in the Class of 2011. Obviously, this made him the top player in his state and the top player nationally at his position. He literally could have picked any of the 120 (at the time) programs in the FBS ranks to play his college ball. In two short seasons, he has established that he was ranked exactly where he should have been and appears poised for a Heisman Trophy run in 2013. He also has a good shot at being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Damontre Moore, DL, Texas A&M (2010)
Moore is the only defensive lineman on the 2012 All-SEC team who wasn’t an AC100 or five-star recruit. He was a three-star prospect coming out of Rowlett (Texas) High three years ago. He was the No. 32-rated weakside defensive end and the No. 72-rated player in The Lone Star State by Rivals. He held five offers from his five finalists: Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Kansas.
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia (2009) AC100
The Columbus (Ga.) Carver product was the No. 6-rated linebacker in the nation and the No. 28 overall player in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 1 player in the Peach State and signed with USC out of Carver High School. He played the first half of his freshman year before hurting his neck. Complication with the injury eventually led to him transferring back home to Georgia.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (2010) National Recruit
Much like Joeckel, Mosley just missed landing in the AC100 as a linebacker from Theodore (Ala.) High. He was the No. 113 overall prospect in the nation. Mosley finished as the No. 9 linebacker in the nation and the No. 3 player in the state of Alabama. Every program in the Southeast as well as a few from the Big 12 (Oklahoma) and the West Coast (Stanford) wanted to ink the star tackler.
Kevin Minter, LB, LSU (2009) National Recruit
The Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge prospect just missed landing in the AC100 as he was ranked the No. 148 overall player in the nation regardless of position. He was the No. 17-rated linebacker in the country and was the No. 10-rated player in the state by Athlon Sports. Oklahoma State, USC, South Carolina, West Virginia, NC State, Kentucky and Virginia were his finalists. Rivals gave him four stars.
Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (2009)
Banks committed so early to the Bulldogs — April of his junior year — that no other team was ever really in the mix. The Maben (Miss.) East Webster product knew exactly where he wanted to play and it paid off with an All-American career. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals who ranked him as the No. 63 “athlete” in the nation and the No. 23 player in the Magnolia State.
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (2010) AC100
Only two players were ranked ahead of Mosley in the state of Alabama in 2010 and Milliner was one of them. The Millbrook (Ala.) Stanhope Elmore cornerback was the No. 1-rated player in the state and the No. 3-rated defensive back in the nation. He finished as the No. 15-rated overall prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. His offers sheet included every major program from the Southeast. He was a five-star recruit by Rivals.
Eric Reid, S, LSU (2010) AC100
The star safety was the No. 2-rated player in the state coming out of storied prep program Geismar (La.) Dutchtown. He was the No. 80-rated player in the nation as a member of the 2010 AC100 and was ranked as the ninth-best defensive back in the country by Athlon Sports. He got a four-star ranking from Rivals and picked LSU over Stanford, Tennessee, NC State and Tulane.
Matt Elam, S, Florida (2010) AC100
The hardest hitter in the nation hails from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer and was a star at an early age. Elam was the top-rated defensive back prospect in the nation and the No. 1 player in the uber-talented Sunshine State. He was ranked as the No. 8 overall player in the entire class. Like most elite talents, he had his pick of any school in the nation. Rivals gave him the rare five-star rating.
Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-SEC Team as Recruits
Former conference rivals meet up again in what should be a matchup of contrasting styles between BYU and San Diego State. The Cougars earned a trip to their eighth straight bowl game in as many seasons under head coach Bronco Mendenhall on the strength of the defense, which is ranked No. 3 in the nation and has given up only 14.7 points per game. Four of the Cougars’ five losses have come to teams ranked in the top 25 of the BCS Standings, including a three-point loss on the road to No. 1 Notre Dame.
San Diego State boasts one of the top rushing attacks in the country and is scoring more than 35 points per game. The Aztecs are playing in their third straight bowl game and second in a row with head coach Rocky Long, who took home Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year honors, at the helm. Long led the Aztecs to just their second nine-win season in more than 30 years thanks to their current seven-game winning streak. This also represents San Diego State’s final game as a member of the Mountain West Conference, as the school is scheduled to join the Big East next season.
These two teams are no strangers to one another, as they have been members of both the Western Athletic Conference (1978-98) and Mountain West Conference (1999-2010) together. BYU holds a 27-7-1 edge in the series and has won the last six meetings. These two last faced each other on Oct. 9, 2010 in Provo, Utah, with BYU winning 24-21 on its home field.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl – BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
Date and Time: Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET
Location: San Diego, Calif.
When the BYU Cougars have the ball:
The Cougars have shown the ability to both run (161.6 ypg, No. 62 in the nation) and pass (247.5 ypg, 51st) the ball this season. They have averaged 29 points per game, but scoring also is one of the reasons for their 7-5 record. While they have put up nearly 38 points per game in their seven wins, they have managed less than 16 points per contest in their five losses.
Senior quarterback Riley Nelson has started the majority of the games for BYU, posting only modest passing numbers (2,011-13-12) to this point. He also missed three games because of injury, including the regular-season finale against New Mexico State in which senior James Lark got the nod under center. Lark proceeded to throw six touchdown passes in the Cougars' 50-14 rout of the Aggies, and he could get the call again for this game if the coaching staff doesn't think Nelson is 100 percent healthy. It's also entirely possible that Lark and Nelson share the snaps, a strategy designed to not only present more options for the BYU offense, but also to add to San Diego State's defensive preparations and in-game adjustments.
BYU lost junior running back Michael Alisa to a broken forearm back in late September, but that just set the stage for freshman Jamaal Williams to emerge. Williams leads the team with 744 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns. He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, has three 100-yard games to his credit and has yet to lose a fumble.
Junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman is the Cougars’ top target, as he’s caught 90 passes for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hoffman has five 100-yard efforts, including three in a row and is coming off of a 12-catch, 182-yard, five-touchdown performance against New Mexico State. Fellow wideout JD Falslev and tight end Kaneakua Friel are the only other Cougars with more than 30 receptions and Friel is second to Hoffman with five touchdown receptions. BYU likes to spread the ball around, as evidenced by the fact that 19 different Cougars have caught at least one pass this season.
San Diego State’s defense has held up pretty well throughout the season. Statistically, the Aztecs are ranked higher in rushing defense compared to passing defense, which is impressive considering some of the run-heavy teams they have played like Army and Air Force. BYU’s balanced attack could cause San Diego State’s defense some problems, especially if the Cougars are able to throw the ball consistently, but the Aztecs may be able to neutralize the passing game by getting pressure on the quarterback. The Aztecs are No. 23 in the nation in sacks with 2.5 per game, while the Cougars are allowing 2.3 per game.
When the San Diego State Aztecs have the ball:
The Aztecs boast the 16th-ranked rushing attack in the nation, as they are generating more than 229 yards on the ground per game. Even with the loss of standout running back Ronnie Hillman to the NFL, the Aztecs have found their next superstar in sophomore Adam Muema.
Muema is averaging nearly 113 rushing yards per game, 6.4 yards per carry and has rushed for more than 200 yards twice. Meuma, who was named second-team All-Mountain West, also has scored 17 total touchdowns. He is joined in the backfield by senior Walter Kazee, who has 822 yards rushing (5.1 ypc) and eight touchdowns.
Just like at running back, the Aztecs had to replace a NFL-caliber quarterback with the departure of four-year starter Ryan Lindley. Ryan Katz, a transfer from Oregon State, got the starts early, but suffered an ankle injury against Nevada in October and has since been replaced by sophomore Adam Dingwell. Dingwell led the comeback overtime win over the Wolf Pack and followed that up for with more victories, as he’s completed more than 63 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and four interceptions since taking over for Katz.
Inexperience and injury are two reasons why San Diego State’s passing offense is No. 102 in the nation. The Aztecs are generating less than 180 yards through the air per game and their leading receiver is two-time first-team All-MWC tight end Gavin Escobar. The junior leads the team in receptions (41), yards (519) and touchdown catches (6), while no other Aztec has more than 23 receptions or 343 yards receiving. Those are senior wide receiver Brice Butler’s numbers, who also is second to Escobar in touchdown receptions with four.
BYU’s defense is top five in the nation in both yards (266.3, third overall) and points (14.7, fifth) allowed. The Cougars have given up 24 or more points only twice (Utah and Oregon State), while holding BCS No. 1 Notre Dame to just 17 points and No. 19 Boise State to seven. The Cougars also boast the No. 2 rushing defense in the nation, one that is surrendering less than 85 yards on the ground per game. How successful it is in slowing down the Aztecs’ running game will likely determine the outcome of this game.
San Diego State has more wins and has scored more points than BYU, but the Cougars have faced tougher competition and feature one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. In order to be successful, the Aztecs must be able to run the ball, but that also happens to be the strength of the Cougars’ defense. Both teams could struggle to move the ball consistently early on, but look for BYU’s balanced attack to eventually wear down San Diego State. This bowl game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego may be on the Aztecs' turf, but I think it will be the Cougars who earn their fourth straight postseason victory by defeating their former conference rival.
Prediction: BYU 24, San Diego State 20
Related College Football Content
Entering the season, Athlon ranked the Big Ten the nation’s top conference.
Despite a loss by its top team Saturday, the league has done nothing to change that notion. If anything, the league looks more formidable than we projected.
Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State all checked into our top 20 in the preseason, but that crowd is bigger with undefeated Illinois in the mix as well as surprising Minnesota. With leagues like the Big 12 and SEC experiencing down years, the question for the coming months is how many teams the Big Ten could send to the NCAA Tournament.
As teams finish up finals and head to semester breaks, Athlon has examined the college basketball landscape through the first month or so of the season before conference play begins later this month and into January.
Here’s our look at the scene so far in the Big Ten.
EARLY SEASON CONFERENCE CATCHUP: BIG TEN
Other conferences: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Pac-12 | SEC | Non-Big Six
|Illinois guard Brandon Paul|
Surprise team: Illinois
In the final seasons under Bruce Weber, Illinois had a tendency to raise expectations only to fade during the season. John Groce’s first team is doing the opposite. Athlon picked Illinois eighth in the Big Ten, but now the Illini are one of eight undefeated teams. Brandon Paul (18.8 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists) is in contention for Big Ten player of the year. Groce is allowing his star guard to play with more freedom. How this plays out over the course of the season will be an intriguing storyline, but Illinois has already proven it will be a contender in the nation’s deepest conference.
Disappointing team: Wisconsin
The Badgers have never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten in 11 seasons under Bo Ryan. That’s going to be put to the test this season. The voids left by the departure of Jordan Taylor and the injury to Josh Gasser has cut into the Badgers’ playmaking abilities. The Badgers may be a postseason team again, but cracking the top part of a Big Ten that includes Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and now Illinois and Minnesota seems like too tall an order.
Where’d he come from? Victor Oladipo, Indiana
A year ago, Oladipo was known more as a ferocious defender who could get to the rim. Though he’s still playing that role, his efficiency numbers have been markedly improved, making him one of Indiana’s top players. Taking roughly the same amount of shots as last season, Oladipo is has improved from 47.1 percent shooting to 65.8. His true shooting percentage (which gives added weight to 3-point shots and includes free throws) has improved from 55.3 percent to 69.6. And he remains just as effective a dunker and defensive pest.
Where’d he go? Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Minnesota has been one of the Big Ten’s pleasant surprises without Mbakwe at full strength, so it will be interesting if he continues his recovery from a torn ACL. For now, Mbakwe has been coming off the bench for 18.5 minutes per game. He’s played more the last two weeks and grabbed 18 rebounds against North Dakota State. Thanks to Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams, Minnesota has thrived despite modest contributions from Mbakwe, who is an All-America-caliber player when healthy.
Key stat: Michigan is no longer 3-point dependent
The Wolverines are scoring 53.7 percent of their points off two-pointers, compared to 47.3 percent a year ago. Under John Beilein, Michigan has never scored more than 50 percent of the their points off two-point field goals. Michigan still has a small lineup with 6-foot-6 freshman Glenn Robinson III starting at power forward, but it’s less dependent on the perimeter, which may pay dividends down the stretch.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN CONFERENCE PLAY
|Indiana guard Victor Oladipo|
Indiana on the road. Athlon picked Indiana to win the national title in the preseason, so we believe the Hoosiers will solve last season’s road woes. Indiana went 3-6 in Big Ten road games last season, and the Hoosiers have yet to play a true road game this year. Indiana may wait until February to have a truly stout test in an opponent’s gym. The Hoosiers will visit Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota in February before finishing the regular season at Michigan.
Can Michigan State solve its turnover woes? Michigan State is one of the worst teams in the Big Ten in terms of turnovers, coughing up the ball on 22.7 percent of its possessions. The Spartans are last in the Big Ten in turnover by a pretty wide margin (minus-1.5 per game) and 10th in assist-to-turnover ratio. Michigan State could be among the top contenders in the Big Ten if it can be more secure with the ball. Despite this deficiency. Michigan State is 10-2 with a win over Kansas this season.
Can Illinois keep this up all season? Illinois was here just last season, winning its first 10 games before finishing on a 7-15 slide. Brandon Paul has been the top guy all season, either leading or tying for the team lead in scoring in all but two games this season, but the Illini may need others to take some of the burden off his shoulders. Illinois has had a couple of close calls, but the Illinois sandwiched the Maui Invitational title in between. Illinois won by one at Hawaii in overtime two days before the Maui Invitational, and defeated Gardner-Webb by only one point four days after returning from Hawaii.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
Player of the year watch
Cody Zeller, Indiana
Trey Burke, Michigan
Brandon Paul, Illinois
Freshman of the year watch
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Gary Harris, Michigan State
Coach of the year watch
John Beilein, Michigan
Tubby Smith, Minnesota
John Groce, Illinois
1. Michigan (11-0)
The Wolverines had a standout signing class, but one of the least-heralded incoming freshmen has been Michigan’s best. Nike Stauskas is averaging 13.2 points per game and is a 90 percent free throw shooter.
2. Indiana (10-1)
Hoosiers will bounce back from overtime loss to Butler. Indiana has five players averaging double-figure scoring per game.
3. Ohio State (9-1)
Aside from a 73-68 loss at Duke, Ohio State has played only one other team with a winning record (9-2 Albany) and one other team from a major conference (Washington). That changes against Kansas on Saturday.
4. Illinois (12-0)
The Illini’s great start in non-conference play will have one more test at Missouri on Saturday. Illinois has lost the last three in the series.
5. Michigan State (10-2)
Keith Appling is still working into his role of being the Spartans’ go-to guy. Michigan State gets Texas before opening Big Ten play on the road at Minnesota on New Year’s Eve.
6. Minnesota (11-1)
The hot finish through the NIT was no fluke. The Gophers lost big to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis but continued with wins over Memphis and Stanford then road wins at Florida State and USC.
7. Iowa (10-2)
The Hawkeyes look capable of surprising teams in the Big Ten, but that opening conference slate is brutal: Indiana, at Michigan, Michigan State, at Northwestern, Wisconsin, at Ohio State.
8. Wisconsin (7-4)
Huh? Three-point specialist Ben Brust is sixth in the Big Ten in rebounding (7.4 per game).
9. Northwestern (8-3)
Leading scorer Reggie Hearn may be one of the most improved players in the Big Ten. The Wildcats need more of that with Drew Crawford out for the season.
10. Nebraska (7-3)
Cornhuskers scored 80 points combined in two-game swing against Creighton and Oregon. Welcome to Nebraska basketball, Tim Miles.
11. Purdue (5-6)
We thought it would be a rebuilding year in West Lafayette, and it is. Boilermakers have played tough schedule, but a 47-44 loss to Eastern Michigan is the pinnacle of ugly basketball.
12. Penn State (6-4)
D.J. Newbill is playing well, but the Nittany Lions are going to struggle to win games in the Big Ten with Tim Frazier out for the year.
College football's coaching carousel has been active since the end of the regular season and will continue to spin over the next few months. Athlon has compiled all of the coordinator changes from this season and will continue to update this list as moves take place.
Note: This list assumes coordinator jobs will be open when a head coach leaves for another position or is fired.
|School||Position||Old Coordinator||New Coordinator|
|Akron||OC||Terry Bowden||A.J. Milwee|
|Arkansas||OC||Paul Petrino||Jim Chaney|
|Arkansas||DC||Paul Haynes||Chris Ash|
|Arkansas State||OC||Rhett Lashlee|
|Auburn||OC||Scot Loeffler||Rhett Lashlee|
|Auburn||Co-DC||Brian VanGorder||Ellis Johnson, Charlie Harbison|
|Boston College||OC||Doug Martin||Ryan Day|
|Boston College||DC||Bill McGovern||Don Brown|
|California||OC||Jim Michalczik||Tony Franklin|
|California||DC||Clancy Pendergast||Andy Buh|
|Cincinnati||OC||Mike Bajakian||Eddie Gran|
|Eastern Michigan||OC||Ken Karcher|
|Florida State||DC||Mark Stoops||Jeremy Pruitt|
|Georgia State||OC||John Bond||Jeff Jagodzinski|
|Georgia State||DC||Anthony Midget||Jesse Minter|
|Georgia Tech||DC||Al Groh|
|Idaho||DC||Mark Criner||Ronnie Lee|
|Kent State||OC||Brian Rock|
|Kent State||DC||Jon Heacock|
|Kentucky||OC||Randy Sanders||Neal Brown|
|Kentucky||DC||Rick Minter||D.J. Eliot|
|Louisiana Tech||OC||Tony Franklin|
|Louisiana Tech||DC||Tommy Spangler|
|Missouri||OC||David Yost||Josh Henson|
|NC State||OC||Dana Bible||Matt Canada|
|NC State||DC||Mike Archer||Dave Huxtable|
|Northern Illinois||OC||Rod Carey|
|Northern Illinois||Co-DC||Ryan Nielson, Jay Niemann|
|Oklahoma State||OC||Todd Monken|
|San Jose State||OC||Brian Lindgren|
|San Jose State||DC||Kent Baer|
|South Alabama||DC||Bill Clark|
|South Florida||OC||Todd Fitch|
|South Florida||DC||Chris Cosh|
|Southern Miss||OC||Steve Buckley|
|Southern Miss||DC||Tommy West||David Duggan|
|Tennessee||OC||Jim Chaney||Mike Bajakian|
|Tennessee||DC||Sal Sunseri||John Jancek|
|Texas||OC||Bryan Harsin||Major Applewhite, Darrell Wyatt|
|Texas A&M||OC||Kliff Kingsbury|
|Texas Tech||OC||Neal Brown|
|Texas Tech||DC||Art Kaufman|
|Utah State||DC||Dave Aranda|
|UTEP||DC||Andre Patterson||Jeff Choate|
|West Virginia||Co-DC||Keith Patterson, Joe DeForest||Keith Patterson|
|Western Kentucky||OC||Willie Taggart|
|Western Kentucky||DC||Lance Guidry|
|Western Michigan||OC||Bill Cubit, Ryan Cubit|
|Western Michigan||DC||Rich Nagy|
|Wisconsin||Co-DC||Chris Ash, Charlie Partridge||Dave Aranda|
A freshman claimed college football’s most prestigious award for the first time ever this season when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. But Johnny Football is nowhere near the first frosh to make a splash on the national scene during his rookie season. These are the 10 freshmen — of both the true and redshirt variety — who made the biggest impact in college football history.
1. Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia (1980)
Prior to winning the 1982 Heisman Trophy, Walker was the most dominant running back in the country as a true freshman in 1980. At 6’1”, 225 pounds, Walker possessed the size, speed and power to sprint past or truck through any defender standing in his way — just ask Tennessee’s Bill Bates. Walker rushed for 1,616 yards, on 5.9 yards per carry, and scored 16 total TDs while carrying Vince Dooley’s Bulldogs to a perfect 12–0 record and national championship season.
2. Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State (1991)
An unheralded runner out of George Washington Carver High School in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Faulk exploded onto the scene in his first season with the Aztecs. In one of the greatest single-game performances by any player in any class, Faulk posted 37 carries for a then-NCAA record 386 yards and seven TDs against the University of the Pacific in just his second college game. Faulk finished his true freshman season with 1,630 yards from scrimmage, on 7.5 yards per touch, and 23 total TDs.
3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (2012)
The legend of Johnny Football has reached Paul Bunyan tall tale proportions — and rightfully so. Manziel completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,419 yards, 24 TDs and eight INTs through the air, while showing off the open field moves of a punt returner en route to 1,181 yards and 19 trips to the end zone on the ground. The Aggies’ redshirt freshman signal-caller’s signature game came in a 29–24 win on the road at Alabama, where Manziel completed 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards, two TDs and zero INTs, while rushing for another 92 yards and all but locking up this year’s Heisman Trophy.
4. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma (2004)
“All Day” got off to a quick start with the Sooners, leading the country with 339 carries for a freshman record 1,925 yards and 15 TDs as a true freshman. Peterson led Oklahoma to a BCS national title game appearance, set the freshman record for 100-yard games in a single season with 11 and was runner-up to USC quarterback Matt Leinart in the Heisman Trophy voting — the highest a freshman had ever finished at the time.
5. Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin (1996)
Although the “Great Dayne” went on to win the 1999 Heisman Trophy as well as a pair of Rose Bowl MVPs — one of only four players in history to repeat as the prize bloom in Pasadena — the New Jersey native never put up better numbers than he did during his freshman campaign for the Badgers. The 250-pound power back bowled over the competition with a career-high 1,863 rush yards, on 6.3 yards per carry, and 18 TDs. Dayne went on to set the FBS career rushing yards record, thanks in large part to his unbelievable rookie year.
6. George Shaw, CB, Oregon (1951)
The Ducks’ ironman is better known for being a quarterback drafted No. 1 overall by the Baltimore Colts in the 1955 NFL Draft, Shaw hauled in a freshman-record 13 INTs for 136 return yards in just 10 games as a freshman cornerback. The mark remains just one shy of the FBS all-time single-season INT record, trailing Washington’s Al Worley’s 1968 mark by only one INT.
7. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech (2007)
The first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver, Crabtree won the triple crown of pass-catchers by leading the country with 134 catches for 1,962 yards and 22 TD receptions. After switching positions from quarterback to receiver, the redshirt freshman out of Dallas’ Carter High School quickly established himself as the greatest first-year receiver in college football history.
8. Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech (1999)
Vick’s reputation has always preceded him, but back in 1999 that meant something entirely different. The redshirt freshman out of Newport News, Va., was supposed to revolutionize the quarterback position with his cannon left arm and track star speed. The Michael Vick Experience was everything it was hyped to be, as No. 7 became the first freshman quarterback to lead his team to the national championship game, while also tying Herschel Walker’s then-freshman-record third-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting.
9. Maurice Clarett, RB, Ohio State (2002)
Although Clarett has become a cautionary tale and a punch line of jokes, he was the best player on Ohio State’s undefeated 2002 national championship team. The local product out of Youngstown’s Warren Harding High School graduated early, participated in spring practice and went on to rush for 1,237 yards, on 5.6 yards per carry, and 18 TDs in his first season for the Buckeyes. In the national title game, Clarett stripped Miami safety Sean Taylor on an INT return before scoring the game-winning TD in overtime — his final carry as a college player.
10. Andy Katzenmoyer, LB, Ohio State (1996)
The “Big Kat” wore two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s No. 45 jersey, became the first OSU freshman to start every game at middle linebacker and finished his true freshman season as a second-team All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Katzenmoyer had 12 sacks, including three in the Rose Bowl, for the 11–1 Buckeyes — whose only lost came at Ohio Stadium against Michigan in the regular season finale.
After a two-week search, Wisconsin has finally found its next head coach. Utah State’s Gary Andersen has been hired to replace Bret Bielema in Madison, becoming Wisconsin’s third head coach since 1990. Bielema left for Arkansas after recording a 68-24 mark in seven seasons.
Although Andersen isn’t a big name, Wisconsin hit a home run with this hire. Andersen inherited a program that was 9-38 in the four seasons prior to his arrival and led the Aggies to a 26-24 mark and two bowl appearances over the last four years. Utah State recorded its first season of double-digit victories and won an outright WAC title in 2012.
Before taking over at Utah State, Andersen cut his teeth as an assistant coach at a handful of stops. He worked at Utah from 1997-2002 under Ron McBride and after one season as the head coach at Southern Utah, returned to work as the defensive coordinator for Urban Meyer with the Utes. Andersen went 4-7 in his only season at Southern Utah but the program showed marked improvement after winning one game prior to his arrival in 2002.
Positives for Wisconsin in hiring Gary Andersen
Built a program from scratch
There’s no doubt Andersen put a lot of hard work into building Utah State from one of the worst teams in the nation to a potential top-25 team in 2013. It’s easy to inherit a program with a proven track record and continue to build on that success. However, it’s another to build it from scratch and turn it into a successful program. Andersen did just that at Utah State, leading the Aggies to a 26-24 mark in four seasons – with 18 wins coming in the last two years. As a program, Utah State is in much better shape than when Andersen arrived on the scene in 2009. Considering what Andersen did with limited resources with the Aggies, he should be able to thrive at Wisconsin with more money to pay assistants, as well as carry the Big Ten brand on the recruiting trail.
A proven winner
This section is essentially an extension of building a program from scratch. Every coaching hire is risky, but Andersen’s track record as a head coach is rock solid. Yes, his overall record is just 30-31, but this is a perfect case of how deceiving it is to judge coaches strictly on record. Andersen took over two struggling teams and brought immediate improvement in the first season and eventually turned Utah State into a top-25 team in 2012. Considering Wisconsin has made three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, there’s not as much (if any) rebuilding for Andersen to do. Expect Andersen to take what Alvarez and Bielema have built over the last 20 years and continue to turn Wisconsin into a consistent contender in the Big Ten.
Defending Urban Meyer and an excellent background on defense
Considering Andersen spent a year working under Urban Meyer at Utah, he probably has some good insight into how to defend his spread offense. With Wisconsin and Ohio State playing each other every year in the Big Ten’s current divisional setup, Andersen’s insight could pay off for the Badgers. Utah State finished 113th nationally in total defense in 2009 but showed improvement in each of the next three years, which included a finish of 15th nationally in 2012. Under Andersen’s watch at Utah, the Utes finished in the top 20 in total defense in 2007 and 2008.
Negatives in Wisconsin's hire of Gary Andersen
Very few negatives in Wisconsin's hire but here are a few things to watch:
No Big Ten experience
As with any coaching hire, experience in a certain region or conference is largely overrated. However, there is a transition period for any coach stepping into unfamiliar territory. Most of Andersen’s experience has been in Utah, so Wisconsin will be a different challenge.
What type of staff will Andersen assemble?
Considering Andersen’s lack of experience in the Big Ten, it will be interesting to see how he builds his coaching staff. Utah State coordinators Matt Wells (offensive) and Dave Aranda (defensive) are two solid coaches, while defensive assistant Bill Busch is regarded for his work on the recruiting trail. Assuming all three leave for Wisconsin, Andersen would have the makings of a quality staff. Andersen doesn’t need five coaches with Big Ten experience but it couldn’t hurt to surround himself with someone familiar with the conference, as well as anyone who can help the Badgers in their usual recruiting areas.
What type of scheme will Andersen run on offense?
Out of all of the factors involved with the coaching change at Wisconsin, this aspect is perhaps the most intriguing. The Badgers have developed into one of the nation’s top rushing attacks under Alvarez and Bielema, while Andersen ran a spread offense at Utah State. It’s likely Andersen will use some combination of a spread and a run-first offense, so don’t expect Wisconsin to stray too far from what has worked in the past.
Wisconsin was caught off-guard by Bielema’s departure and considering the length of the coaching search, the fanbase was starting to get restless. However, athletic director Barry Alvarez made one of the best hires of the offseason, selecting Utah State’s Gary Andersen as Wisconsin’s new coach. Andersen’s background on defense and reputation for developing talent is a perfect fit in Madison. The former Utah State head coach will likely tweak his offensive scheme to focus more on the run, but the Badgers should have one of the Big Ten’s best defenses under Andersen’s watch.
As with any coaching hire, it’s important to look past the overall record and dive into the factors surrounding the head coach that contributed or hurt his success. Andersen inherited a program that won nine games in the four years prior to his arrival and led it to its first 10-win season in 2012. Even though he’s not a big-name candidate like Miami’s Al Golden or Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, Andersen is a home run hire at Wisconsin and should keep the Badgers in the mix for the Leaders Division title every year.
Grading Wisconsin’s Hire of Gary Andersen: A+
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The BCS is wrapping up its 15th season of action and Athlon Sports is continuing its series of BCS rankings. We ranked the best performances of each BCS bowl game and we ranked the best teams of each BCS conference. Now, we break down the top offensive units of the BCS era (1998-present).
Statistics, awards, championships and NFL talent were all considered and evaluated in order to label the Top 10 offenses of the BCS era. Only teams from BCS conferences were considered and teams from 2012 were not eligible.
1. USC Trojans, 2005 (12-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Offense: 260.0 ypg (6th)
Passing Offense: 319.8 ypg (5th)
Total Offense: 579.8 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 49.1 ppg (2nd)
NFL Draft Picks: Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Dominique Bryd (4th, 2006), David Kirtman (5th, 2006), Fred Matua (7th, 2006), Dwayne Jarrett (2nd, 2007), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), John David Booty (5th, 2008), Chauncey Washington (7th, 2008), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Patrick Turner (3rd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010)
The defending BCS National Champs returned largely intact for 2005 and began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. Do-everything tailback Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards at 222.3 yards per game and claimed the Heisman Trophy — the second straight for USC (Leinart, 2004). A 513-yard performance and this touchdown run in a shootout win over a ranked Fresno State team likely clinched the stiff-arm trophy for the dynamic running back. After crushing rival UCLA, the Trojans finished the 2005 season having never left the No. 1 line in the polls. They carried a 34-game winning streak into the BCS National Championship game against Texas in what became the first time two Heisman winners ever played in the same backfield. Leinart threw for a title game record 365 yards, but the Trojans defense could not stop Vince Young in what is the greatest game ever played according to this college football writer. This team had 19 players drafted — three QBs, seven OL, four RBs, three WRs and two TEs — off of the offense and was so deep that Mark Sanchez was the third-string quarterback. This team was 19 seconds away from likely becoming the best college football team ever assembled — no matter "how" they were assembled.
2. Texas Longhorns, 2005 (13-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Rushing Offense: 274.9 ypg (2nd)
Passing Offense: 237.2 ypg (40th)
Total Offense: 512.1 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense: 50.2 ppg (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: Vince Young (1st, 2006), David Thomas (3rd, 2006), Jonathan Scott (5th, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Kasey Studdard (6th, 2007), Limas Sweed (2nd, 2008), Jamaal Charles (3rd, 2008), Tony Hills (4th, 2008), Henry Melton (4th, 2009), Chris Ogbonnaya (7th, 2009)
This team may not be as talented as the 2005 USC team it beat in the Rose Bowl to claim the National Championship but it might have had the single most unstoppable force to ever step onto a football field. Vince Young is the most dynamic player I've ever seen on a college gridiron and the numbers prove it. To get to Pasadena, Texas steamrolled the competition, averaging more than 50 points a game and scoring 60 or more four times. In the second week of the season, Texas became the first non-conference opponent in 15 years to defeat Ohio State in Columbus, and followed that win up about a month later by dominating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns destroyed Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship to set up the showdown with No. 1 USC. The Rose Bowl title tilt lived up to every bit of its billing as Vince Young put on the most impressive performance in BCS National Championship history, accounting for 84 percent of Texas’ total offense (467 out of 556 yards), and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to capture the Longhorns’ fourth national championship in thrilling fashion. The Horns scored a school-record 50.2 points per game, set a school record for yards in a season (6,657), total yards per game and total touchdowns (55). This team had four players rush for at least 10 touchdowns and featured a backfield of Jamaal Charles, Romance Taylor, Henry Melton, Selvin Young and Chris Ogbonnaya.
3. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Rushing Offense: 204.6 ypg (21st)
Passing Offense: 250.2 ypg (35th)
Total Offense: 454.8 ypg (8th)
Scoring Offense: 43.2 ppg (3rd)
NFL Draft Picks: Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002), Najeh Davenport (4th, 2002), Martin Bibla (4th, 2002), Joaquin Gonzalez (7th, 2002), Daryl Jones (7th, 2002), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Ken Dorsey (7th, 2003), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Carlos Joseph (7th, 2004)
Simply put, this team was loaded and is viewed by many as one of the best ever in college football history. The offensive numbers may not be as staggering as 2008 Oklahoma or 2010 Oregon, for example, but from a talent perspective, it is hard to argue this isn't the most gifted offense ever assembled. Quarterback Ken Dorsey claimed co-Big East Player of the Year honors playing behind five drafted NFL linemen, a backfield featuring Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee and Najeh Davenport and a receiving corps with Andre Johnson and Jeremy Shockey leading the way. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game in which they held a 34-0 lead in the first half. Miami's average margin of victory in 2001 was 33.2 points per game.
4. Oklahoma Sooners, 2008 (12-2)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Rushing Offense: 198.5 ypg (20th)
Passing Offense: 349.4 ypg (3rd)
Total Offense: 547.9 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense: 51.1 ppg (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: Phil Loadholt (1st, 2009), Juaquin Iglesias (3rd, 2009), Duke Robinson (5th, 2009), Manuel Johnson (7th, 2009), Sam Bradford (1st, 2010), Jermaine Gresham (1st, 2010), Trent Williams (1st, 2010), Brody Eldridge (5th, 2010), DeMarco Murray (3rd, 2011)
The highest-scoring team in NCAA history (716 total points), this Oklahoma team scored no fewer than 35 points prior to the BCS National Championship game against Florida. Quarterback Sam Bradford rewrote the Oklahoma record books on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Bradford finished No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency (180.84) and No. 4 in total offense (340.5 ypg). He set single-season school records for yards (4,270) and touchdown passes (50). This offense led the nation with only 11 turnovers all season and featured a pair of 1,000-yard backs in DeMarco Murray (1,397 yards from scrimmage, 18 total TDs) and Chris Brown (1,329 yards from scrimmage and 21 total TDs). Murray was eighth nationally in all-purpose yards (167.0 ypg), and tight end Jermaine Gresham was the best the country had to offer at tight end (66 rec., 950 yards, 14 TDs). Despite being arguably the most prolific offense of the modern era, the relatively pedestrian 14-point, 364-yard BCS title game performance knocks this Crimson and Cream frieght train off the top spot.
5. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Offense: 177.4 ypg (33rd)
Passing Offense: 271.7 ypg (13th)
Total Offense: 449.1 ypg (12th)
Scoring Offense: 38.2 ppg (6th)
NFL Draft Picks: Matt Cassel (7th, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Dominique Bryd (4th, 2006), David Kirtman (5th, 2006), Fred Matua (7th, 2006), Dwayne Jarrett (2nd, 2007), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), John David Booty (5th, 2008), Chauncey Washington (7th, 2008)
While Pete Carroll's outright BCS Natianal Championship team was his most complete team, it was not his most dominant offense. Yet, this group returned largley intact and would be the foundation for what turned out to be his best offense one year later. Since the players were basically the same, this team marched through its schedule with ease, claimed the Heisman Trophy and eventually sent 10 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft from the offense alone, it had to make the list. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an embarrasment of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Until 2005.
6. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Rushing Offense: 231.1 ypg (10th)
Passing Offense: 213.9 ypg (61st)
Total Offense: 445.1 ypg (15th)
Scoring Offense: 43.6 ppg (4th)
NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Louis Murphy (4th, 2009), Cornelius Ingram (5th, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Aaron Hernandez (3rd, 2010), Riley Cooper (5th, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011), Maurice Hurt (7th, 2011)
Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006), but the most talented, most successful Gator offense was his 2008 squad. The Gainesville idol gave one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. Florida led the SEC in rushing, total offense and scoring while play-maker extradanaire Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring (8.5 ppg). Tebow led the league in passing efficiency at 172.37. The Chosen One delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS Championship game. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points). This offense featured five active NFL pass catchers (including undrafted David Nelson), a pair of blocking twins and speed demons Brandon James, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. This team redefined the term "SEC Speed."
7. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Rushing Offense: 284.8 ypg (5th)
Passing Offense: 214.4 ypg (66th)
Total Offense: 499.2 ypg (7th)
Scoring Offense: 41.2 ppg (7th)
NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Lee Ziemba (7th, 2011), Brandon Mosley (4th, 2012)
Cam Newton was a one-man wrecking crew for Auburn in 2010. His 4,327 yards of total offense (2,854 pass, 1,473 rush) set an SEC single-season record. Newton led this team to a new school record for scoring and finished second in the nation in passing efficiency (180.52). His 20 rushing touchdowns were second all-time only to Tim Tebow in SEC history and his 51 total touchdowns were No. 2 to Tebow as well. The backfield included 1,000-yard rusher Michael Dyer and 800-yard rusher Onterio McCalebb, and the SEC's top blocker, Lee Ziemba, anchored a stellar, veteran offensive line. A set of veteran receivers —Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery — mixed with young talent — Emory Blake, Phlip Lutzenkirchen — gave Newton plenty of talented targets. When the Tigers needed a big play with the game on the line, few players on this list were ever more unstoppable than Cam Newton (maybe only the one near the top, actually). No Auburn team has ever won as many games (14) or scored as many points (577).
8. Oregon Ducks, 2010 (12-1)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Rushing Offense: 286.2 ypg (4th)
Passing Offense: 244.5 ypg (39th)
Total Offense: 530.9 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 47.0 ppg (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: LaMichael James (2nd, 2012), Mark Asper (5th, 2012), David Paulson (7th, 2012)
One of the most powerful, explosive and fast-paced offenses in league history led the nation in scoring and total offense. It was the highest-scoring team (611 pts) in school history, and it played in its first-ever BCS National Championship game. The offense was led by first-year quarterback Darron Thomas (2,881 yards, 30 TDs, 486 rush yards, 5 TDs) and the nation's leading rusher and scorer in LaMichael James (144.3 ypg, 12.0 ppg). James earned the Doak Walker as the nation's top running back. The talented offensive duo was joined by leading receiver Jeff Maehl (77 rec., 1,076 yards, 12 TDs) and star back-up Kenjon Barner (1,040 all-purpose yards, 9 total TDs). The only blemish on the '10 Ducks resume was obviously the 75 yards rushing and 19 points scored in the BCS title game loss to Auburn. The 2012 version of the Ducks was likely a better overall unit but didn't finish the regular season unbeaten as Pac-12 champs (and isn't eligible for this exercise).
9. Florida State Seminoles, 1999 (12-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Rushing Offense: 122.8 ypg (83rd)
Passing Offense: 302.9 ypg (12th)
Total Offense: 425.7 ypg (12th)
Scoring Offense: 37.5 ppg (4th)
NFL Draft Picks: Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Ron Dugans (3rd, 2000), Laveranues Coles (3rd, 2000), Marvin Minnis (3rd, 2001), Travis Minor (3rd, 2001), Chris Weinke (4th, 2001), Char-ron Dorsey (7th, 2001), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003), Brett Williams (4th, 2003), Montae Holland (4th, 2003)
The best team of the BCS era in the ACC gets a slight nod over the 2000 Seminoles for a couple of reasons. While the stats were better in Chris Weinke's Heisman Trophy season, the offense scored zero points in the national title game loss to Oklahoma, and two first-round picks, Peter Warrick and Sebastian Janikowski, had already moved on (not to mention a few other receivers). The undefeated national championship team that topped the dynamic Michael Vick gets the nod after 220 all-purpose yards, three touchdowns and the MVP trophy for Warrick in the 2000 Sugar Bowl. Few teams will ever match the depth and talent of a receiving corps that included Warrick, Ron Dugans, Marvin Minnis, Laveranues Coles and Anquan Boldin. For good measure, toss in Travis Minor, the best kicker in the country and three linemen eventually drafted into the NFL, and you have the No. 9 offense of the BCS era.
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Rushing Offense: 158.6 ypg (58th)
Passing Offense: 387.2 ypg (2nd)
Total Offense: 545.8 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense: 48.7 ppg (2nd)
NFL Draft Picks: Brandon Weeden (1st, 2012), Justin Blackmon (1st, 2012)
This offense had it all. It beat five ranked opponents and won both the Big 12 championship and memorable Fiesta Bowl against Stanford. It had two first round picks leading the BCS' top passing attack. And it featured one of the best three-headed offensive attacks in history: Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon. Blackmon won his second consecutive Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver. He finished with a school record 121 catches (breaking his own record of 111). His 1,522 yards were third all-time in school history and his 18 touchdowns were second in school history to his own mark of 20 set the year before. Brandon Weeben broke his own school records for passing yards (4,727), touchdowns (37), completions (408), attempts (564) and total offense (4,625). Randle's 24 rushing touchdowns and 150 points were second only to Barry Sanders. To this day, fans in Stillwater still believe their team belonged in the BCS National Championship Game.
Others receiving votes: 1998 Ohio State, 1998 Wisconsin, 1999 Georgia Tech, 2000 Florida State, 2001 Florida, 2002 Iowa, 2003 Texas Tech, 2004 Oklahoma, 2006 West Virginia, 2006 Ohio State, 2007 Florida, 2007 Texas Tech, 2008 Texas Tech, 2008 Missouri, 2010 Oklahoma State, 2011 Baylor
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look at how each all-conference team ranked as high school recruits with the first-team All-ACC team.
2012 Offensive All-ACC Team as Recruits
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (2009) AC100
The ACC Offensive Player of the Year was a known commodity coming out of Hampton (Va.) Phoebus in 2009. Athlon ranked him as the No. 7-rated quarterback, the No. 5-rated player in the state and was the No. 77-rated overall prospect nationally in the Athlon Consensus 100. Boyd had offers from any school he wanted to and had been committed to Tennessee before Lane Kiffin left for USC. Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Kansas State, to name a few, also offered Boyd scholarships.
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson (2008) National Recruit
The all-purpose back from Moncks Corner (S.C.) Berkeley was rated behind fellow Clemson running back signee Jamie Harper in 2008. Ellington, who was also a highly touted four-star prospect, finished with the better career. Rivals rated him as the No. 5 all-purpose back in the nation, the No. 4-rated player in the state and the No. 172-rated player nationally. South Carolina, Maryland and Kentucky were his other finalists.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina (2010) AC100
The star tailback from famed Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas barely made it into the 2010 AC100. He was the No. 100-rated prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. Bernard was the No. 15-rated player in The Sunshine State and was the No. 12-rated running back in the nation. He had offers from all over the nation, including Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Tennessee. Amazingly, he played in the same backfield as Wisconsin’s James White.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson (2010) National Recruit
Much like Ellington, Hopkins wasn’t the highest-rated wideout in this Clemson class. Martavis Bryant was the AC100 prospect, but Hopkins turned in an All-American season this fall. He signed with the Tigers from Central (S.C.) D.W. Daniel over Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Rivals rated the four-star recruit as the No. 12 wide receiver in the nation, the No. 8-rated player in the state and the No. 148-rated overall player in the nation.
Conner Vernon, WR, Duke (2009)
Hailing from Miami (Fla.) Gulliver Prep, Vernon was an undersized recruit who wasn’t rated nationally or within the state of Florida. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals who had offers from Ole Miss, Troy, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest to go with the Duke Blue Devils. It’s a good thing he changed the prep hairstyle.
Alex Amidon, WR, Boston College (2010)
The Lakeville (Conn.) Hotchkiss School prospect was just a two-star recruit by Rivals. He held only three FBS offers — Boston College, Syracuse and Tulane — to go with some smaller scholarships from New Hampshire and Villanova. Because the state generally produces very little top-flight talent, the two-star was the No. 8-rated player in Connecticut.
Brandon Ford, TE, Clemson (2008) National Recruit
The Hanahan (S.C.) High School product was a four-star wide receiver listed at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. He is now a 6-foot-3, 240-pound All-ACC tight end. He had one offer coming out of high school, mostly because there was little doubt as to where he was going to sign. He was the No. 46-rated wideout in the nation and the No. 11-rated player in the Palmetto State.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina (2008)
The Tar Heels blocker was a three-star recruit from Wilmington (N.C.) Hoggard. Rivals gave him a three-star ranking and named him the No. 21 offensive guard in the nation and the No. 8-rated player in the state. He picked North Carolina over offers from Duke, East Carolina, NC State, South Carolina and Wake Forest. He was a three-star prospect.
Dalton Freeman, OL, Clemson (2008) National Recruit
The big blocker was listed as a four-star offensive guard coming out of Pelion (S.C.) High School. He had an elite offer sheet with Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Penn State, South Carolina and Tennessee joining Clemson in pursuit of the talented prospect. He was the No. 13-rated guard in the nation and the No. 9-rated player in the state.
Omoregie Uzzi, OL, Georgia Tech (2008) National Recruit
One of the highest-rated lineman to ever sign with the Yellow Jackets, most every Southern power wanted Uzzi. From Chamblee (Ga.) High, he held offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Georgia. Rivals rated him a four-star recruit and as the No. 19 guard in the nation as well as the No. 19 player in the state.
James Hurst, OL, North Carolina (2010) AC100
The massive Indianapolis (Ind.) Plainfield blocker could have played anywhere he wanted to with offers from Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Tennessee as well as North Carolina (just to name a few). He was an AC100 prospect and finished as the No. 2-rated player in the state and the No. 5-rated offensive lineman in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 36-rated player in the nation and was a four-star prospect by Rivals.
Oday Aboushi, OL, Virginia (2009) National Recruit
The offensive line tradition at Virginia continued with this big-time prospect from Brooklyn (N.Y.) Xaverian. He was a four-star recruit who was rated as the No. 3-best player in the state and the No. 23-best offensive tackle in the nation by Rivals. He picked the Wahoos over offers from Northeastern powers Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Boston College as well as Iowa.
Duke Johnson, AP, Miami (2012) AC100
Randy “Duke” Johnson was a big-time playmaker at Miami (Fla.) Norland. The ACC’s Freshman of the Year was an AC100 member who was rated as the No. 36-overall prospect in the nation. He was the No. 6-rated running back and the No. 6-rated player in the state of Florida. Miami landed the star tailback over Florida, Texas, Louisville and West Virginia. Rivals rated the five-star prospect as the No. 1 all-purpose back.
Related: The Athlon Consensus 100
Star ranking breakdown of the first-team All-ACC (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Defensive All-ACC Team as Recruits
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State (2010)
There are plenty of other star recruits on the Florida State defense, but the Salisbury (Conn.) High prospect was the best this year. The three-star recruit was the No. 65-rated defensive tackle and the No. 5-rated player in the state by Rivals. His offer sheet wasn’t long but had some intriguing names: Oregon, Rutgers, Missouri, Cal, UConn and Boston College to name a few. The Noles were lucky to get this underrated prospect.
Tank Carradine, DL, Florida State (2009)
Cornelius “Tank” Carradine was an undersized weakside defensive end prospect who was listed at 6-foot-5 and just 205 pounds. Hailing from the storied Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft program, Carradine, who is listed at 250 pounds now, was a three-star prospect by Rivals. He was the No. 18-rated weakside end and was the No. 18-rated player in the state. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pitt, Illinois and Cincinnati also offered the smallish end.
Sylvester Williams, DL, North Carolina (2011)
Williams took an interesting path to Chapel Hill. He played one year of football before going to work for Modine Manufacturing Company before enrolling at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College shortly after high school. He is from Jefferson City, Mo., originally and took one more shot at making it on the football field. After excelling at Coffeyville, Williams became a three-star JUCO prospect who got offers from Georgia, USC, West Virginia, Baylor, Kansas State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech among others. Rivals rated him the No. 23 JUCO prospect in the nation.
Kareem Martin, DL, North Carolina (2010)
The in-state defensive lineman from Roanoke Rapids (N.C.) High was a three-star recruit by Rivals. He was the No. 14-rated player in the state and the No. 28-rated weakside defensive end in the nation. He picked the Tar Heels over offers from nearly every other ACC school in the league.
Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina (2008)
Yet another three-star Tar Heel defensive prospect, Reddick hails from New Bern (N.C.) High. He was the No. 9-rated player in the state and the No. 33-rated outside linebacker in the nation. He had offers from Clemson, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and more before picking North Carolina.
Nick Clancy, LB, Boston College (2008)
Boston College has produced some elite linebackers in the last decade and Clancy is the latest. He was a three-star prospect from Joliet (Ill.) Catholic back in 2008 by Rivals and ranked as the No. 40 outside linebacker and the No. 8 player in the state. Clancy picked the Eagles over BCS offers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa State, Northwestern, Purdue and Vanderbilt.
Jack Tyler, LB, Virginia Tech (2009)
Rivals totally whiffed on the talented Hokies linebacker. He is not listed as a member of the signing class and had no star ranking of any kind. The website shows he had no offers despite winning State Defensive Player of the Year honors at Oakton (Va.) High. The walk-on tackler redshirted and became an All-ACC performer as a junior.
Demetrius Martsfield, LB, Maryland (2008)
From Raleigh (N.C.) Southeast, Hartsfield was a three-star inside linebacker prospect by Rivals. He was the No. 30-rated middle backer and the No. 18-rated player in the state. He got two BCS offers from Duke and Maryland to go with smaller offers from East Carolina and Buffalo.
Xavier Rhodes, DB, Florida State (2009)
Rhodes played his prep ball at Miami (Fla.) Norland — the same high school as Duke Johnson. He was actually evaluated as a wide receiver, ranking as the No. 75 player at his position nationally by Rivals. He was the No. 91-rated player in the state and earned three-stars from the website. He held four offers out of high school: Florida State, Auburn, West Virginia and FIU.
Ross Cockrell, DB, Duke (2009)
Duke and Virginia were the only FBS programs to offer the cornerback prospect from Charlotte (N.C.) Latin. He was the No. 76-rated coverman in the nation by Rivals and was a three-star recruit.
David Amerson, DB, NC State (2010) National Recruit
The first-team All-ACC offense features 10 four- and five-star recruits. Amerson is the only defensive player on the ACC’s first-team to land at least four stars. The four-star from Greensboro (N.C.) Dudley was ranked as a safety — the No. 16-rated safety in the nation. He was the No. 206-rated player in the entire nation and the No. 6-rated player in the state. He had an elite offer sheet with LSU, Clemson, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, South Carolina to go with his NC State scholarship.
Antone Exum, DB, Virginia Tech (2009)
Exum was ranked as a three-star “athlete” by Rivals back in 2009. He was the No. 38-rated player nationally at his position and the No. 14-rated player in the state of Virginia. Hailing from Glen Allen (Va.) Deep Run, Exum also got offers from big-time programs like Louisville, Penn State, Oregon, South Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits
Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look at how each all-conference team ranked as high school recruits with the first-team All-Big Ten team.
2012 Offensive All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (2011) AC100
Miller was a star in high school and it earned him a spot in the Athlon Consensus 100. He trailed only Florida’s Jeff Driskel as the No. 2-rated quarterback prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. The Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne star was the No. 30-rated player in the nation and was the No. 1-rated player in the state of Ohio. His offer sheet was a who’s who of college powerhouses as Alabama, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and many others tried to land the dual-threat. Miller, however, was all Buckeye committing to Ohio State well before his senior season. He was a four-star recruit by Rivals.com
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (2009) National Recruit
Ball came to Wisconsin as the 5A Missouri State Player of the Year after rushing for 8,222 yards and 107 touchdowns at Wentzville (Mo.) Timberland. He was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 33 running back in the nation and was a four-star recruit. Ball was the No. 4 player in the state of Missouri by Athlon Sports and the No. 3 player in the Badgers’ 2009 class, and he picked Wisconsin over offers from Missouri, Stanford, Kansas, Northwestern, Iowa State and Indiana.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State (2010)
Rivals missed the boat on the Reynoldsburg (Ohio) Groveport Madison running back. He was a two-star recruit who wasn’t ranked in the Ohio Top 60 or in the national running back rankings either. That said, most coaching staffs missed on the workhorse back as well. He had four offers to play college football and Michigan State was his only BCS scholarship. Marshall, Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green were Bell’s other options.
Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin (2009)
Abbrederis was an all-conference performer on the high school level as both a quarterback and cornerback for Wautoma (Wis.) High School. He does not even have a recruiting profile on any of the three major recruiting services (Scout, Rivals, 247). The former walk-on had no star ranking and didn’t have any other FBS offers.
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State (2011)
The sophomore wideout hails from Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary’s High. He was the No. 24-rated player in the state of Michigan that year and was given three stars by Rivals. His only other offers besides Penn State were Buffalo, Minnesota and Toledo. Should he continue to develop, Robinson should vastly out-perform his recruiting stock.
Kyle Carter, TE, Penn State (2011)
The No. 3-rated player in the state of Delaware in 2011 was this Nittany Lion tight end. From New Castle (Del.) William Penn, Carter was a two-star prospect by Rivals. Bucknell and Delaware were the only other offers on his sheet.
Spencer Long, OL, Nebraska (2009)
A walk-on, Long redshirted during his first year in Lincoln. From Elkhorn (Neb.) High School, coaching staffs and recruiting services alike completely missed on the burly blocker. Long has developed into one of the more consistent performers in the league.
Travis Frederick, OL, Wisconsin (2009)
The massive blocker signed with the Badgers from the appropriately named Big Foot High School in Walworth, Wisc. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals and was ranked as the No. 5 player in the state and the No. 83 offensive tackle in the nation. He held only four offers total with Wisconsin as his only BCS scholarship. Frederick picked UW over Air Force, Navy and North Dakota State.
Ricky Wagner, OL, Wisconsin (2008)
The all-conference blocker was yet another walk-on as a recruit back in 2008. The big blocker came to Madison from West Allis (Wisc.) Nathan Hale and was passed over by coaches and scouts alike. Big Red fans are certainly thankful he showed up on campus five years ago.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (2009) National Recruit
Hailing all the way from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral, Lewan came to Michigan as a highly touted prospect with offers from all over the nation. He wasn’t a top 100 recruit, but was a four-star player who had his pick of schools. He was rated as the No. 194 overall player, the No. 16 offensive tackle and the No. 5 player in the state by Rivals.
Andrew Norwell, OL, Ohio State (2010) AC100
The Buckeyes' top blocker trailed only Texas signee Jordan Hicks in the Athlon Sports Ohio state recruiting rankings. The Cincinnati (Ohio) Anderson product was the No. 4-rated offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 34-rated overall player in the nation. He was a four-star prospect by Rivals and was considered by many as a can’t-miss recruit. Notre Dame, Stanford, Cincinnati, Illinois and others tried to land the blocker to no avail. Norwell committed to Ohio State in February of his junior year.
Related: The Athlon Consensus 100
Star ranking breakdown of the first-team All-Big Ten (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Defensive All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
Eric Martin, DL, Nebraska (2009)
The Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde prospect was a three-star recruit by Rivals. He got plenty of West Coast love with offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, Washington, Washington State and Nevada as well as Nebraska. Martin was listed as a 6-foot-2, 215-pound inside linebacker — the 26th best middle linebacker and the No. 38-rated player in the state.
John Simon, DL, Ohio State (2009) AC100
Much like Norwell, Simon was the No. 2-rated prospect in the state of Ohio for his class. The Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney product trailed only fellow OSU signees Marcus Hall in The Buckeye State rankings. Simon was actually the No. 7-rated defensive tackle prospect and was the No. 48-rated overall player in the AC100.
Jordan Hill, DL, Penn State (2009)
Penn State landed a gem in this Steelton (Pa.) Highspire defensive lineman. He was listed as a two-star strongside defensive end prospect by Rivals. His offer sheet wasn’t long but he had scholarship offers from Rutgers, Pitt and Temple as well as Penn State. He was the No. 39-rated player in The Keystone State.
Kawann Short, DL, Purdue (2008)
The star interior defensive lineman signed with Purdue from East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School. He had no other BCS offers and was a three-star recruit according to Rivals. He was the No. 6-rated player in the state and the No. 57-rated defensive tackle in the nation.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State (2011) National Recruit
The hard-hitting backer just missed making the AC100 as the No. 111-rated player in the nation in 2011. The Plantation (Fla.) High prospect was the No. 12-rated linebacker recruit in the nation and was given four stars by Rivals. He received offers from every major program in the nation and had his pick of scholarships.
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State (2008) National Recruit
Not many Pelican State prospects end up signing with Penn State but that is exactly what the Mandeville (La.) High talent did in 2008. Mauti was the No. 8-rated player in the state of Louisiana and the No. 16-rated inside linebacker in the nation. The four-star recruit by Rivals had offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana Tech as well as Penn State. He just missed landing in the AC100.
Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin (2008)
The tackling machine for the Badgers was a 6-foot-2, 195-pound outside linebacker recruit back in 2008. The Ashwaubenon (Wisc.) High product was the No. 6-rated player in the state and was given two stars by Rivals. He picked UW over Air Force, Army, Iowa and Wyoming.
Micah Hyde, DB, Iowa (2009)
Hyde was originally a two-star dual-threat quarterback recruit as ranked by Rivals.com. He had offers from one BCS program (Iowa) and a host of solid MAC schools: Ball State, Bowling Green, Miami-OH, Ohio, Toledo and Eastern Michigan. Hyde signed with Iowa from Fostoria (Ohio) High School.
Daimion Stafford, DB, Nebraska (2011) JUCO
According to Huskers.com, Stafford had scholarship offers from USC and Florida coming out of Norco High School in California. He instead landed at Chaffey (Calif.) College. After two seasons at Chaffey, he became a four-star JUCO prospect with offers from Florida, USC, Iowa State, New Mexico and Nebraska. He was the No. 14-rated junior college recruit in the nation in 2011.
Travis Howard, DB, Ohio State (2008) National Recruit
From notable South Florida Dr. Krop High School in Miami, Howard earned four stars from Rivals in the 2008 class. He was the No. 19-rated cornerback in the nation and the No. 43-rated player in the Sunshine State. He picked the Buckeyes over offers from Florida, Miami, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin.
Bradley Roby, DB, Ohio State (2010)
Signing with the Buckeyes out of Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge from deep in the South, Roby was a three-star wide receiver by Rivals. He was not ranked in the state or at his position in anyway, making his deep offer sheet that much more impressive. He picked Ohio State over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, West Virginia and many others.
Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
After three seasons of being a major conference by name only, the Pac-12 is starting to make a comeback. Arizona’s win over Florida (aided by a late-game collapse by the Gators) on Saturday and Oregon’s win over UNLV in late November have given the league its best non-conference wins in a while.
An influx of freshmen and transfers have helped the Pac-12 catch up, though not in the way we expected in the preseason. UCLA’s freshman class, for example, has failed to help the Bruins pull out of their funk.
As teams finish up finals and head to semester breaks, Athlon will examine the college basketball landscape through the first month or so of the season before conference play begins later this month and into January.
Here’s our look at the scene so far in the Pac-12.
EARLY SEASON CONFERENCE CATCHUP: PAC-12
Other conferences: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | SEC | Non-Big Six
|Arizona guard Nick Johnson|
Surprise team: Oregon
Before the season started, the question was if E.J. Singler would have help. Through the Ducks’ 9-1 start, the answer is yes. Singler’s production and efficiency is down from last season, but the arrival of freshman Damyean Dotson and Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi have stabilized the Oregon lineup. Dotson was an unheralded recruit from Houston, but he’s leading the Ducks in scoring (11 points per game). And Kazemi is one of the league’s leading rebounders (10.2 per game).
Disappointing team: UCLA
The arrival of the nation’s top freshman class was supposed to revive the Bruins. Instead, it’s the same old story in Westwood. Even when Shabazz Muhammad was declared eligible, the Bruins have struggled to mesh the talented pieces on the roster. UCLA is still losing games in embarrassing fashion (i.e. blowing an 18-point lead at home to Cal Poly) and losing players off the roster (Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb).
Where’d he come from? Nick Johnson, Arizona
At times last season, Johnson was Arizona’s best player on the court. He’s delivered on that promise more consistently as a sophomore. He’s averaging 13.8 points this season, up from nine points per game, but his efficiency numbers are where he’s taken the biggest leap. The guard is shooting 55.1 percent from the floor, up from 37.2 percent a year ago. He also raised his rate from the 3-point line by 10 percentage points to 43 percent.
Where’d he go? Jio Fontan, USC
A healthy Fontan was supposed to lead a rebound season for the Trojans, but that hasn’t materialized yet. Fontan missed all of last season with a torn ACL. He’s averaging a career-bets 5.2 assists per game, but he’s struggled from the floor, shooting just 30.4 percent. USC is hopeful this cast of transfers will come together as the season. The point guard Fontan, who has been touted for his leadership, will be central to that goal.
Key stat: Colorado’s assist numbers
Colorado is an NCAA Tournament contender, so it’s surprising to see the Buffaloes among the worst in the country in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. The Buffaloes are averaging 9.1 assists per game (By comparison, Pac-12 assist leader Larry Drew II of UCLA averages 8.3 assists per game). The Buffs also have a Pac-12-worst assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.6-to-1. It’s going to be difficult to maintain an NCAA Tournament-worthy season with numbers like that.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN CONFERENCE PLAY
|UCLA coach Ben Howland|
Can talent overcome adversity at UCLA? The Bruins may be slowly climbing out of the early season slump. Shabazz Muhammad is working back into game shape and answered with 25 against Prairie View A&M and 21 against Long Beach State. If UCLA is going to find the right mix among all its talented pieces, the Bruins may find out starting in less than two weeks when they face Missouri (Dec. 28), Cal (Jan. 3) and Stanford (Jan. 5).
What is Arizona’s ceiling? Undefeated Arizona already established itself as the top team in the league as the Wildcats’ veterans -- Johnson, Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom -- have meshed well with the newcomers Mark Lyons, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. The Wildcats aren’t perfect -- they can be turnover-happy at times -- but Arizona appears to be the best chance for the Pac-12 to have a nationally relevant team this year. Arizona gave the Pac-12 one of two major non-conference wins for the league (Oregon over UNLV would be the other) and can add to its tally if the Wildcats defeat San Diego State in the Diamond Head Classic.
Which coach will save his job? The Pac-12 struggled mightily last season, but every coach kept his job at the end of the season. The crew of coaches probably won’t be so luck this season. Arizona State’s Herb Sendek, Oregon State’s Craig Robinson, Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins, UCLA’s Ben Howland, USC’s Kevin O’Neill, Washington’s Lorenzo Romar and Washington State’s Ken Bone may all be coaching for their jobs to various degrees once conference play begins.
PAC-12 POWER RANKINGS
Player of the year watch
Nick Johnson, Arizona
Allen Crabbe, Cal
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Freshman of the year watch
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Jordan Adams, UCLA
Damyean Dotson, Oregon
Coach of the year watch
Sean Miller, Arizona
Dana Altman, Oregon
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
1. Arizona (9-0). The Wildcats added the Pac-12’s top signing class outside of UCLA. The difference is that Arizona’s top four scorers are returnees, including one of the nation’s best glue guys in Solomon Hill.
2. Oregon (9-1). Former Rice forward Arsalan Kazemi may be in contention for transfer of the year: He’s averaging 10.3 rebounds and leads the Pac-12 in steals (3.5 per game) for one of the nation’s surprise teams.
3. Colorado (8-2). Andre Roberson has had at least 10 rebounds in six consecutive games including 20 in Wednesday’s win over Fresno State. A third consecutive postseason trip, the first time in school history that’s happened, seems likely. But which postseason tourney will it be?
4. Cal (7-3). The Bears have dropped three of their last four, including a 25-point loss at Wisconsin, a one-point loss to UNLV and 10-point loss to Creighton. Pac-12 scoring leader Allen Crabbe (21 ppg) will try to right the ship before opening conference play on the road against UCLA and USC.
5. Stanford (7-4). After losses to Belmont, Missouri, Minnesota and NC State, Stanford is running low on chances for signature non-conference wins. The Cardinal visit Northwestern on Friday.
6. UCLA (8-3). The Bruins top freshman so far has been Jordan Adams (16.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg). In his signing class, he was the only one of the four who was not a McDonald’s All-American.
7. Arizona State (9-2). A 78-61 loss at home to DePaul a week ago signals Arizona State’s gaudy record is a mirage.
8. Oregon State (7-2). Oregon State gave Kansas trouble in an 84-70 loss on Nov. 30 and lost 65-62 to Alabama on Nov. 15. Are these signs of progress in Corvallis?
9. Washington State (7-4). Three of the Cougars’ four losses (Pepperdine, Texas A&M and Gonzaga) have come by one or two points. Brock Motum (20.4 ppg) has delivered despite a diminished supporting cast.
10. Utah (7-3). The Utes are one of the most improved teams in the Pac-12. With Tuesday's 62-53 win over SMU, Utah already exceeded last season's win total.
11. Washington (6-4). It may be one of those years for the Huskies, who have already lost to Albany, Colorado State and Nevada this season. From Dec. 29-Jan. 26, Washington will play six of eight games on the road.
12. USC (4-6). Not a bad way to end a five-game losing streak: The Trojans defeated UC Riverside 70-26 on Saturday, holding the Highlanders to 11 of 58 shooting and 1 of 14 from 3-point range.
NFL Week 16 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Falcons (12-2) at Lions (4-10)
Atlanta is one win away from locking up home-field in the NFC Playoffs, which should happen on Saturday night against Detroit’s not ready for prime time players — with the exception of Calvin Johnson, who is the only receiver in history with back-to-back 1,600-yard seasons and is in the midst of a record-tying seven-game 100-yard receiving streak.
Falcons by 9
Titans (5-9) at Packers (10-4)
Green Bay has posted a 6–0 record in Title Town at Lambeau Field since losing its season opener against San Francisco.
Packers by 13
Vikings (8-6) at Texans (12-2)
Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson is 294 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.
Texans by 9
Rams (6-7-1) at Buccaneers (6-8)
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano appears to have hit the rookie wall, losing four straight contests.
Rams by 1
Redskins (8-6) at Eagles (4-10)
Robert Griffin III’s jersey sales continue to break all-time records thanks to games like the one he had against Philly in Week 11 — when RG3 completed 14-of-15 passes and threw four TDs.
Redskins by 6
Saints (6-8) at Cowboys (8-6)
Texas native Drew Brees returns to the state where he won an undefeated Class 5A state title as a senior at Westlake High School in 1996.
Cowboys by 2
Chargers (5-9) at Jets (6-8)
Mark Sanchez has finally been benched, and Greg McElroy — not Tim Tebow — will start against the Chargers’ rolling blackout defense.
Jets by 1
Raiders (4-10) at Panthers (5-9)
The Cats have won three of their last four, but are only 2–5 in Charlotte this season.
Panthers by 6
Bills (5-9) at Dolphins (6-8)
Buffalo beat Miami, 19–14, on Thursday night in Week 11 in a game that featured four FGs and a Leodis McKelvin punt return TD for the Bills.
Dolphins by 5
Bengals (8-6) at Steelers (7-7)
Cincy can clinch its second straight playoff berth if it can snap a five-game losing streak against the Steelers — and do so in Pittsburgh.
Steelers by 3
Patriots (10-4) at Jaguars (2-12)
Expect the frustrated Pats to beat the spots off the clawless Jags in this lopsided matchup.
Patriots by 18
Colts (9-5) at Chiefs (2-12)
Andrew Luck needs just 74 yards to break Cam Newton’s rookie passing record of 4,051 yards.
Colts by 8
Browns (5-9) at Broncos (11-3)
Peyton Manning probably won’t need a John Elway-inspired “Drive” to beat these Browns.
Broncos by 15
Giants (8-6) at Ravens (9-5)
Road warriors last December and January, the G-Men have lost three straight away from home.
Giants by 1
Bears (8-6) at Cardinals (5-9)
After losing five of last six games, Jay Cutler thinks 2012 is “right up there” with 2009.
Bears by 4
49ers (10-3-1) at Seahawks (9-5)
Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll — formerly of Stanford and USC, respectively — renew their Pac-12 rivalry under the lights on Sunday night.
49ers by 1
Last week: 11–5 // This season: 150–75
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The San Francisco 49ers have moved into the top spot after knocking off the previous No. 1 New England Patriots, while no team is playing worse than the Kansas City Chiefs, who were blanked by the Oakland Raiders for the second time in history this weekend.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 15 of the season:
1. 49ers (10-3-1) Colin Kaepernick throws four TDs to beat Pats.
2. Falcons (12-2) Have not lost consecutive contests in 49 games.
3. Patriots (10-4) Suffer defeat at home for first time in 21 games.
4. Texans (12-2) Clinch second straight AFC South title against Colts.
5. Broncos (11-3) Winners of nine straight after 2–3 start to season.
6. Packers (10-4) Riding six-game win streak in NFL’s oldest rivalry.
7. Seahawks (9-5) Third team ever to score 50 in back-to-back weeks.
8. Ravens (9-5) Offense struggles in Jim Caldwell’s first game as OC.
9. Colts (9-5) Andrew Luck sacked five times in loss at Houston.
10. Redskins (8-6) Don’t miss a beat with Kirk Cousins replacing RG3.
11. Giants (8-6) Shutout for first time since 1996 in Atlanta blowout.
12. Cowboys (8-6) Brandon Carr INT sets up game-winning FG in OT.
13. Vikings (8-6) Adrian Peterson now on pace for 2,071 rush yards.
14. Bears (8-6) Have gone 1–5 after starting season with 7–1 mark.
15. Steelers (7-7) Staggering after fourth loss in five games at Big D.
16. Bengals (8-6) A.J. Green has scored TDs in 10 of 14 games in ’12.
17. Rams (6-7-1) Steven Jackson tops 10,000 rush yards in defeat.
18. Saints (6-8) Defense pitches first shutout since 1995 vs. Bucs.
19. Buccaneers (6-8) Freeman throws four INTs, Martin held to 16 yards.
20. Panthers (5-9) Mike Tolbert does Dougie TD dance twice at Bolts.
21. Titans (5-9) CJ2K’s 94-yard TD longest run in NFL since 2006.
22. Dolphins (6-8) Notch season-high 26 first downs in win over Jags.
23. Jets (6-8) Mark Sanchez throws game away with four INTs.
24. Bills (5-9) Fall to 1–4 all-time across border in Toronto Series.
25. Chargers (5-9) Third consecutive TV blackout in Southern California.
26. Browns (5-9) Richardson breaks Jim Brown’s rookie TD record.
27. Cardinals (5-9) Snap nine-game losing streak with win over Lions.
28. Raiders (4-10) Sebastian Janikowski hits five FGs in shutout win.
29. Eagles (4-10) Suffer double-digit losses for first time since 2005.
30. Lions (4-10) Megatron unable to transform statistics into wins.
31. Jaguars (2-12) Chad Henne returns to Miami, promptly loses by 21.
32. Chiefs (2-12) Blanked by Raiders for second time in series history.
It’s fantasy football Super Bowl time. This week, the majority of leagues across the country will crown a champion who will win bragging rights, trophies, a few dollars, a trip to Vegas, who knows? And while every league is different, there are several key players acquired throughout the season who push a contender over the top, regardless of scoring, league size or any other variable.
With that in mind, here’s a look at this year’s best fantasy stars — with a mix of high-rounders who lived up to expectations, longshots who panned out and undrafted All-Pros who helped make up for a few expensive, high-pick busts.
QB – Peyton Manning, Broncos
After at least four neck surgeries and a wiped out 2011 season, even the biggest Manning fans were worried he might not return to top form. But 4,016 yards and 31 TDs later, no one is doubting No. 18 anymore.
QB – Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Those who took a late-round, backup QB flier on RG3 — hoping he would be the second-coming of Cam Newton — have been rewarded with 2,902 passing yards, 748 rush yards and 24 total TDs from the rookie.
RB – Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Just nine months after suffering a brutal knee injury, “All Day” slipped in fantasy drafts due to health concerns. Enjoy the one-year discount. After 1,812 yards and counting, he’s be a top-three pick again in 2013.
RB – Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
“Beast Mode” has been in full effect all season, as Lynch has produced either 100 yards or one TD in nine games this season.
RB – Alfred Morris, Redskins
Unlike most Week 1 waiver wire pickups, the rookie out of Florida Atlantic has continued to shine — with 1,322 yards and nine TDs.
WR – A.J. Green, Bengals
There was no sophomore slump for the Bengals’ go-to wideout. Green has been unbelievably consistent, scoring TDs in 10 of 14 games.
WR – Brandon Marshall, Bears
The highly anticipated reunion with Jay Cutler has gone even better than most anticipated, as Marshall has 107 catches for 1,398 yards and 11 TDs.
WR – Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
If Thomas could catch passes from Tim Tebow, imagine what he could do with Peyton Manning? The answer is 1,210 yards and eight TDs.
TE – Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
The future first-ballot Hall of Famer is going out with 87 catches for 880 yards and eight TDs after being largely overlooked on draft day.
Florida State’s search for a defensive coordinator is over. Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt has been hired as the replacement for Mark Stoops, who left to become Kentucky’s head coach after three seasons in Tallahassee.
Considering Jimbo Fisher’s experience and familiarity with Nick Saban, it’s no surprise he looked at Pruitt as a possible replacement for Stoops. However, this move might be one of the offseason’s most curious coordinator hires.
Before diving into Pruitt’s background, it’s important to note Fisher did a good job of assembling a staff when he took over in Tallahassee, so he may have a good eye for coaching talent.
Examining Pruitt’s Background
Pruitt played his college ball at MTSU and Alabama, helping to lead the Crimson Tide to the 1996 SEC West title. After his college career was finished, Pruitt joined Alabama as a student assistant in 1997, before spending the next three years at Plainview High School (1998 and 2000), then West Alabama in 1999.
After one year at West Alabama, Pruitt accumulated more experience on the high school level, spending 2001-03 as an assistant coach at Fort Payne High School and then as an assistant with Hoover High School in 2004 and worked as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2005-06.
Pruitt was picked by Nick Saban to be Alabama’s director of player development in 2007 and continued in that role until becoming the team’s defensive backs coach in 2010.
How much of a role did Pruitt play in the development of Alabama’s secondary?
This is tough to answer. There’s no doubt Nick Saban is college football’s best coach and is regarded as one of the top defensive minds. Coordinator Kirby Smart also played a role in the development of the defense, so you have to wonder just how much Pruitt factored in the secondary.
Regardless of how much Saban and Smart factored into the secondary, it’s hard to argue with the results. Alabama ranked 13th nationally in pass defense in 2010, first in 2011 and sixth in 2012. Considering the secondary had to replace three starters, including first-round picks Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, finishing sixth nationally in pass defense was an impressive performance from the Crimson Tide.
No coordinator experience
The biggest concern about the Pruitt hire has to be the lack of coordinator experience on the collegiate level. Anytime you hire someone to step into the coordinator role without some experience, it’s always a risk that the defense will suffer a drop in performance.
The good news for Pruitt is Florida State has plenty of talent to work with, even with the likely departure of end Bjoern Werner to the NFL. Mario Edwards, Jr. is ready to breakout in 2013, while the line returns tackles Timmy Jernigan, Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel. Linebacker Christian Jones garnered second-team all-conference honors this season, and the secondary is in good shape for next season.
Considering Pruitt’s lack of experience as a coordinator, Florida State needs to surround him with veteran coaches. And it seems the Seminoles will do that with former Alabama assistant Sal Sunseri. Although Sunseri had a horrendous season as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, the veteran coach should be an asset to Florida State in 2013. Sunseri has a wealth of experience and is highly regarded for his work on the recruiting trail.
The Seminoles were a 4-3 team under Stoop,s but it's fair to wonder if Fisher is considering a switch to a 3-4 in the future. Pruitt and Sunseri are both experienced in that scheme, but Florida State would need some time to recruit the necessary talent to switch to a 3-4 approach.
Good hire or Bad hire?
Even though Pruitt isn’t a big name, he is an intriguing risk for Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. Considering his recruiting connections and experience with Nick Saban, Pruitt should fit in well on Fisher’s staff and will bring some new ideas to Tallahassee. The one downside for Fisher is this hire has a lot of risk and could backfire, which would send the program back in the wrong direction. Adding Sunseri as a position coach will be overlooked but is good move to help with Pruitt’s inexperience.
While it’s risky, Pruitt deserves a chance to show he can be a FBS coordinator or whether he is better served as a position coach. There’s no question Pruitt will be under the microscope early and often in 2013. Is he the next Sunseri or the next Will Muschamp? Only time will time. However, considering the success Fisher had of selecting his initial staff, he deserves the benefit of the doubt (for now) with this hire.
Grading Florida State’s hire of Pruitt: B-
Related College Football Content
As 2012 comes to a close, Athlon will count down the top individual performances in each major sport from the year, culminating with a full list of the top 50 performances of the year.
It is important to remember that for the NFL, 2012 started with the end of the 2011 regular season and the playoffs, in addition to the first 15 weeks of the current season. That’s why Tom Brady’s record-tying performance against Denver in last season’s AFC Divisional Round comes in at No. 1 on this list, even though the game was played back in January.
A few other players also make this Top 10 for work they did last year, but that doesn’t mean that the current season isn’t well represented. In a year that’s been defined by the rise of the rookie quarterbacks, not to mention some incredible comeback performances, there have been numerous record-setting, jaw-dropping efforts. In fact, the problem wasn’t finding 10 to fill out this list, it was deciding which 10 made the cut.
So without further ado, here is our list for the year’s most impressive single-game efforts.
1. Jan. 14: Tom Brady truly Terrific against Denver in AFC playoffs
Denver came into this AFC Divisional playoff matchup with New England riding a bunch of momentum after shocking Pittsburgh at home in its overtime win the previous Sunday. Brady and the Patriots’ offense made sure the Broncos knew who the best team was in this one, however, as No. 12 tossed five touchdown passes in the first half and added one more in the third quarter to tie the postseason single-game record. Brady broke his own franchise record for most passing yards (363) in a playoff game and climbed up the all-time postseason passing charts with arguably his best playoff performance yet.
2. Oct. 14: Aaron Rodgers torches undefeated Texans in primetime
Green Bay entered the Week 6 Sunday night showdown with Houston at just 2-3, having blown a 21-3 halftime lead to Indianapolis Colts the previous week. The Texans were undefeated, boasted one of the league’s best defenses, and seemingly ready to make a statement on national television by taking down the mighty Packers. The reigning NFL MVP had something else in mind, however, throwing two touchdown passes in the first quarter to help his team jump out to a 14-0 lead. He would add four more in the next three quarters, tying the Green Bay single-game record with six touchdown passes, as the Packers would cruise to a convincing 42-24 victory. Rodgers finished with 338 yards and no turnovers, becoming just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 300 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in a game.
3. Nov. 4: Rookie Doug Martin breaks out in Oakland
Martin, the No. 31 overall pick in April’s draft out of Boise State, entered the game in Oakland coming off of his best performance of his rookie season. He piled up 214 total yards and two touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s win in Minnesota the previous Thursday. Little did anyone know he would make that game seem minor, but that’s what happened as he piled up 251 yards on 25 rushing attempts in the Buccaneers’ Week 9 win against the Raiders. Besides posting the third-most rushing yards by a rookie in a game, Martin joined Mike Anderson as the only backs in NFL history with at least 250 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a single contest. Martin scored on runs of 70, 67, 45 and 1, making him the first back since 1940 to score on three runs of at least 45 yards in one game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Nicely done rook.
4. Nov. 18: Matt Schaub’s record-setting day helps Texans outlast Jaguars
Known for its running game, Houston relied on Schaub and the passing attack in Week 11 against AFC South rival Jacksonville. Thanks to Chad Henne’s impressive performance (354-4-0) off of the bench, the Texans found themselves in a closer-than-expected battle with the Jaguars. Schaub saved the day with his franchise-record 43 completions, 527 passing yards and career-high five touchdown passes. The yards tied Warren Moon for the second-most in a game in NFL history, second only to Norm Van Brocklin’s 554 (set back in 1951). Schaub threw two scoring strikes with less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter to tie the game, and finally won it with a 48-yarder to wide receiver Andre Johnson (see No. 8) with just 2:10 left in overtime.
5. Dec. 16: Adrian Peterson continues his run for history with season-best effort in St. Louis
At this rate, you could make one impressive list of performances just using Peterson’s 2012 season, but for our purposes, we’ll go with his most recent gem. Less than a year removed from a devastating knee injury, Peterson is redefining the term Comeback Player of the Year, and that’s with all due respect to what Peyton Manning is doing in his first season in Denver. Look no further than Sunday’s 212-yard effort in Minnesota’s win in St. Louis, highlighted by a 82-yard touchdown run. Not only was it All Day’s second 200-yard game of the season, it was the fourth of his career. Only O.J. Simpson (six) and Tiki Barber (five) have more such games in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). What’s more, it was Peterson’s sixth game with at least 150 yards rushing, leaving him one shy of Earl Campbell’s single-season record of seven (set in 1980). Peterson himself has already set a personal-best for yards in a single season with 1,812, which is more rushing yards than 24 teams have. With two games remaining and needing less than 300 yards, no one would be surprised if he made good on his goal of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 rushing yards.
6. Jan. 1: Matt Flynn makes most of only start of 2011 season
With the top seed and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs already secure, Green Bay decided to rest eventual MVP Aaron Rodgers in the season finale against Detroit on New Year’s Day. Enter Flynn, making his first start of the season and only second of his NFL career. Turns out Flynn can do a pretty decent Rodgers impression, as he torched the Lions for 480 yards and six touchdowns, both Packers’ single-game records, in the 45-41 win. Flynn teamed with Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford (see. No. 7) to set some NFL history of their own, as it was the first time opposing quarterbacks each threw for more than 400 yards and at least five touchdowns in a game. It also set the mark for most net passing yards (971) in a single game. Flynn parlayed this big game into a big payday, as the soon-to-be free agent would end up signing a three-year contract with Seattle that could be worth up to $26 million and included $10 million guaranteed. Ironically, an elbow injury in the preseason resulted in Russell Wilson replacing him as the Seahawks’ starter. Wilson, who just missed making this list (see Honorable mention below) , doesn’t appear ready to give the job back to Flynn anytime soon either.
7. Jan. 1: Matthew Stafford caps breakout 2011 season with record-setting day
Prior to the 2011 season, Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft, had trouble simply staying on the field. In his first two seasons he missed more games (19) than he played in (13), raising all sorts of questions about his long-term future. He put many of these to rest after passing for more than 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns last season, helping the Lions end a 12-year playoff drought in the process. Stafford saved his best for last, throwing for 520 yards and five touchdowns against Green Bay in a 45-41 loss on New Year’s Day to close out the ’11 regular season. Even though he shared the Lambeau Field spotlight that day with Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn (see No. 6), it was Stafford who finished with the fifth-most yards passing in a single game and the most by a losing quarterback since Dan Marino had 521 back in 1988.
8. Nov. 18: Andre Johnson first declaws Jacksonville’s secondary then breaks Jaguars’ hearts in overtime
While Matt Schaub (see No. 4) rewrote the Houston passing records in the Texans’ Week 11 win over Jacksonville, he would not have done so without a huge assist from Johnson. Schaub found his favorite target 14 times for 273 yards against the Jaguars, including a 48-yard game-winning touchdown with just 2:01 remaining in overtime. It was a career day for Johnson, as the All-Pro wideout set a franchise record for receiving yards and posted the seventh-highest single-game total in NFL history.
9. Jan. 14: Rob Gronkowski sets a new postseason standard for tight ends
Half of Tom Brady’s record-tying six touchdown passes (see No. 1) in last season’s AFC Divisional round victory over Denver went to Rob Gronkowski, his favorite tight end. Gronkowksi finished the game against the Broncos with 10 receptions for 145 yards and the three scores. Not only did the man affectionately known as “Gronk” tie the postseason single-game record for touchdown catches, he posted the most productive game by a tight end in the playoffs in 25 seasons. In fact, Jan. 14 was a big day for tight ends in general as New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis also had more than 100 yards receiving and caught two touchdowns in their respective games.
10. Nov. 19: Aldon Smith dominates Bears on “Monday Night Football”
Week 11 was set up to finish with a bang, as San Francisco was hosting Chicago in a matchup of two of the top teams in the NFC and toughest defenses in the NFL. Alas, the “Monday Night Football” showdown never materialized as the 49ers’ defense manhandled the Bears’ offense from the opening snap, highlighted by Smith’s 5.5 sacks. Even though it was backup Jason Campbell under center for the Bears in place of a concussed Jay Cutler, it didn’t matter to Smith and the rest of the 49ers, as the linebacker also chipped in seven total tackles and two forced fumbles in the convincing 32-7 whitewashing. The Bears may be the Monsters of the Midway, but Smith was an absolute beast that night.
Oct. 14: Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III helps the Redskins beat Minnesota 38-26 by doing it with both his arm and his legs. The rookie throws for 182 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 17-of-22 passing, while also running for 138 yards and two scores on 13 carries in the Week 6 home win. His day’s work includes a 76-yard scoring run, the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in 16 years, and he finishes with the fifth-most rushing yards by a signal caller in NFL history.
Dec. 2: Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck saves his best for last, capping the Colts’ 14-point fourth-quarter comeback in Detroit by throwing the game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock. The rookie ends the game with 391 yards passing, four touchdowns, three interceptions and, most importantly, the Week 13 victory.
Dec. 9: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has not been near as productive this season compared to his 2011 rookie campaign, but tell that to NFC South rival Atlanta. Newton threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns and posted the first 100-yard rushing game of his career with 116 and a score (72 yards) in leading the Panthers to a 30-20 upset win in Week 14 over the division-leading Falcons.
Dec. 9: New York Giants running back David Wilson set a franchise-record for all-purpose yards when he piled up 327 against New Orleans in Week 14. The rookie first-round pick rushed for 100 yards on 13 carries, including a 52- yard touchdown run, and also returned four kickoffs for 227 yards, one of them 97 for a score, in the Giants’ 52-27 rout of the Saints.Dec. 16: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another in the Seahawks’ 50-17 dismantling of Buffalo in Toronto in Week 15. Wilson became the first quarterback with three rushing touchdowns since Daunte Culpepper did it against Chicago on Dec. 3, 2000. The touchdown pass was his 21st of the season, tying him with Cam Newton (2011) for the second-most by a rookie quarterback.
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look at how each All-Conference team ranked as high school recruits with the first-team All-Pac-12 team.
2012 Offensive All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (2011)
The cool Hawaiian played at St. Louis High School in Honolulu before signing with Oregon. His only other scholarship offer was from Memphis. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals who was the No. 12-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in his state. He had interest in other big programs (Notre Dame, Arizona, Stanford, UCLA) but only got the two scholarship offers. Mariota defines the overused phrase "diamond in the rough."
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (2011) National Recruit
The Oro Valley (Ariz.) Canyon Del Oro sophomore was ranked by Athlon Sports as the No. 30 running back in the nation, the No. 5 player in the state of Arizona and the No. 212 overall recruit in the country. He held three Pac-12 offers to play college football from Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. The coveted tailback was a four-star prospect by Rivals.
Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon (2008)
Hailing from Riverside (Calif.) Notre Dame, Barner was a middle of the pack recruit back in 2008. Rivals rated him as the No. 38 running back in the nation and the No. 86 player in the state. He was a three-star prospect whose only other offers came from Arizona State and UTEP.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC (2011) AC100
The superstar wide receiver hails from California prep powerhouse Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra. He was the No. 64-rated prospect in the nation, the No. 6-rated player in the state and the No. 10-rated wide receiver in the country. His offer sheet was a who’s who of college superpowers. Lee played on the same team as Athlon Consensus 100 wide receivers George Farmer (2011), Robert Woods (2010) and four-star Paul Richardson (2010). How did anyone stop that passing attack?
Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State (2009)
The Chandler (Ariz.) High prospect was just a three-star recruit back in 2009, but he was far from unknown. The smallish wideout had a huge offer sheet that included both Arizona schools, Cal, Nebraska, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Utah. The Beavers won a big battle for the underrated prospect. Rivals rated him the No. 41 “athlete” in the nation and the No. 7-rated player in the state.
Zack Ertz, TE, Stanford (2009)
The heady tight end was a three-star talent from Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista back in 2009. He was the No. 10-rated tight end in the nation and the No. 46-rated prospect in the state by Rivals. He held only three, albeit quality, offers from Stanford, Cal and UCLA.
Hroniss Grasu, OL, Oregon (2010)
The big blocker from Encino (Calif.) Crespi got three BCS offers out of high school. Oregon, Washington and Washington State gave him a shot as well as smaller schools Wyoming, Nevada and UNLV. He was a three-star recruit ranked as the No. 12 center and No. 58 player in the state of California.
Brian Schwenke, OL, Cal (2009)
From Oceanside (Calif.) High, Schwenke’s offer sheet had three major Pac-12 powers on it in Oregon, Cal and Colorado. Otherwise, New Mexico was his only other FBS offer. Rivals rated the blocker as the No. 44 offensive guard and the No. 60-rated player in the state. He was a three-star recruit.
Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA (2009) AC100
Only John Martinez (USC) was rated as a better prospect in the state of Utah in 2009. Su’a-Filo was an AC100 member by Athlon Sports and offers from every major West Coast power as well as Notre Dame and Auburn. He was the No. 87-rated player in the nation and the No. 12-rated offensive lineman in the nation by Athlon Sports. He made a huge impact in his first year back from his two-year Mormon Mission.
Khaled Holmes, OL, USC (2008) National Recruit
From the same high school as Matt Barkley, Holmes signed with USC out of the famed Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei program. He was a four-star top 250 prospect by Rivals who ranked as the No. 3 guard in the nation, the No. 14 player in the state and the No. 103 overall player in the nation. Holmes picked USC over Stanford, Oregon State, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Cal.
David Yankey, OL, Stanford (2010)
Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw have done a remarkable job recruiting nationally for the Cardinal. Yankey played his prep ball at Roswell (Ga.) Centennial, and Stanford defeated the Clemsons, Floridas, Georgias and Tennessees in his home region to convince the eventual All-Pac-12 blocker to come to the West Coast. He was a three-star prospect who rated as the No. 47 offensive tackle and No. 53 player in The Peach State by Rivals.
Reggie Dunn, RS, Utah (2010) JUCO
The Los Angeles (Calif.) Verburn Dei athlete was an elite prospect back in 2007 when he signed with Oregon State. He was a four-star prospect by Rivals who had offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Washington as well. He ended up at Compton Community College for three seasons before signing with Utah in 2010.
Star ranking breakdown of the first-team All-Pac-12 (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Defensive All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
Scott Crichton, DL, Oregon State (2010)
The star defensive lineman was a middling prospect from Tacoma (Wash.) Henry Foss. His only two offers to play football came from Oregon State and Washington State. Crichton was a three-star recruit by Rivals who ranked as the No. 12 player in The Evergreen State and the No. 44-rated strongside defensive end in the nation.
Dion Jordan, DL, Oregon (2008) National Recruit
Oregon’s freakish outside linebacker/defensive end was a big-time recruit back in 2008. The Chandler (Ariz.) High prospect was a four-star recruit who held seven Pac-12 offers as well as a Nebraska scholarship. Rivals ranked him as the No. 15 tight end in the nation and he was the No. 7-rated player in the state.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State (2009)
From Corona (Calif.) Centennial, Sutton came to Arizona State sporting only four BCS offers. They included Arizona, Nebraska and Boise State in addition to the Sun Devils. He was the No. 42-rated defensive tackle and the No. 40-rated player in the state of California in the ’09 class. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (2007)
The big fella from Bingham (Utah) High originally signed with BYU out of high school. He was the No. 57-rated defensive end and the No. 3-rated player in the state of Utah. He held offers from Utah, UNLV and Weber State as well as the Cougars. He eventually landed at Snow College for two years before heading to Salt Lake City. Miraculously, Lotulelei didn’t even play football in 2009 before signing with Utah in January 2010.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA (2010) AC100
Barr was one of the freakiest athletes to ever play high school football in California. The Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola product was pegged as a linebacker, wide receiver, tight end, running back or defensive end. He was the No. 29-rated player in the nation in the AC100 and was the No. 7-rated player in the state by Athlon Sports. Barr had no true position (even once he got to UCLA) and was rated as the No. 3 “athlete” in the nation behind only college superstars Keenan Allen (No. 2) and Tony Jefferson (No. 1). He held major offers from power programs across the nation, including Oregon, USC, Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee, Michigan and Florida State.
Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford (2009)
The star pass rusher came to Palo Alto from Phoenix (Ariz.) Brophy Prep. He was a three-star recruit according to Rivals, was rated as the No. 41 strongside defensive end in the nation and the No. 19 player in the state. Despite his middling ranking, Murphy had a solid offer sheet with Pac-12 programs Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah also offering him a scholarship.
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford (2008)
The Cardinal have made a living recently recruiting in the state of Georgia. Thomas picked Stanford over Auburn, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia Tech out of Marietta (Ga.) Walton. He was a three-star recruit who was ranked as the No. 27 outside linebacker in the nation and the No. 26-rated player in the state. Thomas makes two Peach State prospects on the All-Pac-12 team (Yankey).
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, DB, Oregon (2011) National Recruit
The Ducks' defensive back signed with Oregon from Chino Hills (Calif.) High just two seasons ago. The big-time recruit had offers from Arizona State, Cal, Stanford, Utah and Washington State, along with the Ducks. Ekpre-Olomu was a four-star prospect by Rivals who was the No. 173-rated overall player in the nation. He was the No. 17-rated cornerback in the country and the No. 18-rated player in the state.
Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State (2009)
The Beavers' defensive back and return man was one of the biggest steals of the ’09 class. The Astoria (Ore.) High prospect was a wildly underrated two-star recruit with two FBS offers. Portland State, Eastern Washington, Idaho and Oregon State were the only programs who showed any serious interest in the two-star prospect. Rivals rated him as the No. 8 player in the state of Oregon.
Ed Reynolds, DB, Stanford (2010)
Once again, an all-conference player for Stanford comes from the opposite end of the country. Reynolds played his prep ball at Woodberry Forest (Va.) High. He was a three-star recruit who wasn’t ranked in the state or at his position by Rivals despite a quality offer sheet featuring North Carolina, NC State and Duke to go with Stanford. The credit for growing the Stanford brand image on the East Coast goes directly to former head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Desmond Trufant, DB, Washington (2009)
The younger brother of former Washington State star Marcus Trufant, Desmond picked Washington over Wazzu, Oregon, Colorado and Arizona State. He was a three-star prospect from Tacoma (Wash.) Wilson and was the No. 6-rated player in the state. He was the No. 56-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals.
The BCS is wrapping up its 15th season of action and Athlon Sports is continuing its series of BCS rankings. We ranked the best performances of each BCS bowl game and we ranked the best teams of each BCS conference. Now, we break down the top defensive units of the BCS era (1998-present).
Statistics, awards, championships and NFL talent were all considered and evaluated in order to label the Top 12 defenses of the BCS era. Teams from 2012 were not eligible, otherwise both Notre Dame or Alabama could land on this list. But until the 2012 National Championship is decided, neither belongs on this list (yet).
1. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Rushing Defense: 132.7 ypg (40th)
Passing Defense: 138.2 ypg (2nd)
Total Defense: 270.9 ypg (6th)
Scoring Defense: 9.4 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 45 (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), James Lewis (6th, 2002), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), William Joseph (1st, 2003), Andrew Williams (3rd, 2003), Jamaal Green (4th, 2003), Matt Walters (5th, 2003), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Darrell McClover (7th, 2004), Alfonso Marshall (7th, 2004), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005)
Imagine trying to design a passing attack to beat a secondary that featured Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Phillip Buchanon, Mike Rumph, James Lewis, Alfonoso Marshall and Antrel Rolle. How about a rushing attack to penetrate a D-Line with Jerome McDougle, William Joseph, Vince Wilfork, Matt Walters, Jamaal Green and Andrew Williams? And to top it all off, the linebackering corps running around between the two boasted names like Vilma, Williams and McClover. Simply put, this team is one of the greatest groups ever assembled. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game where they held a 34-0 lead in the first half. Miami pitched three shutouts and held eight opponents to seven points or fewer. Later, the Canes claimed 10 first-round draft picks on defense.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 72.2 ypg (1st)
Passing Defense: 111.5 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 183.6 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 8.2 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 20 (77th)
Sacks: 2.3 spg (29th)
NFL Draft Picks: Mark Barron (1st, 2012), Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012), Josh Chapman (5th, 2012), DeQuan Menzie (5th, 2012)
The 2011 Crimson Tide allowed fewer points (8.8) than any other team in the history of the BCS. It led the nation in every major statistical defensive category and completely shutdown the unbeaten LSU Tigers in the BCS title game. LSU totaled five first downs, two turnovers, zero points and an (un) remarkable 92 total yards of offense. This team featured eight NFL draft picks, six of which were starters on the defense. This unit could also feature another half-dozen defensive draft picks in 2013 (Dee Milliner, CJ Mosley, Jesse Williams, Robert Lester, etc). Eight times this team allowed less than 10 points — including its only loss of the year — and it allowed more than 14 points only once (21, Georgia Southern). One could argue this is the best college defense ever.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (13-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 78.1 ypg (2nd)
Passing Defense: 166.0 ypg (10th)
Total Defense: 244.1 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 11.7 ppg (2nd)
Turnovers Forced: 31 (10th)
Sacks: 2.3 spg (40th)
NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Marquis Johnson (7th, 2010), Brandon Deaderick (7th, 2010), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011)
The undefeated national champions won big in 2009 because of a stacked NFL defense. This outfit was led by Butkus Award winner Rolando McClain and a stellar defensive line headlined by Mount Cody and Marcell Dareus. Do-everything corner Javier Arenas not only covered the opponent's top receiver and snagged five interceptions, but he also was a dyanamic pass-rusher (five sacks) and game-changing return specialist. Despite knocking Colt McCoy out of the National Championship game and claiming the Crystal Ball, the signature performance by this unit came against an unbeaten Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators team in the SEC title game. The Tide held the Gators to only 88 yards rushing, 13 first downs and only 13 points in a title-clinching win. This defense has already seen seven players drafted, and that number will continue to rise this spring as Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron (who led the SEC in INTs in 2009), Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw could all grade out as early round picks.
4. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 67.0 ypg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 185.0 ypg (18th)
Total Defense: 252.0 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 11.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 33 (9th)
NFL Draft Picks: Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Chad Lavalais (5th, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Travis Daniels (4th, 2005), Kyle Williams (5th, 2006), Melvin Oliver (6th, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007)
One of the nastiest defensive lines ever assembled featured NFL draft picks Marquise Hill, Chad Lavalais, Marcus Spears, Kyle Williams and Melvin Oliver. At 11.0 points per game, LSU led the nation in scoring defense, allowing only one team (Arkansas, 24) to score more than 19 points in any game. Only Florida (19) scored more than 14 points against this defensive unit. In the biggest game for the Bayou Bengals in 40 years, this defense squared off against Heisman winner Jason White of Oklahoma and flat-out dominated. White averaged 292 yards per game in '03, but mustered only 102 yards on 13-of-37 passing with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions — one of which Spears returned for a touchdown that eventually proved to be the game-winner.
5. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Rushing Defense: 108.2 ypg (23rd)
Passing Defense: 170.8 ypg (9th)
Total Defense: 278.9 ypg (8th)
Scoring Defense: 16.0 ppg (7th)
Turnovers Forced: 33 (5th)
NFL Draft Picks: Torrance Marshall (3rd, 2001), Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Rocky Calmus (3rd, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Jimmy Wilkerson (6th, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004), Derrick Strait (3rd, 2004)
This team was not the most impressive statistically, but featured two Butkus Award winners (Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman), two Thorpe Award winners (Roy Williams, Derrick Strait), a Nagurski winner (Williams), and what was probably the best defensive championship performance of all time. The Sooners held the nation's No. 1 overall offense and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke to zero points and only 301 yards of offense (nearly 250 yards below their season average). Linebacker Torrance Marshall led the way with No. 4-rated BCS NCG game performance with six tackles and an interception en route to the Orange Bowl MVP trophy. Safety J.T. Thatcher and linebacker Calmus were All-Americans, while Lehman was a freshman All-American. Williams was one of the most impactful and hardest-hitting college players this writer has ever seen.
6. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Defense: 87.4 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 134.4 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 221.8 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 9.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 29 (20th)
Sacks: 2.2 spg (40th)
NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Kaluka Maiava (4th, 2009), Kyle Moore (4th, 2009), Cary Harris (6th, 2009), Kevin Ellison (6th, 2009), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Kevin Thomas (3rd, 2010), Everson Griffin (4th, 2010), Jurrell Casey (3rd, 2011), Shareece Wright (3rd, 2011), Malcolm Smith (7th, 2011)
There were eight NFL draft picks who departed from this defense following the near national championship campaign of 2008. Fourteen total players have found their way to the NFL, and that number is only going to increase next spring. An early road upset at the hands of Oregon State kept the best linebacking corps of the BCS era from claiming a spot in the BCS NCG. This group pitched three shutouts and held the opposition to 10 points or less eight times; only three times did a team score more than 10 points. The 9.0 points per game are a current BCS era scoring record (Alabama could break that this season). Team leader Rey Maualuga claimed the Chuck Bednarik Award.
7. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0)
Head Coach: Phil Fulmer
Rushing Defense: 93.9 ypg
Passing Defense: 209.1 ypg
Total Defense: 303.0 ypg
Scoring Defense: 15.3 ppg
Turnovers Forced: 16 INT
NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Steve Johnson (6th, 1999), Corey Terry (7th, 1999), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Darwin Walker (3rd, 2000), Eric Westmoreland (3rd, 2001), Will Overstreet (3rd, 2002)
Possibly the most talented Tennessee team in program history finished a dream season by winning the Fiesta Bowl 23-16 over Florida State in the first-ever BCS Championship Game. A front seven that featured eventual draft picks Shaun Ellis, Darwin Walker, Corey Terry, Billy Ratliff and Will Overstreet along the line and Al Wilson, Raynoch Thompson and Eric Westmoreland in the linebacking corps held 10 opponents to 18 points or less — including No. 2 Florida, No. 7 Georgia, No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 2 Florida State.
8. LSU Tigers, 2011 (13-1)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Rushing Defense: 90.1 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 171.4 ypg (8th)
Total Defense: 261.5 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 11.3 ppg (2nd)
Turnovers Forced: 30 (16th)
Sacks: 2.8 spg (14th)
Key Player: Morris Claiborne (1st, 2012), Michael Brockers (1st, 2012), Brandon Taylor (3rd, 2012), Ron Brooks (4th, 2012)
This defense was outstanding, finishing a distant second behind only Alabama in total defense and scoring defense. It ran the regular season table unbeaten but couldn't finish in the national championship game. It claimed the Thorpe Award winner (Morris Claiborne), a Heisman finalist (Tyrann Matheiu), four NFL draft picks and an SEC championship. With a host of future NFL stars — Sam Montgomery, Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Anthony Johnson — the talent on this unit was one of the best in history. But 384 yards allowed to AJ McCarron and Trent Richardson in the biggest game of the season keeps it from being the in the mix with '01 Miami and '11 Bama.
9. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Rushing Defense: 72.5 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 116.3 ypg (33rd)
Total Defense: 466.9 ypg (6th)
Scoring Defense: 13.5 ppg (6th)
Turnovers Forced: 29 (17th)
Sacks: 2.4 spg (35th)
NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Ray McDonald (3rd, 2007), Marcus Thomas (4th, 2007), Joe Cohen (4th, 2007), Ryan Smith (6th, 2007), Brandon Siler (7th, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)
The 2006 Gators defense put together one of the greatest BCS Championship game performance against the favored Buckeyes and Heisman winner Troy Smith. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. An NFL-laden defense held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown as the Gators claimed the Crystal Ball. Derrick Harvey led the way with the No. 12-rated BCS Championship Game performance with a BCS NCG record three sacks to go with his four solo stops and a forced fumble. This team featured seven defensive draft picks the following spring in 2007.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2007 (11-2)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Rushing Defense: 82.9 ypg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 150.1 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 233.0 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 12.8 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 19 (93rd)
Sacks: 3.3 spg (6th)
NFL Draft Picks: Vernon Gholston (1st, 2008), Larry Grant (7th, 2008), Malcolm Jenkins (1st, 2009), James Laurinaitis (2nd, 2009), Donald Washington (4th, 2009), Marcus Freeman (5th, 2009), Thaddeus Gibson (4th, 2010), Doug Worthington (7th, 2010), Kurt Coleman (7th, 2010), Austin Spitler (7th, 2010), Cam Heyward (1st, 2011), Chimdi Chekwa (4th, 2011), Jermale Hines (5th, 2011), Brian Rolle (6th, 2011), Ross Homan (6th, 2011)
The nation's best defense was one great performance away from being immortalized in Ohio State lore. With a roster loaded with NFL talent, the Buckeyes held LSU to only 326 yards in the BCS National Championship game, but fell short 38-24. Nagurski Trophy (2006) and Butkus Award winner James Laurinaitis set a BCS bowl record with 18 tackles in the loss. Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock won the Broyles Award and corner Malcolm Jenkins went on to win the Thorpe Award the following year. This defense featured 15 draft picks, including three first-rounders.
The Next in Line
11. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2009 (10-4)
Head Coach: Bo Pelini
Rushing Defense: 93. 1 ypg (9th)
Passing Defense: 178.9 ypg (18th)
Total Defense: 272.0 ypg (7th)
Scoring Defense: 10.4 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 28 (21st)
Sacks: 3.1 spg (2nd)
NFL Draft Picks: Ndamukong Suh (1st, 2010), Phillip Dillard (4th, 2010), Larry Asante (5th, 2010), Prince Amukamara (1st, 2011), Dejon Gomes (5th, 2011), Eric Hagg (7th, 2011)
You could make the case that the 1999 version of the Black Shirts could be on this list as well. But from a talent perspective, it is tough to argue with the way the 2009 group played, as they finished one second away from defeating National runner-up Texas in the Big 12 title game. The D-line included Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Barry Turner and Pierre Allen. The linebacking corps featured Phillip Dillard and Larry Asante, and the secondary featured Eric Hagg, Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard. This team allowed more than 20 points only one time and ten times did Nebraska hold the opposition to 13 or fewer points. Six players have already been drafted off of the 2009 defense. This team led the nation in scoring defense and finished second in sacks.
12. TCU Horned Frogs, 2010 (13-0)
Head Coach: Gary Patterson
Rushing Defense: 99.7 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 128.8 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 228.5 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 12.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 22 (59th)
Sacks: 2.1 spg (54th)
NFL Draft Picks: Colin Jones (6th, 2011), Malcolm Williams (7th, 2011)
You have to throw the "little guy" a bone after one of the best defensive seasons by any team ever. TCU held eight opponents to 10 points or less including four who failed to score a touchdown. Led by Rose Bowl MVP and All-America linebacker Tank Carder, the Frogs topped Big Ten champ Wisconsin in the 21-19 Granddaddy of Them All. By holding Johnny Unitas Award winner Scott Tolzien to 159 yards and no scores, TCU finished the best season in school history unbeaten and ranked first in the nation in scoring and total defense.
Others receiving votes: 1998 Ohio State, 1999 Nebraska, 2000 TCU, 2001 Texas, 2002 Kansas State, 2002 USC, 2004 USC, 2005 Virginia Tech, 2006 LSU, 2007 Virginia Tech, 2008 Florida, 2009 Texas
Change seems like the perfect word to sum up the Big East in 2013. The conference will welcome six new teams next season, while three programs will have new head coaches. Willie Taggart was hired to replace Skip Holtz at South Florida, Tommy Tuberville was brought in to replace Butch Jones at Cincinnati, and Matt Rhule returns to Temple to take over for Steve Addazio. All three coaches were solid hires, but which coach will have the most success in 2013 and beyond?
Willie Taggart, Matt Rhule or Tommy Tuberville: Who is the Big East's Best Hire?
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Tommy Tuberville is the easily the most proven commodity of the bunch. But he slipped out of Lubbock with cloak and dagger in hand. He never really fit at Texas Tech and will have to take a spread offense and convert them back to a pro-style attack, but he should be successful in the watered down Big East. Willie Taggart might have the most upside, however. He should recruit extremely well in Florida and should be able develop talent. He took a struggling program and led to them to their first winning seasons in the FBS and its first-ever bowl game. Matt Rhule is simply an unknown. Not everyone is Bill O'Brien.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think all three schools made solid hires. However, South Florida’s move to hire Willie Taggart is the best out of the trio and could rank as the No. 1 hire in college football once all of dust settles from the 2012 coaching carousel. Considering he played high school ball about an hour outside of Tampa and recruited Florida hard during his time at Western Kentucky, Taggart is a perfect fit at USF. The Bulls struggled to reach expectations over the last few seasons, and Taggart is going to bring some much-needed toughness on both sides of the ball. Taggart inherited a difficult situation at Western Kentucky and led the Hilltoppers to a 14-10 mark over the last two years. It may take some time for South Florida’s new coach to restock the roster, but the Bulls could push for a winning record next year. Tommy Tuberville is an interesting fit at Cincinnati but is a proven winner (130-77) and could help bring some stability to the program after having three head coaches over the last seven seasons. Temple’s hire of Matt Rhule won’t generate much national interest, but the Owls also landed a good fit. The former Penn State linebacker coached at Temple from 2006-2011 and has NFL experience with the Giants. Rhule is a good recruiter, which should help the Owls keep some of the Philadelphia talent at home.
While the Big East may not have generated the same buzz as the SEC did with its recent head coaching changes, the beleaguered conference did pretty well with its three newest hires. As for which school made the best decision, I'll go with South Florida bringing Willie Taggart further south over Tommy Tuberville heading north to take over at Cincinnati. For me, the jury is still out on Matt Rhule, the former Temple assistant coach who left his job with the New York Giants to take over the Owls' program. Rhule's never been a head coach on any level, and he will certainly have his work cut out at Temple, who lost Steve Addazio to Boston College. And as much as I like Tuberville and think Cincinnati is a place where he can make some noise, I can't ignore his sudden departure from Texas Tech and view the Bearcats job as just another stepping stone in hopes of getting back into the SEC in the near future. That's why I'll go with South Florida enticing Taggart to leave Western Kentucky, where he did a fine job rebuilding the Hilltoppers' program and leaving them in a position for more success in the future, to take over a Bulls program in disarray. Despite the recent turmoil and upheaval, the Big East is still a BCS conference, which means the rewards that will come with success at South Florida will be far greater than they would ever have been at Western Kentucky. Couple that with the fact that Taggart now has the fertile recruiting ground of the Sunshine State to assist him in that goal. In the current state that is college football, there's no guarantee any coach will stick around long enough at a so-called "non-major" school to enjoy a period of sustained success. But for the time being, with Taggart leading the way, South Florida seems well-positioned for success in the very near future, and that's what matters most as far as the present is concerned.
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The final two undefeated SEC teams watched their unblemished records fall during their trips out West. Florida lost 65-64 to Arizona while LSU lost 89-70 at Boise State.
Despite the loss, the Gators, who led until the final seconds, appear to be the class of the conference. Unfortunately for the SEC, standing out is not hard to do. Beyond the top four or five teams, the SEC may struggle to fill postseason spots.
As teams finish up finals and head to semester breaks, Athlon will examine the college basketball landscape through the first month or so of the season before conference play begins later this month and into January.
Here’s our look at the scene so far in the SEC.
|Florida coach Billy Donovan|
Surprise team: Florida
Few teams in the SEC have distinguished themselves this season enough to call them a surprise, but the Gators are the clear league favorite at this point despite Saturday night’s 65-64 loss at Arizona. But before that, the Gators had defeated Wisconsin, Marquette and Florida State by an average of 25 points. Florida’s rise to the top of the SEC is due to balance across the lineup. The Gators have had standout play at each position this season and have four players averaging at least 10 points per game. They're also one of the most improved defensive teams in the conference.
Disappointing team: Kentucky
Turns out Kentucky can’t just plug in the best freshmen each year and expect similar results. Back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Baylor were stunners, especially as Baylor’s win was sandwiched between the Bears’ losses to Charleston and Northwestern. With Ryan Harrow limited this season, the Wildcats haven’t been able to find steady play at point guard this season, an oddity for a John Calipari-coached team. The Wildcats have won three in a row over lesser competition, but a trip to Louisville on Dec. 29 looms large.
Where did he come from? Laurence Bowers, Missouri
Missouri’s season never derailed when Bowers, the Tigers only real big man, went down with a torn ACL in 2011-12. A year later, Bowers is playing on a new -look Missouri team with Connecticut transfer Alex Oriakhi joining him in the frontcourt. Bowers, though, has returned from his knee injury as it if it never occurred. He’s leading Missouri with 16.9 points per game and is contributing 6.9 rebounds. In his absence from the court, Bowers bulked up to 230 pounds while improving his 3-point shooting.
Where did he go? Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee
The other half of Tennessee’s frontcourt duo with Jarnell Stokes, Maymon hasn’t played yet this season thanks to a knee injury. The Volunteers may have to get used to playing without him as he’s encountered a setback that may keep him out until January.
Key stat: Florida’s defense
The Gators’ defense has been spotty in recent seasons, but that hasn’t been the case so far in 2012-13. The Gators are second in the SEC in field goal percentage defense (36.1 percent) and 15th nationally in effective field goal percentage defense (41.4), which factors in 3-point attempts. The Gators also lead the SEC in defensive rebound percentage (rate of missed field goals resulting in a defensive rebound) at 72.3 percent.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN CONFERENCE PLAY
|Kentucky coach John Calipari|
Kentucky’s point guard situation. Ryan Harrow was not the answer early on, missing four games early this season and ceding some of the point guard responsibilities to freshman Archie Goodwin. He’s getting more work now with a 12-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the last three games, though they were games against Samford, Portland and Lipscomb. How or if Kentucky resolves its point guard situation will determine if Kentucky will return to top-10 status or if the Wildcats will have more games like the losses to Notre Dame and Baylor.
Can Mike Rosario and Patric Young continue career years? A major reason Florida is off to a hot start is the improvement of Mike Rosario and Patric Young. Rosario is playing a full-time role after averaging fewer than 15 minutes per game last season. The increased playing time has paid off with 12 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Young is enjoying the best season of his career. He’s playing with more focus and has become a defensive factor with 2.3 blocks per game.
Who will escape this mess at the bottom of the league? We knew the SEC would be top heavy entering this season, but after Florida, Kentucky and Missouri, it’s tough to pinpoint who will be in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee is probably in, but the Volunteers aren’t far removed from failing to crack 40 points against Virginia and Georgetown. Arkansas’ breakout season has hit a snag, and Alabama has lost three in a row to Cincinnati, Dayton and VCU. While records for LSU and Ole Miss look good, neither team has signature wins. The bottom of the SEC -- teams like Georgia, Auburn and Mississippi State -- is dreadful.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
Player of the year watch
Phil Pressey, Missouri
Erik Murphy, Florida
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
Freshman of the year watch
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Alex Poythress, Kentucky
Coach of the year watch
Billy Donovan, Florida
Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee
Frank Haith, Missouri
1. Florida (7-1)
The Gators appeared on their way to another lopsided win, but a collapse in the final seconds cost Florida a top-10 win. Kenny Boynton, who missed the front end of a critical one-and-one late against the Wildcats, has been in a shooting slump.
2. Missouri (9-1)
Guard Michael Dixon isn’t coming back, but the Tigers added yet another transfer to the mix when former Oregon guard Jabari Brown became eligible.
Jabari Brown back
3. Kentucky (7-3)
After facing Marshall on Saturday, the Wildcats will have a week to prepare for a road trip to Louisville. Will Kentucky’s struggles be in the rearview mirror by then?
4. Tennessee (5-3)
Athlon expected Tennessee to be a NCAA Tournament team. A win over previously undefeated Wichita State restored faith in the Volunteers after back-to-back ugly losses to Georgetown (37-36) and Virginia (46-38).
5. Ole Miss (7-1)
The Rebels boast the SEC’s top scorer (junior college transfer Marshall Henderson) and rebounder (Murphy Holloway), but the Rebels have few major wins on their resume and a loss at Middle Tennessee.
6. Arkansas (5-4)
Marshawn Powell and B.J. Young have been a prolific duo, but they need help. With a struggling defense, the Razorbacks have lost four of their last six to Arizona State, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Michigan.
7. LSU (6-1)
A loss to Boise State on Friday ended an undefeated start for first-year coach Johnny Jones.
8. Texas A&M (7-2)
There’s no Johnny Basketball, but Elston Turner (16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists) is having a nice year.
9. Alabama (6-3)
The Tide were crushed 73-54 by VCU on Saturday for the Tide’s third consecutive loss.
10. South Carolina (6-3)
Freshman Michael Carrera (11.3 ppg, 8 rpg) has been a pleasant surprise for a team that’s going to struggle to win SEC games.
11. Vanderbilt (5-4)
A win in overtime at Xavier on Dec. 6 is a signal of hope for the rebuilding Commodores.
12. Auburn (4-5)
The Tigers have lost to some of the worst teams in the Big East (DePaul), the ACC (Boston College) and Atlantic 10 (Rhode Island).
13. Mississippi State (4-5)
The rebuilding in Starkville is as tough as we figured it would be. At least all of the Bulldogs’ losses have come either on the road or on a neutral court.
14. Georgia (2-7)
The Bulldogs have played a tough schedule, but how does that explain losses to Youngstown State, Southern Miss and Iona?
The 35-ring circus of bowl season is full of sideshows, freak shows, split stats and split personalities. And the biggest and best bowls have the most exciting high-wire acts, thanks to their award winners, NFL prospects, high-priced coaches, rabid fan bases and big dog endorsement deals. Here’s a look at 15 weird and wild facts, stats and trends from the best bowls this postseason.
BCS National Championship Game
Monday, Jan. 7, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. Alabama
1. Third Year’s an Irish Charm
In 2010, Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame to replace Charlie Weis and take the golden-dome throne in South Bend. Now in his third season, the 51-year-old is the national coach of the year after leading Notre Dame to a perfect 12–0 record and a spot opposite Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.
If Kelly’s Fighting Irish are able to take down the Crimson Tide in Miami, he will be the fifth coach in Notre Dame history to win his first national title in his third season at ND:
1943 – Frank Leahy (3rd season, 1st National Title)
1966 – Ara Parseghian (3rd season, 1st National Title)
1977 – Dan Devine (3rd season, 1st National Title)
1988 – Lou Holtz (3rd season, 1st National Title)
2012 – Brian Kelly (3rd season, ???)
2. Roll O-line!
Nick Saban does more good for the NFL as a college coach by preparing future pros who graduate from Saturday to Sunday with relative ease. Over the past four seasons, Alabama has had 24 players selected in the NFL Draft, including 11 first-round picks.
This season, the Crimson Tide offensive line has washed away the opposition. All five members have started all 13 games this season. All five will have NFL careers; four have a chance to go in the first round when they are eligible and/or declare for the draft.
LT – Cyrus Kouandjio, 6’6”, 311, Soph.
LG – Chance Warmack, 6’3”, 320, Sr. (All-America 1st Team)
C – Barrett Jones, 6’5”, 302, Sr. (All-America 1st Team)
RG – Anthony Steen, 6’3”, 303, Jr.
RT – D.J. Fluker, 6’6”, 335, Jr. (All-SEC 2nd Team)
Thursday, Jan. 3, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Oregon vs. Kansas State
3. Kelly Spreads His Wings?
The NFL came calling Oregon coach Chip Kelly last offseason. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wooed the Ducks’ hurry-up spread offensive mastermind but fell short of their target, ultimately settling for another college coach in Rutgers’ Greg Schiano.
“After numerous discussions, I concluded that I have some unfinished business to complete at the University of Oregon,” Kelly said at the time.
Kelly’s business may be finished after this season, however. With a slew of NFL jobs — Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, etc. — expected to be open, Kelly is sure to be on the top of many lists. After posting a 45–7 record, 33–3 mark in the Pac-12 and four straight BCS bowl berths (including a national title game trip after the 2010 season), Kelly may be flying the coop after the Fiesta Bowl.
Should Kelly leave Phil Knight’s neon Nike outfit for one of Roger Goodell’s shield operations, UO offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is expected to take over in Eugene. But who cares? What jerseys will the Ducks be wearing in Glendale? That’s what people really care about. According to To The Athletes Who, they’ll be Kelly green blurs for at least one more big game.
4. Tostitos Tickets
Kansas State fans will paint University of Phoenix Stadium purple and silver, with waves of Wildcats turning Glendale into Manhattan West. The K-State faithful devoured their 17,500 ticket allotment, then requested an additional 4,000 tickets. Meanwhile, Oregon still had 2,000 tickets left unsold as of mid-December.
This is the Wildcats’ third trip to the Fiesta Bowl, having defeated Syracuse, 35–18, in 1997 and losing to Ohio State, 35–28, in 2004. With a presumed homefield advantage, Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Collin Klein and legendary coach Bill Snyder will look to pull off an upset of the jaded Ducks.
Wednesday, Jan. 2, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Florida vs. Louisville
5. Blind Side Booster
Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is a third-team All-America talent with first-round NFL potential when he chooses to go pro. But he won’t have to exit Gainesville early due to financial hardship. The 20-year-old junior was recently adopted by Kevin Lahn, a booster whose improper benefits resulted in a two-game NCAA suspension for Floyd earlier this season. Lahn was also forced to disassociate himself with his alma mater, South Carolina, during a major NCAA investigation.
But in a case similar to Michael Oher’s famed story in The Blind Side (Oher was adopted by Sandra Bullock, right?), Floyd and Lahn have hit the gapped loophole like a dominant 3-technique D-tackle should. As a result, the NCAA can’t say a word about the 2012 Ford Explorer XLT leased to Floyd, or his new apartment, or the birthday party yacht trip in Miami also attended by Gator teammates Ronald Powell and Dominique Easley — all paid for by Lahn.
“It was not something we planned, but it’s been a natural fit,” Lahn said in an email to USA Today. “My wife and I love Sharrif and he feels the same way about us.”
6. Strong Resumé
Louisville coach Charlie Strong is “getting close” to a contract extension to 2020, according to athletic director Tom Jurich. After turning down the Tennessee job and a potential jump to the SEC, Strong appears to be putting down roots at the U of L, where he has gone 24–14 over three years, including a 10–2 record this season.
Judging by Strong’s coaching history, it looks like the 52-year-old should be the coach at Florida, the team he’s facing in the Sugar Bowl. But Strong was passed over by the Gators and Will Muschamp is in charge of the chomping at The Swamp.
Strong coached under both Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer as part of two national championship teams and four SEC title squads. He coached 13 All-Americans and seven first-round picks during his four stints in Gainesville:
1983-84 – Florida graduate assistant
1988-89 – Florida OLB coach
1991-94 – Florida assistant head coach, DT coach
2003-09 – Florida assistant head coach, defensive coordinator, interim head coach
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Florida State vs. Northern Illinois
7. Werner is Coming
Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner was born and raised in Berlin, Germany, before becoming a cult hero in Tallahassee, Fla. The Seminoles’ top pass rusher is a 6’4”, 255-pound beast who was named first-team AP All-America this season after recording 18 tackles for 134 lost yards, including 13 sacks for 117 lost yards, along with seven pass beatdowns, one forced fumble and another fumble recovery.
Werner’s relentless effort on the field and international man of mystery style have given him a larger-than-life warrior persona. As a result, an internet meme inspired by the HBO hit series Game of Thrones has gone viral, and the Florida State marching band has made a habit of playing the Game of Thrones theme song in honor of the Seminoles’ chief defender and most popular player.
8. BCS Busters
Northern Illinois has MAC-attacked the BCS this season, crashing the Orange Bowl. Although the Huskies are one of only five schools with 10 or more wins in each of the past three seasons — along with Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Stanford — most casual fans aren’t giving NIU a chance against FSU. History, however, shows that assumption is a flawed one.
Non-Automatic Qualifiers in BCS Bowls:
5–2 record all-time in BCS Bowls
4–1 record vs. Big Six Conferences
Boise State (2–0), Utah (2–0), TCU (1–1) and Hawaii (0–1) have paved the way for Northern Illinois, a team with a superstar of its own in quarterback Jordan Lynch — who passed for 2,962 yards, 24 TDs and five INTs, while rushing for another 1,771 yards and 19 TDs on the ground this season.
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ESPN, 5:00 p.m.
Stanford vs. Wisconsin
9. Kulabafi in the Backfield
Stanford running Stepfan Taylor has posted three straight 1,000-yard, 10-TD seasons. This year, he rumbled for 1,442 yards and 12 TDs on the ground, with another 270 yards and two scores as a receiver out of the backfield.
The workhorse runner had his biggest games in the biggest games — with 213 total yards and two scores in a 21–14 upset of USC, 200 total yards and a TD in a 21–3 win at Cal in The Big Game, 161 rush yards in a 17–14 overtime victory at Oregon, and a combined 302 total yards and three trips to the end zone in back-to-back wins over UCLA in the season finale and Pac-12 title game.
But it is Taylor’s alter-ego, Kulabafi, who makes the most noise on The Farm.
10. Barry’s Bonus
After Bret Bielema bolted Wisconsin to take the same post at Arkansas, many Badgers fans had hopes that UW athletic director and former head football coach Barry Alvarez would return to the sideline in Pasadena for a shot at his fourth win in the Rose Bowl. That wish was granted.
The 65-year-old who coached Heisman Trophy winning runner Ron Dayne and went 3–0 in the Rose Bowl — compared to Bielema’s 0–2 mark in the “Granddaddy of Them All” — is back in charge. And he’s getting a nice pay bump to be coach-slash-AD during the month of December. Alvarez’s $203,500 monthly salary is a $118,500 increase and has a chance to be a cool $168,500 if he can lead the Badgers to victory.
$195,000 – 90 percent of Bielema’s monthly salary as coach
$8,500 – 10 percent of Alvarez’s monthly salary as AD
$50,000 – Rose Bowl winner’s bonus incentive clause
“We weighed the factors involved, including the unique circumstances that developed less than a month before the game, the challenges of the job, the marketplace and his strength as a coach and concluded that this is a reasonable arrangement,” said Wisconsin Board of Regents president Brent Smith.
Friday, Jan. 4, FOX, 8:00 p.m.
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
11. Johnny Football’s House
The Cotton Bowl will be played at Cowboys Stadium, while the Heart of Dallas Bowl will kick off at the Cotton Bowl. Makes sense, right? Either way, Jerry’s House will be Johnny Football’s House when the new SEC powers from Texas A&M take on their old Big 12 rivals from Oklahoma.
The first freshman to win college football’s most prestigious award, Johnny Manziel will be the eighth Heisman Trophy winner to play in the Cotton Bowl. It’s a good group that has combined for a 3–4 record in the game.
1948 – Doak Walker, RB, SMU (W, Cotton Bowl)
1963 – Roger Staubach, QB, Navy (L)
1977 – Earl Campbell, RB, Texas (L)
1984 – Doug Flutie, QB, Boston College (W)
1985 – Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn (L)
1987 – Tim Brown, WR, Notre Dame (L)
1998 – Ricky Williams, RB, Texas (W)
Monday, Dec. 31, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.
LSU vs. Clemson
12. Playing Chicken
Only the Mad Hatter would have a conflict of interest involving fried chicken. LSU coach Les Miles has an endorsement deal with Raising Cane’s, a chicken finger joint that opened in Baton Rouge in 1996 that has since expanded to 17 states nationwide.
As a result of his business partnership, Miles has refused to chow down on any of the Chick-fil-A spread during pre-bowl functions and festivities.
“I have a chicken issue,” said Miles, adding to his surreal reputation.
Capital One Bowl
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ABC, 1:00 p.m.
Georgia vs. Nebraska
13. Plan B Bowl
According to Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, the Capital One Bowl would have preferred to invite Texas A&M and Northwestern to town. But after both the SEC and Big Ten objected, the bowl relented and reached out to the runners-up of both conference’s championship games, Georgia and Nebraska.
“You have to understand that we’ve had a 20-year relationship with the SEC and Big Ten where we’ve had the top (non-BCS) selection from those conferences. That’s an important place to be and we’d like to continue that relationship,” said Steve Hogan, executive director of the Capital One Bowl.
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ESPN, 1:00 p.m.
South Carolina vs. Michigan
14. NFL Scouting Combine
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is currently the clear-cut No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan is jockeying for position as a first-round prospect in this year’s draft. All eyes will be on Lewan as he takes on Clowney in easily the most talented one-on-one matchup of this year’s bowl schedule.
Saturday, Dec. 29, ESPN, 6:45 p.m.
Oregon State vs. Texas
15. Dreaded Vote of Confidence
Texas coach Mack Brown has a 21–16 record over the past three seasons and appears to be losing considerable ground in the Lone Star State — which has produced the past two Heisman Trophy winners in Baylor’s RG3 and Texas A&M’s Johnny Football, neither of whom were offered to wear burnt orange as quarterbacks. Now, the 61-year-old has been given the dreaded vote of confidence from his bosses.
“Now that the Longhorn football team has finished its regular season, there has been an increase in media speculation about Coach Mack Brown’s future,” wrote University of Texas president Bill Powers. “I’d like to state unequivocally that Coach Brown has my full support as well as the support of Men’s Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds. Put succinctly, Mack Brown is and will remain the Longhorns’ head football coach.”
NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.
Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from Week 15 of NFL play:
7-1: Aaron Rodgers career record against Jay Cutler
The Packers won their seventh consecutive game against the Bears as Rodgers' continued domination of Cutler gave Green Bay their second consecutive NFC North championship. Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in the road win and is second to only Drew Brees with 32 touchdown passes this year. The Packers are 10-4 and are eyeing the NFC's two-seed without the help of a kicker — Mason Crosby has missed at least one field goal in eight straight games and is nine for his last 18 — or a host of elite playmakers on both sides of the ball. Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Desmond Bishop, Cedric Benson, D.J. Smith and Bryan Bulaga are either out for the year or have missed significant time this year. Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning are deserving MVP candidates, but has anyone done more with less than No. 12 in Green and Gold?
9: Consecutive wins for Peyton Manning over the Ravens
The future Hall of Fame quarterback led his Broncos to a key victory on the road over Baltimore in a game with AFC seeding implications. The 34-17 win over the Ravens gives Manning nine straight wins over the extremely successful AFC North franchise. The Ravens have been a playoff team in each of the last four years (soon to be five) and, after this year, will have made the postseason in six of the last seven seasons. In fact, two of those nine wins have come in the postseason, both in years that the Colts made it to the Super Bowl (2006, 2009). The last time No. 18 lost to Baltimore was December 2001.
108: Points scored by Seattle in its last two games
The Seahawks set all kinds of franchise records in their 58-0 drubbing of the Cardinals last week. The offense, led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, didn't miss a beat again this week in a 50-17 win over Buffalo in Toronto. It marked just the third time in NFL history a team scored 50 points in back-to-back games. Seattle forced 11 turnovers in the two wins while turning the ball over just once. Wilson, who set a franchise record with three rushing touchdowns (by a QB), is putting together one of the best rookie campaigns in history. All while Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck are doing the same. The Seahawks' signal caller has thrown 21 scoring strikes, which ties him with Cam Newton for the third highest total by a rookie (Peyton Manning 26 in 1998, Charlie Conerly 22 in 1948). After a four-touchdown performance in the win over the Bills, Wilson trails Luck (20 pass, 5 rush) by one total TD for the rookie lead. He finished 14-of-23 for 205 yards passing to go with 92 yards rushing on nine carries and has his team at 9-5 in his first year.
8,743: New San Francisco franchise rushing record by Frank Gore
In 156 games as a 49er, Joe Perry rushed for a franchise-record 8,689 yards. In 42 fewer games, Gore has supplanted Perry atop the Niners' all-time rushing standings. He rushed for 83 yards and scored a touchdown in the huge statement win over the Patriots on Sunday night in New England. The Niners endured a 28-point comeback and more than 300 yards passing from Tom Brady in the second half, but Colin Kaepernick answered with four touchdown passes of his own in the gut-check win over the defending AFC Champs. Gore, at 29 years old in his eighth NFL season, will become the first Niners player to rush for 10,000 yards with just one more solid season in the Bay Area. He is already the franchise's leader in rushing attempts (1,885) and his 50 rushing touchdowns trail only Perry's record 68.
294: Yards Adrian Peterson needs to set the NFL single-season rushing record
Eric Dickerson set the single-season NFL rushing record (2,105 yards) in 1984 as a 24-year old Los Angeles Ram. With 212 yards, including an 82-yard scoring run, Peterson has 1,812 yards rushing on the year. His quest for 2,000 almost seems secondary, as he needs 188 yards per game in his last two to reach Dickerson's benchmark. The Vikings tailback is less than a year removed from major knee surgery and has carried a 3-13 team to eight wins with two games left to play. Minnesota and its MVP running back will face the Texans and the Packers — who entered the weekend ranked second and 15th respectively against the run. It will be an extremely difficult task, but 146.5 yards per game is well within reach for the most gifted runner on the planet. Setting that record on that team after that injury, it's hard not to think this would be considered the best season by any running back in NFL history.
181: Yards Calvin Johnson needs to set the NFL single-season receiving record
Before 1995, only two receivers in history had ever topped 1,600 yards receiving in a season. Charley Hennigan's extraordinary 1,761 yards in only 14 games in 1961 and Lance Alworth's 1,602 in 1965 were the only such occurrences. Then the craziness of 1995 took place when four of the top 12 receiving seasons of all-time happened in the same year. Jerry Rice set the single-season mark with 1,848 yards, but the No. 2 (Isaac Bruce, 1,781), No. 6 (Herman Moore, 1,686) and No. 12 (Michael Irvin, 1,603) top receiving seasons also took place. At the time, they ranked No. 1, 2, 4 and 5 all-time. In total, only 15 times has a player topped 1,600 yards receiving in a single NFL campaign. With 121 yards on Sunday, Calvin Johnson (1,667) joined Marvin Harrison as the only two players to have accomplished the feat twice. He needs only 90.5 yards per game over the next two weeks against Atlanta and Chicago to knock Rice from one of the most prestigious pedestals in NFL history.
27: Number of 10,000-yard rushers in NFL history
Steven Jackson rushed for 73 yards in the loss to Minnesota this Sunday, but he became just the 27th player in NFL history to reach the 10,000-yard mark. Jackson is constantly underrated by most fans, particularly because the fantasy community doesn't appreciate his relatively low yearly touchdown totals. But with 91 more rushing yards over the final two weeks, Jackson will top the 1,000-yard mark for the eighth consecutive season. He also caught eight passes in the loss, giving him 399 catches for his career. He is one away from 400 and two away from passing Tom Fears for fifth all-time in Rams' history. Jackson is one of the most consistent producers in the NFL over the last nine seasons and has been doing it for bad football teams with little support from the quarterback position.
17: Number of times Drew Brees has passed at least 300 yards with 4 TDs in a game
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees passed for 307 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints’ 41-0 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday. Brees has recorded at least 300 passing yards and four touchdowns in a game 17 times and passed Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino (16) for the most such games in NFL history.
EDITOR'S NOTE: While we all sit with our friends and families watching football this holiday season, there will be 26 gaping voids in 26 different living rooms in Newtown, Conn., following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. I went to an elementary school not 15 miles down the road and I can assure the small Northeastern town that an entire nation is mourning your loss. There is no explanation and there are no words. But celebrating the lives and heroics of the teachers and principle who lost their lives protecting children — and appreciating every moment you get with your loved ones — feels like a good place to start rebuilding.
The NFL’s early entry deadline into the draft always plays a huge role in ranking teams for the next season. There’s a handful of key players that could depart college football for the NFL after this season, which could force a lot of changes in Athlon’s very early top 25 for 2013. It’s never too early to think about next season, so it’s time to examine some of the key players that could depart for the NFL Draft, which will also play a huge role in determining the top 25.
15 Key Underclassmen Who Will Impact the 2013 Draft and College Football's Top 25
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd has been the perfect fit in Chad Morris’ spread attack at Clemson, leading the Tigers to back-to-back 10-win seasons. Over the last two years, he has thrown for 7,378 yards and 67 touchdowns. At 6-foot-1, Boyd doesn’t have ideal size for the NFL. However, he has been one of college football’s most productive quarterbacks the last two seasons and won ACC Player of the Year honors for 2012.
Impact on Clemson: Boyd is expected to file his papers with the NFL Draft advisory board and make a decision after the bowl game against LSU. The junior could benefit from another year at the college level and throwing to Sammy Watkins certainly can’t hurt his stock. As long as Boyd returns, Clemson is the heavy favorite to win the ACC. Without him? The Tigers remain a likely top-25 team, but the race to win the ACC is wide open.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
In his first season carrying the full workload for Michigan State, Bell rushed for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns on 350 attempts. The Ohio native had three 200-yard efforts this season, including 210 in the 17-13 win over Boise State. Bell has 3,201 rushing yards in his career and has 76 receptions for 518 yards. He doesn’t have elite speed but is workhorse that can handle 25-30 carries every game.
Impact on Michigan State: Although quarterback Andrew Maxwell had some bright spots in 2012, Bell carried the Spartans’ offense. If he chooses to go to the NFL, Michigan State would have a hard time replacing Bell’s production with one player. If the junior does return, he should be in the mix for All-America honors.
D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
As most expected coming into this season, Fluker took the next step in his development into one of college football’s best offensive linemen. The Alabama native started every game over the last two years and earned first-team All-SEC honors this season. Fluker was picked as a second-team All-American by Athlon Sports for his performance in 2012. At 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, the junior has the size to be a force in clearing the way for running backs in the NFL.
Impact on Alabama: With Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack departing for the NFL, Alabama’s offensive line is already shorthanded going into 2013. Fluker is projected as a top 50 pick and is unlikely to return to Tuscaloosa for next season. Assuming he does leave for the NFL, Alabama’s offensive line will have three new starters and will be the team’s biggest weakness going into 2013.
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
After dominating defensive lines in the Big 12, the jump in competition to the SEC didn’t bother Joeckel in 2012. The Arlington native has made 38 consecutive starts and was a first-team All-SEC selection this season. Joeckel is a sure-fire first-round pick and would likely be selected among the top 10 picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Impact on Texas A&M: If Joeckel and fellow tackle Jake Matthews leave for the NFL, it’s not out of the question Texas A&M’s offense will take a step back next season. Add in coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s departure, and the Aggies have some significant question marks to address in spring practice. It’s early to talk about 2013 rankings, but losing Joeckel would make it difficult for Texas A&M to surpass Alabama and LSU in the SEC West standings.
Related Content: A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
Jones has been one of the nation’s top defensive playmakers over the last two years and is a back-to-back first-team All-SEC selection. The Georgia native started his career at USC but transferred after suffering a neck injury in 2009. Jones is a key presence in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme, as his speed and athletic ability is a perfect fit for coordinator Todd Grantham to attack opposing offenses.
Impact on Georgia: The Bulldogs have significant question marks on defense next year, and this unit could get even worse if Jones decides to enter the NFL Draft. Considering he is listed among the top 25 prospects and his injury history, the junior linebacker is likely headed to the NFL. Georgia has five senior starters on the defensive depth chart and could lose Jones and fellow linebacker Alec Ogletree to the draft. Without Jones in the lineup, the Bulldogs pass rush will suffer in 2013.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan has been a stalwart on Michigan’s offensive line for the last three seasons. The Arizona native started all 13 games at left tackle in 2011 and matched that feat in 2012, along with earning the Big Ten’s award for the best offensive lineman in the conference.
Impact on Michigan: Lewan will have a chance to improve his draft stock in the bowl, as he blocks South Carolina defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. Depnding on the other early entries, the junior could be the second offensive lineman off the board. The Wolverines are already losing guard Ricky Barnum, center Elliott Mealer and guard Patrick Omameh, so if Lewan departs, this unit will have four new starters in 2013.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews wasn’t as decorated as teammate Luke Joeckel was in 2012, but the junior still had an outstanding season. The Texas native earned third-team All-America honors and was a first-team selection on the All-SEC squad. Matthews enters the bowl game with 32 consecutive starts.
Impact on Texas A&M: If Joeckel and Matthews decide to return, Texas A&M will have the best set of offensive tackles in college football. However, both players are considered first-round talents, so it’s hard to envision either returning to College Station. Matthews has excellent bloodlines in the family, as he is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. If the Aggies lose their top two tackles, the offense will take a step back in 2013.
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Milliner came to Alabama as one of the top prospects in the nation and has easily lived up to expectations. As a freshman, he played in all 13 games and was a freshman All-SEC selection. Milliner saw extensive snaps as Alabama’s third cornerback in 2011 and was a unanimous All-America selection in 2012.
Impact on Alabama: Milliner is projected as the draft’s top corner and a likely top-10 pick. The Crimson Tide has depth in the secondary, especially as freshmen Geno Smith and safety Landon Collins get more comfortable in the defense. Although Smith, John Fulton and Deion Belue are a solid trio of corners to build around in 2013, Milliner’s ability to shut down one side of the field will be missed.
Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
With Mingo and Sam Montgomery coming off the edge, LSU had no trouble generating a pass rush in 2012. The Tigers averaged 2.5 sacks a game and held opponents to only 101.8 rushing yards per contest. Mingo’s numbers dipped slightly from 2011, as he had only four sacks and 33 tackles. Last year, the Louisiana native registered eight sacks, 15 tackles for a loss and 46 tackles.
Impact on LSU: Although he had a down year on the stat sheet, Mingo is still regarded as a first-round talent for the NFL Draft. The junior is quick off the line of scrimmage, which has translated into back-to-back years of at least 10 quarterback hurries. Losing Mingo would be a blow to LSU’s pass rush, but the Tigers have a track record of developing defensive ends under coach Les Miles and coordinator John Chavis.
Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
The Tigers always seem to produce elite defensive linemen and 2012 is no different. Montgomery and teammate Barkevious Mingo are projected top-25 selections for the 2013 NFL Draft. Montgomery suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2010 but bounced back with nine sacks in 2011 and seven in 2012. At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, the South Carolina native has the size to be an every-down lineman in the NFL.
Impact on LSU: The LSU coaching staff always does a good job of identifying the next standout defensive lineman, so even if Montgomery and Mingo leaves, the Tigers should be fine up front. However, there will be a dropoff early in 2013. If both ends return, LSU could make a run at the preseason No. 1 spot.
Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Moore played in a 3-4 rush end position during his first two years in College Station and had no trouble adapting to the defensive line this season. The Texas native had 14 sacks in 2010-11 and nearly matched that total with 12.5 in 2012. Moore also recorded one forced fumble, 80 tackles and 20 tackles for a loss this year.
Impact on Texas A&M: Coach Kevin Sumlin is on a roll on the recruiting trail, but his biggest challenge will be keeping Moore, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews on campus next season. Moore is projected as a first-round pick and could be the second defensive end off the board. The Aggies showed improvement on defense under new coordinator Mark Snyder this year and losing Moore would put a lot of pressure on underclassmen Julien Obioha and Tyrell Taylor next season. Texas A&M has a chance to win the SEC West in 2013 but losing Joeckel, Matthews and Moore would likely keep it from getting to 10 wins.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Although Mosley technically doesn’t start every week, there’s little doubt he is one of the best linebackers in the nation. The Alabama native led the team in 2012 with 99 tackles, recorded four sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble. Mosley was picked to the All-SEC freshman team in 2010 and was a key cog in Alabama’s national championship season in 2011.
Impact on Alabama: Building an elite defense is never a problem for coach Nick Saban, but the Crimson Tide is losing linebacker Nico Johnson and could have Mosley depart for the NFL. Johnson and Mosley are key leaders in the linebacking corps and help get the rest of the defense on the same page. Even if Mosley leaves, the cupboard is far from bare. Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are rising stars in the SEC.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Murray has been a solid three-year starter for the Bulldogs, tossing 90 touchdowns and 9,664 yards during that span. The Florida native recorded a career-best 3,466 passing yards in 2012 and tossed only three interceptions. Murray was a second-team All-SEC selection last year and finished second nationally in pass efficiency. The junior has all of the intangibles needed to succeed in the NFL but checks in at only 6-foot-1.
Impact on Georgia: The Bulldogs should be one of the favorites to win the national championship in 2013 – if Murray returns to Athens. Geno Smith, Mike Glennon and Matt Barkley are expected to be the first three quarterbacks off the board in the NFL Draft, so Murray is a fringe first-round selection. If the junior quarterback returns, he will be in the mix for All-America honors, especially with all five starters coming back on the offensive line. If Murray decides to leave, Hutson Mason and Christian LeMay will compete for the starting job.
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Werner has taken one of the nation’s most interesting paths to All-America honors in 2012. The Germany native played only two years of high school football in the United States and got better each season at Florida State. Werner recorded 23 sacks and 35 tackles for a loss through the first three years in his Seminole career. He was selected as the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year for the 2012 season.
Impact on Florida State: Werner is projected as top-15 pick, so it would be a surprise if he returned to Florida State. The Seminoles are also losing ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine, which will place a lot of pressure on Mario Edwards and Giorgio Newberry to step into a starting role next year. Florida State also has a new defensive coordinator in 2013, so there will be a transition period for this unit.
Robert Woods, WR, USC
A season with 73 catches is usually a pretty good year for any receiver. For Woods, that’s not exactly the case. After catching 111 passes in 2011, the junior’s numbers dropped to only 73 catches and he had just one 100-yard effort. Woods had ankle surgery after the 2011 season, which may have played a part in his drop in production.
Impact on USC: With Matt Barkley expiring his eligibility after the Sun Bowl, the Trojans have a lot of work to do on offense before next season. Even if Woods leaves, USC could have one of the Pac-12’s best receiving corps, as wideouts Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor return, along with tight end Randall Telfer.
5 Other Potential Departures to Watch for 2013
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Eifert led Notre Dame with 44 receptions and 624 receiving yards this season and if he declares, is projected to be the first tight end off the board in the 2013 draft.
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Floyd’s numbers aren’t huge on the stat sheet (41 tackles), but his presence on the interior changes a game from beyond the box score. Floyd is considered a fringe first-round pick by most experts but could rise on the draft board with a strong combine. If Floyd returns, he will help anchor one of the SEC’s best defenses.
Louis Nix III, NG, Notre Dame
Although Manti Te’o is a major factor in Notre Dame’s run defense, the emergence of Nix has been huge. Literally. At 6-foot-3 and 326 pounds, Nix clogs the middle, which allows Te’o and the other Fighting Irish linebackers plenty of room to patrol. Brian Kelly announced in mid-December he expects Nix to return in 2013.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Buckeyes already lost one player to the NFL Draft (Johnathan Hankins) and could see another depart. Roby was one of the Big Ten’s top corners in 2012, recording 63 tackles, two interceptions and 17 pass breakups. Roby is a third-year sophomore but could benefit from another year at Ohio State.
Matt Elam, S, Florida
If he declares, Elam could be the first safety picked in the draft. The Florida native ranked second on the team with 65 stops and recorded four picks in 2012. Elam was a first-team All-SEC selection this season.
Others to Watch:
David Amerson, CB, NC State
Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia (declared for NFL Draft)
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA (expected to return)
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (declared for NFL Draft)
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
Silas Redd, RB, USC
Eric Reid, S, LSU
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Tharold Simon, CB, LSU
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame
Related NFL Draft Rankings By Position:
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Running Backs
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Tight Ends
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Safeties
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Defensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Wide Receivers
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Inside Linebackers
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Cornerbacks
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Guards and Centers
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Outside Linebackers
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Quarterbacks
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Defensive Ends
|Butler coach Brad Stevens|
The Hoosier State doesn’t belong to the Hoosiers, at least not entirely.
When Butler defeated Indiana 88-86 in overtime Saturday, the Bulldogs signaled they’re back in contention for a deep run in the Atlantic 10 and in the NCAA Tournament, but perhaps we should have took Brad Stevens’ team more seriously back in the Maui Invitational.
Butler’s not alone among the usual powers outside of the major conference power structure who is playing at an elite level. The Mountain West still boasts more frontline teams than the Pac-12 at this point. Success is nothing new at Gonzaga, but this may be one of Mark Few’s better crews in recent seasons.
As teams finish up finals and head to semester breaks, Athlon will examine the college basketball landscape through the first month or so of the season before conference play begins later this month and into January.
Here’s our look at the scene so far in the non-Big Six conferences.
EARLY SEASON CONFERENCE CATCHUP: NON-BIG SIX
Other conferences: ACC | Big 12 | Big East
Surprise team: Illinois-Chicago
What team is going to lead the post-Butler Horizon League. How about UIC? The Flames are 9-1 with the lone loss to New Mexico 66-59 in the Virgin Islands. UIC held four consecutive opponents to 50 or fewer points, including a 50-44 win at Northwestern. Other surprise teams are out there -- an undefeated Wyoming, for example, but UIC already has exceeded its best win total from each of the last three years.
Disappointing team: Delaware.
With three double-digit scorers returning to a team that went 12-6 in the Colonial last season, Delaware was expected to make some noise. The perception didn’t change as the Blue Hens defeated Penn and Virginia in the NIT tip-off. Since then, the Blue Hens have gone into a tailspin, losing five in a row since reaching the NIT semifinals. Some of those losses have been to good teams -- Duke, Pittsburgh, Kansas State and Temple -- but an overtime loss to Delaware State on Dec. 8 may show the Blue Hens aren’t ready to compete for a CAA title.
Where’d he come from? Jalen Jones, SMU.
The sophomore Jones was one of a handful of holdovers on Larry Brown’s first team in Dallas. He’s been one of the keys in the Mustangs’ 8-2 start this season with 15.6 points per game. The 6-foot-6 guard also leads SMU with 8.4 rebounds per game. The hot start may be a bit of a mirage, signaled by double-digit losses to UALR and Rhode Island. But even wins over major-conference patsies Utah and TCU are steps in the right direction.
Where’d he go? Tony Mitchell, North Texas
Mitchell entered the season as an NBA prospect who could help North Texas take a rare step into the college basketball spotlight. His overall numbers aren’t all that different from last season, but it’s been an inconsistent ride. In a recent four-game losing streak, Mitchell went 4 of 8 against Virginia, 3 of 13 against UT-Arlington, 1 of 1 against Louisiana-Lafayette in which he fouled out and 7 of 12 against Saint Louis.
Key stat: Butler’s improvement from 3-point range.
Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham have transformed the Butler offense turning one of the Bulldogs’ biggest weaknesses last season into one of its greatest strengths. In 2011-12, Butler on average went 4.8 for 17.6 from 3-point range. Now, Butler is averaging 7.7 of 21.8 attempts from 3-point range. Even with more shots from beyond the arc, Butler has improved from shooting 28.1 percent to 35.3. In wins over North Carolina and Indiana alone, Butler was 23 of 49 from 3-point range.
THREE CONFERENCE RACES TO WATCH
Mountain West. Entering the season, we knew UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico would be competitive on a national level. All of those teams have lived up to their billing so far, but the league has shown impressive depth elsewhere. Wyoming is 10-0, propelled by a 76-69 win over Pac-12 contender Colorado on Dec. 1. Boise State is 7-2 and upset Creighton 83-70 on the road at the end of November. And Colorado State, expected to contend for the postseason, has lost two in a row, but defeated Washington earlier this year. Mountain West teams are 9-9 against major conference programs with three of those losses coming from Fresno State.
Atlantic 10. Welcome to the A-10, Butler and VCU. Both league newcomers may be the favorites to win the conference, but it won’t be easy. The league appears as deep as ever. Butler lost early to Xavier 62-47, but that game has proven to be an aberration as the Bulldogs have gone on to defeat Marquette, North Carolina and No. 1 Indiana. Besides Xavier, the only other loss for Butler was to undefeated Illinois in the Maui Invitational final. VCU’s three losses came to two undefeated teams (Duke and Wichita State) and Missouri. Despite changes in personnel, Temple is going to remain in contention. If there’s any drawback, teams like Saint Louis, St. Joseph’s and UMass have been uneven in a season in which they were expected to challenge for the postseason.
Missouri Valley. Whereas the previous two feature teams loaded with potential NCAA Tournament teams, the Missouri Valley may be a two-team race between Creighton and Wichita State. Creighton can play up-and-down offense, and Wichita State can defend. Could a regular season-finale between the two in Omaha be for a conference title?
NON-BIG SIX POWER RANKINGS
|Gonzaga coach Mark Few|
1. Gonzaga (10-1)
Despite an 85-74 loss at home to Illinois, there’s a lot to like about this balanced and deep Gonzaga team. The Bulldogs have defeated West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, Washington State and Kansas State. Seven-footer Kelly Olynyk has learned how to throw his weight around the basket.
2. UNLV (8-1)
Rebels got good news on the Mike Moser injury front, though it hasn’t mattered. Freshman Anthony Bennett is carrying this team. With Moser playing only five minutes in the last three games, Bennett has averaged 23.3 points and 11 rebounds.
3. Butler (8-2)
We've seen this before: an Indiana team defeats the No. 1 team in a game coming down to the final minutes. Last year it was Indiana upsetting Kentucky. This year it’s Butler over the Hoosiers. With wins over IU, North Carolina and Marquette, Butler’s no fluke.
4. Creighton (9-1)
The home loss to Boise State seems to be an aberration. After a slow start in the first two weeks of the season, Doug McDermott has heated up. He scored 34 points Saturday in a 74-64 win at Cal.
5. New Mexico (11-0)
No true signature win yet for the Lobos, but Steve Alford’s best team has defeated some quality mid-majors plus UConn.
6. San Diego State (8-1)
The best team in California will have a tougher time being crowned the best team in the Mountain West. Jamaal Franklin is having an All-America type year.
7. Wichita State (9-1)
A 69-60 loss at Tennessee ended an undefeated start, but the Shockers have nice wins over VCU (on the road) and Iowa (on a neutral court).
8. VCU (7-3)
The Rams are still going to win a lot of games in the A-10. No shame in losses to Duke, Missouri and Wichita State. On Saturday, VCU coach Shaka Smart defeated his predecessor, Anthony Grant, with a 73-54 win over Alabama.
9. Murray State (7-1)
The Racers are more than Isaiah Canaan: Ed Daniel has come from nowhere to average 17.1 points and 12.1 rebounds (he averaged 6.8 and 5.5 in just six fewer minutes per game a year ago).
10. Bucknell (9-1)
A wild race in the Patriot League is on deck between Bucknell and Lehigh. Not to mention a race for the top player in the league between Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum (24.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.1 apg) and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala (18.7 ppg, 11 rpg, 2.5 apg).