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As the saying goes, no one really wants to know how the sausage is made.
The same could be said of the polls that make up the BCS. The mishmash of 59 coaches, 115 Harris voters and six computer rankings spits out the BCS standings to determine the title game, eligibility for the BCS games and perhaps some bragging rights.
For the last several years, the final ballots have been open to inspection. Sifting through the ballots can be a fascinating and perhaps infuriating exercise, revealing coaches voting in their best interests, regional and conference favoritism and inexplicable decisions.
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting notes for the individual ballots:
Related: Final BCS analysis | Ranking the bowl games | Week 14 recap
THE COACHES’ POLL
From USA Today: Final poll | Graphic of each ballot
|Vanderbilt coach James Franklin|
Notre Dame not a unanimous No. 1
Three of the 59 coaches did not vote undefeated Notre Dame No. 1. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Middle Tennessee’s Rick Stockstill and Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville voted SEC champion Alabama No. 1. Stockstill and Tuberville voted Notre Dame No. 2, which brings us to the most interesting coaches’ ballot...
James Franklin’s SEC-friendly votes
The Commodores coach loves his conference, that’s certain. Franklin’s ballot began with: 1. Alabama, 2. Georgia, 3. Florida, 4. Notre Dame, 5. LSU. Altogether, he included eight SEC teams on his ballot including No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 8 South Carolina, No. 16 Vanderbilt and No. 21 Mississippi State. The final coaches’ poll included six SEC teams in the top 25 despite Franklin's endorsement of Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
Coaches love their own teams
Franklin wasn’t alone in giving his team a boost -- 23 coaches voted for their own schools in the poll. Twenty of those coaches voted their teams higher than they appeared in the final poll. The biggest offenders were Gus Malzahn (Arkansas State received 20 points, 10 from his No. 16 ranking), Todd Graham (he was one of two coaches to vote for Arizona State, placing the Sun Devils at No. 20. The other coach voting for ASU was his former offensive coordinator, Malzahn), and Rocky Long (San Diego State finished 32nd in the voting, Long ranked his team No. 20). Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes was the only coach who ranked his team lower than how it appeared in the polls, and even that comes with an asterisk: Louisiana Tech appeared on only one ballot at No. 24 from North Texas’ Dan McCarney.
The Big 12 coaches got the memo on Northern Illinois
The Huskies’ No. 16 ranking in the coaches’ poll helped Northern Illinois achieve a No. 15 ranking overall, clinching an automatic BCS bid, likely at Oklahoma’s expense. Of the five Big 12 coaches voting in the poll, four voted Northern Illinois outside of the top 16 threshold needed for BCS inclusion. The Sooners’ Bob Stoops and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen voted Northern Illinois at No. 24, but neither were the lowest votes for NIU. That honor belonged to Michigan’s Brady Hoke, who placed NIU at No. 25. The MAC coaches, however, weren’t in lockstep in boosting Northern Illinois’ ranking. Toledo’s Matt Campbell, Ohio’s Frank Solich and NIU’s Dave Doeren all put the Huskies in the top 15. Kent State’s Darrell Hazell and Ball State’s Pete Lembo did not.
Alabama not unanimous in the top two
Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter and Oregon State’s Mike Riley were the only coaches who did not have Alabama in the top two. They both turned in ballots with Notre Dame first, Oregon second and the Crimson Tide third. Interestingly, Riley put a rival (Oregon) ahead of his alma mater (Alabama).
USC’s stunning fall
USC was ranked third in the preseason coaches’ poll, but received only two points in the final poll -- both from Michigan’s Brady Hoke ranking USC at No. 24. Hoke also gave Texas one of its highest rankings at No. 16. The Longhorns finished 25th.
The poll included five coaches who have lost their jobs: Auburn’s Gene Chizik, USF’s Skip Holtz, Southern Miss’ Ellis Johnson, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips and Cal’s Jeff Tedford. USC coach Lane Kiffin was originally on the panel but relinquished his vote in August after he claimed he did not vote his team No. 1 when in fact the Trojans were in the top spot on his ballot.
Related: Five reasons why: Notre Dame will win the title, Alabama will win the title
THE HARRIS POLL
From Harris Interactive: Final top 25 (.pdf) | Every ballot (.pdf)
From Athlon: Who votes in the Harris poll?
|Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly|
No surprise: Notre Dame an overwhelming No. 1
Only nine of the 115 voters had Alabama in the top spot ahead of the Irish. As in the coaches’ poll, Alabama was not a consensus top two team. Four voters ranked the Tide third behind Notre Dame and Oregon: former Fresno State athletic director Scott Johnson, former Ball State player Terry Schmidt, Washington Times reporter Patrick Stevens and former Hawaii coach Bob Wagner.
Northern Illinois runs the gamut
The Huskies finished 16th in the Harris poll, helping them to the No. 15 BCS ranking overall. Northern Illinois’ highest ranks were at No. 9 for former Iowa State and Washington State coach Jim Walden and No. 12 for Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger reporter Tom Luicci. The Huskies were unranked in one ballot belonging to former Connecticut athletic director John Toner. Joe Novak Northern Illinois’ coach from 1996-2007, ranked the Huskies 15th.
A handful of Harris voters seemed at a loss with what to do with Georgia, a team that took Alabama to the wire in the SEC Championship Game yet lost by 28 to South Carolina and defeated only one ranked team (Florida). The Bulldogs were ranked third on a handful of ballots, but ranked outside of the top 10 for three voters: former Stanford player Todd Husak, former Notre Dame player Derrick Mayes and former SMU player Lance McIlhenny.
The 8-5 Badgers entered the poll after demolishing Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten title game. That win must have made an impression on former Army player Bob Anderson (No. 14) and former Sports Illustrated and The Daily writer John Walters (No. 15) who both voted Wisconsin in the top 15. Nebraska ranked 18th after the rout but did not appear on 10 ballots. The Cornhuskers were ranked as high as 12th on one ballot belonging to former Georgia Tech player Pat Swilling.
Friendly to the Big 12
Orangebloods.com reporter Chip Brown was friendly to the Big 12 at the end of his ballot as one of the few who ranked TCU (No. 16), Baylor (No. 18), Oklahoma State (No. 19) and West Virginia (No. 24). He also ranked Kansas State sixth, Oklahoma 10th and Texas 17th.
A USC sighting
The Trojans’ 7-5 season did nothing to deter former USC and Cincinnati athletic director and Duke coach Mike McGee. He ranked the Trojans 15th, nine spots ahead of UCLA (who defeated USC 38-28). He was one of three voters to rank USC. McGee also ranked Mississippi State 19th. Former Minnesota player Darrell Thompson also placed both Mississippi State and USC in his top 20.
There are 347 division-I college basketball teams. Following college hoops these days can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college basketball week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriuging, most important and most interesting stats from around the world of college basketball:
517: Career wins by the late Rick Majerus
The former coach at Marquette (1983-86), Ball State (1987-89), Utah (1989-2004) and Saint Louis (2007-12) died Saturday after a long battle with heart disease. Stories of the coach and broadcaster who impacted lives for more than four decades flooded the internet and airwaves, each encapsulating his gracious and gregarious personality. He won five Coach of the Year Awards in the WAC, seven regular season conference championships and led Utah to the Final Four in 1998.
23: Combined margin of defeat for Kentucky last week
Kentucky had lost back-to-back games only once under John Calipari — road games against Ole Miss and Florida back in 2010-11. The Wildcats’ worst loss under Cal was by 17 to UConn that same year. But after seven games, Kentucky (4-3) lost to Notre Dame and Baylor last week for two of the four worst losses under Calipari. The 14-point loss to the Irish was the second-worst loss of the Calipari era. The nine-point loss on Saturday to Baylor was tied for the third-worst defeat. Keep in mind: Kentucky rolled through Baylor in the Elite Eight last season en route to the national title. The loss to the Bears was the first home loss under Calipari at Kentucky, snapping the nation’s longest home winning streak at 55 games.
81: Mason Plumlee’s free throw percent against top-five teams
Entering his final season at Duke, big man Mason Plumlee was a 50.5 percent free throw shooter. But through the first eight games of his senior year, he is shooting 76.1 percent from the stripe. Against three top-five teams, Ohio State (9 of 12), Louisville (4 of 4) and Kentucky (4 of 5), he has missed only four freebies in 21 attempts. His play — 19.6 points, 1 rebounds — is a big reason Duke is still unbeaten.
18.8: UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett’s points per game
Marcus Thornton of William & Mary is the top scoring freshman in the country at 19 points per game in seven games, but UNLV’s Bennett is nipping at his heels after his first six games at 18.8 points per game. Bennett is shooting 55.4 percent from the floor and adding 7.8 rebounds per game for the 5-1 Rebels. UNLV’s postseason potential is built around veteran Mike Moser, an Athlon preseason first-team All-American, but Bennett’s development over the course of the season could be the difference between an early Tournament exit or deep postseason run.
219: SMU’s RPI in 2011-12
Larry Brown’s Mustangs are one of the top stories early in the season. SMU was 13-19 last season and hasn’t had a winning overall record since 2002-03 (17-13). After an 8-1 start with wins over Pac-12 (Utah) and Big 12 (TCU) programs, the nation is starting to take notice. SMU is No. 37 in Yahoo’s preliminary RPI, ahead of programs like North Carolina and Michigan State, and is poised for its best season in over a decade. Keep en eye on the cagey Brown and his intriguing ‘Stangs.
The New York Giants will try and increase their lead in the NFC East when they face off with the Washington Redskins tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. The defending Super Bowl champion Giants hold a two-game edge over the Redskins and Cowboys, thanks in part to their 27-23 home win over the Skins back in Week 7. The Redskins, on the other hand, are hoping to make Robert Griffin III’s “Monday Night Football” debut a successful one by stretching their winning streak to three and also gaining some ground on the Giants in the process.
When the New York Giants have the ball:
The New York Giants’ offense ranks among the top 10 in the league in total, scoring and passing offense. The Giants are generating nearly 370 yards (10th), scoring nearly 28 points, and are ninth in passing offense at nearly 255 yards per game. Quarterback Eli Manning has struggled somewhat recently, as he’s thrown three touchdown passes and interceptions apiece over his last four games combined. When he’s on his game, however, Manning is one of the best in the league and can team with wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks to do a lot of damage. The Giants also are 13th in rushing offense at nearly 115 yards per game, but suffered a big hit last week when backup running back Andre Brown was lost for the rest of the season with a broken leg. The onus falls to starter Ahmad Bradshaw to not only stay healthy, but also to continue to produce. First-round pick David Wilson should also get a chance to contribute, as it’s likely he will finally receive some significant playing time. The G-Men have done a good job of protecting the football (11 INTs, only five fumbles lost) and an exceptional job keeping Manning upright (14 sacks allowed, fewest in NFL).
Washington’s defense is ranked 28th in the league, as it is giving up an average of 390.5 yards per game. The Redskins can be described as a feast-or-famine type of defense, as they are No. 3 against the run (89.2 ypg), but second-to-last against the pass (301.4 ypg). The yardage allowed has been accompanied by a fair number of points as well, as they are giving up nearly 26 per game (25th in NFL). Pass rush has been an issue for this unit with just 20 sacks (26th), but it also has produced 22 takeaways, including 12 interceptions. Over all, the offense has done more than its part to assist the defense, as evidenced by the 31 points and 458 total yards surrendered to the Cowboys in last week’s 38-31 win on Thanksgiving Day.
When the Washington Redskins have the ball:
Washington is seventh in the NFL in both total (384.9 ypg) and scoring (26.8 ppg) offense. The Redskins have been clicking on all cylinders these past two weeks as they are averaging nearly 35 points and 400 yards of offense in their past two games, both wins. No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III has been the driving force for this offense all season long and he has taken it to another level recently. He became the first quarterback in Redskins history with four touchdown passes in consecutive games after dismantling the Cowboys (19-of-27, 304-4-1) on Thanksgiving Day last week. Griffin has been just as dangerous with his legs, however, as he and fellow rookie Alfred Morris have combined to form the league’s top rushing offense (163.5 ypg). Morris is fifth in the league in rushing yards, while Griffin, a quarterback, comes in at No. 21. These two combined for 467 yards of total offense (258 pass, 209 rush) the first time the Redskins and Giants played back in Week 7. While the Redskins may not be able to match up with the Giants’ receiving corps as a whole, they will have a “new” weapon at their disposal this time around. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon missed the first meeting with a foot injury, but he appears to be close to 100 percent after scoring on a 59-yard catch-and-run against the Cowboys last week. Another reason why the Redskins have been so effective on offense is they have committed a total of 10 turnovers. Remember this is an offense with a rookie quarterback and running back primarily handling the ball.
The New York Giants’ defense has done a good job of bending, but not breaking this season. The Giants are 23rd in the league in yards allowed at 366.6, but are ninth in scoring defense, surrendering 20.5 points per game. The defending Super Bowl champions have had their share of problems stopping both the run (114.0 ypg, 16th) and pass (252.6 ypg, 25th), but have made up for their deficiencies with production in other areas. The G-Men are tied for fifth in the league with 30 sacks and are second only to the Bears in the NFC in takeaways with 29, including 18 interceptions. They also are coming off of a game in which they held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to just 10 points. Rodgers finished with just 219 yards passing and a touchdown, as the Giants picked off the league’s reigning MVP once and sacked him five times.
The Giants have already faced Robert Griffin III once and came away impressed, as the rookie quarterback piled up 359 yards of offense and put the Redskins ahead late in the fourth quarter back in Week 7. The Giants were able to respond thanks to a 77-yard scoring strike to Victor Cruz to pull out the 27-23 win at home on Oct. 21. Now the scene shifts to FedEx Field in RGIII’s “Monday Night Football” debut. The Redskins gave the Giants all they could handle and then some in the first game, out-gaining them 480 to 393 overall and 248 to 64 on the ground alone, and Griffin in particular has maintained his high level of play since that Week 7 meeting. In the four games since, Griffin has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 896 yards, nine touchdown passes, to go along with 172 yards rushing and just one turnover (INT). Compare that to the Giants, who dropped their last two games headed into their Week 11 bye as Eli Manning and the offense struggled mightily. In the four games following the win over the Redskins, Manning has completed less than 55 percent of his passes for 781 yards and three touchdowns, while turning it over four times (3 INTs, fumble lost). The good news, however, is that the Giants came out of the bye refreshed and seemingly renewed, much like they did last year in their journey to winning the Super Bowl, and manhandled the Packers 38-10 last week. Manning threw three touchdown passes in that game, and the Giants played mistake-free football whereas they had committed seven turnovers in the previous three games combined. So while Griffin and the Redskins appear to be playing at their best right now, the Giants seem to be back on track as well and they also bring experience and a championship pedigree to this party. And that especially applies when to comes to the respective defenses.
Giants 31, Redskins 23
After struggling to find success under Tyrone Willingham, Bob Davie and Charlie Weis, Brian Kelly has led Notre Dame back to promience. The Fighting Irish are playing in their first BCS bowl since the 2006 season and have not won a national title since 1988. Notre Dame faces a tall task trying to win the BCS title on Jan. 7, as it has to knock off Alabama and end the SEC's recent run of dominance in national championships.
5 Reasons Why Notre Dame Will Win the National Title
1. It’s time for the SEC’s run to end
All good things must come to an end. Even though the SEC has claimed six consecutive national championships, a team from one of the other power conferences or Notre Dame will end its run in the next few seasons. So why not 2012? The Fighting Irish defeated nine bowl teams this year and beat another squad (Miami) that finished 7-5. Notre Dame proved its mettle on the road, beating Oklahoma 30-13 and at USC 22-13 in its regular season finale. There’s no question the SEC is the nation’s best conference and plays at the highest level of college football. However, at some point, the SEC’s success in the national championship will end, even if it’s just for one season.
2. The defense might be the best in the nation
Picking the nation’s best defense is no easy task. Florida, Florida State, LSU and Alabama all have a legitimate case for the No. 1 honor, but let’s not overlook Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish rank first nationally in scoring defense, holding opponents to 10.3 points a game. Notre Dame is fourth nationally in rush defense, sixth in total defense and is allowing only 194.4 passing yards per game. Led by senior linebacker Manti Te’o, the Fighting Irish have allowed just 10 touchdowns this season, which is the fewest allowed in college football.
3. Experience on the offensive line
Alabama’s 3-4 defense has been consistently one of the best in college football since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide lost a bevy of key players to the NFL Draft, yet finished 2012 ranked No. 1 in total defense and averaged 2.5 sacks a game. Although it’s not a glamorous matchup, the battle between the Notre Dame offensive line and Alabama’s front seven will have a huge impact on who hoists the national title. The Crimson Tide has an athletic front seven, but the Fighting Irish can counter with an experienced offensive line. Zack Martin is a standout performer at left tackle, starting 38 consecutive games. Center Braxston Cave has 34 career starts, while left guard Chris Watt, right tackle Christian Lombard and right guard Mike Golic Jr. have a combined 53 career starts. Winning starts in the trenches, and Notre Dame’s front five is more than capable of holding its own against Alabama’s defense.
4. Quarterback Everett Golson was playing his best ball at the end of the season
Even though Notre Dame led with its defense this year, the offense started to come alive at the end of the year. Redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson threw for at least 200 yards in each of his final four games, including a 346-yard effort against Wake Forest. Golson has tossed only five picks this season and turned in a key performance in a road win over Oklahoma (13 of 25, 177 yards). Although the redshirt freshman is making strides as a passer, his ability to make plays outside of the pocket is what makes him dangerous. Golson rushed for 305 yards and five touchdowns this year and considering Alabama struggled to stop Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, another dual-threat quarterback is not what Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart wanted to see.
5. Don’t underestimate Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly
Alabama’s Nick Saban is widely regarded as the best coach in the nation, but Kelly has to rank in the top five of any best coaching list. The Massachusetts native has been a winner at each stop in his career, recording a 118-35-2 mark and two national championships in 13 years at Grand Valley State. Kelly went 19-16 with a MAC Championship in three seasons at Central Michigan, followed by a 34-6 mark in three full years with Cincinnati. While it took Kelly two years to surpass the eight-win mark at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish are on the right track and are poised to emerge once again as an annual top-10 team. While Kelly isn’t as proven as Saban on a national championship stage, his background and playcalling on offense shows Notre Dame will have an excellent chance to end the SEC’s national title streak.
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Alabama is back in the national championship for the third time in four seasons. The Crimson Tide survived an early November loss to Texas A&M to wind up No. 2 in the BCS rankings and has a shot to continue the SEC's recent dominance.
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Win the National Title:
1. The SEC’s recent success in national title games
It’s no coincidence the SEC has won six consecutive national championships. For a conference that has the most rabid fanbases and support in FBS play, along with recruiting the nation’s top high school prospects, the SEC has established a blueprint on how to dominate college football. Alabama can add to the SEC’s run of dominance with a win over Notre Dame on Jan. 7, and it’s no surprise the Crimson Tide are already listed by some places as a touchdown favorite. Winning a national title requires luck, but considering the SEC is on the doorstep of its seventh consecutive title, it’s all about talent and owning the top programs in the nation. Notre Dame is worthy challenger, but the SEC is the best of the best and that will show on Jan. 7 in Miami.
2. The continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron
Quarterback AJ McCarron was a key reason why Alabama knocked off LSU in last season’s title game. He completed 23 of 34 throws for 234 yards and no interceptions in New Orleans, which significantly relieved the pressure on running back Trent Richardson and the defense. McCarron has taken another step in his development this year, throwing for 2,669 yards and 26 touchdowns, while tossing just three picks. The junior is also completing 66.8 percent of his throws and ranks first nationally in passing efficiency. Moving the ball against Notre Dame’s defense won’t be easy, but McCarron is getting better with every snap and has progressed significantly since last year’s national title victory over LSU. Considering the junior quarterback scored a road win over LSU and led Alabama to a victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship, the national stage against a stout Notre Dame defense won’t be too big for McCarron.
3. Alabama has the best defense Notre Dame has played this year
Although Notre Dame’s schedule features nine teams playing in a bowl game this year, it hasn’t played a defense quite like the one it will see in Miami on Jan. 7. Alabama has more team speed and depth than anyone the Fighting Irish have played this season and rank first nationally in yards allowed and are second in scoring defense. The secondary had some lapses during the regular season but no opponent threw for more than 296 yards this year. With a month to gameplan for Notre Dame, coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart should have a few new wrinkles to throw at quarterback Everett Golson. The Crimson Tide’s pass rush (2.5 sacks per game) will challenge an experienced Fighting Irish offensive line.
4. Emerging playmakers on offense
Despite losing running back Trent Richardson and receiver Marquis Maze, Alabama’s offense was statistically better in 2012. The Crimson Tide averaged 439.1 yards and 38.5 points per game, slightly increased from 34.9 points and 429.6 yards a game in 2011. The development of quarterback AJ McCarron as played a key role in the increased production, but the Crimson Tide also have a group of emerging playmakers to also thank for the success. Running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon each topped 1,000 yards this year, while freshman receiver Amari Cooper emerged as the go-to threat for McCarron, catching 53 passes for 895 yards and nine scores. With another set of practices to work with the coaching staff, expect Yeldon, Cooper and receiver Christion Jones to be even more comfortable in the offense by Jan. 7, which only adds to an offense that features McCarron and one of the best offensive lines in the nation.
5. Nick Saban in national title games
Even though Nick Saban has routinely had some of college football’s best rosters at Alabama and LSU, winning a national championship requires more than talent. And when ranking the best coaches in the nation, Saban should be No. 1 by a wide margin. In 11 years in the SEC, he has a 67-21 conference record and has only one season of fewer than eight victories. Saban has been simply unstoppable since coming to Alabama, as the Crimson Tide has won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons. That record looks even more impressive when you consider the three national championships on Saban’s resume. He won the 2003 title at LSU by beating Oklahoma and claimed the 2009 and 2011 championships with the Crimson Tide. Saban is 3-0 in national title appearances and 4-1 in bowl games during his career at Alabama. Needless to say, Saban is at his best when everything is on the line.
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After starting his career at South Florida with a solid 8-5 season, Skip Holtz appeared to have the Bulls in position to contend for Big East championships. However, the program never managed to take the next step under Holtz's watch. The Bulls went 5-7 in 2011 and continued the downward spiral with a 3-9 record in 2012. Holtz was fired on Sunday, which means South Florida will be looking for just its third coach in program history.
10 Replacements for Skip Holtz at South Florida
Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green – Clawson took a lot of heat for Tennessee’s struggles on offense in 2008, but he is a proven head coach at three different stops. The New York native went 29-29 in five seasons at Fordham (1999-2003), which also included a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson jumped to Richmond in 2004 and led the Spiders to two playoff appearances, including an 11-3 mark in 2007. After the failed season at Tennessee, Clawson landed at Bowling Green and went 7-6 in his debut year and 8-4 in 2012.
Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – Considering Cristobal has spent most of his career in Florida, he would be a logical target for South Florida. However, Cristobal could have a hard time leaving the Miami area, especially with FIU making the jump from the Sun Belt to Conference USA. Cristobal has a 27-47 record in six years with the Golden Panthers but helped to resurrect a program that was in awful shape when he became head coach in 2007.
Eddie Gran, RB coach, Florida State – Gran has been an assistant in the college ranks since 1987, making stops at Miami, Cincinnati, Ole Miss, Auburn, Tennessee and Florida State. The California native has never been a coordinator but is a relentless recruiter and has been a key addition to the Seminoles’ staff over the last three seasons. Not having head coaching experience has to be a drawback for Gran’s chances of landing at South Florida.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State – Herman is a longshot in this coaching search but a rising star to watch over the next couple of seasons. The Ohio native started his coaching career at Texas Lutheran in 1998, before working his way through the ranks at Texas, Sam Houston State and then as an offensive coordinator at Texas State from 2005-06. After two years with the Bobcats, Herman worked at Rice as the offensive coordinator, then jumped to Iowa State in 2009 and came to Columbus to work with Urban Meyer.
June Jones, head coach, SMU – Jones wanted to leave SMU last season, so it’s a bit of a surprise his name hasn’t popped up for more jobs this year. Although the Mustangs haven’t made dramatic improvements under his watch, SMU is making its fourth consecutive bowl appearance. Jones is 30-34 in six seasons with the Mustangs and was 76-41 in nine years with Hawaii. Considering South Florida needs to build some excitement in the fanbase, hiring a coach that runs a pass-first offense would be ideal.
Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M – If South Florida really wants to make a splash with its hire, Kingsbury should be one of its top targets. The Texas native has been coaching in college since 2008, beginning his career under Kevin Sumlin at Houston. Kingsbury helped to orchestrate one of the nation’s best offenses with the Cougars in 2011 and played a key role in the development of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M this season. Kingsbury has no head coaching experience but runs an exciting offense and has worked under some successful coaches – Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen.
Dan McCarney, head coach, North Texas – Just like Houston Nutt, McCarney’s name has been mentioned as an early candidate for the vacancy at South Florida. McCarney has a career record of 65-100 but spent 12 years coaching at a difficult place to win (Iowa State). He also has one season of experience at South Florida (2007) and coached at Florida from 2008-2010. McCarney is 9-15 in two years at North Texas.
Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – Monken is another coach with a background on offense and is also due for his shot to run a program. The Illinois native has no head coaching experience but has built a solid resume with stops as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Oklahoma State and in the NFL with the Jaguars. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has helped to build a foundation for offensive success in Stillwater, but Monken has done a tremendous job this season, starting three quarterbacks and dealing with a revamped offensive line to rank No. 3 nationally in scoring offense.
Brent Pease, offensive coordinator, Florida – Pease has been an assistant in the college ranks since 1991, which included a stop as Boise State’s offensive coordinator in 2011. The Idaho native also worked at Kentucky, Baylor and helped to improve Florida’s offense in 2012. Pease doesn’t have head coaching experience but he has a solid resume from his time as an assistant and would help South Florida spark a struggling offense.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and is ready for a promotion to a bigger program. He is 16-20 in three years with Western Kentucky, including back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2011-12. Taggart is from Palmetto, Fla., which is just under 50 miles to Raymond James Stadium. In addition to his time as a head coach at Western Kentucky, Taggart worked as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh for three seasons at Stanford.
A few wildcards to watch
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth is 17-8 in two seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette and has SEC experience from a two-year stint at Mississippi State. Although Hudspeth would be a great hire, he may be holding out for a chance to land in the SEC.
Houston Nutt, former Ole Miss head coach – The early rumor mill has suggested Nutt could be in the mix for the opening at South Florida, which would certainly be an interesting fit for both parties. Nutt recorded a 75-48 mark during his tenure at Arkansas, including at least a share of three SEC West titles. Nutt started 18-8 at Ole Miss but went 6-18 during the next two seasons.
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 13 of NFL play:
299.7: Andrew Luck yards passing per game
Luck threw for 391 yards and scored two touchdowns in the final 2:39 seconds of the improbable come-from-behind win over Detroit on Sunday. It was his sixth 300-yard passing effort in 12 career games and he now has 3,596 yards in his first season. If he continues at his current pace, not only would he set the single-season NFL rookie passing record — set by Cam Newton last fall at 4,051 yards — he would shatter it by over 700 yards. Luck is on pace for 4,794 yards in his first season. And oh by the way, he also has 216 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground. His eight wins are the most by a quarterback drafted No. 1 overall in NFL history. There is nothing lucky about No. 12 in white and blue.
162: Russell Wilson's total offense on Seattle's final two drives
Wilson got the ball on his own three-yard line with 3:40 left to go in the game trailing the Bears by four points in Soldier Field. He completed 6-of-9 passes for 77 yards, rushed twice for 19 yards and finished the 12-play, 97-yard drive with a go-ahead touchdown pass to Golden Tate (who made a great play to get into the end zone). After a miraculous Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall 56-yard completion that allowed Chicago to send the game into overtime, Wilson was asked to win the game again. He was masterful on yet another 12-play drive — this time 80 yards — to lead his team to a huge road victory. He was 3-of-3 for 38 yards, rushed for 28 yards on three carries and connected with Sidney Rice on the game-winning touchdown pass with 7:33 left in overtime. On his final two drives he accounted for 115 of his 293 passing yards and 47 of his 71 rushing yards and connected on his final seven passes. He didn't turn the ball over once. I mentioned this was against the Bears in Chicago, right?
3: NFL-worst rushing TDs by Green Bay
With 2:12 left in the third quarter and trailing the Vikings at home, James Starks ran off right tackle around the Minnesota defense and into the end zone for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown. It was the just the third rushing touchdown of the season for the Packers. The ability to run the football effectively will make this team more dangerous come playoff time and it was the difference in the crucial divisional win over the Vikes. The Packers rushed 36 times for 152 yards as Starks set the pace with 66 yards. Oakland and St. Louis are tied with Green Bay with only three rushing touchdowns on the season as well. Aaron Rodgers won his 49th career start on what was his 29th birthday.
149:34: Minutes the 49ers and Rams played this season
The most amount of time any two teams could possibly play in the regular season under the current NFL rule book is 150 minutes exactly. The first time the Rams and Niners met this season, the game ended in a tie. It was the first tie in the NFL since 2008. On Sunday, these two played a second overtime game and came 26 seconds shy of tying for the second time. The Rams' Greg Zuerlein kicked a 54-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in OT to give the Rams the home victory. After 149 minutes and 34 seconds of gameplay, these two had decided absolutely nothing until the kick sailed through the uprights with just seconds remaining.
45: Philip Rivers turnovers the last two seasons
The San Diego quarterback threw an interception and lost a fumble in a close home loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. He failed to throw a touchdown pass and the Chargers lost their eighth game of the season. Rivers has turned the ball over 20 times this season (15 INT, 5 FL) after turning it over 25 times last season (20 INT, 5 FL). He has thrown exactly 45 touchdown passes over that span (with one rushing score) to match his 45 giveaways. He is 12-16 as the starter the last two seasons and is only 8-15 in his last 23 games. This organization has folded and many believe changes in the front office and on the sideline are coming. But maybe it's time to look at a new name under center as well? Just as a frame of reference, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 74 touchdowns passes, only 13 interceptions, lost two fumbles, scored three rushing touchdowns and is 22-5 in one less game as a starter over that same time span.
119.0: Calvin Johnson's receiving yards per game
Megatron caught 13 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown in the brutal loss to the Colts this weekend. However, he now has 1,428 yards receiving through 12 games for an average of 119.0 yards per game. Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record set back in 1995 (1,848 yards) is in major danger of being surpassed by Johnson. If the Lions' wide receiver continues on his pace, he will finish as the only player in history to top 1,900 yards receiving in a single year (1,904). Only four players have ever topped 1,700 yards in a single season and Johnson's career high of 1,681 in 2011 currently ranks seventh all-time. Isaac Bruce is second all-time with 1,781 — also in 1995.
Game 6, 2013: When Tom Brady would set NFL record for consecutive games with a TD
Drew Brees threw five interceptions in the loss to Atlanta on Thursday night. He failed to throw a touchdown, snapping his NFL record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass at 53. After throwing one touchdown in the win over Miami on Sunday, Tom Brady owns the top active streak with 44 straight games with a TD toss. Brady would pass Johnny Unitas (47) for second all-time in Week 17 this year and would pass Brees in game six of the 2013 season. The win over the Dolphins clinched the AFC East Championship for the Patriots and gives Brady an NFL-record 10 division titles.
798: Days since Charlie Batch threw a TD pass
It had been 798 days since Steelers starter Charlie Batch last threw a touchdown pass in the NFL. He tossed three touchdowns in a win over Tampa Bay on Sept. 26, 2010. In fact, those three scores were his only touchdowns since Dec. 30, 2007. That is, until he connected with Heath Miller on a game-tying seven-yard touchdown pass with 7:24 left in the game at M&T Bank Stadium. He finished 25-of-36 for 276 yards, that key touchdown and an interception in a massive road win over the AFC North-leading and rival Ravens.
Which bowls should you tune into? Athlon ranks and previews all of the matchups from the must-see to the ones you can avoid. Although Alabama and Notre Dame is clearly the biggest bowl game, with 34 other contests, there are plenty of other quality pairings to watch this postseason.
Ranking the 35 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-Miss
1. BCS National Title – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0) – Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
With the history and tradition between Alabama and Notre Dame, this season's national title matchup is the most-anticipated championship game of the BCS era. With a Crimson Tide victory, the SEC will claim its seventh consecutive national championship, while Alabama is looking for its third BCS title in four seasons. This is the Fighting Irish’s first BCS bowl appearance under coach Brian Kelly and their first overall since 2007. Both teams rank among the best in defense, but the Crimson Tide have a slight edge on offense, largely due to the continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron. These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 edge in the series. Interestingly enough, Alabama and the Fighting Irish are tied with eight Associated Press national titles apiece.
2. Fiesta Bowl – Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1) – Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
If you like offense, the Fiesta Bowl should be the game to watch. The Ducks rank second nationally in scoring offense with an average of 50.8 points per game, while Kansas State is 10th nationally at 40.7 points per game. Oregon is loaded with playmakers, starting with redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Kenjon Barner. Although Kansas State’s offense is averaging over 400 yards per game, its success is largely due to the play of one man — quarterback Collin Klein. The senior carried the offense with 3,380 total yards and 37 touchdowns. These two teams were scheduled to meet in the regular season, but the series was canceled in 2010. One key question surrounding this one: Will Chip Kelly still be Oregon’s coach when this game kicks off?
3. Chick-fil-A Bowl – LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2) – Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is usually one of the best matchups outside of the BCS and 2012 certainly lives up to that hype. LSU was one defensive stop against Alabama from playing for the SEC Championship and won at least 10 games for the sixth time in eight seasons. Clemson is 1-1 against SEC opponents this year, beating Auburn in the season opener and losing to South Carolina on Nov. 24. The Tigers own one of college football’s top offenses, averaging 42.3 points a game. The chess match between Clemson’s offense against LSU’s defense should be one of the top O's vs. X's battles this bowl season.
4. Rose Bowl – Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5) – Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
After watching Oregon and Wisconsin trade scores in last season’s Rose Bowl, points could be a premium in the 2013 edition. Stanford and Wisconsin will be a war in the trenches, as the Cardinal hope to hold the Badgers’ powerful rushing attack in check. Stanford’s offense improved in the second half of the season, largely due to the emergence of quarterback Kevin Hogan. Considering both teams are strong on defense and on the ground, a key play by Hogan or Wisconsin’s Curt Phillips could be just enough to win. The Badgers have lost back-to-back Rose Bowl games.
5. Cotton Bowl – Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2) – Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Even though the Cotton Bowl was pressured not to setup a Texas-Texas A&M matchup, it ended up with a solid game between two former Big 12 rivals. Oklahoma also just missed out on a BCS bowl, even though its only losses came against Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl) and Notre Dame (BCS title). The Sooners’ defense allowed at least 30 points in three out of their final four games, which has to be a concern against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman and ranks second nationally with 383.3 yards of total offense per game. Oklahoma has won eight out of the last nine matchups against Texas A&M, including a 41-25 game last season.
6. Capital One Bowl – Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Considering how the conference championship games turned out for both teams, there certainly has to be a feeling of disappointment by having to play in Orlando. However, if Nebraska and Georgia are motivated, this should be one of the best bowl matchups outside of the BCS. After the Cornhuskers were shredded for 539 rushing yards against Wisconsin, the Bulldogs have to be licking their chops. Freshmen backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 1,983 yards and 24 touchdowns this year. This matchup also features an exciting quarterback duel between Georgia’s Aaron Murray (34 TDs) and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (31 TDs).
7. Sugar Bowl – Louisville (10-2) vs. Florida (11-1) – Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Florida has one of the nation’s best resumes but also has some puzzling results, including close victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Missouri. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, but a loss to Georgia prevented Will Muschamp’s team from having a chance to play for the national title. Louisville won the Big East title with a 20-17 win over Rutgers, which featured a gutsy performance from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. With over a month to heal, Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent, which should give the Cardinals a chance to hang around in this matchup. There’s also an underlying coaching theme, as Louisville’s Charlie Strong worked at Florida from 2002-09.
8. Holiday Bowl – Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4) – Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
The Holiday Bowl seems to bring out the best in offense, so expect plenty of fireworks when Baylor and UCLA meet on Dec. 27. The Bears were one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 to finish 2012, winning four out of their final five games, with the only loss coming to Oklahoma. Baylor leads the nation in total offense, while quarterback Nick Florence kept the passing attack going without Robert Griffin, throwing for 4,121 yards and 31 scores. UCLA won the Pac-12 South in coach Jim Mora’s first season and fell just short of a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have a dynamic offense and the combination of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin should test a shaky Baylor defense.
9. Outback Bowl – South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Even though both teams had its sights set on a bigger bowl game this year, the Outback Bowl should be another entertaining Big Ten-SEC matchup. The time off from the season finale is good news for both teams, as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw missed the game against Clemson with a foot injury and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is also banged up. Michigan could use the month off to find a fix for its rushing attack, which sputtered when Fitzgerald Toussaint was lost for the year with a leg injury. Expect Florida native Denard Robinson to play a quarterback/running back hybrid role for Michigan in his final game in a Wolverine uniform.
10. Orange Bowl – Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1) – Jan. 1
For the first time in the BCS era, a MAC team will make an appearance in a BCS bowl. The Huskies aren’t the strongest non-BCS squad to play in a big-time bowl, as they lost to Iowa in Week 1 and scored a one-point victory over a 2-9 Army team in Week 3. Also, coach Dave Doeren left for NC State after the MAC Championship victory over Kent State. However, Northern Illinois features one of the nation’s most exciting players in quarterback Jordan Lynch and an offense that averages 40.8 points per game. The Huskies’ high-powered attack will be tested by a Florida State defense that ranks second nationally in yards allowed and is giving up just 15.1 points per game. The Seminoles will be without coordinator Mark Stoops in this game, who left to take the head coaching job at Kentucky. If Florida State is motivated, the Seminoles should overwhelm Northern Illinois with its speed and depth.
11. Alamo Bowl – Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon State (9-3) – Dec. 29 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Last season’s Alamo Bowl was the highest-scoring game in bowl history. Although Texas and Oregon State are each averaging over 30 points a game, it’s unlikely these two teams will match last year’s ridiculous totals set by Baylor and Washington. The Longhorns are dealing with more quarterback uncertainty, as David Ash was banged up in the loss to TCU and Case McCoy tossed two picks in a 42-24 defeat to Kansas State on Dec. 1. While the passing attack has been inconsistent, Texas has a talented trio of backs, which will test an Oregon State defense ranked 28th against the run. The Beavers have also dealt with some quarterback issues, but Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz have each had their moments. Both quarterbacks have plenty of targets to choose from, as Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks each topped 1,000 receiving yards. This is the first meeting between these two teams since 1987, with Texas owning a 2-0 edge in the series.
12. Gator Bowl – Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4) – Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
It may not mean much to the players, but this game is a crucial one in the ongoing Big Ten-SEC battle for bragging rights. And this matchup features teams headed in the opposite direction at the end of the year. Northwestern won three out of its final four games, while Mississippi State closed out 2012 by losing four out its last five contests. The Wildcats have not won a bowl game since 1949 but have lost two out of their last three postseason contests by seven points or less. Mississippi State’s defense struggled late in the year and drew a tough matchup against Northwestern, which features running back Venric Mark (109.2 ypg) and dynamic dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter.
13. Buffalo Wild Wings – TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6) – Dec. 29 at 10:15 p.m. ET
With both teams returning a solid core of talent next season, this bowl could be a springboard to a big 2013. Despite losing quarterback Casey Pachall and moving to the Big 12, the Horned Frogs finished with a 7-5 record and are making their eighth consecutive bowl game. Michigan State was expected to be one of the frontrunners for the Big Ten title this year but needed a victory over Minnesota in the regular season finale just to get bowl eligible. This could be the final game for Spartans running back Le’Veon Bell, who could be entering the NFL Draft. Points could be at a premium with both teams ranked in the top 20 of total defense.
14. New Mexico Bowl – Nevada (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5) – Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
The 2012-13 bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque, N.M., featuring an exciting matchup between the Wolf Pack and Wildcats. There should be no shortage of points between these two teams, as both teams averaged over 500 yards a game during the regular season. Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey led the nation with an average of 146.4 yards per game, while Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson was second at 141.9 yards per contest. A matchup of 7-5 teams is usually a game to miss, but this one has all of the makings for an entertaining shootout.
15. Famous Idaho Potato – Utah State (10-2) vs. Toledo (9-3) – Dec. 15 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Utah State makes its second consecutive appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and it hopes for a different result after losing a heartbreaker to Ohio in 2011. The Aggies had a 6-0 record in conference games and lost by two points to Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Utah State’s offense is led by dynamic quarterback Chuckie Keeton, but the defense allowed just 15.4 points a game. All three of Toledo’s losses were by a touchdown or less and one of its nine victories came against Cincinnati. The Rockets allowed 464.1 yards per game but countered that with an offense that averaged 32.9 points a contest. Running back David Fluellen missed the season finale with a sprained ankle but should be close to 100 percent for the bowl.
16. Las Vegas Bowl – Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5) – Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Boise State is making its third consecutive trip to the Las Vegas Bowl and interestingly enough, these two teams will meet in the season opener next year. Despite heavy personnel losses on both sides of the ball, the Broncos won 10 games for the seventh consecutive season and their two losses were by four points or less. Washington is making progress under coach Steve Sarkisian, winning four out of its final five games. The Huskies showed improvement on defense but took a step back on offense this year. A young offensive line is to blame for some of the offensive woes, but quarterback Keith Price also took a step back in performance.
17. Music City Bowl – Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. NC State (7-5) – Dec. 31 at 12 p.m. ET
After winning eight games for the first time since 1982, Vanderbilt probably deserves to be headed to a bigger bowl game. However, the Commodores will be making the short trip to LP Field with a chance to earn their first bowl victory under coach James Franklin. And Franklin has some history with NC State, as its athletic director (Debbie Yow) picked him to be the head-coach-in-waiting at Maryland. Motivation is a concern for the Wolfpack, especially after coach Tom O’Brien was released after the season finale against Boston College. Although new coach Dave Doeren won’t be on the sideline for this game, the NC State players want to make a good impression. Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon is one of the ACC’s top signal-callers and will test a Vanderbilt secondary that ranks 10th nationally against the pass.
18. GoDaddy.com Bowl – Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Kent State (11-2) – Jan. 6 at 9 p.m. ET
Arkansas State is making its second consecutive trip to Mobile, while Kent State is in a bowl game for the first time since 1972. The Red Wolves closed out the regular season by winning seven consecutive games and seemed to find their offensive rhythm late in the year under first-year coach Gus Malzahn. Kent State will counter Arkansas State’s offense with a defense that forced 38 turnovers and averaged 2.5 sacks per game. The Golden Flashes have struggled to establish a passing attack this year but are led on offense by a dangerous one-two punch at running back with Trayion Durham and Dri Archer.
19. Poinsettia Bowl – BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3) – Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET
The first mid-week bowl game of the season is an intriguing battle between two former WAC and Mountain West rivals. Despite having to replace quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman, the Aztecs topped last season’s victory total and enter the bowl game on a seven-game winning streak. BYU lost four of its five games by six points or less, but closed out the year by scoring 50 points in two out of its final three games. The Cougars have dominated San Diego State in the series history, owning a 27-7-1 record. The Aztecs last win against BYU occurred in 2005 and have lost nine out of the last 10 matchups in this series.
20. Pinstripe Bowl – West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5) – Dec. 29 at 3:15 p.m. ET
Two old Big East rivals will meet in Yankee Stadium for what should be a high-scoring affair. The Mountaineers rank sixth nationally in passing offense, led by senior quarterback Geno Smith and two of the nation’s best receivers – Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The Orange closed out the year on a high note, winning five out of their last six games, including a victory against eventual Big East champion Louisville. Quarterback Ryan Nassib ranked 13th nationally in total offense at 312.3 yards per game but an improved rushing attack was critical during the second half of the season. Syracuse leads the overall series 32-27 between these two teams and won the last two meetings as Big East conference foes.
21. Military Bowl – Bowling Green (8-4) vs. San Jose State (10-2) - Dec. 27 at 3 p.m. ET
This will be the first meeting between the Falcons and the Spartans, two teams separated by over 2,000 miles. Led by an offense averaging 35.3 points per game, San Jose State recorded its first season of double-digit wins since 1987. Coach Mike MacIntyre is also one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks, providing a quick turnaround for one of the nation’s worst teams just a few seasons ago. Bowling Green is making its first bowl appearance since 2009 and finished 2012 by winning seven out of its last eight games. San Jose State’s firepower on offense will be tested by a Falcons’ defense allowing just 15.8 points per game.
22. BBVA Compass Bowl – Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Ole Miss (6-6) – Jan. 5 at 1 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh will be making its third consecutive trip to Birmingham, while the Rebels return to the postseason after a two-year absence. New Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze engineered a quick turnaround, taking the Rebels from 2-10 last season to 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. In Pittsburgh’s last two BBVA Compass Bowl appearances, it was forced to play with an interim coach. Don’t expect that to happen this time around, as Paul Chryst isn’t leaving the Steel City this year. This game features an intriguing quarterback matchup, as Pittsburgh’s Tino Sunseri had a much-improved season, while Bo Wallace threw for 2,843 yards in his first year at Ole Miss.
23. Liberty Bowl – Tulsa (10-3) vs. Iowa State (6-6) – Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET
The only rematch from the regular season features Conference USA’s champ (Tulsa) and an Iowa State team that played much better than its 6-6 record indicates. The Cyclones won the first matchup 38-23, but the Golden Hurricane is a much-improved team since the season opener. Tulsa’s offense is led by three players with at least 700 rushing yards, while quarterback Cody Green has 2,499 passing yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Iowa State found a spark on offense late in the year, as quarterback Sam Richardson threw for seven touchdowns over the final two contests. This is the Cyclones’ first trip to the Liberty Bowl since 1972.
24. Russell Athletic Bowl – Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6) – Dec. 28 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Two old Big East foes meet for the first time since 2003. The Scarlet Knights have not defeated Virginia Tech since 1992 and trail 11-3 in the overall series. The Hokies had high expectations in the preseason but slumped to a 6-6 record. Quarterback Logan Thomas did not take the next step in his development, but the offense also dealt with inconsistency on the offensive line and in the rushing attack. Rutgers was just a couple of plays away from a BCS bowl and its top-10 defense drew a favorable matchup against the Hokies.
25. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl – (Navy 8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5) – Dec. 29 at 4 p.m. ET
Navy is back in the postseason after a one-year absence and drew a tough matchup against Arizona State. The Sun Devils closed out the regular season with a key 41-34 win over rival Arizona, which gave it more than six victories for the first time since 2007. Arizona State’s offense is loaded with playmakers, and quarterback Taylor Kelly finished the season with 25 touchdown tosses to nine interceptions. The Midshipmen are always a difficult opponent due to their style of play and should have a homefield advantage in San Francisco. Navy’s last win over a Pac-12 team came in 2006 against Stanford.
26. Independence Bowl – Ohio (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4) – Dec. 28 at 2 p.m. ET
With not enough ACC or SEC teams bowl eligible, the Independence Bowl landed an intriguing matchup between two non-BCS teams. Ohio started the year with a bang, winning on the road at Penn State and opened 7-0 before a loss to Miami (Ohio). The Bobcats suffered a handful of season-ending injuries, which played a key role in the team’s struggles in the second half of the year. Louisiana-Monroe is making its first bowl appearance in program history and it also started the year off with a huge upset, beating Arkansas 34-31 in Week 2. Warhawks’ quarterback Kolton Browning had an outstanding season, throwing for 2,830 yards and 27 touchdowns on 389 attempts. Both teams average over 30 points a game, so expect plenty of fireworks on Dec. 28 in Shreveport, La.
27. New Orleans – Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4) – Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
There should be no shortage of points when the Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns meet in New Orleans on Dec. 22. Both teams are averaging over 30 points a game and each finished the year with a three-game winning streak. Louisiana-Lafayette won a 32-30 thriller over San Diego State in last season’s New Orleans Bowl and with its campus less than 200 miles away from the Superdome, should have a significant homefield advantage over East Carolina. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden finished the year by throwing nine touchdowns over his last three games and should be able to take advantage of a Ragin’ Cajuns’ secondary that ranked near the bottom of the Sun Belt.
28. Belk Bowl – Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6) – Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. ET
The last three matchups in the Belk Bowl have each been decided by seven points or less. And this season’s game should be just as competitive, especially after Cincinnati found its rhythm on offense with the switch to Brendon Kay at quarterback. Kay replaced Munchie Legaux as the team’s No. 1 passer and finished with six touchdowns over the final four games. The Bearcats allow 373.8 yards per game on defense but are holding opponents to 17.2 points a contest. Duke is making its first bowl appearance since 1994 but closed out the year by losing its final four games. The Blue Devils have made solid progress under coach David Cutcliffe and will test Cincinnati’s secondary with quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting receiver Conner Vernon.
29. Sun Bowl – USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7) – Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
From preseason No. 1 to the Sun Bowl. That’s the kind of year it has been for USC. The Trojans lost four out of their final five games to slip out of contention in the Pac-12 South, while quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a shoulder injury in the loss to UCLA. The good news for USC is Barkley is expected to play against Georgia Tech, who limps into the bowl season as the only team with a losing record. The Yellow Jackets lost in the Sun Bowl against Utah last season and will give the Trojans’ defense a challenge with its option attack. If Barkley and a deep USC receiving corps get on track early, it could be an uphill battle for Georgia Tech to keep this one close.
30. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl – UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3) - Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Looking for something to do on the Friday before Christmas? How about this MAC vs. C-USA matchup? These two teams have met three times, with Ball State owning a 2-1 edge. The Cardinals finished the regular season with six consecutive victories but head into the bowl game with some uncertainty surrounding their quarterback Keith Wenning, who suffered an Achilles injury against Ohio. UCF fell just short of a Conference USA title and three of its losses came by five points or less, with its only other loss coming to Ohio State in Week 2. Ball State’s rush defense has struggled this year, which is bad news against a UCF team with running backs Latavius Murray and Miami transfer Storm Johnson.
31. Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6) – Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
In a bit of a surprise, Oklahoma State ended up in the final allotted Big 12 bowl. The Cowboys were 7-5 but lost three games by a touchdown or less and were forced to start three quarterbacks due to injuries this year. Despite making back-to-back bowl games, Purdue fired coach Danny Hope after the season finale. The Boilermakers found a spark on offense from quarterback Robert Marve late in the year but will have a tough time keeping pace with the Cowboys on Jan. 1.
32. Meineke Car Care – Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5) – Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET
Considering Minnesota lost six out of its last eight games, this game has potential to be a blowout victory by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders didn’t exactly close out the year on a high note either, losing four out of their final five games. However, the Golden Gophers will need a huge effort on defense to stop Texas Tech’s passing attack (No. 2 nationally). Minnesota’s offense never managed more than 17 points in each of its final four contests, which won’t be good enough against the high-scoring Red Raider attack.
33. Hawaii Bowl – SMU (6-6) vs. Fresno State (9-3) – Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
Former Hawaii coach June Jones makes his first appearance in Aloha Stadium since a 35-28 victory over Washington in Dec. 1, 2007. Despite leaving Hawaii after the 2007 season, Jones is still a popular figure and should help build the local interest in this game. SMU has made four consecutive bowl games but needed a victory over Tulsa in its final game just to get eligible this year. Former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 2,720 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season with the Mustangs. New coach Tim DeRuyter led the Bulldogs to a share of the Mountain West title in his first season and brings a high-powered offense to Hawaii. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for 3,742 yards and 36 touchdowns this year, while running back Robbie Rouse topped 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. These two teams were once conference mates in the WAC, and Fresno State holds a 5-1 edge over SMU in the all-time series.
34. Little Caesars – W. Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6) - Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
This matchup in Detroit might not be one of the most intriguing games, but there are some interesting aspects surrounding both teams. After getting passed in the bowl selection process last year, Western Kentucky is making its first trip to a postseason game. The Hilltoppers have one of the nation’s top up-and-coming coaches in Willie Taggart, along with running back Antonio Andrews, who leads the nation with 248.1 all-purpose yards per game. Central Michigan returns to the postseason after a two-year absence and had a road win over Iowa this year but failed to beat a team with a winning record.
35. Armed Forces Bowl – Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6) – Dec. 29 at 11:45 a.m. ET
The Armed Forces Bowl is just one of two of postseason games with both teams sporting a 6-6 record. Air Force is making its fifth consecutive bowl trip under coach Troy Calhoun and its third game in the Armed Force Bowl in the last five years. Rice was picked by most to finish near the bottom of Conference USA’s West Division but won its final four games to get bowl eligible. The Owls are playing in a postseason game for the first time since 2008 but will have their hands full trying to stop Air Force’s offense, which averages 328.8 rushing yards per game.
For another year, the Big East football season almost seemed to be a sidenote.
In 2011, charter football members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia announced their departures as did never-was member TCU. In 2012, Louisville and Rutgers bolted.
To put it in further perspective: Three of the four teams that shared the Big East title in 2012 will be out of the league in two seasons.
The conference realignment soap opera masked an interesting season for the Big East, which went down to the final weekend of the season when Louisville defeated Rutgers 20-17 to seal a BCS bid and deny the Scarlet Knights their first outright championship.
The intrigue of the league is best reflected in the coach of the year rankings: Charlie Strong completed his rebuild of Louisville in his third year on the job, and it may not have been the best coaching job in the league this season.
First-year coach Kyle Flood, who was a backup option for the job when he was promoted, had Rutgers within a field goal of a conference title. Butch Jones exceeded expectations once again at Cincinnati. Doug Marrone led the best in-season turnaround. And though Temple failed to reach the postseason, Steve Addazio kept his team competitive for most of the year.
Here's a look back at the Big East in 2012.
Other season recaps and awards
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville -- No team was more dependent on its quarterback than Louisville. Bridgewater (right) fought through injuries at the end of the season to deliver the Cardinals their first BCS appearance since 2006. The sophomore from Miami led the league in pass efficiency, completion percentage and touchdown passes. He also finished strong with 16 touchdown passes in the last six games.
2. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse -- Nassib led the Big East with 3,619 passing yards and was one of the focal points of the Orange’s 5-1 finish. He’ll leave school as Syracuse’s all-time passing leader and the fourth Big East quarterback with 9,000 career yards.
3. Alec Lemon, Temple -- While it’s tempting to pick Temple’s Montel Harris and his 351-yard effort, we’re sticking with Lemon. The senior was the Big East’s only 1,000-yard receiver in 2012, boosted by his performance in the final six games. Lemon caught 46 passes for 801 yards with seven touchdowns in the 5-1 stretch for Syracuse.
Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Sio Moore, Connecticut -- Where to start with the Huskies’ defense? Connecticut could claim a handful of slots on the All-Big East first team defense after finishing in the top 10 nationally in total defense and run defense. The veteran linebacker Moore was in the middle of these efforts, finishing second in the league in sacks and tackles for a loss.
2. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers -- The reigning Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year seems poised for another run at postseason honors, though it seems possible he could share the award again. Greene led the Big East in tackles (125) and forced fumbles (six) while adding two interceptions and 10.5 tackles for a loss.
3. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh -- The Panthers defensive tackle finished the season on a hot streak with 25 tackles and nine tackles for a loss in his final three games. Pitt’s breakout player finished sixth nationally in tackles for a loss with 18.5 and pestered quarterbacks all season.
Coach of the Year Standings
1. Butch Jones, Cincinnati -- We picked Cincinnati to finish fifth in the Big East, so it’s time to give due credit. Despite rebuilding the offense and losing his best player on defense midseason, the Bearcats earned a share of the Big East title. A win in the bowl game will clinch Cincinnati’s fifth 10-win season in the last six. Then again, the Bearcats would have clinched that mark in the regular season if not for a loss to Toledo.
2. Doug Marrone, Syracuse -- It would have been easy for Syracuse to call it a season by mid-October. At that point, the Orange had lost four games and the only wins were over Pittsburgh in a snoozer and Stony Brook. Marrone saved the season and possibly his job by putting the focus on a physical run game and his veteran quarterback. Syracuse finished 5-1 and earned a share of the Big East title.
3. Charlie Strong, Louisville -- Although the season finished with two losses in the final three games, Strong led the Cardinals to their best season (10-2) since the final year under Bobby Petrino. And with a young roster, Louisville is built to last into the ACC. Will Strong join the Cards in the new league?
10 Things We Learned from the Big East in 2012
1. Change is the new normal
By 2014, only one team from the 2003 lineup will be in the Big East, and that team (Temple) was kicked out of the league only to rejoin in 2012. By comparison, the ACC raid that claimed Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech seems tame. Since the start of 2011, six teams have left the Big East, including TCU, which never played a game as a league member. The trend may continue in the next round with Cincinnati and Connecticut ripe to be picked up in the next round. Even Boise State and San Diego State, on a Western island in the Big East, could draw the eye of another league. For 2013, however, the league has its alignment set. The new Western teams may be best equipped to compete right away -- particularly if looming NCAA sanctions render UCF ineligible -- but long road trips may take their toll.
Big East Realignment
Bold indicates teams joining the Big East. Italic indicates teams leaving.
|Cincinnati||Cincinnati||Boise State||Boise State||Boise State|
|Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||Houston||East Carolina||East Carolina|
|USF||Temple||San Diego State||San Diego State||Navy|
|West Virginia||USF||SMU||SMU||San Diego State|
2. Teddy Bridgewater is poised for a 2013 Heisman run
Bridgewater’s final game of 2012 will give him plenty of momentum for player of the year awards going into 2013. Despite a broken non-throwing wrist and injured ankle, Bridgewater battled through a 20-of-28 performance for 263 yards with two touchdowns to clinch Louisville’s BCS bid. Beyond guts, he showed accuracy, too. A perfectly threaded pass to Andrell Smith in the fourth quarter helped seal the game for Louisville. He’ll enter next season with as much preseason fanfare of any Cardinals quarterback since Brian Brohm.
3. Louisville is only getting started
With Bridgewater only a junior next season, the Cardinals will be the frontrunner in the Big East in 2013 and perhaps the ACC a year later. As Charlie Strong rebuilt the roster, Louisville has been one of the nation’s youngest teams for the last two years. That youth will all grow up at the same time next year. The Cardinals lose only a handful of seniors including center Mario Benavides, offensive tackle Alex Kupper and cornerback Adrian Bushell. A young Louisville team went 15-3 since Oct. 21, 2011. What’s in store for a veteran team over the next two seasons?
Week 14 recap: Alabama wins SEC classic, Bridgewater shines
4. Gary Nova will be under pressure in the bowl game and into 2013
Credit Kyle Flood for sticking to his plan to stay with one quarterback for an entire season. He had an experienced backup on hand (Chas Dodd), but he never wavered on Nova. That means pressure on the Rutgers quarterback into the bowl game and next season. Nova threw 13 interceptions in the final six games of the season, including six against Kent State and another pick on a ghastly miscommunication to seal the loss to Louisville. With Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins returning, Rutgers’ power run game will be the focus of the offense, but Nova must be more consistent if the Scarlet Knights are going to win a bowl game and contend in 2013.
5. USF is starting from scratch
The Bulls made the move formal Sunday afternoon by firing Skip Holtz after a dismal 3-9 season. Beyond changing the head coach, USF will have to start from scratch in a number of areas. The Bulls played the final three games without B.J. Daniels, an exercise that only proved the Bulls had no one ready to replace their senior quarterback. Beyond Daniels, the Bulls will lose senior lineman Mark Popek, cornerback Kayvon Webster and linebacker Sam Barrington, all of whom played critical roles the last three years. Beyond the obvious personnel issues, USF has a broke psyche to mend. The rash of fourth quarter losses from last season eventually turned into blowouts at the end of 2012. And the injury bug continued to play a major role for another season. This job is a sleeping giant of sorts -- a big public school sitting in a fertile talent base -- but whether it was Jim Leavitt or Holtz in charge, it has yet to break through.
6. Butch Jones enjoyed the best coaching job of his career
At Central Michigan, Jones inherited a program built up by Brian Kelly along with quarterback Dan LeFevour. At Cincinnati, Jones also stepped into Kelly’s shoes. The last two seasons, though, have proven that Jones is not in Kelly’s shadow. Jones started with a new starting quarterback and no clear replacement for Isaiah Pead. As the season went along, Jones made a quarterback switch and lost his best defensive player, Walter Stewart, to injury. The Bearcats still finished 9-3 and with a share of the Big East title. The loss to Toledo should sting, but Cincinnati’s only conference losses were by a combined 10 points to Louisville and Rutgers.
7. Doug Marrone worked magic in the second half
Syracuse played the toughest schedule in the Big East with non-conference games against Northwestern (9-3), USC (7-5), Minnesota (6-6) and Missouri (5-7). It’s a fair question to wonder where Syracuse may have finished if it played a more manageable non-conference slate. But perhaps the Orange needed a few lessons in winning and losing. The Northwestern game was lost on turnovers and poor defense, and the Minnesota game was lost on sloppy effort. Those problems rarely manifested themselves late in the season for Syracuse. The Orange averaged 216 rushing yards in the final six games and improved a turnover margin from minus-10 in the first half of the season to plus-nine in the second. Marrone deserve a fair amount of credit for turning a lost season into Syracuse’s second postseason trip in three years.
8. Pittsburgh got its man in Paul Chryst
Finally, the Panthers will reach a bowl game with a coach who doesn’t have the word “interim” in front of his title. The season was a wild one for Pitt, starting with a loss to Youngstown State, continue with a triple overtime loss to No. 1 Notre Dame and a win over Rutgers. It was a messy trip to 6-6, but coach Paul Chryst may have settled the scene in a tumultuous program. He inherited a fractured locker room that came together as the season went along. And, meanwhile, quarterback Tino Sunseri became one of the league's most improved players, running back Ray Graham regained his 2011 form, and the defense finished in the top three in the league. Next season will bring new challenges, including an ACC schedule and a new backfield of highly touted 2012 signees Rushel Shell and Chad Voytik. But the program his finally in steady hands.
9. Was this the last hurrah for defenses at Rutgers and Connecticut?
Rutgers and Connecticut finished the season with the top two defenses in the Big East, and both ranked in the top 10 nationally. For Rutgers, this group will have one more game after a standout two-year run. Linebackers Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Ka’lial Glaud, defensive tackle Scott Vallone and safety Duron Harmon are all seniors, and cornerback Logan Ryan may be an NFL early entry candidate. Rutgers has had little trouble rebuilding its defense over the years, but that was with Greg Schiano at head coach. That will be a key storyline this spring. As for Connecticut, the Huskies’ defense was good enough they only needed the offense to be barely average to compete. This, however, did not always happen. In 2013, Connecticut will undergo its own changing of the guard with linebackers Sio Moore and Jory Johnson, cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz and defensive end Trevardo Williams gone.
10. Temple is going to be competitive
The Owls never topped their early season moment in the sun when they defeated USF and Connecticut in back-to-back weeks, but Temple still showed potential. Temple was competitive for the first half against Rutgers, Louisville and Syracuse -- a good sign for a rebuilding program that was in the MAC a year ago. Montel Harris will be gone, but Steve Addazio may have found his 2013 quarterback in Juice Granger.
|2||Notre Dame (10)||12-0||413||1|
The most drama in the BCS selection was settled by the most dramatic game of the season when Alabama defeated Georgia 32-28 in the SEC Championship Game.
While the Notre Dame-Alabama championship game was clear from the final seconds in Atlanta, the most unlikely BCS crasher wasn’t revealed until Sunday afternoon.
Northern Illinois became an automatic bid, giving the Huskies a series of firsts in MAC and BCS history: Northern Illinois is the first MAC team to play in the BCS and the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to reach the BCS despite a loss. NIU reached the Orange Bowl by a BCS rule triggering an automatic bid for a non-AQ conference to play in BCS game as long as it finished in the top 16 and finished ahead of a champion of an AQ conference.
By rule, Northern Illinois is an automatic bid to the BCS, but the snubs -- Oklahoma, Clemson and a slew of SEC teams -- have gripes for being left out of the five major bowl games. The bowls themselves, however, had little choice as the BCS rulebook won over the eye test.
Here are a few more observations from the final release of the BCS standings:
|Coaches' Poll||Harris Poll||Comp. Avg.||Last Wk.|
|1. Notre Dame||1||1||1||1|
|5. Kansas St.||6||6||T-4||6|
|9. Texas A&M||9||9||10||9|
|10. S. Carolina||10||10||9||10|
|12. Florida St.||12||12||16||13|
|13. Oregon St.||14||14||12||15|
|15. N. Illinois||16||16||19||21|
Northern Illinois. Clearly, the first MAC team in a BCS game is the big winner. But a series of events had to occur to put Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl as the Huskies weren’t one of the top two candidates for a BCS bid going into the final week of the season. Kent State and Boise State were considered more likely possibilities at the time. But Northern Illinois defeated Kent State 44-37 in overtime for the MAC, moving the Huskies from No. 21 to No. 15 in the BCS. Aiding NIU’s move was a rout by then-No. 12 Nebraska in the Big Ten title game and losses by Nos. 16-18 in the rankings in the final week of the season. With the Wisconsin win over the Cornhuskers, Northern Illinois ended up ranked ahead of two AQ conference champions.
Oklahoma and Georgia. Georgia lost the SEC title on the final play, and Oklahoma lost an outright Big 12 title with a loss on Sept. 22 to Kansas State. With all automatic bids exhausted, Oklahoma was left to the Cotton Bowl. Despite stumping by Alabama coach Nick Saban, Georgia had no place to go in the BCS. At No. 7, the Bulldogs were the highest ranked team to be left out in the BCS as No. 15 Northern Illinois, No. 21 Louisville and unranked Wisconsin will all play BCS games.
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (JAN. 7): No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama. A ratings bonanza will pit the Alabama run game against Manti Te’o and the formidable Irish run defense.
ROSE BOWL (JAN. 1): No. 6 Stanford vs. Wisconsin. This is a rematch of the 2000 Rose Bowl, in which Wisconsin defeated an 8-3 Stanford team. This team, the Badgers are the team with the mediocre record at 8-5.
ORANGE BOWL (JAN. 1): No. 12 Florida State vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois. The MAC champs have every reason to have a chip on their shoulders after being derided as undeserving of their automatic bid. Florida State has ample talent, but after the Noles allowed NC State and Georgia Tech to hang around, does NIU have a shot?
SUGAR BOWL (JAN. 2): No. 3 Florida vs. No. 21 Louisville. Louisville coach Charlie Strong was the defensive coordinator for both of Florida’s titles under Urban Meyer. This is an intriguing matchup against another defensive stud in Will Muschamp.
FIESTA BOWL (JAN. 4): No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State. Whose tempo will win out? Chip Kelly wants to run as many plays as possible. Bill Snyder is methodical. An interesting chess match.
Disagreement among the human polls and computers pushed Northern Illinois into the BCS. How did NIU end up at No. 15 when none of the elements ranked the Huskies that high? Northern Illinois ranked 16h in the Harris and coaches’ polls and 19th in the computers, yet ranked 15th in the BCS. Meanwhile, the Harris and the coaches both ranked Boise State ahead of Northern Illinois. The answer is the havoc in the title games - Big Ten title game loser Nebraska ranked 13th in the computers, 21st in the coaches and 18th in the Harris; UCLA ranked 17th in the Harris and computers and 19th in the coaches. And even though the human voters favored Boise State, the computers hammered the Broncos with a No. 22 ranking. That mess allowed NIU to ascend to No. 15.
All 10 BCS slots went to automatic qualifiers. The six champions of Big Six leagues were automatic qualifiers, as was Notre Dame. Northern Illinois earned its bid by finishing better than 16th and ahead of the Big East and Big Ten champions. Florida and Oregon also earned automatic bids by BCS rules. The Gators earned an automatic bid by finishing third, and Oregon followed suite by finishing fourth. In terms of selection, the Sugar selected Florida, followed by Kansas State to the Fiesta, Louisville to the Sugar and Northern Illinois to the Orange.
Seven SEC teams in the top 10. A sign of SEC dominance or a sign that no other conference could supply top flight teams? The SEC had seven teams in the top 10 -- No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Florida, No. 7 Georgia, No. 8 LSU, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 South Carolina.
Notes on BCS selection:
• Automatic BCS bids go to the top two for the title game, the champions of the ACC (Orange Bowl), Big 12 (Fiesta), Big Ten (Rose), Pac-12 (Rose) and SEC (Sugar). The Big East’s automatic bid is not tied to a particular bowl.
• Notre Dame receives an automatic bid if it finishes in the top eight.
• A champion from a non-automatic qualifying league (Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, WAC and non-Notre Dame independents) receive an automatic bid if it finishes in the top 12 of the standings or if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a champion from a non-AQ conference.
• To be eligible for an at-large BCS bid, a team must have nine or more wins and finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings.
• Once automatic tie-ins are placed, the selection order for BCS bids goes as follows: 1. The bowl losing the BCS No. 1 team to the championship game, 2. The bowl losing the BCS No. 2 team, 3. The Fiesta Bowl, 4. The Sugar, 5. The Orange.
The SEC Championship matchup between Alabama and Georgia might have been the best played game in 2012. The Bulldogs had a chance to win late, but the Crimson Tide defense held on the final drive to clinch a spot in the national title.
And considering this game matched two of the best defenses in the nation, it was no surprise there were plenty of hard hits. At the end of the first half, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray tossed an interception and was leveled by Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial. Considering how important protecting the quarterback is, it's a surprise there wasn't a penalty called on Alabama.
Nebraska didn't have many highlights from Saturday night's loss to Wisconsin, but there were a few noteable plays for the Cornhuskers.
In addition to Taylor Martinez's ridiculous touchdown run, receiver Kenny Bell destroyed Wisconsin defensive back Devin Smith on a third-quarter pass, which was called back due to a penalty. However, the block on Smith might be one of the most vicious hits in college football this season.
Nebraska had a horrible showing in Saturday's Big Ten Championship, but quarterback Taylor Martinez had a ridiculous touchdown dash in the first half, which might be one of the best runs in recent memory.
Wisconsin was able to bring a rusher that was virtually untouched by Nebraska's offensive line, which forced Martinez to retreat back to the eight-yard line. From there, it was a series of moves and then nothing but pure speed to give Martinez the 76-yard touchdown run.
This is not a sentiment often noted with the BCS: Good thing the championship game is more than a month away.
Otherwise, good luck topping the game of the year in Atlanta. Every play and every decision was magnified in the SEC Championship Game. Every time a running back fought for an extra yard (and it happened a lot) a national championship seemed it was at stake.
The championship bout in Atlanta ended with Nick Saban relieved, it seemed, and Mark Richt frustrated.
The SEC title game wasn’t the only one with drama. Other than the Big Ten championship game, every conference title game was closely contested. Even non-title games with championship implications -- Louisville over Rutgers on Thursday, Oklahoma over TCU -- came down to the final minutes.
WEEK 14 RECAP: THREE AND OUT
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM ALABAMA 32, GEORGIA 28
A classic national championship game is in the making. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy (181 yards, two touchdowns) and T.J. Yeldon (153 yards, one touchdown) were interchangeable in their ability to slice through and punish the Georgia defense. Now, both will run into Notre Dame’s likely Heisman finalist Manti Te’o and the No. 5 rush defense. Beyond the backs vs. the linebacker, the battle will be just as fascinating in the trenches. The Alabama offensive line took control in the second half against Georgia. It will have to do the same against tackle Stephon Tuitt and the Irish front. And if Georgia proved anything, it’s that Alabama’s run defense may be vulnerable, too.
Amari Cooper may be the difference maker again on Jan. 7. It may be too much to call Alabama’s leading receiver a secret weapon, but he seemed to be that against Georgia. The first sign was a 44-yard grab on first down contested by Georgia’s star safety Bacarri Rambo in the first quarter. The second sign was the game-winning touchdown. After Alabama went almost exclusively to the run game, the Tide stunned Georgia’s defense with a play-action pass on first down for a 45-yarder to Yeldon for the game-winning touchdown. Other than Oklahoma, Miami and USC (minus Matt Barkley), Notre Dame hasn’t played many consistent passing threats.
Second guessing is easy. The most second-guessed decision in the SEC Championship Game will be Georgia’s decision to run a play from the Alabama 8-yard line in the final seconds rather than spiking the ball to stop the clock. The decision set off a series of unfortuntate events for Georgia: Alabama’s C.J. Mosley tipped Aaron Murray’s pass at the line, and a reserve receiver caught the pass in bounds as time expired. Georgia coaches will hear about that decision for years to come, but before that, Nick Saban was second-guessed, too. Alabama elected to go for a two-point conversion with 4:19 to go in the third quarter. The extra two points meant Georgia couldn’t settle for a field goal, setting in motion the costly blunder at the end of the game. Then again, the game may not have been as dramatic if not for Saban’s timeout blunder at the end of his first half, a mishap that resulted in a 22-yard field goal as time expired. The takeaway: The margin was razor-thin in Atlanta.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM STANFORD 27, UCLA 24
This is only the beginning for both teams. Stanford will head to the Rose Bowl after scoring 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against UCLA, but both programs can expect to remain among the leaders of the Pac-12 for years to come. Both lose their star running backs -- Johnathan Franklin and Stepfan Taylor -- but reached the title game with redshirt freshman quarterbacks. Stanford’s mobile and composed Kevin Hogan defeated the Oregon schools and UCLA twice in his first four career starts, and he should be behind one of the Pac-12’s best offensive lines for years to come. Stanford’s major defensive losses are huge in linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, but the Cardinal have most of the defense intact for 2013. UCLA is in good shape, too, with Hundley’s dynamic talent reversing field on the Bruins’ quarterback woes. The Bruins had a young offensive line this season and look to return linebackers Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt on defense. USC’s doing some soul-searching after a disappointing season, and the NFL may be able to lure Chip Kelly from Oregon. That leaves the door open for UCLA and Stanford to take over.
UCLA learned something from the first meeting. Whether or not UCLA put in full effort in last week’s meeting with Stanford, the Bruins adjusted to Stanford’s defense in the rematch. The Cardinal never allowed a team to rush for 200 yards in a game all season and held eight (including UCLA the first time around) to fewer than 100. But with the Rose Bowl on the line, UCLA rushed for 284 yards against Stanford. The Bruins ran away from the aggressive Stanford defense, enabling Johnathan Franklin to rush for 194 yards and two touchdowns (he ran for 65 a week earlier). Hundley had twice as many carries as he did in the first meeting, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts.
Stanford is in rare company. Making three consecutive BCS games isn’t all that uncommon. Eight teams have done so, but it’s still jarring to list Stanford in a cast of college football powers that includes USC, Ohio State, Oregon, Oklahoma, Florida State, Miami and Wisconsin considering Stanford never went to the postseason from 2002-08. With Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, however, Stanford is one of two to make its run despite a coaching change. Butch Davis and Larry Coker combined for four consecutive BCS bids at Miami.
MOVING THE CHAINS
Oklahoma in the clutch. No one can say the Sooners didn’t earn a share of the Big 12 title. The Sooners finished the season winning four consecutive one-score games, including the last three going down to the wire. Unlike the West Virginia and Oklahoma State games, though, the Sooners’ 24-17 win over TCU ended on a defensive stand. After Oklahoma missed field goal that knuckled wide left, TCU drove to the Oklahoma 12-yard line. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin had a touchdown run called back on a hold and then failed to convert on a pass into the end zone from the 15 to seal the Sooners’ win.
Wisconsin. At least if Wisconsin is going to be the first five-loss team to play in the Rose Bowl, the Badgers will take a 70-point effort to Pasadena. Montee Ball and freshman Melvin Gordon both topped 200 yards for Wisconsin’s 539 rushing yards in the 70-31 win over Nebraska. True, the Cornhuskers are one of only two teams with winning records Wisconsin defeated this season (Utah State was the other), but Wisconsin’s five losses came either by a field goal or in overtime or both. The Badgers bring an 8-5 record to the Rose Bowl, but also enough game film to concern Stanford.
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor. An Art Briles offense centered around a running back may be a strange sight, but the Baylor coach will have the personnel suited for it next season with quarterback Nick Florence gone. The Oregon transfer Seastrunk rushed for 178 yards in the 41-34 win over Oklahoma State, giving him 693 yards and five touchdowns in the final five games. The most remarkable feat, though, was his 76-yard touchdown run in which he pulled up with a quadricep injury -- more than 40 yards short of the goal line.
Nebraska’s defense. The Cornhuskers used to be renowned for their defense, right? Bo Pelini is a defensive-minded coach, right? Then explain what happened in Indianapolis. By the time Wisconsin asked running back James White to take a direct snap at the goal line, fake a run and throw to a wide open Sam Arneson in the end zone, the Badgers had no need to try to fool the hapless Nebraska defense. That Arneson touchdown catch made the score 42-10. At the end of the first half. Nebraska gave up more rushing yards (539) than any game in school history against Wisconsin. Thanks to a touchdown in the final minute, the 70-31 loss remained in a tie for third for the most lopsided championship game loss in FBS history.
Florida State’s complacency. The reason Florida State fell out of the BCS title race in early October was a loss to NC State when the Seminoles let the Wolfpack hang around to score the final 17 points The same nearly happened against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. Florida State jumped to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter but did little after that. The Seminoles needed a late interception to finally put Georgia Tech away in a 21-15 win.
Texas’ run game. The Longhorns faced the top two run defenses in the Big 12 in the final two weeks of the season, but the numbers are still are still tough to fathom. Texas rushed for 86 yards against TCU and then 99 yards against Kansas State -- both lower than the averages for the two defenses. With Malcolm Brown and stud freshman Johnathan Gray in the backfield, those totals may be tough for Texas to swallow.
Collin Klein, Kansas State. The only top Heisman contender playing this weekend, Klein kept pace. He got one cheap chance at a touchdown on a one-yard touchdown -- when defensive back Nigel Malone dropped the ball short of the goal line after an interception -- but didn’t need it to pad his stats by the end of the game. Klein didn’t have a career game, but he had his best game in the last three weeks. Klein was 8 of 14 for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception and rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns. A solid outing, but perhaps not enough to sway voters.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. The Heisman field for 2012 is pretty much set, so Bridgewater’s moment does more to build his case into next season. The sophomore turned in one of the most gutty performances of the season as he went for 20 for 28 for 263 yards with two touchdowns an an interception in the 20-17 win over Rutgers to seal a BCS bid Thursday. A broken wrist on his non-throwing hand prevented him from taking snaps under center and an ankle injury from a week earlier hobbled him all game. Yet he turned in the play of the night with a perfectly threaded 30-yard throw to Andrell Smith to set up the game-winning field goal.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. The first-year Huskies quarterback entered the season with no fanfare. That will change going into 2013. In the MAC Championship Game win over Kent State on Friday, Lynch passed for 200 yards and rushed for 100 for the eighth time this season.
BCS BIDS CLINCHED
• Stanford and Wisconsin (Rose)
• Kansas State (Fiesta)
• Florida State (Orange)
NERVOUSLY AWAITING BCS RANKINGS
• Boise State
• Northern Illinois
SWEATING A BOWL BID
• Bowling Green
• Central Michigan
• Western Kentucky
4. SEC championships for Nick Saban. Only five coaches have more SEC titles -- Bear Bryant, Johnny Vaught, Vince Dooley, Steve Spurrier and Gen. Robert Neyland -- than Saban. He’s going to have a hard time catching Bryant’s record of 14, but Saban is the first SEC coach to win multiple conference titles at two schools (LSU in 2001 and ’03, Alabama in 2009 and ’12).
23 of 24. Geno Smith’s season ended where it began -- with more touchdown passes than incomplete passes. The West Virginia quarterback completed 23 of 24 passes for 407 yards with three touchdowns in a 59-10 win over Kansas. His completion percentage (95.8) matched the single-game FBS mark. Tennessee’s Tee Martin also went 23 of 24 in a game against South Carolina in 1998.
1,771. Rushing yards by Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch this season. Lynch’s total broke the record for a quarterback set by Michigan’s Denard Robinson (1,702) in 2010.
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Arkansas State’s Sun Belt title. The Red Wolves won their second consecutive Sun Belt title under a first-year coach and made it look easy. The Red Wolves defeated Middle Tennessee 45-0 in a de facto Sun Belt title game. Whether he’s been playing for Hugh Freeze or Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin continued to flourish. He completed 19 of 21 passes for 238 yards with two touchdowns against the Blue Raiders.
Oregon State’s rout. They don’t call them guarantee games for nothing. Making up for an opener (and paycheck) scheduled with Nicholls State, Oregon State defeated the 1-10 Southland team 77-3. The original kickoff was set for the first week of the season but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Isaac. The game continued, allowing Oregon State to break its record of 76 points scored against Williamette in 1931.
Close the door on the WAC. The final WAC football game went out with a whimper as Texas State defeated New Mexico State 66-28. Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and Utah State were among the success stories in the final year of football in the WAC, which was established in 1962. But the final game featured a team in its first year in the FBS (Texas State) defeating on one of the least successful teams (New Mexico State) in conference history.
THREE UNPREDICTABLE QUARTERBACKS
Landry Jones, Oklahoma. As has been a trademark for most of his career, Jones balanced a costly bad play with a few standout ones. Jones gave TCU one of its few early scoring opportunities with a poor decision throwing into coverage for an interception to set up a short touchdown in the second quarter. Jones immediately made up for it on the ensuing drive, going 6 of 7 with a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Anyone lining up for Texas. The Longhorns’ quarterback roller coaster continues. Case McCoy started against Kansas State in place of David Ash and handled himself well, completing 26 of 34 passes for 314 yards with two touchdowns. But he also threw two interceptions in the loss. For the second consecutive season, the Longhorns’ bowl game may be a game for a Texas quarterback to either win or lose the job.
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska. Before the Big Ten Championship Game got out of hand in the second quarter, Martinez showed the best and worst of what he has to offer. First came an interception returned 29 yards for a touchdown and then the top offensive play of the game -- yes, including Wisconsin. Martinez scrambled 90-something yards for a 76-yard touchdown on a run reminiscent of Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick or Iowa State’s Seneca Wallace.
THREE PEOPLE NOT GETTING THEIR DUE
Butch Jones, Cincinnati. The Bearcats coach may get his due in the coaching carousel soon enough, but he led Cincinnati to a share of the Big East title with a 34-17 win over Connecticut. In the last five seasons, the Bearcats have won two outright Big East titles (2008-09 under Brian Kelly) and two shared titles (2011-12 under Jones). With a rebuilding effort on offense, not much was expected of Cincinnati this season, but it may have been one of the better coaching jobs in the country.
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa. Perhaps his ascendency from a longtime high school coach in Tulsa to the Golden Hurricane’s head coach cuts into his notoriety. In any event, Blankenship deserves his due for leading Tulsa to its first Conference USA title since 2005 and a 14-2 record in the league in two seasons. A heads-up play by Tulsa’s Trey Watts, son of former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts, sent the game to overtime when Watts picked up a rolling ball after a punt to return it 54 yards for a touchdown.
Trevone Boykin, TCU. The Horned Frogs freshman only went 3-5 as a starter, but the position is in good hands. Considering Boykin became a surprise starter only when Casey Pachall left the team after the first month of the season, that’s high praise. Boykin came within a holding penalty of sending Saturday’s game with Oklahoma to overtime, only a week after a win over Texas. Next season, Boykin will have a full season to prepare as the primary quarterback, and he’ll suddenly be one of the only returning starters in the Big 12.
Depending upon your fantasy league setup, this is likely the last week of the regular season for you. If not, then you have a two-week push left to get into the postseason. Here are some updates on injured players, their status for the Week 13 games or the outlook for their replacements.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Cleveland Browns vs. Oakland Raiders
The concussion Brandon Weeden suffered in Week 12 will not keep him out of the Browns' game in Oakland today. He was cleared to practice from the beginning of the week and took all the first-team snaps this week. Weeden draws an Oakland team that is ranked 28th against fantasy QBs. The Raiders have given up three touchdowns to quarterbacks each of the last three games (Andy Dalton, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco). Josh Freeman had two in Week 9. That's 11 TDs to QBs in four weeks. Overall, the Raiders have allowed mutli-TD games to quarterbacks on six of 11 games. Weeden is certainly a starter in two-QB leagues and keep in mind he has had eight double-digit games, including six of 16 points or greater, as a rookie this season.
Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, WRs, Detroit Lions vs. Indianapolis Colts
Sent home from the team facility in preparation for the Week 12 game, Titus Young did not play in the Thanksgiving game against visiting Houston. A week earlier against Green Bay, he had one catch for 24 yards on six targets and was benched late in the game. Young, who was sent home from the facility once before this year, was back at practice this week to get ready for the Colts, but how much can you trust a guy deactivated for a game just a week earlier? Ryan Broyles stepped in to grab six balls for 126 yards on 12 targets. That is just the second time a receiver not named Calvin Johnson has garnered double-digit targets this season. Unless Young has a dramatic and unlikely turnaround, Broyles is here to stay. If you have not already, you probably should snag Broyles for the fantasy playoff run.
Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon, WRs, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Buffalo Bills
Chad Henne has come in and breathed life into the Jaguars offense from his QB position. Rookie Justin Blackmon and second-year man Cecil Shorts have been both the reason and the benefactors of the improved play. Both receivers are listed as probable today — Blackmon with a groin and Shorts with a hamstring. They saw limited practice on Friday but should be good to go against a Bills defense that is ranked 23rd against fantasy receivers in PPR scoring. It is disconcerting to see two receivers on the rise, playing against a fantasy defense on the decline, and both have injury issues. I would not play either as WR2s but would consider them as flex plays.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Depending upon your fantasy league setup, this is likely the last week of the regular season for you. If not, then you have a two-week push left to get into the postseason. Here are some updates on injured players, their status for the Week 13 games or the outlook for their replacements.
LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, RBs, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday night)
That's how you step into a key fantasy position as a rookie, Nick Foles. Bryce Brown did not disappoint in the least as he replaced LeSean McCoy (concussion) in the lineup and ripped of 178 yards and two scores on 19 carries. He added four catches for 11 yards. Brown will get another crack at it this week when as McCoy is still out with his concussion. Brown draws a Cowboys defense that is ranked eighth against RBs in PPR scoring. However, rookie Alfred Morris just went for 113 and a score on 24 carries against Dallas last week. It is the seventh time a back has scored double digits against the Cowboys this season and the fourth straight game it has happened. Brown is a high RB2 this week.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday night)
Is the tease over? Remember two weeks ago when DeMarco Murray was so close to returning and the next week? Here we are in Week 13 and it looks like we will finally see Murray for the first time since the foot injury he suffered in Week 6. Felix Jones did an admirable job in Murray's sted, scoring in double digits in PPR in five of the six games Murray has missed. Jones has done it with catches and four scores but little yardage. There might be some fear in a time share, but Jones is questionable himself with his sore knees. Beware, however, as the Eagles are 11th against fantasy RBs in PPR and only Alfred Morris (18.3) has scored over 13 points against them since Week 5.
UPDATE: ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning Murray could be relegated to a limite role upon his return.
FANTASY UPDATE: You'd be hard pressed to use a guy coming off such a long lay off and said to be in a limited role when he does return. If you have been playing Felix Jones as a flex, keep it that way and don't expect much more than flex points from either back.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out of today's game against Baltimore on Friday due to rib and shoulder injuries. This will be the third straight game he will miss, but all signs point to Big Ben making his return in Week 14 against San Diego. As fantasy players depending upon Roethlisberger to help lead us to a title, him missing Week 13 is good news so he hopefully does not miss Weeks 14-16. Roethlisberger has scored no less than 16 points in any game (outside of Week 10 Kansas City game he was injured in) and has scored 20 or more in five of eight full games.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Depending upon your fantasy league setup, this is likely the last week of the regular season for you. If not, then you have a two-week push left to get into the postseason. Here are some updates on injured players, their status for the Week 13 games or the outlook for their replacements.
Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings
Greg Jennings (sports hernia) has been practicing this week and is expected to play for the first time since Week 4. Whether he will start or not then becomes the question. And that worries a fantasy owner that he can be counted on for four quarters. As we found out last week, Jordy Nelson made his bones in just one play (a 61-yard TD on one of two catches). Coach Mike McCarthy said Jennings will be used as dictated by "flow of the game." Last we heard that from a stud fantasy receiver's coach was last week when Mike Smith said it about Julio Jones on his bum ankle. Jones's flow was a 6-for-145 with one-TD day. Play Jennings with caution but a stud is a stud, and much needed in a NFC North where the top three teams are separated by two games.
Michael Vick, Nick Foles, QBs, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday night)
Michael Vick will miss his second full game after he failed to pass concussion tests this week. Rookie Nick Foles will step under center again and try to generate an offense once again without LeSean McCoy (concussion) and now without DeSean Jackson (broken ribs, now on IR). Jason Avant, Jackson's replacement, is probable with a hamstring injury. The Cowboys are ranked ninth against fantasy QBs despite allowing six TDs to one interception and 521 yards from the position the last two weeks against rookies. Foles stepped in against Dallas in Week 10 and threw for 219 yards with a score and two turnovers. It's hard to trust Foles when he's thrown for 204 and 119 with no TDs and two interceptions in his last two starts (Carolina and Washington).
Andre Brown, David Wilson, RBs, New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins (Monday night)
Andre Brown's fantasy usage is over as he was placed on IR (designated for return) after suffering a broken fibula last week. In steps David Wilson to see if he can revitalize what has been a disappointing rookie season to this point. It began with a fumble on his second carry in Week 1 and as Week 13 arrives, Wilson has 24 carries for 102 yards with one score and two catches for eight yards. So Wilson's role will increase by attrition with Brown out and Ahmad Bradshaw seemingly always iffy. The Redskins are ranked 12th against fantasy RBs in PPR scoring only because they are ranked 31st against receivers and quarterbacks. Wilson will likely have some success, but that's a big risk to take on a bench player on the final game of Week 13.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Rashad Jennings, Maurice Jones-Drew, Jalen Parmele, RBs, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Buffalo Bills
Jalen Parmele's one week of mediocre fantasy relevance lasted just that long as the Jaguars' third-string running back suffered a groin injury last week. The injury, the fourth to a Jacksonville starting running back this season, landed Parmele on injured reserve. There is still no sign of Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) returning. Fullback Greg Jones has missed the last four games (hip). So Rashad Jennings gets another crack at this starting running back thing. Jennings, who dealt with a knee injury himself this year, has only reached double digits three times this season. He is only considered flex worthy this week because Chad Henne has sparked the offense stepping in at quarterback for Blaine Gabbert. The Jags draw a Bills team that is 31st against fantasy RBs, so Jennings is worth a shot, but the expectations just cannot be that high.
DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, WRs, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday night)
With DeSean Jackson now on injured reserve with broken ribs, is there anyone in the Eagles' receiving corps that is worth replacing him with in your fantasy lineup? In a word, no. Jason Avant is listed as his back up on the depth chart and now slides to the top of the receiving corps with Jeremy Maclin on the other side. Jackson had 45 catches for 700 yards and two scores this season; Avant has 27 catches for 283 yards and no scores on 38 targets. However, he has not played since a Week 11 loss to Dallas due to a hamstring injury. Avant is expected back this week, but you would have to be pretty desperate to insert him into your lineup for a Sunday night game. Nick Foles has been unimpressive in stepping in for an injured Michael Vick. Outside of Bryce Brown and when LeSean McCoy returns, there are really no other viable Eagle options for the remainder of the fantasy season.
Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, RBs, Denver Broncos vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is exactly how we thought the Broncos would replace Willis McGahee, right? Knowshon Moreno goes from inactive for eight games to starting running back in a week, while third-round draft pick Ronnie Hillman goes from 14 touches in the game McGahee goes down to three touches and seven snaps the next week against the Chiefs and their bottom-10 fantasy defense against RBs. Moreno will remain the team's starter "right now," coach John Fox said this week. So consider Hillman irrelevant. But can we trust that Moreno will get the bulk of the snaps against Tampa Bay today? The Buccaneers are 18th against fantasy RBs in PPR scoring and have surrendered double-digit days to the position in nine games. Moreno has the potential to be an RB1 with what the Bucs are allowing, but is at least an RB2 as long as the Broncos continue to relegate Hillman to being just a situational player.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Percy Harvin, Jarius Wright, WRs, Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
No Percy Harvin again as he will miss his third straight game with an ankle injury. Rookie Jarius Wright will get the start. He has led the Vikings' receivers in targets each of the last two weeks, including a season-high 10 in last week's 28-10 loss at Chicago. Wright caught seven of them for 49 yards. A week earlier, he caught three of five targets for 65 yards, including a 54-yard catch on the team's fifth play to set up his 3-yard TD. The Packers are allowing the seventh-most points to fantasy receivers in PPR scoring this season and are banged up all across the defense. Adrian Peterson should be able to have a solid day and open up opportunities for Wright. He might not be as much of a desperation start as you think. I would play him as a WR3.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit Lions vs. Indianapolis Colts
An ankle injury kept Mikel Leshoure out of practice on Wednesday and limited him on Thursday and Friday. He is listed as probable and the Lions have been idle since Thanksgiving. If he's active, he's in your lineup. The Colts are ranked 17th against fantasy RBs in PPR scoring but are tied for third in most TDs allowed (11) to the position. The Lions are ranked ninth in points scored from the RB position thanks in part to six TDs from Leshoure and seven double-digit fantasy days. He's a high-end RB2 if he's playing in their early-game matchup against visiting Indianapolis.
Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers
Danny Amendola exited the Week 12 game early with a foot/heel injury after catching his only target for 38 yards in 12 snaps played. He missed three days of practice this week and is doubtful for today's game against the 49ers. A clavicle injury, followed by an ankle injury and now the foot/heel injury has hindered a receiver already coming back from a missed 2011 with an elbow injury. The last time he faced San Francisco was upon his return from the clavicle injury in Week 10, and he finished with 11 catches for 102 yards on 12 targets. But two more injuries have occurred since, he only made it 12 snaps last week and did not practice this week. The guy that seemingly gets it done with the deck stacked against him might see that stack a little too high this week.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears vs. Seattle Seahawks
The ankle injury that knocked Matt Forte out of last week's game in the third quarter has limited the Bears' running back this week in practice. He is listed as questionable and has practiced on a limited basis this week. He practiced on Friday, which is a good sign, and he told reporters on Thursday, "I'm feeling pretty good." The Seahawks allowed three Miami backs to have double-digit days last week; Adrian Peterson was 17-for-182 with two scores and three catches in Week 9 and Frank Gore was 16-for-131 with five catches for 51 yards against Seattle in Week 7. Today's game is in Chicago and it's an early start so you should have ample time to make your decision. If Forte is active, you play him.
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
Antonio Brown, listed as probable with his high ankle sprain, appears ready to return to action for the first time since Week 9. However, the Steelers are still without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback as they will roll out third stringer Charlie Batch for the second straight week. Batch threw for 199 yards on 34 attempts last week with three interceptions against Cleveland. The Steelers, sans Roethlisberger in Week 11 with Byron Leftwich at QB, lost 13-10 to the Ravens. It is hard to start any Steeler until Roethlisberger returns. Emmanuel Sanders' 12.5 and Chris Rainey's 13.2 points are the most any Pittsburgh non-QB skill player has had since Big Ben's injury.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams
A Brandon Jacobs mention only occurs because the same game that sent Kendall Hunter to injured reserve with an ankle injury is the same game Jacobs finally made his 49er debut. Jacobs finished with one carries for one yard. Outside of Hunter's 11.6- and 10-point days in Weeks 4 and 11, only Frank Gore has had double-digit days in the 49ers' backfield. Jacobs has the potential to be a goal line vulture, but could also share carries with LaMichael James, who is set to make his NFL debut this week. If they are not named Gore, it is way too risky to insert another San Francisco RB into your lineup.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
The Philadelphia Eagles will try to get their first win since late September when they square off against the Dallas Cowboys tonight at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC. The Eagles (3-8) have lost seven games in a row, including a 38-23 loss to the Cowboys on Nov. 11. Meanwhile the Cowboys (5-6) would like nothing more than to get back to .500 by handing their NFC East rivals a second defeat in less than a month. As bad as things have been going for the Eagles this season, they have won the past two meetings played on the Cowboys’ home turf, including last season’s 20-7 victory in Week 16.
When the Philadelphia Eagles have the ball:
Philadelphia’s offense will be without three key playmakers tonight, as Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy (concussions) are both inactive and DeSean Jackson landed on injured reserve after suffering fractured ribs in last week’s loss to Carolina. The Eagles have been respectable on offense, averaging 357.1 yards per game (14th in the NFL), but have struggled to put points on the board. They are averaging less than 17 per contest, which ranks them two from the bottom (30th) of the league in that category. Without their leading passer, running back and wide receiver, yards and points both could be hard to come by against Dallas’ eighth-ranked defense. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles has struggled in his first two career starts under center, while fellow first-year pro Bryce Brown made a lasting initial impression this past Monday. In his first career start, Brown rushed for an Eagles’ rookie record 178 yards and two touchdowns in the 30-22 loss to the Panthers on “Monday Night Football.” Brown also fumbled twice, which somewhat sums up how the Eagles’ season has gone. Philadelphia has turned the ball over 27 times, the second-highest total in the NFL, and also has allowed 34 sacks. These mistakes combined with the injuries are big reasons why the Eagles have lost seven in a row, and have been out-scored 199-118 in the process.
For the most part, the Dallas defense has done its job all season. The Cowboys are eighth in the league in total defense (328.8 ypg), eighth in pass defense (218.4 ypg) and 13th against the run (110.5 ypg). They have allowed 23.8 points per game, but are coming off of last week’s Thanksgiving Day performance in which they gave up 38 points to Robert Griffin III and the Redskins. An inconsistent pass rush (23 sacks, tied for 20th) and inability to generate many turnovers (12 total, only five INTs), have not helped, especially considering the offense’s problems holding onto the ball (23 turnovers, second only to Eagles in NFC).
When the Dallas Cowboys have the ball:
On offense, Dallas’ problem hasn’t been gaining yards, it’s been finishing drives with points. The Cowboys are ninth in the league in total offense, generating 376 yards per game, but only 18th in scoring at 18 points per game. The last four games they have lost have been by seven points or fewer. Quarterback Tony Romo is third in the league in passing yards (3,357), but is 18th in passer rating because of his league-leading 15 interceptions. Romo has attempted the second-most passes in the NFL due to the Cowboys’ inability to run the ball. They rank last in the league in rushing offense at 78.7 yards per game, but that could change once DeMarco Murray returns from his foot injury. Murray has missed the last six games with the ailment, but there’s a decent chance he may be back on the field tonight against the Eagles. If not, the offensive burden will fall yet again to Romo and wide receivers Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. In particular Bryant has been on a roll of late, with 23 catches, 377 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games combined. Regardless of who is making plays on offense for the Cowboys, one thing is clear — they must do a better job of protecting the football. In addition to Romo’s 15 picks, the Cowboys have fumbled it away eight times, mistakes which have short-circuited many a drive for a team that is a game below .500.
Similar to Dallas, Philadelphia’s defense hasn’t gotten a lot of help from its turnover-prone offense. The Eagles are 15th in yards allowed (345.5 ypg), but only 24th in points allowed (25.6 ppg). They also rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to passing (228.1 ypg, 15th) and rushing (117.5 ypg) defense. Unlike last season, the Eagles have not been able to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. The team’s 18 sacks (28th in NFL) this season are the same number that Jason Babin, who was released by the team earlier this week, alone had in 2011. The Eagles also have just 10 takeaways so far, the fewest in the NFL.
The Eagles won't have Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy tonight against the Cowboys and DeSean Jackson won't see the field again this season. The coaching staff has turned the offense over to rookies Nick Foles at quarterback and Bryce Brown at running back. Foles has yet to look real comfortable in the pocket and that’s likely not to change against Dallas’ defense. And even though Brown gashed Carolina for 178 yards rushing in his NFL debut, the Cowboys figure to be a tougher test. Both teams are under .500 and have had their share of issues, especially when it comes to turnovers. But this is an Eagles team that has lost seven in a row and, for all intents and purposes, has basically packed it in. After all, they have given up an average of 31.4 points per game over their last five defeats. Just two games behind the Giants, the Cowboys are still alive in the NFC East hunt, while all the Eagles’ fans have left to look forward to is what additional personnel changes will take place in the offseason (if not sooner) and how high will they be picking in the first round of next year’s draft.
Cowboys 34, Eagles 17
Kansas City, MO (Sports Network) - Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed himself Saturday morning at the team's facility, moments after allegedly killing his girlfriend.
Belcher was 25 years old.
According to Kansas City police, Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times after the two had been engaged in an argument at home. She was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.
Minutes after the first shooting, police said Belcher drove to the Chiefs' training facility at Arrowhead Stadium and spoke with team personnel, including head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, before taking his own life with a gunshot.
"When officers arrived (at Arrowhead Stadium), they observed a black male who had a gun to his head and he was talking to a couple of coaches out in the parking lot," police spokesman Darrin Snapp told reporters outside Arrowhead Stadium. "As officers pulled up and began to park, that's when they heard the gunshot and it appears the individual took his own life."
A report from the Kansas City Star said Belcher and his girlfriend had a daughter, who was only a few months old.
"The entire Chiefs family is deeply saddened by today's events, and our collective hearts are heavy with sympathy, thoughts and prayers for the families and friends affected by this unthinkable tragedy," said Chiefs owner Clark Hunt in a statement. "We sincerely appreciate the expressions of sympathy and support we have received from so many in the Kansas City and NFL communities, and ask for continued prayers for the loved ones of those impacted."
Belcher was in his fourth year with the Chiefs after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Maine. He started 10 of the 11 games he had played this season, registered 38 tackles.
The Chiefs will play Carolina on Sunday at Arrowhead and the game will go on as scheduled.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Chiefs and the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy," the NFL said in a statement. "We have connected the Chiefs with our national team of professional counselors to support both the team and the families of those affected. We will continue to provide assistance in any way that we can."
DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, RBs, Carolina Panthers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Jonathan Stewart did not make the trip to Kansas City and is out for today's game with an ankle injury he suffered last week. This gives DeAngelo Williams a bigger load. Keep in mind that the Panthers are ranked 28th as a team in PPR points scored by the running back position. DeAgelo Williams had 11 carries — a number he has maxed out at four times since Week 3 — and collected 21 yards last week against the Eagles. The Chiefs have allowed 11 double-digit days to fantasy RBs this season, including 111 total yards on 24 touches to Knowshon Moreno last week — the same Knowshon Moreno who was inactive for eight weeks prior to last week's game. Give Williams a look as a low-end RB2 designation, that should be a worst-case scenario.
Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece, RBs, Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns
Darren McFadden (ankle) is set to be back today and Marcel Reece is expected to remain in the running back role, instead of resuming fullback duties, as the Raiders work McFadden back into game shape. There are so many downsides to the Oakland RB situation this week. One: McFadden is coming back for the first time since Week 9 but is not expected to take over the workhorse role. Two: Reece has been a great, late-season, waiver wire pickup, and what is he going to be now? Three: It's a late start, and you have to make your call on both McFadden and Reece in the next couple of hours. It takes Reece from a clear upper RB2, to a questionable flex and furthers the frustration for McFadden owners this season. And all of this comes when the Raiders are playing host to a Browns team that is ranked 25th against fantasy RBs in PPR. I am taking my chances with Reece as a flex and keeping McFadden on the bench.
UPDATE: ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting on Sunday morning that McFadden is unlikely to play today, tweeting: "After optimism he would play this week, Raiders RB Darren McFadden unlikely to play today vs Cleveland."
FANTASY UPDATE: Reece returns to a clear RB2 role if McFadden is out. The Browns have allowed 14 double-digit outings to RBs,
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 13.
Locks of the Week
Three quarterbacks with chips on their shoulders take on two of the most inconsistent teams in the league and the worst squad.
Panthers (-3) at Chiefs
Eight of Kansas City’s 10 losses have come by four or more points; Cam and Co. are riding a wave of momentum into Arrowhead.
Texans (-6.5) at Titans
Despite a 141-yard effort from Chris Johnson, Tennessee lost at Houston, 38–14, in Week 4. Now, it’s coming off a loss at Jacksonville.
Broncos (-7) vs. Buccaneers
Three of Denver’s four wins at Mile High have been by 10 or more points; the other win was by exactly seven points. The one loss was to 10–1 Houston in Week 3.
Straight Up Upsets
Measuring stick games for two teams with pride to play for against a pair of playoff squads that have been up-and-down this year.
Chargers (+2) vs. Bengals
It will be obvious this week whether the Bolts have already turned off the lights on 2012 or if there is still juice flowing through the powder blue roster.
Redskins (+3) vs. Giants
If RG3’s Thanksgiving debut is any foreshadowing of his Monday Night Football debut, there may not be much Big Blue can do about Bob.
Big numbers have not been kind this season, but there’s a good chance these three division contests get ugly.
Patriots (-9) at Dolphins
In the old days, Tom Brady had trouble in Miami. But that’s back when Jason Taylor was a sack champ and Ricky Williams was taking rushing crowns.
Packers (-9) vs. Vikings
Green Bay discount-double-checker Aaron Rodgers is 4–0 against Minnesota since his good buddy Brett Favre beat him twice back in 2009.
Cowboys (-10.5) vs. Eagles
Betting against Philly rookie Nick Foles is always a good bet; the Eagles lost 38–23 at home to the Cowboys in Week 10, Foles’ first NFL game action.
Stay away from these games completely unless you are a hometown homer or a degenerate who has to have action at all times.
Bears (-3.5) vs. Seahawks
Over the past two years, Chi-town is 15–5 with Smokin’ Jay Cutler starting and 0–6 without him.
Jets (-4.5) vs. Cardinals
These two flightless clubs both have 4–7 records and their coaches’ jobs to play for. Now that’s motivation.
Bills (-6) vs. Jaguars
Chad Henne has taken the Texans to overtime and taken down the Titans since taking over for Blaine Gabbert.
49ers (-7.5) at Rams
This is a rematch of the 18th overtime tie in NFL history, Week 10’s entertaining 24–24 NFC West stalemate.
Off the Board
The big board in Las Vegas doesn’t want to touch these games until later on, so we’ll wager on what the final line will be.
Steelers at Ravens (n/a)
Seven of the last nine games in this series have been decided by exactly three points, but not this time. Take the Ravens (-4.5)?
Browns at Raiders (n/a)
The race to the bottom — or top of the NFL Draft order, as it were — starts with this brown-or-blackout. Take the Raiders (-2.5)?