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A sitting head coach naming a new coordinator is generally a sign of something very good or very bad.
On the good side, a coach has to replace a coordinator who has done a good enough job to get his own head coaching gig or move into a more high-profile (and more lucrative) position.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer finds himself in this category, losing offensive coordinator Tom Herman to Houston. Same with Georgia coach Mark Richt, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Baylor coach Art Briles who lost coordinators to head coaching jobs.
On the bad side, a coordinator change is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong on one side of the ball (Auburn, North Carolina, Oklahoma) or a sign of some kind of internal strife (LSU, Utah).
Either way, a number of programs had to make coordinator changes even if they didn’t make major coaching changes.
Out: Jim Chaney, hired as Pittsburgh defensive coordinator
No matter the new coordinator, Arkansas’ offensive identity is well-established under Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks probably won’t stray much from an offense centered around a road-grading offensive line and run game. What will be missed, though, is Chaney’s deep experience in the SEC and NFL.
In: Will Muschamp, Florida head coach
Out: Ellis Johnson, fired
Auburn’s defense has been in need of an upgrade for a while. The Tigers haven’t allowed fewer than five yards per play since 2008. Muschamp’s 3-4 will deliver in a major way. For all of his struggles at Florida, defense was not one of them. The Gators finished fifth or better in the SEC in fewest yards per play each season during his tenure. In three seasons at Texas, the Longhorns ranked either first or second in the Big 12 in that category.
In: Kendal Briles, promoted
Out: Philip Montgomery, hired as Tulsa head coach
Art Briles replaced a coach who spent more than a decade at his side as offensive coordinator with his son. Kendal Briles has spent seven years on Baylor’s staff. He’s led Baylor’s productive receiver group and was the consensus Big 12 recruiter of the year in 2014. His first game as offensive coordinator resulted in 552 yards against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
In: Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, promoted
Out: Chad Morris, hired as SMU head coach
The Tigers are riding an unprecedented era of success with 42 wins the last four seasons. Morris’ up-tempo offense certainly has been a major component of that. Scott and Elliott are both internal hires who were in the Swinney system from the start (Scott has been on the staff the entire time; Elliott briefly left before returning four years ago).
In: Brian Schotteneheimer, St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator
Out: Mike Bobo, hired as Colorado State head coach
Coordinators who run a traditional pro-style offense are in short supply these days, but even considering that, Georgia’s hire feels like a reach. Schottenheimer hasn’t coached in college since 2000. And as offensive coordinator with the Jets and Chargers, his ranked 20th or worse in total offense seven times in nine seasons and never higher than 11th.
In: Shannon Dawson, West Virginia offensive coordinator
Out: Neal Brown, hired as Troy head coach
Kentucky hires another coordinator from the Air Raid school, this time Dana Holgorsen’s coordinator at West Virginia. The Mountaineers were a little more balanced than one would expect (52 percent of their plays were on the ground), but they still managed to be one of 21 teams to top the 1,000-play threshold.
In: Kevin Steele, Alabama linebackers coach
Out: John Chavis, hired as Texas A&M defensive coordinator
LSU lost its well-respected SEC coordinator to a division rival and replaced him with Steele, who went 9-36 as as head coach at Baylor, was squeezed out of a coordinator position at Alabama and was fired at Clemson. Good thing LSU added Ed Orgeron, too, or else Tigers fans would be really unimpressed. Steele and Orgeron recruit like madmen, so LSU will continue to have great players on defense.
Michigan State defense
In: Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel, promoted
Out: Pat Narduzzi, hired as Pittsburgh head coach
With Narduzzi leaving for Pittsburgh, Mark Dantonio couldn’t hold onto his prized defensive coordinator any longer. Dantonio kept leadership in house, promoting Barnett from defensive backs coach and Tressel from linebackers coach. Barnett, a Michigan State alum considered a rising star in the profession, gets the assistant head coach title. The scheme probably won’t change with Barnett and Tressel firmly entrenched in Dantonio’s program, but Michigan State loses a bit of intensity with Narduzzi moving on.
Mississippi State defense
In: Manny Diaz, Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator
Out: Geoff Collins, hired as Florida defensive coordinator
Diaz’s career comes full circle as he returns to Mississippi State. Diaz was considered a rising star after one season in Starkville in 2010, but after a humbling tenure at Texas in which he was fired midseason in 2013, Diaz rebuilt his resume at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs were second in Conference USA in total defense and led the league in rush defense and tackles for a loss.
In: Barry Odom, Memphis defensive coordinator
Out: Dave Steckel, hired as Missouri State head coach
Dave Steckel left after 13 years on the Mizzou staff, leaving Gary Pinkel to make the rare outside hire. Odom, though, isn’t totally new to the program. He played at Missouri and was on the staff in one capacity or another form 2003-11. Odom’s defense was a major cog in the turnaround at Memphis as the Tigers ranked in the top three in Conference USA/the American in total defense in each of his three seasons. In the three years prior, Memphis ranked 11th or 12th in Conference USA in that category.
North Carolina defense
In: Gene Chizik, former Auburn head coach
Out: Vic Koenning, fired
Chizik returns to coaching after two years out of the game since he was fired at Auburn. Before his up-and-down career as a head coach at Iowa State and Auburn, he was a well-respected defensive coordinator who coached three Thorpe Award winners at Texas and Auburn at one point. North Carolina, which allowed 40 points six times last season, needs a turnaround in a major way.
Ohio State offense
In: Ed Warinner, promoted
Out: Tom Herman, hired as Houston head coach
Herman’s days on the Ohio State staff were clearly numbered as he quickly became a head coaching candidate. Ohio State promoted from within with Warinner, who was responsible for a major turnaround on the offensive line in the last three seasons. Ohio State also added former Nebraska assistant Tim Beck to serve as co-coordinator.
In: Lincoln Riley, East Carolina offensive coordinator
Out: Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, fired
Firing the quarterback who won him his national championship must have been a tough decision for Bob Stoops, but the decision was necessary. In Lincoln Riley, a former Texas Tech assistant, Oklahoma goes back to the Air Raid concepts that helped Heupel lead the Sooners to the 2000 title. The OU offense had been cutting edge early in Stoops' tenure, but it has stagnated since Sam Bradford left.
Texas A&M defense
In: John Chavis, LSU defense
Out: Mark Snyder, fired
The Aggies’ hire of Chavis is brilliant for a couple of reasons. First, Texas A&M gets a good defense coordinator whom players love. Second, the Aggies strike a blow to a team whose defense (until 2014) had A&M’s number. Chavis had become frustrated with the lack of production of the LSU offense, according to a report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He won’t have the same frustrations in College Station.
Texas Tech defense
In: David Gibbs, Houston defensive coordinator
Out: Matt Wallerstedt, fired
This is not something that happens often: Gibbs worked for a head coach who was fired at Houston and moved into a better job. Here’s why: His defenses had 30 takeaways in 2014 (11th nationally) and 42 in 2013 (first). Texas Tech had 15 and 19 takeaways those same two seasons, respectively.
Utah offense and defense
Out: Dave Christensen and Kalani Sitake
The circumstances of Utah’s staff changes are far more interesting than the names involved. Neither coordinator left for positions far and away better than the ones they have. Defensive coordinator Kilani Sitake took the same position at Oregon State, and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen left to become offensive line coach at Texas A&M. Losing Sitake, Utah’s best recruiter and leader of a solid defense, is a major blow.
Vanderbilt offense and defense
In: Andy Ludwig, Wisconsin offensive coordinator
Out: Karl Dorrell and David Kotulski, fired
Second-year coach Derek Mason had to do something as Vanderbilt slid into irrelevance at an astonishing rate. Dorrell was an odd fit from the start, and Vanderbilt’s rotating cast at quarterback did him no favors. Ludwig has not been a fan favorite at some of his previous stops, and there have been many (he’s been OC at Fresno State, Oregon, Utah, Cal, San Diego State and Wisconsin since 1998). He may have taken so many lumps that he deserves the “underrated” tag. Meanwhile, Mason will call his own defense, a role in which he thrived at Stanford.
In: Alex Grinch, Missouri safeties coach
Out: Mike Breske, fired
Mike Leach adds another former Missouri assistant with Grinch joining former Tigers receivers coach Dave Yost in Pullman. Washington State was one of the Pac-12’s biggest disappointments, following a bowl season in 2013 with a 3-9 record and the No. 97 defense in the country. Grinch is a first-time coordinator who has paid his dues at Wyoming and New Hampshire before Mizzou.
Out: Shannon Dawson, hired as Kentucky offensive coordinator
There’s a reason Dawson left from West Virginia to take the same position at Kentucky: Dana Holgorsen calls his own plays, so it’s tough for a coach to establish his own reputation as an offensive coordinator with the Mountaineers.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its list of 15 semifinalists last week – a list that will be whittled to 10 on the Saturday morning before the Super Bowl and then to what likely will be the five-member Class of 2015. It is a long, difficult process even to get from the semifinals to enshrinement.
It’s especially tough since a good case can be made for all 15 on the semifinal list.
It should be hard, though. In fact, making it to Canton should be the hardest thing in football, an honor reserved for the best of the best – the truly immortals of the game. It may hurt to finish sixth in this group, but it’s not a dishonor. All 15 are among the greatest of the great, even though only five can get in every year.
This year’s 15 include Morten Andersen, Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Marvin Harrison, Jimmy Johnson, John Lynch, Orlando Pace, Junior Seau, Will Shields, and Kurt Warner.
Here are the five that would have my vote.
His wait has been among the most excruciating because he always seems to be the “next” guy after the class is announced. He’s in his 11th year of eligibility and sixth year as a finalist. This year the five-time Pro Bowler and five-time Super Bowl champion should be clearly one of the best defenders on the list. His acerbic personality may have cost him votes. So have recent ballots that have included pass-rushing linemen like Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan. But his 100.5 sacks, plus all those championship rings, should be enough.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, he was the dominant left tackle of his era, which included some incredibly high-powered Rams teams. He was nicknamed “The Pancake Man” at Ohio State and left so many defensive linemen on their backs he helped popularize the term “pancake block.” When he went No. 1 overall in the 1997 draft it was the first time an offensive lineman was taken in that spot in 29 years. And he lived up to it for 13 years.
He was a 12-time Pro Bowler and an eight-time first-team All-Pro, which should be more than enough to get him in on his first ballot. For a decade – and really beyond – he was the face of the Chargers’ franchise and as dangerous and active a linebacker as there was in the game. He was 34 when the Chargers traded him away, but he still managed to play parts of seven more seasons and become a key player – and captain – on the New England Patriots’ 2007 Super Bowl team that finished 18-1.
Sacks aren’t everything, but Greene finished with 160 of them, third most al-time. The players who ranked first (Bruce Smith), second (Reggie White) and fourth (Chris Doleman) are all already Hall of Famers. Greene had at least 10 sacks in 10 seasons. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro and a member of the NFL’s Team of the '90s. He’s been blocked in recent years by high-octane pass rushers like Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan, and the feeling that Haley is overdue could block him again this year. But he’s deserving of an eventual nod.
Realistically, he probably won’t make it and just getting into the list of finalists was a triumph. But as you watch the NFL in this era, with all the high-powered passing attacks and all those quarterbacks and receivers racking up ridiculous amounts of yards, it’s hard not to think of where it all started – with the “Air Coryell” offenses of the late '70s and '80s. His Chargers teams, with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, were innovative and explosive. They constantly led the league in passing. They never made the Super Bowl, but in both 1980 and '81 they threw their way to the AFC championship game. He influenced a generation of coaches and changed the game into the aerial assault that it is today. That seems to me to be a huge part of the definition of what makes someone worthy of the Hall of Fame.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
A year ago, Duke’s first trip in school history to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse created an instant classic.
The same may be true of the Blue Devils’ first trip to Louisville in more than 30 years.
On Jan. 2, 1982, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was 93-77 in his career. He lost No. 78 with a 99-61 defeat to a Denny Crum-led Cardinals team that would finish the season in the Final Four.
Krzyzewski returns to a new arena in Louisville and with 997 career wins. If not for the Blue Devils’ two-game losing streak, this could have been the game when Krzyzewski could hit 1,000 wins.
Although that milestone will have to wait, this is a can’t-miss game.
There is no shortage of star power in this contest, starting with the coaches and the All-Americans on both sides in Jahlil Okafor and Montrezl Harrell. But what this meeting comes down to is Duke’s ability to handle Louisville’s constant pressure defense and balanced scoring attack, all while trying to improve on their own defensive effort. That is quite the handful for Coach K’s young squad that is in the midst of its biggest speed bump of the season.
Duke at Louisville
Site: KFC YUM! Center, Louisville, Ky.
Time: Noon Eastern
[Related: The top 10 games fo the basketball weekend]
What’s on the line for Duke?
After losing back-to-back games to NC State in Raleigh and Miami at Cameron Indoor, the Blue Devils are searching for a defensive identity. In those two losses, Duke surrendered 87 and 90 points, mixed with lackluster offensive performances from the backcourt. The Blue Devils are looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2007 when they dropped four in a row en route to a first round loss to VCU in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke needs a momentum swing in a major way. After Louisville, the Blue Devils face Pittsburgh in Durham (Jan. 19) before heading to New York City to play at St. John’s (Jan. 25), at No.12 Notre Dame (Jan. 28) and at No. 2 Virginia (Jan. 31).
What’s on the line for Louisville?
Louisville’s best win so far is against a streaky Indiana team on a neutral floor that couldn’t match up with the the Cards’ front line. After a crushing loss to North Carolina and Marcus Paige’s beautiful utilization of the backboard, Louisville still needs a signature win.
The Cardinals’ only other loss came on their home floor to Kentucky. Count on Pitino’s team to do what his teams do best — play bully defense, rebound and score in transition.
The Cards aren’t the most suave offensive team, ranking 179th in team field goal percentage (43.5percent), 285th in three-point percentage (30.4%) and 192nd in assists (12.5 per game). What Louisville lacks in terms of scoring efficiency, the Cardinals make up for in balance in their starting five. Four of the five Cardinals starters average double figures in points per game, led by sophomore guard Terry Rozier (17.4 pointers per game) and All-America forward Montrezl Harrell (15.4 points per game).
With the tough loss to UNC still fresh in the Cards’ minds, look for them to protect home court valiantly against a struggling Duke team.
You’ll tune into watch: Montrezl Harrell vs. Jahlil Okafor
Just like their two respective teams as a whole, All-Americas Montrezl Harrell and Jahlil Okafor’s games are stark opposites. Harrell is Louisville’s ignition. At a long 6-foot-8, Harrell isn’t afraid to get in an opponent’s face, but he is much more than flash and talk. Harrell runs the floor like a wing and has even been known to step behind the arc to let one fly from deep.
Generally, Harrell is the most athletic player on the floor, using his athleticism to grab almost nine rebounds a game, and a major reason why the Cardinals are one the best rebounding and shot-blocking teams in the nation.
Even though Okafor is a freshman, his interior footwork and touch around the rim is NBA ready. Shooting well over 60 percent from the field (66.8 percent) as a 19 year old is astounding, but be assured that Harrell will make the youngster work for his shots in the paint, likely bodying the 6-11 Okafor off of the block and into uncomfortable jump shots.
This All-American matchup is worth the price of admission alone.
Pivotal Player: Duke’s Tyus Jones
Recently the freshman point guard has hardly been visible, having failed to score at least 10 points in any the past five games. Luckily for Duke, Jones has saved his best performances for the Blue Devils’ biggest games against Michigan State (17 points, four assists), at Wisconsin (22 points, six rebounds, four assists) and against UConn on a neutral floor (21 points, six rebounds, three assists).
Jones will definitely need to score points for Duke to win, but he could be just as impactful on the glass and by not turning the ball over, giving Louisville easy fast-break chances.
Biggest Question: What gives first…Duke’s offense or Louisville’s defense?
Duke comes into this game strugglingon both sides of the court. KenPom.com has Duke as the seventh-best adjusted offense in the nation. In conference play, Amile Jefferson and Okafor are shooting 63 percent while the rest of the team is shooting just 37 percent from the floor. This is where Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Justise Winslow are going to be crucial.
While Okafor and Harrell might grab the headlines in the paint, this game will be decided on the perimeter. How will Duke’s backcourt, which can catch fire at any time, get open looks against Louisville’s perimeter protectors of Wayne Blackshear, Terry Rozier and Chris Jones? Or will the Cards want to funnel Duke’s guards into the paint where they can be neutralized by Harrell and the 6-foot-10 Mangok Mathiang.
Duke ranks sixth nationally in points per game offensively (83.2) while Louisville ranks 16th in points allowed (56.9), 12th in blocks (6.1) and 10th in steals (10.2). It will be interesting to see how Duke attacks inside the arc, where they score just 52 percent of their total points.
Duke’s recent offensive instability jumbling with their defensive failures going against Louisville’s shallow offense and killer defense should make for great college basketball theatre come Saturday afternoon on the banks of the Ohio River.
David Fox: Duke 68-65
Mitch Light: Louisville 68-62
Jake Rose: Duke 70-60
-By Jake Rose
The early entry deadline for the 2015 NFL Draft has passed, and while the overall number of players leaving for the next level won’t match the 98 that declared last season, there’s no shortage of talent departing the college scene.
With the early entrants declared, it’s time to take a look at the winners and losers from a college football perspective.
The early entry deadline is a key point in the offseason, as this is usually the final hurdle to determining which key players will return to a roster for the upcoming season.
Baylor, Auburn, Notre Dame and Ohio State are four winners from the draft deadline process, while Florida State, Oregon and Florida are three teams dealing with significant personnel departures to the next level.
It’s hard to slot Alabama into either designation for this column. The Crimson Tide had major losses – receiver Amari Cooper, running back T.J. Yeldon and safety Landon Collins – but this team could have lost a few more players to the next level. Defensive end Jarran Reed and linebacker Reggie Ragland are returning to Tuscaloosa, which should ensure Alabama ranks at the top of the SEC in defense next season. Finding replacements for Cooper and Collins will be the two of the top spring priorities for coach Nick Saban this spring.
Big-play receiver Sammie Coates is off to the NFL, but the damage could have been greater for coach Gus Malzahn. Instead, Auburn managed to keep linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost on campus for their senior season, and receiver Duke Williams returns after catching 45 passes in his debut with the Tigers.
TCU is considered by most to be the early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2015, but Baylor isn’t far behind. The Bears have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four years and regain the services of left tackle Spencer Drango and defensive end Shawn Oakman after both decided to return for their senior year.
Clemson lost only one player – punter Bradley Pinion – to the NFL Draft. But that’s not why the Tigers earn a mention in this space. With Florida State losing five players early to the NFL, the door is open for Clemson to jump to the top of the Atlantic Division once again. With the Seminoles trying to retool the roster next year, the Tigers hope a healthy Deshaun Watson at quarterback will be enough to overcome a revamped front seven on defense and earn the team’s first division title since 2011.
Coach Mike MacIntyre’s rebuilding effort in Boulder will continue into 2015 with one of the team’s top offensive weapons. Receiver Nelson Spruce emerged as the offense’s go-to option after Paul Richardson left early for the NFL. The junior caught 106 passes for 1,198 yards and 12 scores. Spruce should be one of the Pac-12’s top receivers in 2015.
As expected, running back Todd Gurley left Athens for the NFL, but the rushing attack won’t miss a beat with Nick Chubb stepping into the full-time No. 1 role. Outside of Gurley, Georgia did not lose another player to the early entry deadline. Tackle John Theus, receiver Malcolm Mitchell and linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd were four players mentioned as potential departures, but all are slated to return to Athens in 2015.
LSU seemed to be a lock for the other side of this column after the Music City Bowl. The Tigers have suffered significant losses to the NFL over the last few seasons, which were a contributing factor in the team’s 8-5 record – the first season of less than double-digit wins since 2009. The losses in 2014 aren’t as heavy as the group leaving Baton Rouge after the 2012 season, but coach Les Miles has to replace end Danielle Hunter, cornerback Jalen Collins and linebacker Kwon Alexander. But the news for Miles isn’t all bad. Defensive back Jalen Mills and offensive linemen Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander are expected to return after considering an early entry to the draft. With the concerns at quarterback, getting Hawkins and Alexander for another season is critical for a team that has to rely on the run in 2015.
The Spartans had some bad news at the deadline with cornerback Trae Waynes leaving East Lansing for the NFL. However, Michigan State returned arguably its best offensive and defensive player for next season after quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun turned down the NFL. The return of Cook and Calhoun should allow the Spartans to push for a spot among the top 10 teams next year.
The Bulldogs lost All-SEC linebacker Benardrick McKinney and running back Josh Robinson to the NFL, but quarterback Dak Prescott is back for his senior year. Prescott was a first-team All-SEC selection and averaged 341.2 total yards per game in 2014. Losing McKinney and Robinson hurts, but Prescott’s return should keep Mississippi State in the mix to be a top 25 team next year.
The Fighting Irish finished an up-and-down season with a bowl win over LSU, which should give coach Brian Kelly’s team momentum heading into spring practice. And the good news didn’t stop with the Music City Bowl victory, as tackle Ronnie Stanley, guard/center Nick Martin and defensive end Sheldon Day all decided to return to South Bend next season. Notre Dame doesn’t lose much in the way of senior starters, so this team could easily improve off its 8-5 mark from 2014.
It’s unusual for a team to win a national title and lose zero players early to the NFL Draft. But that’s exactly what transpired at Ohio State. The Buckeyes had no players enter the draft and return to defend their title in 2015 with the depth chart nearly intact. Left tackle Taylor Decker, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and quarterback Cardale Jones were the candidates generating the most interest among NFL scouts, but all three will help Ohio State make a run at the title next year.
The Utes had a mixed bag of results at the draft deadline. Offensive tackle Jeremiah Poutasi (second-team All-Pac-12 in 2014) left Salt Lake City for the next level, but Utah returns standout running back Devontae Booker. In his debut with the Utes, Booker – a junior college recruit – rushed for 1,512 yards and 10 scores. He also added 42 receptions for 311 yards and two touchdowns.
A 7-6 record was a disappointing finish for a Virginia Tech program that had a favorable schedule and hopes of winning the Coastal Division in 2014. While the fanbase is getting restless in Blacksburg, there’s hope for a turnaround in 2015. Cornerback Brandon Facyson and defensive tackle Luther Maddy are back from injuries, while defensive end Dadi Nicolas (18 TFL and 8.5 sacks) decided to pass on the NFL for another season at Virginia Tech.
The return of running back Jonathan Williams keeps Arkansas’ potent one-two punch on the ground intact, but the Razorbacks lost a key piece of their defense with the departure of tackle Darius Philon. The line was already set to lose standout end Trey Flowers (15.5 TFL), and Philon was set to be one of the SEC’s top defensive linemen in 2015. Now, not only are the Razorbacks replacing their best defensive end and linebacker, their best defensive tackle is off to the NFL.
As if new coach Jim McElwain didn’t have enough personnel issues to sort out, the Gators lost four players – end Dante Fowler, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, running back Matt Jones and guard Tyler Moore – to the NFL Draft. Fowler is the team’s biggest loss, but Florida’s offensive line is thin on depth and proven talent. Restocking the trenches is McElwain’s biggest priority going into 2015.
Five players from Florida State’s roster are off to the next level, and there are some heavy losses for coach Jimbo Fisher to address this offseason. Quarterback Jameis Winston was one of college football’s top players over the last two seasons and should be the No. 1 pick in the draft. The other four early departures are on defense, as Mario Edwards, tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams declared for the next level. All four players were considered among the ACC’s top defenders over the last few seasons.
Running back Tevin Coleman carried the Indiana offense in 2014, recording 2,036 yards and 15 rushing scores on 270 attempts. Coleman’s totals are even more impressive when you consider the Hoosiers lost starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld early in the year due to injury, and the backup signal-callers combined for one touchdown pass over the final six games.
The Cardinals lost three defensive backs off a defense that ranked second in the ACC by limiting opponents to just 4.8 yards per play. Safety Gerod Holliman, cornerback Charles Gaines and safety James Sample are leaving for the next level, and all three players were key pieces in the secondary. Holliman led the team with 14 picks, while Sample intercepted four passes and recorded 90 stops. Gaines was one of the top cornerbacks in the ACC this year, breaking up 10 passes in 13 games.
The Hurricanes are still looking for their first Coastal Division title. The path to a trip to the conference championship game isn’t going to be any easier in 2015 with the departure of running back Duke Johnson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers early to the NFL. Johnson ranked second in the ACC by rushing for 1,652 yards, while Flowers anchored the line from the left tackle spot. After losing their last three games in 2014, there’s pressure on coach Al Golden to turn things around in 2015. Needless to say, losing Flowers and Johnson doesn’t help those odds.
The Tigers suffered only one loss to the NFL. However, it was a massive hit to the defense. End Shane Ray (22.5 TFL and 14.5 sacks) left after a standout 2014 season. Ray’s departure is magnified even more with starters Markus Golden (end) and Matt Hoch (tackle) exhausting their eligibility.
Bob Stoops is searching for a few answers after Oklahoma finished a disappointing 8-5 in 2014. A revamp of the coaching staff is underway, but the roster suffered a blow on both sides of the ball in the draft process. Receiver Dorial Green-Beckham declared without playing a down in Norman, while defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (39 tackles, 2 sacks) is a huge loss on the interior of the line.
The news at the deadline wasn’t all negative for the Ducks. End DeForest Buckner is coming back for his senior year, and his return helps to soften the blow of Arik Armstead’s decision to leave Eugene after his junior campaign. Despite Buckner’s return, that’s not enough to overcome quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Heisman Trophy winner won’t be easily replaced in 2015.
Due to NCAA sanctions, Penn State was shorthanded on scholarships over the last few seasons. First-year coach James Franklin had to overcome a lot of roster problems in 2014, especially up front on an offensive line that was thin on proven depth this year. The Nittany Lions reportedly played the Pinstripe Bowl with just 41 scholarship players, and Franklin’s job in 2015 got a little tougher with the departure of end Deion Barnes, tight end Jesse James and tackle Donovan Smith.
In addition to replacing a handful of departing seniors, Stanford lost cornerback Alex Carter and left tackle Andrus Peat early to the NFL. Peat is regarded as one of the top tackle prospects for the 2015 draft and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Carter recorded 41 tackles and nine pass breakups in 2014 and is projected to go in the second or third round by some scouting services.
The Knights shared the American Athletic Conference crown with Memphis and Cincinnati this year and three of the team’s four losses came against Power 5 opponents. UCF’s league title hopes for 2015 took a hit this week with the departure of cornerback Jacoby Glenn (7 INTs) and receiver Breshad Perriman (20.9 ypc) – two first-team all-conference selections in 2014.
The Bruins return a solid core of talent for 2015 and could win the Pac-12 South if the young talent on the roster develops this offseason. But coach Jim Mora has to fill a major void under center with the departure of quarterback Brett Hundley. With Hundley bolting to the NFL, UCLA could turn to incoming freshman Josh Rosen under center next year. Defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy (21 tackles, three sacks) also left Westwood for the next level.
The good: Quarterback Cody Kessler (39 TDs) is back for his senior year. Kessler’s return could elevate USC as the favorite in the Pac-12 South, but the Trojans lost receiver Nelson Agholor, running back Buck Allen, receiver George Farmer and defensive end Leonard Williams to the NFL. Williams could be one of the first five picks off the board in the first round, while Agholor and Allen were two of the best at their position in the Pac-12 this year.
Coach Mike London earned another year at Virginia after the Cavaliers finished 5-7 in 2014. But in order for London to stick around for the long haul, he needs to get Virginia back to the postseason. That goal got tougher with the draft deadline, losing end Eli Harold and linebacker Max Valles to the next level. Valles and Harold were key cogs in UVa’s pass rush, accumulating 16 of the team’s 34 sacks in 2014.
First-year coach Chris Petersen didn’t have the debut most expected, as Washington closed out the year with a loss to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl and finished 8-6 overall. The Huskies lose a handful of key seniors next season, and linebacker Shaq Thompson must be replaced. Thompson was a two-way threat for Washington, rushing for 456 yards and two scores and recording 80 tackles on defense.
If the basketball season can top last week’s action this weekend, we're in for a wild ride.
A week ago, Kentucky and Virginia flirted with their first losses of the season on Saturday. Duke delivered on Sunday. And again on Wednesday.
This week, Kentucky faces another SEC team that on paper is overmatched, but the matchup will be on the road in Tuscaloosa. Virginia again leaves Charlottesville for the weekend, this time to face Boston College. Meanwhile, Duke will try to end its modest losing streak with the most high-profile game of the weekend against Louisville in a rare early Saturday tip for a major game.
The top action of the day will continue into Saturday night with powerhouse matchups in the Pac-12 and Big 12. Utah will try to go from being an upstart from the favorite if the Utes can win at Arizona, and Kansas can further prove it is the favorite in the Big 12 (as usual) when it visits Iowa State.
Jan. 17-18 Week Preview and Predictions
All times Eastern
Duke at Louisville
Saturday, noon, ESPN
Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th win will have to wait. At one point, Louisville seemed like a possible site for Coach K to become the second college coach to reach triple digits in wins (retired Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt is the other). Then, Duke started to crumble in losses to NC State and Miami. Those weren’t fluke losses, either, as the Wolfpack and Hurricanes both built significant secondhalf leads. Both teams were able to run with Duke and launched a ton of 3-pointers (20-of-36 combined). Louisville doesn’t push tempo and struggles from long range, but the Cardinals are one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Prediction: Duke 68-65
[Related: Full preview of Duke at Louisville]
Florida at Georgia
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
The SEC doesn’t have any great teams to challenge Kentucky, but the league has a handful of decent teams in contention for the NCAA Tournament. The league has seven top-50 teams on KenPom.com, six of them ranked between Nos. 21-50. Florida and Georgia are two of those teams, and neither have a ton of wiggle room to avoid the NIT. Both teams have been shorthanded in recent games (Jon Horford out for Florida and Juwan Parker and Yante Maten for Georgia).
Prediction: Georgia 64-61
Ohio State at Iowa
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
In a bit of a quirk in Big Ten scheduling, Ohio State and Iowa will play for the second time since the league opener on Dec. 30. Iowa won that matchup in Columbus 71-65. Iowa forwards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff scored 18 points apiece, but Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell had yet to hit is groove (13 points, 4-of-16 shooting). After an off game against Indiana, Russell had 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting with six assists in the Buckcyes’ win over Michigan on Tuesday.
Prediction: Iowa 68-64
Miami at Notre Dame
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2
Rest assured, Notre Dame won’t be caught off guard if Miami starts to run the floor and gives the Irish problems. Just since ACC play started, the Hurricanes took undefeated Virginia to double overtime and defeated Duke by 26. Putting Notre Dame on edge even more is the absence of starting center Zach Auguste, who has been suspended indefinitely due to an academic issue. After scoring 90 on a team with Jahlil Okafor, could they do the same against a team without its starting center.
Prediction: Notre Dame 74-68
Michigan State at Maryland
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
Yet another Big Ten rematch of a game that took place on Dec. 30. Maryland won that meeting 68-66 in East Lansing. Hopefully this game will be more entertaining — that was a 68-66 game decided in double overtime. The halftime score then was 17-14. Michigan State has been greatly improved since then, defeating Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern for a three-game win streak. Spartans point guard Travis Trice has 27 assists and three turnovers in Big Ten play so far. Meanwhile, Maryland’s offense has been largely dormant since Big Ten play started. The Terrapins are shooting 39.7 percent from 2-point range since conference play began.
Kentucky at Alabama
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
After two overtime escapes, Kentucky returned to form against woefully overmatched Missouri. The Wildcats defeated the Tigers 86-37 and outscored them 1.4 to 0.6 on a per possession basis. Still puzzling, though, is Kentucky’s mere 28-22 advantage in the paint (Texas A&M and Ole Miss both outscored Kentucky in the paint). Alabama is much better than Missouri (and probably better than A&M or Ole Miss), but the Crimson Tide shoot a mere 31 percent from 3-point range. That would seem to be a disqualifer for a team looking to pull an upset.
Prediction: Kentucky 72-54
West Virginia at Texas
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN
West Virginia is not going away. After an 86-65 trouncing of Oklahoma, the Mountaineers are 15-2 with those loses coming by a combined three points to LSU and Iowa State. The Longhorns can’t seem to find an offense even after point guard Isaiah Taylor, and now they’ll face West Virginia’s press. The Mountaineers led the nation in turnover rate after forcing 22 turnovers (16 off steals against the Sooners) on Tuesday.
Prediction: West Virginia 66-50
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Oklahoma is in need of a win in Norman, especially with road trips to Kansas and Baylor on the horizon. Hopes were high for this Sooners team to contend in the league or for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but the last two games haven’t been kind. Kansas State’s Marcus Foster hit two clutch shots to beat OU, and then the Sooners ran into the West Virginia buzz saw. Oklahoma State is a solid team, but the Cowboys will only go as far as Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte will take them.
Prediction: Oklahoma 70-62
Utah at Arizona
Saturday, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
If Utah can defeat Arizona in Tucson, the Utes have to be considered a legitimate Pac-12 title contender and perhaps more. Utah already ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 on KenPom and has been one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Utes have defeated their first three Pac-12 opponents by an average of 24.5 points per game, but that’s against USC, UCLA, Colorado and Arizon State. This is a chance for a statement win. Arizona, meanwhile, needs to rebound from a head-scratching loss to Oregon State in which star freshman Stanley Johnson scored only seven points.
Prediction: Arizona 65-60
Kansas at Iowa State
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Watch out, Kansas is starting to play like the team we thought they’d be at the start of the season. Gone is the team that lost by 32 to Kentucky and by 25 to Temple. Freshmen Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, ineffective for stretches during the non-conference schedule, are starting to grow into their roles. A road trip to Ames will indicate if Kansas’ run of Big 12 titles is in any danger. The Cyclones are 2-2 in their last four games with each game decided by four points or less.
Prediction: Kansas 75-70
For the third time in the last four seasons, the path to the Super Bowl goes through Gillette Stadium, as the Indianapolis Colts take on the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game Sunday night on CBS. After knocking off Peyton Manning and Denver, Andrew Luck and the Colts (13-5) are looking for their second straight road upset, while Tom Brady and the Patriots (13-4) are aiming to get back to the Super Bowl after coming up just short the past two seasons.
Coming off of his first career road playoff victory (against the man he replaced in Indianapolis no less), Luck will need to beat another future Hall of Fame quarterback to secure his first Super Bowl berth. Luck is 0-3 in his career against the Patriots, including a 42-20 home loss back in November.
With a win, Brady would earn the right to play in a record-tying sixth Super Bowl, giving him and Bill Belichick a shot at their fourth ring. However, the last time they were in this position, playing in the AFC title game at home; they were unable to get the job done, losing 28-13 to Baltimore two seasons ago.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 18 at 6:40 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: New England -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Andrew Luck Solve His Patriot Problem?
Luck has already accomplished much in his first three seasons. Although not a Super Bowl winner like 2012 draft classmate Russell Wilson, Luck is a three-time Pro Bowler who has experienced postseason success with the Colts quicker than his predecessor, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Luck is 3-2 in the playoffs in his first three seasons. Manning didn’t get his first playoff victory until his sixth season and it took three more after that before he played in his first Super Bowl. For Luck to get to the Super Bowl it will require his first career victory over New England. Luck is 0-3 against the Patriots, including a 43-22 loss in last season’s Divisional Round. While he’s averaged 322.7 yards passing per game against the Patriots, he’s completed less than 54 percent of his attempts with more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (six). Luck is not the first elite quarterback to struggle against Bill Belichick’s team (see Manning), but if he wants to continue to eclipse the man he replaced under center and get Indianapolis back to the Super Bowl, he will need to elevate his play against the team that has ruled the AFC since 2001.
2. Tom Brady’s Conference Championship Game Curse?
The all-time leader in NFL playoff history in yards (6,791) and touchdowns (46), Brady’s postseason resume speaks for itself. He’s 19-8 overall, 13-3 at home and has won three Super Bowls in five appearances. For all of Brady’s success, however, he has not been at his best in the AFC Championship Game. Since the 2006 season, Brady is just 2-3 in these contests, including losses in each of the past two seasons. Beyond the record, however, is the fact that Brady’s numbers haven’t been that impressive. In these five games, he’s thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (five) and his completion percentage of 60.5 is three points below his career rate. Last Saturday, Brady set a personal-best in the postseason with 367 yards passing in the Divisional Round win over Baltimore while the three touchdown passes tied for his second most (shares the record of six with two others). Brady’s status as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play is secure, regardless of what happens in this game. However, if he wants to get another shot at tying Joe Montana’s four Super Bowl rings, Brady needs to put together a better performance than he has in recent conference championship games. After all, there’s a reason the Patriots have played in the last three AFC title games but only made it to one Super Bowl.
3. Will Either Team Gain Much Ground?
New England’s 42-20 win In Indianapolis in November featured a season-high 246 yards rushing. Jonas Gray led the ground assault with 201 yards and franchise-record four touchdowns on 37 carries. The Colts managed a meager 19 yards on 16 carries, as they were forced to play catch up most of the game. Since then, plenty has changed in each team’s backfield. The Patriots brought back LeGarrette Blount after he was released by Pittsburgh, and he has taken over as the No. 1 rusher, while Gray has all but disappeared. Indianapolis also has overhauled its running back rotation, as Dan Herron (Cincinnati’s sixth-round pick in 2012) and undrafted rookie Zurlon Tipton have replaced an ineffective Trent Richardson and injured Ahmad Bradshaw, who broke his ankle against New England. While Blount has been solid (4.7 ypc, 3 TDs) in his second stint with the Patriots, the offense has relied less on the run, rushing for a season-low 14 yards in last week’s win over Baltimore. The Colts on the other hand, have made more of a concerted effort to get the ball into Herron’s and Tipton’s hands, as the team has averaged more than 100 yards rushing in each of its playoff victories. So what should we expect Sunday night? The Ravens’ Justin Forsett gashed New England for 129 yards on the ground on 24 carries (5.4 ypc) last week, while Indianapolis held Denver to just 88 yards rushing. Has the edge in the running game swung the Colts’ direction or will the Patriots try to reassert themselves on the ground once again?
Instead of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady XVII, we get Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady IV. While the magnitude of the latter pales in comparison to the former, the stakes for the latest head-to-head meeting between arguably the game’s top young quarterback and one of the best to ever play the position couldn’t be higher. Just like his predecessor, the obstacle that stands between Luck taking the next step in his stardom is none other than the combination of Bill Belichick and Brady. As impressive as the Colts’ postseason run has been thus far, the path to the Super Bowl goes through Gillette Stadium, which is still Belichick and Brady’s domain. Luck gives it his all, but in the end the Patriots have too much on both sides of the ball. New England exorcises some recent playoff demons by finishing the job it had set out to do the past two seasons.
Prediction: New England 30, Indianapolis 20
Season-opening foes will reconvene Sunday afternoon with much more on the line when the Green Bay Packers face the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on FOX. All that stands between the Seahawks (13-4) becoming the first team in 10 seasons to make it to back-to-back Super Bowls are the Packers (13-4), the team they beat 36-16 more than four months ago.
Green Bay is looking for its first Super Bowl berth since winning the Lombardi Trophy four seasons ago and enters having won 12 of its last 14 games. All eyes will be on the health of Aaron Rodgers, the likely MVP who is dealing with a torn calf muscle.
Seattle has won seven games in a row and 10 of its last 11, and also is riding an eight-game home playoff winning streak at CenturyLink Field. The “12th Man” will no doubt be in full force, as the Seahawks hope to get one step closer to become the first repeat Super Bowl champion since New England (2003-04 seasons).
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawkss
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 18 at 3:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Aaron Rodgers’ Left Calf
May as well get the obvious one out of the way, no? Rodgers’ torn calf muscle is going to take some time to heal completely, so he will continue to be limited by it. However, as we saw last week against Dallas, a “limited” Rodgers is still an extremely dangerous one, as he torched the Cowboys for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers’ mobility was clearly compromised, as he lost a fumble on a sack and was pretty much relegated to staying in the pocket. However, Dallas only brought Rodgers down twice and was unable to generate any sort of consistent pressure. With plenty of time to scan the field for an open receiver, Rodgers spent most of the second half throwing frozen ropes against a helpless Dallas secondary. A repeat performance figures to be much tougher against Seattle’s defense, which limited Rodgers to just 23-of-33 passing for 189 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. The Seahawks also picked him off once and sacked him three times. The Packers’ offensive line made great strides in pass protection as the season went on, but this unit will have its work cut out for it against the Seahawks’ relentless pass rush. Seattle won’t take anything, even a less-than-100-percent Rodgers, for granted, so it will be interesting to see how the likely MVP fares against the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense (on the road no less) on one good leg.
2. Eddie Lacy vs. Marshawn Lynch
While the head-to-head battle between a pair of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson will no doubt be fascinating to watch and one of the keys to this game, it’s not the only offensive positional pairing to keep an eye on. Both teams like to run the ball, especially Seattle, and each has a punishing ball carrier in Lacy and Lynch. Seventh and fourth, respectively, in rushing this season, Lacy and Lynch also share one other thing in common – each is hard to bring down. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lynch and Lacy are first and second in yards after contact over the past two seasons. In the first meeting between their teams, Lynch had the upper hand, finishing with 110 yards rushing and two scores. Lacy meanwhile was limited to 34 yards on 12 carries and had to leave the game early in the fourth quarter due to an apparent concussion. Lacy was back on the field the next week and after hitting a lull in the middle of the season, he appears to have hit his stride. Lacy has averaged 99 yards rushing per game over his last seven contests, including 101 in the Divisional Round win against Dallas. Lynch managed just 59 yards on 14 carries against Carolina, but to be fair the Panthers’ rush defense is much stingier than the Cowboys’ and the Seahawks were pretty much in control of their Divisional Round affair from the start. For this contest, there’s little argument that Lacy has the tougher challenge as it relates to the defenses, but Green Bay still needs production from him given Rodgers’ limited mobility. On the other side, Seattle fans have seen Lynch’s “Beast Mode” in the playoffs before (vs. Saints in 2010 and ’13 seasons) and would no doubt love an excuse to pelt CenturyLink Field with even more Skittles showers Sunday afternoon.
3. Packers’ Pass-Catchers vs. Legion of Boom
As much attention as Aaron Rodgers’ calf is getting, another popular storyline has been the matchup between Green Bay’s wide receivers and Seattle’s secondary. Headlined by three All-Pros, the back end of the Seahawks’ defense is the best in the NFL, while the Packers have one of the more feared one-two punches at wide receiver in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. In the season opener, it’s fair to say the Legion of Boom won the battle, as Rodgers threw for 189 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Nelson and Cobb combined for 15 catches that went for 141 yards and the lone score (Cobb). After the game much was made of the fact that Rodgers didn’t throw a single pass in the direction of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, basically using just one side of the field. Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy have already come out and said that won’t happen this time, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Sherman will be busier than usual either. Instead, look for the Packers to move Nelson and Cobb around to get the matchups they want, while rookie Davante Adams will more than likely see most of his snaps lined up on Sherman’s side of the field. Adams came up big last week with a team-high 117 yards and a touchdown against Dallas, but the Cowboys have zero Pro Bowlers in their secondary while the Seahawks have three All-Pros. Thanks to Adams’ emergence as well as the effectiveness of tight ends Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers, it’s fair to say Rodgers has more targets at his disposal now than he did in the season opener. However, Seattle’s defense is whole and healthy and still features the best secondary in the league. Even if Rodgers’ calf and the offensive line hold up long enough to give him time to throw, will the results be any different than they were four months ago?
For just the second time ever, a conference championship game pits the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense vs. the top scoring defense (1980 NFC, DAL vs. PHI). There’s no mystery which team fits each bill nor is there any surrounding the overarching storyline headed into this contest. Aaron Rodgers fared pretty well last week with a torn calf muscle, but Dallas’ defense and Seattle’s are two entirely different units. It sounds rather simplistic, but in the classic offense vs. defense matchup, I tend to side with the latter. Especially when that defense is playing at home, is on a pretty good roll and is one win away from getting back to the Super Bowl. And oh yeah, the last postseason game in any round that featured the No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense was none other than the most recent Super Bowl. And we all remember how that game turned out.
Prediction: Seattle 27, Green Bay 19
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 16:
• Bill Walton, Jay Bilas and Dave Pasch called last night's Arizona-Colorado game, and things got weird.
• Kobe and LeBron had fun last night, like a couple of rec league geezers.
• Rory McIlroy had his first professional hole-in-one today.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Blood is thicker than water — and basketball, too, apparently.
At least Los Angeles Clippers head coach and executive Doc Rivers seems to think so. The second-year man in Lob City traded for his son Austin Thursday. The younger Rivers is a fledgling third-year guard who’s played for the New Orleans Pelicans until this week.
In a flurry of swaps between the Clippers, Celtics, Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets — a sequence of barters that is frankly hard to keep track of, almost suggesting that front offices across the league are treating the wealth of NBA talent much like a commune does their food — the 22-year-old Rivers ends up on his father’s squad.
The move, rumored to be in the works all week, was reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein. “The trade,” Stein wrote, “will send Rivers to the Clippers, former L.A. first-round pick Reggie Bullock to the Suns and two players to the Celtics: Phoenix big man Shavlik Randolph and L.A. swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts.”
The father-son relationship hasn’t been seen on an NBA bench before. It’s statistically unlikely, for starters, but it also comes loaded with potential perils: Professional locker rooms are complicated enough places without making every day a “take your kid to work” day. While there could be benefits of Austin teaming up with Doc (the junior Rivers being a more effective player than the man he replaces, Jordan Farmer, for instance), there’s also a lot of risk in the move.
What if Austin’s dad begins playing favorites with his kin? Hopefully we don’t have to find out — and there’s a good chance we won’t, as there are more than enough reserve minutes to go around in Clippersland. This was exhibited clearly, in a recent cornerstone Clippers road victory, 100-94, over the excellent Portland Trail Blazers. Rivers didn’t play any of his starters for less than 35 minutes in the game, only going three deep on his bench, including a mere five-minute stint from Glen Davis.
If L.A.’s leading lineup is to stay fresh for the daunting Western Conference playoffs, they’ll need to find relief from any place they can. Rivers is right to take a gamble on his struggling son, who has showed glimpses of improvement this year. Austin just might prove to be a useful stop-gap piece in the lead-up to a postseason run.
— John Wilmes
The emergence and development of young talent can play a critical role in any team’s position in the race to win a college football national championship or conference title. And unpredictability of finding the next star or breakout player is also what makes preseason predictions difficult.
The 2014 college football season ended on Monday night with Ohio State’s 42-20 win over Oregon, but it’s never too early to look at what’s ahead in 2015. The Buckeyes and Ducks had the obvious star players entering the 2014 campaign. However, the emergence of linebacker Darron Lee (Buckeyes) and running back Royce Freeman (Ducks) helped to answer two key question marks for their team over the course of the season.
Spring practice is still a month or two away for some teams, but let’s take a look at 10 potential breakout stars for 2015.
10 Early Picks for CFB’s Breakout Players in 2015
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
New coordinator Kevin Steele certainly isn’t hurting for young talent. Adams is one of the SEC’s top young defenders after recording 66 tackles (five for a loss) and five pass breakups as a true freshman in 2014. The Texas native ranked as the No. 31 overall prospect in the 2014 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and should be in the mix for a full-time starting job with the defense slated to lose one starting safety (Ronald Martin) and a cornerback (Jalen Collins). Look for Adams to become one of the top players in the LSU secondary and contend for All-SEC honors next season.
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Apple started 14 of 15 games in Ohio State’s run to the national championship this season, and the New Jersey native is poised for even bigger things in 2015. The Buckeyes aren’t losing much on defense, but standout cornerback Doran Grant expired his eligibility after the national title. With Grant moving to the NFL, Apple is expected to become the No. 1 cornerback for Ohio State. And the rising sophomore is ready for the promotion. In 15 games this season, Apple recorded 53 tackles (5.5 for a loss), three interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Apple should emerge as one of the Big Ten’s top cornerbacks next year.
Budda Baker, S, Washington
Baker was pegged as the top recruit in Washington’s 2014 signing class, and the true freshman certainly lived up to the hype. Baker recorded 80 tackles (fourth on the team), one interception, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles. The Washington native earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2014 and will be a key cog in the rebuilding effort on defense next season. The Huskies had two freshmen and two sophomores listed as starters for the Cactus Bowl matchup against Oklahoma State. Although youth in the secondary can be problematic, the early experience and playing time should pay off for Baker and the other Washington defensive backs in 2015.
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon was the best running back in college football this season, but Wisconsin’s rushing attack is in good hands with Clement. As Gordon’s backup in 2014, Clement rushed for 949 yards and nine scores (6.5 yards per carry). He rushed for 105 yards in the bowl win over Auburn and recorded 164 yards on 13 attempts against Illinois. Clement averages seven yards per rush through his first two seasons in Madison and is due for a breakout campaign with the opportunity to record 250-275 carries next season.
Deon Hollins, LB, UCLA
The Bruins had to replace their top three statistical players in generated sacks from 2013, and the pass rush just wasn’t the same early in the 2014 season. UCLA ended the year with 29 sacks – tied for eighth in the Pac-12 – and improved over the course of the 13-game slate. Hollins came on strong over the final few weeks of 2014, recording six of his nine sacks in the final four games. Hollins was dominant at the line of scrimmage against Kansas State (three sacks) and recorded four tackles and a sack against USC.
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
With two starts already under his belt, Johnson is the heavy favorite to replace Nick Marshall as Auburn’s starting quarterback in 2015. In 2014, Johnson completed 28 of 37 passes for 436 yards and three scores, including a 12 of 16 performance for 243 yards against Arkansas in the season opener. The Montgomery native also started as a true freshman in 2013 and completed 17 of 21 passes for 201 yards and four scores. Johnson isn’t as dynamic as Marshall was on the ground, but he is more advanced as a passer heading into the 2015 season. Coach Gus Malzahn is one of the top offensive minds in college football, and Johnson should thrive as the full-time starter in an offense that’s capable of averaging 35-40 points a game.
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
Clemson’s defense led the nation by limiting opponents to just four yards per play in 2014. But coordinator Brent Venables has his work cut out for him in 2015, as the front seven has to be revamped with the departures of ends Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes, along with defensive tackles Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson. Lawson is a key piece in the rebuilding effort and played in all 13 games in 2014. The South Carolina native recorded 34 tackles (11 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks. With the departure of Beasley, the Tigers need Lawson to generate around 10 sacks in 2015.
Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas
The Longhorns ranked second in the Big 12 by limiting opponents to just 4.7 yards per play in 2014. Coach Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford have holes to fill in order for this defense to perform at a high level next season, with the biggest departure coming at defensive tackle. Malcom Brown was arguably the top defender in the Big 12 this season, recording 72 tackles (a high number for an interior lineman), 6.5 sacks for a loss and two forced fumbles. Ridgeway started the final 10 games at nose tackle in 2014 and recorded 43 tackles (11 for a loss) and six sacks. The Texas native had a significant jump in terms of production and playing time from 2013 to 2014. Expect Ridgeway to anchor the defensive line for Strong and Bedford next year.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
The Cowboys had a significant amount of roster turnover prior to the 2014 season and regressed in the win column to a 7-6 finish. However, the future looks bright in Stillwater, as quarterback Mason Rudolph (a true freshman in 2014) gave the team a spark in the final three games of the season. Rudolph completed 49 of 86 passes for 853 yards and six touchdowns and guided the team to a road win over Oklahoma and a bowl victory over Washington. After struggling with injuries and inconsistency at quarterback this season, the Cowboys have a future star in Rudolph ready to take a step forward next year.
Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State
With the departure of quarterback Jameis Winston, receiver Rashad Greene, tight end Nick O’Leary and four offensive line starters, Florida State’s offense is in transition for the 2015 season. While there are new faces cracking the starting lineup, there’s no shortage of talent available for coach Jimbo Fisher. Rudolph caught 38 passes for 555 yards and four scores as a true freshman this year. The Florida native grabbed 11 of his 38 receptions over the final two games, including a 96-yard performance in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. Rudolph and Ermon Lane were two of the top receiver prospects in the 2014 signing class, and both players looked like future stars in Tallahassee in their freshman debut.
Flop of the year? Possibly. Hairston’s bad dance is an act of comic brilliance (intentional or not), reaching high into the stratospheres of fraudulence and silliness. Teammate Lance Stephenson might still take the cake for any number of flop jobs, however — especially this bit from November, when he slapped himself in the face against the Golden State Warriors:
Hairston may have a learned a thing or two from his senior Born Ready, but he’s still a ways away from the delirious heights enjoyed by basketball’s reigning clown prince. Keep pushing, P.J.
South in Orlando, sophomore Magic guard Victor Oladipo was enjoying the opposite side of viral memehood. The fresh-singing 22-year-old jumped into the NBA’s heart with a 360 degree dunk. The moment was made all the richer by its context, as Oladipo delivered his hammer late in a 120-113 Magic victory, an upset over the Houston Rockets, featuring former Magic All-Star — and current Orlando pariah — Dwight Howard.
It’s nice to see central Florida turning the page past Howard in such style:
Oladipo had 32 points on 12-for-19 shooting to go with six assists and six rebounds — whoa. This, two nights after he dropped 33 on the Chicago Bulls, in a 121-114 victory — also a sizeable upset. Young Victor has led the charge for some of the best offense the Magic have played in years, embracing an uptempo attack that’s just run amok on two of the league’s best defenses. Keep your eyes peeled for this intoxicating new version of Orlando basketball.
— John Wilmes
College football’s 2014 season is officially in the books. The new four-team playoff was a success, and the new postseason format resulted in Ohio State claiming a 42-20 win over Oregon in the national championship. While the title celebration won’t stop in Columbus anytime soon, there are a handful of teams examining what’s next after key personnel departures.
Florida State and Oregon were playoff teams in 2014, but both programs have to overcome a lot of personnel question marks to reach that mark next year. The Seminoles and Ducks are due for a small step back in the win column in 2015. However, don’t expect either to disappear as a national contender in future years. There’s enough young talent and a track record at both programs to suggest any dip in the win total will be short-lived. On the flipside, Iowa is a program that seems stale. Can Kirk Ferentz find the right answers to get the program back on track?
While kickoff for the 2015 season is still months away, it’s never too early to start looking at rosters, depth charts and coaching changes for teams poised to fall in the rankings or struggle to match their 2014 win total next year.
5 CFB Teams Likely to See Their Win Total Decline in 2015
File Florida State and Oregon in this column as obvious mentions. It’s simply hard to maintain a high level of success with significant personnel departures, especially after losing the likely No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. The Seminoles have 39 victories over the last three seasons and have won at least nine games in each of coach Jimbo Fisher’s five years in Tallahassee. There’s little doubt Florida State will be back in contention for a playoff bid in the future, but without Jameis Winston, four new starters on the line and receiver Rashad Greene, there’s a transition period coming for the Seminoles on offense next year. And the Seminoles have work to do on defense, as this unit took a step back on the stat sheet in 2014 and must replace tackle Eddie Goldman, end Mario Edwards Jr. and cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Florida State is Athlon’s early favorite to win the ACC Atlantic next year. However, the Seminoles will take a small step back in the overall landscape and miss out on a playoff bid with the turnover on the depth chart.
Bill Snyder is one of college football’s top coaches, and it’s always risky to count out the Wildcats in any preseason prediction. But as we turn the page from 2014 to 2015, Kansas State has some major personnel losses. The prolific combination of quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett have expired their eligibility, and the offense also must replace standout center B.J. Finney and receiver Curry Sexton. The defense loses All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller, linebacker Jonathan Truman and defensive back Randall Evans. Mueller led the team with 11 tackles for a loss, while Truman paced all defenders with 128 stops. Evans picked recorded four picks and defended 14 passes in 2014. There’s still a solid core of players returning to Manhattan next season but winning at least eight games for the fourth consecutive year might be too much to ask with the departure of a handful of key seniors. Don’t count out Snyder’s team, but K-State is set for a small regression in wins next year.
There was plenty of optimism in Iowa City coming into the 2014 season. The Hawkeyes returned 11 starters from a team that won four out of its last six games in 2013. Additionally, the offensive and defensive lines were pegged as two of the best in the Big Ten, and quarterback Jake Rudock was coming off a solid performance (2,383 yards, 18 TDs). The schedule featured home dates against Wisconsin and Nebraska, and coach Kirk Ferentz’s team missed Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State in crossover play. Instead of capitalizing on a favorable slate, Iowa backtracked in 2014. The Hawkeyes finished 7-6 and lost five out of its final seven games. None of Iowa’s seven victories came against a FBS team with a winning record, and Tennessee thoroughly dominated the Hawkeyes in the TaxSlayer Bowl (45-28). While the Hawkeyes have surprised when low expectations surrounded this team, Ferentz and this staff have to replace standout left tackle Brandon Scherff, receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and defensive standouts Carl Davis (DT), Louis Trinca-Pasat (DT) and safety John Lowdermilk. Improving from the seven-win mark isn’t unrealistic with a favorable schedule, but it’s also hard to expect a significant jump in wins after finishing with just one winning mark in Big Ten play since 2010. Has this program simply gone too stale under Ferentz?
As we mentioned with Florida State, it’s almost too obvious to mention Oregon here. No, the Ducks aren’t going to drastically fall off in 2015, but it’s going to be difficult to contend for a playoff spot with quarterback Marcus Mariota leaving for the NFL. Coach Mark Helfrich and coordinator Scott Frost will spend most of the preseason identifying a favorite under center and retooling a line that loses standouts Jake Fisher (OT) and center Hroniss Grasu. The defense played better in the second half of the season, but coordinator Don Pellum has a few areas to address this spring. The line loses end Arik Armstead, and the secondary must replace cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill, linebacker Tony Washington and safety Erick Dargan. The Ducks should be the favorite in the Pac-12 North next season, but this team likely slides from playoff contention into the 7-15 range in most preseason polls.
The Gamecocks were considered by some to be the favorite in the SEC East in 2014, but this program backtracked after recording three consecutive seasons of at least 11 wins. A win over Miami prevented South Carolina from its first losing record since 2003. While coach Steve Spurrier is one of the nation’s best, this program has a ton of personnel issues heading into 2015 and a turnaround in the win column may have to wait a year. Quarterback Dylan Thompson, running back Mike Davis, and offensive linemen Corey Robinson (LT) and A.J. Cann (LG) leave big shoes to fill on offense. The defense struggled mightily, giving up 6.2 yards per play and allowing 36.8 points per game in SEC contests. Youth played a part in South Carolina’s defensive struggles in 2014 and most of the depth chart returns next season, providing hope for a turnaround on the stat sheet. On the positive side, the Gamecocks are set to ink their fifth consecutive top 20 signing class – with a few critical defensive prospects – in early February. It’s hard to count out a Spurrier-coached team. But with Tennessee and Florida improving, South Carolina’s road to another East Division title (and improvement in the win column) just got tougher.
Let’s get this out of the way — Tim Raines is not Rickey Henderson.
You know that and I know that. But 45 percent of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America hold “not being Rickey Henderson” against Tim Raines.
This is backwards.
Henderson is unquestionably the best leadoff man in baseball’s history, but that fact should not count against Raines’ career and his case for enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Is the BBWAA going to hold it against Trevor Hoffman for not being Mariano Rivera on the 2016 vote? I doubt it.
So allow me to explain why Raines deserves to be in Cooperstown, even as “the second greatest leadoff man.”
The 5-foot-8, 160 pound, switch-hitting Raines became an everyday player with the National League’s Montreal Expos in 1981, turning heads with his basepath dominance and noticeable bat skills for a player just 21 years of age.
Raines spent 13 seasons north of the border as the Expos' offensive impetus and everyday left fielder. Of those 13 seasons, it was in his first full one in Montreal that Raines began to turn heads. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Raines led the NL with 71 stolen bases, posting a slash line of .304/.391./438, an OPS of .829, 135 OPS+, and piling up 137 total bases in just 88 games.
The first seven years of Raines' career would be nothing short of exemplary. From 1981 to 1987, Raines would post a slash line of .310/.396./448 with an OPS+ of 135, and would average 172 hits, 31 doubles, nine triples, nine home runs, 79 walks, and 72 stolen bases. During that seven-year run, Raines would make the NL All-Star team each year and receive MVP votes in six of those seven seasons.
Raines made his living on the basepaths, leading the NL in stolen bases four years in a row (1981-71SB, ’82-78SB, ’83-90SB, ’84-75SB) and stealing 70 or more bags six times, and 50 or more bags eight times. Raines' seven-year average from 1981-87 of 72 stolen bases is more than seven MLB teams had in all of 2014. Raines' 808 career steals rank fifth all-time, and his 85.1 stolen base percentage is first all-time for players with at least 300 attempts, making him arguably the most efficient base thief ever.
In his 13 seasons as an Expo, Raines amassed 2,355 total bases, 793 walks, 635 stolen bases, 281 doubles, 947 runs, a .829 OPS, an OPS+ of 131 and a slash line of .310/.391/.497.
According to baseball-reference.com, Raines’ career numbers compare closest to Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Max Carey, Enos Slaughter, and Fred Clarke. When compared to Brock, a first-ballot inductee, Raines has more home runs, RBIs, and walks, along with a higher batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, with 764 fewer strikeouts, a higher OPS+ and WAR rating, and was caught stealing 161 fewer times.
When compared to Carey, Slaughter, and Clarke, Raines’ case is even more concrete. Raines has more doubles, home runs, stolen bases, walks, and a higher WAR rating than all three.
Using the JAWS metric (created by Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe), Raines should have been put in the Hall long ago. JAWS uses career and seven-year peak WAR totals to show the worthiness of a player’s candidacy compared to those players who are of the same position and already in the Hall.
Raines is eighth in JAWS for left fielders, behind the likes of Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Ed Delahanty, and Al Simmons. Aside from Bonds and Rose, all of those players are in the Hall. Raines’ 55.8 JAWS rating is better than 14 other Hall of Fame left fielders, making his vindication all the more definite.
Raines’ career totals feature a slash line of .294/.385/.425, an .810 OPS, 123 OPS+, 3,771 total bases, 1,571 runs, 1,330 walks, 2,605 hits, and 430 doubles over 23 seasons and six teams.
It’s unfair that Raines’ career is often overlooked in comparison to Rickey Henderson’s. It’s also unfair that many voters withhold their votes for Raines because of his admitted cocaine use. Raines has acknowledged usage prior to and during games, and sliding head first for fear of breaking the packages kept in his back pocket of his baseball pants. Sadly, the use of drugs in the 1980s was not limited to only Raines, as use was rather widespread. Thankfully, Raines was able to ditch his habit early on in his career.
While the admitted drug abuse has seemingly hurt Raines, voters have also been shy about Raines’ lack of any major-season awards, and career milestone achievements aside from stolen bases. Raines lacked any raw power, never hitting more than 20 home runs in a season, and missed the 3,000 hit mark by 395. His resume is simply missing the pretty power numbers that voters crave.
Tim Raines has just two years remaining on the Hall of Fame ballot before his candidacy expires with the BBWAA and is brought before the Veteran’s Committee. Raines' highest vote percentage was in 2013 when he received 56.2 percent, but that declined to 55 percent after this past year’s election due to a loaded ballot.
Votes won’t come much easier for Raines on the 2016 ballot with newcomers Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman garnering votes with growing support for Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. Raines’ best bet might be with the Veteran’s Committee, but that doesn't take away from his fantastic career that is undoubtedly worthy of induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
- By Jake Rose
College football’s 2014 season is over, and it’s time to take a look back and review the teams, players and coaches before predicting what’s to come in 2015. The coaching carousel is always one of the hot topics every offseason. And as expected, the 20 new coaches from the 2014 season had a mixed bag of success.
Washington’s Chris Petersen and Penn State’s James Franklin were the two coaches getting the most preseason buzz as the top first-year hires. But Petersen and Franklin had their share of struggles in 2014, as the Huskies and Nittany Lions combined for an 15-12 mark. Both coaches are still a great fit for the long run at their respective programs, but the two coaches earning the highest marks in our eyes for their 2014 performance are Georgia Southern’s Willie Fritz and UAB’s Bill Clark.
Let’s take a look at how the first-year coaches performed and grade their debut:
Grading College Football's First-Year Coaches from 2014
1. Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
2014 Record: 9-3 (8-0 Sun Belt)
Georgia Southern made a splash in its FBS debut, finishing with a perfect 8-0 mark in the Sun Belt and 9-3 overall. The Eagles were close to even bigger things in the win column, as this team held its own against NC State (lost by one point) and was lost to Orange Bowl champion Georgia Tech by just four points. Fritz came to Georgia Southern after a successful stint at Sam Houston State and didn’t deviate from what made this program successful on the FCS level. The Eagles pounded away on the ground with their option attack on offense, leading the nation with an average of 379.9 yards rushing per game. Georgia Southern also finished first nationally with 55 rushing scores and lost only 12 turnovers all season. Due to the transition to the FBS ranks, the Eagles were ineligible for a postseason game. However, Georgia Southern is primed to become one of the top programs in the Sun Belt, and Fritz (146-65 as a head coach) is the right coach for the job.
Final Grade: A+
2. Bill Clark, UAB
2014 Record: 6-6 (4-4 C-USA)
Clark transformed a UAB program that won five games in its two previous years to a competitive squad and one that reached bowl eligibility (6-6) for the first time since 2004. The Blazers were significantly more competitive under Clark than previous coach Garrick McGee. UAB battled against Mississippi State (47-34), nearly defeated Marshall (23-18) and recorded a .500 mark in C-USA play for the first time since 2009. Both sides of the ball showed marked improvement, as the Blazers averaged 33.2 points per game (up from 26.3 in 2013), and the defense held opponents to 5.7 yards per play (vs. 7.2 in 2013). Despite a positive long-term outlook with Clark at the helm, UAB’s program was (wrongly) eliminated at the end of the year.
Final Grade: A+
3. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
2014 Record: 12-2 (7-1 Mountain West)
As a former player and assistant with the Broncos, Harsin is the perfect fit at Boise State. And if the first year was any indication of what’s to come, the Broncos are going to be a consistent top-25 team and play in major bowl games on a yearly basis. Boise State improved its win total by four games after finishing 2013 with an 8-5 mark and capped the year by winning the Mountain West Championship and the Fiesta Bowl over Arizona. The Broncos’ only losses came against Ole Miss in the opener (35-13) and a bizarre seven-turnover performance against Air Force. Harsin and coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. brought a spark to the offense, averaging 39.7 points per game (up from 37.5 in 2013), while Boise State’s defense held opponents to 5.2 yards per play. Harsin has to replace standout running back Jay Ajayi, but it’s hard to pick against the Broncos as the early favorites to win the Mountain West in 2015.
Final Grade: A
4. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Bobby Petrino’s return to the Louisville sideline went as expected. The Cardinals finished 9-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play in their ACC debut. The 23-21 loss to Virginia was the only puzzling defeat on the resume, with Louisville’s other three losses coming at the hands of Florida State, Clemson and Georgia – teams that combined for a 33-7 record. Petrino has room to grow the Cardinals’ offense in 2015 after averaging only 5.5 yards per play (eighth in ACC). However, the defense was among the best in the nation under the direction of first-year coordinator Todd Grantham. Louisville limited opponents to 4.8 yards per play and generated 30 turnovers (tied for 11th nationally).
Final Grade: A-
5. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky
2014 Record: 8-5 (4-4 C-USA)
Brohm was promoted to head coach after Bobby Petrino left Western Kentucky for Louisville. Prior to 2014, Brohm had no experience as a head coach on the FBS level. However, the Louisville native had an impressive debut. The Hilltoppers went 8-5 and lost four games by eight points or less. Brohm and coordinator Tyson Helton installed a wide-open offense and averaged 44.4 points per game behind quarterback Brandon Doughty’s 49 touchdown passes. The defense allowed nearly 40 points per game in 2014, which is one area for Brohm to address in the offseason if WKU is going to make a run at the C-USA title.
Final Grade: A-
6. Dino Babers, Bowling Green
2014 Record: 8-6 (5-3 MAC)
Babers was considered by Athlon Sports to be one of the top hires in the new coach cycle for 2014, and the former Eastern Illinois coach and long-time assistant didn’t disappoint. Bowling Green went 8-6 overall and won the MAC East despite losing starting quarterback Matt Johnson after the opener and dealing with a handful of injuries on defense. The Falcons lost their final three games but rebounded to win the bowl matchup over South Alabama. Babers wants to implement a “Falcon Fast” approach on offense, and Bowling Green’s passing attack should be better in 2015 with Johnson back under center.
Final Grade: B+
7. Steve Sarkisian, USC
2014 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12
Sarkisian’s first season at USC wasn’t perfect. But the Trojans won nine games, including a 49-14 pounding of Notre Dame and 28-26 win over Pac-12 South champ Arizona in early October. A 9-4 mark in Sarkisian’s debut certainly wasn’t awful, but USC lost three games by six points or less and was soundly defeated 38-20 by rival UCLA. Of particular concern were the Trojans’ losses to Boston College and Arizona State, games where USC was favored by double digits. Depth in the program has been a concern with scholarship sanctions, but the Trojans are finally able to sign a full class in 2015. With quarterback Cody Kessler and a solid group of young players returning on both sides of the ball returning, USC could be the favorite in the Pac-12 South next year.
Final Grade: B
8. Charlie Strong, Texas
2014 Record: 6-7 (5-4 Big 12)
Strong is trying to change the culture of the program, and it’s evident through roster attrition he’s trying to eliminate some of the weak links and bad apples. Although Texas and Strong want to finish better than 6-7, the Longhorns overcame the loss of starting quarterback David Ash and a shuffled offensive line due to suspensions and injuries to get to a bowl. Strong’s specialty is on defense, so it was no surprise Texas limited opponents to just 4.7 yards per play. Defense should always be a strength in Austin under Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford’s watch, but the offense has to take a step forward. Is Tyrone Swoopes the right answer at quarterback? This program is trending in the right direction. However, it may take another year or two before Texas is ready to contend for a Big 12 title again.
Final Grade: B
9. James Franklin, Penn State
2014 Record: 7-6 (2-6 Big Ten)
Much like USC’s Steve Sarkisian, Franklin is trying to juggle a roster through NCAA sanctions. According to Franklin, Penn State had only 41 scholarship players available for the Pinstripe Bowl. Most teams have around 85 scholarship players on the roster. The Nittany Lions started 4-0 but slipped to 4-4 and lost three out of their final five regular season games. A bowl win over Boston College gave Franklin’s team momentum heading into the offseason, and improved scholarship numbers should help the team address one of its glaring concerns – the offensive line. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg was constantly pressured all season, and the line surrendered 44 sacks. After losing four games by seven points or less, it’s reasonable to expect Penn State to improve by a game or two in the win column next season. And it certainly doesn’t hurt the Nittany Lions’ 2015 outlook that coordinator Bob Shoop was retained after interest from LSU.
Final Grade: B
10. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
2014 Record: 7-6 (5-3 Sun Belt)
Anderson was Arkansas State’s fifth coach in five years, yet the Red Wolves continued to have success by recording their fourth consecutive winning record. Considering the recent coaching transition and personnel losses heading into 2014, it’s no surprise Arkansas State took a small step back in the win column (8-5 in 2013 to 7-6 in '14). However, two of this team’s defeats came at the hands of Power 5 opponents (Tennessee and Miami), and the Red Wolves lost by five to an Appalachian State team that caught fire in the second half of the year. Anderson’s background on offense was showcased, as Arkansas State ranked second in the Sun Belt by averaging 36.7 points per game. Quarterback Fredi Knighten earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2014, and his return should make the Red Wolves one of the front-runners for the conference title. Based on the 2014 season, all signs suggest Anderson is the right coach to keep Arkansas State as one of the top programs in the Sun Belt.
Final Grade: B
11. Mark Whipple, UMass
2014 Record: 3-9 (3-5 MAC)
Whipple’s return to Amherst generated a two-game improvement in the win column and a team that was significantly more competitive in the MAC. The Minutemen gave Colorado (41-38) and Vanderbilt (34-31) a scare and lost three conference games by a touchdown or less. The loss of quarterback Blake Frohnapfel against Toledo prevented UMass from having a chance at winning its final two games (Akron and Buffalo). Whipple’s return also helped the Minutemen improve an offense that averaged just 4.3 yards per play in 2013. UMass averaged 5.8 yards per play in 2014, and Frohnapfel led the MAC by recording 334.5 passing yards per game. Whipple is clearly the right coach for the Minutemen, and his return comes at a critical time for a program that does not have a conference home slated for 2016 and beyond.
Final Grade: B-
12. Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
2014 Record: 2-10 (2-6 MAC)
Martin inherited a mess and a team coming off an 0-12 record, but the RedHawks showed improvement in 2014 and finished with two wins. And with a few breaks here and there, Miami (Ohio) could have won a few more games, as Martin’s team lost five games by eight points or less. To provide an immediate boost in the win column, Martin turned to a few graduate transfers, and quarterback Andrew Hendrix (27 total TDs) and tight end Alex Welch (former Notre Dame players) were two of the team’s top offensive weapons. And the coaching staff also unearthed cornerback Quinten Rollins (a RedHawk basketball player), and the senior emerged as a NFL prospect. Martin has a lot of work to do in 2015, as Hendrix must be replaced, and the RedHawks have to find answers for a defense that allowed 33.9 points per game in MAC contests.
Final Grade: B-
13. Chris Petersen, Washington
2014 Record: 8-6 (4-5 Pac-12)
High expectations surrounded Petersen after he left Boise State for Washington. In eight years as the Broncos’ head coach, Petersen went 92-12 and led the program to two BCS bowl wins. The Huskies were optimistic Petersen was the right coach to elevate the program after Steve Sarkisian went 34-29 in five seasons in Seattle. But things didn’t go according to preseason expectations. Petersen finished his Washington debut at 8-6, which included a loss to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl and a last-minute defeat against Arizona. The Huskies were loaded with talent in the front seven on defense, and even with a young secondary, this unit limited Pac-12 opponents to 24 points per game. The main area of focus for Petersen this offseason should be on offense. Washington averaged only 5.4 yards per play and needs more production from the quarterback position. Finishing 8-6 isn’t necessarily a disappointment, but Petersen’s debut was a little underwhelming after most considered him to be one of the offseason’s top hires.
Final Grade: B-
14. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
2014 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)
As expected, 2014 was a struggle for Wake Forest in Clawson’s first year. The Demon Deacons had major question marks at quarterback, running back, receiver and on the offensive line. Considering all of the personnel concerns, Clawson knew 2014 was a rebuilding year and handed the keys to the offense to freshman quarterback John Wolford. Wake Forest averaged only 3.4 yards per play and a paltry 14.8 points per game. The defense was the team’s bright spot and was better than the numbers showed in 2014. Clawson is a proven winner as a head coach, enjoying success at three different programs prior to coming to Wake Forest. Although 2014 was a struggle, most of the team’s problems weren’t going to be fixed in one offseason. Expect the Demon Deacons to take a step forward in 2015.
Final Grade: B-
15. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
2014 Record: 4-8 (2-6 Mountain West)
Bohl is going to win at a high level at Wyoming, but it’s going to take the former North Dakota State coach a few years to build the program into a consistent winner. The Cowboys started 3-1 but finished the season with just one victory over the final eight games. Three of the defeats came by 10 points or less, so there’s hope for a few more wins next year with small improvement on both sides of the ball. Wyoming struggled to find consistency in the passing game, recording only nine touchdown tosses during Mountain West play. And despite eight returning starters, the defense allowed 6.8 yards per play in conference action. Considering the scheme changes on both sides of the ball, a year of transition was expected. However, Bohl has a track record of success, and Wyoming should be in contention for a bowl in 2015.
Final Grade: C+
16. Jeff Monken, Army
2014 Record: 4-8
Winning at West Point is no easy task. Army has just one winning season since 1997 and has lost at least eight games in four consecutive years. With a background in running the option offense, Monken should be a good fit with the Black Knights over the long haul. And this program took a small step forward by winning four games in 2014, which was the highest mark since recording seven in '10. Army beat UConn, yet lost to Yale in overtime. The Black Knights were competitive (lost by seven) against Navy, so there are signs of optimism for Monken heading into spring practice. Tough job, but Monken’s the right coach.
Final Grade: C+
17. Charlie Partridge, FAU
2014 Record: 3-9 (2-6, C-USA)
Partridge was a highly-regarded assistant prior to his hire as FAU’s head coach, and the Florida native was known as an excellent recruiter within the state of Florida. Partridge’s ties to the high school ranks should help the Owls on the recruiting trail, and FAU is set to sign one of the top classes in C-USA for 2015. Partridge’s first season as the Owls’ head coach resulted in a three-game regression in the win column. FAU went from 6-6 in 2013 to 3-9 and won only two conference games. The Owls did lose four games by three points or less, so a couple of breaks the other way could have resulted in a 6-6 or 5-7 mark. If Partridge continues to recruit at a high level, FAU will be one of the annual contenders in C-USA’s East Division.
Final Grade: C+
18. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
2014 Record: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)
The bar was set high for Mason after James Franklin guided Vanderbilt to three consecutive bowl games. And the Commodores were due to regress in the win column after returning only eight starters for 2014. However, Mason’s debut was a bigger struggle than most anticipated. Vanderbilt failed to win a SEC game for the first time since 2009 and its only wins came against UMass, Old Dominion and Charleston Southern. After the three-win season, Mason isn’t sitting idle. The staff has been revamped, starting with both coordinator positions. Andy Ludwig (formerly of Wisconsin) replaces Karl Dorrell as the offensive play-caller, and Mason will handle the defensive signals. According to Vanderbilt’s game notes, the Commodores played 31 true or redshirt freshmen in 2014. That’s a good sign for the future, and Mason’s staff shuffling should be a positive for this program. Winning at Vanderbilt isn’t easy, and Mason was faced with a tough task to begin with given Franklin's three-year run. Mason needs a little time to develop some of the program’s young players before contending for a bowl.
Final Grade: D
19. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
2014 Record: 2-10 (1-7 MAC)
Eastern Michigan is the toughest job on the FBS level. This program has only one winning season (1995) since 1990. Considering the difficulty of winning at Eastern Michigan, it’s unfair to judge Creighton based on one year. As expected in 2014, the Eagles didn’t have much success in the win column. Eastern Michigan recorded only one win in conference play and narrowly defeated Morgan State (31-28) for its only other victory of the season. Prior to taking over in Ypsilanti, Creighton went 42-22 at Drake (FCS), 63-15 at Wabash (Div. III) and 32-9 at Ottawa (NAIA). That experience should pay off in rebuilding Eastern Michigan, as it’s going to take Creighton another year or two to get this program competitive in the MAC West.
Final Grade: D
20. Bob Diaco, UConn
2014 Record: 2-10 (1-7 American Athletic)
Diaco was a highly-regarded assistant coach prior to taking the top spot in Storrs. The New Jersey native won the 2012 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant and helped to coordinate one of college football’s best defenses when Notre Dame played in the national championship game in 2012. Despite his success as an assistant, it was a tough go in Diaco’s first season as UConn’s head coach. The Huskies won only two games – Stony Brook (by three points) and a 37-29 victory over UCF – and finished the year on a four-game losing streak. During that late-season skid, UConn dropped its finale to SMU, arguably one of the worst teams in the nation in 2014. In fairness to Diaco, he didn’t inherit much to work with. The Huskies had major offensive line issues, uncertainty at quarterback and a defense with just five returning starters. It’s hard to find improvement in UConn’s 2014 season. But Diaco inherited a mess and needs more than a year to right the ship.
Final Grade: D
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is leaving Eugene for the NFL after three seasons as the Ducks’ starting signal-caller. The Heisman Trophy winner declared for the NFL Draft on Wednesday and finished his career at Oregon as arguably the top player in school history. With Mariota moving onto the NFL, there are big shoes to fill under center for the Ducks in 2015.
During his three-year run as Oregon’s No. 1 quarterback, Mariota threw for 10,796 yards and 105 touchdowns. He also rushed for 2,237 yards and 29 scores. While those numbers are impressive, the biggest asset of Mariota in the Ducks’ offense was his efficiency. He finished his career with just 14 interceptions on 1,167 attempts and completed 66.8 percent of his throws. Mariota also averaged 13.9 yards per completion over the last three years.
With Mariota gone, the focus shifts to the next crop of quarterbacks in Eugene. Coach Mark Helfrich and coordinator Scott Frost have done a nice job of picking up where Chip Kelly left off, and now it’s up to the staff to find the next star quarterback. While Mariota’s production is impossible to replace, the Ducks have one of the nation’s top offensive systems and an array of talented skill players. Frost is also a bright play-caller and Oregon’s offense will again be one of the best in the Pac-12 in 2015.
Let’s take a look at what’s next for the Ducks at quarterback next year:
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Lockie has to enter the spring as the favorite to replace Mariota. He was listed as the backup on the depth chart in 2014 and completed 29 of 41 passes for 264 yards and one score over the last two seasons. Lockie was a three-star recruit coming out of high school and has 32 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in his Oregon career.
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Alie is a walk-on from Eugene and has yet to attempt a pass in two seasons with the Ducks. A longshot to win the job.
2015 Year of Eligibility: Redshirt Freshman
Mahalak was rated as a four-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite (No. 228 nationally) in the 2014 signing class. After a year learning the offense as a redshirt, Mahalak should be ready to compete for the starting job. The California native completed 61.5 percent of his throws and rushed for 575 yards as a high school senior in 2013.
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Griffin was recruited as an athlete to Georgia Tech and transferred to Eugene after one season. The sophomore is a talented athlete and spent 2014 working with the scout team. Griffin’s brother (Taj) is a top-100 recruit as an all-purpose back in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled early with the Ducks for spring practice.
The wild card: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Miller has one year of eligibility remaining, and there are plenty of rumblings the senior will transfer for an opportunity to start in 2015. With J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones likely entrenched as the top quarterbacks in Columbus, playing time could be limited if Miller returns to Ohio State. If Miller decides to transfer, LSU, Florida State and Oregon have been mentioned as potential landing spots. There’s some risk involved with the senior, as he is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and may not participate in practice until the fall. Despite the shoulder concerns, Miller would be a good fit in Oregon’s offense. Will he transfer to Eugene or stick in Columbus? Miller’s home for 2015 should be a hot topic over the next few months.
Oregon has one quarterback committed for the 2015 signing class (as of Jan. 14)
4-Star by 247Sports Composite, No. 77 recruit nationally
When Waller arrives on campus, he’s the quarterback with the highest rank among recruiting experts. The California native committed to Oregon over Alabama in July. Here’s a good scouting report on the incoming freshman.
The Supporting Cast
Three key starters are gone on the offensive line – Jake Fisher, Hroniss Grasu and Hamani Stevens – but the skill talent is among the best in the nation. The Ducks return Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner at running back, while the receiving corps is loaded with Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington, Byron Marshall, Bralon Addison and Devon Allen coming back in 2015.
Lockie has to be the slight favorite based on his experience over the last two years and practice time running the Oregon offense. While the guess here is Lockie takes the first snap of 2015, Braxton Miller’s decision could alter this outlook. If Miller transfers to Eugene, he would replace Lockie as the favorite as the Ducks’ No. 1 quarterback. Waller and Mahalak are talented, but both players may be a year away from winning the starting job. Let’s go with Lockie as the favorite, but keep a close watch on Miller’s transfer destination this spring.
But the continued escalation of their visible, nearly comic dysfunction keeps bringing the Cavs back to the front pages. Nothing grabs our attention quite like a car crash, and that’s what seems to be happening in Cleveland.
After LeBron James returned from a two-week absence against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, all things Cavs jumped to a whole new level of acrimony. James shoved head coach David Blatt aside during a dispute with a referee, while assistant Tyronn Lue — the man most famous for being stepped over by Allen Iverson, during an iconic NBA Finals performance in 2001 — was caught calling timeouts behind Blatt’s back. Many speculate that if Blatt is about to be fired (a prospect his front office has said is not looming), Lue is next in line.
Lmaoooo pic.twitter.com/NopgVnIVP4— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) January 14, 2015
While general manager David Griffin has recently called the idea of Blatt being on the hot seat “truly ridiculous,” it’s hard to completely believe him. LeBron’s shove aside, Lue’s presence aside … things are simply combustible between Blatt and his team.
There’s no denying that they’ve played an offensive style well removed from the Princeton playbook Blatt is known for, opting instead for a swath of isolation ball and pick-and-roll action. The roster has also clearly coasted through large portions of the season, including their current 1-9 slide — a mark that’s unacceptable for a team this talented, with or without their best player. The Cavs are adrift, and they’re tuning their coach out.
Some Cleveland players, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, are even advocating for Blatt’s removal. “Cavs players [are] openly talking about coaching issues with opposing players and personnel. Not once, not twice, but frequently over the past several months,” Windhorst reports.
In this man’s opinion, the Cavs’ seemingly sinking ship is something of a temporary illusion, and Blatt's job is safe at least until the summer. While the mud is certainly hitting the fan right now, there’s more than enough time and talent to clean it up, even if Cleveland can’t get themselves quite as shiny as the Larry O’Brien championship trophy in year one.
— John Wilmes
The ink is barely dry on the 2014 season and Athlon Sports is continuing its too early look at what is assured to be another stellar season of upsets, broken records and historic storylines.
Considering Marcus Mariota became the first preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in more than a decade, here is a quick look at the potential frontrunners for the stiff-armed trophy in 2015:
Championship Signal Callers
Generally, quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy. In fact, only twice since Ron Dayne in 1999 has a non-quarterback (aka, running back) won the Heisman Trophy (Reggie Bush, Mark Ingram). Of those 13 signal-callers, nine of them played in the national championship game in the same year. Odds are, the '15 Heisman winner will be in this category.
Trevone Boykin, TCU
'14 Stats: 3,901 yds, 33 TD, 10 INT, 707 rush yds, 8 TD
With revamped play-calling and coaching on offense, the former wide receiver blossomed into one of the nation's most dynamic players. He nearly led TCU into the college football playoff and will return with a team that's expected to be the favorite in the Big 12 next year.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
'14: Stats: 3,449 yds, 27 TD, 11 INT, 986 rush yds, 14 TD
Prescott announced his intentions to return to school in 2015 and has a chance to lead Mississippi State to an SEC West title. He already owns every major school single-season record and could easily be the best player in the best league next fall.
Someone, Ohio State
A quarterback is going to be a Heisman Trophy candidate at Ohio State but who that might be is still up in the air. Cardale Jones just led his team to a national championship, J.T. Barrett set school and Big Ten records before getting hurt and don't forget about Braxton Miller.
Cody Kessler, USC
'14 Stats: 3,826 yds, 39 TD, 5 INT, 2 rush TD
The USC passer quietly posted one of the best seasons in college football and did it surrounded by freshmen and injuries. He plays a premium position at a school known for producing Heisman winners and Trojans could be a playoff team and Pac-12 frontrunner.
Connor Cook, Michigan State
'14 Stats: 3,214 yds, 24 TD, 8 INT, 2 rush TD
The top challenger to Ohio State in the Big Ten in the third-year starter. He's an NFL prospect for a reason. He's efficient, he's a winner and he's a leader. He's 24-3 with 49 total touchdowns and just 14 interceptions in the last two years.
Other QBs to Watch:
Deshaun Watson, Clemson; Anu Solomon, Arizona; Brad Kaaya, Miami; Josh Dobbs, Tennessee; Christian Hackenberg, Penn State; Jared Goff, Cal; Seth Russell, Baylor; Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech; Marquise Williams, North Carolina; Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Year of the Running Back
The only non-QB to win the Heisman since '99 was Bush in '05 and Ingram in '09 — both of whom played in the national championship game on the best team in the nation. But with one of the greatest freshman running back classes in recent memory — especially, for elite teams — this could be the year a RB takes home the coveted Heisman Trophy. One look at the top returning rushers makes it easy to see why a RB could break through in '15:
Never Appreciated Wide Receivers
Individual Defensive Players
A few nights after Pau Gasol dropped 46 points on the Milwaukee Bucks, a far more unsung player has trumped the Spaniard. In a consummate heat-check performance, journeyman Minnesota Timberwolves guard Mo Williams scored 52 points against the Indiana Pacers last night.
"You are just in a zone, you don't really see anybody," Williams told reporters after the game. "You just go back to the places when you are in the gym by yourself with your own trainer. You are just shooting shots and it doesn't matter where the defense is at.”
Williams shot a scintillating 19-for-33 from the field, including 6-of-11 from beyond the arc.
The performance harkened back to when Corey Brewer — another journeyman — poured in 51 for the ‘Wolves last year.
For Minnesota, Williams’ show in a 110-101 road victory stands as a shiny spot in a dim year. Starters Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic have missed a combined 60 games, and Minnesota has been an unanchored mess of young prospects without them. Andrew Wiggins has surged into the lead spot of the Rookie of the Year race with Jabari Parker sidelined, but otherwise the 6-31 Wolves have been hard to watch, looking more like a farm team than anything nearing a playoff contender.
For the Pacers? It’s a speed bump in a long row of them in 2014-15. Losing Paul George for the year was bad enough, but the team has also had Rubio-esque health from the rest of their roster, to go with the rapid decline of power forward David West. Coach Frank Vogel is one of the best in the business, and the Pacers are seriously scrappy; but there just aren't enough talented, functional bodies around Indy these days.
Williams, the star of a Tuesday night on which former teammate LeBron James returned to action against the Phoenix Suns, has just put out a hell of an audition tape for contenders looking to trade for more firepower.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 14:
• Here's a slideshow of Ohio State fans in Zeke Elliott-style crop-top jerseys. Warning: Most of them are dudes.
• What is it with British royals and NBA royalty? Now it's Melo rubbing shoulders with Harry.
• Kurt Busch says his ex-girlfriend is a trained assassin. If that's the case, probably not smart to slam her head into the wall, as Busch is accused of doing.
• John Elway opened his press conference by thanking John Elway for his service. Rickey Henderson approves this message.
• Ryan Suter delivered a nasty elbow to Steve Downie's face.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
A little more than a month ago, Detroit was 3-18, and ranked dead last in Athlon’s power rankings, among others. Now winners of nine of their last 10 games, they’re nipping at the heels of East playoff teams, rapidly digging themselves out of the hole they dug with an improving 14-24 record.
By waiving underperforming forward Josh Smith, head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy did a lot to change the Pistons’ culture; a power move like that will surely garner the troops’ attention.
But sending Smith out the door is ultimately just one facet of Detroit’s turnaround, with the rest of their roster stepping up their games considerably. Point guard Brandon Jennings, more than anyone on his squad, has hit heights many doubted he had in him.
The 6’1” dynamo is playing the best basketball of his life, making true on much of the potential flashed just more than four years ago, when he was 21 years old and scored 55 points in one game while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. Freed up in the offensive gaps left by the jettisoned Smith, and making the most of Van Gundy’s tutelage, Jennings is on fire.
In January, Brandon’s averaging 22.7 points per game on 47 percent shooting, to go with 7.2 assists. If he keeps numbers like that up — a dubious prospect, to be sure — there won’t be any denying that Jennings has become an elite NBA point guard.
And while such scintillating numbers probably aren’t sustainable, it’s clear that he’s taking a big step up with his game, and deserves more than a little respect in the race for the Most Improved Player trophy.
— John Wilmes
College football’s 2014 season is officially in the books. The new four-team playoff was a success, and the new postseason format resulted in Ohio State claiming a 42-20 win over Oregon in the national championship. The Buckeyes are the favorites to repeat next season, but winning back-to-back college football national championships isn’t easy. While kickoff for the 2015 season is still months away, it’s never too early to start looking at rosters, depth charts and coaching changes for teams poised to make a jump in the rankings next year.
With a few months to dissect rosters, opinions can change on teams – perhaps a couple of times in the offseason.
What teams have our attention for 2015? Arizona State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Tennessee get the nod as our top five teams on the rise, but keep a close eye on Arkansas and Michigan next year.
College Football’s Top Five Teams on the Rise for 2015
With only eight returning starters (and just two on defense), most considered 2014 a rebuilding year for Arizona State. The Sun Devils ranked No. 19 in the first Associated Press poll but finished one win away from playing for the Pac-12 Championship for the second year in a row. The Sun Devils have recorded back-to-back seasons of double-digit victories for the first time since 1972-73, and this team could rank among the top 10-15 in the nation in preseason polls. Quarterback Taylor Kelly will be missed, but Mike Bercovici (12 TDs, 4 INTs) has played well when called upon. Outside of getting Bercovici acclimated to being the full-time starter, the offense has to replace top receiver Jaelen Strong and left tackle Jamil Douglas. Strong and Douglas are big losses, but the Sun Devils have a deep stable of running backs, and talented junior college recruit Eric Lauderdale is ready to contribute after a redshirt year. Despite returning only two starters on defense, Arizona State ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in sacks generated (39) and held opponents to 27.9 points per game. There’s plenty of optimism about this group for 2015 with two just senior starters departing. The Sun Devils also have a favorable path to a South Division title, featuring home games against USC, Oregon, Washington and Arizona.
Since reaching the national championship in 2012, Notre Dame is 17-9 in the last two seasons and finished 2014 by losing five out of its last seven games. While those two numbers are reason to doubt the Fighting Irish, there’s a lot to like about this team in 2015. Most of the depth chart is intact on both sides of the ball, and the return of end Ishaq Williams and cornerback KeiVarae Russell should bolster a defense that struggled in the second half of the season. Malik Zaire’s performance (12 of 15, 96 yards, 1 TD and 96 rush yards) in the Music City Bowl was promising, and the young quarterback should enter spring practice as the favorite to take the opening snap of 2015. Regardless of whether it’s Zaire or Everett Golson under center, the supporting cast will be solid. Notre Dame returns its top four statistical receivers, Tarean Folston (889 yards) is back running back, and the offensive line has four starters in place, including standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Fixing the defense will be coach Brian Kelly’s top priority this spring, as the Fighting Irish gave up at least 30 points in seven out of their last eight games. On the positive side for Kelly, Notre Dame’s defense was hit hard by injuries and is due for better luck in that department next season. The schedule is tough, but the Fighting Irish has the personnel to be a darkhorse contender for a playoff spot next season.
Under coach Mike Gundy’s watch, Oklahoma State has won at least nine games in five out of the last seven seasons. The Cowboys are coming off a 7-6 mark in 2014, which was no surprise considering the team entered the year with just seven returning starters and lost around 30 seniors from the 2013 squad. After a 5-1 start, Oklahoma State lost five in a row and needed an upset win over Oklahoma in the regular-season finale to reach the postseason. The Cowboys won their bowl game over Washington to finish with a winning record for the ninth consecutive year. While 2014 was a step back in the win column, the arrow is pointing up on Oklahoma State next season. True freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph was pressed into action due to injuries and passed for 853 yards and six touchdowns over the final three games. Rudolph should benefit from a full spring to work as the starter, and the young signal-caller is surrounded by talent at receiver, including five of the top six statistical options from 2014. The biggest concerns on offense remain up front (40 sacks allowed last year) and at running back. The defense has to replace tackles James Castleman and Ofa Hautau and linebacker Josh Furman, but end Emmanuel Ogbah and linebacker Ryan Simmons lead a unit that returns largely intact. And with a team that will be developing and improving as the season progresses in 2015, Oklahoma State should benefit by playing its three toughest games (TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma) at home in Stillwater in November next year.
Georgia is the early favorite in the SEC’s East Division next year, but is Tennessee the biggest threat to the Bulldogs’ championship hopes? It’s certainly possible. The Volunteers are making steady progress under coach Butch Jones, improving their win total by two games from 2013 to 2014. And Jones was able to move the program forward in the win column despite playing 23 true freshmen – the most in the nation – this season. Recruiting is going well for Tennessee, so there’s another group of talented players headed to Knoxville to replenish the roster in time for the 2015 season. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd lead the way on offense, and the receiving corps should benefit from a healthy Marquez North. The offensive line was an inexperienced group in 2014 and struggled with five new starters. However, this unit only loses tackle Jacob Gillam and should improve with an offseason to jell as a group. The defense allowed 27.1 points per game in SEC contests last season, but there’s reason to believe this could be one of the most improved groups in the conference next year, especially with the continued development of end Derek Barnett.
Texas A&M’s win total under coach Kevin Sumlin has dropped in back-to-back years after recording an 11-2 mark in 2012. But there’s still plenty to like about the direction of this program, starting with the changes to the coaching staff. Since joining the SEC, Texas A&M has struggled mightily on defense and needs to fix that group to contend in the division. The Aggies took a big step forward on defense with the addition of veteran coordinator John Chavis. “The Chief” engineered some of the SEC’s top defenses in his tenure at LSU, and his experience in developing talent should pay dividends for Texas A&M with a front seven that’s littered with youth. In the first season without Johnny Manziel, the Aggies averaged 35.2 points per game. That number could climb in 2015 with Kyle Allen’s development at quarterback, as well as the return of a talented receiving corps featuring Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. With another top 10 recruiting class headed to College Station, the talent level and depth at Texas A&M is only going to get better.
Eight Teams on the Rise - The Next Tier
The Razorbacks nearly made the cut as one of our top five teams on the rise for 2015. In coach Bret Bielema’s second season, Arkansas may have been a year ahead of schedule. The Razorbacks used a powerful ground attack and improved defense to reach the postseason, elevating expectations for eight or nine wins next year. Coordinator Robb Smith has his work cut out on defense with the departure of talented linemen Darius Philon and Trey Flowers. The formula for success on offense won’t change much, but Arkansas will have a new play-caller after the departure of Jim Chaney to Pittsburgh. The offensive line is among the best in the nation, and a healthy Brandon Allen at quarterback made a difference for the Razorbacks in 2014. This team could finish seventh in the SEC West next year, yet rank among the top 20-25 in the nation based on the strength of the division.
The Golden Bears just missed out on a bowl (5-7) after struggling to a 1-11 record in coach Sonny Dykes’ first season (2013). Taking the next step and reaching a bowl should be a reasonable goal for California in 2015, especially since talented quarterback Jared Goff returns after throwing for 3,973 yards and 35 touchdowns. Chris Harper left for the NFL, but the receiving corps isn’t hurting for talent. Running back Daniel Lasco might be the Pac-12’s most underrated player. Fixing the defense remains a work in progress for Dykes and an instant fix after allowing 44.1 points in nine Pac-12 games is unlikely.
Tom Herman was one of the top hires of the 2014-15 coaching carousel, and his background on offense should pay dividends for Houston next season. Junior quarterback Greg Ward recorded at least 350 total yards in back-to-back games to close out the year, and Herman thrived at Ohio State by coaching dual-threat options like Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. Herman has to restock the receiving corps with the departure of Deontay Greenberry to the NFL, but 1,000-yard rusher Kenneth Farrow is back next year.
The Wildcats fell one win short of reaching the postseason in coach Mark Stoops’ second year. However, optimism is running high in Lexington. Kentucky lost its final six games, but Stoops and his staff have closed the gap between the Wildcats and the rest of the East. Recruiting has improved since Stoops’ arrival, and Kentucky returns a handful of key offensive contributors, including quarterback Patrick Towles, running backs Boom Williams and Braylon Heard, along with receiver Ryan Timmons. The biggest personnel issues for Stoops to address in the spring are on defense. Ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith must be replaced, and safety Ashely Lowery expired his eligibility after recording 48 stops in 2014.
Make no mistake: Michigan has its share of personnel concerns to address for 2015. However, Jim Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor should be worth a couple of victories for the Wolverines. Harbaugh hired an outstanding staff, including former Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. Linebacker Jake Ryan must be replaced, but Durkin’s arrival (and keeping Greg Mattison on staff) should help Michigan field one of the Big Ten’s top defenses. The offense is a work in progress, but this is Harbaugh’s area of expertise. Expect to see some improvement from the Wolverines on that side of the ball in 2015.
The Wolfpack improved their win total by five games from 2013 to 2014. With quarterback Jacoby Brissett and running back Shadrach Thornton returning, NC State could take another step forward in the win column in 2015. There are personnel concerns for coach Dave Doeren, as both starting offensive tackles (Rob Crisp and Tyson Chandler) and key defenders (end Art Norman, tackle Thomas Teal and linebacker Rodman Noel) must be replaced. The receiving corps needs a new go-to target to emerge after Bo Hines transferred after a standout freshman campaign.
With a favorable schedule in place, there was hope in Blacksburg for Virginia Tech to contend for the Coastal Division title. But perhaps those title hopes were a year ahead of schedule. The Hokies were a young team in 2014 and suffered two huge injury setbacks on defense with the loss of cornerback Brandon Facyson and tackle Luther Maddy early in the season. There’s promising talent at the skill positions, but the offense won’t improve unless Michael Brewer cuts down on interceptions (15) and the line provides more protection. A key schedule note for Virginia Tech next season: The Hokies won’t have to play Florida State, Louisville or Clemson in crossover play.
With Marshall losing several key players, Western Kentucky could be the team to beat in C-USA’s East Division. The Hilltoppers went 8-5 in coach Jeff Brohm’s first season and return prolific quarterback Brandon Doughty (49 TDs) and receivers Jared Dangerfield and Taywan Taylor in 2015. The defense allowed 39.9 points per game last season, but only two seniors were listed as starters on the Bahamas Bowl depth chart.
Generally, any championship in any sport is a long, arduous tale of adversity and perseverance filled with unpredictable success and joy.
Ohio State's journey to the first college football national championship via a playoff is improbable and well deserved all at the same time. But the dominating championship in which Ohio State lost the turnover battle (minus-three) but still totally controlled the game didn't just fall into Urban Meyer's lap. It was well earned throughout an entire season of hard work, difficult decisions and brutal injuries.
Had any of the following moments not taken place, who knows, maybe Ohio State wouldn't be the '14 National Champions. Here are the 10 biggest moments of one of the most historic seasons in college football history.
Aug. 18: Braxton Miller is lost for the season
This injury cannot be overstated. Miller was a Heisman Trophy front-runner who had totaled 2,094 yards passing, 1,068 yards rushing, 36 touchdowns and just seven interceptions the year before. Miller and Meyer were 24-0 in the regular season together and the Buckeyes' expected starting QB was lost for the year before it even got started.
Aug. 30: J.T. Barrett's first TD
In his first career start and the season opener for the team many considered the favorite in the Big Ten, J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes were trailing Navy 14-13 with just 4:10 minutes left. But the redshirt freshman then found Devin Smith for an 80-yard, go-ahead touchdown. It was Barrett's first career touchdown and it led to an eventual 34-17 win.
Sept. 6: The Pick-Six
In just his second start behind an offensive line that had yet to gel, Barrett is harassed all night long by the Virginia Tech Hokies. Down by seven with a minute to play, Barrett and the Bucks still had a chance to come back. However, the OSU quarterback was intercepted by Donovan Riley, who returned the pick for a game-clinching touchdown with 46 seconds left. Most (myself included) left the Buckeyes for dead.
Oct. 25: The overtime sack
Joey Bosa, who would go on to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, made his presence felt with 3.5 sacks against Penn State in front of a sold-out "White Out" home crowd in Happy Valley. With the season hanging in the balance in double overtime, Bosa recorded his third and final sack to clinch the win on the game's final play.
Nov. 8: Barrett's final blow
In the biggest game of the year and with the East Division title hanging in the balance against then-No. 8 Michigan State and one of the best defenses in the land, Barrett put on a show. The QB threw for 300 yards, rushed for 86 yards and scored five touchdowns — the last of which was a seven-yard TD toss early in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach. The Bucks won 49-37.
Nov. 15: Wintry record-breaker
In what appeared to be the slowest 86-yard touchdown run in the history of football, Barrett outran the Minnesota secondary to give the Buckeyes a critical road win over a ranked opponent. It was one of three records Barrett broke in the game — long run by a QB, rushing yards in a game by a QB (189) and most TDs in a season (38). It was OSU's second straight and second overall win over a ranked foe at the time.
Nov. 29: First play of the fourth quarter
An emotional week that featured the tragic loss of teammate Kosta Karageorge ended with a costly victory in "The Game" over archrival Michigan. On the first play of the fourth quarter of a one-score game, Barrett broke his ankle putting an end to his breakout season. Cardale Jones takes his place and in his first full drive as a starter, led OSU to a touchdown when Ezekiel Elliott broke a 44-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down call. The Bucks go on to pull away and easily defeat the school from up North.
Dec. 6: Jones adds a new dimension
Less than two minutes into the Big Ten Championship Game, Jones, making his first career start, connects with Devin Smith for a 39-yard touchdown. The throw shows off Jones' arm and his ability to stretch the field vertically. Ohio State would score 52 more points in the title game rout that would eventually land the Buckeyes in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Jan 1a: Evan Spencer-to-Michael Thomas trickery
After falling behind 21-6 halfway through the second quarter Ohio State made it a one-score game after a short Elliott TD run. Then with 12 seconds left in the half, Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman dialed up the best trick play in the history of the Sugar Bowl. An apparent end-around with an added wrinkle resulted in wide receiver Evan Spencer throwing a dart to Michael Thomas to make the score 21-20 at halftime.
Jan. 1b: Zeke seals the deal
Nursing a scant six-point lead with just over three minutes left in the game on a critical third down, Elliott breaks through a stacked box and rumbles 85 yards to seal a trip to the national title game.
Jan. 12: Final 11:33 of the third quarter
After a solid start to the first drive of the second half, Jones is picked off by Oregon's Danny Mattingly with 11:33 left in the third quarter. The Ducks promptly score on the next play, as Marcus Mariota finds Byron Marshall for a 70-yard score. Six plays into the ensuing drive; Jones does his best Jameis Winston impersonation by gifting the Ducks the football on the OSU 32-yard line. The Ducks use five plays to eventually kick a field goal and cut the lead to 21-20. But Ohio State finishes the heated third quarter with a dominating 12-play, 75-yard, drive that eats up 6:39 on the clock and ends with Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run on the final play of the quarter. The exchange gives Oregon every chance to take control but the Buckeyes survive two turnovers and answer back with a heavy-weight counterpunch.
The rest is history.
Less than 48 hours after the crowning of the 2014 national champion — congrats to the Ohio State Buckeyes by the way — we are already looking ahead to 2015.
Why not? After one of the most entertaining football seasons in history, why shouldn’t we be fired up about another year of upsets, records and overtime?
Here is a really, really early look at the top 25 games to look forward to in 2015:
|1.||Nov. 28||Auburn, AL|
|Iron Bowl could decide SEC West, SEC and playoff bid... again.|
|2.||Nov. 27||Ft. Worth, TX|
|Rivalry has blossomed into one of the best after dramatic '14 edition.|
|3.||Nov. 21||Eugene, OR|
|Elite programs in the Pac-12 offer a potential title game preview.|
|4.||Oct. 3||Athens, GA|
|Dawgs host the Tide Between the Hedges for the first time since '08.|
|5.||Sept. 12||E. Lansing, MI|
|The Spartans return Connor Cook and will be out for revenge at home.|
|6.||Nov. 28||Ann Arbor, MI|
|Jim Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer in The Big House? Yes, please.|
|7.||Sept. 19||Baton Rouge, LA|
|A trip to the bayou could be Auburn's toughest road test of the year.|
|8.||Nov. 7||Tuscaloosa, AL|
|SEC West heavyweight match never disappoints.|
|9.||Nov. 21||Norman, OK|
|Epic rematch could carry Big 12 title implications. This time, in Norman.|
|10.||Sept. 19||Tuscaloosa, AL|
|Is Ole Miss ready to challenge? Will Bama get revenge?|
|11.||Oct. 31||Auburn, AL|
|Two road trips into the Yellowhammer State will be nasty for the Rebels.|
|12.||Oct. 10||Dallas, TX|
|Already elite rivalry getting better as the Horns develop under Charlie Strong.|
|13.||Nov. 21||Oxford, MS|
|Late-season rivalry could have SEC West title implications.|
|14.||Nov. 21||Columbus, OH|
|Bucks-Sparty still top two teams in the Big Ten?|
|DeShaun Watson at home against rebuilt Seminoles for the division crown?|
|16.||Nov. 14||Starkville, MS|
|Tide top the long list of huge home games for HailState in '15.|
|17.||Oct. 17||South Bend, IN|
|Historic rivalry could be back to featuring two top 10 teams.|
|18.||Nov. 14||Auburn, AL|
|Deep South's Oldest Rivalry once again features two national title teams.|
|19.||Oct. 29||Tempe, AZ|
|Another potential Pac-12 Championship Game preview matchup.|
|20.||Sept. 5||South Bend, IN|
|First meeting since '96 for these two bluebloods.|
|21.||Nov. 28||Starkville, MS|
|Egg Bowl will again be one of the most important games in the SEC West.|
|22.||Sept. 12||Knoxville, TN|
|Awesome non-conference barometer test for two power programs.|
|23.||Nov. 21||Tempe, AZ|
|Territorial Cup decided the South in '14, could happen again in '15.|
|24.||Nov. 7||College Station, TX|
|One of the fastest developing rivalries in college football.|
|25.||Sept. 5||Arlington, TX|
|May not be close but a great Big Ten-SEC showdown to kickoff the season.|
Best of the Rest:
26. USC at Arizona St (Sept. 26)
27. Arizona St vs. Texas A&M (Houston, Sept. 5)
28. UCLA at USC (Nov. 28)
29. Auburn at Arkansas (Oct. 24)
30. Florida St at Florida (Nov. 28)
31. Alabama at Texas A&M (Oct. 17)
32. Oklahoma at Oklahoma St (Nov. 28)
33. Notre Dame at Clemson (Oct. 3)
34. LSU at Mississippi St (Sept. 12)
35. Oklahoma at Baylor (Nov. 14)
36. Arizona at USC (Nov. 7)
37. Florida vs. Georgia (Oct. 31)
38. Arizona St at UCLA (Oct. 3)
39. UCLA at Arizona (Sept. 26)
40. Louisville vs. Auburn (Atlanta, Sept. 5)
41. Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (Arlington, Sept. 26)
42. Georgia at Tennessee (Oct. 10)
43. Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 21)
44. Texas A&M at LSU (Nov. 28)
45. Florida at LSU (Oct. 17)
46. Michigan St at Michigan (Oct. 17)
47. Wisconsin at Minnesota (Nov. 28)
48. Miami at Florida St (TBA)
49. Texas A&M at Ole Miss (Oct. 24)
50. Arkansas at Alabama (Oct. 10)
For better or worse, Oklahoma will not be a victim of what we’re going to call the Oklahoma Effect.
This is the trend in which a lopsided bowl win leads to a team facing unattainable expectations the following year.
Why the Oklahoma Effect? The Sooners finished 2013 with a 45-31 win over then-No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl behind the play of quarterback Trevor Knight.
OU’s win over the powerhouse Crimson Tide led to almost everyone putting the Sooners into their playoff projection for 2014. As it turns out, that bowl win was fool’s gold. Oklahoma finished 8-5 and was out of the mix by early October. The 2014 calendar year began with such optimism for Bob Stoops and ended with the worst season of his career in Norman.
And we’re not just picking on Oklahoma. This could have been the West Virginia Effect only two seasons ago. And another team before that.
Bowl results are weird. Maybe one of these days we’ll learn our lesson and view a bowl result with more even-handed judgement.
This is our attempt to temper expectations for teams that might start 2015 in the overrated category because of one bowl result.
The result: Defeated Oklahoma 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Why we might overrate Clemson: The Tigers were one of the great stories of bowl season as senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, a longtime backup who eventually lost his starting job to a freshman, completed 26-of-36 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns. Stoudt is gone, but the quarterback of the future is here in Deshaun Watson. The Tigers, though, enter 2015 missing a few key pieces. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is off to SMU, and six of the top eight leading tacklers, not least of which linemen Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, were seniors. The string of four consecutive 10-win seasons may be in jeopardy.
The result: Defeated Louisville 37-14 in the Belk Bowl.
Why we might overrate Georgia: Rising sophomore Nick Chubb will be on the Heisman short list to start next season after a 266-yard effort against the Cardinals’ steady defense. Beyond Chubb, though, Georgia is starting over on offense with Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park entering a quarterback competition under a new offensive coordinator. The defense made major strides last season under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but four key seniors depart the front seven. The SEC West crossover schedule against Alabama and Auburn won’t be very forgiving.
The result: Defeated Mississippi State 49-34 in the Orange Bowl.
Why we might overrate Georgia Tech: Give the Yellow Jackets credit. They finished strong with wins over Clemson, Georgia and Mississippi State. A two-point loss to Florida State was the Jackets’ only loss in the final seven games. Hopes will be high for returning quarterback Justin Thomas and a defense with only four senior starters at the end of the year. A major question will be the departure of standout offensive guard Shaq Mason and the top four running backs.
The result: Defeated Minnesota 33-17 in the Citrus Bowl.
Why we might overrate Missouri: Call this one a market correction. After two seasons of underestimating Missouri only to watch the Tigers win the SEC East, Mizzou is sure to get the benefit of the doubt in 2015. Missouri might burn that leap of faith. The Tigers’ pass rush is going to take a hit without end Markus Golden and tackle Matt Hoch, who played alongside both Golden and Michael Sam. Quarterback Maty Mauk never really developed last season, including a 12-of-19 performance for 97 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the bowl. His top four receivers in 2014 were all seniors, leaving Nate Brown’s five catches as the most among returning wide receivers.
The result: Defeated Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Why we might overrate Tennessee: To be clear, Tennessee is on an upward trajectory. The Volunteers won four of their last five, the only loss by eight to Missouri, and they’re a player again in SEC recruiting. It may be tempting, then, to look at Tennessee as a top 25 team or SEC East contender. The backfield of Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd will be the headline names for Tennessee, but let’s pump the brakes on Tennessee until the 2014 and 2015 signing classes rebuild the offensive and defensive lines.
The 2014 college football season just ended, but the upcoming 2015 campaign isn’t that far off. Bovada is getting a start on 2015 by releasing early championship odds for next season.
Ohio State is a favorite to repeat, with TCU and Alabama just behind the Buckeyes in the overall odds.
Check out Bovada’s early national championship odds for 2015:
Ohio State: 5/1
Florida State: 16/1
Michigan State: 16/1
Notre Dame: 20/1
Mississippi State: 28/1
Texas A&M: 33/1
Arizona State: 40/1
Boise State: 40/1
Ole Miss: 40/1
Georgia Tech: 50/1
Kansas State: 50/1
Oklahoma State: 50/1
South Carolina: 50/1
Penn State: 75/1
West Virginia: 75/1
North Carolina: 100/1
Oregon State: 100/1
Virginia Tech: 100/1
Boston College: 200/1
Texas Tech: 200/1