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With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
0: Second-half baskets by Cody Zeller against Butler
The big superstar center for the unbeaten No. 1 team in the nation was virtually invincible in the second half against Butler on Saturday. He went 0-of-2 from the floor in the second half and Indiana needed a 7-2 run the in final 32 seconds to simply force the game into overtime. Zeller knocked down two buckets and two free throws in overtime but it was too little too late for the candy stripers. Brad Stevens did a miraculous job juggling a frontcourt lineup that watched Roosevelt Jones (16 pts, 12 rebs), Andrew Smith (12 pts, 9 rebs) and Erik Fromm (10 pts, 5 rebs) foul out.
21: Combined NCAA appearances by 7 schools departing the Big East since 2005
Marquette (seven NCAA appearances since 2005-06), Georgetown (six), Villanova (six), Seton Hall (one), St. John's (one), Providence and DePaul voted to unanimously leave the Big East this weekend. Since the Big East expanded in 2005-06, these seven programs have been to the NCAA tournament 21 times and made two Final Four runs. The group will "create a new identity" on their own and could look to add other basketball-focsued schools to their seven-team spin-off.
32.5: Average margin of victory for Kansas in its last two games
The Jayhawks played two tournament bound teams in a seven-day period of time last week. Colorado and Belmont aren't college hoops superpowers by any means, but both are quality teams this year with a good shot of landing in the Big Dance come March. The Buffaloes were 7-1 when Kansas pummeled them by 36 points (90-54). Belmont was 7-2 when they headed to Allen Fieldhouse this Saturday only to leave with a 29-point loss to Rock Chalk. Bill Self's team made a bold statement last week and will be a team to watch this week. Kansas will face Richmond (9-2) on Tuesday and then a top-10 Ohio State (8-1) team Saturday in what could be the best game of next weekend. Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey, the Jayhawks' top two scorers, have combined to shoot 52.5-percent from the floor thus far in 2012-2013. The duo was 11-of-17 in the win over the Bruins.
61: Points allowed in the second half by North Carolina to East Carolina
The Tar Heels led the Pirates 42-26 at halftime of their weekend contest. East Carolina then scored 61 second-half points turning what should have been an easy win into a six-point nail-bitter. The Heels won the game and moved to 8-2 overall, but that is a staggering lack of defense to a much less talented opponent. North Carolina allowed 83 points and lost by 24 to Indiana and allowed 82 points in an 11-point loss to Butler. Yahoo! RPI has North Carolina ranked No. 42 and Roy Williams team has yet to defeat an RPI top-50 program (0-2) and has one win over an RPI top-100 program.
2-of-20: Kenny Boyton's 3-point shooting in the last three games
After losing to the unbeaten Wildcats Saturday night, the Gators wrapped-up a nasty three-game set against Marquette, Florida State and Arizona with a 7-1 record. No thanks to Boynton's three-point prowess, however. He was 1-of-7 from behind the arc and 2-of-10 from the floor in the one-point road loss to the Wildcats. The senior shooting guard finished with five points, five rebounds, two assists and three turnovers. This performance comes on the heels of a 1-of-8 showing from three against the Seminoles and an 0-of-5 night from deep against the Golden Eagles. He is 8-of-33 (24.2 percent) overall in the last three games after shooting 44 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from 3-point range last season.
College football’s 2012 bowl season kicked off in thrilling fashion. Arizona used a furious late fourth-quarter rally to knock off Nevada 49-48, finishing the first season under Rich Rodriguez at 8-5.
Although there were plenty of fireworks on the field, the most interesting moment came in the first half, as two Arizona defenders – linebacker Cody Ippolito and defensive tackle Tevin Hood – traded punches on the sideline. The Wildcats’ defense got off to a slow start, so frustration was running high in the early going.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys will each be looking to stay above .500 and in the thick of the playoff hunt when they face off this afternoon at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS. The Steelers (7-6) are currently holding onto the final wild-card spot in the AFC, while the Cowboys (7-6) need to keep winning to have any hopes of securing a postseason berth in the NFC bracket.
The Steelers and Cowboys have played each other 30 times over the years, with the series tied at 15 victories apiece. Three of these meetings were Super Bowl matchups, with Pittsburgh holding a 2-1 edge, although Dallas won the last one, a 27-17 victory in Super Bowl XXX in 1996. The Steelers have won the last two regular-season meetings, the most recent being a 20-13 home victory on Dec. 7, 2008.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers have the ball:
Pittsburgh’s offense has been somewhat one-dimensional this season, as injuries and a lack of production from the backfield have put much of the burden on the passing game. The Steelers are 19th in the NFL in total offense with 341.8 yards per game and 21st in scoring with 21.4 points per contest. The running game is generating less than 100 yards on the ground per game, as Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman have all taken their turns as lead back. Dwyer is the current starter and he leads the team with 510 yards, but has just one rushing touchdown. As a team, the Steelers have just seven rushing scores with Redman and little-used rookie Chris Rainey sharing the team lead with two apiece. As a result, the offense has leaned more on the arm of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the aerial attack, and for the most part, Big Ben has responded. He’s the league’s sixth-rated passer with 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. However, he’s only 22nd in passing yards with 2,572 although he did miss Weeks 11-13 because of injury. Vertical threat Mike Wallace has been inconsistent at best for most of the season, as he’s averaging a mere 12.3 yards per reception. He is coming off his best game, an 11-catch, two-touchdown effort against San Diego, so perhaps he has turned the corner. The most reliable weapons in the passing game this season have been tight end Heath Miller, who leads the team with 61 catches and has seven touchdowns, and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Turnovers have been a bit of an issue as well, especially when Roethlisbeger has not been under center. Backup quarterbacks Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich have combined to throw five interceptions during their time on the field and the Steelers as a team have fumbled the ball away 14 times.
Dallas’ defense is 11th in the league in terms of yards allowed at 372.1 per game, but only 22nd in points allowed at 24.2 per contest. The Cowboys have fared much better against the pass, where they are ranked eighth (217.8 ypg), compared to slowing down the run. They are 16th against the run, surrendering an average of 118.8 yards on the ground per game, and have seen that total rise to nearly 150 over their last four. Even with DeMarcus Ware (11 sacks) getting pressure from wherever he lines up, the Cowboys have not been able to collect a large number of sacks. They have just 29 on the season and also have been unable to create many turnovers. The Cowboys have only six interceptions so far, the fewest of any team, and have produced a total of 14 turnovers.
When the Dallas Cowboys have the ball:
Dallas’ offense is right up there among the league’s leaders when it comes to yards gained as the Cowboys are averaging 372 per game. The same cannot be said for the damage done on the scoreboard, however, as they are tied for 15th in scoring offense at 23.1 points per game. The ground game has certainly not carried its share of the load, as a foot injury to running back DeMarco Murray caused him to miss six games and is a big reason why the team ranks second-to-last in the league in rushing offense at less than 80 yards per game. This means the Cowboys are averaging close to 300 yards passing per game, which is also why quarterback Tony Romo is second in the NFL with 349 completions, fourth in passing yards with 3,928 and fifth in attempts with 526. However, with all of those passes comes a degree of risk, as evidenced by Romo’s 16 interceptions, which are the third-most in the league. To be fair, 11 of Romo’s picks have come in two games and he has just three total over his last five outings. Pass protection issues (31 sacks allowed, tied for 10th ) and untimely penalties also have contributed to the offense’s struggles, as Romo has shown what he’s capable of doing when given the time. Wide receiver Dez Bryant has been red hot lately, with seven touchdown receptions over his last five games, but his status for this afternoon is somewhat in doubt as he suffered a broken finger last week against Cincinnati. He has said he will put off surgery for now and play with the fractured digit, but even if he doesn’t miss any time, teammates Miles Austin and Jason Witten will each need to step up to take some of the load off of him. Regardless of who makes the plays for the Cowboys, they need to make sure they hold onto the ball when they get it. Besides the interceptions, they have lost eight fumbles, giving them the third-most turnovers in the NFC.
Pittsburgh’s defense leads the NFL in both total (262.4 ypg) and passing (169.2 ypg) defense, and also is among the top seven in rushing (93.2 ypg, 5th) and scoring (20.3 ppg, 7th) defense. These numbers are even more impressive considering the fact that the Steelers have dealt with numerous injuries to key personnel, notably in the secondary, and haven’t produced that many sacks or turnovers. The defense has had to play a good part of the season without All-Pro Troy Polamalu at safety, and although Polamalu has since returned, the secondary is now without the services of cornerback Ike Taylor, who isn’t likely to return until Week 17 at the earliest. There also have been injuries to linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, one of the reasons why the defense has only 26 sacks, to go along with a total of 12 takeaways. Still, this is an experienced, veteran unit well versed in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s complex schemes that has been able to get the job done for the most part.
The NFL has presented its fans with quite the early Christmas present as they get to see Pittsburgh and Dallas, two of the sport’s most recognizable and successful franchises, get together for a game that’s equally important for both teams. The Steelers and Cowboys are tied for the most postseason wins (33) and Super Bowl appearances (8) in NFL history and collectively have won 11 league championships. However, if either team has any hopes of adding to these numbers this season they need to win out, starting with this afternoon’s game. Pittsburgh is coming off of a disappointing showing at home to San Diego, but the offense got its field general back and this is a veteran team that’s been down this road before. Dallas appears to be riding some momentum after last week’s comeback win in Cincinnati, but more often than not the Cowboys have been their own worst enemy with turnovers, costly penalties and inopportune breakdowns in execution, and face a tougher hill to climb than the Steelers when it comes to making the playoffs. Dallas also caught another bad break, if you will, with the news of Dez Bryant’s fractured finger, as he’s been the team’s most explosive and productive player over the last month or so. Even if Bryant makes good on his promise of playing in this game, I think the injury and the Steelers’ defense will keep the Cowboys’ offense in check, setting the stage for Ben Roethlisberger to engineer another game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, this one coming in the house that Jerry (Jones) built.
Steelers 23, Cowboys 20
The San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots face off tonight at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC in what could potentially be a preview of Super Bowl XLVII. The 49ers (9-3-1) are trying to hold Seattle off for the top spot in the NFC West, while the Patriots (10-3) could potentially knock Houston from the top of the standings in the AFC. This also is a matchup of one of the league’s top defenses in San Francisco trying to slow down a New England offense that’s been lighting up the scoreboard most of the season.
When the San Francisco 49ers have the ball:
San Francisco’s offense relies heavily on the run, as the 49ers are second in the NFL in rushing offense at 161.5 yards per game. Running back Frank Gore is the workhorse out of the backfield and he’s already surpassed 1,000 yards for the sixth time in his eight seasons with the team. Gore also leads the way with seven rushing touchdowns, but he’s not alone in finding paydirt as the 49ers have a total of 16 ground scores, tied for the third-most in the league. Second on the team with five rushing touchdowns is quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took over the starting job after Alex Smith went down with a concussion and has yet to relinquish it. Kaepernick has made plays with both his legs and his arm, but he’s also not called on to throw the ball a lot in this offense, averaging less than 26 pass attempts over the four games he has started. The 49ers are 26th in passing offense at less than 200 yards through the air per game, but do have a reliable weapon in wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Crabtree leads the team in receptions (66), yards (761) and is tied with tight end Vernon Davis in touchdown catches with five. Besides using the ground game to chew up the clock and wear down defenses, the 49ers also pride themselves on taking care of the football. San Francisco has turned it over just 12 times so far.
New England’s defense has given up a lot of yards, especially through the air, but it has done a good job of mitigating the damage on the scoreboard as well as scoring some points of its own. The Patriots rank just 26th in total defense, surrendering more than 376 yards per game, but are 11th in scoring defense, holding opponents to 21.1 points per contest. The strength of this defense has been stopping the run, as the unit ranks eighth in rushing defense (100.8 ypg), but some of this can be attributed to the success teams have throwing the ball against the Patriots, not to mention the fact that often times teams are forced to pass. The Patriots rank near the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed (275.5 ypg), but that’s what happens when your offense jumps out to leads early and keep pouring it on. New England’s defense also excels at creating turnovers, a tally that currently stands at 34, including 19 forced fumbles. What’s more, the unit has scored five touchdowns of its own on fumble and interception returns. The Patriots are in the middle of the pack when it comes to sacks (28), but pass rush could be an important aspect to watch in this game as the 49ers have allowed 38 quarterback takedowns, the fifth-most in the league.
When the New England Patriots have the ball:
Simply put, New England’s offense is the most productive and potent attack in the NFL, and is head and shoulders above the rest of the league right now. The Patriots lead the way in both yards (425.7) and points (36.3) per game, and currently are averaging nearly eight more points per contest than the No. 2 team, Denver at 28.8. They are scoring more than 40 points per game during their current seven-game winning streak, including the 42 they hung on Houston, the current top seed in the AFC, last Monday night. While quarterback Tom Brady and company are doing their usual damage through the air, the Patriots also boast the seventh-ranked rushing attack, one that is averaging nearly 140 yards on the ground. Running back Stevan Ridley has established himself as the team’s lead back and already has gained 1,082 yards with 10 rushing touchdowns. In fact, the Patriots lead the league in rushing scores with 20. So couple that ground game with the weapons that Brady has to throw to, including wide receivers Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and tight end Aaron Hernandez, and you get an idea of what is keeping opposing defensive coordinators up at night. The Patriots’ offensive line has done a very good job of giving Brady the time to throw (only 20 sacks allowed), and the team has committed a league-low 10 turnovers.
San Francisco’s defense is either first or second when it comes to the four major defensive categories. The 49ers are No. 1 in scoring defense (14.2 ppg) and second in total (275.5 ypg), rushing (90.8 ypg) and passing (184.7 ypg) defense. They have allowed a grand total of 16 offensive touchdowns, with only three of those coming on the ground, the fewest of any team. The unit has collected 32 sacks, which ties them for 10th, but more than half of those have come courtesy of one man, Aldon Smith. Smith leads the league with 19.5 sacks, and the Defensive Player of the Year contender is just three sacks away from tying Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5. Smith is anything but a one-man wrecking crew, however, as the 49ers’ defense also has standouts in fellow linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, and defensive lineman Justin Smith, along with a solid secondary. There’s little question the Patriots’ offense will be this unit’s toughest test yet, and one of the things to watch will be if the 49ers are able to generate any takeaways. The defense has forced 18 turnovers so far, including 10 interceptions, but remember this is an offense that’s only turned it over 10 times on the season.
How’s this for a Week 15 pairing: the league’s best offense against arguably the best defense. The NFL couldn’t have set up a better, more attractive late-season non-conference game than this, right? While I do think San Francisco’s defense will hold its own against New England’s offense, I can’t ignore how impressive the Patriots have looked over the last two months. Last week alone, they made Houston, the AFC’s current top team, look rather ordinary and at times downright silly in coasting to a 42-14 victory. Let’s also not forget that this game, just like last week’s, is being played in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. In his career, Tom Brady is 74-13 at home during the regular season and the Patriots have won their last 20 December home games. Their last loss in December at home came back in 2002 and with as well as the Patriots have been playing lately, I don’t see this streak ending tonight.
Patriots 27, 49ers 21
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 15.
Locks of the Week
Rematches of heated rivalries, a neutral site home game in Canada and a nine-game losing streak all look good to go this week.
Packers (-2.5) at Bears
Green Bay took down arch-rival Chicago 23–10 in Week 2. The Bears have lost four of their last five contests.
Raiders (-3) vs. Chiefs
Oakland handed Kansas City a 26–16 loss at Arrowhead in Week 8. Things have only gotten worse for K.C. since that.
Seahawks (-6) vs. Bills (at Toronto)
Buffalo is 1–3 all-time at “home” in the Rogers Centre in Ontario, Canada. The Hawks are soaring after a 58–0 win last week.
Lions (-6.5) at Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald’s dad is right; Arizona has given up. If Detroit can’t win by more than a TD, Jim Schwartz may join Ken Whisenhunt on the open market this offseason.
These games may or may not be straight up upsets, but they should be closer than the numbers they’re up against.
Panthers (+3) at Chargers
The Cats have won two of their last three games, with Cam Newton accounting for a combined 10 TDs by land and air.
Jaguars (+7.5) at Dolphins
Chad Henne returns to Miami, where he was once the starter. Since Henne took over in J-Ville, the Jags have lost by eight or more just once in four games.
Colts (+9) at Texans
Houston may clinch its second straight AFC South title, but it won’t come easy against Indianapolis, whose only loss in its last eight games was at New England.
Unless you’re a compulsive degenerate or a hometown homer, stay away from these games completely.
Falcons (-1) vs. Giants
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew stomped out the Dirty Birds 24–2 in the playoffs last year, but Atlanta owns the Georgia Dome.
Steelers (-1.5) at Cowboys
Big Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo could throw the ball back and forth to the wrong team all afternoon.
Rams (-3) vs. Vikings
Minnesota is 1–5 on the road this season, but St. Louis plays tight games, with four 3-pointers and another tie.
Broncos (-3) at Ravens
Peyton Manning takes on his old Indy coach, Jim Caldwell, who replaces the recently fired Cam Cameron as OC in Baltimore.
Saints (-4) vs. Buccaneers
New Orleans marched to a 35–28 win at Tampa Bay in Week 7, but Drew Brees has thrown nine INTs in the last three weeks.
Patriots (-6) vs. 49ers
A potential Super Bowl preview. Wait until the actual Super Bowl to bet on a matchup between these two powerhouses.
Monday Night Money
The last game of Week 15 is the time to get back or let it ride, depending on how the weekend went.
Titans (-1.5) vs. Jets
The Monday night party is in Hank Williams Jr. and his rowdy friends’ hometown, expect CJ2K to go honky tonkin’ against the Jets.
Off the Board
With RG3’s sore knee in play, Las Vegas doesn’t want this Skins game on the Big Board until as late as possible. Still, let’s guess the line.
Redskins (N/A) at Browns
Robert Griffin III will redefine the term “cornball brother” by taking a bite out of the Dawg Pound. Take the Redskins (-6)?
When Robert Griffin III limped off the field last Sunday, it figured to be a devastating injury for the Washington Redskins. He’s their most dynamic player and the reason they’ve made a race out of the NFC East. His loss would’ve changed the outlook of the entire division.
College football's bowl season begins on Saturday with the New Mexico Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Here are predictions on the first 14 bowl games.
New Mexico Bowl – Arizona vs. Nevada
Defensive stops will be at a premium in Albuquerque, which plays host to one of only two bowls in which both teams are averaging over 500 yards of offense. Nevada won seven of its first eight games but slumped late to finish with a 7–5 record. Arizona’s regular season ended on a down note — a loss at home to rival Arizona State — but Rich Rodriguez’s first year in Tucson has to be considered a success. The Wildcats are 7–5, highlighted by wins over Oklahoma State, Washington and USC.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — Toledo vs. Utah State
Utah State is one of the best-kept secrets in the nation. The Aggies went 10–2 overall (with a two-point loss at Wisconsin and a three-point loss at BYU) and swept through the WAC with a 6–0 record. Gary Andersen’s club is potent on offense, but the Aggies’ strength is on defense, where they only give up 15.4 points per game. Utah State will be tested by a Toledo team that went 9–3 with all three losses coming by seven points. Utah State 37–30
Poinsettia Bowl — San Diego State vs. BYU
Rocky Long has done an outstanding job maintaining what Brady Hoke built at San Diego State. The Aztecs, 17–8 in two seasons under Long, won a share of the Mountain West championship (their first title since 1986) with a 7–1 record in their final season in the league. BYU completed its second season as an Independent with a 7–5 record. The Cougars are strong defensively but really struggle to score points against quality competition.
San Diego State 28–14
Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl – Ball State vs. UCF
The coaching carousel hasn’t come to a complete stop, but it appears Ball State will hold on to Pete Lembo for at least one more season. Lembo built a winner at Lehigh and Elon before jumping to the FBS ranks, where he has compiled a 15–9 record in two seasons at Ball State. His counterpart in this game, UCF’s George O’Leary, is on the tail end of a career that has seen him win 111 games in 17 seasons as a head coach (eight at Georgia Tech, nine at UCF).
Ball State 30-24
New Orleans Bowl – East Carolina vs. UL Lafayette
UL Lafayette will make the short trip to down I-10 to play in the New Orleans Bowl for the second straight season. The Ragin’ Cajuns played their best football in the latter half of the season, highlighted by wins over ULM and Western Kentucky and a seven-point loss at Florida. East Carolina won a share of its first C-USA East title since 2009 by recording a 7–1 record in league play.
East Carolina 27-20
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas – Boise State vs. Washington
It was a rebuilding year for Boise State, but the Broncos still went 10–2 overall with a four-point loss at Michigan State and a two-point loss vs. San Diego State. Not bad for a team that only returned seven starters. Washington completed its third-straight 5–4 conference season under fourth-year coach Steve Sarkisian. The Huskies had some big wins (Stanford, Oregon State) but ended the season with an inexplicable loss to Washington State. Boise State 23–20
Hawaii Bowl – Fresno State vs. SMU
Tim DeRuyter’s first season as a head coach went quite well. Fresno State went 9–3 overall and won a share of the Mountain West title with a 7–1 record in league play. The Bulldogs boast two of the top skill players on the West Coast — quarterback Derek Carr and tailback Robbie Rouse. SMU is back in a bowl game for the fourth straight season under coach Junes Jones. The Mustangs’ quarterback is Garrett Gilbert, the 2008 Gatorade National Player of the Year who began his collegiate career at Texas.
Fresno State 37–23
Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl — Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky
The good news: Western Kentucky is playing in its first bowl game. The bad news: The Hilltoppers’ coach, Willie Taggart, is now the boss at South Florida and will not coach his team in the bowl game. Lance Guidry, WKU’s defensive coordinator, will serve as the interim coach through the bowl season. The Topper’s opponent, Central Michigan, is arguably the weakest team to be invited to a bowl games in 2012. The Chippewas are 6–6 and rank seventh in the MAC in both total offense and total defense.
Western Kentucky 30–20
Military Bowl – Bowling Green vs. San Jose State
Mike MacIntyre has worked a minor miracle in his short time at San Jose State. The Spartans went 1–12 in 2010, his first season as the head coach, improved to 5–7 last year and then broke through with a 10–2 mark this fall. SJSU features one of the nation’s most efficient passing attacks and a defense that specializes in stopping the run. Bowling Green struggles to score, but the Falcons lead the MAC in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass defense.
San Jose State 27–17
Belk Bowl – Cincinnati vs. Duke
Duke is playing in a bowl game for the first time since 1994, but the Blue Devils limped to the finish line after picking up their sixth win on Oct. 20. Duke lost five of its last six games and gave up an average of 47.8 points in the five losses. Cincinnati won a share of the Big East title for the fourth time in the past five seasons, but the Bearcats lost their head coach Butch Jones, who is now at Tennessee.
Holiday Bowl – UCLA vs. Baylor
This should be one of the most exciting games of the pre-New Year’s Day bowl slate. Baylor, ranked No. 1 in the nation in total offense, ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak, beating Kansas State (ranked No. 1 at the time), Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. UCLA, the champs of the Pac-12 South, went 9–4 under first-year coach Jim L. Mora and feature an explosive offense led by quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin.
Independence Bowl – Ohio vs. ULM
These two mid-majors stole national headlines in September, but neither program was able to sustain its strong play throughout the entire 2012 season. Ohio beat Penn State in Week 1 and won its first seven games but finished 8–4 overall and 4–4 in the MAC. ULM, which won at Arkansas in overtime in Week 1, missed a chance to win its first Sun Belt title since 2005 by losing to UL Lafayette and Arkansas State on consecutive weeks in early November.
Russell Athletic Bowl – Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech
Rutgers had two chances to secure its first trip to a BCS bowl but lost at Pittsburgh and at home vs. Louisville in the final two weeks of the season. The Scarlet Knights will have to “settle” for a Big East co-championship and an invite from the Russell Athletic Bowl. Virginia Tech’s 2012 season has been a struggle. The Hokies have won only six games and need to beat Rutgers to avoid the program’s first losing record since 1992. Rutgers 20–10
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas – Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech’s ego was bruised when head coach Tommy Tuberville made the surprising decision to leave Lubbock to take over for Butch Jones at Cincinnati. Tuberville left behind a team that lost four of its last five games after starting the season with a 6–1 mark. Minnesota sneaks into postseason play as the only bowl team that was four games under .500 in its league. The Golden Gophers went 2–6 in the Big Ten but won all four of its non-conference games to get to the six-win mark.
Texas Tech 33–21
Final regular-season record: 92–48 (76–48 ATS)
Wisconsin’s coaching search has been relatively quiet, with no clear frontrunner emerging to replace Bret Bielema since his departure to Arkansas. Some reports indicated athletic director Barry Alvarez made a run at Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads and Miami’s Al Golden but neither appeared to be interested in leaving their current position. Alvarez will coach the bowl game but finding a head coach soon is crucial, especially since a staff needs to be hired, and Wisconsin needs to keep its recruiting class intact.
10 Coaches to Replace Bret Bielema at Wisconsin
Mark Banker, defensive coordinator, Oregon State – There’s a lot of speculation surrounding Oregon State head coach Mike Riley and the Wisconsin position. However, what if Banker is the real candidate from Corvallis? The Massachusetts native has never been a head coach but has a wealth of experience in the assistant ranks. Banker has made stops at Hawaii, USC, Stanford and in the NFL with the Chargers. If Banker is indeed the candidate Wisconsin flew to Corvallis to meet with, it would be a curious move for the Badgers.
Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks – Bevell has no head coaching experience but has to be on the radar for Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. The former Badger quarterback has been an assistant coach since 1996, starting his career at Westmar University. He worked at Iowa State and Connecticut, before jumping to the NFL to serve as an offensive assistant with the Packers, Vikings and Seahawks. Bevell has been Seattle’s offensive coordinator for the last two years and has played a key role in developing rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. The only downside to hiring Bevell is the timetable for his arrival. The Seahawks are poised to make the NFL playoffs, so Bevell may not be available until mid-January.
Bob Bostad, offensive line coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bostad is regarded as one of the nation’s best offensive line coaches, developing top units at Wisconsin and in the NFL with the Buccaneers. He also has experience during stops as an assistant at San Jose State and New Mexico from 1997-2005 but has never served as a head coach. Bostad worked under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, so there’s some natural ties to the program. Although Bostad’s performance as an offensive line coach is outstanding, Alvarez is probably looking for someone with head coaching experience.
Matt Campbell, head coach, Toledo – At 32 years old, Campbell is college football’s youngest coach. The Ohio native has been on a fast track through the coaching ranks, as he started his career as a graduate assistant with Bowling Green in 2003 and has made stops at Mount Union and as an offensive assistant under Tim Beckman at Toledo. Campbell is 10-3 in his career as the Rockets’ head coach. Although Campbell is young, he is ready to lead a BCS program. Considering he played at the very successful Mount Union program and has done well in a short amount of time at Toledo, Campbell would be a solid hire for Wisconsin.
Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green – Clawson took a lot of heat for Tennessee’s struggles on offense in 2008, but he is a proven head coach at three different stops. The New York native went 29-29 in five seasons at Fordham (1999-2003), which also included a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson jumped to Richmond in 2004 and led the Spiders to two playoff appearances, including an 11-3 mark in 2007. After the failed season at Tennessee, Clawson landed at Bowling Green and went 7-6 in his debut year and 8-4 in 2012. The Falcons accepted a bid to the Military Bowl, which is their first postseason trip since the Humanitarian Bowl in 2009.
Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – If Wisconsin chooses to look in the assistant ranks, Diaco should be in the mix to replace Bielema. The New Jersey native played at Iowa, so he’s certainly familiar with life in the Big Ten. Diaco has spent time as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and for the last three years at Notre Dame. Diaco has no head coaching experience but has helped to lead the Fighting Irish to a rank of No. 1 overall in points allowed (10.3 ppg). Diaco won the Broyles Award for 2012, which goes to the nation’s No. 1 assistant coach.
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State – Lembo is a proven winner at three different stops during his coaching career and is ready to move up the coaching ladder after two years at Ball State. He recorded a 44-14 mark in five years at Lehigh and a 35-22 record in five seasons with Elon, which included an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Lembo is 15-9 in two years with the Cardinals and improved his win total by three games from 2011 to 2012. The New York native would bring a different approach on offense, as Lembo’s spread attack would be a switch from Wisconsin’s run-first mentality.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi doesn’t have any head coaching experience but is regarded as one of the Big Ten’s top assistant coaches. The Connecticut native started his coaching career at Rhode Island in 1993 and stayed until 2000 when he left to go to Northern Illinois. After three seasons with the Huskies, Narduzzi spent one year at Miami (Ohio) and joined Mark Dantonio’s staff at Cincinnati in 2004. Narduzzi followed Dantonio to Michigan State in 2007 and has helped to build one of the Big Ten’s best defenses over the last few years. The Spartans ranked fourth nationally in total defense this season.
Jay Norvell, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Norvell has been an assistant coach in the NFL and college ranks since 1986. The Madison native hasn’t been a head coach but has worked at top programs like Nebraska, UCLA and Oklahoma. Norvell currently shares the Sooners’ co-offensive coordinator duties with Josh Heupel and is regarded as an excellent recruiter. Desipte the lack of head coaching experience, Norvell has to be on the radar for Wisconsin, especially since he’s a Madison native and worked as an assistant with Barry Alvarez from 1990-94.
Joe Rudolph, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh – Even though Paul Chryst appears unlikely to leave, Wisconsin could target a Pittsburgh coach to replace Bielema. Rudolph played under Alvarez at Wisconsin and earned All-Big Ten honors in two seasons. The Pennsylvania native spent time as an assistant at Ohio State and Nebraska before coming to Wisconsin in 2008. After four seasons with the Badgers, Rudolph followed Chryst to Pittsburgh. Rudolph doesn’t have any head coaching experience but his background at Wisconsin figures to have him on the shortlist of Alvarez’s possible candidates.
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for December 13.
• An ex-Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader named Rachel Wray is giving MMA a try. We endorse the effort. At least, we endorse the photo at right.
• Today in year-end countdowns: The folks at Awful Announcing have culled through the worst of the worst to come up with their Bottom 10 announcer moments of 2012.
• It's been a pretty spectacular year in college football. My friends at Athlon have compiled the video evidence.
• Ah, fans. God love 'em. One Indiana fan spent $10,000 and enriched his local power company by crafting this elaborate tribute in Christmas lights to Christian Watford's 2011 buzzer-beater against top-ranked Kentucky.
• What a shocker — Johnny Football's dating a model.
• No surprise here, either: The eternally optimistic Tim Tebow is less upset about his lack of playing time than his fans are.
• Last night's atrocity of a football game featured one gem: Philly's Marvin McNutt blocked his own punter's punt, and then roughed him for good measure. The GIF is mesmerizing, as all good GIFs are.
• The vultures are picking over the carcass of the once-mighty Big East.
• They might as well go ahead and shut down boxing for good. Larry Merchant's retiring.
• I'm reluctant to wade into the Robert Griffin III-Rob Parker racial controversy, so I'll let RG3's dad speak for me. Here's what Parker had to say in the aftermath of his comments, before assuming radio silence.
• I'm late to this Hanukkah party, but in today's video, members of the Houston Rockets attempted to sing the dreidel song, with hilarious results.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Today in year-end countdowns: Ask Men's Top 99 of 2013 included an impressive array of athletes and WAGs, including comely tennis player Ana Ivanovic.
• Your 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain: Tom Watson. As Jack Nicklaus said, if they want somebody who knows how to win in Scotland, they've got their man. Watson was also the last winning U.S. Ryder Cup captain on foreign soil. In 1993.
• Kevin Youkilis is a Yankee, to the chagrin of the fans in Bah-ston. But Youk's not the first to rub salt in Red Sox Nation's wounds by joining the Evil Empire. The top 10 Yankees-turned-Red Sox.
• There's a one-armed Division I basketball prospect. I'm not worthy to breathe the same air as this kid.
• From a national title to pills, paranoia and prison: The cautionary tale of Maurice Clarett.
• Mississippi State and Loyola are meeting up this weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the game that changed college basketball for the better.
• Rajon Rondo would like to have this game-winning shot attempt back. Needed a little more air under it.
• Like any good leader, Vince McMahon has evolved and grown into his job.
• I told you recently that Kim Jong Un was leading the Time Magazine readers poll for person of the year. Dude closed it out like Mariano Rivera. The people have spoken.
• There are some great Christmas movies. And then there are these movies.
• Today's video: Even at 50, Michael Jordan is still a better player than he is an executive.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Our tribute to the best team in football right now: a slideshow of lovely Patriots cheerleaders.
• In honor of today's date (12/12/12): the best athletes to wear No. 12.
• Watch out, Eric Dickerson. Adrian Peterson's coming for you and your 1984-era jheri curls.
• In other NFL news, Paul Tagliabue emerged from retirement to issue a public smackdown to Roger Goodell.
• Is Eli Manning a Hall of Famer? My take: His regular season stats fall a little short, but one more Super Bowl seals the deal.
• A realization has hit the mainstream sports media: Tim Tebow is the backup quarterback on a bad football team. Nothing more.
• Today in hilariously ungraceful exits: Tommy Tuberville got up from a dinner with recruits to go to the can and never came back. The next day, he was head coach at Cincinnati.
• That didn't take long. Tennessee's Butch Jones is now the fourth-most followed college football coach on Twitter. Who's No. 1, you ask? Here's a hint: "When you're challenged, and if you enjoy challenge, well, you enjoy it."
• The football program's in decline, but the revenues aren't: Texas tops the money earners among BCS schools.
• This is depressing and terrifying: A first-person account from a repeated concussion sufferer.
• This isn't sports-related, but it's personal to me. Rush is finally in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. About bleepin' time.
• Today's video: A 5-11 NAIA guard throws down a monster slam. Gotta love the reaction of the tubby assistant coach.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• College football's regular season is over, so it's time to turn pro. The best in NFL cheerleaders so far this season.
• Body's not even cold on the 2012 college football season, and my colleagues here at Athlon are already projecting a top 25 for 2013. They just can't help themselves.
• Speaking of top 25s, here's the current top 25, rearranged by academic performance. Nice job, Florida State.
• College football attendance dipped in 2012. This article includes attendance figures for every FBS program. Boy, those fans in San Jose are hard to please; they won 10 games, and their attendance dipped 41 percent. No wonder Mike MacIntyre got out of there.
• Attendance at Sunday's Bengals-Cowboys game at Paul Brown Stadium was 63,590, plus one sly, hungry rodent.
• "They look cute. They look like a high school swim team." Ouch. The Patriots sure enjoyed last night's statement tail-whipping.
• This valet has seen "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" one too many times.
• Sports Business Journal is rolling out its 50 most influential people in sports business. Here's 11-20. My name hasn't appeared yet, so I must be in the top 10. Nice.
• Selena Robert analyzes the decline of Tiger Woods, with help from Athlon contributor Brandel Chamblee of the Golf Channel. Looks like Tiger's glory days are behind him; he might have to settle for just being insanely wealthy.
• Rob Neyer thinks the Baseball Hall of Fame could learn a thing or two from the Country Music Hall of Fame. Here in Nashville, we endorse this line of thinking.
• It's never too early to start thinking about spring. The NCAA has named its 35 greatest March Madness Moments.
• Today's video features Johnny Football doing the Letterman Top 10 list. Don't go Hollywood on us, kid.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Tis the season for year-end countdowns. The folks at Mandatory bring you the year in great photos, including this one of Angelina Jolie on the red carpet at the Oscars.
• In that same vein, here's the Year in Kate Upton. 2012 will be hard for her to top.
• Hate to pile on this kid, but I have no choice. I present: The single worst free throw attempt in the history of terrible free throw attempts.
• Deadspin's weekend roundup includes a chilling GIF of Manny Pacquiao getting absolutely destroyed by a single punch.
• Sure, it's got problems, but it's still America's game, and it can still bring us enjoyment. 14 smile-inducing moments from Week 14 in the NFL.
• Social media's made for job networking. Today's Exhibit A: Vince Young took to Twitter yesterday to lobby for the Cardinals QB job. Hey, the Cards could do worse. Obviously.
• Speaking of social media, it's also useful for making idle threats that make you look thuggy and get you into trouble. Just ask Stephen Jackson.
• Last week, Roger Goodell floated the idea of eliminating kickoffs. Mike Pereira does not approve.
• The NFL may or may not have a drinking problem, but it's got a drinking and driving problem.
• I'll freely admit that I've never heard of Lions receiver Kris Durham. But his second reception of the season was one of the best catches of the year.
• Heisman voters probably got it right in giving the stiff-arm trophy to Johnny Manziel. But they haven't always gotten it right.
• In today's video, Buffalo's Lee Smith shows us that the Lambeau Leap is a maneuver that's best left to the professionals.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Big East suffered another setback in realignment, as seven basketball schools – Providence, DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova and Seton Hall have decided to break away from the conference. While this is a much bigger problem for the Big East’s basketball product, it could also present some issues for the football side. After losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC and West Virginia to the Big 12 last year, the Big East was attempting to rebrand itself as a national conference. However, Louisville accepted a spot in the ACC, and Rutgers is joining the Big Ten, likely in 2014.
Here’s the divisional format that the Big East planned to go with for 2013:
|Cincinnati||San Diego State|
Navy is scheduled to join the conference in 2015, while East Carolina and Tulane are expected to become members in 2014.
With the news that the basketball schools are breaking away from the conference, what does this do to the football product?
Although there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Big East, all of the additions seem to be on track to join in time for 2013. Boise State is the key cog in the new membership, and the Broncos, at least publically, are full steam ahead to leave the Mountain West for the Big East. Assuming Boise State does join, it would be a huge boost to the future of the conference. And as long as the Broncos are coming along, San Diego State will be joining as well. While losing the basketball schools will hurt the television contract, the Big East doesn’t seem to be in any danger of dissolving altogether.
What about the television contract?
This is the million-dollar question. The Big East is banking on landing a good television deal, which will help keep Boise State and San Diego State in the mix. If the Broncos can make more money on this television contract than in the Mountain West, it’s a good bet they remain in the Big East. There have been a handful of estimates thrown around but none have been as large as the conference was hoping for. Losing the seven basketball-only schools is going to hurt on the television contract, but football can still generate plenty of value.
Biggest winner in this move: None
The Big East as a football conference isn’t going to go away. However, the decision by the basketball schools to leave is a big setback for the Big East, especially as it appeared the conference was ready for a national rebranding and a new image. Will the basketball schools land a better television deal than the one they had in the Big East? Probably not.
Biggest loser in this move: Connecticut and Cincinnati
Both schools lobbied hard to get into the ACC, but Louisville was chosen as the conference’s replacement for Maryland. Connecticut has a good television market and has been one of college basketball’s top 25 programs over the last 10 years. However, the Huskies are left in a watered down Big East and won’t have their usual Northeast foes on the schedule. Cincinnati should be one of the top football programs in the new format, but after missing out on the ACC, the Bearcats have to be disappointed about no longer being in a conference with Louisville and the seven basketball-only schools.
What will happen next?
Even though the Big East may not be able to land a huge television contract, there’s still an opportunity to piece together a decent football conference. Considering the Big East can earn a chunk of money by having a team make a BCS bowl in the new postseason format in 2014, there is plenty of incentive to be the “best of the rest” conference. It’s certainly a possibility that the Big East’s new football format could eventually break apart, but if Boise State, Cincinnati and Connecticut are on board, other schools will want to join.
The Big East could benefit by expanding to 14 or 16 teams, which would help soften the blow if Connecticut and Cincinnati get ACC invites. If the conference does decide to expand, Western schools such as Fresno State and Air Force will be on the radar for the conference. The Big East could also look at Tulsa from Conference USA or make another run at BYU.
The departure of the basketball-only schools is a significant setback, but the Big East as a football conference isn’t going anywhere. So while this week’s news is a blow to commissioner Mike Aresco, as long as he keeps Boise State in the mix and can prevent any other losses for now, the conference will survive to 2013 and 2014. However, if the Big East loses Boise State, the conference isn’t going to break apart, but it will lose its premier football program.
The new Big East isn’t a football juggernaut, but programs like Houston, Memphis and Temple are better off in this new format, as opposed to returning and playing in a revamped Conference USA.
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Even though the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl doesn’t have the star power of a BCS game or the Cotton Bowl, this year’s game could be one of the best pre-New Year’s Day matchups. Utah State finished the regular season at 10-2 and unbeaten in WAC play. The Aggies were just a couple of plays away from a 12-0 record, losing to Wisconsin by two points and to BYU by a field goal. Toledo knocked off Cincinnati and fell to Arizona in overtime, while losing two games in MAC play by a touchdown.
The Aggies return to the blue turf in Boise looking for revenge. Utah State fell just short of a bowl win in this game last season, losing a 24-23 heartbreaker to Ohio in the final seconds. Toledo is making its first appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but this will be the Rockets’ third consecutive postseason trip. Toledo knocked off Air Force 42-41 in the Military Bowl last year.
This will be the first meeting between these two teams, and this game also features two of the nation’s top rising stars in the coaching ranks – Toledo’s Matt Campbell and Utah State’s Gary Andersen.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Toledo (9-3) vs. Utah State (10-2)
Date/Time: Dec. 15 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Location: Boise, Idaho
When the Utah State Aggies have the ball:
In terms of national rankings, Utah State is as balanced as they come. The Aggies rank 37th nationally in rushing and passing offense, while averaging 34.4 points a game. The catalyst for the offense is quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The sophomore recorded 3,671 yards of total offense and 34 overall scores in 2012. Keeton finished the regular season on a high note, throwing for at least 300 yards in three out of the final four games, including a huge 340-yard performance against Louisiana Tech to decide the WAC title.
Although Keeton is one of the nation’s top non-BCS quarterbacks, he doesn't have to carry the offense just on his shoulders. Running back Kerwynn Williams averaged 163 all-purpose yards per game and led the team with 663 receiving yards. The senior averaged 6.4 yards per carry and recorded an 86-yard touchdown scamper against San Jose State.
Williams will catch his share of passes out of the backfield, but the Aggies also have dependable receivers in Chuck Jacobs, Matt Austin, Cameron Webb and tight end Kellen Bartlett. Austin is the team’s top big-play threat, averaging 15.5 yards per reception.
Stopping Utah State’s offense is going to be a big challenge for Toledo. The Rockets allowed 464.1 yards per game and ranked near the bottom of the nation in pass defense. If there is any good news in the defensive statistics, Toledo gave up a lot of yards but held opponents to just 27.3 points a game. The Rockets forced 25 turnovers this season and they will need a couple on Saturday afternoon to knock off Utah State.
When the Toledo Rockets have the ball:
The Rockets averaged 32.9 points a game this season but will have their hands full trying to move the ball against Utah State’s defense. The Aggies ranked 15th nationally in yards allowed (322.7 ypg) and points allowed (15.4 ppg). In addition to holding opponents to less than 330 yards a contest, Utah State was active around the line of scrimmage, recording 3.3 sacks per game.
Although Utah State has been stingy on defense, Toledo is getting some reinforcements back for the bowl game. Quarterback Terrance Owens and running back David Fluellen both missed the season finale due to injuries but are expected to play on Saturday afternoon.
Fluellen was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2011 and rushed for 1,460 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. The junior is expected to be close to 100 percent after suffering an ankle injury late in the year but faces a tough test against an active Utah State front seven. The Aggies allowed only six rushing scores all season and rank 12th nationally against the run.
Considering how tough it has been to run against Utah State this year, Toledo needs a big game from its passing attack. Owens is ready to return to the lineup, but senior Austin Dantin may see some snaps in this game. Regardless of whether Owens or Dantin is under center, the Rockets’ receiving corps will test Utah State’s secondary. Bernard Reedy is the No. 1 target for Toledo, catching 82 passes for 1,051 yards and six scores this year. Freshman Alonzo Russell didn’t match Reedy’s catch total (54) but led the team with an average of 17.1 yards per reception.
Reedy and Russell will be a good challenge for Utah State’s secondary, which features three All-WAC performers. Cornerback Will Davis was a first-team all-conference selection, picking off five passes and recording 16 pass breakups.
Three out of the last four meetings in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl have been decided by a touchdown or less. Barring a complete collapse by one team, another tight game should be expected. The Aggies have already set a school record with 10 victories and expect to have a large contingent of fans make the trip from Logan. Toledo is capable of pulling off the upset, but Utah State is better on both sides of the ball and has plenty of motivation as it tries to erase last season’s disappointing loss in this bowl game.
Prediction: Utah State 34, Toledo 27
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College football’s bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque, N.M. with what should be a high-scoring affair between Nevada and Arizona. The Wolf Pack averaged 37 points a game this year and ranked seventh nationally in rushing offense. The Wildcats finished the regular season by scoring at least 30 or more points in seven out of their final eight games.
Although its final record was just 7-5, Arizona has to be thrilled to return to a bowl game in coach Rich Rodriguez’s first season in Tucson. The Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma State, Washington and USC this year and had narrow losses to Oregon State and Stanford. Nevada is making its eighth consecutive trip to a bowl game but is just 1-5 in the last six postseason trips. The Wolf Pack started the year with an upset win over California but finished with losses in four out of their final five games.
These two teams have not met since 1941, with the overall series tied at 1-1-1.
New Mexico Bowl – Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)
Date and Time: Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
Location: Albuquerque, N.M.
When the Nevada Wolf Pack has the ball:
The Wolf Pack quietly has one of college football’s top backfields. Quarterback Cody Fajardo threw for 2,530 yards and 17 scores, while adding 981 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Running back Stefphon Jefferson was a workhorse for the Nevada offense in 2012, recording 341 carries and rushing for 1,703 yards and 22 scores. Jefferson ranked second nationally with an average of 141.9 yards per game.
Stopping Fajardo and Jefferson won’t be an easy task for an Arizona defense that allowed 20 or more points in eight out of nine Pac-12 games. The Wildcats rank 100th nationally in scoring defense and 116th in yards allowed per contest (485.7). This unit struggled to generate pressure (1.3 sacks per game) but forced 23 turnovers this year.
Although Fajardo has nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, the Wildcats also have to respect the Nevada passing attack. Receiver Brandon Wimberly leads the team with 63 catches and 788 yards, while tight end Zach Sudfeld recorded 43 receptions for 553 yards and six scores.
In a matchup where both teams are going to score, Arizona’s best plan on defense should be a bend-but-don’t-break strategy. Nevada is going to get its yards and points, but the Wildcats need to force the Wolf Pack to kick field goals instead of touchdowns. Winning the turnover battle is crucial, which slightly favors Arizona.
When the Arizona Wildcats have the ball:
As expected, the Wildcats emerged as one of the Pac-12’s top offenses under first-year coach Rich Rodriguez. Arizona averaged 521.8 yards per game this season and was held under 20 points only twice in 2012.
In addition to Rodriguez’s arrival, Matt Scott’s emergence helped to transition from a pass-first offense to a spread attack. Scott redshirted last season, preserving one year of eligibility for 2012. Despite missing one game due to injury, the senior recorded 3,723 yards and 29 scores this season. Turnovers were a problem for Scott at times, as he tossed three picks against Arizona State and Oregon and two in the 38-35 loss to Oregon State.
Scott isn’t a one-man show on offense, as Arizona has a strong supporting cast. Receiver Austin Hill had a breakout season, catching 73 passes for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns. He was joined by Dan Buckner (59 receptions) and David Richards (24 catches) as other key targets in the passing game.
While Scott can do some damage on the ground, running back Ka’Deem Carey was one of the top breakout players in college football this season, rushing for 1,757 yards and 20 scores on 275 attempts. The sophomore caught 33 passes for 288 yards and one touchdown and was a first-team selection on Athlon Sports’ postseason 2012 All-America team.
Considering Nevada never held an opponent under 20 points this season and Arizona is the best offense it will face in terms of yards per game, the Wolf Pack defense is facing an uphill battle on Saturday afternoon. Nevada is allowing 213.2 rushing yards per game, which is bad news against Carey and the Wildcats’ offensive line.
Expect bowl season to get started off on a high note when these two teams kick off on Saturday afternoon. Both offenses should have plenty of success moving the ball, with turnovers and timely stops likely to decide this game. Nevada has struggled in bowl games under Chris Ault, while the Wildcats hope to snap a two-game losing streak in postseason appearances. Considering the Wolf Pack’s struggles to stop the run, look for Carey to approach 200 rushing yards, while Matt Scott also has a big day through the air. This matchup should go back and forth, but Arizona picks up a bowl win and finishes its first season under Rich Rodriguez at 8-5.
Prediction: Arizona 41, Nevada 34
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The first month or so of the season has been a strange one for the Big 12. Somehow, the league that boasts a solid Kansas team, a team that beat Kentucky in Lexington and a contender for freshman of the year is having an identity crisis.
Few Big 12 teams seem to be in a rhythm so far this season. Maybe that’s to be expected -- Baylor has a handful of new freshmen, Texas is missing a key player, and West Virginia and Iowa State have an influx of transfers.
As most college basketball teams are breaking for finals, the schedules are light. And with college football completing its season, this is a perfect time to play catch up with college basketball so far.
We continue our series with the key storylines in the Big 12 heading into conference play.
EARLY SEASON CONFERENCE CATCHUP: BIG 12
Other conferences: ACC | Big East
|Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford|
Surprise team: Oklahoma State.
The arrival of freshman guard Marcus Smart has turned things around in Stillwater. He’s improved the play of Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown around him, and the rookie still leads the Cowboys in rebounds (7.4 per game) and assists (five per game). Oklahoma State defeated Tennessee and NC State in Puerto Rico, but a 10-point loss to Virginia Tech signals there may be some more growing pains.
Disappointing team: Texas.
Baylor and West Virginia present compelling cases for being the most disappointing, but Texas sealed this spot by losing to Division II Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. Not having Myck Kabongo to start the season hurts, but should the Longhorns ever be in this position with or without Kabongo? Texas has scored more than 70 points only once all season, and that was in the 86-73 loss to Chaminade.
Where did he come from? Cory Jefferson, Baylor
Baylor has been an enigma this season, but one pleasant development for the Bears has been increased playing time for Jefferson. He was relegated to 10.5 minutes per game last season, but he’s starter on this team. The returns have been 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting 67.2 percent from the floor.
Where did he go? Deniz Kilicli, West Virginia
Kilicli’s beard disappeared during the offseason, and so did West Virginia’s mojo, it seems. Kilicli’s numbers are down across the board as he’s battled foul trouble at times (he fouled out with five points, five rebounds and five turnovers in the season-opening rout against Gonzaga) in addition to general ineffectiveness. Kilicli had only six points and five rebounds in 33 minutes in a 60-56 loss to Duquesne on Tuesday.
Key stat: Jeff Withey’s blocks.
Since the NCAA Tournament, the Kansas center has averaged 5.4 blocks in his last 14 games. If he keeps up his rate for this season (5.6), he’ll be the first player in two seasons to top the five blocks per game milestone. But more remarkable is how Withey stacks up with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis from last season. Davis averaged 4.65 blocks per game last season. The disparity is just as pronounced over a 40-minute average: Davis averaged 5.8 blocks per 40 minutes last season. Withey has averaged 7.5 blocks per 40 minutes since the NCAA Tournament.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN CONFERENCE PLAY
|Texas guard Myck Kabongo|
How long will Myck Kabongo remain in limbo? The Texas guard remains in NCAA purgatory nine games into the season. The NCAA is looking into how he paid for a pro workout in May while he considered leaving early to the NBA draft and if he misled investigators. Texas’ season has been a mess without Kabongo, who started last season as a freshman, but in the meantime the long saga for Kabongo has been a lightning rod for the NCAA’s investigative process. A reminder: When Texas faced UCLA on Saturday, the Bruins’ Shabazz Muhammad, who also faced an NCAA investigation, had been playing for six games.
What is going on at Baylor? The Bears are stocked with NBA prospects, but they’re getting middling results out of this crew. The same team that handed Kentucky its first loss in Rupp Arena under John Calipari also lost to Charleston and Northwestern at home. Even a team as talented as Baylor can’t win when it plays this sloppy, though this is nothing new for the Bears under Scott Drew.
How low will the Big 12 go? Outside of three teams, the Big 12 is short on wins over top competition. That may bite the league when it reaches Selection Sunday. The Big 12 has averaged six NCAA bids from 2008-12 and has never had fewer than four. Meanwhile, the 10 Big 12 teams are 11-13 against teams from other six major conferences. Eight of those wins have come from three teams -- Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor. The league is also 2-8 against Associated Press top 25. The league may not as bad as the Pac-12 has been in recent years, but it may struggle to offer good at-large teams to the field.
BIG 12 POWER RANKINGS
Player of the year watch
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Ben McLemore, Kansas
Jeff Withey, Kansas
Freshman of the year watch
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Ben McLemore, Kansas
Isaiah Austin, Baylor
Coach of the year watch
Bill Self, Kansas
Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
1. Kansas (7-1). Given the rest of the field, Kansas looks like a team that could win another Big 12 title comfortably. Ben McLemore, who sat out last season, has been worth the wait. The freshman scored 24 in a 90-54 rout of a quality Colorado team Saturday.
2. Oklahoma State (7-1). Marcus Smart has stepped in to be a glue guy on a team that went 15-18 last season. As a freshman. He’s the only player in the Big 12 in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and assists.
3. Baylor (5-3). Perhaps Baylor shouldn’t be this high given the Bears’ volatility, but the Big 12 field isn’t that strong. And if Baylor manages to get its act together, it could be one of the Big 12’s best.
4. Oklahoma (6-2). Amath M’Baye (10.6 points, seven rebounds per game) has been every bit the difference-maker expected since his transfer from Wyoming. The Sooners were pounded by Gonzaga and put up a good fight against Arkansas. Facing Texas A&M on Saturday will be a key test.
5. Iowa State (7-3). Transfers again are huge for the Cyclones with Will Clyburn and Korie Lucious leading the way. Clyburn’s scoreless, five-rebound game against Iowa would be more of a concern if he hadn’t already scored 21 points with 15 rebounds against UNLV.
6. Kansas State (7-1). The Wildcats’ best win is by 3 over Delaware in the NIT tipoff. Up next: Gonzaga, which has defeated two Big 12 teams by a combined score of 156-97. A week later: Florida.
7. West Virginia (4-4). Bob Huggins is struggling to find the right mix with a handful of transfers, including Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray.
8. Texas (5-4). The Longhorns are loaded with freshmen and sophomores, so much so that the return of sophomore Myck Kabongo (9.6 ppg, 5.2 apg) is vital to Texas’ playing in its 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
9. Texas Tech (5-1). The record is nice, but the Red Raiders lost 85-57 in its only major test against Arizona. Tech is giving up 71.2 points per game.
10. TCU (6-4). Trent Johnson knew the transition from the Mountain West would be tough, but the Horned Frogs are having enough trouble with Conference USA. Three of TCU’s four losses have come to SMU, Houston and Tulsa by an average of 3.3 points.
|Arizona forward Solomon Hill|
The 13 remaining undefeated teams will be reduced by at least one late Saturday night.
Florida and Arizona both entered the season with fanfare -- the Wildcats picked seventh nationally in the preseason, the Gators picked 20th -- but a little more than a month into the season, both have the look of conference leaders. Part of that is the 7-0 starts for both teams, but it’s also because their main foils in the Pac-12 (UCLA) and the SEC (Kentucky) haven’t looked spectacular.
Florida, though, has. The Gators have pounded teams by an average score of 25.3 points per game. Only Indiana and Syracuse have been more dominant in scoring margin. Arizona isn’t all that far behind, defeating teams by 20.4 points per game.
But Arizona hasn’t played the toughest schedule, though road trips to Texas Tech and Clemson are of note. While Florida has established itself as the SEC favorite and a potential Final Four contender, Arizona, with its combination of youth and one key transfer, are looking for a statement win.
Facing the Gators on Saturday night would fit the bill.
Game of the Week
Florida Probable Starters
G Mike Rosario (6-3/193, Sr.)
G Kenny Boynton (6-2/190, Sr.)
F Will Yeguete (6-7/240, Jr.)
F Erik Murphy (6-10/238, Sr.)
C Patric Young (6-9/249, Jr.)
Arizona Probable Starters
G Mark Lyons (6-1/200, Sr.)
G Nick Johnson (6-3/200, So.)
F Solomon Hill (6-7/200, Sr.)
F Brandon Ashley (6-8/235, Fr.)
C Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0/255, Fr.)
|Florida guard Kenny Boynton|
Florida may have a marked advantage year. Led by Kenny Boynton, the Gators like to shoot the 3-pointer, making 7.6 per game on 21.6 attempts. Meanwhile, Arizona has struggled defending 3-point line this season. Arizona coach Sean Miller has complimented sophomore guard Nick Johnson’s progress this season -- he’s improved from nine points per game to 13.6 -- but Xavier transfer Mark Lyons is still working to get into a rhythm with his new team. He’s struggled with turnovers, but so has Arizona as a team. The Wildcats turned the ball over 27 times in their last game against Southern Miss. Against Florida’s press, this could be a liability. The Gators are forcing turnovers on 28 percent of possessions, ranking sixth in the nation.
The matchup in the frontcourt may be more even. Florida’s Patric Young has had the look of an elite player since he arrived on campus, but he’s starting to play like one as a senior. His 2.3 blocks per game and 7.9 rebounds are career highs by far. Erik Murphy can shoot from outside, and Will Yeguete is a solid rebounder. Arizona counters with versatile glue guy Solomon Hill. He’s played power forward in the past, but the Wildcats have more size up front with seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley. The latter two are freshmen going up against Florida’s veteran forwards. Still, both teams have been among the best rebounding teams in the country in the early part of the season.
Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin has been a starter twice this season, but off the bench, he’s a solid backup point guard who can defend. Forward Casey Prather and freshman guard Michael Frazier II, who scored 29 points in 39 minutes off the bench against Florida State and Marquette, gives Gators coach Billy Donovan room to tinker with his lineup. Miller has a similar bench with veteran wing Kevin Parrom, junior Jordin Mayes and 6-10 freshman Grant Jerrett.
The mid-December schedule can be a strange one in college basketball with finals and the upcoming holidays, but Florida may feel it more than Arizona in this game. The Gators have had a 10-day layoff since defeating Florida State on Dec. 5 while Arizona has been off for only a week. The late tipoff, 10 p.m. Eastern, might be in play for the Gators as well.
Even if Florida is sluggish to start in Tucson, the Gators have demolished everyone they’ve faced this season. Florida defeated Florida State by 25 on the road, Marquette by 31 and Wisconsin by 18. Arizona’s too good to lose like that at home, so this should be the first real challenge for the Gators. With a deep, veteran team, Florida still has the overall edge.
Florida 74, Arizona 68
From 1980 to 1989, the average NBA rookie class produced two Hall of Famers per year. In fact, 14 future Hall of Famers entered the NBA over a four-year period (1984-87) in the mid-80s.
To suggest that any player in any sport after just a few seasons is a lock to make the Hall of Fame is ridiculous. But it is always fun to look at athletes who have had instant success and try to extrapolate long-term potential. Limiting the scope to the last three rookie classes, here are the most likely future NBA Hall of Famers:
Class of 2012:
Anthony Davis, F/C, New Orleans
The 6-foot-10, 220-pounder entered the NBA as the consensus can’t-miss No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. After posting the No. 3-rated freshman season in the history of college basketball, Davis and his trademarked unibrow debuted for the Hornets in style. He posted 21 points and seven rebounds in his rookie debut against Sacramento. Through eight career games, Davis is shooting 48.9-percent from the floor, 85.0-percent from the free throw line, averaging 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. He has missed seven games already and his wiry frame and potential for injury might be the only thing that prevent him from putting together a Hall of Fame career.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound floor leader from Oakland, Calif., was a proven commodity the second he stepped on a college court. He led Weber State to a conference title as a freshman before earning Big Sky Player of the Year honors twice in his career. It led to the Trail Blazers selecting him with the sixth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He promptly posted a double-double (23 pts, 11 asts) in his rookie debut and he has been excellent ever since. He is averaging 19.4 points, 6.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. Once he learns to limit his turnovers, he should become one of the league’s premiere point guards.
Other name to consider:
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Charlotte
He isn’t a great shooter and he isn’t a point guard or a center. But MKG can flat out hoop. He is a tough leader who stuffs the stat sheet across the board. He has been a winner at every stop and has elite athletic talents.
Class of 2011:
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland
Coming out of St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J., the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder was one of the nation’s top five prospects. He was electric in the first eight games of his Duke career, leading the team in scoring, before hurting his right foot. Irving returned for the NCAA Tournament, scoring 28 points in his final game against Arizona. He left Duke after 11 career games to be the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft on a LeBron-less Cavaliers team. After averaging 18.5 points on 46.8 percent shooting to go with 5.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 51 games, Irving claimed 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Irving appears to only be getting better, scoring over 20 points in seven of his first nine games this season while maintaining his efficient percentages and distributing the ball. His explosiveness, athletic ability and scoring touch have the Melbourne, Australia native poised for NBA greatness.
Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota
The 2011 season was the Barcelona, Spain native’s first season in the NBA, but it was far from his first professional tour. He played five years for DKV Joventut Badalona (Spain) before getting drafted fifth overall by the Timberwolves in the 2009 NBA Draft when he was only 18 years old. He then played two more seasons for FC Barcelona Basquet (Spain). His 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame and flashy passing skills have made Rubio the most heralded European prospect in the history of the game. So it should come as no surprise that he averaged 10.6 points, 8.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game in 41 games as a rookie last season. His year was cut short with an ACL tear in March but Minnesota is targeting a late December return for their star point guard.
Others names to Consider:
Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver
Few players are more difficult to box out on rebounds than the Morehead State product. He is averaging 12.4 points on 55 percent shooting and 10.0 rebounds per game in only his second year.
Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte
This kid is a winner. He is a championship point guard on the college level who is using his quickness, basketball IQ and a killer jump shot to try and improve the Bobcats.
Class of 2010:
Blake Griffin, PF, LA Clippers
It took the Oklahoma Sooner an extra year to get to the NBA court after sitting out his first season with a knee injury, but he has quickly become one of the most dominant forces in the league. His athletic ability is second to none as massive dunks and demoralizing blocks are a part of his regular routine. He averaged a double-double in his first two seasons — 22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg and 20.7 ppg, 10.9 rbg — and helped lead the Clippers to their first postseason berth since 2005 and only the franchise's second playoff run since 1996. As long as he stays healthy, there is little doubt Griffin will make a run at the Hall of Fame.
Greg Monroe, F/C, Detroit
The No. 1 recruit in the nation from New Orleans, La., signed with Georgetown and eventually was drafted with the seventh pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Pistons. Detroit has a rich history and tradition of producing elite players and the 6-foot-11, 250-pound center appears to be the next star. Though early in his third season, Monroe has increased his scoring, assists, steals and blocks per game averages every year of his professional career. He has averaged 8.6 rebounds per game and is a 51.8 percent shooter for his two-and-a-half season career.
Other name to consider:
DeMarcus Cousins, F/C, Sacramento
Elite upside and talents appear to be rounding into form. But will he stay focused and dedicated long enough to earn elite respect and credentials? Remains to be seen.
Just Missed the Cut:
John Wall, PG, Washington (2010)
Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State (2012)
Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston (2011)
Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State (2011)
Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland (2012)
Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different.
Today, we rank college football's best defensive end prospects:
1. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (6-4, 250, Jr.)
Versatility is the name of the game for Moore. He can play outside linebacker like a Jarvis Jones in a 3-4 scheme, can play either weakside or strongside end in a traditional 4-3 and could even slide inside on passing downs to get more pressure on the quarterback. He was moved from outside backer to true end for the 2012 season and his burst off of the edge helped him become a disruptive force. He finished with 80 total tackles, 12.5 sacks, 20.0 tackles for a loss, two blocked kicks and a forced fumble. And he did it against the SEC instead of the Big 12 this fall. Few players in this class are better pure pass rushers.
2. Sam Montgomery, LSU (6-5, 260, Jr.)
He hasn't been as flashy as some of the other names on this list but his upside is huge. He has a perfect frame and pedigree to be an elite NFL player. He has great size for a pure end and plays much tougher at the point of attack than some of his smaller counterparts at this position. He led the Tigers in sacks (7.0) in 2012 and finished with 12.0 tackles for a loss for one of the SEC's best defenses. A struggle against potential first-rounder Luke Joeckel might hurt his stock though.
3. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (6-4, 255, Jr.)
A small recruit from a small school in Connecticut, Werner developed into one of the best defensive players on a great defense. He posted 40 tackles, 18.0 tackles for a loss and led the ACC in sacks with 13.0 — three of which came against the Florida Gators. Once counterpart Brandon Jenkins was injured (Week 1), offenses began to focus on him more often, causing his production to slow a bit throughout the season (he had four sacks against Murray State in the season opener). However, his size, strength and work ethic gives him little downside when it comes to the next level.
4. Barkevious Mingo, LSU (6-5, 240, Jr.)
Comparing him to teammate Montgomery is extremely difficult. Mingo is rangier, lankier and a bit more explosive. But he isn't as fundamentally sound or as strong at the point of attack. He may be a better fit as a rush outside backer in a 3-4 whereas Montgomery could play in either scheme. His 2012 season was quieter than expected for LSU, as he finished with 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and just 4.0 sacks. He did pressure the QB 12 times this season and his upside alone will make him an intriguing name to follow leading up to the draft in April.
5. Corey Lemonier, Auburn (6-4, 240, Jr.)
The talented edge rusher might be the only bright spot on an otherwise worthless 2012 Auburn squad. This is partly why he failed to build on a huge sophomore season in 2011 (47 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks). He finished with just 34 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks last fall. Yet, he has 25 quarterback hurries over the last two seasons and his raw potential is still elite. He has great size and athletic ability and scouts will love what they see from him in terms of upside. He should still grade out as a first-round pick.
6. William Gholston, Michigan State (6-6, 275, Jr.)
This is the definition of risk versus reward. Gholston has elite raw talent, potential and upside. He is big, long, powerful and productive against both the run and the pass. But he also has been suspended multiple times and has a demonstrated a lack of focus on occasion. This past season, he posted 50 tackles, 12.0 for a loss and just 3.5 sacks without the help of his 2011 running mate, current Green Bay Packer Jerel Worthy. He could play anywhere along the line and in any scheme — if scouts can figure out a way to keep him focused, out of trouble and how to maximize his potential.
7. Dion Jordan, Oregon (6-6, 245, Sr.)
Jordan is a very similar prospect to that of Gholston with a few small differences. Jordan offers more versatility, at times standing up in more of an outside linebacker position. But like Gholston, he never really utilized his talents to the fullest potential. That said, 2012 was his best season as he posted 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks for what many believe is Oregon's best defense since Haloti Ngata was a Duck. He forced three fumbles this fall and graded out very well at the Combine thanks to his freakish natural athletic ability and raw size.
8. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU (6-5, 270, Sr.)
The Cougars' big defensive lineman boasts a unique combination of size and speed that already have scouts and other draft analysts excited. He is a raw prospect with much to learn about the end, tackle or outside backer position. He could play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme at a variety of positions. Kyle Van Noy got most of the offensive line attention for the Cougars, but Ansah showed loads of growth in 2012. He posted 57 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. In a deep end class, Ansah could very well end up as a first-round selection.
9. Tank Carradine, Florida State (6-4, 255, Sr.)
Prior to a major knee injury late in the year, Cornellius "Tank" Carradine had first round written all over him. But his injury will hurt his stock and some team could get a steal should he fall too far past the first day. He posted 80 tackles, 13.0 tackles for a loss and 11.0 sacks in 11 games this past season before the injury.
10. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (6-5, 245, Jr.)
His father, Jim, has had this prospect well-coached and well-prepared his entire young career. He is as fundamentally sound as someone of his age and experience can be. He knows the position and has very little downside on the NFL level. But a torn pectoral muscle ended his junior season after just five games. He had 21 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and 4.0 sacks to start the season and his loss was a big part of Texas' struggles on defense in Big 12 play. If he can prove he's healthy, his stock should sky rocket.
11. Alex Okafor, Texas (6-5, 260, Sr.)
A slightly bigger version of Jeffcoat, Okafor is a prototypical end prospect. He posted 46 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, 8.0 sacks and three forced fumbles as a senior.
12. John Simon, Ohio State (6-2, 260, Sr.)
One of the strongest, hardest workers in this class will have to overcome his obvious lack of size and speed. He registered 44 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and led the Big Ten in sacks with 9.0 last season.
13. Morgan Breslin, USC (6-2, 250, Jr.)
In one short season at USC, Breslin made a huge impact. He finished second in the league in sacks (12.0) and had 53 total tackles to go with 18.0 tackles for a loss.
14. Will Sutton, Arizona State (6-2, 270, Jr.)
The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is undersized and constantly banged up, but he is a disruptive force to be reckoned with. He finished with 58 tackles, a league-leading 20.0 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Could play end or tackle.
15. Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky (6-5, 250, Sr.)
He missed two games but still led the nation in sacks per game (1.25). He had 38 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks as well as a 75-yard INT returned for a TD. The level of competition he faced as a Hilltopper will be his big question mark moving forward.
Best of the Rest:
16. Malliciah Goodman, Clemson (6-4, 280, Sr.)
17. Michael Buchanan, Illinois (6-5, 240, Sr.)
18. Scott Crichton, Oregon State (6-3, 265, rSo.)
19. Datone Jones, UCLA (6-4, 275, Sr.)
20. Devin Taylor, South Carolina (6-7, 270, Sr.)
21. Dominique Easley, Florida (6-2, 280, Jr.)
22. Kareem Martin, North Carolina (6-6, 260, Jr.)
23. Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame (6-3, 300, Sr.)
24. Stansly Maponga, TCU (6-2, 265, Jr.)
25. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (6-3, 260, Sr.)
26. James Gayle, Virginia Tech (6-4, 270, Jr.)
27. Margus Hunt, SMU (6-7, 280, Sr.)
28. Lavar Edwards, LSU (6-4, 260, Sr.)
29. Wes Horton, USC (6-5, 260, Sr.)
30. Cameron Meredith, Nebraska (6-4, 265, Sr.)
Related NFL Draft Rankings By Position:
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Running Backs
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Tight Ends
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Safeties
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Defensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Wide Receivers
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Inside Linebackers
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Cornerbacks
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Guards and Centers
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Outside Linebackers
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Quarterbacks
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Defensive Ends
With a new conference realignment announcement coming every week or two, the landscape is almost numb to the movement by now.
That is, until something happens like what's in the works in the Big East. The seven non-Football Bowl Subdivision schools likely will split from the league to form a basketball-first league, followed by more expansion.
The departure of the seven Catholic schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova — would be the biggest sea change in conference realignment since four teams left the Big 12 over the course of two seasons. While the Big 12 recovered as a 10-team league, the ripple effect from a split Big East will be felt a number of ways.
First, here’s what the Big East split will look like:
Basketball teams splitting
Football/basketball programs remaining
San Diego State
Here are the key questions facing the latest realignment possibility:
Will this new league be successful?
As far as competition, a basketball league headlined by Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova would be a multi-bid league to the NCAA Tournament. St. John’s appears to be on the upswing under Steve Lavin, but the Red Storm have made only one appearance in the last decade. Some of the candidates for expansion (see below) will add to the depth of the league, but the top-10 programs like Syracuse, Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh are out. On its face, the new format would produce a balanced league, but it would lack the powerhouse programs the ACC (Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse), Big 12 (Kansas), Pac-12 (UCLA) and SEC (Kentucky) will have. The new league could expect to be somewhere between the fourth- and seventh-best conference in a particular year. However, the basketball-first, metropolitan-based nature of the conference could serve the league well.
Basketball realignment: Tracking all changes
Do the numbers add up?
That’s going to depend on the value of the biggest wild card, the television contract. The Atlantic 10’s latest contract was surprisingly low at $40 million over eight years ($350,000 per school per year). The Big East’s new TV contract (with the seven Catholic schools) could be between $60-100 million, according to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. The basketball schools earned a substantial windfall from the football schools, but the gap between the extra revenue football provided and the headaches associated with changing membership and football-centric focus drove a rift within the league. With the Big East taking on basketball non-factors such as Houston, SMU, Tulane and UCF to replace Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the basketball product eroded.
Football realignment: Tracking all changes
Who else joins up?
The seven teams that split would likely expand further to a 10-team league. Already mentioned as possible targets fitting the profile would be teams like Butler, Dayton, Saint Louis, VCU and Xavier from the Atlantic 10, Creighton from the Missouri Valley, George Mason from the Colonial and even Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference.
Big East early season conference catchup and power rankings
Who is the biggest loser in this?
One of the founding members of the Big East, Connecticut, will be the last one standing in this scenario. The Huskies have been mentioned as a candidate for the ACC since conference realignment reignited with Pittsburgh and Syracuse bolting the Big East more than a year ago. When the ACC targeted a program to replace Maryland, which left for the Big Ten, the league selected Louisville over UConn. Now, UConn could be the last giant left in the Big East basketball lineup. If an ACC invitation never comes, UConn is looking at traveling an average of 1,203 miles to play a basketball game. In the Big East’s classic alignment in the 1980s, UConn traveled an average of 188 miles to each opponent. The retirement of Jim Calhoun, the architect of the program, has only added to the uncertainty for the Huskies.
Who keeps the Big East name?
The legal wrangling is sure to extend beyond the announcement of the split within the Big East. Not least of which is which entity retains the Big East name and the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden. The seven departing teams have the majority of votes now, outnumbering Cincinnati, Connecticut and USF and allowing the Catholic schools to dissolve the league, according to ESPN’s Dana O’Neil. The incoming members from Conference USA and the Mountain West do not having voting rights within the league. The Big East name and the tournament remain valuable commodities, the ownership of which may be settled through litigation.
With the news that the Los Angeles Angels just signed Josh Hamilton to a five-year contract for a reported $125 million, it begs the question: Five years from now, will this be viewed as one of the worst free agent deals in history? If so, Hamilton must “outperform” these big-money free agents from the distant and recent past.
Here's our look the worst free agent signings in baseball history.
Wayne Garland, Cleveland, 1977
The Indians were determined to make a splash in the first year of free agency. The appeal of Garland was his recent 20-7, 2.67 season in Baltimore. Perhaps they didn’t notice he had just 33 career starts. The 10-year, $2.3 million deal gave the Tribe a 13-19 record in 1977 and a 15-29 mark over the next four seasons, then retirement and five years of the contract to eat.
Dave Goltz, L.A. Dodgers, 1977
The Dodgers thought Goltz would bolster their rotation and gave him a six-year contract worth upwards of $2.5 million. He was waived in April of 1979.
Mark Davis, Kansas City, 1990
Davis’ huge 44-save season in 1989 and Cy Young award for San Diego was just too enticing for the Royals. Never mind he had just two seasons with more than seven saves at that point. It took only 15 appearances in 1990 to lose the closer’s job for good. His tenure in K.C. began with five saves, four blown saves and a 7.24 ERA, with 11 walks in 13.2 innings.
Carl Pavano, N.Y. Yankees, 2005
Proof that the Yankees can withstand bad contracts is that Pavano made $39.9 million over four years, but made just 26 starts for the Yankees, finishing with a 9-8 record and 5.00 ERA. Adding to the pain is that in 2009, he made 33 starts for Cleveland and Minnesota combined and won 14 games, while earning just $1.5 million.
Carlos Silva, Seattle, 2008
In 2008, $12 million per season was the going rate for a No. 2 starter. Apparently that was what the Mariners thought they were getting with their four-year, $48 million investment. But in four seasons as a full-time starter with Minnesota, Silva was 47-45 while the Twins were 52 games better than .500. The M’s found out the hard way that he wasn’t a No. 2 starter after all, going 5-18 in two seasons prior to his trade to the Cubs for Milton Bradley, perhaps an even bigger problem.
Jason Schmidt, L.A. Dodgers, 2007
The Dodgers grew tired of facing the Giants’ ace for five and a half seasons, so Los Angeles signed the supposedly durable righthander for three years and $47 million. After going 78-37 for San Francisco, Schmidt mustered only 10 starts over three seasons with the Dodgers, finishing 3-6 with a 6.02 ERA.
Edgar Renteria, Boston, 2005
After making the final out of the 2004 World Series, which gave the Red Sox their first championship since 1918, Renteria inked a four-year, $36 million deal with Boston. That was the going rate for top shortstops. After a season of uninspired play, which gnawed at fans and management, the Red Sox paid the Braves to take on the final three years of his deal in exchange for Andy Marte.
Barry Zito, San Francisco, 2007
He won a Cy Young with Oakland at age 24, and signed a seven-year, $126 million deal. But in his first five seasons with San Francisco he was 43-61 with a 4.55 ERA and was left off the 2010 postseason roster. He redeemed himself to some degree in 2012 with a 15-8, 4.15 season. And the Giants won all three of his postseason starts.
Jayson Werth, Washington, 2011
His name is Werth, not worth. Prior to signing a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals, Werth had never hit .300, nor had he ever driven in 100. This came a year after Matt Holliday signed with St. Louis for seven years and $120 million.
Chone Figgins, Seattle, 2010
The Mariners believed they were stealing the division title away from the Angels by taking their leadoff hitter Figgins. The thinking was that Figgins and Ichiro atop the Mariners’ lineup would put immense pressure on defenses. Turns out the pressure was on Figgins. He hit .259 and stole 42 bases his first season in Seattle. Since then, he’s hit .185 and been a non-factor on the bases.
Joe Rudi, California, 1977
In a five-year, $2.09 million pact, the Angels paid for a .285 average and about 80 RBIs and 70 runs. They received a .249 average, about 60 RBIs and less than 50 runs. However, the club packaged Rudi prior to the final year of his contract in a deal with the Red Sox that brought the Angels Fred Lynn.
Larry Hisle, Milwaukee, 1978
Coming off a .302 average and a AL-leading 119 RBIs as a 30-year-old in 1977, Hisle appeared to be a plum signing for the Brewers, at six years, $3.155 million. Even after his first season in Milwaukee (.290-34-115) in which he finished third in MVP voting, the Brewers were thrilled. That’s where the joy ended. For the next four seasons, he totaled 79 games, 15 home runs and 46 RBIs. He played his final game in May of 1982 with almost two full years left on his deal.
Roger Clemens, N.Y. Yankees, 2007
Hoping for one last hurrah from their former ace, the Yankees committed more than $17 million to Clemens in May, knowing they would get less than 20 starts from him. Clemens didn’t provide a boost of any kind. The Yankees lost nine of his 17 starts, and he averaged less than six innings per start, so the bullpen was not spared. In his lone postseason foray in 2007, he lasted just 2.1 innings in a loss to Cleveland.
Bob Horner, St. Louis, 1988
After a year in Japan, the Cardinals believed that the long-time Brave could rekindle his offensive prowess in the States. Injuries, sub-par hitting and horrendous defense are the lasting memories in St. Louis. He hit three homers in 60 games.
Richie Sexson, Seattle, 2005
His four-year, $50 million deal seemed a bit excessive at the time, but he provided good value in his first two seasons. Seattle released him midseason during the fourth year of the contract, eating about $8 million.
Albert Belle, Baltimore, 1999
After a season with 108 runs, 117 RBIs and 101 walks, it appeared that the Orioles’ $60 million investment might work out. Then Belle’s body began to break down, and he suited up just one more season, although he was paid for four additional years after he unofficially retired.
Aside from the turmoil caused by conference realignment, the Big East has continued some familiar trends: Syracuse continues to be among the national elite with a bench player taking his turn in the spotlight, Louisville continues to be a defensive pest, and Georgetown is at its best when no one expects big things out of the Hoyas.
But the league has its share of surprises, such as Cincinnati’s ascent and a flop of a season for Florida State.
For most college basketball teams, players are preparing for finals. For those of us watching the sport, we’re preparing for midterms, so to speak.
As the non-conference seasons start to wrap up and league play to begin around the new year, Athlon is looking back and looking ahead at each conference.
EARLY SEASON CONFERENCE CATCHUP: BIG EAST
Other leagues: ACC | Big 12
|Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams|
Surprise team: Georgetown.
The Hoyas aren’t the most fun team to watch -- the 37-36 win over Tennessee on Nov. 30 was one of the ugliest games of the year so far -- but they’ve settled as one of the top teams in the Big East. Since an overtime loss to Indiana on Nov. 20, Georgetown has held four of the last five opponents to 50 or fewer points. The stat-sheet stuffing Otto Porter has delivered as one of the breakout players in the Big East.
Disappointing team: USF.
USF didn’t need great offense to reach the NCAA Tournament last season. Now that vulnerability is catching up with the Bulls. USF failed to score 60 points in its three losses to UCF, Western Michigan and Oklahoma State. The Bulls lead the Big East in scoring defense, but turnovers and interior play have been their doom.
Where did he come from? Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse.
The sophomore Carter-Williams didn’t come from obscurity. He was a McDonald’s All-American, after all. At 10.4 assists per gme, he’s been an assist machine on part with North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall last season. Unlike Marshall, Carter-Williams is scoring in double figures (12.4 points per game) and leading the Big East in steals (3.8 per game).
Where did he go? Luke Hancock, Louisville.
The George Mason transfer was billed as one of the top transfers in the Big East, and Rick Pitino has sung his praises in the preseason. But the junior forward has struggled so far this season. He’s averaging just 6.8 points per game and has been mired in a season-long shooting slump.
Key stat: Pittsburgh’s assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Panthers have a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season with 185 assists and 92 turnovers. That may level off as the schedule gets tougher, but it’s an encouraging sign for a Pitt team that had a rare NCAA Tournament miss last season. No team since West Virginia in 2005-06 has finished the season with twice as many assists than turnovers.
Related: Five questions on the Big East split
THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN CONFERENCE PLAY
|Louisville guard Russ Smith|
Can Russ Smith make a run at an All-American season? He’s averaging better than 20 points per game for a Louisville team with only two players averaging double figures. He’s an elite scorer, but he can play out of control at times. He already has the “Russdiculous” moniker. Can he add some postseason hardware to the mix?
Can anyone break into the Big East’s top tier? Syracuse and Louisville are firmly atop the Big East this season. Both of which have the look of teams that can make NCAA Tournament runs. Veteran-laden Cincinnati and Notre Dame are nearing the league’s upper echelon. Both team’s momentum will be tested in a key game early in the conference season in South Bend on Jan. 7.
What will Connecticut do with Kevin Ollie? The Huskies coach remains in limbo on a one-season contract. UConn has been better than expected, starting the season with a win over Michigan State and losses to New Mexico and NC State on neutral courts. At least for the administration, the start hasn’t been enough to hire Ollie long term. The resolution to the UConn coaching situation looks like a season-long storyline in Storrs.
BIG EAST POWER RANKINGS
Player of the year watch
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Russ Smith, Louisville
Otto Porter, Georgetown
Freshman of the year watch
JaKarr Sampson, St. John’s
DaJuan Coleman, Syracuse
James Robinson, Pittsburgh
Coach of the year watch
John Thompson III, Georgetown
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Mike Brey, Notre Dame
1. Syracuse (8-0). The Orange are steamrolling the competition this season, winning by an average of 28.5 points per game. Only Arkansas has played Syracuse within single digits this season, losing 91-82 at home. Temple on Dec. 22 is the biggest test Syracuse will face before a road trip to Louisville on Jan. 19.
2. Louisville (8-1). The Cardinals hope to get Gorgui Dieng back from wrist surgery within the next week, allowing the junior center to work back into game shape in time for Kentucky at the end of the month.
3. Cincinnati (9-0). Turning up the tempo has worked for guards Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuan Parker, who have increased their scoring as a trio by 11.4 points per game.
4. Notre Dame (8-1). The 64-50 victory over Kentucky on Nov. 29 may not be as impressive as once believed, but the Irish are usually tough to defeat in South Bend.
5. Georgetown (8-1). Otto Porter, the team’s top player, is attempting the third-fewest shots on the team. Do the Hoyas need to put more in Porter’s hands to contend in the Big East?
6. Pittsburgh (9-1). The first 10 games have been an encouraging turnaround for a Pitt team that went 5-13 in the Big East last season, but the Panthers have faced a paper-thin schedule. Pitt has faced one major-conference team, Michigan, and lost 67-62.
7. Marquette (6-2). Marquette could use more of what it saw from Junior Cadougan in the final 10 minutes against Wisconsin. Cadougan scored 18 points agains the Badgers, more than he scored in the previous four games combined.
8. Connecticut (7-2). The inside game will be a problem all year for the Huskies. Can Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright lead surprising UConn through the course of the Big East season.
9. Providence (7-2). The Friars aren’t yet at full strength with Vincent Council playing one game and Kris Dunn out all year with a shoulder injury.
10. Seton Hall (7-2). Pirates squandered a 16-point lead against LSU, had to sweat against NJIT and recovered from a 13-point deficit against Wake Forest. That 7-2 record may be deceiving.
11. Rutgers (6-2). Eli Carter is shooting 49.3 percent from the field in Rutgers' wins and 12.5 percent in losses.
12. St. John’s (7-3). The Red Storm lost 81-65 on Dec. 4 to San Francisco, allowing the Dons to shoot 50 percent from the field and 9 of 15 from 3-point range. Not a good sign.
13. USF (5-3). A year ago, USF led the Big East in scoring defense and finished last in scoring offense. Trying to finish 12-6 again with an offense struggling to score 60 points again would seem to be tempting fate.
14. DePaul (7-3). Before defeating Arizona State on Wednesday, DePaul's four-game win streak came over teams that are a combined 13-25, but any progress is good for a team that lost to Gardner-Webb in the second game of the season.
15. Villanova (6-4). The Wildcats have lost four of the last seven, including losses to Columbia and La Salle, but Tuesday's win over St. Joseph's signals a bit of life in the Wildcats.
Texas A&M is in the market for a new offensive coordinator, as Kliff Kingsbury is leaving College Station to be the head coach at Texas Tech. Kingsbury is considered one of college football's rising stars in the coaching ranks and was a key factor in the development of quarterback Johnny Manziel. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin assembled an impressive staff last season and should have plenty of interested targets for the open position. One candidate that makes sense but probably won't happen is Chad Morris. The Clemson offensive coordinator has a huge buyout, so it's hard to envision him leaving Death Valley, even for his alma mater.
6 Coaches to replace Kliff Kingsbury as Texas A&M's Offensive Coordinator
David Beaty, wide receivers coach, Texas A&M – If Sumlin chooses to promote someone from the current staff to offensive coordinator, Beaty and running backs’ coach Clarence McKinney make the most sense. The Texas native started his coaching career at Rice in 2006, before joining the staff at Kansas in 2008. After two seasons with the Jayhawks, Beaty served as Rice’s offensive coordinator in 2010 and went back to Kansas in 2011 as the co-offensive coordinator. Beaty did a good job of developing redshirt freshman Mike Evans into a top target for quarterback Johnny Manziel this season and is regarded as an excellent recruiter.
Clarence McKinney, running backs coach, Texas A&M – Just as we mentioned with David Beaty, if Kevin Sumlin wants to promote from within, McKinney will get serious consideration. The Houston native worked with Sumlin at Houston as the running backs coach and joined the Texas A&M staff in the same role. McKinney has no play-calling experience but is familiar with the scheme and returning talent.
Jay Norvell, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Norvell has been an assistant in the college and NFL ranks since 1986. The Wisconsin native followed Kevin Sumlin at Oklahoma in 2008 and currently serves as a co-coordinator with Josh Heupel. If Norvell wants to be a head coach, the Texas A&M offensive coordinator position would be a good stepping stone position. Although Norvell hasn’t coordinated an offense that’s identical to the one Texas A&M currently runs, he would be an ideal target for Sumlin.
Jason Phillips, co-offensive coordinator, SMU – Phillips worked with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin at Houston and played a key role in developing the Cougars’ offenses under Kliff Kingsbury and Dana Holgorsen. Phillips left Houston after Sumlin departed and joined June Jones’ staff at SMU. Phillips needs some seasoning as a play-caller, but his experience with Sumlin would be a good fit for this staff.
Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator, East Carolina – Riley is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks and has done an excellent job as East Carolina’s offensive coordinator. The Pirates averaged 407.5 yards per game this season and ranked fifth in Conference USA in passing offense. Riley followed Ruffin McNeill from Texas Tech and has worked as East Carolina’s play-caller for the last three years. Before coming to Greenville, Riley served as Texas Tech’s receiver coach.
Jake Spavital, quarterbacks coach, West Virginia – Spavital worked under Kevin Sumlin at Houston in 2009 and has followed Dana Holgorsen to his last two stops (Oklahoma State and West Virginia). The Oklahoma native served as West Virginia’s quarterback coach the last two seasons but has never called plays. Spavital is a rising star in the coaching ranks and certainly has experience in running an Air Raid scheme.
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The Cincinnati Bengals need to bounce back from last week’s disappointing loss to stay in the thick of the race for a playoff spot in the AFC when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles tonight at 8:20 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. The Bengals (7-6) gave up a nine-point lead at home to the Cowboys last week, a defeat that snapped their four-game winning streak and has them on the outside looking in at a wild-card berth right now. The Eagles (4-9) scored two touchdowns with less than four minutes remaining to overcome an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat the Buccaneers. The victory was the beleaguered team’s first since Sept. 30, snapping an eight-game slide.
When the Cincinnati Bengals have the ball:
Cincinnati’s offense ranks 15th in the NFL in yards in per game with 355.2 and 11th in scoring at 24.7 points per game. The Bengals are No. 14 in both rushing (117.5 ypg) and passing (237.8 ypg) offense, although the ground game has been more effective recently. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is averaging more than 109 yards per game over his last four, and all three of his 100-yard games have come during this span. Green-Ellis has only five rushing scores on the season, but his lack of scoring has been offset by the production of the passing game. Quarterback Andy Dalton has already eclipsed his touchdown pass total from last year’s rookie season, as his 25 scoring strikes place him in a tie for fifth in the league. On the receiving end of 10 of these has been A.J. Green, who is tied for the league lead in touchdown catches and among the top eight in both receptions (79) and yards (1,151). Dalton also has already thrown 14 interceptions, one more than he had in all of 2011, and the Bengals as a team have fumbled the ball away seven times.
Philadelphia’s defense has been respectable in terms of yards allowed, but has still given up a fair amount of points. The Eagles are 14th in total defense (348.6 ypg), but rank 25th in scoring at 26.2 points per game. They fall in the middle of the pack in both passing (229.3 ypg, 15th) and rushing (119.3 ypg, 17th) defense, but have yielded some pretty big totals over the last month. Prior to last week’s win over Tampa Bay, the Eagles had surrendered an average of 392 total yards of offense in its previous three games, all losses. Philadelphia has given up 25 touchdown passes, tied for second-most in the NFL, while only collecting 22 sacks and seven interceptions. The lack of consistent pressure on the quarterback and inability to create turnovers (10 total takeaways, tied for fewest in the league), have also contributed to the defense’s lack of success.
When the Philadelphia Eagles have the ball:
Similar to its defense, Philadelphia’s offense has gained a fair share of yards, but hasn’t been able to translate them into points. The Eagles are 11th in the league in total offense at 362.9 yards per game, but only 27th in scoring, producing fewer than 19 points per contest. Over their last nine games, a span in which the Eagles managed just one win, they scored more than 23 points in a game a grand total of one time. The Eagles are ninth in rushing offense (125.5 ypg), as rookie Bryce Brown has done a solid job replacing an injured LeSean McCoy (concussion). Brown piled up 347 yards rushing in his first two starts, but only managed six on 12 carries last week against Tampa Bay. He also has three fumbles since taking over lead back duties, as turnovers have been an issue for the Eagles’ offense all season long. The Eagles have turned the ball over a total of 29 times, including 17 fumbles, which ranks them second in the NFL in this category. Besides, McCoy, the Eagles are also missing quarterback Michael Vick (concussion) and wide receiver DeSean Jackson (injured reserve) due to injury, and also will be without starting tight end Brent Celek (concussion) tonight. Rookie Nick Foles has been named the starting quarterback for the rest of the season, and he responded with his best game last week against the Buccaneers. Foles completed 32 passes for 381 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush) in leading the Eagles’ fourth-quarter comeback. Foles hasn’t thrown an interception in his last three games, which is impressive considering he’s a rookie and the fact that the Eagles have allowed 41 sacks, the third-most in the league.
Cincinnati’s defense has been steady and consistent throughout the season and is one of the main reasons the Bengals are in playoff contention. The Bengals are sixth in total defense, giving up 328 yards per game, and 15th in scoring defense at 21.5 points per contest. They have been equally effective against both the run (105.5 ypg, 11th) and pass (222.5 ypg, 10th) and lead the league in sacks with 42. The unit has produced a total of 21 turnovers, including 10 interceptions.
Even though Cincinnati comes into this game on a losing streak, while Philadelphia won last week, there’s little question that the Bengals have been playing better football. Last week’s tough home loss to Dallas snapped the Bengals four-game winning streak. Even in defeat, however, the Bengals gave up just 20 points and over their last five games overall they have allowed just 12.2 points per contest. The Eagles on the other hand needed a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback against one of the league’s worst pass defenses to get their first win in more than two months. One week doesn’t completely reverse the direction these two teams appear to be headed. Even though Cincinnati is the road team and could be looking ahead to a crucial, potential playoff-deciding Week 16 showdown in Pittsburgh, I fully expect the Bengals to take care of business on the road and get back into the win column. For what it’s worth, the last time these two teams met nothing was decided, as they played to a 13-13 tie back on Nov. 16, 2008 in Cincinnati. I’m not expecting the same outcome tonight.
Bengals 27, Eagles 20
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. But one quick look at the 2012 Associated Press All-America team, and it is hard to argue. Six of the 23 members (kickers and punters not included) were ranked in the Athlon Consensus 100 (Athlon's top 100) while seven others were four-star — or "national" recruits. So 13 of the 23 were considered elite prospects that were coveted by every school in the nation.
Additionally, 16 of the 23 were ranked as one the top 10 recruits in their respective state while 13 of those names were ranked as one of the top five players in the state. Eight of the 23 names below were ranked as one of the 10 best players at their position nationally as well. Only three players were two-star recruits.
Clearly, recruiting rankings matter.
2012 Offensive All-Americans as Recruits:
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (2011)
The Aggies superstar wasn’t considered a can’t-miss quarterback prospect back in 2011 when he signed with Texas A&M. Other than TAMU, only Oregon, Stanford, Baylor and Iowa State offered him scholarships to major conference programs. The Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product was a three-star quarterback who was ranked as the No. 14-best dual-threat signal caller in the nation and was the No. 45-rated player in the state of Texas. After a year of learning the college game as a redshirt, Manziel proved most everyone in the recruiting business wrong by winning the Heisman Trophy.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (2009) National Recruit
Ball came to Wisconsin as the Class 5A Missouri State Player of the Year after rushing for 8,222 yards and 107 touchdowns at Wentzville (Mo.) Timberland. He was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 33 running back in the nation and was a four-star recruit. Ball was the No. 4 player in the state of Missouri by Athlon Sports and the No. 3 player in the Badgers’ 2009 class, and he picked Wisconsin over offers from Missouri, Stanford, Kansas, Northwestern, Iowa State and Indiana.
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (2011) National Recruit
The Oro Valley (Ariz.) Canyon Del Oro sophomore was ranked by Athlon Sports as the No. 30 running back in the nation, the No. 5 player in the state of Arizona and the No. 212 overall recruit in the country. He held three Pac-12 offers to play college football from Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. The coveted tailback was a four-star prospect by Rivals.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC (2011) AC100
The superstar wide receiver hails from California prep powerhouse Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra. He was the No. 64-rated prospect in the nation, the No. 6-rated player in the state and the No. 10-rated wide receiver in the country. His offer sheet was a who’s who of college superpowers. Lee played on the same team as AC100 wide receivers George Farmer (2011), Robert Woods (2010) and four-star Paul Richardson (2010). How did anyone stop that passing attack?
Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor (2008)
The electric playmaker hails from Dallas (Texas) W.T. White and held only one other offer to play college football aside from Baylor. Colorado State was the only other program to offer Williams an opportunity out of high school. He was a two-star athlete prospect who was unranked by any scouting service in any way, shape or form. He has clearly proven the scouts wrong as one of the top wideout prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford (2009)
The heady tight end was a three-star talent from Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista back in 2009. He was the No. 10-rated tight end in the nation and the No. 46-rated prospect in the state by Rivals. He held only three, albeit quality, offers from Stanford, Cal and UCLA.
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (2010) National Recruit
The offensive tackle from Arlington (Texas) High barely missed landing in the AC100. He was the No. 106-rated overall prospect in the nation regardless of position. He was the No. 13-rated offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 13-rated prospect in the Lone Star State. His offer sheet was incredible with names like Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Nebraska, UCLA, Arkansas and Texas A&M atop his wish list. As a draft eligible, potential first-round pick, he now becomes one of Kevin Sumlin’s top recruits once again.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (2009) National Recruit
Hailing all the way from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral, Lewan came to Michigan as a highly touted prospect with offers from all over the nation. He wasn’t a top 100 recruit, but was a four-star player who had his pick of schools. He was rated as the No. 194 overall player, the No. 16 offensive tackle and the No. 5 player in Arizona by Rivals.
Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (2009)
This big blocker from Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake picked Alabama over Auburn, South Carolina and Rutgers. Warmack was ranked as the No. 29 player in the state of Georgia and the No. 20 offensive guard in the nation by Rivals.com. He was a three-star prospect.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina (2008)
The Tar Heels blocker was a three-star recruit from Wilmington (N.C.) Hoggard. Rivals gave him a three-star ranking and named him the No. 21 offensive guard in the nation and the No. 8-rated player in the state. He picked North Carolina over offers from Duke, East Carolina, NC State, South Carolina and Wake Forest.
Barrett Jones, C, Alabama (2008) National Recruit
This Memphis (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian stud was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee (which included Dont’a Hightower), the No. 17 offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 146-rated player nationally regardless of position. He possessed offers from nearly everyone in the southeast but visited only Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. Jones helped Nick Saban sign the nation’s No. 1 class in 2008.
Tavon Austin, AP, West Virginia (2009) National Recruit
The dynamic athlete signed with West Virginia out of Baltimore (Md.) Dunbar and was ranked behind only Jelani Jenkins (Florida) and Darrell Givens (Penn State) in his state. He was the No. 19-rated running back prospect in the nation and the No. 164-overall player in the class. He held offers from Pitt and Rutgers from the Big East, Michigan and Illinois from the Big Ten as well as Maryland, North Carolina and Boston College in the ACC. He ended his career, ironically, in the Big 12.
2012 Defensive All-Americans as Recruits:
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (2011) AC100
The Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe defensive end was the unanimous No. 1-rated prospect in the nation in the Class of 2011. Obviously, this made him the top player in his state and the top player nationally at his position. He literally could have picked any of the 120 (at the time) programs in the FBS ranks to play his college ball. In two short seasons, he has established that he was ranked exactly where he should have been and appears poised for a Heisman Trophy run in 2013. He also has a good shot at being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State (2010)
There are plenty of other star recruits on the Florida State defense, but the Salisbury (Conn.) High prospect was the best this year. The three-star recruit was the No. 65-rated defensive tackle and the No. 5-rated player in the state by Rivals. His offer sheet wasn’t long but had some intriguing names: Oregon, Rutgers, Missouri, Cal, UConn and Boston College to name a few. The Noles were lucky to get this underrated prospect.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State (2009)
From Corona (Calif.) Centennial, Sutton came to Arizona State sporting only four BCS offers. They included Arizona, Nebraska and Boise State in addition to the Sun Devils. He was the No. 42-rated defensive tackle and the No. 40-rated player in the state of California in the ’09 class. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (2007)
The big fella from Bingham (Utah) High originally signed with BYU out of high school. He was the No. 57-rated defensive end and the No. 3-rated player in the state of Utah. He held offers from Utah, UNLV and Weber State as well as the Cougars. He eventually landed at Snow College for two years before heading to Salt Lake City. Miraculously, Lotulelei didn’t even play football in 2009 before signing with Utah in January 2010.
Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame (2009) AC100
The Irish middle linebacker from Laie (Hawaii) Punahou is no stranger to the spotlight. He was the No. 1-rated linebacker in the nation and No. 3 overall player in the country, trailing only Matt Barkley (USC) and Russell Shepard (LSU) in Athlon Sports' 2009 recruiting rankings. Obviously, the No. 1 player in the state, Te’o held offers from every college program in the nation and was able to write his own ticket.
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia (2009) AC100
The Columbus (Ga.) Carver product was the No. 6-rated linebacker in the nation and the No. 28 overall player in the nation by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 1 player in the Peach State and signed with USC out of Carver High School. He played the first half of his freshman year before hurting his neck. Complication with the injury eventually led to him transferring back home to Georgia.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (2010) National Recruit
Much like Joeckel, Mosley just missed landing in the AC100 as a linebacker from Theodore (Ala.) High. He was the No. 113-rated overall prospect in the nation. Mosley finished as the No. 9-rated linebacker in the nation and the No. 3-rated player in the state of Alabama. Every program in the Southeast as well as a few from the Big 12 (Oklahoma) and the West Coast (Stanford) wanted to ink the star tackler.
Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State (2009)
The Beavers defensive back and return man was one of the biggest steals of the ’09 class. The Astoria (Ore.) High prospect was a wildly underrated two-star recruit with two FBS offers. Portland State, Eastern Washington, Idaho and Oregon State were the only four programs interested in the two-star prospect. Rivals rated him as the No. 8-best player in the state of Oregon.
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (2010) AC100
Only two players were ranked ahead of Mosley in the state of Alabama in 2010 and Milliner was one of them. The Millbrook (Ala.) Stanhope Elmore cornerback was the No. 1-rated player in the state and the No. 3-rated defensive back in the nation. He finished as the No. 15-rated overall prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports. His offers sheet included every major program from the Southeast.
Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State (2007)
The star safety was a 6-foot-1, 180-pound two-star prospect from Bakersfield (Calif.) High School who signed with Fresno State. He has redshirted and missed an entire year with injury but has persevered to finish his career an All-American. He was unranked by any and all scouting services and held only one FBS offer (Fresno State) to play football.
Matt Elam, S, Florida (2010) AC100
The hardest hitter in the nation hails from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer was a star at an early age. Elam was the No. 1-rated defensive back prospect in the nation and the No. 1 player in the uber-talented Sunshine State. He was ranked as the No. 8 overall player in the entire class. Like most elite talents, he had his pick of any school in the nation.
With college football's 2012 regular season in the books, it's time to take a look back at preseason predictions and which teams failed to meet expectations. USC was a popular pick to play for the national championship but unexpectedly finished with a 7-5 record. Virginia Tech, Texas and Arkansas were also three of the year's biggest disappointments, as the Razorbacks failed to make a bowl and the Hokies finished with a 6-6 record.
Top 10 Disappointments from 2012
After finishing 2011 with a four-game winning streak – including an impressive 38-35 win over Oregon in Eugene – all signs seemed to point to a national title run for USC. However, the Trojans finished 2012 with a disappointing 7-5 mark, which was the program’s fewest victories since posting six in 2001. Quarterback Matt Barkley was expected to be one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy, but he never managed to get back into contention after a loss to Stanford. The biggest problem for USC was a defense that struggled to stop spread offenses. The Trojans were torched for 62 points against Oregon and had trouble containing UCLA and Arizona. After the 7-5 mark in 2012, coach Lane Kiffin needs to show the program is headed back in the right direction to avoid the hot seat in 2013.
2. Virginia Tech
With Miami and North Carolina in transition, the Hokies were the clear frontrunner to win the ACC Coastal and play for their third consecutive trip to the conference title game. Despite a key overtime victory over Georgia Tech in the season opener, Virginia Tech never found its championship form. Losses to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and North Carolina left the Hokies sitting at 3-3 at the halfway point of the year. And Virginia Tech needed wins over Boston College and Virginia just to get eligible to play in its 20th consecutive bowl appearance. Both sides of the ball are to blame, as the defense didn’t quite live up to preseason expectations, while the offense finished ninth in the ACC with an average of 391.8 yards per game. The Hokies have enough talent coming back to Blacksburg to contend for the ACC Coastal title next season, but the offense has to show big improvement.
After improving their win total by three games from 2010 to 2011, the Longhorns were expected to make another jump in the Big 12 standings this year. Instead, Texas failed to build off last season’s 8-5 mark and finished the regular season at 8-4, with losses in its final two games. Although the offense averaged 441 yards per game, the passing attack is an ongoing issue for coach Mack Brown. Quarterback David Ash was inconsistent, and the coaching staff is taking a look in the junior college ranks for upgrades for 2013. The offensive line and rushing attack is solid, but quarterback play is crucial if Texas wants to win the Big 12 next year. The defense also shares in the blame, as this unit underachieved in 2012 and loses end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro in 2013.
Even though losing Bobby Petrino was a huge setback, Arkansas was still expected to be a top-25 team in 2012. The season started off with a 49-24 win over Jacksonville State, but the Razorbacks lost their next four games, including a 52-0 blowout at the hands of Alabama. A two-game winning streak gave Arkansas hope of making a bowl, but losses to Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State clinched the program’s first losing season since 2008. New coach Bret Bielema has some pieces to work with next year, but the Razorbacks will be hovering right around the .500 mark in 2013.
Even though the Tigers had plenty of question marks about its roster coming into the season, a 3-9 overall record just didn’t seem possible. After all, Auburn recruited among the nation’s best under Gene Chizik and were coming off an 8-5 season, which included a surprise 16-13 win over South Carolina. Instead of showing signs of improvement, everything went wrong for the Tigers. The offense lacked an identity under new coordinator Scot Loeffler and averaged only 18.7 points a game. The defense returned nine starters, yet finished 13th in the SEC in yards allowed. New coach (and former offensive coordinator) Gus Malzahn is a good fit at Auburn, but he will need some time to fix the woes on both sides of the ball and rectify the bad coaching from the last few seasons.
6. South Florida
With 13 starters back and five losses by 10 points or less in 2011, most expected USF to rebound back into a winning season in 2012. Despite opening 2-0 with a comeback win over Nevada in Week 2, the Bulls never found the right mix on either side of the ball. The offense averaged only 20.6 points a game, while the defense ranked 86th nationally against the pass. An injury to quarterback B.J. Daniels certainly didn’t help, but a lack of playmakers at running back had a lot to do with the lackluster performance of the offense. The disastrous 3-9 season cost coach Skip Holtz his job, but the Bulls landed one of the top coaching hires of 2012 in Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart.
No one expected Tennessee to win the SEC East in 2012. However, a 5-7 final record seemed like a longshot with the returning talent on offense. The Volunteers started 3-1 but lost four consecutive games and needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Troy on Nov. 3. An overtime loss to Missouri and a blowout defeat at Vanderbilt was enough to seal Derek Dooley’s fate and clinched the Volunteers’ third consecutive losing season. The offense wasn’t the problem, averaging 475.9 yards per game. However, the defense was a total disaster under new coordinator Sal Sunseri, giving up 471.3 yards and 35.7 points per game.
8. Washington State
The Cougars seemed to be on the right track after the 2011 season, winning two Pac-12 games and losing two others by three points. However, the rebuilding job in Pullman was bigger than most anticipated. New coach Mike Leach was expected to turn the Washington State offense into one of the nation’s best, but the Cougars averaged only 20.4 points a game and finished 95th nationally in yardage. Consistency at quarterback was an issue, but the offensive line and rushing attack were also huge problems. Washington State only beat UNLV by eight points and lost three Pac-12 games by 20 points or more. Leach will get the Cougars back in contention for a bowl game, but 2012 was a considerable disappointment with the buzz surrounding the program and the returning players from last season’s 4-8 team.
The Hawkeyes weren’t expected to win the Big Ten, but it’s also hard to give a pass for finishing 4-8 in a down year in the conference. The Hawkeyes struggled to transition to new offensive coordinator Greg Davis, as quarterback James Vandenberg threw only seven touchdown passes. Injuries hampered the running backs once again, while the defense finished eighth in the Big Ten in yards allowed. Iowa scored a one-point win over Northern Illinois and beat Michigan State in overtime. However, there were plenty of lowlights on the schedule, as the Hawkeyes lost to Central Michigan and Indiana. Kirk Ferentz has a huge contract, so he’s really in no danger of losing his job. However, Iowa cannot afford to finish 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten next season.
10. West Virginia
A 7-5 finish in its first season in the Big 12 isn’t too bad of a year for West Virginia. However, when you consider how the Mountaineers started the season, 7-5 is a disappointment. Led by a high-scoring offense and the play of quarterback Geno Smith, West Virginia started 5-0 with a huge road win over Texas. The Mountaineers tumbled after beating the Longhorns in Austin, losing their next five games and winning the final two contests to get to 7-5. West Virginia’s offense was one of the best in the nation, but the defense ranked 119th against the pass and 114th in points allowed. With Geno Smith and Tavon Austin gone to the NFL after the Pinstripe Bowl, the Mountaineers have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball in 2013.
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With 35 bowl games, it's not easy to decide which matchups are worth your time. To help your viewing experience, Athlon has ranked all postseason games from must-see to the must-miss. After taking a look at the top 10 must-watch matchups, it's time to examine the games that you can miss. Whether these games appear to be a blowout or lack interesting storylines, here are the 10 bowl matchups that you can miss.
College Football's Top 10 Worst Matchups of the 2012 Bowl Season
1. Armed Forces Bowl – Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6)
Date/Time: Dec. 29 at 11:45 a.m. ET
The Armed Forces Bowl is just one of two of postseason games with both teams sporting a 6-6 record. Air Force is making its fifth consecutive bowl trip under coach Troy Calhoun and its third game in the Armed Force Bowl in the last five years. Rice was picked by most to finish near the bottom of Conference USA’s West Division but won its final four games to get bowl eligible. The Owls are playing in a postseason game for the first time since 2008 but will have their hands full trying to stop Air Force’s offense, which averages 328.8 rushing yards per game.
Why you can miss this one: Two 6-6 teams. Is there really any other explanation needed? The last two Armed Forces Bowls have been decided by three points or less, but there's really nothing noteworthy about this matchup. Credit Air Force and Rice for making it to the postseason, but this game is one you can miss to catch up on post-Christmas chores.
2. Little Caesars – Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)
Date/Time: Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
This matchup in Detroit might not be one of the most intriguing games, but there are some interesting aspects surrounding both teams. After getting passed in the bowl selection process last year, Western Kentucky is making its first trip to a postseason game. The Hilltoppers feature running back Antonio Andrews, who leads the nation with 248.1 all-purpose yards per game. Central Michigan returns to the postseason after a two-year absence and had a road win over Iowa this year but failed to beat a team with a winning record.
Why you can miss this one: Considering this matchup falls on the day after Christmas, it's easy for this one to get lost in the shuffle. And who knows, maybe there's a gift you need to return or getting a jumpstart on your 2013 Christmas shopping. Western Kentucky lost head coach Willie Taggart to South Florida, but interim coach Lance Guidry led Miami (Ohio) to a win in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl. Central Michigan might be the worst team in bowl season, beating Akron, Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio) and UMass - a combined 8-40 in 2012.
3. Hawaii Bowl – SMU (6-6) vs. Fresno State (9-3)
Date/Time: Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
Former Hawaii coach June Jones makes his first appearance in Aloha Stadium since a 35-28 victory over Washington in Dec. 1, 2007. Despite leaving Hawaii after the 2007 season, Jones is still a popular figure and should help build the local interest in this game. SMU has made four consecutive bowl games but needed a victory over Tulsa in its final game just to get eligible this year. Former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 2,720 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season with the Mustangs. New coach Tim DeRuyter led the Bulldogs to a share of the Mountain West title in his first season and brings a high-powered offense to Hawaii. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for 3,742 yards and 36 touchdowns this year, while running back Robbie Rouse topped 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. These two teams were once conference mates in the WAC, and Fresno State holds a 5-1 edge over SMU in the all-time series.
Why you can miss this one: Just as we mentioned with the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, this game is a tough draw on Dec. 24. Yes, it's the only college game on, but there's also a lot going on with Christmas parties and gatherings. Of course, it's a nice getaway if the in-laws are bothering you. It's hard to see this game being close, especially considering the firepower on the Fresno State sideline. If Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse get on track early, SMU will have a lot of trouble keeping this one close in the fourth quarter.
4. Meineke Car Care – Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Date/Time: Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET
Considering Minnesota lost six out of its last eight games, this game has potential to be a blowout victory by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders didn’t exactly close out the year on a high note either, losing four out of their final five games. However, the Golden Gophers will need a huge effort on defense to stop Texas Tech’s passing attack (No. 2 nationally). Minnesota’s offense never managed more than 17 points in each of its final four contests, which won’t be good enough against the high-scoring Red Raider attack.
Why you can miss this one: On paper, this is a huge mismatch. Minnesota struggled to generate anything on offense in the second half of the season, while Texas Tech averages 37.8 points a game. Even though the Red Raiders lost coach Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati, it's hard to see the Golden Gophers being able to score enough points to pull off the victory.
5. Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)
Date/Time: Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
In a bit of a surprise, Oklahoma State ended up in the final allotted Big 12 bowl. The Cowboys were 7-5 but lost three games by a touchdown or less and were forced to start three quarterbacks due to injuries this year. Despite making back-to-back bowl games, Purdue fired coach Danny Hope after the season finale. The Boilermakers found a spark on offense from quarterback Robert Marve late in the year but will have a tough time keeping pace with the Cowboys on Jan. 1.
Why you can miss this one: It's easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of bowl games on Jan. 1. The Heart of Dallas Bowl kicks off at the same time as the Gator Bowl and just an hour before the Capital One and Outback bowls begin. Considering the amount of games on New Year's Day, this matchup will get lost in the mix. And there's a strong possibility this game turns into a blowout. Oklahoma State's offense averaged 44.7 points a game, which is bad news for a Purdue team that ranked seventh in the Big Ten in scoring.
6. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl – UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3)
Date/Time: Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Looking for something to do on the Friday before Christmas? How about this MAC vs. C-USA matchup? These two teams have met three times, with Ball State owning a 2-1 edge. The Cardinals finished the regular season with six consecutive victories but head into the bowl game with some uncertainty surrounding their quarterback Keith Wenning, who suffered an ankle injury against Ohio. UCF fell just short of a Conference USA title and three of its losses came by five points or less, with its only other loss coming to Ohio State in Week 2. Ball State’s rush defense has struggled this year, which is bad news against a UCF team with running backs Latavius Murray and Miami transfer Storm Johnson.
Why you can miss this one: Considering this game falls on the Friday before Christmas, last-minute shopping might have to take precedence. Ball State's quarterback situation is a huge question mark, and if starter Keith Wenning or backup Kelly Page can't go, the Cardinals will have to turn to walk-on Kyle Kamman. If Ball State has Wenning under center, this matchup should be an entertaining affair. However, there's also potential for this one to be a real dud.
7. Sun Bowl – USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7)
Date/Time: Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
From preseason No. 1 to the Sun Bowl. That’s the kind of year it has been for USC. The Trojans lost four out of their final five games to slip out of contention in the Pac-12 South, while quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a shoulder injury in the loss to UCLA. The good news for USC is Barkley is expected to play against Georgia Tech, who limps into the bowl season as the only team with a losing record. The Yellow Jackets lost in the Sun Bowl against Utah last season and will give the Trojans’ defense a challenge with its option attack. If Barkley and a deep USC receiving corps get on track early, it could be an uphill battle for Georgia Tech to keep this one close.
Why you can miss this one: Considering the preseason expectations surrounding USC, there has to be a sense of disappointment for the Trojans to be playing in a game outside of the BCS. Assuming Matt Barkley is able to return from a shoulder injury, USC should be able to have its way against Georgia Tech's defense. The Yellow Jackets have to find a way to control the clock and keep the Trojans' high-powered passing attack on the sidelines. Georgia Tech will have some success on offense, but USC simply has too much firepower and this one could get out of hand in the second half.
8. Belk Bowl – Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)
Date/Time: Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. ET
The last three matchups in the Belk Bowl have each been decided by seven points or less. And this season’s game should be just as competitive, especially after Cincinnati found its rhythm on offense with the switch to Brendon Kay at quarterback. Kay replaced Munchie Legaux as the team’s No. 1 passer and finished with six touchdowns over the final four games. The Bearcats allow 373.8 yards per game on defense but are holding opponents to 17.2 points a contest. Duke is making its first bowl appearance since 1994 but closed out the year by losing its final four games. The Blue Devils have made solid progress under coach David Cutcliffe and will test Cincinnati’s secondary with quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting receiver Conner Vernon.
Why you can miss this one: Motivation will be a key factor to watch in this bowl. There's no question Duke is excited to be in a bowl game, while Cincinnati is dealing with the departure of coach Butch Jones to Tennessee. The Blue Devils cooled off in the second half of the year but still finished with a 6-6 mark. The Bearcats are the better team, but how will they respond without their head coach? Both offenses average over 30 points a game, so there could be plenty of fireworks. However, it's hard to get excited about a 6-6 team playing against a squad that lost its head coach.
9. New Orleans – Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4)
Date/Time: Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
There should be no shortage of points when the Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns meet in New Orleans on Dec. 22. Both teams are averaging over 30 points a game and each finished the year with a three-game winning streak. Louisiana-Lafayette won a 32-30 thriller over San Diego State in last season’s New Orleans Bowl and with its campus less than 200 miles away from the Superdome, should have a significant homefield advantage over East Carolina. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden finished the year by throwing nine touchdowns over his last three games and should be able to take advantage of a Ragin’ Cajuns’ secondary that ranked near the bottom of the Sun Belt.
Why you can miss this one: It's probably unfair to put this game in the must-miss category, but most of the college football world will probably skip this matchup. East Carolina didn't beat a team with a winning record, while Louisiana-Lafayette used wins in four out of its final five games to get bowl eligible. Both offenses are potent, so the scoreboard operator could be busy. This matchup has potential, but there are few reasons for the average college football fan to be interested.
10. Independence Bowl – Ohio (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4)
Date/Time: Dec. 28 at 2 p.m. ET
With not enough ACC or SEC teams bowl eligible, the Independence Bowl landed an intriguing matchup between two non-BCS teams. Ohio started the year with a bang, winning on the road at Penn State and opened 7-0 before a loss to Miami (Ohio). The Bobcats suffered a handful of season-ending injuries, which played a key role in the team’s struggles in the second half of the year. Louisiana-Monroe is making its first bowl appearance in program history and it also started the year off with a huge upset, beating Arkansas 34-31 in Week 2. Warhawks’ quarterback Kolton Browning had an outstanding season, throwing for 2,830 yards and 27 touchdowns on 389 attempts. Both teams average over 30 points a game, so expect plenty of fireworks on Dec. 28 in Shreveport, La.
Why you can miss this one: The Independence Bowl kicks off a trio of bowl games on Dec. 28, but none are particularly exciting. If you like offense, there should be plenty of points scored between these two teams, especially with the talent at quarterback - Kolton Browning, ULM and Tyler Tettleton, Ohio. The Bobcats closed out 2012 by losing four out of their final five games, and both teams experienced bad luck with injuries. This game has some potential, but it's probably better to set the DVR and watch later that night.
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Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any website can give you.
2012 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points