Articles By Braden Gall
Brady Hoke is entering a critical fourth season in Ann Arbor.
His offense, particularly on the ground, has taken progressive steps backwards in all three seasons and it led to the firing of longtime Hoke assistant Al Borges. Michigan didn’t waste any time hiring former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in the same afternoon.
The hope is that the changes will reinvigorate the running game and stabilize inconsistent passer Devin Gardner.
With tricky non-conference games and a move into a much tougher division, the Wolverines' schedule in 2014 is anything but easy. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Maize and Blue can’t make a run at a division crown should things break their way this fall.
2014 Michigan Schedule Analysis
2014 Michigan Schedule
|Aug. 30||Appalachian St|
Archrival no more
Although there will be some serious revenge on the minds of Michigan faithful when Utah and Appalachian State come to town in September (SEE: 2007-08), the biggest non-conference game of the year is by far the trip to South Bend. The Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry is ending after this meeting for the foreseeable future and both coaches have taken to the court of public opinion to make their sentiments heard. There will be no love lost between these two and a Michigan win over a ranked Irish team on the road could jumpstart a big year. Conversely, an ugly defeat gives Notre Dame bragging rights and creates concern about the trajectory of the season in just the second weekend of action.
Minnesota at home to open Big Ten play isn’t all that scary, while a road trip to Rutgers for the first-ever meeting between the Knights and Wolverines should be a cinch. But a late-October, two-game home-and-home with Penn State and Michigan State will be enormous. Michigan lost both last year by allowing an embarrassing 72 total points to the Nittany Lions and Spartans. Michigan will either be leading the Big Ten East Division or will be completely out of the race by the end of October. The good news is Hoke and company will get two weeks to prepare for the road trip to East Lansing.
Don’t look ahead
The final stretch of play in November isn’t all that scary for Michigan. Home games with Indiana and Maryland are games the Wolverines need to win and a road trip to Northwestern, while very tricky, should also be a winnable game. The key for Hoke and his staff is to keep his team focused on the game at hand during November and make sure his squad doesn’t look ahead to the Ohio State battle. The loss at home on a failed two-point conversion was one of the great moments of a crazy ’13 season but another loss to “Ohio” this fall would make 10 defeats in 11 tries. And that simply isn’t going to cut it for Michigan fans.
Hoke has a lot of quality pieces to work with this fall and has a new name leading his offense. The schedule isn’t easy — either within the league or out — but is broken up into manageable segments. Notre Dame early, a two-game stretch late in October and a road trip to Ohio State are the four games fans are likely circling. Pull an upset in that group and take care of business against teams like Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern and Michigan could find itself right in the thick of the Big Ten title race at season’s end.
Nick Saban and Alabama are once again picked to win the SEC. They have the best coach, the best roster and, among most contenders, the best schedule.
Every SEC schedule is perilous and extremely difficult relative to the rest of the nation. But Alabama’s schedule — as one of the weaker slates in the conference — isn’t that much more difficult than those of other leagues. Like the Pac-12, for example.
Alabama’s 2014 run for a national title is fraught with intrigue, upset alerts and four preseason Top 25 teams. But it is very manageable for a team of this caliber.
2014 Alabama Schedule Analysis
2014 Bama Schedule
|13.||Nov. 22||W. Carolina|
Roll Tide, Roll
The trio of West Virginia, FAU and Southern Miss is as easy a three-game start to the season Nick Saban has had since arriving in Tuscaloosa. The Mountaineers were supposed to be better when the game was scheduled and that could eventually hurt Alabama when it comes to the playoff committee. Either way, Bama should crush its way to a 3-0 start when Florida comes to town in Week 4.
Crossover breaks again
Alabama beat Tennessee and Kentucky in crossover play last year. Those two teams combined for 17 losses in 2013 and this year’s tandem for Tennessee and Florida didn't fare much better with 15 combined defeats last season. Florida comes to Tuscaloosa in Week 4 fresh off the worst campaign in school history, but still features plenty of talent. In late October, Bama and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will return to Knoxville. So while both Tennessee and Florida figure to be improved from last year and both games are loaded with storylines, it’s hard to see anything but two big wins for the Tide in SEC crossover play.
On the road in October
Critical games with Ole Miss and LSU will happen over a month-long span from Oct. 4 to Nov. 8. Mixed in are two more road trips to Arkansas and the aforementioned Tennessee, as well as a home game with Texas A&M. The bookends are the games to focus on here, as both Ole Miss and LSU are ranked in the preseason Top 20 and both are eyeing SEC West contention. Bama hasn’t lost to Ole Miss since 2003 and has an impressive record against LSU in the state of Louisiana. Alabama has won three out of four against LSU in games played in the state and is 10-4 in its last 14 games versus LSU in The Pelican State.
The Final Stretch
The final stretch includes two extremely winnable home games with Western Carolina and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have only won once in Tuscaloosa since 1997 and that win resulted in a coach getting fired and the arrival of Saban. These two games set up what could be a rematch of epic proportions. Before last year never had the Iron Bowl meant as much as it did, but the SEC West could again be hanging in the balance should things go as planned for both Yellowhammer schools. There won’t be another atmosphere in the country like the afternoon a potential top-five Tigers team rolls into town in the season finale with another SEC title on the line.
In all, Alabama is scheduled to play four preseason Top 25 teams and is a heavy favorite in all but one game (the Iron Bowl). The non-conference schedule is as weak as Saban has had at Bama and while crossover play is more intriguing with Florida involved, the Crimson Tide are still significant steps ahead of both the Gators and Vols. Handling their business on the road with four games in five away from Tuscaloosa in October will be critical but none of the bouts appear to be overly taxing. No, it is likely that Bama again will face Auburn with a perfect record and a berth in the SEC title game at stake at the end of the year.
Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting Pac-12 statistics you need to know about in 2014:
7: Top returning passers in the Pac-12
Oregon State’s Sean Mannion led the Pac-12 and was second nationally with 4,662 passing yards. Washington State’s Connor Halliday led the nation with 714 pass attempts. Both Marcus Mariota and Taylor Kelly posted in excess of 4,000 total yards of offense last year and both have returned. Potential Heisman candidate Brett Hundley and his 35 total touchdowns return to the league as well. In all, the Pac-12 returns its top seven passers from a year ago, including six who threw for at least 3,000 yards. This group doesn’t include USC’s Cody Kessler, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan or Colorado’s Sefo Liufau. It’s pretty clear which league has the best quarterback play in college football.
63-10: Marcus Mariota’s career TD-INT ratio
The Ducks' starting quarterback is the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014. Many will tell you that’s a bad thing, as a true Las Vegas front-runner hasn’t won the award since… Ricky Williams? But the laid-back, Hawaiian dual-threat is one of the best players in the nation and has his team eyeing a return to the national championship discussion. In two full seasons as the starter, Mariota has tossed 63 touchdowns, just 10 interceptions, completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 6,342 yards and rushed 202 times for 1,467 yards and 14 more touchdowns. He also set the Pac-12 record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception (353) last year and is 23-3 as a starter. There is a reason he’s the Heisman front-runner and could become one of the few to go wire-to-wire chasing the stiff-armed trophy.
1997-98: Last time UCLA won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons
Jim Mora and the Bruins are trying to do something this year that hasn’t been done at UCLA since 1997-98. That was the last time UCLA won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons. In fact, UCLA has won 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons only twice in school history with the only other occasion coming in 1987-88. UCLA has never won 10 or more games in three straight seasons, further underlining their status as underachieving little brother. USC won at least 10 games in seven straight seasons (2002-08) and even won 10 games in two heavily sanctioned years since (2011, '13). But that could all change this fall. After going 10-3 and finishing second in the Pac-12 South a year ago, Mora and returning star signal-caller Brett Hundley are poised to reclaim the division title and make a run at a playoff berth.
4.84: Washington’s average points per trip inside the 40
Finishing drives is one metric Athlon Sports uses to evaluate teams. How many points does a team score per trip inside the opposition’s 40-yard line? Washington was excellent a year ago at finishing drives, scoring an average of 4.84 points per trip inside the 40. That was good for second in the Pac-12 to only Oregon (4.98) and ranked the Huskies 18th nationally. For new coach Chris Petersen, who won 92 games in just eight years at Boise State, repeating this level of efficiency without Bishop Sankey running the ball will be a tall order. Especially, while breaking in a new quarterback. Interestingly enough, Oregon also led the league in points per trip inside the 40 on defense (3.69).
46: Stanford wins over the last four years
Only the Oregon Ducks (47) have more wins among Big 5 schools over the last four years than Stanford (46). The Cardinal have won at least 11 games in four straight seasons but are replacing star power on both the defense and the offensive line. That said, the reason Athlon Sports is picking Oregon to win the Pac-12 North has nothing to do with depth chart replacements but rather what could be the toughest schedule in college football. Stanford will play six preseason Top 25 teams, including five of the top 16. What's worse? Five of those six showdowns will come on the road. If fans are looking for a reason for Stanford to take a slight step back this fall, look no further than the schedule.
444.8 and 35.1: USC's yards and points per game under Coach Sark
Steve Sarkisian knows his way around Heritage Hall. He was the QB Coach from 2001-03 and from 2005-06 under Pete Carroll. He then took over as the offensive coordinator from 2007-08. During those two years — his last two at USC — his offenses averaged 444.8 yards per game and 35.1 points per game while going 23-3 overall and winning back-to-back conference championships. Last year, USC was 74th in total offense (399.1) and 60th in scoring offense (29.7). Sarkisian's offense failed to score 20 points just three times during his last two years as an assistant coach at USC. Last year, the Trojans failed to score 20 points five times, losing three of those contests.
6: Departing All-Pac-12 starters on Arizona State’s defense
Todd Graham has had one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 in each of his two seasons in Tempe. However, after losing nine total defensive starters in the offseason, including six who were either first- or second-team All-Pac-12 selections, his defense has major holes to plug in 2014. Ten of the team’s top 12 tacklers are gone as are the top five sack artists on the team. Veteran free safety Damarious Randall is the only returning upperclass starter for a team that will face one of the best offensive schedules in the nation.
246.3: Arizona yards rushing per game under RichRod
Rich Rodriguez totally transformed Arizona’s identity overnight. The year before he showed up on campus, Mike Stoops' "Air Raid" averaged 94.5 yards rushing per game. In two years since taking over, RichRod’s teams have finished 15th (227.8 ypg) and 11th nationally (264.4 ypg) in rushing. In 26 games as the Wildcats' head coach, Arizona has averaged nearly 250 yards rushing per game. The last time Arizona averaged over 200 yards rushing per game in a season was 1999 when it posted 218.8 yards per game. RichRod hasn’t posted a winning Pac-12 record yet (4-5 both years) but is a perfect 8-0 in non-conference play including two bowl wins. The ‘Cats should continue to pound the rock again in 2014 and it could make Arizona the sleeper team to watch in the Pac-12 South Division.
9: Times the Cougars rushed for less than 10 yards under Mike Leach
In 2012, Washington State rushed for negative yards four times and failed to reach 10 yards rushing five times. In 2013, Wazzu improved and was held to negative yards rushing just once (Colorado State) and failed to reach 10 yards rushing four times. So in nine of the 25 games Mike Leach has coached in Pullman, the Cougars failed to reach 10 yards rushing as a team. For the record, WSU rushed for seven yards against USC, two yards against both Oregon and Arizona State and minus-10 against the Rams. While a Leach-run offense will never be centered around the running game, some semblance of balance is needed to compete for division titles. The good news is the last-ranked rushing offense from last year (53.4 ypg) was actually markedly better than the last place showing the year before (29.1).
13-41: Combined Pac-12 record for Utah and Colorado
Stepping up in competition has been hard for all teams across the nation but has been especially difficult on the Pac-12 newcomers. As Larry Scott has his league poised to challenge the SEC for national supremacy this fall, Utah and Colorado are still trying to find their footing. The duo has combined for go 13-41 in three seasons since joining the league. Utah went 21-3 in Mountain West play the three years prior to entering the Pac-12 and has been 9-18 since. The Buffaloes are 4-23 in Pac-12 play. These are two historic programs that have won a national championship and two BCS bowls in the last 25 years, so 41 losses in three years is unacceptable.
529.6: Cal’s total yards allowed per game
Sonny Dykes is a well-respected coach but probably didn’t realize what he was getting himself into when he took the Cal job. In his first year, his defense was historically bad. Cal allowed a Pac-12-worst 529.6 yards per game, ranking 124th nationally — out of 125 teams. The Bears had the worst defense of any of the Big 5 conferences and was better than only New Mexico State’s 549.5 yards per game allowed. Cal’s 45.9 points allowed per game were also dead last in the Pac-12 and among all Big 5 teams, finishing 124th nationally (ahead of only Idaho - 46.8). New defensive coordinator Art Kauffman has orchestrated quick turnarounds at both Texas Tech and Cincinnati over the last few seasons but he has his work cut out for him in Berkeley this fall.
A new era of Texas football is set to begin in a few weeks.
Charlie Strong steps into the most powerful athletic department in the nation with immediate pressure to win games. His roster is loaded with elite recruits but there are some serious questions marks under center and along the offensive line.
Most believe the coaching staff Strong has assembled is perfectly constructed to manage the Horns' areas of weakness (i.e., the O-line). But this team won’t compete for a national playoff spot unless it can maneuver a very difficult schedule.
2014 Texas Schedule Analysis
2014 Texas Schedule
The start of the Strong Era in Austin won’t be an easy one. Certainly, an easy win over North Texas should be expected in the season opener. However, the next two games will be dripping with national intrigue. No one in Burnt Orange has forgotten what Taysom Hill and BYU did to the Texas rushing defense last year and now BYU comes to Austin. The following week, a national playoff spot could be up for grabs when a likely top 10-ranked UCLA squad comes to The Lone Star State to play the Horns in Arlington. Both games are winnable for Strong and it would make a huge statement should Texas start the year 3-0.
Two most important games
After Texas opens Big 12 play on the road against lowly Kansas, the two most important games of the year will take place in back-to-back weeks. Baylor comes to town in Week 6 while Texas will have to head back to The Cotton Bowl for the Red River Showdown the following week. These two teams are picked No. 1 and 2 in the Big 12, and if Texas wants to compete in the league, the Longhorns will have to — at minimum — split with the Bears and Sooners. The good news is neither matchup will come as a true road game. Texas also will essentially have three weeks to prepare with an off weekend falling before the Kansas game.
Tricky true road tests
After facing Baylor and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks, Texas will get a slight breather with Iowa State coming to town in Week 8. However, the Horns will need to get healthy quickly as the two toughest true road games loom when the calendar flips to November. Texas will visit Kansas State and Texas Tech and could be playing for a Big 12 title (or possibly more).
The home stretch is fairly manageable for Strong and company. West Virginia at home should be an easy win and TCU, who is expected to be a much improved team, should be another win in the season finale — especially, with an off weekend before to prepare. A road trip to Stillwater looks a lot tougher late in the year than early, as Mike Gundy’s very inexperienced team should improve throughout the season. Either way, with two home games and a bye week in the final four weeks, Texas could cruise home to a Big 12 title if it can win the tough early games.
Related: 2014 Texas Longhorns Team Preview
The bad news is Texas is breaking in a brand-new coach and could face three top 10 opponents as well as five other potential bowl teams. The good news is Texas won’t face any of the top 10 opponents (Baylor, Oklahoma, UCLA) in a true road game. And a loss to UCLA doesn’t do anything to the Big 12 race. A split early with Baylor and Oklahoma would set up massive road trips to Manhattan, Lubbock and Stillwater late in the year. Should Texas get on a roll early, the front-loaded schedule could be a blessing for Strong in his first season.
It’s been since 1997 that the Tar Heels did two things. It was the last time North Carolina finished a season ranked in the AP poll and it was the last time it posted an ACC record with fewer than three losses.
Larry Fedora has thoughts of ending both of those droughts in 2014.
Fedora has recruited well enough to be considered one of the contenders in a very deep, balanced and impossible to predict ACC Coastal Division. There are holes to plug on both sides of the ball and the team needs to get more consistent across the board.
This means week-in, week-out consistent production against one of the more difficult ACC schedules.
2014 North Carolina Schedule Analysis
2014 UNC Schedule
The Tar Heels started the season 1-5 last year with an ugly loss to South Carolina in the season opener. North Carolina should begin this fall in much better fashion. Wins in the first two games are musts and a victory over giant-killer and in-state rival East Carolina on the road could easily give UNC a 3-0 start — especially, with two weeks to prepare for the Pirates. From there, however, things toughen up considerably.
Late September grind
The toughest stretch of the schedule appears to be from Week 5 through Week 8. North Carolina will play its toughest non-conference game against Notre Dame on the road, the best ACC team it will play in Clemson on the road and possibly the two most important divisional games of the year against both Tech schools at home. Virginia Tech, picked to win the Coastal, has to come to Chapel Hill but the Tar Heels must face the Hokies smack dab between arguably the toughest two teams on the schedule in Clemson and Notre Dame. North Carolina could crumble during this stretch (like, say, 1-3) or could set itself up for an ACC title run (with a 3-1 mark).
The Coastal Division is always wide open and the Tar Heels get a couple of breaks in the round-robin with Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Pitt all coming at home. Having to visit Miami and Duke won’t be easy but if UNC can hold serve at home, it has a good shot at being in the thick of division contention all the way to the end of the season. The road trip to Miami on Nov. 1 could become a de facto division title game should The U take steps forward on defense.
Difficult stretch run
The final three games of the year won’t be easy for Fedora’s guys. Pitt is much improved and won’t be an easy out at home in Week 12. Then the year ends with back-to-back rivalry games within the state against the defending Coastal champs — who figure to be much better at season’s end — and an improving NC State team. The important divisional games may already be behind the Heels at this point of the year, but these final three weeks will be very tricky and important. The good news is North Carolina gets a bye week to catch its breath in Week 11 after not getting a break from Week 4 through Week 10.
There is a lot to like about the Tar Heels entering 2014. There is talent to work with and Fedora should have his system well in place entering his third season. The schedule breaks up into three distinct pieces with an easy first three games, a brutal middle stretch and a manageable but tricky final swing. Should Carolina make it to the bye week with only one or two ACC losses, it will have as good a chance as any team to win the Coastal Division. A three-loss team could easily win the division if the three losses come against the right opponents.
Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting SEC statistics you need to know about in 2014:
39-3: Nick Saban at home since 2008
Since his first year in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban is 39-3 at home in Bryant-Denny Stadium. During that stretch, Alabama has never lost more than once at home during a season, posted three perfect records and is currently on a 10-game home winning streak. That said, Alabama was beaten at home by Texas A&M (2012), LSU (2011) and Auburn (2010) in marquee national showdowns. Saban and the Crimson Tide will host Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida and Mississippi State in 2014. For what it’s worth, Saban has an SEC-best nine-game winning streak in crossover play as well.
69.7: Alabama’s opposing completion percentage in losses
Alabama under Saban is 72-9 overall in the last six seasons, finishing ranked in the top 10 in each season. The common thread, however, among those nine losses has been the Tide’s inability to stop the pass. In nine losses over the last six years, Alabama allowed 69.7 percent passing with 12.2 yards per completion. In 72 wins, Alabama allowed just 49.8 percent passing. In the last three losses, the opposing QB has been incredibly effective. Trevor Knight completed 72.7 percent of his passes in the Sugar Bowl, Nick Marshall was good on 68.8 percent of his throws in the Iron Bowl and Johnny Manziel chucked it around at a 77.4 percent clip in the historic upset in 2012. Alabama returns one starter in the secondary this fall.
85.3%: South Carolina’s returning letterman
The Gamecocks suffered some marquee departures on both offense (Connor Shaw) and defense (Jadeveon Clowney) but, by one metric, Steve Spurrier’s bunch is the most experienced team in the nation. South Carolina lost just 10 out of 68 players who earned a letter last year, giving Spurrier 85.3 percent of his roster back intact. Are there holes to plug along the defensive line or at cornerback? Of course, but the Cocks return their entire offensive line, a star tailback and a deep linebacking corps. By comparison, Georgia ranks as the 73rd most experienced team in the nation (68.9 percent returning) while Florida is 57th (70.0) and Missouri is 111th (61.9).
466.6: Yards per game allowed in SEC play by Auburn
Folks down on The Plains don’t like the word luck when it comes to their improbable run to the SEC title last year. But the ball definitely bounced the Tigers' way last fall as Auburn went 6-1 in games decided by one score or less — with the lone defeat coming in the national title game. While Gus Malzahn’s offense was an utter juggernaut a year ago (and could actually be better this fall), this defense, statistically, had no business playing in the BCS national title game. The Tigers allowed 466.6 yards per game in SEC play in 2013, just ahead of winless Arkansas (475.3) and historically bad Texas A&M (499.1). This team allowed 32.4 points per game against Big 5 teams with a winning record, including 35.5 points per game in its final four contests. By comparison, only 10 times in the previous five seasons did an SEC team allow more than 400 yards per game in league play. One really good sign for Auburn? The Tigers led the SEC in third-down defense a year ago (33.0 percent).
27: Total TDs scored by Florida in 2013
Florida was 113th in scoring offense last year at just 18.8 points per game. The Gators managed an SEC-worst 27 total touchdowns scored. Among all Big 5 schools, only Kansas (22) and Purdue (23) reached the end zone fewer times than the traditional SEC East powerhouse. Will Muschamp’s offense was also 113th nationally in total touchdowns scored and both Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs scored more touchdowns individually (31) than the entire Florida roster. Additionally, the Gators' managed just 3.5 points per trip inside the 40-yard line, ranking 112th nationally. Muschamp better hope Kurt Roper is the answer on offense.
4.6: Losses per year for Georgia over the last five years
Despite two SEC East championships in the last three years, Mark Richt is still losing nearly five games per season in Athens. Three times in the last five years (2009, ’10, ’13) the Dawgs lost at least five times for an average of 4.6 losses per year over the last half-decade. Georgia is once again poised to make a run at Atlanta this fall but it’s hard to pick Richt to accomplish something he hasn’t done since 2002 — which is lose just once in a season. In fact, since the 13-1 SEC title run of 2002, Georgia has lost an average of 3.6 games per season. No one questions his resume — eight double-digit win seasons, only one losing campaign — but the Bulldogs have only finished the season ranked twice in five years. The fans in Athens haven’t had many lows but also haven’t had an SEC title since 2005.
22,681: Maty Mauk's high school record for career national total offense
Nick Marshall is, rightly so, the SEC’s preseason first-team quarterback. But Missouri’s new official starter could be the best passer in the league by season’s end. Mauk enters the starting lineup with as impressive a prep resume as there has ever been. He owns the national high school records for career total offense (22,681), passing yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219) and completions (1,353). Missouri was 7-1 in games in which Mauk attempted a pass last year and his brief taste of SEC action should be enough to motivate the very confident young gunslinger. The loss of some talented wide receivers is a concern but the offensive line and scheme stability are among the league’s best. Fans shouldn’t be surprised if Mauk is neck-and-neck with Marshall for the SEC’s total offense lead at season’s end.
3,701: Bo Wallace's total offense yardage in 2013
Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw, James Franklin and Zach Mettenberger have all departed the SEC leaving a massive void under center in the nation’s top league. Marshall is the first-team option but it’s actually Ole Miss’ Wallace who is the league’s returning leader in total offense. His 3,701 yards of total offense were No. 2 last year to only Manziel and were well ahead of third place (Murray: 3,261). His 284.7 yards per game were No. 3 in the league and Wallace should be poised for his best season to date in Oxford now that he is fully healthy.
33.3: Average starting position for Vanderbilt
The Commodores average starting field position was the 33.3-yard line — good for seventh nationally and tops in the SEC. The Dores' defense was excellent at getting third-down stops and creating turnovers, giving the offense the best starting position of any team in the SEC. However, Vanderbilt’s offense didn’t capitalize on its good fortune. The offense averaged just 5.4 yards per play, ranking 80th in the nation in offensive efficiency. Derek Mason’s defense should be equally as effective and opportunistic as the previous regime, but he and coordinator Karl Dorrell will need to improve their offense’s efficiency if Vandy wants to reach a fourth straight bowl game.
15.8%: LSU's returning receiving yards
As a team, LSU caught 205 passes for 3,263 yards and 23 touchdowns last fall. Of those numbers, only 35 receptions (17.1%) and 515 yards (15.8%) return to the team. No returning player caught more than seven passes or posted more than 145 yards receiving last season. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. combined for 136 receptions, 2,345 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2013, becoming just the third duo in SEC history to top 1,000 yards in the same season (Florida, 1995 and 2001). Both left early for the NFL along with the team’s third-leading receiver, tailback Jeremy Hill (18 receptions). These departures leave sophomore wide receiver Travin Dural (7 rec., 145 yds) and senior fullback Connor Neighbors (7 rec., 92 yds) as the team’s leading returning receivers. Needless to say, this isn’t a good year for Les Miles to be breaking in a true freshman quarterback.
1977: Last time Kentucky had a winning SEC record
Mark Stoops has the Kentucky program headed in the right direction, both on and off the field. But he is battling history in the worst way, as Kentucky hasn’t posted a winning SEC record in nearly 30 years. Four times (1993, 1998-99, 2006) the Wildcats finished 4-4 and twice (1979, ’84) they went 3-3, but Big Blue Nation hasn’t had a winning SEC season since the perfect 1977 campaign (10-1, 6-0). Despite the obvious momentum in Lexington, odds are this streak will continue in 2014.
Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting ACC statistics you need to know about in 2014:
0-0: ACC teams in BCS title game not named Florida State
Much like Ohio State and the Big Ten, the ACC sent only one team to the top of the college football mountain. Florida State is the only ACC team that played in the BCS National Championship Game during the 16-year BCS Era. The Noles played in the first three games (1998-2000), losing two and winning the 1999 title. The league went without a team securing a berth in the title game until those very same Seminoles bookended the era with an ACC championship last year. Much like the Big Ten, the ACC needs other programs to develop into national contenders around Florida State in order to keep up with the best leagues in the nation (ahem, the SEC). As a whole, the ACC went 5-13 in BCS bowls with two of those wins coming last year.
41-9: Bobby Petrino at Louisville
As a college head coach, there can be no doubting Bobby Petrino’s ability to win games on the field. In four full seasons as the Cardinals' head coach from 2003-06, Petrino won 41 games, including two seasons with at least 11 wins and the school's first BCS bowl berth and victory (Charlie Strong beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl two years ago in the only other BCS appearance by Louisville). The two highest finishes for the Cards in school history are No. 6 in the final AP poll in 2004 and '06. His off-the-field decisions and abrasive personality aside, the bottom line is Petrino wins games and he is likely to make Louisville the best new addition to the league in very short order.
42.3: Avg. margin of victory for Florida State
In 13 regular season games, the Florida State Seminoles not only defeated, but obliterated their opponents by an average score of 42.3 points. Jimbo Fisher's squad outscored its 13 regular season opponents 689-139 for an average margin of victory of more than six touchdowns per game. Again, that's more than six touchdowns per game. Even with the tightly-played, three-point win over Auburn in the BCS national title game, Florida State still crushed all 14 opponents last year by an average of 39.5 points per game.
73.4: Yards/game Duke was outgained in ACC play
Despite posting the best season in school history, winning the Coastal Division and finishing 6-2 in the regular season, the Duke Blue Devils were still statistically much worse than their opponents. In nine ACC games, Duke produced just 377.7 yards per game of offense while allowing 451.0 yards per game on defense. This means the Blue Devils were outgained by a per game average of 73.4 yards. It’s hard to repeat when the opposition is dramatically out-producing the offense on a regular basis in a league with so much balance.
19: Georgia Tech seasons without a losing ACC record
The Yellow Jackets went 1-10 overall and 0-8 in ACC play in 1994 under Bill Lewis. It was his last year in Atlanta and it marked the last time Georgia Tech posted a losing record in ACC play. Since then George O’Leary (7 years), Chan Gailey (6) and Paul Johnson (6) have each kept Tech from a losing ACC record. Johnson has been to a bowl game in all six of his season in charge of the Ramblin’ Wreck.
96.8: Yards rushing per game after Duke Johnson got hurt
Miami averaged 214.7 yards rushing per game through the first seven games of last season. The Canes were 7-0 and had scored 19 rushing touchdowns behind the elite play of star tailback Duke Johnson. When Johnson got hurt in the blowout loss to Florida State, the Canes rushing attack went into the tank. Over the last six games of the year, Miami rushed for just 96.8 yards per game, scored six total rushing touchdowns and lost four times. On a team with major quarterback issues, a healthy Johnson is a must if Miami is going to contend in the wide open Coastal Division.
5: Miami losses/year since joining the ACC
Speaking of the Hurricanes moving from the Big East to the ACC, here are some staggering numbers to consider about The U. Miami went 46-4 in the four years prior to joining the ACC and 96-25 in the 10 years prior to landing in their new home. In the 10 years since joining the ACC, Miami is 75-50 and has lost an average of five games per season. By comparison, Miami lost five games in a season just once (1997) between 1985 and 2003. The Canes have yet to post a 10-win season since joining the league after posting seven such seasons in 13 years as a member of the Big East.
8.3: Yards to go on third down by Virginia Tech opponents
No one in the nation got their opponents into tougher third down situations than the Hokies last fall. Virginia Tech’s opponents faced an average of 8.3 yards to go on third down in 2013, the highest average in the nation. The defense in Blacksburg should once again be dominant so something must be done about an offense that ranked 102nd in the nation a year ago at only 356.0 yards per game if Tech wants to win the Coastal.
17.2%: Clemson’s total returning offense
Clemson’s offense produced 6,611 total yards a year ago, ranking ninth in the nation at 508.5 yards per game. With a departing quarterback, running back and two star wide receivers, the Tigers lose 82.8 percent of their total offensive production from 2013. Cole Stoudt (471 yards of total offense), Zac Brooks (246), D.J. Howard (213) and C.J. Davidson (155) are the only four returning players on the team with more than 100 yards of total offense to their name a year ago. Everyone believes that Chad Morris will have the Clemson offense humming again in ’14 at some point, but losing 5,471 yards of total offense off any roster is tough to overcome.
1997: Last time North Carolina lost fewer than 3 ACC games
In Mack Brown’s final season in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels won 11 games, went 7-1 in the ACC and finished sixth in the AP poll — the second-highest finish in school history to only the 1948 North Carolina squad that finished third. Since then, North Carolina has finished above .500 in the ACC only four times (1998, 2001, '04, '12) and has yet to post fewer than three losses in any season. Larry Fedora is the fifth coach to lead the Tar Heels program since Brown left for Texas and he is looking to end a season in Chapel Hill ranked for the first time since ’97.
27: Total TDs scored by Virginia in 2013
Virginia was 110th in scoring offense last year at just 19.8 points per game but managed an ACC-low 27 total touchdowns scored. Among all Big 5 schools, only Kansas (22) and Purdue (23) reached the end zone fewer times than Virginia. The Cavaliers were 113th nationally in total touchdowns scored and both Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs scored more touchdowns individually (31) than the Wahoos did as an entire football team. Mike London could use an offensive spark in 2014.
It’s a cliché for a reason and it’s survived more than 2,000 years for a reason.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” — which some say first originated in 3rd century B.C. — applies to most subjective arguments hundreds of years later. Especially, when it comes to ranking things in the college football world.
Ranking past teams, current coaches, logos, uniforms and pretty much anything else that can be bantered about on a message board is, by definition, subjective. Part of what makes college football great (in my opinion) is a vibrant college campus on Saturdays in the fall. Nowhere else in sports is the pageantry, passion and connectivity of a sports team and its fans more obvious than at a great college football game.
Colorful tailgating with eclectic menus, picturesque college towns, massive ear-shattering crowds, unique and historic traditions all make college football games special. And varied.
Fans can float to a game in Seattle or Knoxville, eat anything under the sun in Baton Rouge, watch an entire team touch a small stone before sprinting down a hill in Clemson and so much more.
Athlon has polled 15 experts in an effort to rank the best college football stadiums and game day atmospheres in the nation. Some, like me, value the tailgating experience, the surrounding area and the intimidation factor of the crowd. Others value the traditions steeped in decades of experience. While others only care about home-field advantage.
There is no right or wrong answer. Athlon tabulated the ballots, giving each No. 1 vote 10 points all the way to one point for a No. 10 vote. Here is what we learned:
Tim Brando, SiriusXM/Fox Sports
Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports
Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network
Stewart Mandel, Fox Sports
Dan Rubenstein, SB Nation
Bryan Fischer, NFL.com
Travis Haney, ESPN
Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated
Mike Huguenin, NFL.com
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM
|1. Tiger Stadium||120||13|
|2. Ohio Stadium||105||15|
|3. Autzen Stadium||64||12|
|4. Kyle Field||61||9|
|5. Bryant-Denny Stadium||48||7|
|6. Notre Dame Stadium||47||9|
|7. Neyland Stadium||43||6|
|8. Sanford Stadium||42||12|
|9. Husky Stadium||36||7|
|10. Beaver Stadium||31||7|
ORV: UCLA (30), Auburn (30), Clemson (30), Florida (28), Michigan (28), Wisconsin (23), Army (19), Nebraska (13), USC (11), Oklahoma (5), Virginia Tech (4), Texas (3), Air Force (2), BYU (1), South Carolina (1), Stanford (1)
Listen to Athlon Sports' latest Cover 2 College Football podcast:
What we learned:
• LSU’s Tiger Stadium, which is going through a major upgrade this offseason, was on all but two ballots and ran away with top billing. Death Valley received seven first-place votes, the most of any team in the nation by a wide margin. Notre Dame Stadium and Neyland Stadium were the only other buildings to receive more than one first-place vote. Tiger Stadium was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on 11 of the 15 ballots.
• Ohio Stadium, affectionately known as The Horseshoe, was the only stadium to be on every single ballot. The Buckeyes' home turf was a clear No. 2 and was the only building even close to LSU. It only got one first-place vote from the panel but was no lower than seventh on any ballot.
• Kyle Field in College Station could easily become the best place to watch a college football game in the very near future. The Aggies' home venue finished fourth, well behind OSU and LSU and just behind Oregon, but with new renovations underway to make it one of the largest buildings in the nation, Texas A&M could easily jump to the top of this list. It was a fantastic place to see a game well before TAMU joined the SEC or upgraded the building.
• Oregon and Washington have underrated venues among most fans but these media experts don’t think so. Both the Ducks' and Huskies' fabulous, high-tech digs landed in the top 10 among experts, ranking third and ninth nationally. Both are extremely scenic and both have produced big winners in the past. Oregon finishing third in the overall rankings might be the biggest surprise of the voting.
• S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C. People are tired of hearing it but part of the reason the SEC is the best conference in football is the venues. Five of the top 10 and seven of the top 13 hail from the SEC while eight total stadiums received at least one vote. Interestingly enough, Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium was on less than half of the ballots but was no lower than fifth, while Georgia’s Sanford Stadium was on 12 ballots but was higher than seventh only twice. Florida, South Carolina and Auburn also received votes.
• Small(er) stadiums can be charming for a variety of a reasons and Army’s Michie Stadium is a perfect example. It only seats 38,000 people but it landed on three ballots and got one first-place vote for reasons mostly other than football. Overlooking the Hudson River, there are few sights in college football like the West Point cadets marching into a football game on a fall Saturday.
• Seven different buildings got a first-place vote. LSU (7), Tennessee (2) and Notre Dame (2) got the majority of the votes but The Rose Bowl, Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ohio Stadium in Columbus and Michie each got one first-place vote as well.
• Where is the ACC? Clemson was voted as the top choice to catch a game in the ACC but was tied for 11th overall nationally. Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium was the only other ACC venue to receive a vote (21st).
• Nebraska and Oklahoma seem to be the most "underrated" buildings to receive a vote but there are some names I was surprised not to see in the voting. The buildings I was most surprised to see go without a single vote: Doak Campbell (Florida State), Razorback Stadium (Arkansas) and Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium (Ole Miss).
Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting Big Ten statistics you need to know about in 2014:
0-0: Big Ten teams in the BCS title game not named Ohio State
Nebraska's 2001 national championship game appearance doesn't count for the Big Ten (although, the Big Ten would probably be fine with the Big 12 keeping that one). So other than Ohio State's BCS win in 2002 and losses in 2006 and '07, no other Big Ten team made a showing in the BCS National Championship Game. Some compare conferences by overall depth, focusing on the top of the standings, be it quantity or quality. But at the end of the year, only one conference can be called a champion and the Big Ten did it one time during the BCS' 16-year run. Five different SEC teams made 11 total national title appearances during the BCS Era. Other teams around Ohio State need to elevate themselves to national contention if the Big Ten wants to keep pace with the nation's best. Hiring coaches like James Franklin at Penn State is a great start.
$44.5 million: Projected new Big Ten payout
Recently, the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier reported that the projected payout to Big Ten schools each year from the conference will be a staggering $44.5 million in 2017-18. That's nearly double the league's current and nation-leading $25.7 million payout. Jim Delany added both Maryland and Rutgers not to improve the play on the field immediately but to grow the Big Ten's footprint into population-rich areas. He knows his league is facing stagnant population growth — by far the worst of the major five leagues — and by expanding east into talent-rich areas of the country, he hopes his league will be able to elevate both the Terps and Knights to a new level of competition.
5.4%: Population growth in the Big Ten footprint
Before moving to Fox Sports recently, Stewart Mandel reported in Sports Illustrated that the Big Ten's biggest obstacle isn't Nick Saban or the SEC but rather slowed regional population growth. The Big Ten footprint is slated to grow by just 5.4 percent in population by 2030, a number well behind the other four major conferences. The Pac-12 is projected to grow the most, projecting a whopping 28.9 percent growth by 2030. The SEC is second at a projected 25.9 percent growth. The Big 12 isn't far behind at 22.4 percent and the ACC is fourth at 18.6 percent growth. As CFBMatrix.com shows, overall population is directly tied to recruiting base as well as TV contracts. Any way the numbers are sliced, the Big Ten is lagging significantly behind the other major leagues in one of the most crucial statistical categories.
42: Wins for Michigan State in the last four years
Among Big 5 schools, only Oregon (47), Stanford (46), Alabama (46), Florida State (45), LSU (44) and Oklahoma (43) have won more games over the last four years than the Spartans. That's more wins than Clemson, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame or Auburn, to name a few, and the same number as Ohio State and South Carolina. Mark Dantonio finally broke through last fall, winning a school-record 13 games and claiming both the Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships. Replacing over half of his defensive production will be a tall order, especially with massive road showdowns in Eugene and Happy Valley looming (as well as a visit from OSU), but fans around the country shouldn't expect a significant step back from Sparty in 2014. If anything, Dantonio has proven he can plug holes quickly on both sides of the ball.
Listen to the latest Cover 2 College Football podcast:
18-8: James Franklin's record the last two years
People are obsessed with James Franklin moving from the SEC to the Big Ten and Athlon Sports might be just as guilty as anyone. Penn State made it into the preseason Top 25 and is picked to win 10 games behind the leadership of its new head coach. The detractors will point to offensive line issues in Happy Valley — a concern that is warranted — and that Franklin has yet to prove himself on the biggest of stages. However, the latter argument holds no water. Franklin led Vanderbilt to unprecedented levels of success. The Commodores had never been to three consecutive bowl games, hadn't won eight games in back-to-back seasons since 1926-27 and hadn't ever beaten Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season. Franklin did all of that in Nashville during his three seasons leading Vanderbilt. Now, he comes home to The Keystone State where his charismatic persona, progressive thinking and verbal sparring matches will transform Penn State from a traditional program with elite history to a forward-thinking national powerhouse. Franklin's is a personality that the Big Ten desperately needs.
48.7%: Wisconsin's opponents winning percentage from 2013
Only two Big Ten teams will play a schedule in 2014 that posted a combined record under .500 a year ago. Wisconsin (48.7%) and Iowa (49.3%) play, statistically, the worst schedules in the Big Ten this fall as both will avoid Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State in crossover play. Using last year's win-loss records to determine overall strength of schedule has many flaws, one of which is the volatile nature of college football rosters, but there is a reason why Athlon Sports is projecting the Badgers and Hawkeyes to finish 1-2 in the Big Ten West Division. Both have extremely manageable schedules that set up very well for a run at a Big Ten title game.
6,584 and 64: Braxton Miller total yards and TDs under Urban Meyer
Few players fit into their coach's scheme better than Braxton Miller does with Urban Meyer's spread. In each of the last two seasons under Meyer, Miller has thrown for at least 2,000 yards, rushed for at least 1,000 yards, scored 64 total touchdowns and led his team to a 24-0 record in the regular season. Miller's passer rating, completion percentage and yards per carry has gone up in three consecutive seasons. For his career, Miller has accounted for 84 total touchdowns and has thrown just 17 interceptions. Should he stay healthy and continue his developmental trend, Miller has a shot to land in New York at season's end.
3.3: Yards per carry for Michigan's rushing offense
Rich Rodriguez and Michigan averaged 5.6 yards per carry on offense — good for fifth in the nation — during his final season in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines' rushing proficiency has gotten worse every season since he departed. In his first year, Brady Hoke's offense averaged 5.2 yards per carry (16th nationally). That number dropped to 4.8 yards per carry in 2012 (38th nationally) and plummeted to 3.3 yards per carry a year ago. Michigan ranked 115h nationally last year in rushing average, ahead of only Purdue in the Big Ten and only a few other Big 5 teams (Virginia Tech, Washington State, Wake Forest). Hoke's top two returning rushers are Devin Gardner (2.9 ypc) and Derrick Green (3.3 ypc). Needless to say, Doug Nussmeier's first order of business is to fix the Maize and Blue rushing attack.
4: Nebraska's losses every year under Bo Pelini
How could it be any other number? Sure, Ameer Abdullah is the nation's leading returning rusher from a year ago at 130.0 yards per game, but that's boring compared to Bo Pelini's remarkable streak of six consecutive seasons with exactly four losses. To lose exactly four games in each of his six seasons at Nebraska seems borderline impossible in the volatile modern college football landscape. And Pelini has done it every way imaginable. He went 6-1 down the stretch and nearly beat national runner-up Texas in the Big 12 title game in 2009. He won the last four and six of seven in his first year in '08 as well. He lost the final two games of the year in '12 in ugly fashion and three out of the last four in '10. He methodically alternated wins and losses down the stretch in both '11 and '13. Most teams in the nation would take nine or 10 wins every season. But expectations in Lincoln have been of the national championship variety for decades, so the relationship between Pelini and his fan base will once again be one of the most fascinating to watch in the nation. Especially, if the Huskers finish third in the division with an 8-4 record this fall.
15.9: Yards per touch for Stefon Diggs
Maryland's receiving corps could be the best in the Big Ten — if it stays healthy. Both Stefon Diggs and Deon Long were lost to season-ending injuries last fall and both are slated to return this summer to full strength. Long is a solid player who was averaging nearly 70 yards receiving per game through seven contests but getting Diggs back could mean the difference in a bowl game or not for the Terps. On 176 career touches, Diggs is averaging 15.9 yards per play and has totaled 2,808 all-purpose yards in just 18 career games. He catches passes (88 rec.), runs the ball (27 att.) and returns both kickoffs (37 att.) and punts (24 att.). Randy Edsall needs his star playmaker in the lineup for a full season.
527.9: Yards allowed per game by Indiana
Kevin Wilson has led the Big Ten in passing in each of the last two seasons, averaging over 300 yards per game in both seasons. No Big Ten team had topped 300 yards passing per game for a season since Northwestern and Purdue did it in 2007. So offense isn't Wilson's problem entering a critical fourth season in Bloomington. The defense ranked 123rd in the nation last year at over 527.9 yards allowed per game — ahead of only Cal (529.6) and New Mexico State (549.5). Indiana hasn't been to a bowl since 2007 and hasn't won a bowl since '91, so if Wilson expects to end those droughts this season, he and his revamped defensive staff will have to make major strides with a unit that allowed 6.7 yards per play last year (117th nationally).
The 2013 Auburn Tigers storybook season was one for the ages.
Auburn hired Gus Malzahn, went from worst to first in the SEC, played in a thrilling and heartbreaking BCS National Championship Game and most believe the offense could be even better in 2014.
Just don’t use the word “lucky” around War Eagle fans. But that is what Auburn was last year en route to two rivalry wins and an SEC championship. In fact, almost every championship team in every sport needed some factor of luck to win its title.
So the offense could be just as good and the defense — which gave up over 420 yards per game last year and over 35 points per game in November — could show improvement. But will the bounces go the Tigers’ way again?
With a dramatically improved schedule, a repeat as SEC champs will be extremely difficult but isn’t out of the question.
2014 Auburn Schedule Analysis
2014 Auburn Schedule
The Auburn Tigers should be 2-0 heading into the first off weekend of the year on Sept. 13. The developing rivalry between Malzahn and Arkansas' Bret Bielema is fun to watch off of the field but likely won’t be very competitive on it. So Auburn figures to be 2-0 with extra time to prepare for a brutal road trip to Big 12 outpost Kansas State. The Xs and Os coaching chess match between Malzahn and Bill Snyder figures to be fascinating to watch on a Thursday night in primetime. This game will teach fans of both teams a lot about their team very early on.
In the heart of the schedule, Auburn will get three marquee SEC showdowns at home. LSU (Week 6), South Carolina (Week 9) and Texas A&M (Week 11) will all have to visit The Plains in a span of five games. The Tigers are looking for revenge of their own against LSU and will get an extra week to prepare for South Carolina with a bye weekend in Week 8. Both will be physical bouts where the last guy standing will win. And getting the Aggies late in the year isn’t an enviable position to be in for any SEC team, as Texas A&M should be one of the more improved teams over the course of the season.
Magnolia State Swing
There may not be a team in the nation that plays a tougher road schedule in the country than the Auburn Tigers. The tricky test in Manhattan is one of the tougher non-conference games the SEC will play all season. But package that with four tremendously difficult road games in the SEC and the Tigers will be lucky to stay in playoff contention. Two road trips to the Magnolia State to face both Mississippi State (Week 7) and Ole Miss (Week 10) come on the heels of physically taxing games against LSU and South Carolina. A 3-0 record in the first three road trips of the year would be a huge success for Malzahn.
After three already tough road games, Auburn will have to face Georgia and Alabama on the road over the final three weeks of the season. Malzahn will be very aware of the revenge that will be at stake in both games and both will come away from the friendly and fortunate confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. There is no telling what the standings will look like when these two games roll around, but fans can bet these rematches will carry significant weight in both the SEC and potential national championship races.
Related: 2014 Auburn Tigers Team Preview
Auburn could be better in 2014 and still not win the SEC title. The road slate is one of (if not the) toughest slate in the nation with five potential top 25 games taking place away from The Loveliest Village. The offense should be as good, if not better, and the defense should take small steps forward. But to repeat as SEC champs and earn a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Tigers will likely need a few more lucky bounces. It may not be reasonable to expect more fortuitous breaks like Auburn got last year, but they may need them to repeat as SEC champs this fall.
There are some who believe the Bruins will be playing for the national championship come January.
Should UCLA earn a playoff berth in the debut edition of the College Football Playoff, there will have been no doubt about its merit. The Bruins are poised to play at least six preseason Top 25 teams with a shot at playing possibly three top 10 teams by season’s end.
The offense is still led by all-everything quarterback Brett Hundley and should some playmakers develop around him, the Bruins should once again be one of the top offensive units in the nation. The defense is incredibly talented and maturing every month.
With coaching stability and a talented returning corps, UCLA should be ready to face one of the toughest schedules in the nation this fall.
2014 UCLA Schedule Analysis
2014 UCLA Schedule
Leaving the West Coast
Virginia was bad last year. Like, really bad. But they also upset BYU in Week 1 at home in bad conditions. UCLA should roll through the Cavaliers (and Memphis in Week 2) but Mora is likely looking for crisp performances in both games before a Texas-sized showdown in the Lone Star State in Week 3. The Bruins should expect a heavy Burnt Orange crowd in Arlington when UCLA faces Texas. The Horns will have already faced BYU and will be battle-tested under new coach Charlie Strong. A win for either could vault that program into the national spotlight very quickly while a loss could end all playoff hopes for the other. No pressure.
Early Pac-12 tests
Before UCLA gets doormats Cal and Colorado at the end of October, the Bruins will have to face a three-game stretch against the defending South Division champs on the road and the preseason Pac-12 favorite at home. The road team has won the first two meetings between Mora and Arizona State and a visit to Tempe won’t be an easy way to break into conference play. Should the Bruins return victorious — and beat Utah at home — then a potential top-5 matchup with Oregon in the Rose Bowl could steal national headlines. Once again, UCLA could be facing a playoff elimination game.
Not an easy November
After facing Texas, Arizona State and Oregon in the first two months, UCLA gets no breaks in the month of November. Arizona at home is manageable but the other three tests will be especially difficult. A road trip to Washington has “letdown alert” or “looking ahead” written all over it, as crosstown rival and South Division contender USC comes to town the next game. To top it off, UCLA will have to face two-time defending Pac-12 champ Stanford at home in the season finale. The only comfort for Mora over the final month is that three of the four games come at home and that there is an off weekend before the brutal two-game stretch to end the season.
Related: 2014 UCLA Bruins Team Preview
The Bruins could be sitting at 10-0 with four or five marquee Top 25 wins entering the final two weeks of the season. And it all could be for naught. The margin for error in the Pac-12 this year is going to be razor thin and a two-loss team may not reach the playoffs. UCLA has the talent, the leadership and the coaching to be one of the best teams in the nation, but surviving this incredibly perilous slate unscathed seems rather impossible. However, an 11-win regular season and Pac-12 title is well within reach.
The importance of scheduling in college football cannot be overstated. Sure, coaching, rosters and even a little bit of luck play bigger roles in determining championships in the NCAA ranks. But scheduling in college football plays as big a role as any of those other factors.
Non-conference play varies greatly from team to team. So, too, do home and road slates — especially for the championship-deciding, rivalry-bragging, marquee showdowns. And the important bye weekends also play a large role in ironing out win-loss records in any given season.
So taking all of the above into account, which team has the toughest schedule in the Big 12 in 2014 and how has that impacted our 2014 Big 12 Predictions.
* - indicates neutral site game
1. West Virginia Mountaineers
Non-Conference: Alabama*, Towson, at Maryland
Big 12 Road: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State
Opponents ’13 Record: 97-59 (62.1%, 12th)
Things aren’t going to be easy in Morgantown for embattled coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers play one of the toughest non-conference slates with Alabama in Atlanta to start and a trip to Maryland in Week 3. Wrapping up September is a home date with Oklahoma, all but assuring a 1-3 start to the season. The slate alternates home and road dates over the final two months but features few winnable games with the exception of Kansas at home and Iowa State on the road. Even with five home Big 12 games, West Virginia boasts the toughest schedule in the league in 2014.
2. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Non-Conference: Florida State*, Missouri State, UTSA
Big 12 Road: Kansas, TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma
Opponents ’13 Record: 86-65 (56.9%, 32nd)
Starting the season with the defending national champions is literally as hard as it gets, but the rest of the early schedule is manageable. The two other non-conference games are sure-fire wins and the month of October should provide at least three wins. Texas Tech at home (Week 5) and at TCU (Week 8) are two massive swing games in the first half of the season. The importance of an early run for the Pokes cannot be overstated because the second half of the schedule is as tough as it gets in the Big 12. Ok-State will face the top four teams in the league in succession to end the year, including road trips to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma.
3. Kansas State Wildcats
Non-Conference: Stephen F. Austin, Auburn, UTEP
Big 12 Road: Iowa St, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia, Baylor
Opponents ’13 Record: 79-72 (52.3%, 65th)
Facing the BCS runner-up at home is a brutal battle in the non-conference but both KSU and Auburn will have two weeks to prepare for the Thursday night showdown. An early road trip to the always pesky Cyclones in the previous game needs to be a win for Bill Snyder’s bunch. Following what should be an easy win over UTEP in Week 5, Kansas State gets no breaks until deep into November. The Wildcats will face Texas Tech, Oklahoma (away), Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU (away) over a six-week span before finally getting a “breather” in Morgantown. A home game with rival Kansas should be merely a tune-up for a road trip to Baylor. In all, Kansas State could face three top 10 teams, including the top two in the Big 12 on the road, and could face four more potential Top 25 teams as well.
4. Texas Longhorns
Non-Conference: North Texas, BYU, UCLA*
Big 12 Road: Kansas, Oklahoma*, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State
Opponents ’13 Record: 89-63 (58.6%, 26th)
The Longhorns and new coach Charlie Strong play the toughest non-conference slate of any team in the league but both will be in the state of Texas, as BYU comes to Austin and the UCLA game is in Arlington. Texas also has to face Big 12 bowl teams (and Achilles heels) Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech on the road. This, of course, doesn’t include the annual showdown with archrival and Big 12 front-runner Oklahoma. There is one solid home game with TCU and one huge home game with Baylor, otherwise, the majority of the Horns' Big 12 showdowns will come away from the 40 Acres. This schedule has plenty of chances for marquee wins and plenty of chances for major disappointments.
5. Iowa State Cyclones
Non-Conference: North Dakota State, at Iowa, Toledo
Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas, TCU
Opponents ’13 Record: 97-57 (62.9%, 7th)
According to last year’s records, Iowa State will play the toughest schedule in the league. However, everyone knows last year doesn’t count. The non-conference schedule has three very tricky games against North Dakota State (who beat Kansas State in Manhattan last year), archrival Iowa (on the road) and MAC West Division front-runner Toledo. Additionally, TCU and Texas both figure to be improved and both of those will come on the road. Lastly, season ticket holders in Ames should be either very excited or very worried about ’14 as Kansas State (Week 2), Baylor (Week 5), Oklahoma (Week 10), Texas Tech (Week 13) and West Virginia (Week 14) all visit Jack Trice Stadium this fall.
6. Kansas Jayhawks
Non-Conference: SE Missouri State, at Duke, Central Michigan
Big 12 Road: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State
Opponents ’13 Record: 86-66 (56.6%, 38th)
First, not getting to face Kansas in Big 12 play makes it hard to find wins for the Jayhawks. Second, Kansas is very unlucky in that Duke is playing the best football of its entire existence, making a perfect 3-for-3 in non-conference play unlikely. Third, beleaguered coach Charlie Weis will face three of the best four teams in the league — Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State — on the road. This could be construed as a positive as the ‘Hawks aren’t likely to be competitive in those games and maybe getting more winnable games at home is the right recipe. TCU, Iowa State or Oklahoma State are spots for upsets at home. No matter where the games are being played, however, wins are going to be extremely tough to come by for a team picked to finish last in the Big 12.
7. TCU Horned Frogs
Non-Conference: Samford, Minnesota, at SMU
Big 12 Road: Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas, Texas
Opponents ’13 Record: 87-65 (57.2%, 30th)
The non-conference schedule is very manageable with a rivalry game against SMU looking easier by the day and a sneaky good bout with Minnesota coming at home. TCU should start 3-0 and then things heat up in a big way. TCU hosts both Oklahoma schools packaged around a road trip to Baylor to start October in brutal fashion. The second half of the schedule, however, provides plenty of chances for important wins in key swing games, like Texas Tech and Kansas State at home. The Horned Frogs will face four teams picked to finish in the bottom half of the league in the final six weeks. Minus a Thanksgiving road trip to Austin, TCU faces a very workable second half schedule in ’14.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Non-Conference: Central Arkansas, at UTEP, Arkansas
Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU, Iowa State, Baylor*
Opponents ’13 Record: 74-75 (49.7%, 81st)
Two teams in the Big 12 will face a schedule whose opponents combined for a sub-.500 record last year and the Red Raiders are one of them (Oklahoma is the other). Arkansas could be a tricky clash of offensive tempos but Texas Tech should be perfect in non-conference play before Big 12 play begins with two tough road trips to Stillwater and Manhattan. Otherwise, Texas Tech won’t face any of the top three Big 12 teams on the road. Both Texas and Oklahoma come to Lubbock and the battle with Baylor is being played again in Arlington. The only problem is that all three of those games will take place in the final four weeks of the year, making another second half slump a concern for Kliff Kingsbury. This is a very manageable slate overall and Tech could be soaring into the final month with some marquee showdowns coming at home late in the year.
9. Baylor Bears
Non-Conference: SMU, Northwestern State, at Buffalo
Big 12 Road: Iowa State, Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech*
Opponents ’13 Record: 78-72 (52.0%, 67th)
Baylor really faces a two-game schedule in 2014 and both will come on the road. Texas and Oklahoma both host the Bears, but Baylor has handled both programs with ease of late (especially, last year). Revenge against Oklahoma State and a tough game with Kansas State will be served in the friendly confines of brand-new McLane Stadium and a tricky game with Texas Tech comes in Arlington. Outposts in Ames and Morgantown should have Art Briles worried as well, however, Baylor dropped 144 points on Iowa State and West Virginia combined last year. With an easy non-conference slate and just two Top 25 games in the league, Baylor is poised to roll through another schedule.
10. Oklahoma Sooners
Non-Conference: Louisiana Tech, at Tulsa, Tennessee
Big 12 Road: West Virginia, TCU, Texas*, Iowa State, Texas Tech
Opponents ’13 Record: 71-78 (47.6%, 93rd)
As the team predicted to win the league, Oklahoma has one distinct advantage over every other team: It doesn’t have to face Oklahoma. It also gets Texas on a neutral site — one Bob Stoops has dominated — hosts the Baylor Bears (who have never won in Norman) and plays a very simple non-conference schedule. There is a lot to like about the Sooners' slate as the toughest road test of the year will take place in either Fort Worth or Lubbock. Of the top four teams picked to finish in the top half of the league, Oklahoma will play three of them at home (Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State) and gets Texas in the Cotton Bowl. There is a reason Oklahoma was picked to win the league and land in the College Football Playoff.
You want to know why the United States never has a shot at winning the World Cup?
It has nothing to do with our love of capitalism or that many believe the sport is boring. It has nothing to do with our country lacking athletic ability or other nations simply being superior humans.
The answer is simple. With no disrespect to Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan or Claudio Reyna, the best athletes in the country grow up dunking basketballs, hitting fastballs and tackling running backs.
So imagine what our Men’s National World Cup team would look like if this country’s greatest athletes had grown up kicking a soccer ball for hours everyday instead?
Assuming that no current men’s soccer players are eligible — because Howard would probably still make the starting line-up — Athlon Sports took a shot at projecting our starting line-up if everybody in the US played soccer and only soccer.
Men's National Team Starting Line-Up:
Full 23-man roster:
Starting Forward: LeBron James, F, Miami Heat
Starting Forward: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Back-up: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Back-up: Justin Gatlin, Track & Field
Offensive Midfielder: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Offensive Midfielder: Mike Trout, OF, LA Angels
Offensive Midfielder: Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Back-up: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Back-up: Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
Back-up: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Defensive Midfielder: John Wall, G, Washington Wizards
Defensive Midfielder: Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Back-up: Patrick Peterson, DB, Arizona Cardinals
Back-up: Jon Jones, MMA
Back-up: Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
Defender: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
Defender: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans
Defender: Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs
Back-up: Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Back-up: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Bucs
Back-up: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Goalkeeper: Jonathan Quick, G, LA Kings
Back-up: Dwight Howard, C, Houston Rockets
Conference realignment reached a fever pitch a few years ago and it caused great headaches for fans and coaches across the nation.
The dollars and “sense” of conference realignment blazed a path through college football for a few years following the turn of the century, however, teams shifting leagues for greener pastures isn’t a new phenomenon.
The Big Ten was created in 1896, is the oldest Division I collegiate conference in the NCAA and is adding two new teams this July in Maryland and Rutgers. Did you know the University of Chicago was a founding member? Or that Michigan was kicked out of the league for a decade?
The point is conference realignment has been happening for over 100 years of college football, and, while the process escalated to dizzying speeds recently, it’s not even close to ending. Want some proof? Here is a complete look at the history of the Big Ten conference and how realignment has shaped the league over time.
John Griffith, 1922-44 (died in office)
Kenneth “Tug” Wilson, 1945-61
William Reed, 1961-71 (died in office)
Wayne Duke, 1971-89
Jim Delany, 1989-present
1896: The Big Ten is formed as the first major collegiate conference of universities. Purdue president James Smart is credited with spearheading the decision to regulate and control intercollegiate athletics. The seven founding members were the University of Chicago, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Lake Forest College attended the 1895 meeting that eventually spawned what was then referred to as the Western Conference, but it did not join the league.
1899: Iowa and Indiana both join the Big Ten Conference three years after its inception. It was then commonly called the Big Nine. Both Iowa and Indiana would begin athletic competition the following year. Interestingly enough, Nebraska petitioned to join the league the same year (and would again request an invitation in 1911 to no avail).
1908: Michigan was voted out of the conference due to rules issues. The Wolverines failed to adhere to league-wide regulations and were subsequently ruled inactive.
1912: Ohio State joins the league.
1917: After Michigan was finally allowed back into the conference after its decade-long hiatus, the term Big Ten became an instantly popular way to refer to the conference.
1946: Due to the on-going World War in Europe, the University of Chicago had de-emphasized athletics in 1939 by discontinuing its football program. By 1946, Chicago withdrew from the league. The Big Ten went back to being referred to as the Big Nine.
1950: Michigan State is invited to join the Big Nine and does so to return the total number of league institutions to ten. The term Big Ten was re-adopted at this point. It would begin athletic competition in 1953.
1987: Technically, the league had been named the “Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives.” But since ICFR doesn’t roll off the tongue, the league officially changed its name to The Big Ten when it was incorporated as a non-profit business entity.
1990: After remaining unchanged for four decades of success, the Big Ten voted to expand to 11 schools and asked Penn State to join. The Nittany Lions, who were denied entrance into the Big East in 1982, were happy to oblige. It would begin Big Ten athletic competition in 1993.
2010-11: Nebraska applies for Big Ten membership and is unanimously approved as the league’s 12th institution. Nebraska played its first Big Ten conference schedule the following year and the league splits into two divisions to accommodate the Cornhuskers. Additionally, the Big Ten plays its first league championship game in Indianapolis.
2014: As the College Football Playoff Era begins, so too, does a new edition of the Big Ten. Maryland and Rutgers join the conference in all sports, pushing the league to a record 14 members. The divisions have been renamed the West and the East and will feature seven teams each. Both the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights will play in the East Division and both extend the B1G footprint into the coveted, population-rich Northeast. Lastly, Johns Hopkins University is actually joining the Big Ten as a men’s lacrosse member only. Officially, JHU has won 44 lacrosse national championships since being founded in 1883.
Big Ten's BCS Bowl Record: 13-15*
Big Ten's BCS National Championships: 1-2
* - including any vacated appearances
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE
Special thanks to Wikipedia.com for the above image. Please help keep Wikipedia free for all by donating here.
Conference realignment reached a fever pitch a few years ago and it caused great headaches for fans and coaches across the nation.
The dollars and “sense” of conference realignment blazed a path through college football for a few years following the turn of the century, however, teams shifting leagues for greener pastures isn’t a new phenomenon.
Did you know that South Carolina was a founding member of the ACC or that the league was created as an offshoot of the Southern Conference? The ACC was created in 1953 and has gone through more changes in the last 10 years than any of the other major leagues. Since 2004, the ACC has added six new football programs to its ranks, including 2014 with the addition of Louisville and the subtraction of Maryland. And that doesn't include the partnership with Notre Dame, whose annual schedule includes five ACC opponents starting this season.
The point is conference realignment has been happening for over 100 years of college football, and, while the process escalated to dizzying speeds recently, it’s not even close to ending. Here is a complete look at the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference and how realignment has shaped the league over time.
James Weaver, 1954-70
Robert James 1971-87
Eugene Corrigan, 1987-97
John Swofford, 1997-present
1953: After losing a multitude of members to the SEC in 1932, the once massive (23-member) Southern Conference loses eight key members to the formation of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The SoCon had a league-wide ban on postseason play and this is why many believe the ACC got started to begin with. Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, South Carolina and, a few months later, Virginia became the charter members.
1971: South Carolina decides to leave for independence, but would later join the SEC in 1991.
1978: After only containing seven teams for most of the '70s, Georgia Tech leaves the Metro Conference for the greener pastures of the ACC.
1991: Also from the Metro Conference, Florida State’s decision to join the ACC might have been the most important maneuver in ACC history. The Noles went on to dominate the league for the first decade and it played in the first three BCS National Championship Games (1998-2000). The league’s two national titles during the BCS Era (1999, 2013) and all four appearances in the game were produced by the Seminoles.
2004: Miami and Virginia Tech both officially join in the summer of 2004. Adding the two football powers gives the ACC two more viable national championship football programs to package with FSU.
2005: Boston College comes aboard, giving the ACC 12 teams and the opportunity to split the conference into two divisions and host a title game.
2011: In an effort to get out in front of the curve, John Swofford continues to stabilize his league by adding two more Big East powers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, to the group. The ACC technically expanded to 14 before any other major power conference.
2012: Founding member Maryland becomes the first such ACC program to jump ship in the modern rounds of realignment. The Terrapins desired more league stability and a much bigger payday and got both with the decision to move to the Big Ten. To counter the loss of Maryland, Swofford moves quickly to find a replacement and settles on Louisville. To top it off, the ACC also adds the highly coveted Notre Dame brand to the conference in all sports except football.
2013: In a shrewd legal move by the conference, the ACC signs a "Grant of Rights" deal locking in ownership of media rights for all member institutions. This is a simple but effective way to keep teams from leaving the ACC in the short term. From now until the end of the GOR contract (2027), if a school leaves the league, the ACC will retain the media rights, effectively rendering the move to another league fairly pointless. Additionally, Syracuse and Pittsburgh make their debuts in the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports while Notre Dame begins ACC play in every sport except football.
2014: The Maryland Terrapins officially begin play in the B1G while Louisville officially begins play in the ACC. Notre Dame will begin playing five games a year against ACC foes on the gridiron.
ACC’s BCS Bowl Record: 5-13
ACC’s BCS National Championships: 2-2
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE
Special thanks to Wikipedia.com for the above image. Please help keep Wikipedia free for all by donating here.
Things didn't go as planned in Dave Doeren's first season in Raleigh.
The Wolfpack didn't win a game in the ACC and lost four times to programs inside the state of North Carolina (Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina and East Carolina). So why would a program that didn't win a game a year ago and essentially finished fifth in the state have so much optimism heading into 2014?
Doeren and his staff are entering their second season, ideally, giving this program much-needed stability from an established business culture standpoint. He has 12 returning starters and a former big-time SEC recruit under center in Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.
Lastly, NC State also has a very manageable slate to navigate this fall.
2014 NC State Schedule Analysis
2014 NCST Schedule
Stack up wins early
For a team that didn’t win a game in ACC play and won just three times all year, NC State should be excited about the start of the 2014 season. Georgia Southern, Old Dominion and Presbyterian have to be wins and all will take place in the first four weeks of the year. The lone non-conference game that could provide some difficulty is South Florida on the road in Week 3. There is a good chance NC State starts the year with four straight wins and should that happen, a bowl game is well within reach.
Within the division, Florida State, Clemson and Louisville seem to be a cut above the rest. NC State will face all three — including both the Tigers and Cardinals on the road — over a four-week span from Sept. 27 to Oct. 18 with a home date with Boston College mixed in. Two wins in that span would be considered a huge success and a 1-3 mark is more likely. However, if things play out the way most expect, the Wolfpack could be sitting at five wins entering the final month of play.
Finish the year strong
It won’t be easy but NC State could enter November needing just one win to reach the postseason. And the schedule in the final month of the year sets up very well to provide that one (or more) much-needed victory to reach bowl eligibility. Road trips to Syracuse and North Carolina won’t be easy but aren’t overly taxing either while home games with Wake Forest and Georgia Tech could also be winnable. This is a very manageable final month that could shake things up in the Atlantic Division.
Related: 2014 NC State Wolfpack Team Preview
NC State is an intriguing team to track this preseason. Doeren is a respected coach and new quarterback Jacoby Brissett should be a major upgrade under center. The schedule is extremely manageable minus a few inevitable divisional battles with traditional powerhouses. If NC State can win the games it is supposed to and can steal a swing game or two (Boston College, Georgia Tech, for example), then the Wolfpack could produce not only a bowl team this fall but also perhaps a winning overall record.
Bret Bielema has draw a lot of attention during his short tenure at Arkansas.
After a winless first season in the SEC and various off-the-field headlines concerning pace of play and one particular head coach at Auburn, it's safe to say that the majority of this attention has not been positive.
But Bielema understands what he has gotten himself into. He understands the deep and treacherous waters of the toughest league in the nation. And to his credit, he is sticking with his game plan — the same one that won him three consecutive Big Ten championships at Wisconsin.
Arkansas should boast one of the best running games in the SEC, but that doesn't mean the Hogs will be able to move out of the SEC West cellar. This team should be improved in Bielema's second season, but will that translate into wins with one of the toughest schedules in the league this fall?
2014 Arkansas Schedule Analysis
2014 Arkansas Schedule
|2.||Sept. 6||Nicholls St|
The Razorbacks have the unenviable task of taking on the defending SEC champs on the road in the season opener. It would be a brutal game even if there wasn’t a budding rivalry between the two head coaches, so fans can be assured that Auburn’s Gus Malzahn won’t overlook the winless Hogs in Week 1. After a guaranteed win over Nicholls State in Week 2, the Hogs take to the road again to face pass-happy, up-tempo Texas Tech and Red Raider cult hero Kliff Kingsbury. Bielema will have to face two of the fastest offenses in the nation in the first three weeks and a 1-2 record is more than likely against the BCS runner-up and a former Southwest Conference rival.
Must-wins and home cooking
There aren’t many wins to be had on Arkansas' schedule so the must-win games carry even more importance for Bielema. Northern Illinois and UAB at home in Weeks 4 and 9 are obvious must-win situations and the Hogs should handle both with ease. In between, however, the Hogs will face Texas A&M in Arlington, Alabama in Fayetteville and Georgia in Little Rock. While not all of the games are true home games, Arkansas won’t play a true road game between Sept. 13 (Week 3) and Nov. 1 (Week 10). This gives the Razorbacks a chance to pull an upset and just one victory against either the Aggies or Bulldogs could create momentum for a team that failed to win an SEC game last year.
Divisional swing games
The Razorbacks played well at times a year ago despite losing all eight SEC contests. The Hogs fought valiantly against Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU. In 2014, there are three divisional swing games that could provide Arkansas with a much-needed boost of confidence heading into the offseason. Road trips to begin and end November at Mississippi State and Missouri respectively will be tough, but a win in either isn’t out of the question. Between those two road trips are hugely important home games within the division against Ole Miss and LSU. Both are winnable for Arkansas and a solid finish to the season with just one or two upsets could mean the difference between a forgettable season and one that features a bowl trip.
Arkansas was winless in the league last year for a reason. The Hogs weren’t very good. That said, this team lost the final three games of the season by a grand total of 21 points — against quality teams — and played well in other contests (Rutgers, Texas A&M). If the Razorbacks can develop some balance on offense, pull an upset or two at home in swing games (LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia) and snag a critical road win against lower-tiered SEC West teams (Mississippi State, Texas A&M) then there is an outside, albeit extremely outside, chance Bielema can get this team to a bowl game.
It's hard to believe that West Virginia is just two seasons removed from hanging 70 on Clemson in an Orange Bowl win.
But after an atrocious 4-8 record in 2013, the luster has clearly worn off of head coach Dana Holgorsen's resume in Morgantown. The deterioration of the program — most specifically the offense — has been alarmingly rapid and has led to major question marks about Holgorsen's future.
Needless to say, this is a critical year for Holgorsen and West Virginia. Does the schedule set up for a return to the postseason or does it appear Mountaineers fans will endure another brutal season on the gridiron?
2014 West Virginia Schedule Analysis
2014 WVU Schedule
Big, bad blue bloods
West Virginia picked the worst possible time to play a season opener against the SEC in the Georgia Dome. The first game of the year against Alabama was scheduled years ago but no one could have foreseen this type of mismatch. Bama enters the year No. 2 in the nation and the SEC front-runner while West Virginia is coming off its worst season since 2001. Then, three weeks later, the Mountaineers must face Big 12 front-runner Oklahoma in Morgantown. According to Athlon Sports' preseason rankings, West Virginia will face two of the projected four playoff teams in the first four weeks of the year.
Steve Slaton Bowl
With an easy win over Towson scheduled for Week 2, a huge non-conference game with Maryland looms large in Week 3. The Terps rolled over WVU last year 37-0, have changed leagues to the Big Ten and get the Mountaineers at home. This game should provide an example of just different the direction of both programs are heading. So with Alabama and Maryland both on the schedule, a 1-2 non-conference record might be the best case scenario for WVU.
Home swing games
If there are going to be some wins for the embattled Holgorsen in the Big 12, they are likely to come at home (See: Oklahoma State last season). Kansas, Baylor, TCU, Kansas State and the Sooners will all have to make the long and circuitous trip to Morgantown. West Virginia should win two of those contests with an outside shot at a third win from this quintet of games. The road slate is extremely tough and if the Mountaineers want to improve on last year’s 2-7 Big 12 record, they will have to get work done at home.
West Virginia won one game on the road last year (at TCU) and that came in overtime against one of the worst offenses in the league. A winless record on the road in 2014 could be very possible. Holgorsen has to face Maryland, Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road — four of which beat the Mounties in Morgantown a year ago.
The overall direction of the West Virginia program is concerning. The 4-8 overall record was the worst win total since Rich Rodriguez won only three games in his first season back in 2001. Unfortunately, things don’t appear to be in place for the Mountaineers to post a dramatic turnaround. The non-conference schedule is extremely difficult and the road slate within the Big 12 is going to be brutal. One non-conference win, one or two home Big 12 wins and one road conference victory might be too much to expect and that would barely match last year’s four-win total.
David Shaw is now a two-time defending Pac-12 champion.
Stanford has established itself as one of the premier programs west of the Mississippi after an unprecedented run of success over the last half decade. But Shaw is facing something he hasn't really had to face during his brief time leading the ship in Palo Alto. He is facing stability issues for the first time.
He must replace a host of elite starters on defense while also breaking in a new defensive coordinator. And he must do so in what could be the best conference in the nation.
The Cardinal will face one of the toughest schedules in the nation this fall and should they land in the playoff or win a third straight league crown, they will have earned it.
2014 Stanford Schedule Analysis
2014 Stanford Schedule
|1.||Aug. 30||UC Davis|
Right out of the gate
The Cardinal face both UC Davis and Army in the first month, but in the first four weeks of the season, Stanford also will play two of the five most important games of the year. The first will feature USC at home in just Week 2 and the other will come on the road against a divisional foe who beat them the last time it visited. Stanford lost to Washington in Seattle two years ago on a Thursday night and the Huskies have only gotten better since then. A win over Stanford would be the first marquee victory for new UW coach Chris Petersen. The good news for David Shaw is the off weekend prior to the game, giving the staff two weeks to prepare for Washington.
Sweep of October?
Stanford will play four opponents in the month of October that it played and beat last year five times. Stanford smoked Arizona State (twice) and Washington State last year but snuck past both Oregon State (20-12) and Notre Dame (27-20). The two easier games will come at home, but a return to the Pac-12 title game location in Tempe could prove to be a major hurdle to repeating as Pac-12 champs. The road trip to Notre Dame is a huge game of national importance and could carry playoff implications, but means nothing to the Cardinal’s Pac-12 title hopes. The focus should be on the Sun Devils in October.
On the road in November
Three of the final four games for Stanford will come on the road and two of those feature the two teams Athlon Sports is predicting to play in the Pac-12 title game. Stanford won the last time it visited Oregon and will start a nasty final month of the season with arguably the biggest game of the year in Eugene. A third straight win over the Ducks all but gives Stanford the North Division. A road trip to UCLA — should the Cardinal top Oregon — could hold a College Football Playoff berth in the balance before what could be a rematch the following week in Levi’s Stadium. In between are two easy games with Utah at home and Cal on the road — even if The Big Game is an important rivalry tilt. Stanford has beaten Cal four years in a row and has won the last two by a combined score of 84-16.
Related: 2014 Stanford Cardinal Team Preview
The Cardinal have their goals set on repeating as Pac-12 champs and securing a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. Should Stanford make it through the Pac-12 slate unscathed or with just one loss, this team will have earned the right to play for the national title. According to Athlon Sports’ preseason Top 25 rankings, David Shaw’s bunch will play the Nos. 6, 7, 13, 14, 16 and 24 teams in the regular season alone, with a likely rematch against one of its South Division foes in the Pac-12 title game. A 10-2 record would be extremely respectable but likely won’t win the league or score a playoff berth.
Ranking anything in sports is subjective. We may all agree on certain things — like Michael Jordan is better than Kobe Bryant or that Lambeau Field is better than the Edward Jones Dome — but for the most part, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Ranking college football stadiums is not only subjective but also extremely intricate. General atmosphere, fan support, home-field advantage, amenities, tailgating, the surrounding campus and the college town should all be considered when trying to rank college football stadiums.
Basically, there is no right or wrong answer. Athlon Sports polled Big 12 experts and asked them to rank their favorite Big 12 stadiums based on all of the above factors. Here is how things shook out:
Dan Hawkins, SiriusXM (@CoachHawk)
Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star (@BlairKerkhoff)
Chip Brown, HornsDigest (@ChipBrownHD)
Allen Kenney, BlatantHomerism (@BlatantHomerism)
Bill Connelly, SB Nation/Football Outsiders (@SBN_BillC)
Chris Level, RedRaiderSports (@ChrisLevel)
Geoff Ketchum, OrangeBloods (@gkketch)
Sean Callahan, HuskerOnline (@Sean_Callahan)
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports (@AthlonSteven)
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM (@BradenGall)
|3. Oklahoma State||3||5||2||3||6||2||3||3||5||3|
|4. Texas Tech||8||4||6||4||8||3||4||6||4||4|
|5. Kansas State||4||3||5||6||3||7||6||4||7||7|
|6. West Virginia||5||6||4||5||5||6||8||5||3||6|
|8. Iowa State||10||7||8||7||9||5||10||9||8||8|
1. Memorial Stadium, Oklahoma
Opened: 1925 Capacity: 82,112
Easily the top spot to catch a game in the Big 12, Norman’s college football palace provides the loudest and most passionate fan base in the league. Regularly drawing over 100 percent capacity proves that. A recent round of renovations have added 8,000 seats, a massive new brick-lined video board, new luxury suites, a new press box and beautiful brick exterior. Large gaps in the end zone seating keep the capacity below that of a certain archrival in Austin, but the atmosphere in Oklahoma is more electric.
2. Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium, Texas
Opened: 1924 Capacity: 100,119
Everything is actually bigger in Texas and the Longhorns' stadium tops the Big 12 based on sheer size. It isn’t the loudest 100,000 fans in the nation, but the building is arguably the most imposing facility, as it dwarfs most every other stadium in the Big 12. After the most recent run of extensive exterior construction, the amenities are second to none in the league as well. Plans are also in the works to expand the south end zone that will push DKR’s capacity to upwards of 112,000 fans — which would make it the nation’s largest stadium. And finally, located in the heart of one of the world’s best cities, fans have a long list of attractions while pre- and post-gaming on Saturdays.
3. Boone Pickens Stadium, Oklahoma State
Opened: 1920 Capacity: 60,218
The Cowboys' home stadium got a massive facelift, new additions, extra seats and a beautiful new façade in the last few years. The single-tiered, true horseshoe building is now flanked on the west by a 146,000-square foot, state-of-the-art facility that contains all of the Pokes' football operations. The brick and mortar exterior creates a massive set of exterior columns that majestically climb above the Stillwater skyline. There isn’t a bad seat in the house and when packed, BPS is as raucous as any place in the nation. Keeping the seats full during down times as well as the overall lack of size is what keeps this gorgeous facility from competing with Texas or Oklahoma.
4. Jones AT&T Stadium, Texas Tech
Opened: 1947 Capacity: 60,862
Mike Leach had his issues departing Lubbock but he is largely responsible for the consistent growth and development of Texas Tech’s home venue. The stadium was improved and upgraded in 2005 (luxury suites, parking garage), '07 (master plan), '08 (Spanish façade), '09 (6,000 east side seats) and '13 (new jumbotron). The atmosphere is electric and the facilities have advanced dramatically from over the last decade. The trip to Lubbock makes getting to a game slightly more difficult than even some of the other Big 12 outposts.
5. Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Kansas State
Opened: 1968 Capacity: 50,000
It’s small on three sides and has some quirky lines, but Bill Snyder Family Stadium will rock when the Wildcats are rolling. Like Iowa State, this building was over capacity on average two years ago as K-State clinched its first Big 12 title since 2003. A 2006 renovation expanded seating in the north end zone and also upgraded the locker rooms. It isn’t the biggest or fanciest building in the conference, but this place generally over-delivers on game day.
6. Milan Puskar Stadium, West Virginia
Opened: 1980 Capacity: 60,000
When it comes to rabid, passionate supporters, the Mountaineers are much closer to SEC levels rather than Big East or even Big 12. And the surrounding mountains of Morgantown are a fantastic setting for a college football Saturday. That said, the building isn’t one of the nation’s biggest and the stadium itself is a fairly straightforward facility that likely could use another round of renovations.
7. McLane Stadium, Baylor
Opened: 2014 Capacity: 45,000
For six decades, Baylor called Floyd Casey Stadium home. It wasn’t on campus, wasn’t normally filled and lacked stylish character or modern amenities. So after the three best years of football in program history, Art Briles and the Bears will open a brand-new, on-campus facility in 2014. McLane Stadium, in honor of business magnate Drayton McLane, cost $250 million and will be expanded from 45,000 to 55,000 in the near future. The plans look gorgeous and if Baylor keeps winning, the fans could make this one of the better places to watch a game in the Big 12. Track the construction progress in real time with McLane Cam.
8. Jack Trice Stadium, Iowa State
Opened: 1975 Capacity: 55,000
Iowa State is home to one of the most underrated home atmospheres in the nation in a building named after Iowa’s first black athlete. The passion of the fans cannot be questioned, as the Cyclones outdrew their capacity in 2012 on a team that barely reached the postseason the last two years. In the works are future expansions of the south end zone and east concourse that will move capacity to 61,000, making it the third biggest venue in the Big 12. The move will upgrade the facilities across the board and will add an upper deck to the end zone by August 2015.
9. Amon Carter Stadium, TCU
Opened: 1929 Capacity: 45,000
TCU completely rebuilt its home venue following the 2010 season. The $164 million renovation changed the quaint, worn-down stadium into a state-of-the-art football facility that provides more room to grow in the near future. The beautiful Southwestern art deco blends with the new football facilities as well as the popular design trend in the DFW area. The building is brand new and fans showed up in force last year (over capacity) but it is still small and will take time to build up the long-term tradition and pageantry that exists throughout college football’s blueblood venues.
10. Memorial Stadium, Kansas
Opened: 1921 Capacity: 50,071
A poor home win-loss record (212-203-16), the old-school athletic track circling the field and simple styling make this the worst venue in the conference. The last major upgrade took place over a decade ago, the attendance is fairly small and the building itself lacks tradition and character.
Quick, which Pac-12 team had the best record in the league last year?
It wasn’t the defending champion Stanford Cardinal and it wasn’t the Oregon Ducks. It was the Sun Devils of Arizona State who posted the best record in the league a year ago, losing just once in the regular season.
Todd Graham has obviously done a masterful job in just two years at the helm in Tempe. He has an excellent third-year starter returning under center in Taylor Kelly and a host of big-play weapons with which to surround him. But Graham also has to replace eight all-conference defensive starters.
So while Arizona State is a team that has grown accustomed to playing in marquee showdowns out West, many believe that a brutal schedule packaged with a totally rebuilt defensive depth chart will make repeating as Pac-12 South champs extremely difficult.
2014 Arizona State Schedule Analysis
2014 ASU Schedule
|1.||Aug. 28||Weber St|
Ease into things
The beginning of the season for Todd Graham should be a welcome sight. His brand-new defense won’t really be tested by Weber State or New Mexico in the first two weeks. And while Colorado should be much improved on offense, the Sun Devils should be capable of handling the Buffaloes in Boulder in Week 3. Arizona State, which gets an off weekend after the first three games, topped the Buffs 54-13 a year ago.
South Division Round-Robin
While USC and UCLA won’t play until much later in the year (Nov. 22), Arizona State will face its top two competitors in the South Division in back-to-back weeks as the calendar flips to October. The Bruins come to town to renew a developing coaching rivalry between Graham and Jim Mora. The road team has won both meetings between the two coaches and the combined scores of the two games is 81-78 (ASU). The following week, ASU must visit USC. While Graham single-handedly removed Lane Kiffin from power a year ago in Tempe, his Sun Devils were smoked the last time they visited The Coliseum (38-17). These two games could decide the entire season for Arizona State and they will happen in a two-week span early in the year.
On the heels of facing UCLA and USC — the top two teams picked in the South Division — Arizona State is fortunate to get an off weekend, because the Devils will have to face Stanford (home) and Washington (road) in the last two weeks of October. So over a five-week span, Arizona State will face four of the five best teams in the league, missing only Oregon. A 2-2 record might be considered a huge success, especially if those two wins come against the Bruins and Trojans.
Stretch run offers no breaks
After the bye week in Week 7, Arizona State literally won’t have a break in the schedule. The Sun Devils will play seven straight games to end the year. The good news is there are plenty of winnable contests in the month of November. Utah and Washington State at home are must-wins while two road trips to pesky Oregon State and in-state rival Arizona will be difficult. The lone marquee showdown in the final month is a bout with Notre Dame — who comes to Sun Devil Stadium on Nov. 8. Graham’s squad could win four, possibly five, games in the final month if the defense rounds into form and it could make ASU one of the hotter teams in the nation at the end of the season.
Arizona State should be happy it eases into action in 2014 with three guaranteed wins to start. This should allow the defense some time to develop, as so many new faces will dot the starting lineup. After that, however, things get really salty as the heart of the 2014 schedule will make or break the Sun Devils chances to repeat in the South. Three wins over a four-game span from Sept. 25 to Oct. 25 will likely decide the division race. Should Arizona State make it through the October gauntlet, this team could surge down the stretch. There are tricky but winnable games in November and even a loss to Notre Dame wouldn’t hurt a Pac-12 title run. Fans should know all they need to about ASU’s title hopes before Halloween.
Over the past few seasons, when Athlon Sports sat down to predict our SEC East final standings there has been one factor that seems to have been the deciding factor.
We caught a lot heat in 2011 when we picked the Georgia Bulldogs to win the East over the South Carolina Gamecocks. Especially from those clad in Garnett and Black. The same could have been said about picking the Bulldogs in 2012. The Dawgs had the easier path to the SEC East title those years and the ever-so-slight difference in scheduling played a huge role in earning Mark Richt and Georgia a trip to Atlanta in both 2011 and ’12.
In 2014, as the SEC enters the College Football Playoff Era, the schedules don’t seem nearly as imbalanced. And it makes projecting the SEC virtually impossible. Of the main contenders — Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn — Alabama has the easiest slate, South Carolina gets the most critical home schedule, Georgia gets only three home SEC games and Auburn has the toughest road schedule and crossover opponents.
With the football season fast approaching, Athlon Sports has ranked the toughest schedules in the SEC and how it impacted our 2014 SEC Football predictions.
1. Tennessee Volunteers
Crossover: at Ole Miss, Alabama
Non-conference: Utah St, Arkansas St, at Oklahoma, Chattanooga
Opponents' '13 Record: 101-54 (65.2%, 3rd)
The Vols will have to battle one of the toughest slates in the nation this fall. They will play one of the Mountain West and Sun Belt frontrunners and the Big 12 frontrunner in non-conference action. Tennessee also will have to travel to Georgia, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt while hosting Alabama, Missouri and a Florida team it hasn’t beaten in nearly a decade. This team could be dramatically improved overall in 2014 and could still easily lose seven games for a sixth time in seven years.
2. Arkansas Razorbacks
Crossover: Georgia (Little Rock), at Mizzou
Non-conference: Nicholls St, at Texas Tech, N. Illinois, UAB
Opponents ’13 Record: 103-54 (65.6%, 1st)
According to last year’s records, the Razorbacks will face the toughest schedule in the nation. While using last year’s win-loss totals to predict strength of schedule has numerous flaws, it does appear on paper that Arkansas will have the toughest road in the SEC West in 2014. To start, a road trip to defending SEC champ Auburn in Week 1 and a long, circuitous trip to Texas Tech in Week 3 both loom large. Once SEC plays really begins, it’s hard to find wins on the schedule. The Hogs will face Texas A&M, Alabama and Georgia in a four-week span and then a murderous November arrives with little hope for an upset: at Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and at Mizzou. Crossover play for Arkansas could feature the best two teams in the East as well.
3. Auburn Tigers
Crossover: South Carolina, at Georgia
Non-conference: San Jose St, at Kansas St, La. Tech, Samford
Opponents ’13 Record: 93-60 (60.8%, 16th)
The Tigers should ease into the ’14 slate with two winnable games to start and an open date in Week 3. But after that, there are few breathers for the defending SEC champs. A road trip to Kansas State, a visit from LSU and a trip to Starkville makes the transition from September to October very difficult. Then, Auburn will likely have the toughest set of crossover opponents in the entire SEC this fall, as the Tigers will face South Carolina at home and go to Athens to take on Georgia — both in the second half of the season. Mixed in is a road trip to Ole Miss and a home date with Texas A&M. Lastly, the Tigers will have to defend their Iron Bowl win on the road against Alabama in the regular-season finale.
4. Kentucky Wildcats
Crossover: at LSU, Mississippi St
Non-conference: UT-Martin, Ohio, ULM, at Louisville
Opponents' '13 Record: 98-55 (6th)
Normally, if you are going to be a bottom feeder in the toughest league in the nation, non-conference slates and crossovers are supposed to help. But a 3-1 record out of SEC play might be a best case and one win against either LSU or Mississippi State from the West seems unlikely. Toss in the usual laundry list of brutal divisional games with all the SEC East blue bloods and making a bowl seems virtually impossible. Since Kentucky doesn’t have to play itself, its schedule is one of the toughest in the nation.
5. Florida Gators
Crossover: at Alabama, LSU
Non-conference: Idaho, E. Michigan, E. Kentucky, at Florida St
Opponents' '13 Record: 91-62 (59.5%, 22nd)
The Gators do get three marquee SEC showdowns at home and three non-conference foes not named the Seminoles should result in be three lock wins. But overall, this is a nasty stretch with both Alabama and LSU in crossover play and a road trip to Florida State to cap the year. From Week 4 to 12, Florida will face Alabama, Tennessee and Vanderbilt on the road with LSU, Missouri and South Carolina at home as well as Georgia in Jacksonville. Luckily, both off weekends will fall within that seven-game stretch.
6. Texas A&M Aggies
Crossover: at South Carolina, Missouri
Non-conference: Lamar, Rice, at SMU, ULM
Opponents ’13 Record: 100-55 (64.2%, 5th)
The Aggies play nobody of note in the non-conference schedule with the possible exception of SMU in Dallas. And it’s a good thing Texas A&M scheduled those four wins because the league slate is absolutely nasty. The Aggies get Ole Miss, Mizzou and LSU at home and could pull an upset or two — especially because both Tigers will visit College Station late in the year. But one of the toughest away slates in the SEC leaves little room for error with road trips to Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Texas A&M should be 4-1 entering October but there are only a handful of winnable games after that for Sumlin's depleted and inexperienced roster.
7. Ole Miss Rebels
Crossover: at Vanderbilt, Tennessee
Non-conference: Boise St, ULL, Memphis, Presbyterian
Opponents ’13 Record: 89-63 (58.6%, 26th)
Boise State is a tough start to the season but Chris Petersen is in Seattle now and that makes that game dramatically less difficult. A matchup with Vanderbilt on the road and UL-Lafayette at home creates a difficult start to the year. However, three tricky games to start means lots of breathers late in the year — i.e., Tennessee at home, Memphis, Presbyterian, at Arkansas and two bye weeks in the final 10 weeks. However, mixed in will be showdowns of epic proportions as Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State all come to Oxford during that span. Road trips to Kyle Field and Tiger Stadium fall in October as well. This is a tough schedule with key swing games at home, winnable but tricky non-conference tilts and two really brutal SEC road trips.
8. LSU Tigers
Crossover: at Florida, Kentucky
Non-conference: Wisconsin, Sam Houston St, ULM, New Mexico St
Opponents ’13 Record: 82-71 (53.6%, 57th)
Playing Wisconsin and Florida would normally make for an extremely difficult schedule. However, the Badgers are coming all the way down to Houston and are rebuilding on defense while Florida posted the worst season in school history a year ago. And the rest of the non-conference and crossover schedule (Kentucky) is very easy. So how does the home-road SEC West slate shape up for the Tigers? Road trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M come late in the year but those should be the worst two teams in the division while back-to-back visits to Auburn and Florida to start October loom large. The good news is LSU gets Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State at home and those three games could determine division pecking order more so than any other game minus Auburn.
9. South Carolina Gamecocks
Crossover: Texas A&M, at Auburn
Non-conference: East Carolina, Furman, South Alabama, at Clemson
Opponents' '13 Record: 96-59 (61.9%, 13th)
South Carolina and Georgia have eerily similar schedules. Both play Clemson out of conference and both play defending SEC champ Auburn in crossover. Carolina, however, has to play both Tigers on the road whereas the Bulldogs get both of those striped opponents at home. That said, Carolina gets three critical home SEC East games with contenders Georgia and Missouri as well as Tennessee in addition to Texas A&M. Road trips to Vanderbilt and Kentucky are manageable but a trip to Gainesville — while UGA gets Florida on a neutral field — also makes South Carolina’s schedule slightly more daunting.
10. Georgia Bulldogs
Crossover: at Arkansas, Auburn
Non-conference: Clemson, Troy, Charleston Southern, Georgia Tech
Opponents' '13 Record: 92-61 (60.1%, 19th)
Only getting three home games in SEC play hurts but two road trips to Arkansas and Kentucky shouldn’t be too difficult. Non-conference games with Clemson and Georgia Tech will be battles but both come at home to bookend the season. Home games with Tennessee and Vanderbilt are very winnable and a rematch of the Prayer at Jordan-Hare will come Between the Hedges. Two road trips to South Carolina and Missouri could decide the East championship, however, as these three teams appear to be the top SEC East contenders. The good news is the Dawgs get a bye week to prepare for their trip to Columbia, S.C.
11. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Crossover: at Kentucky, Vanderbilt
Non-conference: Southern Miss, UAB, at S. Alabama, UT Martin
Opponents ’13 Record: 80-71 (52.9%, 62nd)
Like Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs won’t challenge themselves in non-conference play like some of the bigger programs. Which is good, considering the normally brutal SEC West round-robin Mississippi State faces each year. Home games with Texas A&M (Week 6), Auburn (Week 7), Arkansas (Week 10) and Vanderbilt (Week 13) are all winnable and could feature three, possibly four, league victories. Road tilts with LSU and Alabama will be difficult and a rivalry game in Oxford is always tough, but the saving grace for Dan Mullen (and what makes this schedule lighter than others in the league) is two very winnable crossover games and four likely wins in the non-conference. It’s not just the defensive depth chart and development of quarterback Dak Prescott that makes the Bulldogs an intriguing team to follow entering ’14, it’s also a relatively lenient SEC schedule.
12. Alabama Crimson Tide
Crossover: Florida, at Tennessee
Non-conference: West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss, W. Carolina
Opponents ’13 Record: 71-79 (47.3%, 95th)
Alabama should breeze into conference play with three very winnable non-conference games (and one more in November). Crossover play against two powerhouse programs that have fallen on hard times in the Gators (home, Week 4) and Vols (road, Week 9) also gives the Tide a fortunate break in 2014. Add in a home game in the Iron Bowl against Auburn and the Tide looks poised for a perfect record at home. A road trip to Baton Rouge — a rivalry where the road team has consistently played well — and Ole Miss are the only other tricky games on the schedule — and Alabama gets two weeks to prepare for both games. This 12-game slate has three (maybe four) marquee games on it and two of those will come at home with the other two coming after the bye weeks. A 10-win season is almost a guarantee in Tuscaloosa.
13. Vanderbilt Commodores
Crossover: Ole Miss, at Mississippi State
Non-conference: Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern, Old Dominion
Opponents' '13 Record: 78-73 (51.6%, 69th)
Getting both Mississippi schools in crossover play normally would be a blessing but not in 2014 as the two Magnolia programs are improved and confident. The non-conference schedule, however, might be the easiest of any team in the nation. Other winnable games like Tennessee at home and Kentucky on the road makes getting to a bowl game a likely possibility. But winning games against traditional powers Georgia and Florida like it did last year seem to be a much taller order this time around. And that doesn’t include a road trip to Missouri and a home game with South Carolina. There are plenty of upset chances and winnable contests for the Dores this fall.
14. Missouri Tigers
Crossover: at Texas A&M, Arkansas
Non-conference: South Dakota State, at Toledo, UCF, Indiana
Opponents' '13 Record: 84-67 (55.6%, 43rd)
As far as crossover and non-conference scheduling among the SEC East contenders, Missouri might have the easiest slate. A visit to Texas A&M in November won’t be easy but the Aggies and Razorbacks could be the worst two teams in the West. The non-conference slate has some solid competition but nothing Mizzou shouldn’t be able to handle with relative ease. The key for the Tigers will be the road slate against South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and the Aggies — despite last year’s win-loss records. A huge, potentially division-deciding game against Georgia comes after a bye week and at home. The Tigers should be perfect at home and in the non-conference slate (8-0) so if they can knock off either South Carolina or Florida on the road, Mizzou could easily repeat as SEC East champs
Ranking anything in sports is subjective. We may all agree on certain things — like Michael Jordan is better than Kobe Bryant or that Lambeau Field is better than the Edward Jones Dome — but for the most part, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Ranking college football stadiums is not only subjective but also extremely intricate. General atmosphere, fan support, home-field advantage, amenities, tailgating, the surrounding campus and the college town should all be considered when trying to rank college football stadiums.
Basically, there is no right or wrong answer. Athlon Sports polled Big Ten experts and asked them to rank their favorite Big Ten stadiums based on all of the above factors. Here is how things shook out:
David Jones, Harrisburg Patriot-News (@DJonesHoop)
Herb Gould, Chicago Sun-Times (@HerbGould)
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network (@BTNTomDienhart)
Kevin McGuire, NBC Sports (@KevinOnCFB)
Sean Callahan, HuskerOnline.com (@Sean_Callahan)
Kevin Noon, BuckeyeGrove.com (@Kevin_Noon)
Brent Yarina, Big Ten Network (@BTNBrentYarina)
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM (@BradenGall)
|1. Ohio St||1||1||2||1||2||2||1||1||1||1||1||1|
|4. Penn St||4||3||3||4||4||1||5||5||3||5||4||2|
|7. Michigan St||5||7||12||7||7||7||7||7||7||6||7||7|
1. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State
Opened: 1922 Capacity: 102,329
There is little doubt that the Horseshoe is the Big Ten’s best place to watch a game. A great nickname, awesome traditions, tremendous fan support, elite level of success, High Street and the Banks of the Olentangy make Ohio Stadium a bucket list destination for fans of every team. And with a new video board, audio system and LED lighting, Ohio State boasts one of the top college football venues in the nation. Watching the "Dotting of the I" before a Buckeyes game is something all college fans should experience. Finishing in the top five in average attendance every year doesn’t hurt either.
Listen to the latest Athlon Sports Cover 2 podcast:
2. Memorial Stadium, Nebraska
Opened: 1923 Capacity: 91,000
Towering over the sprawling Lincoln campus, Memorial Stadium rises high into the horizon for all Big Red faithful to see. The façade of Memorial Stadium is extremely intimidating to those down on the field and the crowds are the most committed in the nation. This venue has been sold out since 1962. (1962!) The latest round of multimillion-dollar expansions grew this college football cathedral by nearly 10,000 seats and is even more luxurious.
3. Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin
Opened: 1917 Capacity: 80,321
Madison is routinely considered one of the nation’s most enjoyable college towns. Nestled between two picturesque lakes, the downtown campus “jumps around” on fall Saturdays. The brat haze that floats over State Street and down Regent Street ushers fans through a gorgeous campus and into the House that Barry built. Camp Randall got its name from its time as a Civil War army base in the 1800s long before Big Ten athletics were created. Wisconsin has consistently poured money into renovating its prized gem of a stadium over the years, with some finishing touches still yet to come. One of the nation’s best game day atmospheres is only getting better with time.
4. Beaver Stadium, Penn State
Opened: 1960 Capacity: 106,572
From a massive city like Columbus to a sleepy college town like State College, Beaver Stadium nearly matches The Horseshoe’s every facet. Penn State’s home stadium is as intimidating as any in the nation — especially when 100,000 fans are all wearing white. Massive, boisterous crowds steeped in rich tradition and history make the Nittany Lions’ home games a sight to behold. And climbing nearby Mount Nittany is a right of passage of sorts for all who attend a game at Beaver Stadium.
5. Michigan Stadium, Michigan
Opened: 1927 Capacity: 109,901
The biggest stadium in the nation is located in Ann Arbor, Mich. It was capable of holding upwards of 80,000 people at the time it opened, making it well ahead of its peers in terms of sheer size and capacity. Built down into the ground, the massive bowl doesn’t tower over the land or hold in the sound like some of its 100,000-seat brethren, however, the renovations completed in 2010 installed new luxury boxes, added a massive video scoreboard and thousands of club seats. These changes have contained the noise to some degree and made The Big House more inhospitable to opposing teams and more majestic to the Maize and Blue faithful.
6. Kinnick Stadium, Iowa
Opened: 1929 Capacity: 70,585
Formerly Iowa Stadium, the name changed in 1972 when a local sports writer convinced the powers that be to rename the building after former Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick. The Hawkeyes' home field took its current shape in 2006 when an $86 million renovation added a new press box, video scoreboard and built permanent seating in the south end zone, complete with upgraded amenities. The no-frills, straightforward seating can be as loud as any stadium in the Big Ten and the famous pink visitors’ locker room only adds to the building’s rich tradition.
7. Spartans Stadium, Michigan State
Opened: 1923 Capacity: 75,005
Entering the 2012 season, Michigan State has put together an extremely respectable 70 percent winning percentage (341-142-13) at home since taking up residency in Spartan Stadium. The perfectly symmetrical walls of Spartan Stadium are the last of the Big Ten’s “big” stadiums. Renovations completed in 2006 upgraded the luxury suites, club seats, concourses and amenities and added The Grand Entrance, a sharp looking glass and brick façade that welcomes Green and White faithful each Saturday.
8. TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota
Opened: 2009 Capacity: 50,805
The newest building in the Big Ten is home to the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. The on-campus, outdoor facility opened in 2009 and cost roughly $300 million to build. Seating capacity can be expanded to 80,000, which is one of the reasons why the Gophers' home also will host the Vikings the next two seasons while a new downtown stadium is under construction. The west end zone is open air, holds a massive HD video board and provides a scenic view of downtown Minneapolis. “The Bank” or “Gopher Hole” has dramatically improved the game day atmosphere for home games and provides Minnesota an on-campus home of its own for decades to come. The amenities are also among the league’s best considering it’s the newest building in the conference.
9. Memorial Stadium, Illinois
Opened: 1923 Capacity: 60,670
The exterior of Illinois’ facility has always had a classic and traditional feel that welcomes home and road fans. But prior to 2008, this facility lacked the passion and intensity of the bigger Big Ten buildings. However, a brand new press box and luxury suites on the West side coupled with 10,000 new seats in the north end zone have helped rebuild the Memorial experience. The multimillion-dollar video board, new sound system, ribbon video boards and new commemorative lettering on the press box wrapped up the latest round of renovations and has only added to the game day experience.
10. Byrd Stadium, Maryland
Opened: 1950 Capacity: 54,000
Dr. H.C. Byrd was a multi-sport athlete and University of Maryland alumnus who went on to coach the football team and also served as university president. The building, nestled at the foot of campus’ North Hill, has gone through various rounds of renovations (1995, '04, '07, '09). Although it has taken time for the building to round into form, the improvements, including upper decks seating, presidential suite and state-of-the-art scoreboard, make Terps games much more enjoyable today than just 15 years ago.
11. Ryan Field, Northwestern
Opened: 1926 Capacity: 47,130
Formerly Dyche Stadium, the Wildcats' home stadium was renamed Ryan Field in honor of Patrick G. Ryan, who was the chairman of the Board of Trustees at that time. The unique gentle curves of the stadium allow for great sight lines and few bad seats. Located in northeast Chicago along Lake Michigan, the Evanston campus offers plenty for fans to enjoy. However, similar to Duke or Vanderbilt, this venue struggles to match the rabid intensity of bigger, more powerful athletic departments.
12. High Point Solutions Stadium, Rutgers
Opened: 1994 Capacity: 52,454
This on-campus facility grew from 41,500 seats to its current capacity after an extensive round of additions in 2009. The Knights use a signature two-tone green field turf for football games and the atmosphere performed well in signature moments — see Jeremy Ito’s field goal in 2006. It lacks a great name due to corporate sponsorship, but its symmetry, fan support and view of the Raritan River give it a lot of upside with an influx of Big Ten dollars expected in the near future.
13. Memorial Stadium, Indiana
Opened: 1960 Capacity: 52,959
The Hoosiers’ home field is one of the few in the nation that has remained largely unchanged throughout the years. The signature, solitary press box rests gently atop the single-tier bowl nicknamed “The Rock.” A rare 2009 renovation expanded seating slightly, added the brand new Hall of Champions athletic facility and enclosed the north end zone. Bloomington is an awesome college town and Memorial offers the homely experience of a laid-back Midwestern campus. But until the team can win at a higher level more consistently, The Rock won’t be nearly as intimidating as most places in the league.
14. Ross Ade Stadium, Purdue
Opened: 1924 Capacity: 62,500
Purdue’s home stadium could be the next Big Ten stadium to get a makeover. It has plenty of tradition, a rich history of elite players and has provided plenty of upsets — just ask Ohio State. But an upper deck on the North and East sides as well as a facelift for the amenities would go a long way to improving the status of this once-proud venue. The rumored additions would balance out the currently western heavy feel to the building — due to the massive press box and luxury suites towering over the single-bowl facility. Winning more games, of course, would go a long way to pushing forward these potential renovations.
Life is good in Tallahassee right now.
Jimbo Fisher is the commander in chief of the reigning national champions, has a Heisman Trophy winner returning under center and will face another extremely manageable schedule in the inferior yet improving ACC.
Florida State enters the College Football Playoff Era with one of the best rosters in the nation and the experience of winning it all a year ago. And while the ACC as a whole is improving around the Seminoles, the path back to the national title game appears to be paved with easy wins.
In fact, if there is one team most likely to reach the inaugural playoff bracket, it would be the Noles. No team in the nation boasts a better combination of talent, experience, coaching and scheduling than Florida State.
2014 Florida State Schedule Analysis
2014 FSU Schedule
|2.||Sept. 6||The Citadel|
Give a lot of credit to Florida State for scheduling one of the toughest out-of-league slates in the nation in 2014. Oklahoma State won the Big 12 in 2011 and was one play away from winning the crown again last year and Florida State will open with the Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. Notre Dame will come to Tallahassee in the middle of October and a much-improved Florida team visits Doak Campbell Stadium for the annual Sunshine State rivalry. Can the Seminoles handle all three — and The Citadel — with ease? Sure, but it’s one of the most impressive non-conference schedules in the nation.
ACC road upset alert watch
Florida State and Fisher had been knocked prior to 2013 for losing focus on the road from time to time (See: NC State in 2012). The Noles overcame that hurdle last year with convincing wins over Clemson, Florida and Pitt on the road. However, Florida State will once again have to guard against a letdown on the road in the ACC in 2014. Fisher leads his team back to Raleigh to face NC State and also will have to face Louisville, Miami and Syracuse on the road. All four are projected bowl teams this fall.
Jam-packed with wins
While Oklahoma State and Clemson, for example, have been traditionally strong programs of late, many teams on the Noles' schedule are going to be “down” this fall. The Tigers are breaking in an entirely new offense and the Pokes lost more than two dozen senior contributors. Boston College, who gave FSU its toughest test last year in Chestnut Hill, isn’t going to be nearly as good without Andre Williams. And both Miami and Louisville are replacing their quarterbacks. Additionally, FSU will get two weeks to prepare for both the Tigers and Cardinals. So while the schedule looks really solid on paper, frankly, it’s packed with a lot of potential blowouts (again).
The question many are asking about Florida State’s schedule in 2014 is which team has the best chance to upset the Noles? Notre Dame and Florida appear to be the most talented teams on the schedule this fall and both should be much improved from a year ago, as both welcome back star quarterbacks from 2012. That said, both games take place in Tallahassee and both teams will be hard-pressed to keep up with Jameis Winston and company.
The schedule sets up very nicely for Florida State to return to the national championship game — or, at the very least, land in the College Football Playoff. This schedule is much tougher this year than last, especially on paper, but deeper analysis of normally marquee games — Oklahoma State, Clemson, Louisville, Miami, Florida — shows that the Noles should be a heavy favorite in every game they play this fall. Notre Dame will likely give FSU its toughest test of the year (maybe Florida), but with that game taking place at home, it’s hard to see Florida State losing in the regular season. Some bizarre bout of complacency — which has happened in the past — looks like the only thing that could derail the Noles' defense of their national championship.
Al Golden is entering a critical fourth season at The U.
In the face of nasty NCAA allegations, Miami’s head coach has done solid work to rebuild his program through recruiting and roster turnover. But the Hurricanes are still lagging well behind consistent ACC powers Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
The defense improved ever so slightly a year ago but still has a long way to go to return to the Miami glory years of the early 2000s. The offense has plenty of dynamic skill weapons but is sorely lacking at the quarterback position. And the schedule isn’t jam-packed with wins like maybe Golden wishes in private moments.
Golden is widely respected as a head coach but his 22-15 record in three years isn’t what most Miami fans expect from their once powerhouse program. So while the 2014 schedule is going to be plenty difficult, it also means there are plenty of chances for more marquee wins — a la the Florida Gators a year ago.
2014 Miami Schedule Analysis
2014 Miami Schedule
|2.||Sept. 6||Florida A&M|
Miami is accustomed to playing on Labor Day night and Golden will have to lead his team into a hostile environment to kick off the 2014 regular season. Louisville pounded Miami 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl to end last season and no doubt it left an extremely sour taste in the mouths of Canes fans and players. Now, as the Cardinals begin their first season in the ACC, it’s not only a revenge game in the season opener on national television, but is a conference game. No pressure, Al.
Non-conference build up
The U will face Florida A&M and Arkansas State at home in Weeks 2 and 3 and both should be convincing wins for Miami. But a road trip to Lincoln to face Nebraska in Week 4 provides a second brutal away test in the first month. The Huskers and Hurricanes have played for three national titles since 1983, and while much less is on the line in ’14, this game cannot be overvalued for either coaching staff. Miami wraps up September with a home game against Duke — who beat the Canes 48-30 a year ago. A 3-2 mark to start the year might be considered a successful first month.
October road trips
The schedule doesn’t exactly lighten up in the month of October with two road trips to historically tough locales in Atlanta (Oct. 4) and Blacksburg (Oct. 23). Miami’s trips to take on the ACC’s Tech schools will be packaged around a testy, home, non-conference game with American Athletic Conference favorite Cincinnati. Miami will face one of the toughest first two months of the season of any team in the ACC. The only respite comes on Oct. 18 when The U will get two weeks to prepare for the potential Coastal Division-deciding showdown with the Hokies. Additionally, Miami will play seven straight games to begin the season before the off weekend on Oct. 18.
November is at home (at least)
Golden and the Canes will have to get work done in the first two months of the season because the final four weeks will feature three extremely tough games. Miami will host North Carolina, Florida State and Pittsburgh — all of whom could be improved in 2014 over a year ago (yes, even FSU). The only breather comes in Charlottesville on Nov. 22.
Related: 2014 Miami Hurricanes Team Preview
Frankly, this is one of the hardest ACC schedules in recent memory. Not only does Miami have to play two tough non-conference games and the normally impossible to predict divisional round-robin, but gets to face arguably the top two teams from the Atlantic Division as well. This team could easily contend for a berth in the ACC title game and has the talent to show big improvement, but this schedule doesn’t afford Golden many slip-ups. Miami could be a better team in 2014 than it was last fall and yet post a worse record.