Articles By Braden Gall
The Connecticut Huskies are champions.
Kevin Ollie, in just his first year eligible to make the tournament and just his second as a head coach, led his team to the top of the college basketball mountain. All UConn and Ollie did was become the first No. 7 seed to ever win the NCAA championship and the lowest seeded champ since Kansas (No. 6) topped Oklahoma in 1988.
Their defense was excellent and Shabazz Napier was downright brilliant once again. That said, Kentucky's fabulous freshmen should hold their collective head high after a tremendous effort on the other side of the court. It was a much better game than two teams with an NCAA record for combined total seeding in a title game (15).
But was last night's 60-54 showdown in North Texas one of the 10 best national championship games of the modern era?
Limiting the time scope to the modern tournament era — aka, 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams — here are the 10 best national championship showdowns. (And five that totally flopped.)
1. (8) Villanova 66, (1) Georgetown 64
When: 1985 Where: Lexington, Ky.
It might be the most important basketball game ever played on any level. Villanova pulled the biggest championship upset in tournament history — later broken by UConn in 1999 — when the eighth-seeded Wildcats shot 22-of-28 from the floor to topple Big East rival and Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown. Nova is still the lowest-seeded team to win the NCAA championship and helped make the first 64-team tournament a huge success — in particular for the Big East. St. John's joined Nova and G-Town in the Final Four in '85 as the only year a conference has landed three teams in the Final Four.
2. (1) Kansas 75, (1) Memphis 68 (OT)
When: 2008 Where: San Antonio, Texas
For the first time in modern tourney history, all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four. Both Kansas (who defeated a Roy Williams-coached North Carolina team) and Memphis (UCLA) cruised to the title game where John Calipari's Tigers overcame a five-point halftime deficit to take a nine-point lead with just over two minutes to play. Memphis, a notoriously poor free-throw shooting team, couldn't knock down freebies in the closing minutes and Kansas had a chance to tie it on the final possession. Veteran guard Mario Chalmers delivered with the game-tying three-pointer with 2.1 seconds to go. The Jayhawks cruised to the first six points in overtime and eventually won its first title in two decades.
3. (1) Indiana 74, (2) Syracuse 73
When: 1987 Where: New Orleans, La.
The last tournament in which teams were allowed to play in their home gyms also was the first in which the three-point shot was used. Bob Knight's Hoosiers topped Jim Boeheim's Orangemen on the back of a Keith Smart last-second baseline jumper. Smart was named the MOP because of his late heroics but current UCLA head coach Steve Alford actually led IU with 23 points in the game. The win gave Knight his third and final NCAA national championship and he would return to the Final Four only once more in his career after Smart's historic jump shot (1992).
4. (3) Michigan 80, (3) Seton Hall 79 (OT)
When: 1989 Where: Seattle, Wash.
Rumeal Robinson knocked down two free throws with three seconds left in overtime to give Michigan its first national title since 1963. The Wolverines outlasted a furious rally from the Cinderella Pirates and John Morton’s 35 points. Head coach Steve Fisher moved to 6-0 on the season after taking over for Bill Frieder just before the NCAA Tournament got started. Even though Robinson hit the game winners, future NBA star Glen Rice was named tourney MOP with 31 points in the title game and an NCAA-record 184 points in six games.
5. (4) Arizona 84, (1) Kentucky 79 (OT)
When: 1997 Where: Indianapolis
Rick Pitino and his defending national champions entered the title game on a roll at 35-4 on the season. But Miles Simon scored a career-high 30 points on 14-of-17 from the free-throw line, including four in the final 41 seconds, to earn tournament MOP in a huge title game upset. The Wildcats didn’t make a field goal in overtime but outscored Kentucky 10-5. Arizona was the first team in history to defeat three No. 1 seeds in the same tournament.
6. (6) Kansas 83, (1) Oklahoma 79
When: 1988 Where: Kansas City, Mo.
Playing just 40 miles from campus, Danny (Manning) and the Miracles capped a historic season by avenging two regular season losses to the Sooners in the season’s final game. Oklahoma, a team that averaged 103.5 points per game, was held to less than 80 points and had an 11-minute drought with just two baskets late in the second half. Manning, the tourney MOP, scored 31 points and snagged 18 rebounds in the win. En route to the championship, the sixth-seeded Jayhawks beat No. 11 Xavier, No. 14 Murray State, No. 7 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Kansas State to get to the Final Four. It was just the third meeting of conference opponents in an NCAA championship game.
7. (1) Louisville 82, (4) Michigan 76
When: 2013 Where: Atlanta, Ga.
It had everything a national championship game should provide. Two historic brands coached by two of the game's greats in an epic battle with highlight-reel dunks, clutch shot-making and future NBA stars. After 39 furious minutes of end-to-end action, Russ Smith, Peyton Siva, Luke Hancock, Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng stood above National Player of the Year Trey Burke, Mitch McGary and two legacies in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. Rick Pitino won his second national title nearly two decades after winning his first with Kentucky. There wasn't a game-winning buzzer beater in the final seconds but, from start to finish, there have been few national title games more entertaining this one.
8. (1) Arkansas 76, (2) Duke 72
When: 1994 Where: Charlotte, N.C.
Arkansas, powered by coach Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of hell" style of play, earned a spot in the Final Four much to the delight of No. 1 Hogs fan President Bill Clinton. The Hogs dispatched Arizona in the semi finals to meet Duke, who had won back-to-back titles in 1991-92. With the Commander-in-Chief in attendance at the Charlotte Coliseum, MOP Corliss Williamson paced Arkansas with 23 points and eight rebounds, but still needed a rainbow three by Scotty Thurman with less than a minute remaining to hold off a pesky Blue Devils team. The win gave Arkansas its first (and only) national title, a victory that certainly got the presidential seal of approval.
9. (1) North Carolina 77, (1) Michigan 71
When: 1993 Where: New Orleans
Vacated wins or not, Michigan's Fab Five led the Wolverines all the way to the national championship game for the second straight season. Unfortunately, it ended with one of the most infamous and recognizable plays in NCAA tourney history. After racing up court down by two points, Chris Webber calls timeout with 11 seconds left in the game. However, since the Maize and Blue had no timeouts left, the play resulted in a technical foul and Webber's gaffe has gone down in history. Dean Smith claimed his second and final national championship.
10. (2) Louisville 72, (1) Duke 69
When: 1986 Where: Dallas, Texas
Duke was the No. 1 team in the nation with a sterling 37-2 record and the Naismith College Player of the Year Johnny Dawkins. And this also represented Mike Krzyzewski’s first-ever Final Four appearance. But Never Nervous Pervis Ellison played the game of his young career by scoring 36 points and grabbing 24 rebound in two Final Four games (25 and 11 against Duke) to earn Most Outstanding Player — the first freshman to do so since 1944 (Arnie Ferrin) and just the second freshman ever to win the honor. It was Denny Crum’s second national title in six seasons.
Just missed the cut:
11. (3) Syracuse 81, (2) Kansas 78
When: 2003 Where: New Orleans
Marquee stars Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade stole the hearts and minds of hoops enthusiasts en route to the Final Four. But Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim stole the headlines in the title game. Behind hot shooting from freshman guard Gerry McNamara (six three-pointers in the first half), the Orange took a lead that was sealed when Hakim Warrick blocked Michael Lee's attempt at a game-tying three-pointer to end the game. It was Cuse’s first national title as Melo, just a freshman, was named the MOP with 21 points in the win.
12. (1) Duke 61, (5) Butler 59
When: 2010 Where: Indianapolis
Butler beat No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State and No. 5 Michigan State en route to an improbable showdown with top-seeded Duke. Playing in its home town for the first time since 1968 UCLA and led by a rising coaching star in Brad Stevens, Butler battled the more talented and deeper Blue Devils to the wire. Gordon Heyward missed a half-court heave by inches that would have been the greatest shot in American basketball history. Coach K won his fourth NCAA championship.
13. (1) North Carolina 75, (1) Illinois 70
When: 2005 Where: St. Louis
After both teams survived unlikely scares in the Elite Eight against Wisconsin and Arizona respectively, the Tar Heels took a commanding early lead. But the Illini — led by Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head — rallied and tied the game at 70. Bruce Weber’s bunch had plenty of chances to take the lead and Raymond Felton calmly sunk free throws in the waning moments to give Roy Williams his first NCAA title.
14. (1) UConn 77, (1) Duke 74
When: 1999 Where: St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Blue Devils stormed through the tourney to reach the finals against a UConn team that was a then-record 9.5-point underdog. Clutch shooter Richard Hamilton won Most Outstanding Player with 27 points and Khalid Al-Amin ran the show with four assists. It was the biggest upset in a national title game in the history of the tournament.
15. (3) Duke 72, (2) Kansas 65
When: 1991 Where: Indianapolis
Duke’s win over unbeaten UNLV in the Final Four gets all of the headlines but the seven-point win over Kansas was a doozy as well. Christian Laettner was named MOP with 18 points, 10 rebounds on the strength of 12-of-12 shooting from the free-throw line. After nine Final Four trips and five national title game appearances, Duke wins its first national title.
The Final Flops:
(1) UNLV 103, (3) Duke 73
When: 1991 Where: Denver
(1) North Carolina 89, (2) Michigan State 72
When: 2009 Where: Detroit
(3) UConn 53, (8) Butler 41
When: 2011 Where: Houston
(3) Florida 73, (2) UCLA 57
When: 2006 Where: Indianapolis
(1) Duke 71, (6) Michigan 51
When: 1992 Where: Minneapolis
All-conference teams are a great indicator as to who is the best in each league. Earning first-team honors more than once is a pretty good sign that you were one of the best at your position during your career. The rare three-time (or even four-time) all-league selection makes you one of the best college football players of all-time.
As the College Football Playoff Era begins in 2014, Athlon Sports is looking back on the last 16 years of action — aka, The BCS Era. Here is the All-BCS Era All-Pac-12 team. The only stipulation (unlike other folks who have done this exercise) is that you must have played at least one season from 1998-13 in the Pac-12.
QB: Matt Leinart, USC (2003-05)
Leinart won two national titles and played for a third in three years starting at powerhouse USC under Pete Carroll. He finished in the top six of Heisman voting in all three seasons, winning the award in 2004. He also earned AP Player of the Year, Manning, Walter Camp, Unitas and consensus All-American honors during his remarkable Heisman campaign. Leinart owns the career conference record with 36 consecutive games with a touchdown pass and his 99 TD passes were a league record until Matt Barkley came along. He also is just one of three players in league history to throw for 3,000 yards in three seasons (Derek Anderson, Andrew Walter). Second-Team: Andrew Luck, Stanford
RB: Reggie Bush, USC (2003-05)
Sort of a first of his kind, the all-purpose talent was unstoppable with the ball in his hands. He played a prominent role on the 2003 national championship team before providing 908 yards rushing, 509 yards receiving, nearly 1,000 return yards and 15 total touchdowns during USC’s 2004 romp to a second national title. He exploded as a junior, rushing for 1,740 yards on a ridiculous 8.7 yards per carry and scoring 19 total touchdowns, coming up just short of his third national title. He earned his second consecutive Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award as well as the Doak Walker, Walter Camp and Heisman Trophy. Second-Team: Steven Jackson, Oregon State
RB: LaMichael James, Oregon (2009-11)
Few players accomplished more in three seasons than James. Three straight 1,500-yard campaigns, a Doak Walker Award, consensus All-American honors and a trip to the BCS title game make the speedy and elusive back one of the BCS Era’s greatest tailbacks. His 53 touchdowns and 5,082 yards on the ground are both second all-time in Pac-12 history. The Texarkana, Texas, native finished third in the Heisman voting in 2010 and 10th in '11 and led an Oregon team that went 34-6 and won three straight Pac-12 titles. Second-Team: Toby Gerhart, Stanford
WR: Mike Williams, USC (2002-03)
In his two underclass seasons for USC, Williams was extraordinary. As a true freshman, the massive 6-foot-5, 240-pounder caught 81 passes for 1,265 yards and 14 TDs. He returned to top those numbers as a sophomore with 95 receptions (third in league history at the time), 1,314 yards and 16 scores in 2003 (still third in league history). He was a consensus All-American and finished eighth in the Heisman voting. Williams declared for the draft following his sophomore season, but was ultimately ruled ineligible and couldn't return to USC. Second-Team: Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
WR: Marqise Lee, USC (2011-13)
As just a sophomore, Lee won the Biletnikoff Award, was a consensus All-American, was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and broke multiple USC and Pac-12 receiving records. He is one of just two wideouts in BCS history to finish in the top four of the Heisman voting. Lee owns the single-game Pac-12 record with 345 yards against Arizona in 2012 and is third all-time with 16 catches in that game. His 118 catches and 1,721 yards were both Pac-12 records that stood for one year until Brandin Cooks showed up in 2013. He is fourth all-time in career receptions and yards in league history and ninth in TD catches. Second-Team: Dwayne Jarrett, USC
TE: Marcedes Lewis, UCLA (2002-05)
The red-zone touchdown machine improved his production each of his four seasons at UCLA, culminating with All-American and John Mackey honors as a senior in 2005. He set school records in all three major categories for a tight end that year and helped UCLA to its best record (10-2) since 1998. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound consensus All-American was a matchup nightmare for defenses and was the Pac-10’s best player at his position during the BCS Era in a league known for its great tight ends. Second-Team: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
T: Sam Baker, USC (2004-07)
The stud left tackle charged with protecting Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush was a three-time, first-team All-American and three-time, first-team All-Pac-10 selection. Baker helped lead the way on teams that played in back-to-back national championship games and won four straight Pac-10 titles. USC was 47-5 during his time and he went on to be a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2008 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Matt Kalil, USC
T: Kris Farris, UCLA (1995-98)
The 1998 Outland Trophy winner was a consensus All-American for the Bruins in 1998. In fact, Farris was one of only two players from the Pac-12 to win the Outland (Rien Long) and was the only offensive lineman to do so during the BCS Era. He helped lead UCLA to back-to-back 10-2 seasons and a Rose Bowl berth in his final season before being selected in the third round by the Bills in 1999. Second-Team: Jacob Rogers, USC
G: David Yankey, Stanford (2011-13)
In three short years, Yankey is likely the school’s most decorated offensive lineman. He earned consensus All-American honors as a sophomore for the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champs while also claiming the Morris Trophy as the league’s top OL. He returned as a junior and earned unanimous All-American honors en route to a second consecutive Pac-12 championship. He led Stanford to three straight BCS bowls and a 34-7 overall record over that span. Second-Team: Jonathan Martin, Stanford
G: David DeCastro, Stanford (2009-11)
As a freshman in 2009, he started all 13 games for the 8-5 Cardinal and was a freshman All-American. He started all 13 games as a sophomore for the 12-1 Cardinal, helping to win the program’s first BCS bowl game (Orange Bowl). He capped his career with a consensus All-American season for the 11-2 Cardinal. He left school early and was the 24th overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Steelers. Second-Team: Adam Snyder, Oregon
C: Alex Mack, Cal (2005-08)
The star center started 39 consecutive games for the Golden Bears. He won the “Academic Heisman” as the recipient of the Draddy Trophy in 2008 and was a two-time Rimington finalist. Mack was the only Pac-12 player to win the Morris Trophy (Offensive) as the league’s top lineman twice during the BCS Era and was a three-time, first-team All-Pac-10 selection. He also was a rare first-round pick as a center by the Browns in 2009 and has earned three Pro Bowl invites in his career. Second-Team: Ryan Kalil, USC
DL: Terrell Suggs, Arizona State (2000-02)
The star pass-rusher is best known as the NCAA’s all-time single-season sack master when he totaled 24 QB takedowns in 2002. Suggs was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the inaugural Ted Hendricks Award winner that year as well. The accolades didn’t end there, however, as he also took home the Lombardi, Nagurski and Willis trophies. He led the NCAA with 31.5 tackles for a loss (still a Pac-12 record) and forced six fumbles that year. He finished his Sun Devils career with 163 tackles, a school-record 65.5 for a loss (second all-time in league history), 44 sacks (second all-time) and 14 forced fumbles. Second-Team: Stephen Paea, Oregon State
DL: Haloti Ngata, Oregon (2003-05)
Arguably the best NFL defensive tackle of his generation, Ngata had to overcome a torn ACL in college. Once he recovered, the big interior stuffer posted 107 tackles, 17.5 for a loss and 6.5 sacks over his final two seasons in Eugene. He was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and the Morris Trophy winner before being selected 12th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. He blocked seven kicks and led Oregon to a 10-win season in 2005 — just the school’s third such campaign in school history at the time. Second-Team: Shaun Cody, USC
DL: Will Sutton, Arizona State (2009-13)
There are only two players in the history of the Pac-12 to win multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards and Sutton is one of them (Washington’s Steve Emtman is the other) as he claimed both the 2012 and '13 honor. Sutton was an All-American after a huge junior season in 2012 before returning to help lead Arizona State to the best record in the Pac-12 and a South Division title. He won back-to-back Morris Trophies as well as the league’s best D-liner in both seasons. From his tackle spot, he finished with 19.5 career sacks and 45.5 tackles for a loss. Second-Team: Rien Long, Washington State
DL: Sedrick Ellis, USC (2004-07)
Ellis was one of the big fellas up the middle who helped the Trojans win four straight conference titles and earn two BCS championship appearances (2004-05). He was one of three players to ever win the Morris Trophy twice during the BCS Era, was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 and was a unanimous All-American in '07. Ellis finished with 144 total tackles, 28.5 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks in 48 career games for the Men of Troy. USC was 47-5 during his four years. Second-Team: Dave Ball, UCLA
LB: Rey Maualuga, USC (2005-08)
The hard-hitting tackler was a freshman All-American on the 2005 USC team that barely lost to Texas in the national title game. He then started the next three seasons for the Trojans, earning consensus All-American honors, the Chuck Bednarik Award and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. The Men of Troy went 46-6 during his time on campus and few players were as feared nationally as Maualuga. He posted 272 career tackles, 22.5 for a loss, 9.0 sacks and five interceptions. Second-Team: Shayne Skov, Stanford
LB: Chris Claiborne, USC (1995-98)
The three-year star for the Trojans was the first and only Butkus Award winner in USC history when he was named the nation’s top linebacker in 1998 — the same year both Al Wilson and Andy Katzenmoyer were seniors. He also is the only Pac-12 player to win the Butkus in the three-decade history of the award. He was a consensus All-American and the No. 9 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Nick Barnett, Oregon State
LB: Adam Archuleta, Arizona State (1997-2000)
The West Coast’s favorite walk-on became a three-year starter for the Sun Devils. He earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors twice and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2000. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and finished with 330 tackles, 54.0 tackles for a loss and 14.0 sacks. The star tackler was a first-round pick of the Rams in the 2001 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Lofa Tatupu, USC
CB: Antoine Cason, Arizona (2004-07)
The California native was a four-year contributor for Arizona, playing in 46 career games in Tucson. He went on to win Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year, was named first-team all-league twice as an upperclassman and is the only player from the Pac-12 to win the Thorpe Award during the BCS Era (2007). He scored four times (two INTs, two punt returns), intercepted five passes and made 71 tackles as a senior. He finished with 253 tackles, 14.0 for a loss, 15 interceptions and five total touchdowns. Second-Team: Daymeion Hughes, Cal
CB: Deltha O’Neal, Cal (1996-99)
He is one of just two defensive backs to win conference Defensive Player of the Year during the BCS Era when he set an NCAA record by returning four interceptions for touchdowns in his senior year. He also won the Mosi Tatupu Award as the nation’s top special teamer and the Pop Warner Award as the most valuable player on the West Coast — one of only six Pac-12 players to do so and one of only two Pac-12 defensive players. He was a consensus All-American and first-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Chris McAlister, Arizona
S: Troy Polamalu, USC (1999-2002)
The big-play machine was a three-year starter for the West Coast powerhouse. He was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection, a consensus All-American and stuffed the stat sheet his entire career. The big hitter finished with 278 tackles, 29.0 for a loss, six interceptions and four blocked punts in 36 career starts for the Men of Troy. Polamalu led USC back to prominence with a league title and trip to the Orange Bowl before being taken in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Ed Reynolds, Stanford
S: Taylor Mays, USC (2006-09)
A five-star recruit coming into college, Mays helped lead USC to three consecutive conference championships and a 34-5 record in his first three seasons. He was a rare, three-time All-American from 2007-09 and was a freshman All-American in '06. Mays finished his career with 276 tackles, 21 pass breakups and five interceptions. Second-Team: Lamont Thompson, Washington State
All-conference teams are a great indicator as to who is the best in each league. Earning first-team honors more than once is a pretty good sign that you were one of the best at your position during your career. The rare three-time (or even four-time) all-league selection makes you one of the best college football players of all-time.
As the College Football Playoff Era begins in 2014, Athlon Sports is looking back on the last 16 years of action — aka, The BCS Era. Here is the All-BCS Era All-SEC team. The only stipulation (unlike other folks who have done this exercise) is that you must have played at least one season from 1998-13 in the SEC.
QB: Tim Tebow, Florida (2006-09)
Four years of huge statistics makes him the all-time SEC leader in total yards, total touchdowns (145), rushing touchdowns and passing efficiency (170.8). He won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 as well as the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell Awards when he set NCAA records with 55 total touchdowns and 4,181 yards of total offense (since broken). He won the SEC Player of the Year, Manning and Maxwell Awards the following year when he led Florida to its second national championship in three years. Tebow fell one game shy in 2009 of playing in — and likely winning — three national titles in four years. Second-Team: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Darren McFadden, Arkansas (2005-07)
When it comes to pure breakaway speed and big-play ability, few can match Run-DMC’s talent. The North Little Rock prospect finished second in Heisman balloting in back-to-back seasons, coming up just short to Troy Smith and Tim Tebow in 2006 and '07 respectively. McFadden won the Doak Walker and SEC Offensive Player of the Year awards in both consensus All-American seasons. His 4,590 yards is No. 2 all-time in SEC history to only the great Herschel Walker. Second-Team: Mark Ingram
RB: Trent Richardson, Alabama (2009-11)
The Pensacola product only started for one season but became the only SEC running back to rush for 20 touchdowns in a season until Tre Mason. Richardson won two national titles and is one of the rarest combinations of size, speed and agility. His 1,679 yards in the 2011 national title season are second to only McFadden (1,830) among all SEC backs during the BCS Era and is an Alabama single-season record. He finished his collegiate career by earning consensus All-American recognition, winning the Doak Walker Award and SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting in '11. Second-Team: Shaun Alexander, Alabama
WR: Percy Harvin, Florida (2006-08)
If Peter Warrick invented the all-purpose position in the late '90s, Harvin glorified it in the mid-2000s. A true dual-threat offensive talent, Harvin burst onto the scene as the SEC Freshman of the Year. He played a key role in the Gators' 2006 BCS National Championship run, totaling 82 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown against Ohio State. He capped his college career with 14 touches for 171 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game against Oklahoma. Few have combined speed, strength, production and winning like Harvin did. Second-Team: A.J. Green, Georgia
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (2010-13)
No player in the history of the SEC has had a more productive career or single season than Matthews. Matthews has caught more passes (262) for more yards (3,759) than anyone in SEC history and it’s not really even close. No player in the SEC has ever caught 100 passes and Matthews posted 112 receptions as a senior with mediocre quarterback play. He helped the Dores to three straight bowl games and was the singular focus of every defense he faced yet still managed to destroy every major SEC receiving record. Second-Team: Josh Reed, LSU
TE: D.J. Williams, Arkansas (2007-10)
The star Razorback never had an 800-yard season, never caught more than 61 passes and never scored more than four times in a year, but Williams is one of the best of the BCS Era. His career numbers are excellent and he was extremely dependable for three full seasons for the Hogs. His career culminated in a John Mackey Award in 2010 and he helped lead Arkansas to 10 wins and a Sugar Bowl berth. Second-Team: Jason Witten, Tennessee
T: Chris Samuels, Alabama (1996-99)
The massive 'Bama blocker earned every award possible for an offensive tackle. Samuels claimed the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy and earned the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman in 1999 as a senior. He helped Alabama to its first SEC championship since 1992 and was a consensus All-American. He entered the starting lineup during his freshman season and proceeded to start 42 straight games — without allowing a sack. Samuels was picked third overall by the Redskins in the 2000 NFL Draft and went to six Pro Bowls. Second-Team: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
T: Shawn Andrews, Arkansas (2001-03)
A two-time consensus All-American, Andrews was an Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award finalist in 2003. He earned back-to-back Jacobs Blocking Awards as the SEC’s top lineman in 2002-03 — the only SEC player to win the award twice during the BCS Era and the first since Florida’s Jason Odom in 1994-95. Andrews was the No. 16 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft by the Eagles and was invited to three Pro Bowls during his seven years in the NFL. Second-Team: Andre Smith, Alabama
G: Barrett Jones, Alabama (2009-12)
No offensive lineman during the BCS Era was more decorated than the Memphis native. He started at right guard and earned freshman All-American honors for the 2009 BCS champs. He slid out to left tackle by 2011 and won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman for the 2011 BCS champs. Jones then manned the pivot and won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center for the 2012 BCS champs. The two-time consensus All-American won three national titles at three different positions while graduating with a Master’s Degree and 4.0 GPA. Second-Team: Kendall Simmons, Auburn
G: Chance Warmack, Alabama (2009-12)
Warmack has three BCS National Championship rings from his four-year career at Alabama — two of them as a starting blocker in 2011-12. He was a unanimous All-American as a senior, an Outland Trophy finalist and first-round pick of the Titans in the 2013 NFL Draft. He started 39 games over his final three years paving the way for Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Second-Team: Max Jean-Gilles, Georgia
C: Jonathan Luigs, Arkansas (2005-08)
The Razorbacks’ pivot for Darren McFadden, Peyton Hillis and Felix Jones was a three-time, first-team All-SEC performer. Luigs was a two-time Rimington finalist, winning the award given to the nation’s top center in 2007. He also was a consensus All-American in '07 and a fourth-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He ended his collegiate career with 49 consecutive starts and was a major part of one of the only two Arkansas teams to be ranked in the top five of the AP poll during the BCS Era (2006, '11). Second-Team: Ben Wilkerson, LSU
DE: David Pollack, Georgia (2001-04)
The Bulldogs' defensive end is the most decorated defensive lineman of the BCS Era. Pollack is a three-time, first-team All-SEC and All-American, twice landing consensus All-American honors. He won the SEC Player of the Year award twice (2002, '04), as well as the Bednarik, Hendricks (twice), Lombardi and Lott Awards. He and roommate David Greene helped lead Georgia to its first SEC title (2002) in two decades. His highlight-reel plays — namely against South Carolina — and UGA all-time sack record (36.0) makes him arguably the greatest SEC defensive lineman of the BCS Era. Second-Team: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DE: Alex Brown, Florida (1998-2001)
The two-time, first-team All-American set the Gators' school record for sacks when he left school in 2001. Brown won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and helped lead Florida to the 2000 SEC title. He was a three-time, first-team All-SEC player and finished his career with 161 tackles, 47.0 for a loss and a school-record 33.0 sacks before getting taken in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft. Second-Team: John Abraham, South Carolina
DT: Glenn Dorsey, LSU (2004-07)
He helped lead LSU to an SEC and BCS National Championship in 2007 while earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He also claimed the Outland, Nagurski and Lott Trophies as well as the Lombardi Award — becoming the first LSU Tiger to win any of those prestigious awards. Dorsey also was ninth in the Heisman voting in his record-setting 2007 campaign. He was a two-time All-American and finished with 179 tackles, 27.0 for a loss and 13 sacks. Second-Team: Terrence Cody, Alabama
DT: John Henderson, Tennessee (1998-01)
As a freshman, Henderson helped the Vols capture the 1998 BCS National Championship. By the time he had reached the end of his senior season, Henderson had posted 165 tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss and 20.5 sacks in two first-team All-American seasons. The monstrosity of a man is one of just five defensive players during the BCS Era to claim the historic Outland Trophy. Second-Team: Chad Lavalais, LSU
LB: Patrick Willis, Ole Miss (2003-06)
The unheralded Tennessee native was overlooked by most of the SEC big boys and made them all pay by becoming the league’s best linebacker of the BCS Era. Rising from utter poverty to the best LB in the nation, Willis claimed the Butkus and Lambert Awards in 2006. He posted 265 tackles and 21.0 for a loss over his final two seasons, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and All-American status as a senior. Second-Team: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Al Wilson, Tennessee (1995-98)
Wilson isn’t as decorated as some of his BCS brethren but few players had as big an impact on their team as the Vols middle linebacker. He helped lead Tennessee to two SEC championships and the historic, unblemished 1998 national title. He was a consensus All-American, a consummate teammate on and off the field and was the 31st overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Second-Team: DeMeco Ryans, Alabama
LB: Rolando McClain, Alabama (2007-09)
He started eight games and posted 75 tackles as a freshman before earning some All-American honors as a sophomore (95 tackles). As the unquestioned heartbeat of the Alabama defense, McClain led the Crimson Tide back to the BCS promised land with a perfect senior season. He posted 105 tackles, 14.5 for a loss, four sacks and two interceptions. He earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, was a unanimous All-American and won both the Butkus and Lambert Awards. He was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Jarvis Jones, Georgia
CB: Patrick Peterson, LSU (2008-10)
One of the most versatile, impactful athletes in the nation, Peterson scored on both defense and special teams throughout his career. He was a dynamic return man who brought a rare explosiveness to the game and led the SEC with 418 punt return yards. As a junior, Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year while being recognized as an All-American for a second time. He was taken fifth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft and finished his career with 135 tackles, seven interceptions, four return touchdowns and 1,356 total return yards. Second-Team: Morris Claiborne, LSU
CB: Champ Bailey, Georgia (1996-98)
From a versatility standpoint, few have ever been as explosive and dynamic as Bailey. He was a lockdown cornerback, an elite return man and a dangerous wide receiver. His senior season — the only year he played during the BCS Era — Bailey posted 52 tackles and three interceptions on defense and caught 47 passes for 744 yards and five scores on offense. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC pick, a consensus All-American and won the Nagurski Trophy in 1998 as the nation’s top defensive player. Second-Team: Carlos Rogers, Auburn
S: Eric Berry, Tennessee (2007-09)
In 2007, he set a school record with 222 INT return yards on five picks, led all SEC freshmen with 86 tackles and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. He then returned seven interceptions for 265 yards as a sophomore en route to his first of two unanimous All-American seasons. He also was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year that year. As a junior, Berry returned to win the Thorpe and Jack Tatum Awards and ended his collegiate career with the the most interception return yards in SEC history. For his career, Berry finished with 245 tackles, 17.5 for loss and 14 interceptions. Second-Team: LaRon Landry, LSU
S: Mark Barron, Alabama (2008-11)
The superstar safety was a three-time All-SEC pick, two-time All-American and helped the Crimson Tide win two BCS national championships. (2009, '11). After three straight seasons with at least 68 tackles, Barron finished his career with 235 tackles, 13.0 for a loss, 5.0 sacks, 12 interceptions and 34 passes defended. Many coaches called him the best player in the SEC in 2011 on what many consider the best defense of the BCS Era. Second-Team: Reggie Nelson, Florida
No one really knows how Bill Snyder does it but he continues to churn out bowl appearances and 1,000-yard rushers the way (some) other teams in the Big 12 only dream about.
After a slow start to the 2013 season that included four losses in the first six weeks, Snyder’s bunch turned the year around and won six of their last seven. The surge was capped by a convincing bowl win over Michigan and it gave Snyder a third straight season with at least eight wins.
And no other team can replace six defensive starters like Kansas State. The Wildcats have to replace Ty Zimmerman, Blake Slaughter, both cornerbacks and two defensive linemen on defense. Meanwhile, the offense returns six starters but the offensive line and backfield need to be reworked this spring.
But fans in Manhattan aren’t likely worried, as Snyder will have a plan in place to overachieve once again in ’14. Settling his backfield, filling holes along the O-line and replacing leadership on defense this spring would go a long way to setting the table for another excellent season of pigskin in The Little Apple.
|Aug. 30||Stephen F. Austin|
|Sept. 13||Bye Week|
|Oct. 11||Bye Week|
|Nov. 15||Bye Week|
Kansas State Wildcats 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 8-5 (5-4 Big 12)
Spring Practice Opens: April 2
Spring Game: April 26
Three Things to Watch in Kansas State's 2014 Spring Practice
Organize the backfield
Daniel Sams played in all 13 games a year ago at quarterback, rushing for over 800 yards and completing 71.7 percent of his passes. Yet, he saw his snaps decrease as the season went along — nine carries and one pass attempt in the final three games — and Snyder is toying with playing Sams at either running back or wide receiver. The main reason behind the move is the emergence of Jake Waters at quarterback. Additionally, John Hubert (1,048 yards, 10 TDs) has to be replaced as the primary ball carrier as well. This may open the gate for Sams to get snaps all over the offense. As far as true running backs go, Demarcus Robinson is the first name who will get a chance to replace the three-year starter at tailback with guys like Jarvis Leverett stepping into bigger roles. It is important for Snyder to organize his backfield this spring.
Rebuild the O-Line
Left tackle Cornelius Lucas and right tackle Tavon Brooks both earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 recognition a year ago. Both also have moved on from the KSU program. Right guard Keenan Taylor started nine games and is gone too. Plugging these three holes will be imperative if the Wildcats want to compete for a Big 12 championship this fall. B.J. Finney returns to the pivot as one of the best centers in the nation while Cody Whitehair, an All-Big 12 pick himself, is back at guard. Snyder will need to develop some bodies after those two in a hurry this spring. Boston Stiverson, Aderius Epps, Drew Liddle and Kason Hostrup should all scrap and claw for starting snaps over the next few months.
Fill holes in the back seven on defense
Even though Alauna Finau and Chaquil Reed departed the defensive line, the Cats could boast one of the top D-lines in the Big 12 in ’14, thanks to Ryan Mueller and Travis Britz. But plugging the gaps left by both starting cornerbacks (Kip Daily, Dorrian Roberts), a defensive stalwart in Zimmerman at safety and All-Big 12 pick in linebacker Blake Slaughter will be critical this spring. Randall Evans got loads of starting experience at nickel back a year ago and should slide nicely into a starting spot on the outside. Safety Dante Barnett and linebacker Jonathan Truman, who combined for 164 tackles a year ago, will be asked to take over leadership roles as well. After those three, the rest of the back seven needs to be developed and organized. Dylan Schellenberg, Weston Hiebert, Morgan Burns and Travis Green will compete for time in the secondary while Colborn Couchman, Dakorey Johnson, Mike Moore, Will Davis and Charmeachealle Moore will attempt to earn a starting spot at linebacker. Snyder always figures out a way to replace key departures on the defensive side of the ball but he has his work cut out for himself this spring.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
The Wildcats are always impossible to pinpoint in the offseason as well as the preseason. It’s a team that constantly figures out a way to replace key starters seamlessly and deftly. The 2014 season won’t be any different either, as KSU has big holes to fill on both sides of the ball but is still viewed as a Big 12 title contender. The schedule isn’t easy — with visits from Auburn, Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State before Nov. 2 — and road trips to TCU, West Virginia and Baylor in the final four games. But KSU gets three off weekends and each is perfectly spaced out, giving the Cats only one stretch of four straight games in ’14. This team is fully capable of competing for another Big 12 title but will need to iron out some kinks this spring before it can be considered the frontrunner.
All-conference teams are a great indicator as to who is the best in each league. Earning first-team honors more than once is a pretty good sign that you were one of the best at your position during your career. The rare three-time (or even four-time) all-league selection makes you one of the best college football players of all-time.
As the College Football Playoff Era begins in 2014, Athlon Sports is looking back on the last 16 years of action — aka, The BCS Era. Here is the All-BCS Era All-Big-12 team. The only stipulation (unlike other folks who have done this exercise) is that you must have played at least one season from 1998-13 in the Big 12.
QB: Vince Young, Texas (2003-05)
Young earned Rose Bowl MVP honors following his ridiculous performance against Michigan to finish his sophomore season. It was a sign of things to come as he was named Big 12 Player of the Year in 2005. He was a consensus All-American, led the Big 12 in passing efficiency, won the Davey O'Brien, Manning and Maxwell Awards while finishing second on the Heisman ballot. His smooth running skills led to an all-time Big 12 career record 6.8 yards per carry. And no one will ever forget his second Rose Bowl MVP performance against USC in the greatest game of the BCS Era, returning the national championship to Austin. Second-Team: Robert Griffin III, Baylor
RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06)
The BCS version of Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson was the three-year star from Palestine (Texas) High. A three-time, first-team All-Big 12 runner, Peterson finished No. 2 in the Heisman Trophy voting as a true freshman in 2004. His 1,925 yards were an NCAA record for a true freshman and it earned him unanimous All-American honors. Despite missing chunks of time with injuries in each of his next two seasons, “All Day” Peterson still topped 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. His natural blend of power, speed, size and balance has never been duplicated during the BCS Era. He is the Sooners' No. 3 all-time leading rusher. Second-Team: Darren Sproles, Kansas State
RB: Ricky Williams, Texas (1995-98)
The power back from San Diego had a two-year run as an upperclassman that may never be matched, as he posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,800 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Williams was a two-time consensus All-American, a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, a two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and claimed the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Heisman Trophy as a senior. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher (since broken) and he is one of four players to ever score at least 70 rushing touchdowns. Second-Team: Cedric Benson, Texas
WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08)
No player has been as productive in just two seasons as the Dallas native. As a redshirt freshman, Crabtree set NCAA records for receptions (134), yards (1,962) and touchdowns (22) and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout. He also won Big 12 Newcomer and Offensive Player of the Year honors and still owns the single-season league record for receptions and yards, which he set as just a freshman. He became the first player in NCAA history to win a second Biletnikoff Award when he caught 97 passes for 1,165 yards and 19 touchdowns for the 11-2 Red Raiders the next year. He finished fifth in the Heisman balloting in ’08 — one of just four wide receivers to finish in the top five during the BCS Era. Second-Team: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11)
He posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns, earning consensus All-American honors twice. The Ardmore (Okla.) Plainview product also became just the second player in NCAA history to claim two Biletnikoff Awards. Blackmon won Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2010 and capped his illustrious career with a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl MVP performance against Stanford. He is one of just four wide receivers to finish in the top five for the Heisman Trophy (5th, 2010) during the BCS Era. Second-Team: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08)
It didn’t take long for Tigers fans to see what they had in Coffman as he earned first-team Freshman All-American honors in 2005. He then broke Mizzou tight end receiving records with 58 receptions, 638 yards and nine touchdowns as just a sophomore. After two straight All-Big 12 seasons, Coffman claimed the John Mackey Award as a senior as the nation’s top tight end after posting 90 receptions, 987 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008. Missouri went 22-6 over his final two seasons in what many believe to be the best two-year run in program history. Second-Team: Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
T: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04)
Starting his career as a defensive tackle, Brown exploded onto the national scene as a blocker as a sophomore. He helped lead the Sooners to the BCS National Championship Game twice and was recognized as the nation’s top offensive lineman in 2004 when he was awarded the Outland Trophy. The consensus All-American paved the way for Adrian Peterson’s NCAA record-setting freshman season. Brown was the 13th overall pick by the Saints in the 2005 NFL Draft and also was awarded the Jim Parker Trophy as the nation’s top offensive lineman before he left college. Second-Team: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
T: Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06)
The star blocker for the Horns helped return Texas to the promised land by paving the way for Vince Young on the 2005 BCS title team. He was an absurd four-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and earned Big 12 Lineman of the Year honors in 2006 as a senior. He was a consensus All-American that year and was a second-round pick of the Falcons in 2007. He led the way for some of the greatest offenses in Texas and Big 12 history. Second-Team: Trent Williams, Oklahoma
G: Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13)
Few players have meant as much to their school’s success as Richardson has to Baylor. He led the charge on the first Big 12 championship team in school history as well as the program’s first BCS bowl appearance. He was named a two-time (2012, '13) recipient of the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year award and also was a consensus All-American and given the Jim Parker Trophy as the nation’s top offensive lineman his senior season. Baylor went 36-16 during his four-year career and he never experienced a losing record while in Waco. Second-Team: Toniu Fonoti, Nebraska
G: Duke Robinson, Oklahoma (2005-08)
The guard from Atlanta was one of Bob Stoops' greatest players. He was a two-time consensus All-American in 2007 and '08 and helped lead Oklahoma to the BCS title game against Florida as a senior. Robinson was an Outland Trophy finalist that year and was a fifth-round draft pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Oklahoma went 34-8 during Robinson’s final three seasons, including three straight Big 12 championships. Second-Team: Louis Vasquez, Texas Tech
C: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000)
At a school known for its big uglies, Raiola is the Huskers’ best of the BCS Era. He was the first freshman O-lineman to start since 1991 when he took the field in '98. The following two seasons he set school records for knockdowns. As a junior, Raiola was the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation’s top center, was an Outland Finalist and earned consensus All-American honors before leaving school early for the NFL. The Huskers were 31-7 during his three seasons and won their last conference championship with Raiola leading the way in ‘99. Second-Team: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08)
The trophy case for the former Longhorn defensive end is packed with a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year one, as well as a Nagurski, Lombardi, and Hendricks. He was an All-American who played in 47 career games in Austin, posting 132 tackles, 38.0 tackles for a loss, 22.0 sacks and six forced fumbles in his tenure. He was a contributing member in all 13 games of the 2005 BCS national championship run and was taken 13th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
DE: Justin Smith, Missouri (1998-2000)
The Mizzou standout has developed into one of the NFL’s most consistent and productive players for two teams. He left Columbia after a huge junior season that featured 97 total tackles, 24 tackles for a loss — good for eighth all-time in Big 12 history — and 11 sacks. He was an All-American that year and also was a two-time All-Big 12 selection. His 53 career tackles for a loss in just three seasons ranks seventh all-time in league history as well. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Bengals. Second-Team: Dan Cody, Oklahoma
DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09)
The star defensive tackle from Portland, Ore., won the 2009 Outland and Nagurski Trophies as well as the Lombardi, Bednarik and Willis Awards. He was the first defensive player to win AP Player of the Year honors since its inception in 1998 and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in ’09. That year Suh claimed the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award and he came just seconds shy of leading the Huskers to their first conference championship since 1999. He finished his career with 215 tackles, 57.0 for a loss, 24.0 sacks and six blocked kicks. Second-Team: Casey Hampton, Texas
DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03)
Harris was a dominant interior lineman for three of the better Sooners teams of the BCS Era. He helped lead his team to the BCS championship game in 2003 while claiming the Lombardi and Willis Trophies. He was a two-time consensus All-American selection as the Sooners went 35-6 during his three-year tenure. Oklahoma won the Cotton and Rose Bowls before losing in the Sugar Bowl in his final season. Harris was downright unblockable in Norman and was the 14th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas (2002-04)
He finished his career with 458 tackles, 65.0 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, nine interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. Johnson was a three-time All-Big 12 selection and a two-time All-American. He capped his career with the Butkus, Lambert and Nagurski national awards as well as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors before being taken 15th overall by the Chiefs in the 2005 NFL Draft. He helped build a team that went on to win the national title the year after he departed and was a part of a Cotton and Rose Bowl championship teams. Second-Team: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma
LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001)
A three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a two-time All-American, Calmus is one of the most important Sooners of all-time. As a senior in 2001 he won the Butkus and Lambert Awards for the nation's top linebacker, but his play in '00 will go down in Oklahoma history. He led the vaunted Sooners defense to a perfect record and spearheaded arguably the greatest defensive performance of the BCS Era by holding Florida State to zero offensive points in the BCS National Championship Game. Calmus was a third-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Von Miller, Texas A&M
LB: Dat Nguyen, Texas A&M (1995-98)
Arguably the most decorated Texas A&M defender, Nguyen was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and his 517 career tackles are an Aggies record. His career in College Station culminated in 1998 with a historic and adorned senior season. Nguyen was named the Bednarik, Lombardi and Lambert trophy winner and earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors as well. He led Texas A&M to the only Big 12 championship it would ever win that year as well — its last conference crown of any kind. Second-Team: Mark Simoneau, Kansas State
CB: Terence Newman, Kansas State (1999-2002)
Newman did a little bit of everything for Bill Snyder and Kansas State. He returned kicks and punts and even played some wide receiver. The lockdown cornerback was a two-time All-Big 12 pick, a unanimous All-American, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top DB and a first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2003. The 2002 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year also was a two-time Big 12 outdoor track champion in the 100 meters and the league champ in the indoor 60 meters. Second-Team: Aaron Ross, Texas
CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03)
As the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Strait helped lead an undefeated (13-0) Sooners team to the BCS National Championship as a freshman. By his senior season, Strait had led Oklahoma back to the BCS national title game and was recognized nationally with the Thorpe and Nagurski Trophies. Strait also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 and finished his career with 14 interceptions returned for a Big 12-record 417 yards and three touchdowns. Strait was selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft. Second-Team: Aqib Talib, Kansas
S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001)
He helped lead the Sooners to an unbeaten BCS National Championship in 2000 while setting the school record for tackles for a loss by a defensive back (12.0). The following year, he claimed the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back as well as the Nagurski and Jack Tatum Trophies and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was a unanimous All-American, first-round pick of the Cowboys in 2002 and will go down in Red River Shootout lore for this spectacular play in the Cotton Bowl. Second-Team: Earl Thomas, Texas
S: Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05)
The superstar safety from Texas was a Freshman All-American in 2002 before earning back-to-back first-team All-Big 12 honors as a junior and senior. Huff was a unanimous All-American on the 2005 BCS national championship team and was named the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back. He posted 87 tackles, 9.0 for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles on the historic ’05 squad. Second-Team: Mike Brown, Nebraska
As the College Football Playoff Era begins in 2014, Athlon Sports is looking back on the last 16 years of action — aka, The BCS Era. Here is the All-BCS Era All-Big Ten team. The only stipulation (unlike other folks who have done this exercise) is that you must have played at least one season from 1998-13 in the Big Ten.
QB: Drew Brees, Purdue (1997-2000)
The two-time Big Ten Player of the Year led Purdue back to the Rose Bowl and finished among the top four in Heisman voting twice (1999, 2000). He is the Big Ten's all-time leader in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, total offense (12,692) and total touchdowns (104). Second Team: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
RB: Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99)
Dayne is the only player in history with 7,000 yards rushing and is one of four players to score at least 70 rushing touchdowns. He carried the ball more than any player in NCAA history (1,220) and he owns multiple BCS bowl rushing records with his two Rose Bowl MVP performances. He capped his illustrious career with a magical 2,000-yard Heisman Trophy and Big Ten championship season. Second Team: Larry Johnson, Penn State
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin (2009-12)
Few have been as successful and productive as Ball. No player in the history of the sport has scored as many touchdowns (77 rushing, 83 total) as the Missouri native. He also finished fourth in the Heisman balloting as a junior and won the Doak Walker Award as a senior while leading the Badgers to three straight Big Ten championships. The two-time consensus All-American’s 39 touchdowns in 2011 tied Barry Sanders for the all-time single-season record. Second Team: Anthony Thomas, Michigan
WR: Braylon Edwards, Michigan (2001-04)
Not many players have three consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns but that is what the Detroit native did at Michigan. He was uncoverable during his time at Ann Arbor, setting school records in every major receiving category. His 39 career touchdowns remain a Big Ten record. Edwards claimed Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and the Biletnikoff Award as a senior in 2004. Second Team: Lee Evans, Wisconsin
WR: Charles Rogers, Michigan State (2001-02)
The in-state product from Saginaw played just two seasons for the Spartans but was an All-Big Ten performer both years. He posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning consensus All-American and Biletnikoff honors in 2002. He set an NCAA record with 13 straight games with a TD catch (since broken) and owns just about every Michigan State receiving record. Second Team: David Boston, Ohio State
TE: Dallas Clark, Iowa (2000-02)
The walk-on began his career as a linebacker but quickly developed into a star at tight end. He earned All-Big Ten recognition as a sophomore and then became the nation’s top tight end as a junior in 2002. The John Mackey Award winner caught 43 passes for 742 yards and four touchdowns while helping Iowa (11-2) to a Big Ten co-championship and Orange Bowl berth. Second Team: Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
T: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin (2004-06)
One of the few big-time recruits from the state of Wisconsin, Thomas was a two-time All-American and Outland Trophy winner for a team that went 31-7 during his three seasons as the starting left tackle. He has rare foot speed, agility and overall athletic ability — and it’s why he has been to the Pro Bowl in all seven of his NFL seasons. Second Team: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
T: Jake Long, Michigan (2004-07)
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins was a two-time All-American and Outland Trophy finalist. He was a Freshman All-American in his first year and was named Big Ten Lineman of the Year twice (junior and senior seasons) — one of just two players to accomplish this feat during the BCS Era. Second Team: Chris McIntosh, Wisconsin
G: Steve Hutchinson, Michigan (1997-2000)
Starting for four seasons for the Wolverines, Hutchinson helped the Maize and Blue win the 1997 national championship. He capped his career with consensus All-American honors, was an Outland Trophy finalist and didn’t allow a sack in his final two seasons at Michigan. Second Team: David Baas, Michigan
G: Eric Steinbach, Iowa (1999-2002)
In a league dominated by tackles, Steinbach was one of the top interior blockers. He was a two-time All-Big Ten pick, a consensus All-American and the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2002 — the same year he led Iowa to its first BCS Bowl bid. He was a second-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. Second Team: John Moffit, Wisconsin
C: Greg Eslinger, Minnesota (2002-05)
Not many centers have an Outland Trophy on their mantle at home but Eslinger does. He was a freshman All-American in 2002, a third-team All-American as a sophomore, a first-teamer in '04 and earned consensus All-American honors as a senior. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center and earned Big Ten Lineman of the Year honors in ’05. Minnesota never had a losing record during his four-year career. Second Team: LeCharles Bentley, Ohio State
DE: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan (2003-06)
The Wolverines' terror off of the edge posted 12 sacks as a senior en route to the Lombardi and Hendricks Awards as the nation’s best lineman and defensive end respectively. He was a unanimous All-American and his 10 career forced fumbles are seventh all-time in Big Ten history and he earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in '06. Second Team: J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
DE: Tamba Hali, Penn State (2002-05)
A unanimous All-American and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Hali pushed Penn State to its last Big Ten championship as well as a win in the Orange Bowl following the 2005 season. He led the Big Ten with 17.0 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks and added 65 total tackles for a team that lost just once (in the final second) all season. Second Team: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DT: Devon Still, Penn State (2009-11)
Still became one of just two defensive tackles to ever win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors when he dominated the league in 2011. He posted 55 tackles, 17.0 for a loss and 4.5 sacks during his junior season, earning consensus All-American honors in the process. Still was a finalist for the Outland and Bednarik awards and became a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2012 NFL Draft. Second Team: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DT: Michael Haynes, Penn State (1999-2002)
Haynes was named the 2002 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after posting 15 sacks and seven forced fumbles as a senior. Those numbers were good for ninth and third all-time in league history. He was an All-American and taken in the first round by the Chicago Bears. Second Team: Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
LB: LaVar Arrington, Penn State (1997-99)
Arrington was an elite leader who helped Penn State to a 28-9 record during his three-year tenure in Happy Valley. He was the Butkus and Lambert Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker and was the recipient of the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player after 72 tackles, 20 for a loss, nine sacks and two blocked kicks in 1999. He was a consensus All-American who wound up as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Second Team: Andy Katzenmoyer, Ohio State
LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-08)
Few players in the nation were as decorated, productive, talented and successful as the Minneapolis native. Laurinaitis won the Butkus, Nagurski, two Lambert Awards and two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards while being a three-time All-American. He posted three straight seasons of at least 115 tackles and helped Ohio State win a share of four Big Ten titles, including two trips to the BCS National Championship Game. Second Team: A.J. Hawk, Ohio State
LB: Paul Posluszny, Penn State (2003-06)
As a junior, the Nittany Lions tackler was recognized as the nation’s top LB when he posted 116 tackles (11.0 TFL) en route to a Big Ten championship, consensus All-American honors and both the Butkus and Bednarik Awards. He followed that up as a senior with a second Bednarik Award and second consensus All-American nod. The in-state Aliquippa (Pa.) Hopewell product left school as Penn State's all-time leading tackler with 372 total stops. Second Team: Greg Jones, Michigan State
CB: Antoine Winfield, Ohio State (1995-98)
The consensus All-American helped Ohio State win 43 games in four years and nearly (or should have) played in the first BCS National Championship Game in 1998. He was given the Thorpe and Tatum honors as a senior as the nation’s top defensive back before being selected 23rd overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. Second Team: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
CB: Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin (1998-2000)
He was a two-time, first-team All-American and three-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection. He helped Wisconsin to back-to-back Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships and was the only Big Ten defensive back of the BCS Era to be named the outright Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He holds UW’s all-time record with 21 interceptions and was named the nation’s top defensive back with the Thorpe and Tatum Trophies as a senior in 2000. Second Team: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
S: Mike Doss, Ohio State (1999-2002)
The Buckeyes safety was a rare three-time All-American, three-time, first-team All-Big Ten pick and was named co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 for the BCS national champions. Doss started 40 of 50 possible career games and was named the 2002 Fiesta Bowl MVP. He finished his career with 331 career tackles, eight interceptions, eight fumbles recovered and 6.0 sacks. Second Team: Tyrone Carter, Minnesota
S: Bob Sanders, Iowa (2000-03)
One of the hardest hitting players to ever suit up, Sanders made big plays all over the field during his time in Iowa City. He helped lead Iowa to the Orange Bowl in 2002 and was an All-American as a senior in '03. He finished his career with 348 tackles, 16.0 for a loss, four sacks, seven interceptions and 13 forced fumbles (he led the nation in FF with six as a senior). Second Team: Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin
There is a lot of mojo in Westwood right now.
And it has nothing to do with the basketball team’s recent run into the Sweet 16. No, it’s UCLA football that is turning heads in Los Angeles and it could be poised to steal headlines this fall.
After a few offseason flirtations, quarterback Brett Hundley and head coach Jim Mora return for their third season together at UCLA. Hundley is among the nation’s best and has led his team to a 19-8 record in his two seasons under center. Now, he is an upperclassman with three full Mora recruiting classes at his disposal.
It means expectations are sky high entering spring camp. A division title, Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl berth might be the starting point for UCLA fans this summer as the Playoff Era begins. It also means Mora has his work cut out for him this spring.
UCLA must replace a star in Xavier Su’a-Filo but the O-line is in great shape. As is the secondary and quarterback position. The front seven and offensive skill players might be the area of focus but, really, this spring is about fine-tuning for Mora and company out West.
|Sept. 20||Bye Week|
|Nov. 15||Bye Week|
UCLA Bruins 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 10-3 (6-3 Pac-12)
Spring Practice Opens: April 1
Spring Game: April 26
Three Things to Watch in UCLA's 2014 Spring Practice
Fill some holes at linebacker
Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt have moved on to the NFL after a combined 158 tackles and countless big plays a year ago. Eric Kendricks is back but had surgery to fix his ankle in late December. Myles Jack is a star in the making but finding depth and developing a replacement for Barr will be key this spring. Kenny Orjioke, Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins figure to compete for time on the outside where Barr was such a force the last two seasons, while Isaac Savaiinaea is poised to step into Zumwalt’s shoes on the inside. Cameron Judge, Taylor Lagace and early enrollee Zach Whitley should all be competing for snaps this spring as well. This group has loads of potential but leadership, maturity and production all must develop for a team that plays in arguably the best offensive league in the nation.
Find a best supporting actor
Brett Hundley is as good as it gets under center, but even the best of the best need a great supporting character to win a championship — be it at running back or wide receiver. Jim Mora has an entire cast of weapons returning to the offense despite the loss of leading receiver Shaq Evans. Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien all return among the receiving corps bringing unique abilities and loads of upside with them while Jordon James and Paul Perkins return to the backfield. Ideally, Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will find a go-to target in the passing game and a go-to ball carrier in the running game this spring. James, if he stay healthy, and Fuller, should he continue to develop, appear to have all the necessary tools to become elite playmakers in this offense. But be sure to keep an eye on Lucien as well. If he can stay focused and iron out some inconsistencies, he may develop into a special athlete in Westwood.
Organize the defensive line
Much like the wide receivers, running backs and linebackers, the Bruins' defensive line has plenty of talented upside. But this group is somewhat in a state of disarray currently due to graduation (Cassius Marsh, Keenan Graham), injuries (Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Eddie Vanderdoes) and youth (Ellis McCarthy, Kyle Fitts). Tackle Kenny Clark is really the only guarantee this spring up front on defense. Odighizuwa has long been thought of as a potential All-American but needs to prove it after missing all of last year. Vanderdoes is out for the spring after his freshman All-American season a year ago. This means gifted youngsters McCarthy and Fitts should see plenty of snaps this spring. With the loss of Barr at linebacker and both Marsh and Graham up front — who combined for 21.0 sacks a year ago — Mora is having to replace his top three sack masters. He and new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich need to find some edge pass-rushers who can get after the QB this offseason.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11
UCLA has massive expectations heading into the College Football Playoff Era with a superstar quarterback returning and stability on the sidelines for what feels like the first time in more than a decade. The talent is obvious as every position on the roster appears to be stacked with upside prospects and breakout candidates. That said, Mora is breaking in a new defensive coordinator (Ulbrich) and will have to fill voids among his front seven on defense. The schedule isn’t easy either, as UCLA has to face Oregon, Stanford and Washington in crossover play once again. The good news is the Ducks and Cardinal, as well as Arizona, USC and Utah, will have to come to Pasadena to face the Bruins. Should things fall right, Mora and company could be smelling Roses at season’s end.
The first eight games of the Mark Helfrich era were nearly perfect. Oregon was undefeated, ranked in the top five of the polls and had scored at least 50 points six times. Marcus Mariota was the leading Heisman Trophy candidate and was on the verge of setting a Pac-12 record for consecutive passes without an interception.
Then Oregon went to Stanford and completely melted down — due in large part to a mysterious injury to Mariota’s knee. Two weeks later, with control of its own Pac-12 championship destiny, in Tucson against Arizona, Mariota threw an interception for the first time in over a year and the Ducks got run out of the building in hideous fashion against a team that finished with a losing record in league play.
Needless to say, Helfrich took over a Rolls Royce program with massive expectations and had chances to deliver. But he didn't.
With Mariota back and, more importantly, healthy, expectations for Oregon are sky high (no pun intended) once again in Eugene. Nine starters are back on offense and five return on defense while the most critical game of the year (Stanford) will take place in the not-so-friendly confines of Autzen Stadium.
Before all of that can happen, however, Helfrich needs to execute the second spring camp of his tenure. Replacing key departures at defensive tackle, safety and wide receiver as well as all-purpose weapon De’Anthony Thomas must be addressed this spring.
|Aug. 28||South Dakota|
|Sept. 27||Bye Week|
|Nov. 15||Bye Week|
Oregon Ducks 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 11-2 (7-2 Pac-12)
Spring Practice Opens: April 1
Spring Game: May 3
Three Things to Watch in Oregon's 2014 Spring Practice
Life without Nick Aliotti
On a team loaded with elite offensive weapons at quarterback and running back, not to mention the entire offensive line returning, spring practice should be focused on the defense. First and foremost, the team must get acclimated to Don Pellum now running the defense after spending the last 15 years under the guidance of Nick Aliotti. Pellum has been with Oregon since 1988 in some capacity and has been the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator since 2000. He will need to fill voids at defensive tackle and safety in particular while trying to work in a host of extremely young, highly touted prospects. Additionally, Pellum needs to establish himself as the leader in an effort to make the transition a smooth one.
Plug up the middle of the D-line
Taylor Hart was a second-team All-Pac-12 pick, Wade Keliikipi was honorable mention All-Pac-12 and Ricky Havili-Heimuli played critical minutes in 12 games. All three defensive tackles have moved on from this roster and Pellum's first order of business is to find some run stuffers up front. Arik Armstead was a five-star prospect who has shown loads of potential while getting snaps in 13 out of 14 games a year ago. It is time for him to make his mark along the D-line. The same goes for Alex Balducci and Sam Kamp, both of whom should figure heavily in the rotation in the trenches.
Build around IEO
The good news in the secondary is that All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu decided to come back to Eugene and that means Pellum can largely ignore one half of the field. And it should make replacing both Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson at safety and Terrance Mitchell at corner a little bit easier. The safety duo combined for 151 tackles a year ago and both Patterson and Mitchell constantly found himself around the ball. Much like Armstead, safety Erick Dargan and cornerback Dior Mathis have loads of talent and will be asked to step into starring roles. Others like Issac Dixon and Reggie Daniels will have an opportunity to prove their mettle this spring as well. In a league stacked with elite signal-callers and relentless offensive coaches, stabilizing the back end of the Ducks' defense around one of the best corners in the nation should be a key this offseason.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 10-12
The Ducks have one of the best rosters in the nation and arguably the best quarterback in college football. The backfield is stacked, the offensive line is loaded and the young talent on defense should develop quickly despite the loss of Aliotti. So targeting a Pac-12 title, Rose Bowl and/or a playoff spot should be the expectation level for Oregon. The schedule is fascinating, however, as the Ducks will host one of the most intriguing non-conference games when Big Ten and Rose Bowl champ Michigan State comes to town early in the year. The Ducks ease their way into conference play and, frankly, get a nice crossover draw from the South. A trip to UCLA on Oct. 11 is tough but both Arizona State and USC are noticeably absent from the slate. Additionally, getting both Stanford and Washington at home could be the difference between another Alamo Bowl berth or a trip to the national championship game.
Madison Square Garden is hosting the East Regional Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in this NCAA Tournament.
But most everyone knows exactly what you mean when you say “The Garden.” Mark Messier, Willis Reed and Kemba Walker have helped make MSG the most famous arena in all of sports and why we all affectionately call it “The Garden.”
Now, a nickname like The Garden isn’t all that creative or unique or funny or interesting since the actual name of the building is… the Garden. So the home of the St. John's Red Storm doesn’t exactly have one of the greatest nicknames, per se, but there other college basketball arenas and stadiums that have some of the best and most beloved nicknames in all of sports.
Since this is a totally subjective exercise, here are Athlon Sports' favorite college hoops arena nicknames from 2014:
1. The Pit, New Mexico (University Arena)
New Mexico’s famous basketball-only arena opened in 1966 as University Arena and was renamed officially as “The Pit” in 2009. It got its nickname from how the building was constructed, as the floor of the arena is 37 feet below “ground level,” meaning the court is actually built inside of a pit. Because it was built into such a small space with steep grading and relatively tight quarters for 15,411 capacity seating, the Lobos have enjoyed one of the loudest home quarter settings in all of college hoops. It cost a relatively affordable $1.4 million to build and the building itself reminds fans and opposing players that it sits a mile above sea level as well.
2. The Phog, Kansas (Allen Fieldhouse)
Named in honor of former head coach Dr. Forrest C. Allen, who led the Jayhawks program for 39 years and was nicknamed “Phog” for his distinct booming fog-horn voice. Allen Fieldhouse was opened in 1955 following four years of construction, the building currently seats 16,300 and originally cost just $2.5 million to build. The Phog is widely regarded as one of the loudest building in college basketball, and thanks to decades of great teams, is arguably the toughest place to win in all of sports. At home, Kansas is 123-3 since 2007, 279-15 since 1994 (the last renovation) and 715-109 all-time, so all who enter clearly must “Pay Heed.”
3. The Barn, Minnesota (Williams Arena)
One of the older buildings in the nation, Williams Arena was opened in 1928 and cost just $650,000 to build. Its 14,625 rowdy Golden Gophers fans and rounded ceiling shape give it a raucous barnyard feel — which is how the student section (The Barnyard) and building got their of their nicknames. The most unusual characteristic of the building, however, might be the raised floor design. The court is roughly two feet above player benches, press row and the first rows of seats. The Barn has hosted both The NCAA basketball finals (1951) and a pair of Frozen Fours (1958, 1966).
4. The Kennel, Gonzaga (McCarthey Athletic Center)
McCarthey Athletic Center was opened in 2004 and goes by The New Kennel or K2 to fans in the know, however, The Kennel is the best and most fitting. The nickname has carried over from the previous facility in Spokane, the Charlotte Y. Martin Center, and couldn’t be more appropriately named. The Bulldogs play extremely well at home and the boisterous fans pack the tight 6,000-person arena each and every home game. The Kennel cost Gonzaga $25 million to build.
5. The RAC, Rutgers (Louis Brown Athletic Center)
Rutgers’ basketball arena was originally titled the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) when it opened in 1977. It was renamed in 1986 as the Louis Brown Athletic Center but the nickname stuck through the name change. The 8,000-seat building hosted the New Jersey Nets from 1977-81 as well as the Scarlet Knights basketball and volleyball teams. The home team hasn’t been a championship contender, but Rutgers plays great at home and the fans are intimidating close to the action. The RAC just sounds like a great place to play hoops.
6. The Slim Gym, San Diego (Jenny Craig Pavilion)
Jenny Craig Pavilion, or the JCP, was opened in 2000 on the beautiful Toreros campus in San Diego, Calif. Named after famous weight loss guru Jenny Craig, the building quickly became known as the Slim Gym for obvious reasons. The punny nickname is one of the most creative and original nicknames in college hoops. JCP seats 5,100 patrons and cost $17.5 million to build.
7. Octagon of Doom, Kansas State (Bramlage Coliseum)
Kansas State plays all of its men’s and women’s basketball games in a place known as The Octagon of Doom. It seats 12,528, was opened in 1988 and cost $17.5 million to build. The nickname comes from the building’s eight-sided shape and was started by fans who would bring octagonal shaped signs with “Doom” written them due to reputation of tenacious defense. The Manhattan arena’s nickname has quickly (2007) become one of the best pseudonyms in college sports.
8. The Tad Pad, Ole Miss (C. M. Smith Coliseum)
The Ole Miss Rebels have called C. M. Smith Coliseum home since 1965-66 when the building was originally called Rebel Coliseum. Smith was a three-sport star at Ole Miss, a coach and eventually became the Athletic Director in Oxford. The important Mississippi personality went by “Tad” and so the 9,061-seat building is now referred to as The Tad Pad.
9. Dome of Doom, Wyoming (Arena-Auditorium)
With a formal name like Arena-Auditorium, its no wonder the fans in Laramie came up with a nickname for their basketball arena. The 15,028-seat building was built in 1982 for $15 million and is officially the highest arena in NCAA Division I basketball. Situated at 7,220 feet above sea level, the Dome of Doom, or “Double-A,” literally causes headaches to opposing teams and fans.
10. The Rock, Seton Hall/NJIT (Prudential Center)
165 Mulberry Street in Newark, N.J., is home to one of the most well-used buildings in college sports. Named affectionately for the Rock of Gibraltar corporate logo of Prudential Financial, The Rock is home to three different hockey teams, namely the New Jersey Devils, and has hosted both the New Jersey Nets and New York Liberty of the professional basketball ranks in the past. But why it makes this list is famed Seton Hall basketball — as well as NJIT — calls The PC home. The 18,711-seat building (for basketball) cost an astronomical $375 million to build back in 2007.
The Best of the Rest:
11. The Thriller Dome, Georgia Tech (Alexander Memorial Coliseum)
12. Dean Dome, North Carolina (Dean Smith Center)
13. The Hump, Mississippi State (Humphrey Coliseum)
14. The Dunk, Providence (Dunkin Donuts Arena)
15. The O-Dome, Florida (Stephen O’Connell Center)
16. The Pete, Pitt (Petersen Events Center)
Old-School Honorable Mention:
Big Brown Box that Rocks, Loyola-Chicago (Alumni Gym)
From 1924 to 1996, Loyola-Chicago called Alumni Gym home. The 2,000-seat building was known for its crazy fans and eventually became known as the Big Brown Box That Rocks.
Chamber of Horrors, New Orleans (Human Performance Center)
New Orleans began playing Division I basketball in 1969 and called the Human Performance Center home until 1983 and then again following Hurricane Katrina from 2005-08. It seated just 1,200 fans was known as The Chamber of Horrors.
Brian Kelly is entering his fifth season as the Notre Dame head coach after winning 21 games over the last two years.
His fifth season will be a fascinating tour de force for a variety of reasons. First, he had to rebuild his staff after both coordinators left to take head coaching jobs. Mike Denbrock takes over as offensive coordinator after Chuck Martin left for Miami (Ohio) and Brian VanGorder is calling the shots on defense as Bob Diaco accepted the UConn head coaching gig.
And quarterback Everett Golson is back under center. Four other starters return on offense and five return to the defense with a host of elite youngsters ready to step into bigger roles. On a team one year removed from playing in the national championship game, Kelly knows that expectations are sky high at a program that demands excellence.
Just like 2012, should the Irish return to the national championship picture in ‘14, they will have earned it. Notre Dame’s schedule is once again one of the toughest in the nation and will feature marquee national showdowns against bowl teams nearly every weekend.
Buckle up, South Bend.
|1.||Aug. 30||South Bend, IN|
|2.||Sept. 6||South Bend, IN|
|3.||Sept. 13||Indianapolis, IN|
|5.||Sept. 27||East Rutherford, NJ|
|6.||Oct. 4||South Bend, IN|
|7.||Oct. 11||South Bend, IN|
|8.||Oct. 18||at||Tallahassee, FL|
|10.||Nov. 1||Landover, MD|
|11.||Nov. 8||at||Tempe, AZ|
|12.||Nov. 15||South Bend, IN|
|13.||Nov. 22||South Bend, IN|
|14.||Nov. 29||at||Los Angeles, CA|
2014 Notre Dame Schedule Analysis
Home away from home
One of the most noticeable aspects to the Fighting Irish's ’14 slate is where the games will be played. Notre Dame has only three true road games all season but all three will be absolute battles. The Irish visit Florida State on Oct. 18, Arizona State on Nov. 8 and USC in the season finale. Otherwise, the Irish will play Purdue in Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium), Syracuse in New Jersey (MetLife Stadium) and Navy in Maryland (FedEx Field). That leaves six true home games for Brian Kelly’s bunch — all of which are winnable and should feature a point spread in the Irish’s favor with the possible exception of Stanford.
Get work done early
The great news for the Irish is that the first four games of the year appear to be very manageable. In fact, the first month of the season will feature three of the easiest games on the slate, a home date with Michigan and a bye weekend. All of this should help ease Golson, a potentially reworked offensive line and a new D-line into the starting lineup. Kelly and his team need to make headway in the first month of the season because once Stanford comes to town on Oct. 4, there isn’t really a break to be had with the exception of the off weekend at the end of October.
First romp through the ACC
Gone are traditional rivals Michigan State, Army and Pitt form the schedule. While the Panthers will eventually return to the slate through the ACC rotation, the Spartans (and soon the Wolverines as well) had to take a back seat to the Notre Dame's new conference partnership. Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida State and Louisville will be the first four ACC bouts this fall and commissioner John Swofford didn’t do the Irish any favors. A visit to the defending champs comes on the (ahem) Heels of playing North Carolina at home and will be as high profile and difficult a game the Irish have had since facing Alabama for the national title. Louisville welcomes back head coach Bobby Petrino and could be the top challenger to FSU in the ACC Atlantic Division. It will be an interesting first trip through ACC country this fall for the Irish.
Pac-12 round robin
The Fighting Irish will play three of the top five teams from the Pac-12. Notre Dame has long played West Coast rivals USC and Stanford. But Stanford is better today than it has ever been in program history and the Trojans are welcoming a new head coach in Steve Sarkisian. In addition to two of the best programs from the Pac-12, Notre Dame also will have to play Arizona State, the defending South Division champs, in Tempe. Two of those — Arizona State and USC — will take place on the road. When projecting win totals for the Irish, it is likely Notre Dame will lose two of three in the three-game set with the Pac-12. Should Notre Dame win two of those, a “BCS” bowl or playoff spot may be an outside possibility.
Enjoy the down time
The off weekends come at solid times. The first comes two weeks before Stanford and the week before Notre Dame has to leave the state of Indiana for the time. The first off weekend will be critical as the Irish will play four straight following the extra week, including the defending ACC and Pac-12 champions. The second off weekend comes right after a brutal road trip to Tallahassee. Having two weeks to lick their potential wounds after facing the Seminoles and to prepare for the always difficult Navy triple option could be a huge benefit for Kelly’s squad. Especially, considering the final month of the season is loaded with elite coaches and talented offenses.
It only took two seasons for Mike Leach to turn a perennial Pac-12 doormat into a bowl team.
The Cougars went to three straight bowls from 2001-03 but hadn’t been back to the postseason since. Leach capped his first season with a remarkable comeback win over archrival Washington and that catapulted Washington State to its best record in a decade.
And, of course, he did it with a record-setting quarterback.
Connor Halliday returns under center in 2014 — now with expectations to not only reach the postseason but to win a bowl game and post a winning record. Halliday should have loads of weapons to work with in terms of pass-catchers and ball-carriers, as the top 13 receivers on the roster a year ago will be back this fall — 10 of which caught at least 25 passes. It’s protecting Halliday with three new linemen and establishing a running game that should be the focus of Leach and company this spring.
Improving the 102nd-ranked defense in the nation would help Washington State’s chances at making the postseason as well.
|Sept. 13||Portland State|
|Oct. 18||Bye Week|
|Nov. 15||Bye Week|
Washington State 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 6-7 (4-5 Pac-12)
Spring Practice Opens: March 27
Spring Game: April 29
Three Things to Watch in Washington State's 2014 Spring Practice
Replace three O-line starters
Leach will never build an offense that focuses on the running game but developing some sort of balance on offense would go a long way in helping Wazzu compete for Pac-12 titles. Not to mention, it would likely help keep his quarterback upright and healthy. And with four guys who started along the O-line departing the offense, this is a major area of concern this spring. Elliott Bosch is gone from the center position after receiving All-Pac-12 honors a year ago and guards John Fullington and Matt Goetz have moved on as well. Filling the void up the middle of the offensive line will be critical for the Cougars this spring. Joe Dahl got 13 starts a year ago and is expected to slide from guard to tackle in 2014. Gunnar Eklund was the team's left tackle in 2013, but he is taking Dahl's spot on the interior. Having Eklund and Dahl back this spring should help ease the transition there. Filling the voids around these two big bodies is really the only offensive question marks on this team.
Find leadership on defense
First-team All-Pac-12 safety Deone Bucannon led the Cougars in tackles (114) and was one of the best players in the nation at his position. Linebacker Justin Sagote was No. 2 on the team in tackles with 106 stops a year ago. Both are gone from a defense that wasn’t all that great a year ago. Leach’s teams have never been elite on this side of the ball but in the Pac-12, where quarterbacks and offensive playmakers reign supreme, some semblance of defensive fortitude would go a long way to make Washington State a contender. Names like defensive end Xavier Cooper (who led the team in sacks a year ago), linebackers Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen (the top two returning tacklers) and safety Taylor Taliulu will need to step into leadership roles this spring. Finding a voice in the defensive huddle that can lead and motivate is critical for a defense that needs improvement across the board.
Rebuild the secondary
There is good news and bad news with the Cougars' secondary. Three of the team’s top four cornerbacks have moved on, including all-league coverman Damante Horton. Two of the top three safeties are gone as well, with the loss of Bucannon being the biggest blow to the defense. That’s the bad news. The good, however, is that the WSU secondary was one of the worst in the nation a year ago, ranking 112th in passing defense and 89th in pass efficiency defense. Daquawn Brown and Taliulu return with some experience but this unit needs to be addressed this spring in a league with elite quarterback play. Mitchell Peterson, Isaac Dotson and Tracy Clark need to take the next step in their development process during spring camp.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
Leach is an excellent coach and a proven offensive commodity. In just two short seasons the Cougars have returned to West Coast relevance and are competing for postseason berths already. What’s more exciting is the amount of overall production returning to what was the fourth-best passing attack in the nation last year. The schedule offers plenty of opportunities to steal wins but the Cougars will play three of the top four teams from the South with the exception of UCLA. The out-of-conference slate could provide three wins if WSU can start hot and the Cougs should be more than capable of snagging three league wins. A second straight trip to the postseason should be the expectation in Pullman this spring.
The College Football Playoff Era doesn’t just ring in a new era of postseason football for Rutgers. It’s a complete overhaul.
The Scarlet Knights will play in their third different conference in three years after the defunct Big East gave birth to the American Athletic Conference. Life in the Big Ten will be an entirely different beast, however, as Rutgers has never faced the level of competition it will now be seeing week in and week out in the B1G.
Landing in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State doesn’t help either. It means that Kyle Flood and his staff will have their work cut for themselves this spring as they prepare for the much deeper and more treacherous waters of the most lucrative league in the nation.
Getting nine starters back on offense is a big positive and there are a lot of developing names on defense, but this team will have to improve significantly across the board if it wants to return to the postseason as a Big Ten representative. Flood is hoping that a reworked coaching staff will provide the spark needed to compete at a higher level in '14.
|Oct. 11||Bye Week|
|Nov. 8||Bye Week|
Rutgers Scarlet Knight 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 6-7 (3-5 AAC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 1
Spring Game: April 11
Three Things to Watch in Rutgers' 2014 Spring Practice
Find consistency under center
Kyle Flood totally overhauled his coaching staff this offseason, bringing in offensive guru Ralph Friedgen to run the offense. His first order of business is to find a stabilizing force under center for the Knights after a season in which Rutgers quarterbacks threw 22 interceptions and just 22 touchdowns. This is why Flood has opened up the position battle this spring despite Gary Nova (2,159 yds, 18 TDs, 14 INTs) returning after starting most of last year (until the final three games). He will have to battle redshirt junior Mike Bimonte, redshirt sophomore Blake Rankin, and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano. Rankin is the most dynamic athlete of the bunch but Laviano might be the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound pocket passer has impressed during his short time in Piscataway and could press Nova for starting duties should he develop quickly and take to the new offense this spring. Nova has a major experience edge but has been entirely too inconsistent. This position must improve if the Knights want to compete in the Big Ten.
Get back to pounding the football
Friedgen is known for his ability to develop a passer but that would be so much easier if this team could get back to running the football like it did under Greg Schiano. Rutgers ranked 100th in rushing offense nationally a year ago and was 106th in sacks allowed. So while all five starters return along the offensive line and three very capable backs return as well, this team must be more productive on the ground. Especially in a league known for pounding the rock on offense. The O-line needs to develop a killer instinct and the backs need to stay healthy. Should these two things happen in spring ball, it would allow time and creativity for both the quarterback and play-caller.
Shore up the secondary
The entire defense needs to continue to develop after a host of talented recruits got their feet wet a year ago. But this team was still 120th nationally in pass defense and 100th in pass efficiency defense last fall and something has to change in that department (especially, with Christian Hackenberg, Braxton Miller, Connor Cook and Connor Halliday on the schedule). Lorenzo Waters is the lone returning starter at strong safety and the rest of the starting spots will be up for grabs this spring. Gareef Glashen, Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi may be the leaders heading into spring at cornerback while new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi will need to find some complementary pieces at safety. This unit was filled with inexperience last year and ideally that youth will develop during the offseason. At least, that is what Rossi and Flood are hoping anyway.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 4-6
Under Schiano, Rutgers blossomed from perennial bottom feeder to conference contender. That is a tough act to follow for anyone let alone for someone who hadn’t ever been a head coach in college — or a head coach of any kind since coaching high school ball in 1994. Flood has reeled in some good talent on the recruiting trail and has ushered in a totally new era of Rutgers football. However, if this team doesn’t show marked improvement in ’14 and continues its downward trajectory, he may not be around to bask in the glory of all that Big Ten money. And the schedule offers little breaks. The division slate is impossible and crossover play features arguably the top two teams from the West. Baring some minor miracles from Friedgen (which is totally possible), the first year of the playoff era could be a forgettable one for the State school of New Jersey.
Would you rather live in San Diego or Cleveland? Who you rather play in Yankee Stadium or Tropicana Field? Who would you rather work for? A Steinbrenner or a giant cable company?
Certainly, winning baseball is really all that matters in the end, but these things and much more go into ranking MLB’s managerial jobs. Job security, pressure to win, ownership, tradition, fan support, TV contracts, geography and a path to a championship all factor into determining what is the best job in baseball.
There are some things that don’t count, however, because they are dynamic in nature. For example, a team’s current roster doesn’t factor into the mix (nor do horrible contracts) because that will change so dramatically in a short period of time. The same can be said about General Managers. So if all things were considered equal — say, every team has the same roster and same GM — which managerial job would be the best in Major League Baseball?
1. New York Yankees
Is the pressure to win greater in the Bronx than anywhere else? Yes. Has ownership been overbearing in the past? Yes. But putting any other team at No. 1 in baseball is just being cute. The Pinstripes are the most prestigious, most successful and most revered brand in the sport and leading the Yanks to a championship immortalizes you like nowhere else — except maybe the upper half of Chicago.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are under new ownership that is clearly willing to spend money — the Dodgers led the league with $254 million payroll in 2013. Los Angeles has a massive new cable network contract and led the majors in attendance a year ago (3.7 million) by a wide margin. This brand has history and tradition like its East Coast brethren and is the best job in the National League.
3. Boston Red Sox
Fenway Park alone makes this job extremely attractive. It's a pro sports gem. The fan support is one of the best in the majors and ownership is committed to winning — Boston had the third-highest payroll in the game last year. From an overall brand equity standpoint, few managerial gigs in the league can match what the Bo-Sox have to offer in terms of cultural significance.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
Unless you wear Cubbie Blue, the Cardinals fans are among the best in all of professional sports. The city of St. Louis cares more about its baseball team and does it in a way that only the Midwest can offer. It's why the Cards were No. 2 in attendance last year (3.3 million) and it's why the Redbirds have been in the postseason in 10 of the last 14 seasons.
5. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have proven that you can win big in the Bay Area and the name brand is one of the most storied and tradition-laden in the game. The ballpark is second to none and that is partly why the Giants were No. 3 in attendance last year (3.3 million). CEO Larry Baer seems to stay in the background allowing his people to work and creating nearly unmatched stability. There is a lot of value in a non-meddling figure head.
6. Chicago Cubs
There is a history of instability and the stadium needs to be “addressed” — whatever that means — but there wouldn't be a more significant American sports championship than if the Cubs were to win the World Series. The Ricketts family took over in 2009 and has slowly but surely shown that they are committed to making that happen by hiring the right people in the front office.
7. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers were one of just three American League teams to average more than 38,000 fans per game and the history of the franchise speaks for itself. Ownership is willing to spend the money to compete as the Tigers were fourth in the league last year with $154 million payroll. Finally, the path to a championship against the Royals, Twins, Indians and White Sox appears easier than in, say, the AL East.
8. Los Angeles Angels
There isn’t a huge difference between this team and its crosstown rival. This team has a great owner in Arte Moreno who is willing to spend money and offer job security to a skipper. The city has its pluses and minuses but is still in a beautiful part of the country — especially, on a manager's salary. Stabilizing the future of the ballpark — one of the oldest in the league (1966) — will go a long way in determining the future of this managerial job.
9. Cincinnati Reds
A historic brand in a solid park in a town that loves baseball makes managing the Reds one of the league’s better jobs. Ownership has changed hands a few times over the last two decades but the current regime has clearly been the most successful. There is no better place to be on Opening Day than in Cincinnati.
10. Atlanta Braves
There is a lot to love about managing the Bravos. History, success, tradition, their own cable network and a richly populated area of raw baseball talent makes this a great job. It’s not top five, however, because attendance has always been a question (even in the postseason) and the fact that Turner Field won’t even last two decades leaves a very odd and poor taste in the mouth.
11. Philadelphia Phillies
A passionate fanbase, committed payroll and recent run of big-time success make this a very attractive place to manage. Sometimes the fans can be “too” passionate and the city will heap expectations on their sports team unlike anywhere in the country. But when things are going well, this front office, ballpark and clubhouse is a great place to be.
12. New York Mets
Being second in your own town can be both a positive and a negative. It means the pressure to win isn’t as great but it means there's a tough fight for headlines as well. Citi Field is a newly minted gem of a park and working in the world’s biggest media market is a huge plus. Ownership has been forced to be stingy of late but has a track record of spending money.
13. Baltimore Orioles
Camden Yards began a ballpark revolution when it comes to design, intimacy and fan experience when it opened 1992. Ownership also has appeared to have a renewed commitment to winning of late, increasing payroll to over $100 million for the first time in franchise history last season. Baseball is more fun when the Orioles are good.
14. Texas Rangers
It took 36 years for this franchise to reach the playoffs for the first time (1996) and has gone from whipping boy in the 80s to annual AL West powerhouse today. The stadium isn’t new (1994) but attendance has been one of the AL’s most consistent, finishing second in the AL last season (3.1 million). The city isn’t all that great and ownership can be finicky but overall this has the makings of an elite job should the spending ($138 million last year) continue.
15. Washington Nationals
The Nats have a brand new park (2008), are willing to spend money ($112 million last year) and appear to be luring fans to the park (11th in attendance). That said, there is a lot to compete with in the D.C. area and the Orioles have a longer history and tradition of support in the region. The front office appears to be one of the more committed after increasing spending in each of the last seven seasons. And that makes this an intriguing job.
16. Chicago White Sox
Managing on the Southside will never be confused with managing on the Northside but one Chicago team has a championship in the last 100 years and the other does not. Attendance and payroll dipped last season to decade-lows and that is a concerning trend but after seven straight years of $100 million-plus payrolls, the fans cannot complain about effort from ownership. The new park is starting to get stale but baseball fans in the Windy City will certainly support a winner.
17. Arizona Diamondbacks
This team has the vibe and makeup to be a major market franchise if it so chooses. It has never been below two million in gross attendance in any year and has proven it is willing to spend money in the past — over $100 million in 2002 following a trip to the World Series. It's located in a big city that is extremely attractive to most and has proven it can be a winner with five playoff appearances in just 16 total years of existence.
18. Pittsburgh Pirates
Many believe that PNC Park is the best in the game today, and, finally, last year the fans had a reason to pack it to the gills. Current ownership took over in 1996 after the past regime had spent a paltry $905,517 on payroll in ’95. It appears like this team is finally willing to spend money and it resulted in the highest attendance (2,256 million) since PNC’s first year in 2001 and the highest payroll ($96 million) in franchise history. It should be no surprise that the Pirates posted their first winning season since 1992.
19. Minnesota Twins
From a job security standpoint, few teams can match the Twins commitment to their personnel. The new ballpark has some negatives (like being outside in Minnesota) but is extremely well done and virtually brand new. The history is rich and the only missing piece is the big market payroll (27th in ’13).
20. San Diego Padres
This team plays in one of the best towns in the nation in one of the nicer parks in the league. And the Padres have only had two managers since 1995, so stability seems to like San Diego. Attendance has consistently topped 2 million per year since the mid-90s but the payroll has consistently been in the bottom third of the league. This seems like a much better job than most give it credit for on the surface.
21. Cleveland Indians
The fans are passionate but Cleveland is definitely a football town first and a baseball city second. Progressive Field was a big step up from Memorial Stadium, but it opened two decades ago and the Indians were 29th in attendance last year. Dolan Family ownership took over a team that had been to the playoffs five straight seasons and has delivered a postseason roster only three times in the last 15 years.
22. Oakland Athletics
There is a lot to like and a lot to be concerned about with Oakland. The stadium situation has to be fixed and that could mean a move across town — or a move across the country. There is plenty of history and tradition of success and a lot worse places to live than the Bay Area. However, this team traditionally acts like a small market squad when it comes to spending money. And for what it’s worth, this team has had four managers since 2002. Moving into a new ballpark could rocket this franchise up the list. Staying put could drop it like a rock to the bottom.
23. Milwaukee Brewers
The ballpark is excellent and the good people of Wisconsin love going to sporting events but Miller Park was only three-quarters of the way full last fall (31,248 per game). Some of that may be due to the lack of success historically that this team has experienced. It’s been to two postseasons since 1982 and many of the big ticket items were not retained by the franchise (Prince, Greinke, CC).
24. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies boast an excellent ballpark in a great town and, regionally, face little competition from other baseball franchises. At tenth in the league in attendance (2.7 million), the fans have been willing to support their team even in some of the worst baseball conditions in the league. In fact, Colorado has been above 2.3 million every year since getting to the World Series in 2007.
25. Houston Astros
Ownership does appear to be pointing this organization in the right direction but it has a long way to go. The stadium is quirky but nice and fairly modern. And the Stros have been to a World Series in the last decade. The $14 million payroll from a year ago is hugely concerning and the move to the American League makes for a strange combination of NL history and current AL batting orders.
26. Tampa Bay Rays
The stadium might be the worst in the majors, rumors of the team leaving town have long swirled around the Bay, it plays in arguably the toughest division and attendance — despite lots of winning — has been atrocious (last in ’13). Ownership lets Joe Maddon do his thing, and that is a huge plus, but this team excels without any advantages that other teams in the division thrive on.
27. Seattle Mariners
Clearly the front office is willing to spend money and has done a solid job developing pitching but this team is playing in one of the better divisions in the game and attendance is slipping in a big way. This team drew 3.5 million in 2002 and has watched numbers drop ever since to 1.7 million last year. It may be unfair, but the Mariners also feel out of sight and out of mind stuck up there in the Pacific Northwest.
28. Kansas City Royals
Kauffman Stadium is a nice place to watch a game but this team hasn’t drawn more than 1.8 million fans since the ballpark opened in 1993. Ownership changed in 2000 and payroll has consistently risen but only recently (last year) did it top $70 million for the first time in franchise history. There is some history here but it is in the distant past as the Royals haven’t made the playoffs since 1985.
29. Toronto Blue Jays
The only team not located in the United States plays in a stadium that lacks the warmth (both literally and figuratively) of true outdoor natural grass parks. Ownership has been around since 2000 (Rogers Communications) and has spent serious money of late but this organization has yet to prove it can make the right maneuvers in the toughest division in baseball.
30. Miami Marlins
The one thing the Marlins franchise had going for it — a brand new ballpark — was totally botched due to lack of distinct and innovative engineering. All sports teams in Miami have a tough enough time drawing fans to a game without a giant fishy optical illusion in center field. Ownership has proven it can build a winner but it has also proven that it can dismantle a team quicker than a Giancarlo Stanton line drive. No payroll, no attendance and no history make this the toughest job in the league.
It was 1987 the last time Michigan State won an outright Big Ten championship or played in the Rose Bowl. Mark Dantonio ended both of the streaks in one awesome performance against undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten title game last fall.
Then he capped the emotional trip to Pasadena by suspending his senior captain and MSU legacy and still managed to topple mighty Stanford for a Rose Bowl championship — winning a school-record 13 games in the process.
Now Dantonio, a coach who has built his legacy on elite defensive football and a power running game, faces arguably his toughest rebuilding test — in particular, on defense. Six senior starters are gone from the defense and three All-Big Ten players have moved on from the offensive line.
So if Sparty wants to repeat as Big Ten champs, this coaching staff will have to plug holes in the back seven of the defense and in the trenches along the offensive line.
|Aug. 30||Jacksonville State|
|Sept. 13||Bye Week|
|Nov. 1||Bye Week|
Michigan State Spartans 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 13-1 (8-0 Big Ten)
Spring Practice Opens: March 25
Spring Game: April 26
Three Things to Watch in Michigan State's 2014 Spring Practice
Find leadership at linebacker
Max Bullough didn’t play in the Rose Bowl, but he was as big a part of a title run as any player in school history. He hails from a family steeped in Spartans' football history and was a four-year starter. He and playmaking linebacker Denicos Allen have expired their eligibility and that leaves major leadership voids in the middle of the Spartans defense. Taiwan Jones (67 tackles) has some experience and may be looked to as the future leader of the unit as he moves inside to middle linebacker. Ed Davis, Jon Reschke and Darien Harris got limited playing time a year ago and should gain more prominent roles as well. Dantonio and coordinator Pat Narduzzi have plenty of options to choose from as MSU always seems to find quality bodies at linebacker, (SEE: Kyler Ellsworth) but this group needs to come together quickly this spring as the Spartans enter a dramatically more intense offensive division in the East.
Fill holes along the offensive line
Connor Cook developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten last year. Jeremy Langford returns with All-American aspirations in 2014. And the receiving corps is quietly becoming one of the deeper units in the league. But the offensive line — Michigan State’s bread and butter — needs to fill three large voids left by right tackle Fou Fonoti and guards Blake Treadwell and Dan France. Jack Allen returns to anchor the O-Line and Jack Conklin started 13 games at left tackle, so Dantonio has two quality pieces to work with before trying to fill the other three spots. Donavan Clark, Connor Kruse and Travis Jackson should figure in the mix prominently and are listed atop the spring depth chart currently. How quickly this group comes together may determine how far Sparty can go in 2014. It’s one thing to have a great backfield and great playmakers on offense, but if you cannot open up running lanes or protect the passer, it can all go to waste.
Rebuild the secondary
Darqueze Dennard was considered the best defensive back and top cover corner in the nation when he was awarded the Thorpe Award. He and honorable mention All-Big Ten safety Isaiah Lewis were mainstays for Sparty on the backend and will be missed in 2014. Safety Kurtis Drummond returns to anchor the safeties, and Trae Waynes has loads of upside at cornerback, but little in the way of experience returns to the secondary outside of those two. Demetrious Cox and RJ Williamson will play a bunch at safety and should replace Lewis capably. Jermaine Edmondson, Darian Hicks, Arjen Colquhoun and Ezra Robinson will try to fill the massive void left by Dennard at cornerback. Hicks and Cox are listed as the starters in the spring depth chart and have the inside track on earning starting positions.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11
With at least 11 wins in three of the last four seasons, Dantonio has proven that he reloads rather than rebuilds. This team has some glaring holes to fill at offensive line, linebacker and in the secondary. However, the roster has steadily improved over time and replacing talent is getting easier for the Spartans. Cook and Langford is arguably the top QB-RB tandem in the Big Ten and the offense, shockingly, could carry this team through an “easier” early schedule. Removing a premier national non-conference game with Oregon in Eugene (which doesn’t impact the Big Ten race obviously), the Spartans should be heavy favorites in their first six (maybe seven) games. Following an off weekend, the slate toughens up in the final month but both Ohio State and Maryland come at home. A repeat as Big Ten champs will likely come down to two November games with the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.
After eight straight seasons of at least 10 wins or more and dominating the ACC since entering the league, Frank Beamer has stubbed his toe over the last two campaigns.
At least, relatively speaking.
Virginia Tech is accustomed to competing for conference titles and playing in BCS bowls so 11 combined losses in the last two years doesn’t sit well with the passionate fans of VPI. Yes, Beamer hasn’t missed a bowl game since Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, but his offense, in particular, has grown stagnant over the last two seasons.
After changes on the staff a year ago — and one massive departure under center this year — Beamer is hoping to return to the ACC title picture in 2014.
And finding a replacement for the turnover-prone and oft-embattled yet record-setting quarterback Logan Thomas will be his first order of business this spring.
|Aug. 30||William & Mary|
|Oct. 11||Bye Week|
|Nov. 8||Bye Week|
Virginia Tech Hokies 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 27
Spring Game: April 26
Three Things to Watch in Virginia Tech's 2014 Spring Practice
Is Mark Leal the answer?
Leal, a rising redshirt senior, is the most experienced quarterback on the roster and he threw just four passes during the regular season a year ago. The most action he saw was in the Sun Bowl blowout against UCLA when Thomas was hurt. He completed 11-of-24 passes for 128 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. His performance in that one game isn’t indicative of his potential success or failure in 2014 but it certainly looked like he was in over his head. This means that rising junior Brenden Motley and sophomore-to-be Andrew Ford should get plenty of chances this spring to prove themselves. All three need to make waves this spring before talented Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arrives this summer. Leal is the frontrunner but will have to play very well to hold off the more pro-style Brewer once fall camp opens. A great spring for Leal would go a long way to settling the QB debate in Blacksburg.
Fill holes along the defensive line
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is as proven a coaching commodity as there is in college football and fans can bet his unit won’t take a big step back in 2014. That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t have his work cut out for him on the D-line this spring. Luther Maddy, the team’s leading sack artist (6.5) returns but James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins and J.R. Collins are all gone from the rotation. That trio posted 149 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss and 16.0 sacks a year ago. The return of Corey Marshall, who missed all of last year with an injury, will help replace Hopkins at tackle. Otherwise, Dadi Nicolas, Ken Ekanem, Seth Dooley and Dewayne Alford will all compete for playing time up front. Maddy is a solid pass rusher but this group needs to be developed around him if Tech wants to stop the budding offensive rushing attacks in the ACC.
Find leadership at linebacker
Foster must replace Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum at the back end of his defense, but since his roster is so loaded (SEE Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson), the linebacker position is of much greater importance this spring. Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards are gone after a combined 174 tackles a year ago and Tyler’s leadership, in particular, will be missed. Josh Trimble isn’t going to be a superstar but he has the most experience and the inside track on a starting spot. Ronny Vandyke is back after missing all of last year with a shoulder injury but will be moving slowly (and carefully) in spring camp. Otherwise, it’s a lot of unknowns competing for time at one of the most prestigious defensive positions in the ACC. Playing linebacker for Foster is an honor and names like Chase Williams, Deon Clarke, Dahman McKinnon, Derek DiNardo and Drew Burns are all vying for snaps this spring. Beamer has always had elite linebackers at Tech and he will need to find his heir apparent after losing both Tyler and Edwards this offseason.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Nationally, some are wondering what the future of the Hokies' program is after two “down” years in Blacksburg. The ACC has gotten a lot better around Tech over the last few years and that makes it tougher on everyone. Beamer and Foster are proven winners and will have another salty defense this year. But coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense needs to improve in short order without a proven signal-caller if Virginia Tech wants to win the Coastal Division. The good news is the schedule. There is no Clemson, no Florida State and no Louisville on the slate in crossover play and games with Georgia Tech and Miami take place in Blacksburg.
It took just two seasons, but Todd Graham led Arizona State to the best conference record in the Pac-12, despite Stanford and Oregon ranking as preseason top-10 teams, and UCLA (according to some) the overwhelming favorite in the South.
Taylor Kelly and Will Sutton were clear leaders for the Sun Devils — one loaded with senior producers — and State went on a wild 2013 ride that ended with an 8-1 league record and a Pac-12 championship game in Sun Devil Stadium.
Returning for the defending South Division champions is a host of elite playmakers, including star three-year starter Taylor Kelly at quarterback. Sure, replacing Marion Grice and Chris Coyle will be key in the playmaker department and filling a couple of holes on the O-Line is important, but Graham’s tallest order is replacing nine of 11 starters on his defense.
There will be a noticeable theme with ASU’s “three things to watch” this spring.
|Aug. 28||Weber State|
|Sept. 20||Bye Week|
|Oct. 11||Bye Week|
Arizona State Sun Devils 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 10-4 (8-1 Pac-12)
Spring Practice Opens: March 18
Spring Game: April 19
Three Things to Watch in Arizona State's 2014 Spring Practice
Find playmakers along the D-Line
Will Sutton was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12, and he cannot simply be replaced. But more than that, the Arizona State defensive line is also missing All-Pac-12 picks Davon Coleman (15.0 TFL), Gannon Conway (7 TFL) and hybrid end/linebacker Carl Bradford (19.5 TFL). Replacing all four starters up front is virtually impossible for any team, but this group combined for over 200 tackles and 24.5 sacks in 2013. Finding guys who can pressure the quarterback and play behind the line of scrimmage is imperative for Graham and new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Jaxon Hood returns and has plenty of upside at nose tackle, and Marcus Hardison might be the best returning pass rusher on the roster. This duo will try to fill the void on the inside, while Sean O’Grady, junior college transfers Edmond Boateng, Kweishi Brown and Demetrius Cherry will attempt to stake their claim for playing time as well this spring.
Find playmakers at linebacker
Bradford's departure also impacts the linebacking corps, as this unit has to replace Chris Young (112 tackles), as well as contributors Anthony Jones and Steffon Martin (combined 72 tackles). Salamo Fiso returns as one of the few with starting experience but other names like Antonio Longino and Carlos Mendoza need to step into bigger roles. The same can be said for early enrollee D.J. Calhoun, redshirt freshmen Chans Cox and Alani Latu as well as JUCO transfer Darrius Caldwell. This group wasn’t as talented or productive as the defensive line departures but there is still a glaring lack of experience among the returning players. Graham and Patterson will spend plenty of time this spring rebuilding the linebacking corps.
Find playmakers in the secondary
The theme for ASU spring practice should be fairly apparent by now. Much like the defensive line and linebacking corps, the secondary is in rough shape after three All-Pac-12 picks moved on to the NFL. Robert Nelson was a first-team All-Pac-12 coverman and Osahon Irabor was one of the biggest playmakers in the league from his cornerback position. Finally, Alden Darby must be replaced at safety, and he was also a first-team all-conference selection in 2013. Free safety Damarious Randall returns with the most experience (71 tackles), and Lloyd Carrington got plenty of snaps last year as well at cornerback. Otherwise, Graham is looking for guys who were contributors last year to develop into stars in 2014. Hybrid safety-backer Viliami Moeakiola, Ezekiel Bishop and Rashad Wadood all saw the field from a year ago and must step into bigger roles this year. Redshirt freshmen Marcus Ball and Jayme Otomewo could help out as well. Either way, this unit is lacking in star power, playmaking ability and leadership and that will need to be addressed in a big way this spring.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Kelly leads an offense with big-time talent from a playmaker standpoint (DJ Foster, Jaelen Strong), and the offensive line should be able to rebuild quickly. But this defense has just two starters back and lost eight All-Pac-12 selections from that side of the ball. This is why Todd Graham brought in five junior college front seven signees. Needless to say, Graham has his work cut out for him on defense, but his offense will be in great shape. The issue with a repeat as South Division champs may be the schedule this season - not the overhauled defensive depth chart. Crossover games with Stanford, at Washington and at Oregon State are challenging, and the round robin with USC, UCLA and Arizona will be even more difficult this season. Could this team challenge for a division championship? Certainly. But Graham will have to do serious work on his defense this spring for that to come to fruition this fall.
A new era has begun in Austin.
Like other coaching changes at Michigan, Tennessee and Florida State, Charlie Strong takes over a powerful but dormant blue-blood program. The Longhorns boast the most powerful athletic department in college athletics but it hasn't translated into wins, as the program grew stale under Mack Brown.
Strong brings a new staff with a renewed focus and energy on restoring the Texas brand name in the Lone Star State. The story at Texas is one that fans have heard before. This team appears to be extremely talented, yet very unmotivated.
So Strong enters his first spring on the 40 Acres with holes to plug (along the O-Line), questions to answer (along the D-Line) and an entirely new business culture to instill.
And he probably needs to find a quarterback as well.
|Sept. 20||Bye Week|
|Nov. 22||Bye Week|
Texas Longhorns 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 8-5 (7-2 Big 12)
Spring Practice Opens: March 18
Spring Game: April 19
Three Things to Watch in Texas' 2014 Spring Practice
Find depth under center
David Ash returns to camp but is one hard hit away from his career being over. Strong and co-offensive coordinators Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will need to be sure Texas has a backup plan in case Ash gets hurt or doesn't return to form. The best bet is on the latter. That leaves only sophomore Tyrone Swoopes this spring who can compete for legitimate snaps. Help could be en route as potential USC transfer Max Wittek — who has narrowed his list to Texas, Hawaii and Louisville — and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard would help bolster the depth chart immensely. (But that may not happen for a while.) The great news is that the Watson-Strong combo in Louisville built their offense around the power running game first and Teddy Bridgewater second. And with a loaded backfield of elite ball carriers, Texas could brag one of the nation's top running games, if it can…
Fill the holes along the offensive line
Three All-Big 12 blockers depart this roster in the form of left guard Trey Hopkins, left tackle Donald Hawkins and right guard Mason Walters. Those three played a lot of snaps in burnt orange uniforms and replacing them won't be easy. However, there is plenty talent and experience left on the roster. Dominic Espinosa is the leader of the bunch and will anchor the unit at the pivot, while other names like Sedrick Flowers, Kennedy Estelle and Kent Perkins look to grow into bigger roles. Wickline has a knack for pulling together excellent offensive lines and now he is working with what recruiting services think is the best roster in the league. With Wickline whipping this group into shape, and Strong obviously wanting to lean on his power running game, this unit has a chance to quickly define the first season of the new era of Longhorn football.
Develop playmakers up front on defense
Jackson Jeffcoat, Chris Whaley and Reggie Wilson are gone from the defensive line. And just like every other position on the roster, Texas has plenty of talented backups waiting their turn to vie for snaps. Cedric Reed anchors one end spot and needs to become the superstar some believe he can be, while Shiro Davis, Bryce Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett look to take the next step in their development. On the interior, Desmond Jackson, Malcom Brown, Hassan Ridgeway, Paul Boyette and Alex Norman will fight for playing time. This is a deep and talented group but Jeffcoat was a first-team All-Big 12 pick and Whaley had a knack for making big plays. New defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has superstar talent at linebacker and loads of experience returning in the secondary but likely wants to find guys who can make big plays along the defensive line.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Texas is in good shape, even if the hiring of Charlie Strong seemed like a lackluster maneuver. He is a no-nonsense coach who will grind his team into a well-oiled machine. He will rely on the running game and a stout defense to keep his teams in games. And with the overall level of athlete that fills the Texas two-deep, there is no reason for this team not to be extremely competitive in the Big 12. The schedule is not easy, in particular, in the non-conference early in the year. Road trips to Manhattan and Stillwater to face the hated Wildcats and Cowboys will make winning the Big 12 very difficult — but not impossible.
Other than the SEC, the Big 12 is the only league in the nation that brags two different national champions during the BCS Era.
Texas and Oklahoma dominate this league unlike two teams in any other league in the nation. Fifteen of the top 25 players hail from either Austin or Norman. But the rise of other programs like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas State during the last 16 years has made this league incredibly balanced and particularly deep — despite the turnover created by realignment.
The Big 12 also was the place to be during the BCS Era for quarterbacks. Four Heisman Trophy winners, seven BCS National Championship Game appearances from six different signal-callers, two national titles and a guy who set the record for most wins by a college quarterback say as much. Another one set the NCAA record for passing touchdowns, another topped 16,000 yards passing and 21 separate times someone threw for at least 4,000 yards.
The SEC has two 4,000-yard passing seasons in its eight-decade history. The SEC has perfected the "super quarterback" (Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel) but the Big 12 invented it.
Needless to say, trying to narrow this list down to 25 names was nearly impossible but here are Athlon Sports' Top 25 Big 12 players of the BCS Era. Frankly, it's a testament to the depth of the Big 12 that names like Earl Thomas, Quentin Griffin, Tavon Austin and Jeremy Maclin just missed the cut. The only stipulation is that you must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Vince Young, QB, Texas (2003-05)
Stats: 6,040 yds, 44 TDs, 28 INTs, 61.8%, 3,127 yds, 37 TDs
The Texas quarterback was the most unstoppable single force of the BCS Era. Just ask Kansas. Or Colorado. Or USC even. He earned Rose Bowl MVP honors following his ridiculous performance against Michigan to finish his sophomore season. It was a sign of things to come as he was named Big 12 Player of the Year in 2005. The Longhorns' offense averaged more than 50 points per game, he was a consensus All-American, led the Big 12 in passing efficiency, won the Davey O'Brien, Manning and Maxwell Awards while finishing second on the Heisman ballot. His smooth running skills led to an all-time Big 12 career record 6.8 yards per carry. And no one will ever forget his second Rose Bowl MVP performance against USC in the greatest game of the BCS Era, returning the national championship to Austin.
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma (2004-06)
Stats: 747 att., 4,045 yds, 41 TDs, 24 rec., 198 yds, TD
The BCS version of Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson was the three-year star from Palestine (Texas) High. A three-time, first-team All-Big 12 runner finished No. 2 in the Heisman Trophy voting as a true freshman in 2004. His 1,925 yards was an NCAA record for a true freshman and it earned him unanimous All-American honors. Despite missing chunks of time with injuries in each of his next two seasons, “All Day” Peterson still topped 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. His natural blend of power, speed, size and balance has never been duplicated during the BCS era. He rushed for 970 yards for the Vikings in 2011 in a season shortened by a torn ACL, the only time since high school that A.D. hasn’t rushed for at least 1,000 yards. He is the Sooners' No. 3 all-time leading rusher.
3. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska (2005-09)
That one name that stands above the rest is the Boy Named Suh. The star defensive tackle from Portland, Ore., won the 2009 Outland and Nagurski Trophies as well as the Lombardi, Bednarik and Willis Awards. He was the first defensive player to win AP Player of the Year honors since its inception in 1998 and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in ’09. That year Suh claimed the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award and he came just seconds shy of leading the Huskers to their first conference championship since 1999. He finished his career with 215 tackles, 57.0 for a loss, 24.0 sacks and six blocked kicks.
4. Ricky Williams, RB, Texas (1995-98)
Stats: 1,011 att., 6,279 yds, 72 TDs, 85 rec., 927 yds, 3 TDs
The power back from San Diego gave fans in Austin a preview of things to come when he rushed for 990 yards as a true freshman fullback. His two-year run as an upperclassman may never be matched, as he posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,800 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Williams was a two-time consensus All-American, a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, a two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and claimed the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Heisman Trophy as a senior. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher (since broken) and he is one of four players to ever score at least 70 rushing touchdowns.
5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (2008-11)
Stats: 10,366 yds, 78 TDs, 17 INTs, 67.1%, 2,254 yds, 33 TDs
Right alongside Andrew Luck will always be RG3, as the duo will forever be linked in football history. Griffin III beat out the Cardinal signal-caller to win the 2011 Heisman Trophy while leading Baylor to back-to-back bowl games. He led the NCAA in passing efficiency (189.5) — a Big 12 single-season record — and posted the fourth-best season in terms of total offense in conference history (4,992 yards, the most by any non-Texas Tech quarterback). He was a consensus All-American and won the Davey O'Brien and Manning Awards to go with his stiff-armed trophy. In fact, few players at any position in any league have meant more to their school than Griffin III. His impact on Baylor Bears football is immeasurable and could continue for decades. Had he been healthy for his entire career — he missed nine games in 2009 — his numbers might have been the best the BCS Era has ever seen.
6. Roy Williams, S, Oklahoma (1999-2001)
7. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma (2007-09)
Stats: 8,403 yds, 88 TDs, 16 INTs, 67.6%, 5 rush TDs
It didn't take long for the three-star recruit to establish himself as one of Oklahoma's best of all-time. He set a school record for yards in a half in the first half of his career and broke another school record for consecutive completions the next game (22) — still a Big 12 record and two shy of the NCAA mark (Tee Martin). By season's end, Bradford owned the NCAA's all-time freshman passing touchdowns record (since broken) with 36. He also won the Big 12 championship. The following season, Bradford led the Sooners to the BCS title game against Florida and beat out Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy for the Heisman Trophy. He won Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien honors as well. Bradford owns the NCAA record for career quarterback efficiency at 175.6 making him the most efficient quarterback in the history of the game. He also owns the NCAA mark for yards per play (8.7) and 86 of his 88 career touchdown passes came in just two seasons.
8. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech (2007-08)
Stats: 231 rec., 3,127 yds, 41 TDs
No player has been as productive in just two seasons as the Dallas, Texas native. As a redshirt freshman, Crabtree set NCAA records for receptions (134), yards (1,962) and touchdowns (22) and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout. He also won Big 12 Newcomer and Offensive Player of the Year honors and still owns the single-season league record for receptions and yards as just a freshman. He became the first player in NCAA history to win a second Biletnikoff Award when he caught 97 passes for 1,165 yards and 19 touchdowns for the 11-2 Red Raiders the next year. He finished fifth in the Heisman balloting in ’08 — one of just four wide receivers to finish in the top five during the BCS Era. Certainly, Mike Leach’s system inflated the two-time consensus All-American’s numbers, but the 6-foot-2, 215-pound wideout was — and still is — easily the most talented Texas Tech receiver in program history.
9. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (2006-09)
Stats: 13,253 yds, 112 TDs, 45 INTs, 70.3%, 1,571 yds, 20 TDs
Few players got more out of their abilities than McCoy. He was a two-time consensus All-American as a junior and senior, finishing second in the Heisman as a junior and third as a senior. McCoy was the 2009 Big 12 Player of the Year and claimed the Walter Camp, Maxwell, Manning, Unitas and Davey O'Brien Awards over his last two seasons. En route to the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, he produced 30 touchdowns and over 3,900 yards of total offense on the unbeaten Big 12 champs. He left school with more wins than any quarterback in NCAA history (since broken), owns the NCAA single-season record for completion percentage (76.7) and is the most efficient passer in Big 12 history (70.3 percent).
10. Terence Newman, CB, Kansas State (1999-2002)
Newman did a little bit of everything for Bill Snyder and Kansas State. He returned kicks and punts and even played some wide receiver. The lockdown cornerback was a two-time All-Big 12 pick, a unanimous All-American, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top DB and a first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2003. The 2002 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year also was a two-time Big 12 outdoor track champion in the 100 meters and the league champ in the indoor 60 meters.
11. Derrick Johnson, LB, Texas (2002-04)
The big-play machine from Waco, Texas, was one of the greatest linebackers in Longhorns program history. He finished his career with 458 tackles, 65.0 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, nine interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. Johnson was a three-time All-Big 12 selection and a two-time All-American. He capped his career with the Butkus, Lambert and Nagurski national awards as well as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors before being taken 15th overall by the Chiefs in the 2005 NFL Draft. He helped build a team that went on to win the national title the year after he departed and was a part of a Cotton and Rose Bowl championship teams.
12. Rocky Calmus, LB, Oklahoma (1998-01)
A three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a two-time All-American, Calmus is one of the most important Sooners of all-time. As a senior in 2001 he won the Butkus and Lambert Awards for the nation's top linebacker, but his play in '00 will go down in Oklahoma history. He led the vaunted Sooners defense to a perfect record and spearheaded arguably the greatest defensive performance of the BCS Era by holding Florida State to zero offensive points in the BCS National Championship Game. Calmus was a third-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
13. Darren Sproles, RB, Kansas State (2001-04)
Stats: 815 att., 4,979 yds, 45 TDs, 66 rec., 609 yds, 2 TDs, 1,224 ret yds, TD
Few players have ever been as valuable to their school as the diminutive Sproles was to Kansas State. The all-purpose dynamo rushed for at least 1,300 yards in three straight seasons and he helped lead the Wildcats to an improbable Big 12 championship in 2003. His 323 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns against Oklahoma in the title game will go down in history as arguably the greatest single-game performance by any Wildcat in history. The Sunflower State native finished fifth in the Heisman voting that year as his 2,735 all-purpose yards is the best single-season performance by any Big 12 running back during the BCS Era (fourth all-time). Sproles has proven himself by carving out an extremely productive niche in the NFL as an all-purpose talent.
14. Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas (2005-08)
The trophy case for the former Longhorn defensive end is packed with a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski, Lombardi, and Hendricks trophies. He was an All-American who played in 47 career games in Austin, posting 132 tackles, 38.0 tackles for a loss, 22.0 sacks and six forced fumbles in his tenure. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American saw his career slowed by a knee injury in 2007 or else his totals would be even higher. He was a contributing member in all 13 games of the 2005 BCS national championship run and was taken 13th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
15. Tommie Harris, DT, Oklahoma (2001-03)
Harris was a dominant interior lineman for three of the better Sooners teams of the BCS Era. He helped lead his team to the BCS championship game in 2003 while claiming the Lombardi and Willis Trophies. He was a two-time consensus All-American selection as the Sooners went 35-6 during his three-year tenure. Oklahoma won the Cotton and Rose Bowls before losing in the Sugar Bowl in his final season. Harris was downright unblockable in Norman and was the 14th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
16. Cedric Benson, RB, Texas (2001-04)
Stats: 1,112 att., 5,540 yds, 64 TDs, 69 rec., 621 yds, 3 TDs
The Longhorns' running back is one of the most productive in history. He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting two separate times and is one of only six players to score at least 60 rushing touchdowns. The Midland (Texas) Lee star posted four seasons of at least 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns while in Austin — one of just eight players in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard seasons. He won the ’04 Doak Walker and carried more times (1,112) than any Big 12 back in history.
17. Derrick Strait, DB, Oklahoma (2000-03)
As the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Strait helped lead an undefeated (13-0) Sooners team to the BCS National Championship as a freshman. By his senior season, Strait had led Oklahoma back to the BCS national title game and was recognized nationally with the Thorpe and Nagurski Trophies as the nation’s top defensive player and top defensive back. Strait also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 and finished his career with 14 interceptions returned for a Big 12-record 417 yards and three touchdowns. Strait was selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
18. Jammal Brown, OL, Oklahoma (2001-04)
Starting his career as a defensive tackle, Brown exploded onto the national scene as a blocker as a sophomore. He helped lead the Sooners to the BCS National Championship Game twice and was recognized as the nation’s top offensive lineman in 2004 when he was awarded the Outland Trophy. The consensus All-American paved the way for Adrian Peterson’s NCAA record-setting freshman season. Brown was the 13th overall pick by the Saints in the 2005 NFL Draft and also was awarded the Jim Parker Trophy as the nation’s top offensive lineman before he left college.
19. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (2009-11)
Stats: 252 rec., 3,564 yds, 40 TDs, 136 rush, TD
Similarly to Crabtree, Blackmon’s numbers are inflated due to an elite offensive system. But make no mistake, he is the one of the greatest pass-catchers to ever play. He posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns, earning consensus All-American honors twice. The Ardmore (Okla.) Plainview product also became just the second player in NCAA history to claim two Biletnikoff Awards. Blackmon won Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2010 and capped his illustrious career with a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl MVP performance against Stanford. At a program with a long track record of elite wideouts, Blackmon has to be considered the best. He is one of just four wide receivers to finish in the top five for the Heisman Trophy (5th, 2010) during the BCS Era.
20. Chase Coffman, TE, Missouri (2005-08)
Stats: 247 rec., 2,659 yds, 30 TDs
It didn’t take long for Tigers fans to see what they had in Coffman as he earned first-team Freshman All-American honors in 2005. He then broke Mizzou tight end receiving records with 58 receptions, 638 yards and nine touchdowns as just a sophomore. After two straight All-Big 12 seasons, Coffman claimed the John Mackey Award as a senior as the nation’s top tight end after posting 90 receptions, 987 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008. Missouri went 22-6 over his final two seasons in what many believe to be the best two-year run in program history. And the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Coffman was a huge part of that success.
21. Dat Nguyen, LB, Texas A&M (1995-98)
Arguably the most decorated Texas A&M defender, Nguyen was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and his 517 career tackles are an Aggies record. His career in College Station culminated in 1998 with a historic and adorned senior season. Nguyen was named the Bednarik, Lombardi and Lambert trophy winner and earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors as well. He led Texas A&M to the only Big 12 championship it would ever win that year as well — its last conference crown of any kind. The unanimous All-American was a third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2004.
22. Dominic Raiola, C, Nebraska (1998-00)
At a school known for its big uglies, Raiola is the Huskers’ best of the BCS Era. He was the first freshman O-lineman to start since 1991 when he took the field in '98. The following two seasons he set school records for knockdowns. As a junior, Raiola was the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation’s top center, was an Outland Finalist and earned consensus All-American honors before leaving school early for the NFL. The Huskers were 31-7 during his three seasons and won their last conference championship with Raiola leading the way in ‘99.
23. Josh Heupel, QB, Oklahoma (1999-2000)
Stats: 7,242 yds, 53 TDs, 30 INTs, 63.8%, 43 yds, 12 TDs
He wasn't the most talented quarterback to play in Norman but he might have the best understanding of the position. He won AP Player of the Year and Big 12 Player of the Year honors, was a consensus All-American, earned the Walter Camp Trophy, finished second in the Heisman and led the NCAA in completion percentage (64.7) in 2000. More importantly, he led Oklahoma to arguably the biggest win in program history over Florida State in the BCS championship game in 2000. He posted back-to-back seasons of at least 3,400 yards passing and 27 total touchdowns.
24. Brad Smith, QB, Missouri (2002-05)
Stats: 8,799 yds, 56 TDs, 33 INTs, 56.3%, 4,289 yds, 45 TDs
Smith is one of only five players in the 6,000-4,000 club after becoming the first player to accomplish the feat back in 2005. He is arguably the most dynamic playmaker in the history of the program and was nearly unstoppable in the backfield. His 799 rushing attempts are fifth all-time in Big 12 history and his 4,289 yards rushing are fourth while his 45 touchdowns rank ninth all-time. All of this on the ground from a guy who also ranks ninth all-time in passing yards, sixth in attempts (1,484) and seventh in completions (835)..
25. Justin Blalock, OT, Texas (2003-06)
The star blocker for the Horns helped return Texas to the promised land by paving the way for Vince Young on the 2005 BCS title team. He was an absurd four-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and earned Big 12 Lineman of the Year honors in 2006 as a senior. He was a consensus All-American that year and was a second-round pick of the Falcons in 2007. He led the way for some of the greatest offenses in Texas and Big 12 history.
The Next 10:
The Tulsa, Okla., native played in all 12 games for the 2000 BCS National Champions as a freshman. He was a three-year starter for the Sooners after that, posting 117 tackles and 19.0 TFL and earning the Butkus and Bednarik Awards while leading Oklahoma back to the BCS national title game in 2003. He was a two-time All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and was a second-round pick of the Lions in the 2004 NFL Draft. Oklahoma was 48-6 during Lehman’s four years and won two Big 12 titles.
27. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (2008-11)
Stats: 9,260 yds, 75 TDs, 27 INTs, 69.5%, 1 rush TD
The Pokes quarterback set all the important school passing records in 2011 and then returned to Stillwater in '12 and surpassed his previous benchmarks. His 4,742 yards passing in 2011 is the best single-season by a Big 12 quarterback not from Texas Tech. He led Oklahoma State to its first-ever Big 12 title and first-ever BCS bowl win. His 69.5 percent completion rate is third all-time in Big 12 history and he ranks eighth in league history in passing yards and ninth in touchdowns in just two seasons as a starter. Weeden went on to be a first-round draft pick of the Browns in the 2012 NFL Draft.
28. Casey Hampton, DL, Texas (1996, 98-00)
From 1997-2000, Hampton started 37 straight games for the Horns and finished with 54 tackles for a loss — fifth all-time in Big 12 history. He posted an absurd 329 tackles from his line position and forced nine fumbles. He was a consensus All-American, two-time, first-team All-Big 12 pick and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2000. The All-Pro Super Bowl champion was taken in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft with the 19th overall pick.
29. Jermaine Greshman, TE, Oklahoma (2006-09)
Stats: 111 rec., 1,629 yds, 26 TDs
Had the 6-foot-6, 260-pound star tight end stayed healthy and played his fourth season at Oklahoma, Gresham likely would have been the best player at his position during the BCS era. He scored 25 touchdowns in two seasons as the starter from 2007-08 — just eight shy of the NCAA tight end record (33). His All-American junior season features Sooners' tight end records for yards (950) and touchdowns (14) — one shy of Mark Clayton’s all-time single-season record regardless of position. He was arguably the top playmaker for a Big 12 champion and BCS National Championship runner-up that year as well. His season-ending knee injury prior to the start of his 2009 campaign left those in Norman wondering what could have been.
30. Cyril Richardson, OL, Baylor (2010-13)
31. Michael Huff, S, Texas (2002-05)
The superstar safety from Texas was a Freshman All-American in 2002 before earning back-to-back first-team All-Big 12 honors as a junior and senior. Huff was a unanimous All-American on the 2005 BCS National Championship team and was named the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back. He posted 87 tackles, 9.0 for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles on the historic ’05 squad. Huff was the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
34. Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M (2007-10)
After an up and down but promising first two seasons, Miller exploded onto the scene as a junior in 2009. He led the nation in sacks with 17.0 and posted 21.0 tackles for loss for a team that lost seven games. As a senior, despite being slowed by an ankle injury, Miller posted 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss en route to the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker for a team that won nine games. Miller was a two-time, first-team All-American and All-Big 12 pick and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos.
35. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma (2008-11)
Gus Malzahn had quite a first year at Auburn.
Not only did he become just the third first-year coach to win the SEC championship, he also produced the greatest turnaround in SEC history. From winless to within seconds of a BCS national championship doesn't happen every day.
Essentially, Malzahn is now a victim of his own success as anything less than a repeat will appear lackluster to a rabid fan base like Auburn. Nick Marshall returns with a talented set of receivers around him as he enters spring as a seasoned veteran under center. And the defensive depth chart is stacked with rising stars, in particular, all over the front seven.
But this team almost has to take a step back in 2014. Offensive superstars Tre Mason and Greg Robinson have moved on to the NFL while cult heroes Dee Ford and Chris Davis are gone from the defense. Other holes at defensive line, in the secondary and fullback are concerning as well.
Auburn could be the top challenger to Alabama in the SEC West this fall but before Malzahn leads his team into what appears to be a brutal schedule, the Tigers must address some needs in spring camp.
|Sept. 13||Bye Week|
|Oct. 18||Bye Week|
Auburn Tigers 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 12-2 (7-1 SEC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 18
Spring Game: April 19
Three Things to Watch in Auburn's 2014 Spring Practice
Establish balance on offense
Running backs Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne were excellent backups to Tre Mason a year ago and should be able to carry the offensive load this fall. And no, Malzahn will never throw the ball 50 times per game. But developing quarterback Nick Marshall as a passer in an effort to find some balance could make this team virtually unstoppable on offense. There are a lot of names in the receiving corps but no elite playmakers other than possibly Sammie Coates — which is why newcomers like D'haquille Williams and Stanton Truitt are already drawing first-team reps. Williams has the ability to stretch the field with his big frame while Truitt provides speed and elusiveness from the slot. Of course, replacing uber-athlete Greg Robinson at left tackle to protect Marshall's blindside would go a long way in helping to create this desired offensive balance.
Develop the youth up front on defense
Dee Ford, Nosa Eguae, Kenneth Carter and Craig Sanders are all gone from the defensive line. While losing four contributors, including a first-team All-SEC playmaker, would hurt any defense, Malzahn and coordinator Ellis Johnson shouldn't be too worried about the front seven. Gabe Wright anchors the line but also will be asked to provide an example for his younger peers this spring. Rising true sophomores Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel have elite ability and upside but need to be groomed as starters in their first full offseason. Filling a hole left by the steady Jake Holland at linebacker will also be critical but most of the last season's depth chart returns — including Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost. This unit may take some lumps this spring and into the fall as some of these players develop, but there's no disputing their talent and potential. Should they become all-league players this fall, Auburn could actually be improved on defense by season's end.
Organize the secondary
Two safeties, Ryan White (54 tackles) and Ryan Smith (68 tackles), have moved on and star cornerback Chris Davis graduated as well. The Tigers' secondary is arguably the biggest area of concern for Auburn this spring and after injuries moved the depth chart around last fall, Malzahn is likely looking to settle on a rotation. Jonathon Mincy returns to one corner spot but depth needs to be developed around him. Robenson Therezie and Jermaine Whitehead got plenty of experience a year ago and ideally will become one of the SEC's better safety tandems. Elsewhere, look for former running back Johnathan Ford and early enrollee Derrick Moncrief to get looks while both Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones recover from injuries. There were a lot of moving parts in this department for Auburn last year and organizing the depth chart is key this spring.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11
The Tigers literally went from worst to first and won't sneak up on anyone in 2014. Teams will be more focused on stopping Marshall and the Auburn defensive front is going to be very young. This roster's talent is much closer to the 12-2 record of last year than the 0-8 team from two years ago so optimism should fill Jordan-Hare Stadium. This team is an SEC contender without a doubt, but the Tigers face a nasty schedule this fall befitting a former conference champion. Road games at Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are brutal, as is a trip to The Little Apple to face Kansas State in non-conference action. Toss in home games with LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M and Auburn will be hard-pressed to win the West once again. However, as we all learned last season, strange things can happen down on The Plains.
There is no secret what is wrong with the Florida Gators. The offense has been horrendous.
Florida scored 14 rushing touchdowns and 11 passing touchdowns a year ago en route to what is arguably the worst season in school history on the football field. During the 2008 national title season, the Gators scored 75 offensive touchdowns — 42 of which came from Tim Tebow alone. In fact, Florida scored 204 offensive touchdowns from 2007-09.
Certainly, injuries ravaged this unit along both the offensive line and among the skill players. It began before the season and continued for six painful months of ineptitude. But a change had to made and Will Muschamp hired his third offensive coordinator in four years.
Enter Kurt Roper.
The former Duke coordinator has plenty of SEC experience but no one on this current Gators roster resembles anyone named Manning. The new-look coaching staff's first order of business is to energize the offense and create a more balanced team overall.
The Gators have plenty of talent — the No. 2-ranked roster in the nation — and will be nasty on defense once again. But if this offense doesn't take major strides in 2014, not only will Florida not compete for an SEC title but Muschamp could find himself out of work.
|Sept. 27||Bye Week|
|Oct. 25||Bye Week|
|Nov. 22||Eastern Kentucky|
Florida Gators 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 4-8 (3-5 SEC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 19
Spring Game: April 12
Three Things to Watch in Florida's 2014 Spring Practice
Complete a forward pass
It helps when all of your quarterbacks are healthy, of course, but Roper has his work cut out for him in terms of developing a quarterback. A big reason why Roper was hired as the Gators' new coordinator is because he honed his knowledge of signal-callers and the passing game under QB-guru David Cutcliffe for many years. Jeff Driskel is back and appears to be healthy but will have to take it easy while young gun true freshman Will Grier has been drawing a lot of ink from those who follow the team closely. Driskel is the odds-on favorite to start out of the gate but fans can bet that Roper won't have any loyalty to the incumbent. At wide receiver, the return of Andre Debose, the maturation of Demarcus Robinson and the continued development of players like Quinton Dunbar also will help as Roper installs his up-tempo shotgun passing attack. The new coordinator has brought a renewed energy to the Florida offense but there is still a lot of work left to be done before this team can brag about any sort of offensive prowess.
Rebuild the offensive line
Injuries tend to be relatively fluky and no position on this team was more impacted by that in 2013 than the O-line. Two of the only stable names along the line last year, Jonotthan Harrison and Jon Halapio, have both moved on as well as other contributors Ian Silberman and Kyle Koehne. There is a lot returning in terms of overall talent but this unit needs to stabilize and, more importantly, stay healthy. Star left tackle D.J. Humphries played six games, fellow tackle Chaz Green missed the entire season, Tyler Moore played in just six games, and Trenton Brown made just five starts. Max Garcia played both guard and tackle last year and is the only returning player with more than six starts from a year ago. If Roper wants to develop a passing game and keep his quarterbacks healthy, this unit must grow together quickly this spring.
Reload at the back end of the defense
Jaylen Watkins (52 tackles) and Cody Riggs (51) were veteran players who had a lot of SEC snaps under their belts. Both are gone and that leaves a void at the back end of what should still be a very talented secondary. The cornerback unit on this team is among the best in the nation despite the loss of Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, but someone needs to develop in center field. Brian Poole got plenty of playing time last year (32 tackles) and Keanu Neal, Jabari Gorman and Marcus Maye will step into bigger roles as well. There really isn't any glaring weakness on the Gators' defense but replacing two veteran leaders on the back end might be the top order of business for a unit that is loaded with elite prospects on every level.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 6-8
More so than most teams in the nation, Florida fans can't wait to forget about 2013 and are welcoming the Playoff Era with open arms. Ideally, Kurt Roper will be the saving grace for embattled head coach Will Muschamp. The current Gators regime has proven it can recruit in a big way and has proven it can get to a BCS bowl but it also lost to an FCS team that didn't complete a pass. And Muschamp doesn't get any favors with Alabama and LSU on the crossover slate this fall. But this team is entirely too talented not to return to the postseason and the rest of the SEC East — Mizzou, Georgia, South Carolina — could be taking small steps back in '14. This team will be in games and have lots of chances to win but will need to stay healthy, find balance on offense and finish games with a killer instinct if it wants to compete in the East.
The SEC is the king of the college football world. In particular, it dominated the BCS Era.
The Southeastern Conference won nine of the 16 BCS national titles and four of the last six Heisman Trophies. Additionally, the SEC also claims five Thorpe Award winners, five Maxwell Awards, four Outland Trophies, four Rimington Trophies, three Doak Walker Awards, three Bednarik Awards, three Butkus Awards, three Lombardi Awards, two Nagurski Awards, two Walter Camp Awards and one Biletnikoff Award during the BCS Era.
Needless to say, there is no shortage of elite NCAA Hall of Fame-caliber players to roll through the SEC during the last 16 seasons. As you can imagine, trying to narrow this list down to 25 names was nearly impossible but here are Athlon Sports' Top 25 SEC players of the BCS Era. The only stipulation is that you must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
Editorial note: I've made the decision to exclude the SEC's first John Mackey Award winner Aaron Hernandez for obvious reasons.
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida (2006-09)
Stats: 9,285 yds, 88 TDs, 16 INTs, 66.4%, 2,947 yds, 57 TDs
Four years of huge statistics makes him the all-time SEC leader in total yards, total touchdowns (145), rushing touchdowns and passing efficiency (170.8). He won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 as well as the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell Awards when he set an NCAA record with 55 total touchdowns and 4,181 yards of total offense (since broken). He won the SEC Player of the Year, Manning and Maxwell Awards the following year in which he led Florida to its second national championship in three years. Tebow is one of only five players in SEC history to rush for 20 TDs in a season and his 57 career rushing touchdowns are an SEC record. He fell one game shy in 2009 of playing in — and likely winning — three national titles in four years. His speech following the loss to Ole Miss in '08 has been immortalized in Gator football lore and his cult following has only grown since leaving Gainesville.
2. Patrick Willis, LB, Ole Miss (2003-06)
The unheralded Tennessee native was overlooked by most of the SEC big boys and made them all pay by becoming the league’s best linebacker of the BCS Era. Rising from utter poverty to the best LB in the nation, Willis claimed the Butkus and Lambert Awards in 2006. He posted 265 tackles and 21.0 for loss over his final two seasons, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and All-American status as a senior. He was taken with the 11th overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft by San Francisco.
3. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (2005-07)
Stats: 785 att., 4,590 yds, 41 TDs, 46 rec., 365 yds, 2 TDs
When it comes to pure breakaway speed and big-play ability, few can match Run-DMC’s talent. The North Little Rock prospect finished second in Heisman balloting in back-to-back seasons, coming up just short to Troy Smith and Tim Tebow in 2006 and '07 respectively. McFadden won the Doak Walker and SEC Offensive Player of the Year awards in both consensus All-American seasons. His 4,590 yards is No. 2 all-time in SEC history to only the great Herschel Walker. He helped lead Arkansas to the SEC Championship Game in 2006 but came up short against the eventual national champion Florida Gators.
4. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (2012-13)
Stats: 7,820 yds, 63 TDs, 22 INTs, 68.9%, 2,169 yds, 30 TDs
Manziel was one of the most unstoppable forces with the ball in his hands. He set the SEC single-season total offense record (5,116) by a large margin during his Heisman Trophy redshirt freshman campaign. His encore performance of 4,873 yards in his second season gives him the two most productive seasons in SEC history. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC selection, won the Manning and Davey O’Brien Awards and earned two bowl MVP trophies in the Cotton and Chick-fil-A Bowls. In just two seasons, his 9,989 yards tied Eli Manning exactly for eighth all-time in league history for total offense and his 93 total touchdowns rank fifth all-time. He is the all-time SEC leader in completion percentage (68.9 percent) and is one of only two players in league history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season (Tim Couch). Six conference losses and some injuries slowed the end of his short career, but Manziel’s excitement, improvisational skills, production and big-play ability are second to none in the storied history of SEC football. Few players ever burst onto the SEC scene quite like Johnny Manziel — despite the horrendous nickname — and few enjoyed the spotlight more.
5. Eric Berry, DB, Tennessee (2007-09)
It didn’t take long for Berry to make his name known as an SEC defender. In 2007, he posted a school record with 222 INT return yards on five picks, led all SEC freshmen with 86 tackles and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. He then returned seven interceptions for 265 yards as a sophomore en route to his first of two unanimous All-American seasons. He also was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year that year. As a junior, Berry returned to win the Thorpe and Jack Tatum Awards and ended his collegiate career with the the most interception return yards in SEC history. Used on offense and special teams as well, Berry’s superior athletic ability made him the fifth overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. For his career, Berry finished with 245 tackles, 17.5 for loss and 14 interceptions.
6. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama (2010-13)
Stats: 9,019 yds, 77 TDs, 15 INTs, 66.9%, 3 rush TDs
He gets knocked for his vanilla offensive system, extraordinary head coach and talented supporting cast but McCarron is Alabama’s greatest quarterback and is arguably the most successful player in SEC history this side of Tebow (who also had a great coach and elite supporting cast). He earned three BCS National Championships rings — two as the starting quarterback — and is the most prolific passer in school history. He earned BCS title game MVP honors as a sophomore before leading the nation in passing efficiency and winning another title as a junior (175.3). His 77-to-15 TD-to-INT ratio is one of the best in NCAA history as he finished as the No. 4-most efficient passer in SEC history (162.5). McCarron was a Heisman Trophy runner-up, the Maxwell and Unitas Award winner and finished 36-4 as a starter in his career — never missing a game in his four-year, 53-game career. Having Katherine Webb on the resume doesn’t hurt either.
7. Cam Newton, QB, Florida/Auburn (2008, '10)
Stats: 2,908 yds, 30 TDs, 7 INTs, 65.4%, 1,586 yds, 24 TDs
Newton's career is an intriguing one that could have been one of the greatest of all-time had he played more than just one season at Auburn. He was essentially kicked out of school, intertwined with a recruiting scandal and left early for the NFL. Yet, his one season in 2010 was one of the best in history. He single-handedly carried Auburn to a BCS title, won the Heisman Trophy as well as Davey O'Brien, Archie Manning, Maxwell, Walter Camp and AP Player of the Year honors. He set (since broken) the SEC’s single-season record for total offense with 4,327 yards and is one of just five players ever to rush for 20 TDs in an SEC season. Had he played more than one season, Newton could have challenged Tebow as arguably the best player to play in the SEC during the BCS Era.
8. David Pollack, DL, Georgia (2001-04)
The Bulldogs' defensive end is the most decorated defensive lineman of the BCS Era. Pollack is a three-time, first-team All-SEC and All-American, twice landing consensus All-American honors. He won the SEC Player of the Year award twice (2002, '04), as well as the Bednarik, Hendricks (twice), Lombardi and Lott Awards. He and roommate David Greene helped lead Georgia to its first SEC title (2002) in two decades. His highlight-reel plays — namely against South Carolina — and UGA all-time sack record (36.0) makes him arguably the greatest defensive lineman of the BCS Era.
9. Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU (2004-07)
The local kid from Baton Rouge won everything there is to win in the college ranks. He helped lead LSU to an SEC and BCS National Championship in 2007 while earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He also claimed the Outland, Nagurski and Lott Trophies as well as the Lombardi Award — becoming the first LSU Tiger to win any of those prestigious awards. Dorsey also was ninth in the Heisman voting in his record-setting 2007 campaign. He was a two-time All-American and finished with 179 tackles, 27.0 for a loss and 13 sacks. He started 31 of his 52 career games and was drafted fifth overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.
10. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama (2009-12)
No offensive lineman during the BCS Era was more decorated than the Memphis native. He started at right guard and earned freshman All-American honors for the 2009 BCS champs. He slid out to left tackle by 2011 and won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman for the 2011 BCS champs. Jones then manned the pivot and won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center for the 2012 BCS champs. The two-time consensus All-American won three national titles at three different positions while graduating with a Master’s Degree and 4.0 GPA. Jones might not be the most physically gifted player to ever play in the SEC but he pretty much dominated college.
11. Percy Harvin, WR, Florida (2006-08)
Stats: 133 rec., 1,929 yds, 13 TDs, 1,852 rush, 19 TDs
If Peter Warrick invented the all-purpose position in the late '90s, Harvin glorified it in the mid-2000s. A true dual-threat offensive talent, Harvin burst onto the scene as the SEC Freshman of the Year. He played a key role in the Gators' 2006 BCS National Championship run, totaling 82 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown against Ohio State. He capped his college career with 14 touches for 171 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game against Oklahoma. Few have combined speed, strength, production and winning like Harvin did. He nearly topped 2,000 yards both rushing and receiving, and, if not for nagging injuries his entire career, the Virginia Beach prospect might have been more decorated nationally.
12. Chris Samuels, OT, Alabama (1996-99)
The massive 'Bama blocker earned every award possible for an offensive tackle. Samuels claimed the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy and earned the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman in 1999 as a senior. He helped Alabama to its first SEC championship since 1992 and was a consensus All-American. He entered the starting lineup during his freshman season and proceeded to start 42 straight games — without allowing a sack. Samuels was picked third overall by the Redskins in the 2000 NFL Draft and went to six Pro Bowls.
13. Al Wilson, LB, Tennessee (1995-98)
Wilson isn’t as decorated as some of his BCS brethren but few players had as big an impact on their team as the Vols middle linebacker. He helped lead Tennessee to two SEC championships and the historic and unblemished 1998 national title. He was a consensus All-American, a consummate teammate on and off the field and was the 31st overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
14. John Henderson, DT, Tennessee (1998-01)
As a freshman, Henderson helped the Vols capture the 1998 BCS National Championship. By the time he had reached the end of his senior season, Henderson had posted 165 tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss and 20.5 sacks — a huge number for an interior defensive lineman — in two first-team All-American seasons. The monstrosity of a man is one of just five defensive players during the BCS Era to claim the historic Outland Trophy and was taken with the ninth overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
15. Patrick Peterson, DB, LSU (2008-10)
The supremely gifted Peterson played in every game as a true freshman for the defending BCS champs. One of the most versatile, impactful athletes in the nation, Peterson scored on both defense and special teams throughout his career. He was a dynamic return man who brought a rare explosiveness to the game and led the SEC with 418 punt return yards. As a junior, Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year while being recognized as an All-American for a second time. He was taken fifth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft and finished his career with 135 tackles, seven interceptions, four return touchdowns and 1,356 total return yards.
16. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (2009-11)
Stats: 540 att., 3,130 yds, 35 TDs 68 rec., 730 yds, 7 TDs, 720 ret. yds, TD
T-Rich is one of the most physically imposing running backs to ever play the game. The Pensacola product only started for one season but became the only SEC running back to rush for 20 touchdowns in a season until Tre Mason scored 23 times in 2013. Richardson won two national titles and is one of the rarest combinations of size, speed and agility. His 1,679 yards in the 2011 national title season are second to only McFadden (1,830) among all SEC backs during the BCS Era and is an Alabama single-season record. He was the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and finished his collegiate career by earning consensus All-American recognition, winning the Doak Walker Award and SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting in '11.
17. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (2009-11)
One of the best pure covermen in the history of the SEC, Claiborne was a lock-down corner for LSU in his two full seasons as the starter. He developed a reputation as a sophomore with five picks and 37 tackles en route to All-SEC honors. After that, no one threw at him. Despite teams staying away from him and a teammate getting more Heisman hype, Claiborne was named the nation’s top defensive back in 2011 as the recipient of the Thorpe Award and was a unanimous All-American. He helped LSU to a perfect 13-0 regular-season mark, an SEC title, was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year as his Tigers earned a berth in the BCS national title game. He was taken sixth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
18. Champ Bailey, CB, Georgia (1996-98)
From a versatility standpoint, few have ever been as explosive and dynamic as Champ Bailey. He was a lockdown cornerback, an elite return man and a dangerous wide receiver. His senior season — the only year he played during the BCS Era — Bailey posted 52 tackles and three interceptions on defense and caught 47 passes for 744 yards and five scores on offense. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC pick and won the Nagurski Trophy in 1998 as the nation’s top defensive player. The consensus All-American finished seventh in the Heisman voting in '98 and he was the seventh overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
19. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (2010-2013)
Stats: 262 rec., 3,759 yards, 24 TDs
No player in the history of the SEC has had a more productive career or single season than Matthews. Matthews has caught more passes (262) for more yards (3,759) than anyone in SEC history and it’s not really even close. Earl Bennett is No. 2 in receptions (236) and Terrence Edwards is No. 2 in yards (3,093). No player in the SEC has ever caught 100 passes and Matthews posted 112 receptions as a senior with mediocre quarterback play. His 1,477-yard season is third in league history trailing only Josh Reed (1,740) and Alshon Jeffery (1,517). He helped the Dores to three straight bowl games and was the singular focus of every defense he faced yet still managed to destroy every major SEC receiving record.
20. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia (2008-10)
Stats: 166 rec., 2,619 yds, 23 TDs, 105 rush
Based on raw talent alone, Green is the one of the greatest receivers to play the game. In a league not known for big passing numbers, Green led the SEC in yards and touchdowns as a true freshman. His rare blend of size, speed, vertical ability and red zone ball skills makes him one of the game’s most uncoverable targets. One of the best three-year starts to an NFL career (260 rec., 3,833 yards, 29 TD) justifies his No. 4 overall draft status in 2011, his lofty recruiting ranking in 2008 and his place among the SEC’s best.
21. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama (2007-09)
His fall from grace aside, McClain was one of the BCS’s great defensive leaders. He started eight games and posted 75 tackles as a freshman before earning some All-American honors as a sophomore (95 tackles). As the unquestioned heartbeat of the Alabama defense, McClain led the Crimson Tide back to the BCS promised land with a perfect senior season. He posted 105 tackles, 14.5 for loss, four sacks and two interceptions. He earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, was a unanimous All-American and won both the Butkus and Lambert Awards. He was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
22. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (2010-13)
Stats: 13,166 yds, 121 TDs, 41 INTs, 62.3%, 396 yds, 16 TDs
When it comes to statistics, no SEC player in history was more productive than Murray. He owns the SEC record for passing yards and touchdown passes. His 137 total touchdowns trail only Tebow and his 13,562 yards of total offense bested Tebow’s record by a large margin (12,232). He is one of only three Georgia quarterbacks to beat Florida in three straight seasons and he posted at least 3,000 yards passing in four consecutive seasons. He is No. 1 all-time in SEC history with 921 completions and is No. 2 all-time with 1,478 attempts. He started 52 consecutive games, missing only the final two games of his senior season. His final record was 35-17 with two SEC East titles and the lack of a conference championship is the only missing piece to Murray’s otherwise sterling resume.
23. Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss (2000-03)
Stats: 10,119 yds, 81 TDs, 35 INTs, 60.8%, 5 rush TDs
The third and final Manning to play quarterback in the SEC elevated Ole Miss to its highest levels of success during the BCS Era. He claimed the Unitas and Maxwell Awards, along with SEC Player of the Year honors and finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2003. He owns the Ole Miss single-season records for yards (3,600) and touchdowns (31) and is eighth all-time in SEC history with over 10,000 yards passing. He is clearly one of this generation's greatest talents and of all the other greats to play in the SEC, Manning might have had the least talented supporting cast. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
24. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama (2008-10)
Stats: 572 att., 3,261 yds, 42 TDs, 60 rec., 670 yds, 4 TDs
Ingram is the only Heisman Trophy winner in Alabama’s storied history and he might not have been the best back on his own team. From Flint, Michigan, originally, Ingram led Bama to the national championship in 2009 with 1,658 yards and 17 scores. It was his only 1,000-yard season while in Tuscaloosa. No Bama player has scored more rushing touchdowns than Ingram and his 2009 Heisman Trophy campaign was the third-best among all SEC backs during the BCS Era (McFadden, Richardson). The SEC Offensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American was a first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints when he left school early in 2010.
25. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (2011-12)
The supremely talented Joeckel helped lead the Aggies from the Big 12 to the SEC seamlessly due in large part to his blocking. In three full seasons, Joeckel started all 39 possible career games at left tackle for Texas A&M. He won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best lineman and earned the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the SEC’s top blocker. He was an all-conference pick in two different conferences and a consensus All-American. The TAMU star was the No. 2 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2013 NFL Draft.
26. Mark Barron, S, Alabama (2008-11)
The superstar safety was a three-time All-SEC pick, two-time All-American and helped the Crimson Tide win two BCS National Championships. (2009, '11). After three straight seasons with at least 68 tackles, Barron finished his career with 235 tackles, 13.0 for loss, 5.0 sacks, 12 interceptions and 34 passes defended. Many coaches called him the best player in the SEC in 2011 on what many consider the best defense of the BCS Era. The hard-hitting Alabama safety was taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
27. Shawn Andrews, OT, Arkansas (2001-03)
A two-time consensus All-American, Andrews was an Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award finalist in 2003. He earned back-to-back Jacobs Blocking Awards as the SEC’s top lineman in 2002-03 — the only SEC player to win the award twice during the BCS Era and the first since Florida’s Jason Odom in 1994-95. Andrews was the No. 16 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft by the Eagles and was invited to three Pro Bowls during his seven years in the NFL.
28. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (2010-13)
Few players can boast both a Butkus Award and a national championship — let alone two national championships and freshman All-American honors. Mosley posted a career-high 108 tackles and 9.0 tackles for loss and came up one play shy of winning back-to-back SEC titles and possibly a third BCS title. He collected 318 career tackles and 23.0 tackles for loss in his decorated and illustrious career in Tuscaloosa. Alabama went 46-7 during Mosley’s time on campus and was ranked No. 1 in the nation in all four seasons.
29. Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn (2001-04)
The Tigers coverman started 10 games as a freshman, earning Freshman All-American honors. He was a mainstay on the outside of Auburn’s defense for four years and it culminated in a historic 2004 campaign. Rogers started 44 games, registered 182 tackles and picked-off seven passes in his career. Rogers was named the Thorpe Award winner, an All-American and helped Auburn to a perfect 13-0 record, SEC and Sugar Bowl championship. He was the ninth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
30. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama (2006-08)
Smith was a five-star prospect from Birmingham before dominating the SEC for three seasons at Alabama. As a junior, Smith won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman and was a consensus All-American. He left school early or else would have been a part of the 2009 BCS championship team. Still, Smith gets credit for helping to rebuild Alabama and was a two-time, first-team All-SEC selection. The Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner was selected with the sixth overall pick by the Bengals in the 2009 NFL Draft.
31. David Greene, QB, Georgia (2001-04)
Stats: 11,528 yds, 72 TDs, 32 INTs, 59.0%, 5 rush TDs
Greene helped restore the winning ways in Athens and it started in his first season as the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2001. He led the Dawgs to their first SEC title in two decades as a sophomore and was named an All-SEC passer in each of his upperclass seasons. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with 42 wins in his career. He was the SEC’s all-time leading passer until Murray broke his record in 2013.
32. DeMeco Ryans, LB, Alabama (2002-05)
The former three-star recruit outperformed all expectations for the Crimson Tide. In 2005 as a senior, he was a unanimous All-American, won the Lott Trophy and was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Ryans finished with 76 tackles and five sacks in his final season and just missed winning the Nagurski, Butkus and Draddy Awards as well. The Crimson Tide tackler was a second-round pick in 2006 by the Texans.
33. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia (2011-12)
Jones was a Lambert Award winner, a two-time All-American, led the nation in sacks as a sophomore (14.5), forced more fumbles in 2012 (7) than any player in his conference during the BCS Era and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He also led Georgia to consecutive SEC East titles and was the 17th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He finished his career with 168 total tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss and 28.0 sacks in two years as a starter in Athens.
34. Alex Brown, DE, Florida (1998-01)
The two-time, first-team All-American set the Gators' school record for sacks when he left school in 2001. Brown won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and helped lead Florida to the 2000 SEC title. He was a three-time, first-team All-SEC player and finished his career with 161 tackles, 47.0 for a loss and a school-record 33.0 sacks before getting taken in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
35. Jonathan Luigs, C, Arkansas (2005-08)
The Razorbacks’ pivot for Darren McFadden, Peyton Hillis and Felix Jones was a three-time, first-team All-SEC performer. Luigs was a two-time Rimington finalist, winning the award given to the nation’s top center in 2007. He also was a consensus All-American in '07 and a fourth-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He ended his collegiate career with 49 consecutive starts and was a major part of one of the only two Arkansas teams to be ranked in the top five of the AP poll during the BCS Era (2006, '11).
36. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss (2005-08)
One of the most high-profile linemen during the BCS Era, Oher was a consensus All-American, a two-time, first-team All-SEC selection and the SEC’s top offensive lineman in 2008 (Jacobs Trophy). The Outland finalist was a freshman All-American in 2005 and helped take a team with three straight losing seasons to a nine-win campaign and a Cotton Bowl berth as a senior. Oher was a first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2009 NFL Draft.
37. Marcus McNeil, OT, Auburn (2002-05)
The All-American started 28 games in his four-year career, helping lead the Tigers to an unbeaten SEC championship season in 2004 (13-0). He was again an All-American as a senior in 2005, paving the way for one of the most talented backfields in SEC history. McNeil was taken in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Chargers.
38. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (2011-13)
Certainly his final season left much to be desired with this freakish athlete, but no player has had a two-year start to a career like Clowney. He started his career as the SEC Freshman of the Year and also earned Freshman All-American honors after 36 total tackles, 12.0 for a loss, 8.0 sacks and five forced fumbles. He refined his craft and exploded as a sophomore with 54 tackles, 23.5 for a loss and 13.0 sacks to go with three more forced fumbles, as he finished sixth in the Heisman voting a year ago. He was a unanimous All-American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the Ted Hendricks Award winner. His final season wasn’t as inspiring as anticipated but he helped South Carolina to three consecutive 11-win seasons and a 33-6 overall record during his time. He finished his career with 130 tackles, 47.0 tackles for a loss, 24.0 sacks and nine forced fumbles for a team that had never won 11 games in a season before he showed up.
39. Shaun Alexander, RB, Alabama (1996-99)
Stats: 727 att., 3,565 yds, 41 TDs, 62 rec., 798 yds, 8 TDs
Alexander was a steady performer for four years at Alabama. The Florence, Ky., talent is the all-time leading rusher in Alabama history and he capped his career with an SEC Offensive Player of the Year season when he scored 23 total touchdowns and a career-high 1,383 yards rushing in 1999. Alexander is 12th all-time in rushing in SEC history and his 41 career rushing touchdowns trails Ingram by only one for seventh all-time in SEC history and tops at Alabama.
40. LaRon Landry, S, LSU (2003-05)
The LSU safety might be the most physically imposing defensive back of the BCS Era. He started 10 games as a true freshman for Nick Saban and the 2003 BCS National Championship squad. He made 80, 92 and 70 total tackles respectively during his three-year career and was a two-time All-SEC pick. Landry earned consensus All-American honors in 2006 before leaving early for the NFL. The thumper was the sixth pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
The Next 10:
41. Kevin Faulk, RB, LSU (1995-98)
Stats: 856 att., 4,557 yds, 46 TDs, 53 rec., 600 yds, 4 TDs, 1,676 ret. yds, 3 TDs
From an all-purpose standpoint, few can match the production of Faulk. He posted the No. 4- and No. 5-best all-purpose seasons in SEC history when he totaled 2,109 yards in 1998 and 2,104 in '96. Those are still the best two seasons per game in SEC history (191.7 ypg and 191.3 ypg). His 46 rushing touchdowns are third all-time to Tebow and Walker and Faulk is third all-time in SEC history in rushing. He is fifth in rushing attempts and scored a total of 53 times while at LSU.
42. Tim Couch, QB, Kentucky (1996-98)
Stats: 8,435 yds, 74 TDs, 35 INTs, 4 rush TDs
The consensus All-American and No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft brags two of the top four passing seasons in SEC history. He and Manziel are the only two players to top 4,000 yards passing in any season and his 4,275 yards in his junior season in the first year of the BCS system are still an SEC single-season record. His 37 touchdown passes in 1997 are tied for third all-time and his 36 scoring strikes the following year are tied for fifth.
43. Josh Reed, WR, LSU (1999-2001)
Stats: 167 rec., 3,001 yds, 17 TDs, 63 rush, TD
The numbers weren’t huge for Reed, but he was the nation’s best in 2001. He was a consensus All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner after catching 94 passes — seven for touchdowns, good for third all-time — for an SEC single-season record 1,740 yards. He is one of the SEC’s greatest wide receivers and is the conference’s only Biletnikoff winner. His 1,860 all-purpose yards in ’01 is one of just five in the top 20 all-time in SEC history posted by a wide receiver (the other 15 were posted by running backs). His 3,001 career yards are fourth all-time in the SEC record books and his 293 yards against Bama on 19 catches were both single-game SEC benchmarks (Cobi Hamilton broke the yards mark in 2012).
44. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama (2008-10)
Stats: 179 rec., 2,653 yds, 15 TDs, 139 rush, 2 TDs
From a talent standpoint, there may not be a more gifted name on this list than the superstar from Alabama. The school’s most talented pass-catcher helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship in 2009 and played on three teams that went 36-5 overall. Despite playing in a run-heavy offense, he is 16th all-time in yards and 20th all-time in receptions in league history — a tribute to his big-play ability. His 78 receptions and 1,133 yards as a junior are both Alabama single-season records and it led to the Falcons mortgaging their entire 2011 draft to select him with the sixth overall pick.
45. Ben Wilkerson, C, LSU (2001-04)
Starting for Nick Saban up front, Wilkerson helped lead LSU to two SEC championships and its first national title (2003) in over 50 years. After winning the BCS title as a junior, he was a consensus All-American in 2004 and won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. He was a two-time Rimington finalist and went undrafted in 2005.
46. Cadillac Williams, RB, Auburn (2001-04)
Stats: 741 att., 3,831 yds, 45 TDs, 45 rec., 342 yds, TDs, 911 ret. yds
He never got the ball all to himself and that likely keeps him from being in the top five. He topped out in 2003 with 1,307 yards and 17 touchdowns before his second 1,000-yard season during the unbeaten 2004 campaign. He has scored more rushing touchdowns than anyone in school history and is No. 2 to only Bo Jackson in rushing yards. Williams is 11th all-time in rushing in SEC history and is fourth all-time in rushing touchdowns before becoming the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He’s 10th all-time in all-purpose yards in SEC history (5,084).
47. Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida (2007-09)
There are no holes in Pouncey’s resume. He won the SEC and BCS National Championship in 2008 as the starting center as just a sophomore. He was a consensus All-American and Rimington Trophy winner in 2009. Pouncey was a first-round pick of the Steelers in 2010 and already has been to three Pro Bowls in his NFL career.
48. Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama (2008-09)
A two-time consensus All-American, Cody helped lead Alabama back to the national championship promised land in 2009 (just ask Lane Kiffin). Mount Cody finished his two-year SEC career with 51 total tackles, 10.5 for a loss and two key blocked kicks. Alabama’s defense ranked No. 3 in the nation during his first season and No. 2 in the nation during his second. He was a second-round pick by the Ravens in 2010.
49. Joe Haden, CB, Florida (2007-09)
Haden was the first true freshman cornerback to ever start opening day for the Gators. He helped lead Florida to the BCS National Championship in 2008 and was named National Defensive Player of the Year in '09. He also was a unanimous All-American that year and went seventh overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.
50. Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida (2006-09)
Spikes' resume is virtually complete. He was a two-time, consensus All-American, a three-time, first-team All-SEC selection, won two BCS National Championships, was a second-round pick and dated Doc Rivers' daughter. He posted 307 total tackles and started 39 of his 47 career games as a Gator before a slow 40-time caused him to fall into the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Bill O’Brien was exactly what Penn State needed.
He was an outsider who kept the program together and, more importantly, competitive during the worst scandal in NCAA history. In the face of horrific sanctions, not only did O’Brien win games but he also recruited extremely well. So when James Franklin, a Pennsylvania native, returned home to assume control of the historic program, the cupboard wasn’t even close to being bare.
Franklin arrives in Happy Valley off of the most successful run of football in Vanderbilt school history. He beat his rivals, he recruited at an unprecedented level and inspired a once dormant community of fans in Nashville. At Penn State, Franklin won’t have to work nearly as hard to recruit and certainly won’t have to beg fans to come to games any longer.
Franklin now has all of the natural advantages at his disposal in order to compete for national championships — something that could not be said on West End. O’Brien was a perfect bridge from one State College lifer to what could turn out to be another.
|Oct. 4||Bye Week|
|Oct. 18||Bye Week|
Penn State Nittany Lions 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Spring Practice Opens: March 17
Spring Game: April 12
Three Things to Watch in Penn State's 2014 Spring Practice
Replace Allen Robinson
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg returns for his second full season as the starting quarterback with massive expectations. But who will catch his passes? Allen Robinson was a Biltenikoff candidate for much of the year because he made huge plays in critical situations — in particular, vertically down the field. Robinson is arguably the best wideout ever to play in Happy Valley and replacing his 97 receptions and 1,432 yards won’t be easy. Eugene Lewis, Richy Anderson, Alex Kenney and Matt Zanellato caught 38 passes combined last year with Lewis’ 18 catches leading the way among all returning wideouts. One of these names needs to step into a bigger role and offer Hackenberg a trusty go-to target on the outside. The development of tight ends Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman, all of whom are very talented, will help the situation. Franklin boasted the SEC’s all-time leading receiver last year at Vanderbilt in Jordan Matthews so he clearly knows how to get his playmakers the ball. But unless he can find a top target, it won’t matter how talented his signal-caller may be, defenses won’t respect the downfield passing game.
Plug holes along the O-line
Two All-Big Ten blockers in guard John Urschel and center Ty Howle have moved on as well as tackle Adam Gress (nine starts). With an elite quarterback and a trio of excellent running backs — Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch — protecting his offensive assets becomes a huge focus this spring for Franklin and the Lions. Offensive line coach Herb Hand is one of the most dynamic personalities the SEC had a year ago and now his first job is to rebuild the Lions' front five. Left tackle Donovan Smith is a great place to start and Miles Dieffenbach has begun to live up to the recruiting hype. Still, other names need to step into bigger roles. Stabilizing the line is imperative if Penn State wants to move the ball on the ground and keep its star signal-caller upright.
Find leadership and depth at linebacker
Two years ago, O’Brien had to step into a horrendous situation few would be willing to attack. But he did so with the help and leadership of Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti at linebacker. Those two seniors helped galvanize the Penn State locker room and family in 2012. Last year, senior Glenn Carson played that role for a team that won seven games. Mike Hull returns after 78 tackles a year ago but Franklin and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop need to find playmakers and depth around him at linebacker. This is Penn State, Linebacker U, and not having star power at this position is borderline unacceptable. Nyeem Wartman (32 tackles), Brandon Bell (23 tackles) and Ben Kline (18) have some experience and upside but need to take on more ownership of the defense. Shoop has a talented defensive line returning and lots of options in the secondary, so finding playmakers and depth at linebacker is key this spring.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
There is a lot to like about this team. The new regime was a proven commodity in the big bad SEC and now it’s facing a much less daunting Big Ten schedule. There is plenty of talent left on the roster after O’Brien surprised with his high level of recruiting during his two-year tenure. Having Hackenberg in place for the next two seasons is a luxury most new coaches rarely get and Franklin will maximize his quarterback’s enormous upside. And with a defense that returns a lot of weapons, filling in holes around the star quarterback will be critical this offseason. Getting both Ohio State and Michigan State at home are huge and the conference road slate is extremely manageable — at Michigan is the toughest task. This is a very talented team working under a very talented coaching staff with a schedule that sets up nicely for a postseason run — should the NCAA lift the bowl ban in the next few months.
Pat Haden really didn’t want Lane Kiffin around any longer. So the USC athletic director made a decisive move just a few weeks into the season when he fired Kiffin on the tarmac at LAX.
A few months later, Haden announced that Steve Sarkisian was returning to Heritage Hall to become USC’s next head football coach. Coach Sark had rebuilt Washington into a winner but could never get the Huskies over the proverbial hump in Seattle. Yet, the timing was right for both parties and Sark made his triumphant homecoming to Los Angeles.
Sarkisian immediately began building one of the more impressive coaching staffs in the nation using both incumbents (Clay Helton, Tee Martin) and familiar faces from UW (Justin Wilcox).
And so, with an elite roster chock-full of five-star talent, Sark embarks on a journey USC fans are hoping returns the Men of Troy to the top of the college football mountain.
Finding replacements for names like wide receiver Marqise Lee, center Marcus Martin, end George Uko, linebacker Devon Kennard and safety Dion Bailey will be Sarkisian's first task this spring.
|Sept. 20||Bye Week|
|Nov. 8||Bye Week|
USC Trojans 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 10-4 (6-3 Pac-12)
Spring Practice Opens: March 11
Spring Game: April 19
Three Things to Watch in USC's 2014 Spring Practice
Adapt to the new tempo
Even in his introductory press conference, Sarkisian intimated at how fast USC’s offense will run under the new regime. He wants his team to play fast. Getting his players accustomed to running the offense at breakneck speed will be critical for returning quarterback Cody Kessler and backup Max Browne, as well as a host of talented but fairly young skill players. The players have reportedly taken to the tempo quickly and are enjoying the new M.O. Sark has said that every position will be up for grabs, including quarterback, and that has fueled competition and intrigue throughout spring camp. It appears that USC practices are fun to be a part of once again.
Rebuild the offensive line
Martin was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick last year and he must be replaced at center. Gone also are Kevin Graf and John Martinez. New offensive line coach Tim Drevno is looking to totally recast this front and has some really nice pieces to work with in left tackle Chad Wheeler and the versatile Max Tuerk. Tuerk, who has played both tackle and guard, appears to be earmarked as Martin’s replacement at center as Drevno builds from the inside out along the line. Khaliel Rodgers and Aundrey Walker were both big-time recruits who the staff has high expectations for as well. Toss in names like Giovanni Di Poalo and Nathan Guertler and the Trojans could have the makings of an elite offensive line. If they can all stay healthy.
Find some edge rushers
Three of the top four sack masters for USC last year are gone. Outside linebacker Devon Kennard (9.0), defensive end George Uko (5.0) and Morgan Breslin (4.5, six games) have all moved on from the Trojans' defense. J.R. Tavai filled in admirably for Breslin a year ago and he should lock down one outside spot while Scott Starr, Quinton Powell, Michael Hutchings and Anthony Sarao are in the mix for serious playing time as well. There is no shortage of talented bodies, so defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox should be excited about his future front seven. Finding an elite pass rusher off the edge, be it with a hand in the dirt or not, has to be an area of focus for the new coaching staff this spring — especially, considering the quarterback play and offensive coaching prowess that the Pac-12 boasts.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Steve Sarkisian was an underwhelming hire at USC but coaches shouldn’t be selected based on their ability to win the press conference (just ask UCLA). Coach Sark knows the landscape at USC and has assembled an all-star coaching staff to both recruit and motivate. This team returns a ton of weapons on offense and has loads of young talent on the defensive side of the ball. Recruiting was never Kiffin’s problem and he left the cupboard totally stocked for Sark. So even with a brutal schedule in 2014, fans in USC should expect to compete for South Division and Pac-12 titles right away under the new regime. In fact, a berth in the Pac-12 title game in Sark’s first year is well within reach.
The ACC has experienced some peaks and valleys during the BCS Era. It began with three consecutive BCS title game appearances followed by massive expansion with the additions of marquee programs Miami, Virginia Tech (2004) and Boston College (’05).
However, the league continued to fall behind its big league brethren on the field with a horrendous record in BCS bowls (5-13) and off the field with instability among the ranks. Rumors about Florida State and Clemson's future in the league persisted, and Maryland decided to bolt the league for greener pastures.
But as the BCS Era came to a close, John Swofford’s conference finished with a bang. A Grant of Rights agreement, the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville and a return to glory on the field with Florida State’s national title capped the BCS Era in style for the once-unsettled conference.
So even though the conference went through some rough years on the field, there is still a long list of elite NCAA Hall of Famers who graced an ACC field during the BCS Era.
Trying to narrow this list down to 25 names was nearly impossible but here are Athlon Sports' Top 25 ACC players of the BCS Era. The only stipulation is that you must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina (1999-01)
From a talent standpoint, few players have ever been able to match Peppers' freakish quickness and size. As a two-sport star in Chapel Hill, Peppers was a freshman All-American in 1999 before leading the nation in sacks (15.0) as a sophomore. He capped his junior season as a consensus All-American and by winning Lombardi, Bednarik and Willis Trophy honors. Peppers finished 10th in the Heisman voting in 2001. He started 33 of 34 possible career games and finished with 167 tackles and 30.5 sacks, good for sixth all-time in ACC history and second during the BCS Era. His 53.0 tackles for a loss are 13th all-time in league history as well. Peppers was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
2. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech (2004-06)
Stats: 178 rec., 2,927 yds, 28 TDs, 40 rush, TD
Appropriately nicknamed Megatron, no player has demonstrated the combination of size and speed that Johnson brought to the Ramblin Wreck offense. The Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek prospect was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2004 before earning back-to-back All-American honors in 2005-06. He owns school records for receiving yards and touchdowns during his time at Tech and claimed the Biletnikoff Award as well as ACC Player of the Year honors in 2006. He is one of 13 wide receivers to finish in the top 10 in the Heisman Trophy voting during the BCS Era (10th). He is simply a freak of nature.
3. Chris Weinke, QB, Florida State (1997-00)
Stats: 9,839 yds, 79 TDs, 32 INTs, 58.7%, 2 rush TDs
There was little left unaccomplished in Weinke's college career. He led his stacked Florida State squad to an undefeated BCS national title in 1999 over Virginia Tech before returning to win the Heisman Trophy as well as the Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas and Davey O'Brien awards the next season. His team lost two games over that span and one was the 2000 BCS title game against Oklahoma. He is still the ACC's all-time leader in yards per pass attempt (8.9) and was the conference’s all-time most efficient passer with a 151.15 rating until Tajh Boyd (and possibly Jameis Winston) came along.
4. Peter Warrick, WR, Florida State (1995-99)
Stats: 207 rec., 3,517 yds, 32 TDs, 188 rush, 4 TDs, 937 ret. yds, 6 TDs
The phrase all-purpose wasn’t en vogue when Warrick broke onto the scene so the Bradenton (Fla.) Southeast superstar might deserve credit for the invention. And if not for an incident at Dillard’s Department Store that resulted in a two-game suspension, Warrick likely would have won the Heisman Trophy. The two-time consensus All-American could do it all. His joystick, open-field moves made him dynamic in the passing game, on special teams and he was one of the first wideouts used in the running game. His Sugar Bowl MVP performance — and touchdown catch — in the 1999 national championship game (six rec., 163 yds, three total TDs) will go down as one of the greatest national title performances in NCAA history.
5. Philip Rivers, QB, NC State (2000-03)
Stats: 13,484 yds, 95 TDs, 34 INTs, 63.5%, 98 yds, 17 TDs
The most productive passer in ACC history, Rivers owns the ACC record for completions (1,087), attempts (1,711), passing yards, total yards and set the record for passing touchdowns and total touchdowns (since broken). He won ACC Player of the Year honors in 2003 and finished seventh in the Heisman balloting. That year he led the nation in completion percent (72.0, an ACC record at the time) and set the ACC single-season passing yards record (since broken). His 18 career 300-yard games were an ACC record (broken). Rivers also is a member of the historic 2004 NFL Draft class that includes fellow quarterbacks Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
6. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (2013-present)
Stats: 4,057 yds, 40 TDs, 10 INTs, 66.9%, 219 yds, 4 TDs
No player, especially no freshman, has ever posted a season like Winston in college football history much less in the ACC. His 184.8 passer rating was an ACC record (and would be No. 1 for a career as well), he set an NCAA freshman and all-time ACC single-season record with 40 touchdown passes and his 4,057 yards are fourth all-time in ACC history. Winston won the Heisman Trophy, the BCS national championship, the ACC Player of the Year, the Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp awards as well. He has yet to lose a game on the gridiron and is poised to make another run at all of the above accolades as a sophomore.
7. E.J. Henderson, LB, Maryland (1999-02)
Henderson left Maryland with multiple NCAA records and numerous awards and honors. He owns the career tackles per game record (12.5), career solo tackles per game (8.8) and the single-season unassisted tackle record with 135 in 2002. That year, Henderson won his second ACC Defensive Player of the Year award as well as the Butkus, Lambert and Bednarik Awards nationally. He was a two-time All-American, Chick-fil-A Bowl MVP, is second all-time in ACC history with 62.5 career tackles for loss and 11th all-time with 473 tackles. Henderson was a second-round pick by the Vikings in 2003.
8. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College (2009-11)
Tackling. Machine. That is really all that needs to be said about the Boston College star defender. He was second nationally with 158 tackles as just a freshman, led the nation in tackles with 183 as a sophomore and led the world again in stops with 191 as a junior. So in just three seasons, Kuechly set the BC and ACC career tackle records en route to numerous awards. He was a two-time All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-round NFL Draft pick by Carolina in 2012 and won the Butkus, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott and Lambert national trophies.
9. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, OL, Virginia (2002-05)
Ferguson started 49 games in his Virginia career — all at left tackle — helping the Cavaliers to four straight bowl games. He was a two-time, first-team All-ACC selection and earned All-American honors in his final season in Charlottesville. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the New York Jets and has gone to three Pro Bowls.
10. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson (2006-09)
Stats: 606 att., 3,547 yds, 32 TDs, 123 rec., 1,420 yds, 11 TDs, 2,621 ret. yds, 8 TDs
Versatility and explosiveness are the words that come to mind when describing Spiller. With elite burst and big-play ability, Clemson used Spiller in every aspect of the game to great success. He is No. 2 in ACC history in yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns and is the NCAA’s all-time leader with seven kickoff return touchdowns. His 2,680 all-purpose yards in 2009 are a single-season ACC record and his 7,588 all-purpose yards are the all-time career record in the ACC by almost 2,000 yards (Leon Johnson, 5,828). No ACC player has scored in more games (34) than Spiller did while at Clemson.
11. Chris Long, DE, Virginia (2004-07)
The son of NFL great Howie Long entered the starting lineup as a sophomore, totaling 46 tackles, 10.0 for a loss and two sacks. As a junior, Long posted 57 tackles, 12.0 for a loss and 4.0 sacks. As a senior, he claimed ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors as well as the Dudley and Hendricks Awards. He was a unanimous All-American after 79 total tackles, an ACC-best 19.0 tackles for a loss and ACC-best 14.0 sacks in his final season in which he finished 10th in the Heisman voting. He finished his career with 182 tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss and 20.0 sacks before being selected No. 2 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.
12. Russell Wilson, QB, NC State/Wisconsin (2008-11)
Stats: 11,720 yds, 109 TDs, 30 INTs, 60.9%, 1,421 yds, 23 TDs
Not many players own school records for two different programs but Wilson excelled in both the ACC and Big Ten and his overall career must be taken into account when measuring his greatness. The Super Bowl champion posted the single greatest season by a Wisconsin quarterback in history en route to a league crown and near national title berth. He owns the NCAA record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (38) and the single-season mark for passing efficiency at 191.8. In just three years in the ACC, Wilson finished eighth all-time in total offense (9,628), third in total offense per game (267.5 ypg), third in ACC history with 93 total touchdowns and set the ACC record with 379 consecutive passes without an interception. Imagine if he had stayed his final season in Raleigh.
13. Aaron Donald, DL, Pitt (2010-13)
Donald only played one season in the ACC but it was one of the, if not the, best by an ACC defensive lineman in league history. He swept the national awards by claiming the Outland, Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik as essentially the most decorated defensive player of the BCS Era not named Manti Te’o. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors after posting 59 tackles, 28.5 for a loss and 11.0 sacks from his defensive tackle position. His 28.5 TFLs were second only to Keith Adams’ ACC record 33 in 1999. His career 29.5 sacks would be eighth in ACC history and his 66.0 tackles for a loss would be a new career ACC record had he played his entire career in the league.
14. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (2011-13)
Stats: 240 rec., 3,391 yards, 27 TDs, 339 rush, TD, 1,399 ret. yards, TD
Watkins did it all at Clemson. A freakish athlete with the ability to score on any play from anywhere on the field, Watkins helped lead Clemson to a 32-8 record during his three seasons. He finished No. 2 all-time in ACC history with 240 receptions, No. 3 all-time with 3,391 yards receiving and tied for eighth all-time with 27 receiving touchdowns. And he did all of this in just three seasons, while bringing an ACC title back to Clemson for the first time in decades. His 5,129 all-purpose yards are ninth all-time in league history. His 101 receptions in 2013 would have been a single-season ACC record if not for Duke’s Jamison Crowder and his 108 catches this fall. His 1,464 yards in his final season is second all-time to Torry Holt (1,604) and his 82 catches and 12 TDs in 2011 were both ACC records for freshmen.
15. Torry Holt, WR, NC State (1995-98)
Stats: 191 rec., 3,379 yds, 31 TDs, 119 rush
One of the greatest receivers to ever play the game on any level, Holt capped his outstanding Wolfpack career with an ACC Player of the Year award in the first year of the BCS. Over his final two seasons in Raleigh, the Gibsonville (N.C.) Eastern Guilford receiver caught 150 passes for 2,703 yards and 27 touchdowns (he also threw a 45-yard TD pass), finishing eighth in the Heisman voting in 1998. Holt set all types of NC State and ACC records during his college career and he went on to become one of the NFL’s greatest wide receivers. No one ever had a better game during the BCS Era than Holt when he posted 255 yards against Baylor in 1998.
16. Dre Bly, CB, North Carolina (1996-98)
Not only one of the coolest names in college football but one of the coolest customers on an island all by himself. Bly set the ACC single-season record with 11 interceptions in 1996 and left school with an ACC record 20 INTs in his career (both since broken). He was a consensus All-American as a freshman and sophomore (one of few in NCAA history to accomplish the feat) and was a second-round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
17. D’Qwell Jackson, LB, Maryland (2002-05)
The undersized tackler played in all 14 games as a freshman, started all 11 games as a sophomore and was an All-American as a junior and senior. He was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 after 137 tackles and four sacks. Jackson finished with 447 tackles, good for fourth in school history and 19th in ACC history — seventh among all players during the BCS Era. Jackson was a second-round pick of the Browns in the 2006 NFL Draft.
18. Anthony Poindexter, S, Virginia (1995-98)
He was a leader and one of the hardest-hitting players to ever play the game — and made one of the most famous tackles in NCAA history. He set a school record with 98 tackles as a sophomore and was an All-American as a junior in 1997. Despite getting injured late in the year, Poindexter earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and became a two-time All-American. He was the only defensive back in the ACC to win conference Defensive Player of the Year honors during the BCS Era. The three-time, first-team All-ACC pick finished his career with 12 interceptions.
19. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (2009-13)
Stats: 11,904 yds, 107 TDs, 39 INTs, 64.3%, 1,165 yds, 26 TDs
In just three full seasons as the starter, Boyd set every major Clemson passing record and is the ACC’s all-time leader in total touchdowns (133) and touchdown passes (107). He is No. 2 all-time in yards, won 2012 ACC Player of the Year honors, led Clemson back to an ACC championship in '11 and finished as the league’s most efficient passer in history with a QB rating of 155.2 (topping Weinke). Clemson went 32-8 over his final three years — all three of which he topped 3,800 yards and 33 TD passes. Boyd produced three of the top seven seasons in regards to total offense in league history. His 20 career 300-yard games broke Rivers’ previous ACC record of 18.
20. Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College (2004-07)
Stats: 9,313 yds, 56 TDs, 37 INTs, 60.0%, 39 yds, 11 TDs
Ryan did more for Boston College than any player since Doug Flutie. He won the ACC Player of the Year and led the Eagles to the ACC title game. He was seventh in the Heisman ballot and won the Johnny Unitas and Archie Manning Awards before beginning his elite career in the NFL. Ryan owns the ACC single-season record for passing yards (4,507), completions (388) and attempts (654), all of which were set in 2007, and is second all-time with his 4,509 yards of total offense that year as well. From a raw talent standpoint, few players on this list are better quarterbacks than Matty-Ice.
21. Joe Hamilton, QB, Georgia Tech (1996-99)
Stats: 8,882 yds, 65 TDs, 39 INTs, 61.7%, 1,758 yds, 18 TDs
One of the most dynamic players in league history, Hamilton led the Jackets to three straight winning seasons, three straight bowl games and only Tech’s third 10-win season since 1956. Hamilton won ACC Player of the Year honors, was a consensus All-American, finished second in the Heisman voting and won the Davey O’Brien Award in 1999. He threw for 3,060 yards and 29 scores while running for 734 and eight touchdowns in his final season. The two-time, first-team All-ACC pick is third all-time in total offense and he currently stands as the ACC’s No. 5 most efficient passer with a rating of 148.19.
22. Alex Barron, OL, Florida State (2001-04)
The 6-foot-8, 315-pounder was Florida State’s top lineman of the BCS Era. He was a consensus All-American in 2003 and a unanimous All-American in 2004. Barron was an Outland Trophy finalist in his final season as well. His teams never won fewer than eight games, won two ACC titles and went 26-6 in conference play over that span. Barron was the 19th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Rams.
23. Heath Miller, Virginia (2002-04)
Stats: 144 rec., 1,703 yds, 20 TDs
Perhaps the greatest tight end in ACC history, Miller became the first player in league history to win the John Mackey Award in 2004. He wrote his name into the school and conference record books for receiving by a tight end, setting a new benchmark in all three major receiving categories despite only playing three seasons. However, it wasn’t just his elite receiving ability that made the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder one of the game’s best. Miller relished the blocking side of the game and his physicality and dependability is what has made the consensus All-American one of the NFL’s best tight ends for the last decade.
24. Thomas Jones, RB, Virginia (1996-99)
Stats: 823 att., 4,065 yds, 37 TDs, 72 rec., 578 yds, 3 TDs
Until 2013, Jones boasted a long list of illustrious ACC rushing records. His 334 carries and 1,798 yards in 1999 were both single-season ACC records until Andre Williams broke both this past season. His six 200-yard games are an ACC record still (Williams has five) and he is seventh all-time with 18 100-yard games. Jones is sixth all-time in the ACC in rushing, leading the league twice in 1998-99, and is tied for 12th all-time with 40 total touchdowns. Jones finished eighth in the Heisman voting in 1999 and was one of two consensus All-American running backs during the BCS Era (Spiller).
25. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson (2008-10)
The No. 1 prospect in the nation battled a knee injury during his sophomore year but still posted 58 tackles — including 11 in the ACC Championship Game win over Georgia Tech — 10.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. However, Bowers exploded as a senior by leading the nation in tackles for a loss (26.0) and sacks (15.5) to go with his 67 total tackles. Those 15.5 sacks were sixth all-time in ACC history. Bowers was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous first-team All-American and claimed both the Nagurski Trophy and the Hendricks Award. More knee issues cost him on draft day as he slipped to the end of the second round where Tampa Bay selected him with the 51st overall pick.
The Next 10:
26. Mario Williams, DE, NC State (2003-05)
In just three seasons, the physical freak from NC State posted 25.5 career sacks — good for 18th all-time in ACC history — and 55.5 tackles for a loss — good for 10th all-time. In his final season, he led the ACC with 24.0 tackles for a loss and 14.5 sacks. As one of the most gifted athletes to ever play in any league, Williams was one of just two defensive players selected as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft during the BCS Era (Courtney Brown, 2000).
27. Andre Williams, RB, Boston College (2011-13)
Stats: 704 att., 3,739 yds, 28 TDs, 10 rec., 60 yds
From a single-season perspective, no player in ACC history can match what Williams accomplished in 2013. Williams set the ACC single-season rushing record for carries (355) and yards (2,177) when he rolled up five 200-yard games and 18 touchdowns en route to a fourth-place Heisman Trophy finish. He is the only ACC player to win the Doak Walker Award during the BCS Era and he was named an All-American in the process. He is 11th all-time in the conference in rushing yards.
28. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest (2005-08)
Curry was a freshman All-American after starting 10 games in his first season. He posted 83 tackles as a sophomore and tied an NCAA record with three interceptions returned for touchdowns as a junior. As a senior, he won the Butkus Award, was an All-American and registered 105 tackles. Curry finished with 331 tackles, 44.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks, six interceptions and five forced fumbles in his career. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and in '06 helped lead Wake to its only BCS bowl berth and ACC title of the BCS Era.
29. Steve Justice, C, Wake Forest (2004-07)
Few players have meant more to their school than Justice did to Wake Forest. After enduring two losing seasons as an underclassman, Justice was the first-team All-ACC pivot for arguably the greatest team in school history. He led the way on the 11-win, ACC championship squad of 2006. He came back for his senior year and earned his second first-team All-ACC nod and was a consensus All-American as well. Justice was a Rimington finalist and won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the top lineman in the ACC in ’07.
30. Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State (1997-00)
Reynolds helped lead the Seminoles to three consecutive BCS National Championship Games, including the 1999 title. He was named the Lombardi and Willis Trophy winner after a 58-tackle, 12-sack season in 2000 as a senior and was a finalist for the national Defensive Player of the Year award. He was named a unanimous All-American and taken with the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. His 23.5 career sacks are 24th all-time in ACC history and are the most by any Seminole during the BCS Era.
31. Jimmy Williams, DB, Virginia Tech (2002-05)
Playing multiple positions all over the defense, Williams entered the starting lineup as a sophomore. He was a first-team All-ACC pick as a junior while leading Tech to an ACC championship with a league-leading five interceptions and 19 passes defensed. In 2005, Williams was a unanimous All-American and Jack Tatum Trophy winner as the nation’s top defensive back. He was a second-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
32. Rodney Hudson, OL, Florida State (2007-10)
The mauler from Mobile was a three-time, first-team All-ACC selection, a two-time, first-team All-American and a two-time winner of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the top lineman in the ACC. He is one of only two guards to ever win the award twice (Elton Brown). He helped return Florida State to the ACC championship game as a senior in 2010 for the first time since '05. Hudson was a second-round pick of the Chiefs in 2011.
33. Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson (2003-06)
The 2006 ACC Defensive Player of the Year finished with 157 total tackles, 41.5 tackles for a loss and 28.0 sacks in 46 career games. His 28.0 QB takedowns are 10th all-time in ACC history and are fourth by any player during the BCS Era. His 15.5 sacks in 2010 led the nation and are sixth-best in ACC history. He was a unanimous All-American as a senior and was taken fourth overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. Sadly, Adams passed away at age 26 due to cardiac arrest in January 2010 but he will be forever remembered as one of the ACC’s greatest defensive linemen.
34. Jerricho Cotchery, WR, NC State (2000-03)
Stats: 200 rec., 3,119 yards, 21 TDs, 102 rush, TD, 300 ret. yards, TD
Following in Holt’s footsteps in Raleigh, Cotchery nearly duplicated his predecessor’s production. The Wolfpack playmaker is tied for second in ACC history with 15 100-yard receiving games, posted the fourth-best single-season yardage total in 2003 (1,369) and, at the time, was No. 2 all-time with 86 receptions that same year. Cotchery is ninth all-time in league history with 200 receptions and sixth all-time with 3,119 yards, the first of which is still an NC State record.
35t. Antrel Rolle, DB, Miami 2001-04)
He only played one season in the ACC but it was a good one. Along with Sean Taylor, Rolle was one of just four true freshmen to play on the dominant 2001 BCS National Championship team. He was an All-Big East pick as a sophomore and a unanimous All-American in the ACC in 2004 as a senior. He played safety in the NFL after being selected eighth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, but he was an elite college cornerback, shutting down names like Larry Fitzgerald (3 rec., 26 yds) and Calvin Johnson (2 rec., 10 yds) during his career.
35t. Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest (2005-08)
The two-time, first-team All-ACC pick led the ACC in interceptions and passes defended in both 2007 and '08. He totaled 15 picks and 38 passes broken up over that span. He was a consensus All-American as a senior and his 21 career interceptions is an ACC all-time record. Additionally, he scored on four INT returns, tying Randy Neal of Virginia for the all-time ACC record.
Arkansas had the worst football season in its existence in 2013.
And that was after firing an extremely popular and successful coach for getting caught illegally hiring his young mistress into the athletic department and finishing 4-8 under John L. Smith.
Needless to say, it’s been a rough few years for Razorbacks fans. In the toughest division in football, the uphill climb back to SEC respectability - much less the Sugar Bowl - appears to be extremely treacherous.
Arkansas was outgained by its opponents last season by an average of 138.3 yards per game — trailing only Kentucky in the SEC. It means Bret Bielema has his work cut out for him on both sides of the ball. The entire two-deep returns one player who got any All-SEC mention a year ago (Hunter Henry), and the running back position is in good hands with rising star sophomore Alex Collins.
However, other than that, the Razorbacks have major question marks all over the depth chart heading into spring camp.
|Sept. 6||Nicholls State|
|Oct. 4||Bye Week|
|Nov. 8||Bye Week|
Arkansas Razorbacks 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 16
Spring Game: April 26
Three Things to Watch in Arkansas' 2014 Spring Practice
Find balance on offense
Bielema made his living in the Big Ten pounding the football (unless Russell Wilson was under center) and that won’t change too dramatically at Arkansas. But after finishing 114th in passing offense and 21st in rushing offense, finding balance will be imperative for the Hogs moving forward. Does this mean that Brandon Allen is the final answer under center? He has the experience edge but after completing just 49.6-percent of his passes and dealing with a shoulder injury, Bielema has decided to open up the QB competition this spring. Redshirt freshmen Austin Allen and Damon Mitchell will both get tons of reps, and early enrollee Rafe Peavey enters campus with loads of recruiting hype and expectations. This team must find balance on offense if the Bielema regime expects to reach the postseason in its second year in town. This also includes finding a playmaking wide receiver as well as the top three returning receivers combined for 34 catches last fall.
Get to know the new defensive staff
After allowing 475.3 yards per game in SEC play (105th nationally), Bielema overhauled the defensive coaching staff. Robb Smith is now the defensive coordinator, Rory Segrest is the new defensive line coach and Clay Jennings in the new defensive backs coach. This group needs to get to know their roster and organize the depth chart as they show up from Rutgers, Samford and TCU, respectively. Arkansas ranked 104th nationally in pass efficiency defense and was 102nd nationally yards per play allowed at 6.1, which can’t continue if the Hogs expect to reach a bowl game in 2014. Specifically, filling the gaps left by end Chris Smith, linebacker Jarrett Lake and safety Eric Bennett will be critical this spring. Names like Trey Flowers, Braylon Mitchell and Alan Turner may be prepared to take starring roles but getting the nomenclature, signage and general rapport with the new coaching staff will be essential if this unit is going to improve.
Replace Travis Swanson...
And to a lesser extent, tackle David Hurd. The running game will always be the foundation of Bielema’s offensive attack and there is some nice talent for line coach Sam Pittman to work with in ’14. However, Swanson was arguably the best player on the team and was the only first-team All-SEC selection last fall. Finding a new pivot to manage the offense line, developing young talent like Denver Kirkland and stabilizing the pecking order at the tackle position is huge for a team that did only one thing well in 2013 — run the ball and protect the quarterback. Luke Charpentier is a senior and possibly the top candidate to replace Swanson but sophomore Cordale Boyd will press him for time this spring. Additionally, keep Frank Ragnow on the back burner as he will arrive on campus this summer and could be the long-term solution to replace Swanson.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 3-5
Arkansas should be able to run the football on offense again in 2014 with seven starters returning, including one of the best backfields in the SEC. But this coaching staff doesn’t really know what it has at either quarterback or wide receiver and is replacing its top offensive lineman. Finding balance on offense will be crucial because it doesn’t appear that the defense will be all that improved. Only four starters are back and the star power is gone (Smith, Bennett). Even the schedule is nasty for Bielema, as things get started with road trips to Auburn and Texas Tech in the first three weeks. Three wins in the non-conference would be a great step and an upset (or two) at home against an SEC power — Alabama, Georgia, LSU or Ole Miss — will be mandatory if the Razorbacks are going to be bowling at season’s end.