Articles By Braden Gall
The phrase “SEC Speed” instantly conjures images of glory, victory and pride for one region in the country and thoughts of depression, agony and exasperation for every other part of the nation. But after claiming seven consecutive national championships in a row, the SEC had the right to boast that it had the best programs, players and coaches.
Yes, SEC fan bases, power boosters and administrations are more dedicated to winning — from top (Alabama) to bottom (Kentucky) — than any other conference in America. Which also means they’ll do whatever it takes to win, at times, pushing more envelopes than anywhere else in the country. Simply put, the Southeast cares more about college football than any other region of the country.
But another conference, the Pac-12, has pulled even with the SEC for the time being as elite coaching hires and a renewed financial commitment to success have totally changed the competitive balance out West. And who knows, maybe in five years on the backs of James Franklin and Urban Meyer, the Big Ten will join the fray as the nation’s best league as well.
Even now, after Florida State ended the SEC's run of national supremacy and the Pac-12 officially caught up, why is it that the SEC will continue to surge on as the nation’s premier league?
One word: Geography.
Using the last five recruiting cycles — 2010 through 2014 — and with some help from the good people at 247Sports, it is very easy to accurately project the geographic distribution of high school talent in this country.
When the College Football Playoff Era begins this fall, it will be clear where all of the best players came from. I looked at the 1,000 best players who have (or will) entered college football between 2010-14 — or the Top 200 players as ranked by the 247 composite rank over each of the last five signing classes — to determine where are the nation’s best prospects come from.
Here is what I learned…
Note: Of the 1,000 players used, 162 of them were considered “five-star” recruits in the composite rankings.
The Big Three Still Dominate… Duh.
This isn’t news. California, Texas and Florida have been and will always be the most fertile recruiting states in the country. Of the 1,000 players studied, 404 of them hail from one of these three states. Of the 162 five-star signees during the span, 71 come from either The Sunshine, Lone Star or Golden States. So a staggering 40.4 percent of Top-200 talents come from these three states and 43.8 percent of five-star recruits come from The Big Three. The SEC can claim both Texas and Florida as “footprint” states and is this is why many are so bullish on Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M as a sleeping giant. Florida tops all states with 156 top-200 prospects and 31 five-star talents over the last five cycles. Texas is second in both categories with 132 and 24 respectively.
Georgia is closing the gap
If fans want to point to one state in particular that has helped keep the SEC stocked with elite players, it is the Peach State. Georgia has delivered no less than 13 top-200 prospects and at least two five-stars in each of the last five classes. In all, Georgia ranks fourth in the nation with 78 top-200 players over the last five — well ahead of Ohio, which ranks fifth with 47 signees. The 13 five-star prospects to come from The Peach State are just three behind the state of California (16) despite having a significantly smaller population base. California is the biggest state in the nation with an estimated 2013 population of over 38 million people while Georgia is ninth with an estimated ’13 population of just less than 10 million. Of those 78 top-200 players, 58 of them have (or will) signed with the SEC with two still left undecided from the ’14 class. Of the 13 five-stars from Georgia over the last five years, 11 of them have inked with an SEC school.
SEC footprint overachieves
The State of Alabama is ranked 23rd nationally in projected 2013 population. Louisiana is projected to be 25th. Yet, Alabama is sixth nationally in terms of producing elite football prospects with 39 top-200 recruits over the last five years and Louisiana is seventh with 37 such recruits. Each boasts the highest percetnage of five-star talent as well with 20 combined (10 each) five-stars out of those states over the last five years. Additionally, South Carolina is ranked 24th in population and Mississippi is 31st — behind Puerto Rico. But both of those states overachieve as well, ranking 14th and 15th with 24 and 22 signees respectively over the last five years. The SEC footprint boasts five of the top seven states for talent but only three of the top 16 states in terms of population. Would you like to know why Virginia and North Carolina are atop the Mike Slive’s wish list of states in which to expand? Because those two territories rank eighth and ninth respectively in producing talent AND are two of the 12 biggest states in the nation in terms of population. Let me be the first to welcome Virginia Tech and NC State to the SEC family.
The Big Ten has upside
There is no secret about the major population decline in the state of Pennsylvania over the last few decades and how that has hurt Midwest football as a whole. As jobs have left the state, so too has the elite football talent. Having said that, the one league in America that has the natural recruiting base to potentially press the SEC is the Big Ten. Jim Delany's league already makes the most money of any league in America based mostly on huge populations and cities. But while the Big 12 depends too much on the state of Texas for everything, the Big Ten, post expansion, can now claim six of the top 16 states in talent production. Ohio is fifth nationally with 47 top-200 recruits over the last five cycles while The Keystone State (30, 10th), Illinois (26, 11th), New Jersey (25, 12th), Michigan (24, 13th) and Maryland (21, 16th) each feed a Big Ten school. There is a reason Delany went after the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights and why he would be interested heavily in schools like Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech or Miami for expansion. Which brings us to...
The battle for Virginia and North Carolina
As previously stated, both the SEC and Big Ten are looking hard at both North Carolina and Virginia for expansion for a reason. Not only are they two unique markets for both leagues as neither has a school in either state, but both are two of the more talent-rich areas in the nation. Virginia is eighth nationally with 36 top-200 signees over the last five years and The Tar Heel State is ninth with 32. The two states have combined to produce 13 five-star prospects and both states boast powerful athletic institutions: North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, NC State and Duke are all very attractive options for expansion. This is why John Swofford and the rest of the ACC are grasping tightly to its Grant of Rights agreement because they realize how valuable this real estate could be in the future landscape of college football.
How has the Pac-12 done it?
Certainly, having a foundation like the state of California to work with helps, but the Pac-12 has made a rise to the top of the college football landscape without the help of a natural recruiting base. Just look at where the league has found its star quarterbacks. States like Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Washington and Oregon have some quality players but no other state in the Pac-12 footprint ranks inside the top 15 in terms of talent production. Arizona (16th) has developed 21 top-200 recruits and three five-stars over the last five years. Washington produced 10 (22nd), Colorado seven (24th), Oregon seven (24th) and Utah just six (28th). Can the Pac-12 sustain its current high level of success without a deep and rich recruiting base from which to cull talent?
No. 1 in the nation
Leonard Fournette is a running back from New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine and he is the No. 1 player in the nation for the class of 2014. He is scheduled to sign with the LSU Tigers in a few weeks on National Signing Day. He is the fifth consecutive No. 1 overall-rated player in the nation to sign with an SEC school. What is more impressive, however, is that all five hail from a different state and all five signed with a different SEC school. Robert Nkemdiche was the top player in the 2013 class and he hails from Georgia and signed with Ole Miss. Missouri landed Dorial Green-Beckham in the 2012 signing class and he came to the SEC from Springfield, Mo. Jadeveon Clowney, from Rock Hill, S.C., signed with the Gamecocks as the unanimous No. 1 overall-rated prospect in 2011. That means each of the last four No. 1 players hail from a different state — each of which is within the SEC’s mighty footprint. Ronald Powell hails from California and signed with Florida as the No. 1 guy in the ’10 class.
The top 1,000 recruits in the nation over the last five seasons have come from 40 states and the District of Columbia. Alaska, both Dakotas, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia and Maine are the only state that didn’t produce a single top-200 recruit over the last five years. Not surprisingly, all 10 of those states are ranked 38th or worse in terms of overall population. Nebraska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho and New Mexico each produced just one elite prospect over the last five cycles.
Below is a chart of the last five recruiting classes and where the top-200 recruits in each class came from (five-star athletes are in parentheses).
|1.||Florida||30 (4)||36 (10)||32 (5)||28 (7)||30 (5)||156 (31)|
|2.||Texas||28 (5)||27 (4)||27 (5)||28 (5)||22 (5)||132 (24)|
|3.||California||26 (4)||21 (2)||23 (4)||23 (3)||23 (3)||116 (16)|
|4.||Georgia||18 (3)||13 (2)||15 (2)||17 (4)||15 (2)||78 (13)|
|5.||Ohio||8 (1)||10 (2)||12 (1)||10||7||47 (4)|
|6.||Alabama||8 (1)||6||10 (3)||8 (2)||7 (4)||39 (10)|
|7.||Louisiana||5 (1)||10 (3)||3 (1)||7||12 (5)||37 (10)|
|8.||Virginia||8||6 (1)||6||9 (3)||7 (3)||36 (7)|
|9.||N. Carolina||3 (2)||6||8 (3)||6||9||32 (6)|
|10.||Pennsylvania||7 (1)||5||7 (2)||8 (1)||3||26 (4)|
|11.||Illinois||4 (1)||5||3||7 (1)||7 (1)||26 (3)|
|12.||New Jersey||1||8 (1)||4 (1)||7||5 (1)||25 (2)|
|13t.||Michigan||5 (1)||5||5||5||4 (1)||24 (2)|
|13t.||S. Carolina||9 (1)||5 (1)||2||3||5||24 (2)|
|15.||Mississippi||5||6||4 (1)||4 (2)||3||22 (3)|
|16t.||Arizona||2||5 (1)||4 (1)||3||7 (1)||21 (3)|
|16t.||Maryland||1||6 (1)||7 (2)||5 (2)||2 (1)||21 (5)|
|18t.||Tennessee||2||2||2||4 (1)||4||14 (1)|
|20.||Indiana||3||2||3 (1)||3 (1)||2||13 (2)|
|21.||Missouri||3||0||5 (1)||1||3||12 (1)|
|22.||Washington||3||2||3||1 (1)||1||10 (1)|
|24t.||Oregon||3 (1)||2||1 (1)||1 (1)||0||7 (3)|
|27t.||New York||1 (1)||1 (1)||2||0||2||6 (2)|
|30.||D.C.||1||0||1 (1)||1||1 (1)||4 (2)|
|31t.||Minnesota||1 (1)||0||0||0||2||3 (1)|
|31t.||Nevada||1 (1)||1||1||0||0||3 (1)|
|37t.||New Mexico||0||1||0||0||0||1 (0)|
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
Surprisingly, the ACC has a long list of excellent wide receivers as nearly 30 players have topped 2,500 yards receiving in their ACC careers. For some perspective, Desmond Clark, Eron Riley, Donovan Varner, Dwight Jones, Rich Gunnell, Stefon Diggs, Jacoby Ford, Quinshad Davis, Owen Spencer, Erik Highsmith, Dez White and Scottie Montgomery all failed to make the Top 25.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Calvin Johnson, 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.
2. Peter Warrick, 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.
3. Sammy Watkins, 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.
4. Torry Holt, 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.
5. Jerricho Cotchery, 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.
6. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (2010-12)
Stats: 206 rec., 3,020 yds, 27 TDs
His teammate Watkins garnered all of the attention but Hopkins was virtually unstoppable at Clemson as well. He finished tied with Watkins (and the great Herman Moore) for eighth all-time in ACC history with 27 touchdown catches, including a magical 2012 season that featured the ACC’s single-season record of 18 and then-No. 2 yardage total of 1,405 yards. Hopkins, in just three seasons, is eighth all-time with 206 catches and seventh all-time with 3,020 yards. He posted 12 100-yard games in his career and was a first-round pick of the Houston Texans.
7. Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina (2006-08)
Stats: 181 rec., 2,840 yards, 21 TDs, 43 rush, TD, 235 ret. yards
Much like Hopkins, Watkins and Megatron, Nicks’ ACC star shined briefly but brightly. In three seasons, he set single-season and career North Carolina school receiving records in every major category and proved to be one of the most explosive offensive threats in college football. He led the ACC in receiving in 2008 (1,222) and posted 10 career 100-yard games while at Chapel Hill. Nicks was the 29th overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.
8. Conner Vernon, Duke (2009-12)
Stats: 283 rec., 3,749 yds, 21 TDs, 570 ret. yds
When it comes to career accomplishments, no one in the ACC can match Vernon’s production at Duke. He is the ACC’s all-time leading receiver in yards and receptions by a fairly wide margin. Watkins trails his 283 receptions by 43 and Warrick trails his 3,749 yards receiving by over 200 yards. He posted three straight seasons with at least 950 yards and 70 receptions from 2010-12 and helped Duke return to the postseason for the first time in 18 years. He wasn’t overly gifted or explosive but was a model of consistency and a huge part of the David Cutcliffe rebuild in Durham.
9. Billy McMullen, Virginia (1999-02)
Stats: 210 rec., 2,978 yards, 24 TDs
When McMullen left Charlottesville, he was one of the most prolific players in league history. When he graduated, McMullen was second all-time to only Desmond Clark by six receptions and fourth all-time in yards. Since, he has dropped to fifth and eighth respectively. Like Vernon, he was a consistent force for his team for four full seasons and his numbers portray it. He also helped his team to three bowl games in four years under two different coaches — which is much easier said than done at Virginia these days.
10. Marvin Minnis, Florida State (1997-2000)
Stats: 115 rec., 2,098 yds, 17 TDs
"Snoop" didn’t do a whole lot playing behind Peter Warrick for the first three years of his career in Tallahassee. But this changed in a big way during this senior season. As one of just two consensus All-Americans from the ACC at wide receiver (Johnson), Minnis caught 63 passes for a then ACC-record 1,340 yards — an absurd 21.3 yards per catch — and 11 touchdowns in ’00. He played on four ACC title teams and for a team that went to three straight BCS title games with a championship in ’99.
Just missed the cut:
11. Koren Robinson, NC State (1999-2000)
Stats: 110 rec., 1,914 yards, 15 TDs, 110 rush, 872 ret. yards, 2 TDs
Robinson only played two seasons but was a huge success in his short time in Raleigh. In just 22 career games, he posted 14 100-yard games — which trails only Clarkston Hines, Cotchery and Jermaine Lewis in ACC history. Robinson’s big-play ability was evident on special teams as well and it got him drafted ninth overall in the 2001 NFL Draft.
12. Kelly Campbell, Georgia Tech (1998-01)
Stats: 195 rec., 2,907 yards, 24 TDs, 152 rush, 3 TDs, 1,415 ret. yards
The smallish do-everything player is Tech’s all-time leading receiver with 195 catches. He was used all over the field and is top 15 in ACC history in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He went to four bowls and was one of Joey Hamilton’s top targets.
13. Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech (2007-09)
Stats: 120 rec., 2,339 yards, 15 TDs
From a talent standpoint, Thomas is one of the league’s best of all-time. Unfortunately, he played in the triple option offense and no one will ever know what his numbers would have been if he had Philip Rivers or Tajh Boyd as his college quarterback.
14. Chris Givens, Wake Forest (2009-11)
Stats: 163 rec., 2,473 yards, 21 TDs, 238 yards, 2 TDs, 798 ret. yards
From an speed and explosiveness standpoint, few can match Givens' all-around ability. He was dynamic in the receiving, running and return games. His 1,330 yards in 2011 are sixth all-time in ACC history and his brief NFL career has verified his excellent college production.
15. Aaron Kelly, Clemson (2005-08)
Stats: 232 rec., 2,733 yds, 20 TDs, 417 ret. yds
Before Watkins passed him this year, Kelly was No. 2 all-time in ACC history with 232 receptions. He is top 20 in yards and touchdowns and his 88 catches in 2007 are fourth-best in ACC history.
Best of the rest:
16. Greg Carr, Florida St (2005-08): 148 rec., 2,574 yards, 29 TDs
Tied for fourth all-time in ACC history with 29 TD catches.
17. Rashad Greene, Florida St (2011-pres.): 171 rec., 2,465 yards, 22 TDs, 373 ret. yards, 2 TDs
All-around production, NFL ability, championships and longevity.
18. Torrey Smith, Maryland (2008-10): 152 rec., 2,215 yds, 19 TDs, 2,983 ret. yds, 3 TDs
Big-play machine is eighth all-time in ACC history with 5,264 all-purpose yards.
19. Rod Gardner, Clemson (1997-00): 159 rec., 2,404 yards, 12 TDs
Led the ACC in receptions (80) in 1999 and was a first-round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.
20. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida St (2012-13): 84 rec., 1,506 yards, 19 TDs
Freakish clone of Megatron is one of six ACC players to ever catch 15 TDs in one year.
21. Jamison Crowder, Duke (2011-pres.): 198 rec., 2,597 yards, 17 TDs, 1,493 ret. yards
Will be top five in ACC in receptions, yards and AP yards with third 1,000-yard season in ‘14.
22. Derrick Hamilton, Clemson (2001-03): 163 rec., 2,218 yds, 15 TDs, 340 rush, 2 TDs, 2,187 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Fourth in ACC history among wide receivers with 4,745 all-purpose yards.
23. Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest (2010-13): 229 rec., 2,506 yards, 14 TDs, 238 rush, 2 TD,s 984 ret. yards, TD
Tied ACC single-game record with 16 catches (2012) and is No. 4 all-time in receptions.
24. Jarrett Boykin, Virginia Tech (2008-11): 184 rec., 2,884 yards, 18 TDs
Tech’s all-time leader in receptions and yards on two ACC title teams.
25. Kenny Moore, Wake Forest (2004-07): 139 rec., 1,458 yards, 7 TDs, 829 rush, 5 TDs, 657 ret. yds, TD
Set ACC single-season record with 98 catches in ’07 (since broken). All-purpose dynamo.
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
Some fall on the sabermetric side of things, while others like to keep it simple and use the ol' eyeball test. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Championship Weekend:
5-10: Peyton Manning’s record against Tom Brady
Brady has had the better of Manning over the course of their career head-to-head matchups. But when it counted the most in what could be their final meeting, Manning cemented his legacy as arguably the greatest quarterback of this generation. He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns on 32-of-43 passing in the relatively easy 26-16 win over New England on Sunday. He moved to 3-1 in AFC Championship Games in his career with his first victory also coming against Brady and the Pats in the 2006 playoffs. He beat the Jets in 2009 to face the Saints in the Super Bowl and lost to Brady at the end of his '03 season one game shy of the Super Bowl. Brady fell to 5-3 in AFC Championship Games in his career.
4: QBs to lead the NFL in yards and TDs and advance to the Super Bowl
Dan Marino set a historic passing record in 1984 as the first player to ever top 5,000 yards. His mark (5,084) stood for more than 20 years and his 48 touchdown passes stood for two decades. Marino also led Miami to the Super Bowl that year, losing to San Francisco 38-16 in Super Bowl XIX. Before Sunday, only two other players had led their teams to Super Bowls while also leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns. Kurt Warner threw for an NFL-best 4,830 yards and 36 TDs in 2001 and lost to New England 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI. Tom Brady led the league with 4,806 and 50 in 2007 while going unbeaten but failed to convert in the big game against the New York Giants (XLII). Manning became the fourth such player by setting new NFL benchmarks with 5,477 yards and 55 TDs this season while leading his team to the Super Bowl.
12-3: Manning’s record when throwing for at least 400 yards
Manning has thrown for at least 400 yards in a game 12 times in the regular season and three times in the postseason. His team is 10-2 in regular season play when he tops 400 yards and, after 400 yards exactly against New England, 2-1 in the postseason. However, Manning moved to 5-0 this season when throwing for at least 400 yards in a game. His single-game high of 472 came in a loss to Kansas City in 2004.
7: Consecutive NFC title games decided by seven points or less
The Seahawks held on in dramatic fashion to earn a sport in the Super Bowl by defeating the 49ers 23-17 in Seattle on Sunday. Simply put, it was a fantastic game. However, greatness is the status quo for for the NFC Championship Game. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the NFC has produced seven consecutive championship games decided by seven points or fewer. The 49ers, obviously, have been involved in the last three, losing twice and winning once. Many can complain about Super Bowls being boring (although, not as much lately), but the NFC title game has been delivering dramatic finishes for nearly a decade straight.
3: Fourth-quarter turnovers by Colin Kaepernick
During the regular season, Jim Harbaugh turned to his running game in the fourth quarter. He rushed more times (178) for more yards (780) in the final period than any other quarter in the game (by a healthy margin). Subsequently, the 49ers threw the ball dramatically less in the final quarter (50-for-95) than in any other quarter of the game. Through three quarters against Seattle, Colin Kaepernick had completed just 7-of-13 passes for 83 yards. In three fourth-quarter possessions, Kaepernick threw 11 passes, was sacked once and turned the ball over three times. He had 13 total turnovers in the first 18 games of the season.
27-9: Russell Wilson’s win-loss record as a starter
Wilson won an NFL-record 24 games in his first two seasons as a starter in the league. He has also won a playoff game in each of this two seasons in the NFL. Overall, the talented leader of the Seahawks offense is 27-9 as a starter in the NFL. After topping the Niners at home, Wilson moved to 17-1 at CenturyLink Field. He was 16-of-25 for 215 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers to lead Seattle to just its second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
6: Coaches who led two teams to the Super Bowl
In leading the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl, head coach John Fox joined an elite NFL fraternity of guys who have taken two different teams to the biggest game of the year. Don Shula (Baltimore Colts, Miami), Dick Vermiel (Philadelphia, St. Louis), Bill Parcells (NY Giants, New England), Mike Holmgren (Green Bay, Seattle) and Dan Reeves (Denver, Atlanta) are the only other coaches to lead two different franchises to the promised land. Fox took the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII at the end of the 2003 seasons. No coach has ever won the Super Bowl with two different teams.
2: Coaches who have won a Super Bowl and a NCAA championship
Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson are the only two coaches in history to have won a college football national championship and a Super Bowl. Switzer won three national titles at Oklahoma (1974-75, ’85) and then claimed victory in Super Bowl XXX for the Dallas Cowboys over the Steelers. Johnson won the ’87 national title with Miami before winning two Super Bowls with the Cowboys (XXVII, XXVIII). Paul Brown also won an AP college football championship in 1942 with Ohio State before moving to the NFL and claiming three NFL championships (1950, ’54, ’55) but never coached in a Super Bowl. Pete Carroll, who won a share of two national titles at USC in 2003-04, has a chance to become just the third coach to ever accomplish this exclusive double dip.
What defines a great play?
Degree of difficulty? Gravity of the moment? The greatness of the players involved and their place in NFL history? Entertainment factor? How about all of the above.
Game-winning touchdowns, heroic out-of-body experiences, historic moments and even some hilarious gaffes — looking at you Garo Yepremian — all make the Super Bowl the greatest sporting event of the calendar year. Hall of Fame careers are made and broken in the final football game of the season and trying to narrow down nearly 50 years of action to the 15 best individual plays is virtually impossible.
1. Super Bowl XXXIV: One Yard Short
The Titans and Rams put on a second-half show for the fans in Atlanta. Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard touchdown pass with just over two minutes to go in a tie game to take the lead. Steve McNair then whirled his way down the field to the St. Louis 10-yard line to set up the final play of the game. Mike Jones then made the play of his career by tackling Kevin Dyson just 12 inches shy of the game-tying touchdown. It would have been the first and only overtime game in Super Bowl history.
2. Super Bowl XXXII: John Elway’s helicopter run
It was the defining moment of what many believe is the best Super Bowl ever played. It was third-and-six from the Packers' 12-yard line with the game tied 17-17 in the second half. One of the game’s greatest players drops back to pass, scrambles right and then dives head-first despite being surrounded by three Green Bay defenders. Elway gives up all regard for his body and wills himself to a first down. Terrell Davis scored the go-ahead touchdown two plays later, as Elway goes on to win his first Super Bowl.
3. Super Bowl XXV: Scott Norwood’s wide right
There have been many game-winning field goals in Super Bowl history — but none on the final snap with one team trailing and the chance to win the game. Adam Vinatieri’s kicks were clutch but those games would have gone into overtime had he missed. No, Norwood became the only true goat of a Super Bowl when his 47-yard field goal sailed just inches wide right. The miss capped an extraordinary drive that capped an extraordinary game stacked with Hall of Fame players and coaches.
4. Super Bowl XXIII: Joe Montana to John Taylor
The 10-yard pass to Taylor with 39 seconds left wasn’t in and of itself a miraculous play. It wasn’t all that difficult and it wasn’t all that remarkable. But it represents all that Montana was as an NFL Hall of Famer. He got the ball with 3:10 left on the clock down 16-13 on his own eight-yard line and all he can think about is John Candy. This touchdown pass stood as the latest game-winner touchdown in Super Bowl history for nearly 20 years.
5. Super Bowl XLII: Eli Manning to David Tyree (and Plaxico Burress)
In terms of degree of difficulty, few plays in any game much less the Super Bowl can match this one. Manning's Houdini act in the pocket to avoid getting sacked is nearly as impressive as Tyree’s duct tape and chicken wire helmet catch in traffic 32 yards down the field. Four plays later, Manning floated a 13-yard game-winning touchdown to a wide open Plaxico Burress to give the Patriots their one and only loss of the season. After three extremely slow quarters, Super Bowl XLII ended in extraordinary fashion.
6. Super Bowl XLIII: Big Ben to Santonio Holmes
The Cardinals entered the fourth quarter trailing the Steelers 20-7. Kurt Warner then proceeded to score 16 straight points to take a three-point lead over Pittsburgh with just over two minutes to play. Ben Roethlisberger then marched his team to the Arizona six-yard line where, with unbelievable accuracy and some magic toes at his disposal, he somehow connects with Holmes with 35 seconds left to play.
7. Super Bowl XVIII: Marcus Allen's 74-yard run
It is likely the most impressive run in Super Bowl history. After twisting and changing directions in the backfield, Allen split the heart of the Washington Redskins defense for the longest run in Super Bowl history (later broken by Willie Parker). The play capped the third quarter and put a fork in the ‘Skins' hopes. Allen finished with 191 yards rushing and was named the MVP.
8. Super Bowl XVII: The Diesel’s fourth-and-one gallop
The Redskins were trailing 17-13 with 10 minutes to go, facing a fourth-and-one on the Miami 43-yard line. Joe Gibbs leaves his offense on the field and calls ’70 chip’ for his star running back John Riggins. The burly runner, nicknamed The Diesel, breaks a tackle, bounces the play off tackle and races 43 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The play epitomized who Riggins was as a ball carrier.
9. Super Bowl X: Lynn Swann’s Magical Reception
When it comes to acrobatic, spectacular catches, David Tyree might not even be able top the grace of Swann. From deep in his own territory, the eventual game MVP reeled in a 53-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw that changed the game. Mark Washington is in perfect position to make a play on the ball for the Cowboys, but somehow Swann out leaps the defender, bobbles the ball and hauls in the pass as he is falling to the ground. Swann finished with four receptions for 161 yards and the game-winning 64-yard touchdown catch as well. This clash of the titans was won with style and grace.
10. Super Bowl III: Joe Namath’s Called Shot/Finger Wag
It wasn’t technically one play, but Broadway Joe’s guarantee and subsequent finger wag will go down in Super Bowl lore. It was likely the most important Super Bowl ever played. It also was the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. And the moment could have only been made possible by a brash personality like Namath.
11. Super Bowl XLIV: Saints onside kick to start second half
Possibly the ballsiest call in Super Bowl history, head coach Sean Payton calls for the onside kick to start the second half. The Saints recover and the gutsy call sets the tone, as New Orleans dominates Indianapolis and the second half to win the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy.
12. Super Bowl XXXVI: Adam Vinatieri Part I
Vinatieri Part I capped Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s coming out party as they upset the heavily favored Rams with a 48-yard game winner.
13. Super Bowl XXXVIII: Adam Vinatieri Part II
An underrated Super Bowl ended with Vinatieri Part II when he broke the 29-29 tie as time expired against the Panthers.
14. Super Bowl XXVII: Leon Lett chased down by Don Beebe
The game wasn’t close and the play didn’t really matter, but no one will ever forget little Beebe embarrassing big Lett at the goal line.
15. Super Bowl I: Max McGee one-hander
A hungover, second-string McGee makes a spectacular one-handed catch to score the first touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Best of the Rest:
16. Super Bowl XIV: Terry Bradshaw to Lance Stallworth for the 73-yard game winning touchdown.
17. Super Bowl XX: William Perry steals Sweetness’ touchdown.
18. Super Bowl XLVI: Eli Manning completes 38-yard sideline fade to Mario Manningham to open eventual game-winning drive agianst New England.
19. Super Bowl XIII: Jackie Smith is "the sickest man in America."
20. Super Bowl XXXI: Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return TD.
As Super Bowl XLVIII approaches (Feb. 2), it seems like the perfect time to look back at Super Bowls of the past and the great players who made those games so memorable.
In selecting an all-time Super Bowl team, it is important to establish clear criteria. While there is nothing more subjective than all-time teams, this criteria certainly includes individual statistics, but performance that leads to team success carries more weight. Multiple game appearances help, so longevity counts too.
Athlon Sports' All-time Super Bowl Team
Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco
This is one of a couple of positions where there is no argument. With four Super Bowl wins, Montana has a career passer rating of 127.8, the best ever. Joe Cool tossed 11 touchdown passes to six different receivers with no interceptions. During his Super Bowl career, he threw 28 passes on third down, completing 19 of them for 14 first downs and one touchdown. There has been no one better in the big game.
Honorable Mention: John Elway, Denver; Tom Brady, New England; Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh; Kurt Warner, St. Louis and Arizona
Franco Harris, RB, Pittsburgh
There is no shortage of candidates at running back. Harris rushed for 354 yards in Pittsburgh’s four Super wins in the 1970s and had another 114 yards receiving. In the four games, Harris had 18 touches on third down resulting in 10 first downs and three touchdowns. And Harris is the only runner with more than 100 carries in history.
Roger Craig, RB, San Francisco
In three Super Bowls for San Francisco, all wins, Craig amassed 413 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns, including 101 yards receiving in Super Bowl XXIII.
HM: Larry Csonka, Miami; Emmitt Smith, Dallas; Terrell Davis, Denver; John Riggins, Washington; Marcus Allen, LA Raiders
Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh
Fans who saw him in the Super Bowl probably remember flying, acrobatic catches. But Swann meant more to the Steelers than just a couple of circus catches. He is second all-time with 364 receiving yards, all coming in three Super Bowls. In his first Super Bowl appearance with the Steelers, Swann was limited to punt return duty.
Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco
Rice is another no-brainer. Let’s see: most Super Bowl receptions in a career (33), most yards receiving in a career (589) and game (215), most yards from scrimmage in a career (604), the only player to score three TDs in a game twice. Oh, and he earned an MVP. And 77 of his receiving yards and a touchdown came at age 40 for Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.
HM: Deion Branch, New England; John Stallworth, Pittsburgh; Andre Reed, Buffalo; Isaac Bruce, St. Louis; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
Jay Novacek, TE, Dallas
One of quarterback Troy Aikman’s favorite clutch targets, Novacek scored the first Dallas touchdown in Super Bowls XXVII and XXX. In three wins he totaled 148 yards and two scores on 17 catches.
HM: Shannon Sharpe, Denver/Baltimore; Marv Fleming, Green Bay/Miami
Jon Kolb, LT, Pittsburgh
The only constant along the Pittsburgh offensive line during their run of four Super Bowls in the 1970s, Kolb led the way for Franco Harris’ running and protected Terry Bradshaw in the passing game.
HM: Mark Tuinei, Dallas; Matt Light, New England
Nate Newton, LG, Dallas
Emmitt Smith became the all-time leading NFL rusher thanks in large — and we do mean large — part to Newton. In Newton’s three Super Bowls, the Cowboys scored 52, 30 and 27 points.
HM: Bob Kuechenberg, Miami; Russ Grimm, Washington
Jim Langer, C, Miami
Langer anchored the line during Miami’s back-to-back titles in the 1970s. In Super Bowl VIII, Miami rushed 53 times for 196 yards, most of it straight up the middle with bruiser Larry Csonka.
HM: Ray Mansfield, Pittsburgh; Mike Webster, Pittsburgh
Joe Andruzzi, RG, New England
In three New England wins, the Patriots rushed for 372 yards, and Andruzzi helped protect MVP Tom Brady allowing him to stay comfortable in the pocket.
HM: Jerry Kramer, Green Bay; Gerry Mullins, Pittsburgh; Larry Little, Miami
Erik Williams, RT, Dallas
The heart and soul of the Cowboys’ offensive machine was the offensive line. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were the beneficiaries of the hard work done by the likes of Williams.
HM: Forrest Gregg, Green Bay; Norm Evans, Miami
Charles Haley, DE, Dallas/San Francisco
Haley was more of an outside linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 alignment. He is the only player to win five Super Bowls.
Richard Dent, DE, Chicago
The Monsters of the Midway had a stacked roster of defensive stars but Dent won the MVP in Super Bowl XX with 1.5 sacks as the Bears gave up a total of 10 points to New England.
HM: Richard Seymour, New England; Reggie White, Green Bay; Dwight White, Pittsburgh; Willie Davis, Green Bay
Joe Greene, DT, Pittsburgh
As the heart of the front of the Steel Curtain, Greene intimidated quarterbacks, running backs and offensive linemen. In four Super wins, opponents averaged less than 100 yards rushing against Pittsburgh as Greene made life miserable for Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton and Vince Ferragamo.
Russell Maryland, DT, Dallas
The offense received much of the credit, but Dallas recorded eight interceptions and held teams to less than four yards a carry in their three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s. Maryland was a load up front in all three games.
HM: Jethro Pugh, Dallas; Manny Fernandez, Miami; Alan Page, Minnesota
Jack Lambert, LB, Pittsburgh
Lambert was in the middle of all things defensively for the Steelers for 11 seasons, including four trips to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh would not have been 4-0 in the most important game of the season without him.
Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore
Lewis is one of two linebackers to win a Super Bowl MVP (XXXV) and nearly a decade later posted seven tackles in winning his second Lombardi Trophy with the Ravens. It was his final game in the NFL.
Chuck Howley, LB, Dallas
This Cowboy is one of two at his position to ever win an MVP (V) and is the only player to win an MVP for a losing team in Super Bowl history. He also won a Super Bowl the following year with a big performance (INT, fumble recovery) in Dallas' win over Miami in Super Bowl VI. He played 13 years with Dallas.
HM: Tedy Bruschi, New England; Mike Vrabel, New England; Rod Martin, Oakland; Jack Ham, Pittsburgh; Keena Turner, San Francisco; Ray Nitschke, Green Bay; Nick Buoniconti, Miami
Herb Adderley, CB, Green Bay/Dallas
Adderley was a member of Green Bay’s first two title teams, returning an interception 60 yards for a score in Super Bowl II. He played in two more for Dallas, winning one and losing one.
Mel Blount, CB, Pittsburgh
Blount played for four winners, and contributed with an interception in Super Bowls IX and XIII.
HM: Ty Law, New England; Larry Brown, Dallas; Deion Sanders, San Francisco/Dallas; Tracy Porter, New Orleans
Jake Scott, S, Miami
Scott intercepted Billy Kilmer twice in Miami’s hard-fought 14-7 win in Super Bowl VII, earning MVP honors.
Ronnie Lott, S, San Francisco
Instrumental in the Niners’ four Super Bowl wins, Lott played corner in the first two before moving to safety. None of his nine postseason interceptions came in the Super Bowl, probably because quarterbacks avoided him.
HM: Cliff Harris, Dallas; Dick Anderson, Miami, Dexter Jackson, Tampa Bay; Willie Wood, Green Bay; Charlie Waters, Dallas; Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh; Mike Wagner, Pittsburgh
Desmond Howard, KR/PR, Green Bay
Earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXI with a kick return for a touchdown, but also had two punt returns of more than 30 yards.
Adam Vinatieri, K, New England/Indianapolis
Never has there been a more clutch kicker in the Super Bowl.
Larry Seiple, P, Miami
Always a threat to take off and run (also played some tight end), Seiple kept the Redskins and Vikings bottled up in Super Bowls VII and VIII.
Chuck Noll, Head Coach, Pittsburgh
An easy choice, Noll is the only coach to win four. He won with defense, running and passing. His Pittsburgh teams were complete and dominant.
HM: Vince Lombardi, Green Bay; Bill Belichick, New England; Bill Walsh, San Francisco, Tom Coughlin, NY Giants; Jimmy Johnson, Dallas
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
The Big Ten wide receiver ranks were highlighted by two Biletnikoff Award winners, numerous All-Americans and a host of records from the Joe Tiller-Drew Brees era at Purdue. Here are the Top 10 Big Ten wide receivers of the BCS Era:
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Braylon Edwards, Michigan (2001-04)
Stats: 252 rec., 3,541 yds, 39 TDs
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. The consensus All-American finished 10th in the Heisman voting that season as well.
2. Charles Rogers, Michigan State (2001-02)
Stats: 135 rec., 2,821 yds, 27 TDs, 110 rush, TD, 177 ret. yds, TD
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. His 1,470 yards in 2001 trail only one player in Big Ten history…
3. Lee Evans, Wisconsin (1999-2003)
Stats: 175 rec., 3,468 yds, 27 TDs
Despite missing extended time with a torn ACL, Evans is the best wide receiver to play at Wisconsin since Al Toon. His two-year run was as good as any in Big Ten history, posting a league-record 1,545 yards in 2001. He came back after the knee injury and nearly duplicated his numbers with 1,213 yards and 13 TDs in 2003. His 10-catch, 258-yard, 5-TD game against Michigan State might have been the best single performance by any Badger. Evans is one of two B1G players to ever catch five TDs in one game (Omar Douglas) and he is fifth all-time in Big Ten history in receiving yards.
4. David Boston, Ohio State (1996-98)
Stats: 191 rec., 2,855 yds, 34 TDs, 959 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Suspicions of performance enhancers will always hang around Boston's resume so it is difficult to evaluate where he ranks. While on the field at Ohio State, he was dominant. He caught 27 touchdowns over his last two seasons and was the superstar — 85 rec., 1,435 yds, 13 TD — for the '98 team that likely should have played Tennessee for a national championship. His 34 TDs are fourth all-time in league history, he excelled on special teams and was the eighth overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
5. D’Wayne Bates, Northwestern (1995-98)
Stats: 210 rec., 3,370 yds, 26 TDs
From the time he stepped onto Ryan Field, Bates was a playmaker for the Wildcats. He was the leading receiver on the ’95 Rose Bowl team as a true freshman before setting school records for yards (1,196) and touchdowns (12) as a sophomore. After missing all but one game as a junior, Bates returned to break his own receiving records with a huge senior season: 83 receptions and 1,245 yards. In just three years, he also set Northwestern’s career marks for receptions (210), touchdowns (26) and yards (3,370). His 3,370 yards were second all-time when he left Evanston.
6. Allen Robinson, Penn State (2011-13)
Stats: 177 rec., 2,479 yards, 17 TDs
With a fourth full season at Penn State, Robinson would have become one of the greatest wideouts in Big Ten history. His 97 catches in 2013 are tied for fourth in Big Ten history and his 1,432 yards are also good for fourth all-time in league history. And he did all of that with a true freshman quarterback in ’13. He owns basically every major Penn State single-season and career receiving record and consistently made huge plays in huge moments in close games.
7. Plaxico Burress, Michigan State (1998-99)
Stats: 131 rec., 2,155 yds, 20 TDs
Many of Michigan State’s best — Rogers, Burress and Devin Thomas — played only briefly in the Big Ten, yet, their influence is no less felt. The eighth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft was unstoppable in two seasons in East Lansing. He posted a school-record 65 receptions for 1,013 yards and eight scores in his first year. Then broke his own record with 66 receptions, 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns in his second year. The massive 6-foot-6, 230-pounder rewrote the MSU record book in just two seasons.
8. James Hardy, Indiana (2005-07)
Stats: 191 rec., 2,740 yds, 36 TDs
Few players have ever been as effective in the red zone as Hardy was for the Hoosiers. He scored at least 10 touchdowns in each of his three seasons, capping his remarkable career with a monster junior season: 79 receptions, 1,125 yards and 16 TDs — which is tied for third-best in Big Ten history. His 36 career TD catches rank third all-time in the Big Ten and he owns all three major school career receiving records. His 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, much like Burress, was impossible to stop in jump ball situations and after leaving Indiana early, Hardy was selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
9. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (2010-13)
Stats: 202 rec., 3,140 yds, 23 TDs, 291 rush, 2 TDs, 1,387 ret. yds, TD
From an all-around standpoint, Abbrederis is one of the greatest to ever suit up in the Big Ten. He is one reception from being in the top 10 all-time, is eighth all-time in yards and contributed to UW’s offense in more ways than most wideouts. He was used in the ground game, was an All-American caliber returner and helped lead Wisconsin to three straight Big Ten championships. He played in at least 13 games all four years, finishing with 53 career games to his credit.
10. Eric Decker, Minnesota (2006-09)
Stats: 227 rec., 3,119 yds, 24 TDs, 114 rush, TD
Few players have been as consistent as Decker was at Minnesota and had he not missed nearly half a season as a senior, his career numbers would be among the Big Ten’s best. He started 12 games as a freshman and posted an impressive sophomore line of 68 catches, 909 yards and nine scores. He improved on those numbers as a junior, setting career highs with 84 catches and 1,074 yards. He started 44 of the first 45 games of his career. His 227 catches are sixth all-time and his 3,119 yards are ninth all-time. With five more games as a senior, he could have finished in the top five in both categories.
Just Missed the cut:
11. Marvin McNutt, Iowa (2008-11)
Stats: 170 rec., 2,861 yds, 28 TDs
The speedy big-play target for Kirk Ferentz capped an excellent career with one of the most prolific single-seasons in Big Ten history. He caught 82 passes for 1,315 (seventh-best in league history) and 12 touchdowns. All three of which set or tied Iowa single-season records. No Hawkeye has more career receiving yards than McNutt.
12. Ron Johnson, Minnesota (1998-2001)
Stats: 196 rec., 2,931 yds, 31 TDs
His 31 TD receptions are tied for sixth all-time in Big Ten history. Johnson posted three straight seasons with at least seven touchdowns and caught 115 passes for 1,962 yards and 20 TDs over his final two seasons.
13. Dorien Bryant, Purdue (2004-07)
Stats: 292 rec., 3,548 yds, 21 TDs, 421 rush, 6 TDs, 2,250 ret. yds, 3 TDs
Bryant is No. 2 all-time in receptions with 292 and No. 3 all-time in yards with 3,548. But Bryant was much more versatile than his predecessors. His 6,219 all-purpose yards rank fourth all-time behind Ron Dayne, Archie Griffin and Anthony Thompson.
14. Taylor Stubblefield, Purdue (2001-04)
Stats: 325 rec., 3,629 yds, 21 TDs
Deciphering Joe Tiller's wide receivers is nearly impossible. Stubblefield is No. 1 all-time in the B1G with 325 catches and No. 2 all-time with 3,629 yards. The consensus All-American never had fewer than 73 catches (Fr.) or 789 yards (So.) in any of his four seasons.
15. John Standeford, Purdue (2000-03)
Stats: 266 rec., 3,788 yds, 27 TDs
Standeford is No. 3 all-time in Big Ten history with 266 receptions and No. 1 all-time with 3,788 yards. His final two seasons are one of the top two-year runs by any wideout in league history: 152 rec., 2,457 yards, 17 TDs.
Best of the Rest:
16. Brandon Lloyd, Illinois (1999-02): 155 rec., 2,527 yards, 19 TDs, 328 ret. yds
Talented wideout posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with at least 8 TDs in both.
17. B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State (2008-11): 218 rec., 3,086 yards, 25 TDs
All-time leading MSU receiver is No. 7 all-time in receptions and one of nine to top 1,300 yards in a season.
18. Michael Jenkins, Ohio State (2001-03): 157 rec., 2,746 yards, 16 TDs, Ret. TD
Helped lead OSU to a national title with critical plays and a 1,000-yard season in 2002.
19. Mario Manningham, Michigan (2005-07): 137 rec., 2,310 yds, 27 TDs, 176 rush
Averaged one touchdown catch every 5.1 receptions in just three seasons.
20. Devin Thomas, Michigan State (2006-07): 85 rec., 1,350 yds, 9 TDs, 177 rush, 1,170 ret. yds
His 2,590 all-purpose yards in 2007 are second all-time (Larry Johnson, 2,655) in conference history.
21. Brandon Williams, Wisconsin (2002-05): 202 rec., 2,924 yards, 10 TDs, 2,787 ret. yards, 2 TDs
Versatile do-everything performer is eighth all-time in all-purpose yards. Played 52 games.
22. Courtney Roby, Indiana (2001-04): 170 rec., 2,524 yds, 12 TDs, 207 rush, 2 TDs, 572 ret. yds
Consistent performer for Hooisers before pass-happy offenses took over.
23. Jeremy Gallon, Michigan (2010-13): 173 rec., 2,704 yds, 17 TDs, 991 ret. yards
Owns Big Ten single-game yards record (369) and Michigan season yards record (1,373).
24. A.J. Jenkins, Illinois (2008-11): 167 rec., 2,432 yds, 19 TDs, 773 ret. yds, TD
Monster senior season — 90 rec., 1,276 yards, 8 TDs — made him a first-round draft pick.
25. Chris Daniels, Purdue (1996-99): 170 rec., 1,845 yards, 15 TDs
Owns Big Ten single-game (21) and single-season (121) receptions records.
It's hard to believe that the Internet didn’t exist three decade ago. Or that High Definition television is something we ever lived without.
It doesn't seem that long ago that I was scoring my father’s fantasy team by hand with USA Today box scores. Today, I can reach into my pocket and swap running backs two minutes before kickoff with my smart phone and a Yahoo! app while sitting in my seat at a Titans game.
To say that technological advances have changed the way we enjoy, consume, interact, view and support our favorite sports team is a gross understatement. But new ideas and inventions have changed the game itself as well. In the NFL’s case — the most scrutinized and examined sport in America — a few specific changes in technology have drastically changed the way the game is viewed and played.
Here are the biggest (and some of our favorite) technological advances in NFL history and maybe some ideas that are right around the corner.
Obviously, this one could be grouped in with HD TV and other film-related advances that have literally helped the sport from every angle. But instant replay itself stands alone as one of the most important advances in not only how fans consume the NFL but how the outcome is determined. The NFL first implemented a partial IR system in 1986 and a full system of review in '99. It has been progressively tweaked ever since, taking away challenges in the final two minutes as well as on scoring plays and turnovers. The obvious next step that needs to take place is a centralized review system. It works for the NHL and it will work perfectly for the NFL to have one office review every call at the league offices.
Certainly, the Internet has changed life on this planet forever. But as it pertains to the NFL specifically, the Internet contributed two massive and underlying lynchpins to the NFL’s unbelievable success. Gambling and fantasy sports — which some consider to be one in the same — have propelled the NFL to new heights off the field in terms of popularity. Tracking your favorite team (or sport) with hundreds of analytical, statistical and historical websites has added to the NFL’s fan experience. So the Internet has given gamblers and fantasy junkies the ability to analyze and speculate at a higher — and more lucrative — level than ever before. Gambling and fantasy sports, like it or not, are a huge part of the NFL’s overwhelming status as the most powerful sport in this country.
DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket
My family was living in Austin, Texas, in 1994 when DirecTV first launched. The problem was we were all diehard Green Bay Packers fans. But DirecTV could offer something never before provided by cable companies. DirecTV arrived months before the ’94 NFL season began with the promise of NFL Sunday Ticket delivering every NFL game to anywhere in the nation. Needless to say, neither my father nor myself have ever used another service provider. The satellite company has constantly improved on the product, adding a mix channel and the Red Zone Channel in the mid-2000s. Sunday Ticket meant no more smoke-filled bars, expensive meals or spending Sunday afternoons away from home for millions of fans across the nation. It changed the way we watched our teams forever.
One of the biggest and most difficult aspects to running an NFL team is field upkeep. Green Bay has spent a small fortune on keeping real grass playable in the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field with additions like heating coils. The advent of FieldTurf and its subsequent upkeep has allowed more games to take place in poor conditions with little to no additional costs incurred. Sure, the turf costs more on the front end, but the overall gameplay got a major upgrade when NFL teams began converting to one type of field turf or another. Unlike its predecessor, AstroTurf, the advancements in FieldTurf are here to stay and have positively impacted the game in a big way. Currently 14 of the 31 NFL stadiums boast a real, natural grass-only surface.
My brother and I got a TurboGrafx-16 when we were small kids around 1990. I loved the Super Bowl by that age but didn’t know all of the players. Soon my doomed-to-fail TG-16 became a Sega Genesis due solely to one thing: EA Sports. By 1993, I was hooked on "Madden NFL Football" and would go on to waste thousands of hours of my life leading Brett Favre, Dorsey Levens and Robert Brooks to Super Bowl championships. My story isn’t all that unique for anyone born after 1980. Video games are no longer a part of my life but they are an unquestioned behemoth in modern society and have no doubt changed many kids' life when it comes to interest in the NFL or other sports.
First Down Line
This one is totally selfish in that it has had zero impact on the game itself. But few things have changed as much for the fans at home as on-screen graphics. The super-imposed first down line — officially titled “1st and Ten” — was a thing of genius when it was first used on screen during ESPN’s coverage of a Bengals-Ravens game in 1998. Since then, a line of scrimmage line has been added as well as a variety of other on-screen visuals. Down and distance, number of timeouts, game clocks, play clocks, pop-up stat trackers and more have made sitting at home as thorough an experience as there has ever been. And thus, has increased TV ratings.
Facemasks, Gloves and Helmets
Equipment advancements are far reaching and constantly changing, so it is hard to pinpoint one specific item or change that has had the most impact. The face mask wasn’t an orginal part of the NFL but once plastic helmets (an equally important advancement) were put into place, the face mask followed shortly thereafter. Wide receivers back in the 1960s and '70s never used gloves — like, say, Kellen Winslow in The Freezer Bowl. Under-pad attire has changed dramatically over time as well as wicking fabrics and cooling materials now cover the body from head to toe during practice and games. And as the NFL continues to move forward, the most important equipment improvement will be safer helmets.
Baseball and the Olympics get all of the headlines when it comes to steroid or HGH usage but many believe that football has the worst PED problem. The physicality and speed of the game packaged with the alarming growth in the size of NFL players over the last two decades creates a huge need for PEDs. Some rumors, if you believe them, say that more than half of the league would test positive for some sort of PED. Big plays, car-wreck-like collisions and ultra-fast speeds are what move the needle for the NFL and most believe this progression hasn't happened naturally. Is there a greater understanding of dietary concerns, nutritional information and proper body management today than two decades ago? Yes. But not every one has competed on a level playing field and fans too easily ignore how these young adults become hulking gladiators.
HD Television and the NFL Network
Along the same lines as Sunday Ticket and Instant Replay, the evolution of film technology has dramatically shifted the NFL experience. HD TV is a must for in-home viewing. Digital still photography is instantly transmitted from the coaching booth to the sideline after ever play. Film study for both game and draft preparation is easier and more prevalent. Skycam and various other camera angles have been added to the field to improve the overall coverage of the game. In all, the development of the audio/visual component has had a huge impact on the game. It began with the launch of NFL Films and is now carried on by a 24-hour NFL Network.
Retractable Roofs and Jumbotrons
NFL executive are searching for ways to curtail spiraling attendance numbers across the league. Two of the biggest additions to the stadium gameday experience were the first retractable roof introduced in Houston when Reliant Stadium opened in 2002 and the jumbotron. Adding in-stadium video boards is nothing new but making it a massive high-def instant replay booth for fans was critical to keeping butts in seats. And to make those seats more accommodating, being able to control the climate in the building has become a huge factor in getting people through the turnstiles.
What’s next for the NFL?
It is this gameday, in-stadium experience that fans can expect the most innovation in the near future. General managers and owners are looking at ways to keep people coming to the games and adding new bar and restaurant experiences, Wi-Fi or even on-site daycare centers will be next to show up across the league. Shuttle services, TVs in chair backs and even seats that rumble when a big-play happens could appear.
Safety also is a huge issue moving forward for the NFL. Some (dramatic) columnists like to think that the end of football is near as parents begin to realize the dangers of football for their young children. So the NFL will do everything in its power to design the safest equipment possible. Virginia Tech is already using on-field, real-time sensors that measure impacts and rate helmet safety. Expect this to move to the NFL soon, if it hasn’t already.
Along those safety lines, what if the NFL had on-site, pre-game drug testing that provided instant results? What if the NFL could test a player seconds before he stepped onto the field for warm-ups and determine if he was using something illegal? Would fans approve?
Cameras also will continue to get smaller, better and more versatile. Will there be a pylon cam? What about cameras on the referee's hat or a player’s helmet? Centralized replay appears to be coming in the very near future and fans also should expect more and better angles from the TV companies to keep coming.
Finally, what about spotting the ball? It’s the most important and most inexact science on the field today and there is no reason for it to be that way. Why not use motion sensors or imaging technology to spot the ball perfectly on every play? The refs really do an amazing job placing the ball most of the time but why not make it an exact science? The skin of the football could be composed of hundreds of sensors and the field outlaid with a grid of motion detectors, therefore the spot of the ball is perfect down to the inch.
The NFL may be weeks away from things like centralized replay but years away from exact spotting. The NFL is a big business machine that won’t stop improving because it is too lucrative to become stagnant.
This, like all of the aforementioned technological progressions, bodes well for future generations of NFL fans.
People are tired of hearing about the SEC, but it was a truly remarkable season for quarterbacks in the nation’s toughest conference.
And the roster of SEC signal-callers in 2014 could be as bad as '13 was good.
Mike Slive will say goodbye to half of his starting quarterbacks this offseason, including the SEC’s all-time leading passer (Aaron Murray), a Heisman Trophy winner (Johnny Manziel), the most decorated QB in league history (AJ McCarron), the winningest signal-caller in South Carolina history (Connor Shaw) as well as a guy who played for two SEC teams (Zach Mettenberger).
While defense and running the ball figures to be back en vogue down South next year, that isn’t the case with the rest of the nation. The ACC returns the reigning Heisman and national title winner. The Big Ten has its top three talents back under center — all of which could press for All-American honors. And the Pac-12, in particular, will return a deep collection of elite passers with more than one eyeing a trip to New York in December.
A playmaking, game-changing super-quarterback isn’t a must to win a division, conference or national crown. But it sure does help. It’s the most important position on the field and, frankly, a great signal-caller can be plucked from any state in the nation.
So where do the best programs in college football find their on-field leaders?
Athlon has projected the starting quarterbacks for 66 of the biggest programs in the nation, a list that includes the big five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) as well as Notre Dame and BYU.
Note: This isn’t meant to be a knock on “small school” players like Navy’s Keenan Reynolds or Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton. It’s merely focused on the biggest programs in the nation and where they find their quarterback.
Some liberties had to be taken. For example, two true freshmen are projected at Alabama (David Cornwell) and Texas A&M (Kyle Allen). Marquise Williams is given the nod over highly-touted Mitch Trubinsky at North Carolina. Talented up-and-comers (Anu Solomon, Johnny McCrary) and guys with some experience (Cyler Miles, Anthony Jennings) were given the benefit of the doubt and awarded a starting spot.
Another note: I acknowledge many of these names won’t start but it is the best possible educated guess at this time.
Here is what I learned about what the state of quarterback play will be in ’14:
There’s stability out West… but not from California
Texas (8), Georgia (6) and Florida (6) are the only states with more starting quarterbacks than California’s five. And the Pac-12 has easily the deepest and most talented roster of quarterbacks of any conference in the nation. However, the league out West hasn’t found a lot of talent in the Golden State’s ranks. Of the 12 Pac-12 starters, only three come from California (Cody Kessler, Sean Mannion, Jared Goff) and only three stayed home to play their college ball (Kessler, Goff, Connor Halliday). Heisman candidates Marcus Mariota (Hawaii), Brett Hundley (Ariz.), Taylor Kelly (Idaho) and Kevin Hogan (Va.) all hail from out-of-state high schools and none are from California. Even rising stars Cyler Miles and Sefo Liufau swapped states, as Miles is from Colorado and playing at Washington while Liufau is from Washington and playing at Colorado. There are great QBs out West but very few of them come from California.
SEC looks to the Peach State
Georgia has established itself as the fourth-most talent-rich state in the country behind the big three (Texas, California, Florida). And the SEC will have a distinct Peach State flavor under center in 2014. Five of the 14 starters — including a new starter at LSU, Georgia and potentially Vanderbilt — will hail from the state of Georgia. Hutson Mason and Anthony Jennings both got their feet wet at the end of ’13 and will be better off for it next fall in their first full season for two conference contenders. Johnny McCrary is the most talented signal-caller Vandy has ever signed (sorry, Jay Cutler) and has a chance to be special for the Dores. Joshua Dobbs has the inside track at Tennessee if he can hold off redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson. And then there is Nick Marshall. Auburn’s zone-read master is likely the preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback and is the defending SEC champ. He is from Pineview, Ga. Additionally, another Southeastern school, Louisville, will likely start a Georgia-based quarterback in Will Gardner. In all, Georgia is second nationally with six projected starters among the top 66 teams.
Ohio could be in for a big year
The State of Ohio ranks fifth nationally in producing starting quarterbacks in 2014 with four potential starters. But what makes this collection of starters special is their massive upside. Connor Cook at Michigan State is already a Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion and has yet to lose a league game in his career. Braxton Miller has Ohio State thinking national championship again after going 24-0 in the regular season the last two years. Maty Mauk is the heir apparent to James Franklin at Missouri and already has shown he has big-time ability in spot duty in 2013. Mauk was a two-time Ohio Player of the Year and owns the national high school passing records for yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219), pass completions (1,353) and total offense (22,681). Finally, Clemson will likely feature an Ohio prospect as Cole Stoudt is in line to take over for the departed Tajh Boyd. All four Ohio quarterbacks will be leading ranked teams in the preseason with eyes on a conference championship.
Big 12 Locks up the Lone Star State
Seven of the 10 Big 12 teams, including 15 of the last 16 teams to win the Big 12 title, will claim a quarterback from the state of Texas in 2014. Lone Star product Bryce Petty is the star of the league and returns to Baylor while Trevor Knight at Oklahoma, J.W. Walsh at Oklahoma State, David Ash at Texas and Davis Webb at Texas Tech all hail form Texas as well. Additionally, Trevone Boykin and Paul Millard could begin the season as starters at TCU and West Virginia, respectively. Both played their high school football in Texas. Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State are the only teams in the league not projected to employ a starting quarterback from the state of Texas. Jake Heaps is from Washington, Jake Waters is from Iowa and Grant Rohach is from California respectively. In all, Texas leads the nation with eight starting quarterbacks — Tommy Armstrong Jr. at Nebraska is from Cibolo, Texas.
Out of state still rules
Of the 66 programs included in this exercise, only 22 teams will start a quarterback from within its state’s borders. Further, six of those 22 starters are the only player from their state pegged to start for the one of the 66 top programs. Devin Gardner at Michigan is the only projected starter from the state of Michigan. Brandon Allen is the only projected starter from the state of Arkansas. The same can be said for Terrel Hunt at Syracuse (New York), Wes Lunt at Illinois, Danny Etling at Purdue (Indiana) and Philip Nelson at Minnesota. Otherwise, of the very early preseason top 10 teams in 2014, only two boast an in-state quarterback.
• Pennsylvania used to be a hot bed for elite quarterbacks as a long list of NFL Hall of Famers hail from the Keystone State. Now, however, the talent appears to have dried up. Two years ago when I did this exercise, there were four starters at the major college programs — CJ Brown, Ryan Nassib, Tino Sunseri, Matt McGloin — but only Maryland’s Brown remains as a starting quarterback from Pennsylvania in big-time college football.
• A few years ago, the ACC was chalk full of quarterbacks from Virginia. Tajh Boyd, EJ Manuel, Bryn Renner, Mike Glennon and Logan Thomas have all moved on from the league and only David Watford at Virginia remains. That said, Christian Hackenberg (Penn State) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford) are excellent quarterbacks from the Commonwealth but the ACC let both of them get away.
• In general, Idaho doesn’t produce many big-time college football prospects. There were eight total players ranked by 247Sports in the entire 2013 signing class from Idaho and only one, Eric Cotton to Stanford, signed with a “Big 5” program. However, two potential Heisman candidates in ’14 hail from The Gem State. Arizona State’s third-year starter Taylor Kelly is one of the nation’s most effective players while BYU’s Taysom Hill is one of the best athletes in the country who showed marked improvement as a passer ball during his first full season as the starter in Provo.
• Florida is considered my many to be the most talented state in the country. But it could be severely lacking in talent under center. Jeff Driskel should be back at Florida and gets a bad rap for his play. Trevor Siemian is a solid player who splits time at Northwestern. Jake Rudock might be the best of the bunch as he helped turn Iowa around this fall. Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Cameron and Mark Leal should all step into starting roles in the ACC at NC State, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech respectively. The Sunshine State is second nationally with six starters but do any of them strike fear into opposing defenses?
|Josh Bordner, BC||MD||Wes Lunt, Illinois||IL||David Cornwell, Alabama||OK|
|Cole Stoudt, Clemson||OH||Nate Sudfeld, Indiana||IN||Brandon Allen, Arkansas||AR|
|Anthony Boone, Duke||NC||Jake Rudock, Iowa||FL||Nick Marshall, Auburn||GA|
|Jameis Winston, FSU||AL||C.J. Brown, Maryland||PA||Jeff Driskel, Florida||FL|
|Justin Thomas, Ga. Tech||AL||Devin Gardner, Michigan||MI||Hutson Mason, Georgia||GA|
|Will Gardner, Louisville||GA||Connor Cook, Mich. St||OH||Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky||AL|
|Kevin Olsen, Miami||NJ||Philip Nelson, Minn.||MN||Anthony Jennings, LSU||GA|
|Marquise Williams, UNC||NC||Tommy Armstrong, Neb.||TX||Bo Wallace, Ole Miss||TN|
|Jacoby Brissett, NC St||FL||Trevor Siemian, NW||FL||Dak Prescott, Miss. St||LA|
|Chad Voytik, Pitt||TN||Braxton Miller, Ohio St||OH||Maty Mauk, Mizzou||OH|
|Terrel Hunt, Syracuse||NY||Christian Hackenberg, PSU||VA||Dylan Thompson, S. Car||SC|
|David Watford, Virginia||VA||Danny Etling, Purdue||IN||Kyle Allen, Texas A&M||AZ|
|Mark Leal, Va. Tech||FL||Gary Nova, Rutgers||NJ||Joshua Dobbs, Tenn.||GA|
|Tyler Cameron, Wake||FL||Joel Stave, Wisc.||WI||Johnny McCrary, Vandy||GA|
|Bryce Petty, Baylor||Texas||Anu Solomon, Arizona||Nevada|
|Grant Rohach, Iowa St||Calif.||Taylor Kelly, Arizona St||Idaho|
|Jake Heaps, Kansas||Wash.||Jared Goff, Cal||Calif.|
|Jake Waters, Kansas St||Iowa||Sefo Liufau, Colorado||Wash.|
|Trevor Knight, Oklahoma||Texas||Marcus Mariota, Oregon||Hawaii|
|J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma St||Texas||Sean Mannion, Oregon St||Calif.|
|Trevone Boykin, TCU||Texas||Kevin Hogan, Stanford||Virginia|
|David Ash, Texas||Texas||Brett Hundley, UCLA||Arizona|
|Davis Webb, Texas Tech||Texas||Cody Kessler, USC||Calif.|
|Paul Millard, West Virginia||Texas||Adam Schulz, Utah||Wisc.|
|* Everett Golson, Notre Dame||S. Car.||Cyler Miles, Washington||Colo.|
|* Taysom Hill, BYU||Idaho||Connor Halliday, Wazzu||Wash.|
The Pac-12 might be the best conference in college football next season.
The 2014 season will be remembered forever as the first edition of the playoff era. But it also might be remembered as the year the SEC’s reign of terror ended. One look at early preseason top 25 polls and it’s easy to see just how deep and difficult the Pac-12 will be in ’14. Three of the top nine and six of the top 21 teams in the nation hail from the league out West. Throw in bowls teams Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State and it’s clear to see why the Pac-12 has closed the gap on the mighty SEC.
It also means that these teams will cannibalize each other — much like what happened in 2013. Additionally, the league plays the toughest out-of-conference schedule of any league as well. Below is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2014 schedules as they were finalized recently by the league. But before we jump into UCLA’s critical crossover home games, here is a breakdown of the league’s ’14 schedule as a whole.
Biggest Game in the North: Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)
Biggest Game in the South: USC at UCLA (Nov. 22)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown: Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown II: Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 4)
Marquee Non-Conference Showdown III: UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, AT&T Stadium)
South’s Toughest Crossover Slate: UCLA (Oregon, at Cal, at Washington, Stanford)
North’s Toughest Crossover Slate: Stanford (USC, at Arizona State, Utah, at UCLA)
League’s Toughest Schedule: UCLA
League’s Easiest Schedule: None (maybe USC)
Now, onto the team-by-team breakdown:
Arizona Wildcats (8-5, 4-5)
The Wildcats have been successful in Rich Rodriguez’ first two seasons but have yet to post a winning league record. Luckily, the Cats are 8-0 under RichRod in non-conference play and that shouldn’t change in 2014 with another manageable three games out of conference. In the league, however, things look brutal once again with road games at Oregon, Wazzu, UCLA and Utah. Arizona does get five home games, including marquee showdowns with USC, Washington and Arizona State. For what should be another mildly successful bowl team, a win over a key South Division foe at home could define the season (USC or Arizona State).
Best Non-Conference Game: at UTSA
Crossover Games: Cal, at Oregon, at Wazzu, Washington
Upset Opportunity: USC (Oct. 11) or Washington (Nov. 15)
Defining Moment: A rivalry home game with Arizona State in the season finale
Arizona State Sun Devils (10-4, 8-1)
In just his second season, Todd Graham posted the best record in the conference (8-1) but came up short against Stanford in the title game. This team will play yet another tough out-of-league slate in 2014 with Notre Dame coming to town, but getting the Irish at home is a big win for ASU. Graham is 11-3 in Sun Devils Stadium since taking over. Oregon is noticeably absent from the schedule again this year and both UCLA and Stanford must come to Tempe. The front half of the schedule is loaded as the most critical stretch of the year comes over a five-week span in which the Devils will face UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington in October.
Best Non-Conference Game: Notre Dame (Nov. 8)
Crossover Games: Stanford, at Washington, at Oregon State, Wazzu
Upset Alert: at Oregon State (Nov. 15)
Defining Moment: Back-to-back early games with UCLA and at USC (Weeks 5-6)
Colorado Buffaloes (4-8, 1-8)
Mike MacIntyre used a soft non-conference schedule to improve Colorado from one win in 2012 to four this season (3-0 in non-con.). Yet, this team still only beat one Pac-12 foe and will have to face another brutal schedule in 2014. The South is loaded but the Buffaloes get Arizona State, UCLA and Utah all at home in Folsom Field. A win at Cal to end September could set this team up for an upset or two in the final two months, but MacIntyre will have to make headway early in the year before a nasty late-October gauntlet that features four straight at USC, UCLA, Washington and at Arizona.
Best Non-Conference Game: Colorado State (Aug. 30)
Crossover Games: at Cal, Oregon State, Washington, at Oregon
Upset Opportunity: Utah (Nov. 29)
Defining Moment: A win over Oregon State at home could give CU a 2-1 start in Pac-12 play
UCLA Bruins (10-3, 6-3)
The early frontrunner to win the South won’t have an easy path to the Pac-12 title game. Two tricky non-con games away from home (at Virginia, Texas in Arlington) get things started in 2014. The Bruins then get an off weekend before opening league play against one of the top teams in the league (at Arizona State) before back-to-back home games with Utah and Oregon. Crossover play will be difficult — Oregon, at Cal, at Washington, Stanford — but at least the two toughest games will come at home. Following a trip to Seattle in November, the Bruins get a nicely placed off weekend before finishing in brutal fashion as USC and Stanford come to town over the season’s final two weeks.
Best Non-Conference Game: Texas (Sept. 13, AT&T Stadium)
Crossover Games: Oregon, at Cal, at Washington, Stanford
Upset Alert: Arizona (Nov. 1)
Defining Moment: The final two weeks of the regular season against USC and Stanford
USC Trojans (10-4, 6-3)
Steve Sarkisian won’t slide easily into his tenure at USC. The Trojans' new head man has to face Fresno State, visit Stanford and then travel 3,000 miles to Chestnut Hill to face an improved Boston College team in his first three games. The crossover schedule offers some comfort as USC will miss both Oregon and Washington but critical road division games balance the schedule out — at UCLA, at Arizona, at Utah. A big positive aspect of USC's ’14 schedule is how spread out the three critical conference games are with Stanford in Week 2, Arizona State in Week 6 and UCLA in Week 13. Between those three games are winnable contests that could allow the Trojans to push for a Pac-12 title in Coach Sark’s first season.
Best Non-Conference Game: Notre Dame (Nov. 29)
Crossover Games: at Stanford, Oregon State, at Wazzu, Cal
Upset Alert: at Washington State (Nov. 1)
Defining Moment: USC at UCLA in the final Pac-12 game of the year
Utah Utes (5-7, 2-7)
The Utes played one of the toughest schedules in the nation a year ago and it doesn’t look like it's getting any better in 2014. Non-conference games with Fresno State and at Michigan will be tricky before conference play begins. The road conference schedule includes trips to UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford and Colorado while Utah gets to host Washington State, USC, Oregon and Arizona. A four-week stretch from Week 9 to Week 12 includes USC, at Arizona State, Oregon and at Stanford. There is an outside chance that Utah isn’t favored in a single Pac-12 game in 2014. Kyle Whittingham’s bunch played hard against the league’s best teams this year (UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford) but next fall doesn’t appear to be the year the Utes will return to pre-Pac-12 form.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Michigan (Sept. 20)
Crossover Games: Wazzu, at Oregon State, Oregon, at Stanford
Upset Opportunity: USC (Oct. 25)
Defining Moment: Final two weeks against Arizona and at Colorado
California Golden Bears (1-11, 0-9)
Get work done early should be the offseason theme for second-year head man Sonny Dykes. The Bears return the home-and-home favor to Northwestern to start and that might be one of the easier games on the entire ’14 slate. After a road trip to Washington State in Week 6, there are very few chances for wins as the back half of the schedule features three straight “home” games with top-tier teams Washington, UCLA and Oregon (Levi’s Stadium) before back-to-back road tests with Oregon State and USC. Wrapping up the year are home bouts with rival Stanford and BYU. To improve on their one-win campaign, Cal must pick up some wins early against Northwestern, Sacramento State (their only guaranteed win), Arizona, Colorado and Washington State.
Best Non-Conference Game: BYU (Nov. 29)
Crossover Games: at Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, at USC
Upset Opportunity: Stanford (Nov. 13)
Defining Moment: The month of September
Oregon Ducks (11-2, 7-2)
The Ducks have another chance to be a preseason top-five team and could again be the preseason favorite in the Pac-12. But to get things started right, Oregon will have to battle with reigning Rose Bowl and Big Ten champ Michigan State in a juicy non-conference tilt in Autzen Stadium on Sept. 6. A win there would catapult the Ducks into a very winnable stretch of games before the heart of the schedule gets daunting. Oregon will face UCLA on the road and Washington and Stanford at home over a four-week span to end October that will likely determine the North Division champion. Games with Utah, Colorado and Oregon State to finish isn’t all that difficult. In fact, with no Arizona State, USC and Notre Dame on the slate like Stanford has, Oregon might get the nod in the preseason solely based on scheduling.
Best Non-Conference Game: Michigan State (Sept. 6)
Crossover Games: Arizona, at UCLA, at Utah, Colorado
Upset Alert: at Washington State (Sept. 20)
Defining Moment: A visit from Stanford on Nov. 1
Oregon State Beavers (7-6, 4-5)
Barring an unforeseen upset like 2013, Oregon State should start the year in much better shape in 2014 as Portland State, Hawaii and San Diego State should all be wins. And with Colorado and Utah in the first six games as well, the Beavers could easily be 5-1 before visiting Stanford on Oct. 25. The crossover slate isn’t all that daunting other than a trip to USC in late September as Arizona State comes to Corvallis and Utah and Colorado will be picked as the worst two teams in the South. Oregon, Washington State and Cal all come to Corvallis in divisional play as well as trips to Seattle and Palo Alto will be brutal. Oregon State needs to be bowl-eligible before the final three weeks of the season: Arizona State, at Washington, Oregon.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Hawaii (Sept. 6)
Crossover Games: at USC, at Colorado, Utah, Arizona State
Upset Opportunity: Oregon (Nov. 29)
Defining Moment: The start of November with three straight winnable home Pac-12 games
Stanford Cardinal (11-3, 7-2)
A brutal schedule was enough to knock Stanford out of national title contention in 2013 but not enough to keep the Cardinal from defending their Pac-12 title. A third straight championship will be again a huge undertaking and the schedule offers no help. The Pac-12 season begins in just Week 2 as USC comes to town as the first FBS opponent Stanford will face. After Army and a bye week, Stanford travels to Washington, Notre Dame and Arizona State in a four-week span. By the time Stanford returns home from Tempe on Oct. 25 to face Oregon State and Oregon in back-to-back games, David Shaw’s bunch will either be ranked No. 1 in the nation or totally eliminated from Pac-12 contention. The back half of the schedule is “easier” but that still includes a trip to Oregon and UCLA sandwiched around an off weekend, a visit from Utah and a road trip to Cal. Stanford could once again be facing the nation’s toughest schedule.
Best Non-Conference Game: at Notre Dame (Oct. 4)
Crossover Games: USC, at Arizona State, Utah, at UCLA
Upset Alert: at Washington (Sept. 27)
Defining Moment: Weeks 5-8 with road games in Seattle, South Bend and Tempe
Washington Huskies (9-4, 5-4)
Many are pointing to the Huskies, under new coach Chris Petersen, to challenge the balance of power in the Pac-12 North. And an easy early-season schedule could be part of the reason prognosticators like Washington. Four easy non-conference games (yes, four) give way to Stanford at home in the first month of the season. Folks in Palo Alto know what happened the last time the Cardinal came to Seattle. There is a nasty road trip to Eugene on Oct. 18 to deal with but critical second-half crossover games with Arizona State (Oct. 25) and UCLA (Nov. 8) both come at new Husky Stadium. Should U of W get passed all of those tests, the final three weeks could prove helpful as Washington finishes with tricky but winnable road trips to Arizona and Washington State sandwiched around a home bout with Oregon State.
Best Non-Conference Game: Illinois (Sept. 13)
Crossover Games: Arizona State, at Colorado, UCLA, at Arizona
Upset Alert: at Arizona (Nov. 15)
Defining Moment: Facing Stanford and Oregon over a three-game span from Weeks 5-8
Washington State Cougars (6-7, 4-5)
On the back of some impressive road wins — at USC, Arizona and Cal — the Cougars made it to the postseason for the first time in a decade in 2013. To return, Wazzu will have to once again win some critical swing games. Rutgers in Seattle and at Nevada aren’t gimmies but should be wins for a team with bowl aspirations to start the year. Especially, because games with Oregon (home, Week 4) and Stanford (road, Week 7) take place in the first four weeks of conference play. Mike Leach will have to face three of the top four teams in the South again this year, making divisional swing games with Cal (home), Washington (home) and Oregon State (road) all the more important.
Best Non-Conference Game: Rutgers (Aug. 28, CenturyLink Field)
Crossover Games: at Utah, Arizona, USC, at Arizona State
Upset Opportunity: USC (Nov. 1)
Defining Moment: Between the bye weeks against Arizona, USC and at Oregon State
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
Some fall on the sabermetric side of things, while others like to keep it simple and use the ol' eyeball test. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Divisional Weekend:
19: Playoff wins for Bill Belichick
With the convincing win over the Colts in Foxboro on Saturday, Bill Belichick pushed his career playoff record to 19-8 all-time. The win ties him for second all-time in NFL history with the great Don Shula (19-17) and moves him to within one of tying Tom Landry’s all-time NFL record of 20 playoff victories (20-16). With a win over the Broncos, Belichik would win his 20th playoff game, earn a trip to his sixth Super Bowl and give Tom Brady an NFL-record sixth Super Bowl start.
6: Patriots rushing touchdowns
There is no doubt that the face of the Patriots organization is Tom Brady. But New England used its newly discovered running game to beat the Colts and will likely have to hand it off another 46 times to beat the Broncos this Sunday. LeGarrette Blount tied Curtis Martin's franchise playoff record with 166 yards and set a record with four rushing touchdowns while the team set a regular-season and playoff team record with six rushing touchdowns. (A stat that may shock some people is that the Patriots have been in the top three in the NFL in rushing touchdowns for four consecutive seasons.) In all, the Pats rushed 46 times for 234 yards and six scores while Brady completed just 13 passes for 198 yards. It was his fifth-lowest postseason total in 25 starts and just the second time (2010) since 2005 that he failed to reach 200 yards in a postseason game.
27: Undrafted players on the Patriots' roster
Eight starters and 27 members of the Patriots current active roster were undrafted free agents coming out of college. Blount and Danny Amendola are just two of the major contributors that were undrafted. Center Ryan Wendell and right guard Daniel Connolly each started all 16 games on the offensive line and both were undrafted. As was Kyle Arrington, Tommy Kelly and Steve Gregory on defense. This isn’t a vintage Patriots roster and its 27 undrafted free agents are yet another testament to the job Belichick has done this year. By comparison, 16 Broncos were undrafted free agents entering the league.
3: Consecutive road playoff wins for Jim Harbaugh
The 49ers have gone on the road twice to top Green Bay and Carolina in order to earn the right to visit Seattle this weekend. Add to it a win at Atlanta last year in the NFC Championship Game and Jim Harbaugh can brag about three straight true road wins in the playoffs. To this point, the 49ers have gone 8-2 on the road overall with one of those two losses coming in Seattle in Week 2. Jim Harbugh is 1-2 against the Seahawks in Seattle, 4-2 against Seattle regardless of location and 6-3 head-to-head with Pete Carroll including a 2-1 mark while at Stanford. San Francisco has won eight straight overall and five straight on the road.
7:01: Denver’s longest drive of the year
The Broncos had to hold on late to top the overmatched Chargers in Denver on Sunday, but Peyton Manning appeared to be in complete control the entire game. The Broncos' first drive was a 14-play, 86-yard march to the end zone that chewed up 7:01 of clock — the longest drive Denver has constructed all season. In fact, the Broncos dominated time of possession by running the ball 34 times for 133 yards and claiming 35:27 of clock time.
8: Times an NFL team didn’t punt in the postseason
The Broncos posted 26 first downs against the Chargers on Sunday, going 9-of-13 on third down. San Diego had just 13 first downs and was 4-of-12 on third downs. It marked the first time in Denver playoff history that the Broncos went an entire postseason game without having to punt. It was just the eighth time any team has accomplished the feat in NFL playoff history. Of course, three of those eight have had Peyton Manning under center (Colts twice).
6:8: Andrew Luck's career playoff TD:INT ratio
As easy as it has been for me to gush about Andrew Luck, it’s time to be fair about his postseason turnovers. He threw three interceptions against the Chiefs but somehow managed to lead his team to a miracle comeback. Unfortunately, neither he nor his teammates were able to overcome four more interceptions this weekend, as the Patriots constantly forced him to make imperfect throws. In three career playoff games in two seasons, Luck has six touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Luck had nine interceptions all season this year. For the record — and some perspective, however — Peyton Manning needed four tries to win his first playoff game and had just one touchdown pass (and two interceptions) in his first three postseason contests.
140: Marshawn Lynch's Seattle playoff record for rushing yards
In just his fifth playoff game, Lynch set the Seahawks single-game playoff rushing record by carrying 28 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns — the latter of which clinched the playoff win for Seattle. It was Lynch’s third playoff game of at least 130 yards or more, trailing only Terrell Davis (5) and Thurman Thomas (4) for the all-time NFL record. It was Lynch’s first 100-yard game since Week 10 against Atlanta.
103: Russell Wilson's career-low passing yards
The running game saved the day in what was yet another lackluster performance by a struggling Hawks offense. Seattle totaled just 277 yards of offense and 13 first downs while the Saints gained 403 and 25. Russell Wilson completed just 9 of 18 passes for a career-low 103 yards passing. He was sacked three times and failed to reach paydirt for the first time since Week 6. Over his last five games, Wilson has four touchdowns, three interceptions and just one game over 200 yards passing (206 vs. NYG).
Johnny Manziel couldn’t do it. Neither could Jason White, Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram or Sam Bradford.
So why is Jameis Winston any different?
The odds of Winston repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner are slim to none. It’s not an indictment of his talents or Florida State’s general trajectory — both of which are incredibly impressive. But the Heisman Trophy is a unique award that is given to a player who captivates the nation for a few months each fall. Generating that same type of buzz and riding that tidal wave a second time is pretty much impossible.
This is why Jameis Winston isn’t going to be the frontrunner to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy. Just like Manziel wasn’t last year. Funny thing about greatness… it’s hard to duplicate. And keep in mind that three of the last four Heisman winners didn't play football the year before — Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Winston.
So with 230-something days left until the kickoff of the new era of playoff college football, Athlon puts an early handicap on next year’s Heisman race.
Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football every week leading up to the 2014 season.
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Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
A sprained knee kept Mariota from finishing what was turning into one of the great single seasons by a Pac-12 quarterback in history. Over the first eight games, Mariota posted 511 of his 715 yards rushing and all nine rushing touchdowns. Poor games against Stanford and Arizona cost Oregon the Pac-12 title and Mariota a trip to New York after his knee injury. When healthy, the Ducks' signal-caller is one of the most naturally gifted players in the nation and he orchestrates one of the most explosive offenses in the country. He is 23-3 overall in two seasons under center and set the conference record for consecutive passes without an interception (353 att.). In 2013, his total touchdowns (40), total yards (336.9) and passing efficiency (167.66) all went up from '12 and fans could expect yet another jump in '14. He is one of few players in the nation whose overall talent matches that of Jameis Winston.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
From an electricity standpoint, few players in the nation can match Miller’s dual-threat talents. His first step is explosive and his ability to pick up big chunks of yards on the ground is unprecedented in Columbus. He posted his second consecutive 1,000-yard season on the ground in 2013 while showing marked improvement as a passer. His 58.3 percent completion rate in 2012 became 63.5 percent this fall while his 15:6 TD:INT ratio improved to 24:7. More importantly, Miller is 24-0 in the last two regular seasons as a starter with his only two losses coming against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Should Ohio State make a run at one of the playoff spots, as expected, then Miller should find himself in New York at season’s end. That is, if he can stay healthy.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
The UCLA quarterback had more passing yards and touchdowns as a freshman two years ago but improved his efficiency and rushing production while decreasing his turnovers as a sophomore. With the Bruins the potential frontrunner in the Pac-12 South, Hundley now carries big expectations into his third year as the starter. The dual-threat signal-caller finished last year with 3,071 yards passing, 748 yards rushing and 35 total touchdowns for a team that won 10 games last year. The talent around him is still a bit of question mark, as he had a better supporting cast in 2012 than he did last fall, but his overall athletic ability is second to none in the nation.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
The level of efficiency Petty exhibited in Waco this season was astounding. He accounted for 46 total touchdowns (32 pass, 14 rush) while only throwing three interceptions and finishing second nationally to only Jameis Winston in passing efficiency (174.29). His 4,409 total yards (4,200 pass, 209 rush) were sixth nationally. Petty led his team to its first-ever Big 12 championship, BCS bowl and 11-win season in one fell swoop. With road trips to Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma on tap next fall, the Baylor signal-caller has numerous opportunities to prove himself on the national stage. Only a slip-up against Oklahoma State this season kept Petty from Heisman contention. And frankly, his omission from New York was laughable.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
The reigning Heisman winner gets the nod based solely on his accomplishments in 2013. He is one of just four Heisman winners to cap his stiff-armed season with a win in the BCS title game and is one of just six players in college football history to go unbeaten, win the Heisman and claim the national championship. He set an NCAA record for freshmen with 40 touchdown passes and was the nation’s No. 1-rated passer (184.85). The odds are stacked convincingly against him winning the award for a second straight season, however, Florida State will likely be the preseason No. 1 team and again faces a weak ACC schedule.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
The most talented running back in the nation is back as the focal point of an offense known for churning out great ball carriers. The 230-pounder averaged 6.0 yards per carry on just 165 attempts this year, missing big chunks of time due to injury. When healthy, however, no one in the nation is more physically gifted than the Dawgs tailback. Despite missing three games and lots of snaps in a few others, he finished with 1,430 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns on 202 offensive touches. Imagine what he could do with, say, 375 touches — a number that led the nation this season (Ka’Deem Carey).
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Gordon combined with James White to form the most productive backfield in NCAA history in 2013. The duo rushed for 3,053 yards, setting a national record for most yards by two runners in the same backfield. Gordon averaged an absurd 7.8 yards per carry on 206 attempts and scored 12 times. With White now out of the picture and quarterback Joel Stave entering his third season as the starter, the explosive and powerful Gordon could be in for a monster season. At a school with names like Dayne, Bennett, Calhoun, Moss, Hill, Clay and Ball, it’s Gordon who might be the most physically gifted of the bunch.
The Next Tier:
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
With AJ McCarron gone, Nick Saban will turn to Yeldon and Derrick Henry to carry the workload in Tuscalossa. The offensive line will be excellent and Yeldon enters his junior season after back-to-back seasons with at least 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. With just 382 carries in his first two seasons, Yeldon still has plenty of tread left on the tires.
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
The Sun Devils' starter returns for his third full season under center having thrown 844 passes and carried 306 times on the ground over the last two seasons. Kelly accounted for 37 total touchdowns en route to a Pac-12 South championship in 2013. He is the perfect fit for Todd Graham’s offense and should ASU post the best record in the Pac-12 again, it will be largely because of Kelly’s play.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Auburn will need to find another workhorse to replace Tre Mason but Marshall should be the star of the Gus Malzahn zone-read show next fall. If Marshall can produce in the passing game just enough to balance out his big play ability on the ground, he has a chance to get to New York.
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
From a talent standpoint, few can match the power and speed of Jeremy Hill — just ask the Iowa defenders. The LSU ball carrier finished with 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns on a sterling 6.9 yards per carry clip. An increased workload should be expected as Les Miles and Cam Cameron break in a new quarterback.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Quickly, name the Big Ten’s leading rusher? Abdullah led the league with 1,690 yards on 281 carries. He posted 11 100-yard efforts in 13 games while also playing a big role in the passing game (26 rec., 232 yards, 2 TDs). The explosive back will once again be the focal point of the Nebraska offense in 2014 and a few more touchdowns — he had nine last year — could get him into Heisman conversations fairly easily.
Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State
It was a slow build for Langford but no running back was more important to their team in the Big Ten than this junior. He led the league in carries (292) and rushing touchdown (18) without starting for the first month of the season. Eventually tabbed the starter, he rattled off eight straight 100-yard games. A full workload could get Langford into Heisman talks earlier next fall.
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
Another SEC super sophomore, Davis was the best back in the league over the first few months of the season. Injuries and scheduling eventually slowed Davis, but the Gamecocks' workhorse finished with an impressive 1,535 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. With Connor Shaw gone, one has to think that a healthy Davis becomes the focal point of Steve Spurrier’s offense.
Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
Few players have the raw athletic ability of the 6-foot-2, 220-pound dual-threat from BYU. Hill has elite speed, size, power and a knack for making big plays. He carried 246 times for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground while developing as a passer over the course of the season. He finished with 2,938 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air. With an easier schedule and increased passing efficiency, Hill could make some big noise in 2014.
Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy
No NCAA quarterback has ever rushed for more touchdowns in a single season than Reynolds’ 31 in 2013. He was one of only seven players with at least 300 rushing attempts. His passing was efficient if nothing else (140.00, 8 TDs, 2 INTs) but the Midshipmen will likely have to throw it more to get Reynolds national acclaim — and that is highly unlikely.
The Long Shots:
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
True pocket passer showed why he was the No. 1 QB prospect in the nation as just a true freshman.
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma
Will be a victim of expectations following his big-time Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama.
Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame
He will have to earn his starting spot back but his talent is undeniable.
Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
He has moxie and confidence to go along with a month's worth of starting experience.
Desmond Roland, RB, Oklahoma State
Rushed for 664 of his 811 total yards and 11 of 13 touchdowns over final seven games.
Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
On a team devoid of playmakers, David Shaw will turn to Hogan to develop.
Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall
Posted 39 TD passes and could lead Herd to an unbeaten record next fall.
D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State
195 att., 994 yards, 8 TDs rushing and 101 rec., 1,186 yards, 8 TDs receiving in two years. Now the starter.
Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech
Flashed big-time ability in a pass-happy offense for Kliff Kingsbury in limited duty this year.
The Wide Receivers:
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
Elite talent should be Maty Mauk’s primary target in 2014.
Tyler Boyd, Pitt
Electric, big-play machine showed his ability as just a freshman in 2013.
Rashad Greene, Florida State
If Kelvin Benjamin goes to the NFL, Greene could be a Biletnikoff finalist.
Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Does a little bit of everything for Bill Snyder. Elite sprinter speed.
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Physical specimen with huge upside and obvious first-round ability.
Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Someone has to catch all of those Bryce Petty touchdowns, right?
Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M
Freakish ability will need to find a quarterback. But in that system, he could be unstoppable.
Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
Primary target for Taylor Kelly had a huge breakout 2013 season.
Nelson Agholor, USC
Dynamic return man showed he could be a No. 1 when Marqise Lee was slowed this year.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Explosive playmaker will need to find a quarterback.
Back from injury:
Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State
Dynamic quarterback could be frontrunner in the Mountain West POY race.
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Explosive dynamo could easily find his way to New York with a big bounce-back season.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Do-everything athlete should return to form as one of the Big Ten's top playmakers.
Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
Like Johnson and Diggs, Mark does everything for his team but played in only three games.
Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
His return should bolster Hutson Mason's ability to stretch the field.
Jordan James, RB, UCLA
Was effective when playing but missed six full games during '13.
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
Shilque Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Leonard Williams, DE, USC
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. In particular, the most important game of the college football season.
Some fall on the sabermetric side of things, while others like to keep it simple and use the ol' eyeball test. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With the BCS era in the rear-view mirror and 16 memorable games locked in history, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from the BCS National Championship Games:
18: Largest BCS deficit overcome
The Florida State Seminoles trailed 21-3 late in the second quarter of the 16th and final BCS national title game. The 18-point deficit against Auburn was the largest comeback in a BCS National Championship Game (NCG from here on out). Jameis Winston was 6-of-7 for 80 yards on the final drive in which he led the Noles to a national title by connecting with Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining for the game-winning touchdown. The drive capped the BCS NCG-record 18-point comeback for the Noles and ended the BCS era in tremendously dramatic fashion. That said, the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game isn’t the latest game-winning play in BCS history.
0:00: Latest game-winning score in BCS NCG history
Technically, the clock wasn’t running when Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett scored a five-yard rushing touchdown in double overtime against Miami. However, the latest game-winning score in a BCS NCG came from the Auburn Tigers in 2010. Cam Newton led the Tigers on a 7-play, 73-yard drive that sapped the final 2:33 worth of clock and ended with a Wes Byrum 19-yard field goal that broke the 19-19 tie in Auburn’s favor. Time ran out on the Ducks as the kick sailed through the uprights and War Eagle celebrated its first national championship since 1957.
14-1: Record of the team leading at halftime
The Tigers held a 21-10 lead over the Florida State Seminoles on Monday night and now own a very dubious BCS NCG honor. Prior to the BCS’ electric final game, the team leading at halftime of the NCG was 14-0. Only the Florida-Oklahoma title game in the 2008 season was tied at halftime, making the 2013 Auburn Tigers the only team in BCS NCG history to give up a halftime lead. The Noles are the only team to be trailing at halftime and still win the national title after outscoring War Eagle 24-10 in the second half.
34: Tre Mason's NCG-record rushing attempts
Adrian Peterson rushed 25 times for 82 yards in the lopsided USC blowout of the Sooners in the 2004 championship game. All-Day has owned the NCG game rushing attempts record ever since — until Tre Mason came along. The Tigers tailback blew past the previous record to carry a BCS NCG-record 34 times in the loss to Florida State. His 195 rushing yards were a clearcut No. 2, blowing past Beanie Wells’ 146 yards against LSU in 2007. Vince Young owns the NCG record for rushing yards with 200 against USC in the most memorable game ever played during the BCS era. What’s more impressive about VY? His 30-of-40 passing night in that same game is a BCS NCG record for completion percentage (75 percent).
8-8: Record of the No. 1 seed in the title game
The team ranked No. 1 in the final BCS Standings won the first four BCS NCG games from 1998-01. Ohio State in 2002 was the first two-seed to win the game and it began a run for the No. 2 team. The second-ranked team in the final BCS Standings won 6-of-7 BCS title games from 2002-08. Alabama in 2009 and Auburn in '10 both won as the top seed and then both of Alabama’s titles in ’11 and ’12 came as the No. 2-ranked team. Florida State was the No. 1 team in the land, and, by way of its win over Auburn, evened the all-time BCS NCG 1-versus-2 record to a dead even 8-8.
4-6: Heisman Trophy winners in the BCS NCG
Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy and the BCS National Championship in the same year, becoming just the fourth player during the 16-year era to accomplish the feat. Cam Newton (2010), Mark Ingram (2009) and Matt Leinart (2004) are the only other Heisman winners to go on to win the championship in the same year. Technically, Tim Tebow, Chris Weinke and Reggie Bush won BCS titles and Heisman Trophies but none of them did it in the same year. In fact, Weinke (2000), Bush (2005), Eric Crouch (2001), Troy Smith (2006) and Sam Bradford (2008) lost in the BCS NCG a month after winning the most prestigious award in sports.
6: Undefeated national champions who also won the Heisman Trophy
This one extends a bit beyond the BCS era, but only six players in history have won a Heisman Trophy, a national championship and finished the year with an unbeaten record. Tony Dorsett was the first to do so for Pitt in 1976 and Charles Woodson was the second in 1997 for Michigan. However, the other four have come during the BCS era and three have come in the last five years. Matt Leinart and USC did it 2004, Mark Ingram and Alabama did it in '09, Cam Newton and Auburn in '10 and, now, Jameis Winston and Florida State accomplished the feat this season. Only six players in history can claim what Winston can claim — a perfect Heisman season that ends with a championship.
365: Matt Leinart's NCG passing record
It was an awful game as USC crushed poor Oklahoma in 2004, but Matt Leinart had the best passing afternoon of anyone in BCS NCG history. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner completed 18-of-35 passes for a NCG-record 365 yards passing and a record five touchdowns. His Trojans scored a BCS NCG-record 55 points and at the time set the record for most total yards with 525 (broken by his own team the next year with 574 against Texas in a loss). Who is No. 2 on the list? No, not one of the nine Heisman-winning QBs to play in the game, but Oregon’s Darron Thomas with 363 yards in his valiant performance against Auburn in 2010.
94,906: Highest Attendance in a BCS NCG
Tickets outside the Rose Bowl on Monday were going for below face value — a problem most venues in most sports are dealing with across the country. But the official attendance for the final BCS national title game was a robust 94,308. However, it was short of the biggest NCG crowd ever. That honor goes to Alabama and Texas at the end of the 2009 season in the Rose Bowl with 94,906. Interestingly enough, both of those numbers fall short of the 95,173 that watched Michigan State's beat Stanford in the most recent Rose Bowl. There is one bowl game that isn't having any issues with ticket sales.
21.7: Highest rating for a BCS title game
The most watched BCS national title game was what many believe was the best NCG of the BCS era. Texas and USC pulled a monster 21.7 TV rating to set the record as the highest-rated college football championship game. The Horns-Trojans bout in Pasadena was head and shoulders above the rest of the BCS games as the next six most-watched games pulled numbers between 17.2 and 17.8. Oklahoma and Florida State in the 2000 title game finished No. 2 with a 17.8 rating. Auburn and Florida State tied Auburn and Oregon (2010) for ninth out of the 16 BCS championship games. It is shocking that the the final BCS bowl — the second-best game of the BCS championship era — barely topped last year's embarrassment by Notre Dame at the hands of Alabama (15.1).
279: Reggie Bush's NCG all-purpose yards record
In a loss to Texas, the Heisman Trophy winner set the title game benchmark for all-purpose production with 279 yards. He carried 13 times for 82 yards rushing, caught six passes for 95 yards and registered 102 yards on kickoff returns while scoring once (and fumbling as well — sorry, USC fans). He tops one of the forgotten heroes of the BCS era in Tennessee's Peerless Price (242 yards). The Vols wide receiver set the BCS NCG record with 199 yards receiving to go with 43 yards on punt returns and made the biggest play of the game when he scored on a back-breaking, 79-yard touchdown pass from Tee Martin. It was the longest pass play in BCS NCG history until Oregon's Darron Thomas hooked up with Jeff Maehl for 81 yards against Auburn 12 years later.
5: Different SEC teams to win a championship
Not to beat a dead horse, but the SEC dominated the BCS era. As college football exploded into big business, the league that is the most dedicated took over the sport. The SEC finished the 16-year BCS era with nine championships from five different schools, including an 8-1 record in the NCG against other conferences. That one loss, of course, was Florida State's dramatic victory on Monday night. Only the Big 12 boasts two different champions — Texas and Oklahoma — while the SEC boasts three (of the four) teams with more than one championship — Alabama, Florida and LSU. Florida State (2-2) was the only team from the ACC to even make an appearance in the game and Ohio State (1-2) was the only Big Ten squad to ever appear in the NCG. The Pac-12 and Big East had two representatives each in USC, Oregon, Miami and Virginia Tech respectively. Nebraska and Notre Dame each appeared once.
10: Ohio State's record for BCS bowl appearances
The Buckeyes led the nation with 10 appearances in the Bowl Championship Series. Three of those came in the National Championship Game, including Jim Tressell's 2002 team winning the national title in surprising fashion. The Bucks went 6-4 overall with a 5-2 mark in other BCS games. The six wins tie USC for the most BCS bowl wins since the format's implementation in 1998 (although, the Trojans were 6-1 overall). Virginia Tech (1-5), Florida State (3-5) and Oklahoma (4-5) tied for the most losses while the Sooners' nine appearances finished second overall. Notre Dame finished 0-4 in BCS games while West Virginia won the most BCS bowls without losing (3-0).
17: Different coaches to earn a bid to the BCS NCG
Of the 32 possible spots in the 16 BCS national title games, only 17 coaches have earned the right to compete for the national title. It speaks to the parity of the game — or the dominance of the "big boys" — that nine different coaches have been to the final game more than once. Nick Saban (4-0) and Urban Meyer (2-0) are the only two names to go to multiple title games without losing and Saban is the only one to take two different schools to the title game much less win it. Bob Stoops (1-3) tied Saban for the most appearances with four while both Jim Tressell and Bobby Bowden finished 1-2 in the big game. Larry Coker, Pete Carroll, Les Miles and Mack Brown all finished 1-1 while only Phil Fulmer, Gene Chizik and Jimbo Fisher finished 1-0. Frank Beamer, Frank Solich, Chip Kelly, Brian Kelly and Gus Malzahn finished 0-1. Strangely enough, however, coaches making their debut in the national title game were 11-6. Only LSU and Florida State have made it to the title game with two separate coaches.
Fans and media critics alike toss around words like “greatest” and “all-time” fairly liberally. I am not immune from this type of hyperbole, as I’ve been known to wax poetically about most, best or awesome-est games, players, teams, moments or endings in the long and storied history of college football.
But Florida State’s win over Auburn on Monday night in the most gorgeous of competitive settings is one of the greatest football games that has ever been played on any level.
Historic storylines, powerful and unique personalities, decorated elite talent and unforgettable dramatics make the 16th and final BCS National Championship Game completely and, for some, painfully unforgettable.
But was it the best BCS National Championship Game? Athlon says goodbye to the BCS by ranking the 16 title-deciding games:
1. (2) Texas 41, (1) USC 38 (2005)
Few argue that Vince Young’s second straight Rose Bowl MVP is one of the most remarkable individual performances by any player in any sport. He set the BCS NCG record with 200 yards rushing and NCG record for total offense with 476 yards. He also set a NCG record with 75 percent passing (30-of-40) and scored three total touchdowns. USC and Texas went back and forth with three consecutive lead-changing scores in the third quarter before the Trojans opened up a 12-point lead with just six minutes to play. Young took over from there and led two touchdown drives, capping both with his own rushing touchdowns. The two-time defending champion Trojans were toppled by the most unstoppable player of the BCS Era.
2. (1) Florida State 34, (2) Auburn 31 (2013)
Gus Malzahn’s team set the tempo and tone for most of the game, taking a commanding 21-3 lead late in the second quarter. But Jameis Winston slowly led his team back to within one point early in the fourth quarter (21-20). After Auburn extended the lead with a field goal, Florida State’s special teams — which were remarkable all game — made the biggest play of the game when Kermit Whitfield scored on the ensuring kickoff from his own goal line. Not to be outdone, Tre Mason led the Tigers back to the lead with 1:19 to play. The Heisman winner then built his legacy with a seven-play, 80-yard drive that will be a part of FSU lore forever. Winston hit Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone with 19 seconds left in the game to shock the SEC powerhouse. There were three lead changes in the final 4:31.
3. (2) Ohio State 31, (1) Miami 24 (OT, 2002)
Marred by what some (not this guy) consider a bad pass interference penalty, upstart and huge underdog Ohio State pulled off one of the most improbable wins in BCS history. Maurice Clarett scored the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime — the only BCS NCG to go to extra time — to win the Buckeyes' first national title since 1968. The Buckeyes' defense held the vaunted Miami offense to just 17 points in regulation and just 369 yards of offense while forcing five Canes turnovers.
4. (1) Auburn 22, (2) Oregon 19 (2010)
With the Heisman Trophy winner on one side and the nation’s top offense on the other, it was a bit of a shocker that both defenses played so well in this low-scoring dramatic affair. Darron Thomas was a lone bright spot for the Ducks with 363 yards and two touchdowns, leading Oregon to the game-tying touchdown with just 2:33 left in the game. Game MVP Michael Dyer, who rushed for 143 yards, had the signature run in the game’s final drive, pirouetting into BCS lore and setting up the game-winning field goal with no time remaining.
5. (2) Florida 24, (1) Oklahoma 14 (2008)
The only BCS title game to be tied at halftime, two Heisman Trophy winners battled in what was one of the most physical title games of the BCS Era. Percy Harvin was the top playmaker for Tim Tebow and Florida, touching the ball 14 times for 171 yards and a score. Early in the fourth quarter, though, Sam Bradford connected with Jermaine Greshman from 11 yards out to tie the game. Tebow then worked his magic by leading two scoring drives to give the Gators a 10-point NCG victory. The Gators' defense held the ’08 Heisman winner (Bradford) to just 26-of-41 passing, 256 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
6. (1) Florida State 46, (2) Virginia Tech 29 (1999)
The largest crowd in Superdome history at the time (79,280) witnessed elite athletes making spectacular plays in one of the most high-scoring and entertaining BCS title bouts — despite the 17-point final margin. Florida State led 28-14 at halftime before the great Michael Vick single-handedly took the lead for Tech with 15 unanswered third-quarter points. However, entering the final period trailing 29-28, Florida State turned to their superstar wide receiver Peter Warrick. The game’s MVP caught six passes for 163 yards and two amazing touchdowns while also returning a punt 59 yards for a touchdown. The Seminoles scored 18 unanswered points of their own in the fourth quarter to win Bobby Bowden’s second national championship. Vick finished with 225 yards passing and 97 rushing.
7. (1) Tennessee 23, (2) Florida State 16 (1998)
The first BCS title game featured a lot defense from two teams stacked with NFL talent on that side of the ball. These two teams combined for seven fumbles and 21 penalties but were in a tight five-point game into the fourth quarter. But then Tee Martin threw arguably the biggest pass in Vols history down the sideline where Peerless Price streaked into the end zone for a 79-yard touchdown. The score put Tennessee up for good but Phil Fulmer and Big Orange nation needed a critical Steven Johnson interception in the final two minutes to seal the seven-point win.
8. (1) Oklahoma 13, (2) Florida State 2 (2000)
Heisman winner Chris Weinke and the defending champion Seminoles entered this NCG a decided favorite. But the upstart Sooners defense, led by second-year head coach Bob Stoops, held the FSU offense to zero points and forced Weinke into 26 incompletions (51 attempts) and two interceptions. The Noles were 1-of-15 on third down and Quentin Griffin scored a 10-yard touchdown to break open a 6-0 fourth-quarter lead for the Sooners. Oklahoma claimed its first national title since 1985 and Miami native Torrance Marshall was named the game’s MVP.
9. (2) LSU 21, (1) Oklahoma 14 (2003)
The highest-scoring team in the nation, Oklahoma, was held largely in check by a Nick Saban-coached defense. LSU held the Sooners to an absurdly low 154 yards of total offense. Heisman winner Jason White was atrocious, throwing for 102 yards and two interceptions along with 24 incompletions (13-of-37). Oklahoma’s defense fought valiantly, allowing just 312 yards of offense and only 14 points to LSU's offense. Defensive lineman Marcus Spears made the play of the game early in the third quarter when he picked off White and rumbled 20 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. A fourth-quarter Sooner touchdown made the score look more respectable.
10. (1) Alabama 37, (2) Texas 21 (2009)
Early in the first quarter, Alabama knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game and the Tide never really looked back. Bama took a 24-6 halftime lead and let off the gas pedal in allowing backup Garrett Gilbert to throw two touchdown passes to cut the lead to 24-20. However, the Tide would not relent as it scored two touchdowns in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to pull away and secure the national title — it’s first since 1992. The two teams combined for 539 yards of total offense.
11. (2) LSU 38, (1) Ohio State 24 (2007)
Beanie Wells did his best to keep Ohio State in the game, rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. But it wasn’t enough for Ohio State to overcome the efficient play of LSU quarterback Matt Flynn and yet another loaded LSU defense. The Tigers, the only two-loss BCS champion, got four scoring strikes from their quarterback and forced three OSU turnovers to win their second national title in five years. Ohio State cut the lead to 14 (31-17) with two minutes to go in the third quarter but couldn’t muster any offense in the final frame.
12. (2) Alabama 21, (1) LSU 0 (2011)
LSU topped Bama 9-6 in early November in Tuscaloosa and beat Georgia in the SEC title game to enter the BCS title game with as impressive a 13-0 record as college football has ever seen. However, many still believe Alabama was the better team and the Crimson Tide’s record-setting defense completely dominated LSU. The Tigers finished with 92 total yards, five first downs and didn’t even cross midfield until there were eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. AJ McCarron announced his presence to the college football world by playing efficient and productive football against a loaded LSU defense, winning the game’s MVP award along the way.
13. (2) Florida 41, (1) Ohio State 14 (2006)
Ohio State was a heavy favorite and opened the game by scoring on the opening kickoff. However, the infamous Roy Hall jumped on Ted Ginn in the end zone and injured the OSU star playmaker, setting an ominous tone for the game on the first play. It was all Florida from there on out as the Gators' defense pressured Heisman winner Troy Smith all night. Florida scored 34 first-half points and didn’t allow a second-half point to Ohio State. Smith finished 4-of-14 for 35 yards and the OSU offense totaled 82 yards on the night. Urban Meyer hoisted what would be his first of two crystal footballs.
14. (1) Alabama 42, (1) Notre Dame 14 (2012)
The Crimson Tide entered the final game of the 2012 season as the defending champs and the heavy favorite over an unbeaten Fighting Irish squad. And Vegas was right as AJ McCarron and Eddie Lacy carved up what was a highly touted Notre Dame defense. McCarron finished with 264 yards and four touchdowns while Lacy took home MVP honors with 20 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown. Bama led 35-0 with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter.
15. (1) USC 55, (2) Oklahoma 19 (2004)
It was the greatest offensive performance of the BCS era. The USC Trojans completely dissected the Oklahoma Sooners to the tune of a then-BCS NCG record 525 yards and current record 55 points. Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart set a BCS NCG record with 365 yards passing and five touchdowns in the win. Oklahoma scored first to go up 7-0 but USC then went on a 55-3 run from the 4:27 mark of the first quarter through the 9:46 mark of the fourth quarter. Not even Auburn could have stopped this offense that year.
16. (1) Miami 37, (2) Nebraska 14 (2001)
Ken Dorsey threw three first half touchdowns as Miami took a commanding 34-0 halftime lead on overmatched Nebraska. The Huskers mustered two second-half touchdowns but the game was already over. Many believe this was the best team ever assembled in college football and their national title performance in the Rose Bowl did nothing to dispel the notion.
Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football every week leading up to the 2014 season.
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BCS executive director Bill Hancock could not have asked for a better capper to his beloved Bowl Championship Series. Now, college football moves into a new era of playoff football. Many believe that adding two extra teams to the playoff scenario at season’s end will take some of the luster off what most agree is the best regular season in sports.
That simply isn’t true. Only four of 125 teams will get compete in the playoff structure (for now) and so the battle to be in the top three percent (3.2 to be exact) of college football will still be as cutthroat as it has ever been.
The bottom line is still very straight forward for all college teams: Win all of your games and you will play for a national championship. And since it's never too early to look ahead to the 2014 season — which is 232 days away, by the way — Athlon has pinpointed the 25 games that will impact the first season of the College Football Playoff the most.
1. Stanford at Oregon (TBD)
For the first time in years, the SEC may not be the best league in the nation. And it has nothing to do with Florida State. The Pac-12 returns more elite talent than any other league and the winner of this game has gone on to win the last five conference titles. Stanford has won two straight over Oregon and the Ducks, something returning Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota won’t soon forget. This is likely two top five teams playing for a conference crown — or maybe more.
2. Auburn at Alabama (Nov. 29)
The juice of the Iron Bowl is electric every year but after what took place in 2013, all bets are off in this one. On the season’s final weekend the SEC West — and possible overall SEC — championship could hang in the balance once again between these two likely preseason top 10 teams. Bama must replace more than Auburn but still boasts the better overall roster — and the game is in Tuscaloosa this time around.
3. Alabama at LSU (Nov. 8)
The nation stops to watch when these two SEC behemoths collide every year. And while Bama pulled away from LSU in the final period this season, the Tigers expect to close the gap on the Tide this offseason. Both teams will feature new quarterbacks but both teams will carry national championship aspirations into the yearly bout of physicality to start November. And anytime Bama visits the Bayou, it’s must-see TV.
4. Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 29)
Many believe that the 2013 version of The Game was the best in the history of the long Big Ten rivalry. Now, the two move into the same division and a trip to the Big Ten title game could easily hang in the balance when these two get together in the Horseshoe at season’s end. Michigan is expected to be better next season while Ohio State should maintain national status quo.
5. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Nov. 29 or Dec. 6)
The Bedlam Series is one of the best rivalries in the nation and, much like the Iron Bowl, the ’13 version took it to another level. The Sooners crushed the Pokes' Big 12 and Fiesta Bowl hopes with one swift, last-minute drive. With Oklahoma the likely conference favorite next fall, Oklahoma State may have the chance to play the role of spoiler. This should once again feature two double-digit win teams with a potential Big 12 title on the line.
6. Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 8)
A rematch of the Big Ten title game could be the most important division game in the league next year. With Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State all landing in the Big Ten East Division, the round robin with these four college football blue bloods makes this division as intriguing as any in the nation. So when Urban Meyer goes on the road in early November, the reigning Big Ten champs should be ready for them in East Lansing.
7. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Oct. 11, Cotton Bowl)
Charlie Strong sent some not so subtle shots across the bow of the Big 12 during his introductory press conference, letting the rest of the league know he is coming into town six shooters blazing. Bob Stoops has made a living crushing the Longhorns and it falls to Strong to change that in his first Red River Rivalry. With the Crimson and Cream as the current preseason favorite, Strong knows he has a chance to upset the status quo in the Heartland in Year One.
8. Baylor at Oklahoma (Nov. 8)
The Sooners were embarrassed in Waco on a Thursday night this year and Stoops and company will be out for revenge at home this time around. The Sooners are a preseason top 10 team while Baylor is the top challenger in the Big 12 and could also be a preseason top 10 with Art Briles and Bryce Petty returning. Look for a dramatically more competitive game in 2014 than fans in Waco saw in ’13.
9. LSU at Auburn (Oct. 4)
The only game Auburn lost in the regular season was against LSU in Baton Rouge early in the year. The two Tigers will battle in Jordan-Hare early in the 2014 campaign as well, with SEC West supremacy likely on the line. Alabama still has a great shot to be the preseason pick in the division, so this game will probably determine who will be the top challenger to the Crimson Tide next fall.
10. USC at UCLA (TBD)
UCLA is likely a preseason top 10 team with the return of Brett Hundley at quarterback. USC, under new coach Steve Sarkisian, should have loads of momentum after a 10-win season in 2013 and could easily be a top 15 team heading into the season. These two are the top two picks in the Pac-12 South at the moment and the long-standing, intra-city rivalry should be more important than ever before in ’14.
11. Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 13)
No, you didn’t miss read that. The Spartans will visit the Ducks early in the season next year in what could be a Rose Bowl preview matchup. The Michigan State defense will be rebuilt to some degree but will be as salty as ever while the Oregon offense returns for another season of up-tempo dominance. These two have split in the only four times they have played, two home-and-homes in 1998-99 and 1979-80, with the home team winning all four.
12. Auburn at Georgia (Nov. 15)
It was one of the great games of the 2013 season and could once again be an important and electric showdown in 2014. Georgia is the preseason favorite in the East while Auburn is the defending SEC champs — and the Tigers have to go on the road in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. How much roster turnover Auburn must deal with remains to be seen, so this game could be a meeting of two top-10 teams should all the big names return.
13. Georgia at South Carolina (Sept. 14)
If the Dawgs are, in fact, the preseason pick in the SEC East, then South Carolina is likely the top challenger. And in 2014, the game is being played in Columbia — where UGA got hammered the last time it visited in 2012. Both teams are breaking in new full-time quarterbacks with limited experience, which makes the early season timing of this game that much more interesting for fans in the SEC.
14. Stanford at Washington (TBD)
This has been one of the best Pac-12 games of the year in each of the last two seasons. The Huskies have to replace some pieces but should be in great shape with new head coach Chris Petersen. Both teams are preseason top 20 squads with Stanford possibly cracking the top five. The Huskies won in Seattle two years ago and outplayed the Cardinal in Palo Alto this fall. This could be a critical and epically physical battle out West next fall.
15. UCLA at Arizona State (TBD)
It was a critical showdown that was one of the best Pac-12 games of the 2013 season and nothing should change next fall. Taylor Kelly and Brett Hundley will do battle for the third straight season in what is turning into an excellent offensive rivalry out West. The Pac-12 South could be determined when the Bruins head East into the desert.
16. USC at Stanford (TBD)
The Trojans pulled a dramatic and memorable upset in 2013 — which was only the latest in what has developed into one of the great modern Pac-12 rivalries. In 2014, however, the game could carry even more importance for both teams as USC must head North to Palo Alto. Each has eyes on the Pac-12 title game and this bout could play a role in determining home-field advantage in the conference championship game.
17. Georgia at Missouri (Oct. 11)
Missouri isn’t far behind the Bulldogs and Gamecocks when it comes to projecting the SEC East in 2014. And getting to host the Dawgs in Columbia could be pivotal in deciding if the Tigers can maintain their status atop the SEC East next season. Maty Mauk got plenty of playing time for the Tigers' offense this season and should be one of the SEC’s top passers next fall.
18. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 4)
These two have a long and storied tradition of great games and big-time moments. See the last time the Cardinal went to South Bend (although, Stanford fans probably will want to avert their eyes). With Everett Golson back for the Irish, Brian Kelly could have Notre Dame back in contention for a major (formerly known as “BCS”) bowl bid.
19. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Aug. 30, Reliant Stadium)
The Tigers have eyes on returning to the national championship equation and Wisconsin is in desperate need of a signature regular season win over an elite non-conference opponent. If Gary Andersen and the Badgers want to be considered a national power, this type of showcase is as good an opportunity to prove it as they will ever have in Madison.
20. Oklahoma State vs. Florida State (Aug. 30, AT&T Stadium)
One of the great first weekend matchups will feature the defending national champions playing deep in the heart of Texas. The Cowboys are a fringe top 25 team but have eyes on returning to the top of the Big 12. An early strong showing (even in defeat) against the Noles could go a long way in proving that Mike Gundy’s program reloads rather than rebuilds.
21. Oregon at UCLA (TBD)
The Bruins had it rough in 2013, having to visit Oregon and Stanford in back-to-back games. Luck gives Jim Mora and his team a chance to win the league by hosting both the Ducks and Cardinal in Los Angeles in 2014. The Ducks come to town after boat-racing the Bruins in Eugene this season. A Mariota-Hundley matchup at quarterback could be a Heisman elimination game while also potentially deciding home field in the Pac-12 title game.
22. Stanford at UCLA (TBD)
Most everything said above about Oregon visiting UCLA applies to the Cardinal’s trip South to Westwood as well. UCLA lost by only two touchdowns to Stanford in 2013 but the game wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated, so revenge will be on the mind of Hundley and company when David Shaw's squad rolls into town.
23. Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15)
The Big Ten West is the easier division but two Big Reds will enter the season as the frontrunners to win the crown. Iowa will host both Wisconsin and Nebraska but this game is much more likely to determine the West Division representative in the Big Ten Championship Game in 2014. Each team has holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but have plenty of returning weaponry and could be preseason top 25 teams.
24. Missouri at South Carolina (Sept. 27)
The round robin in the SEC East may not be as dramatic or intense or important as that of the SEC West, but Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri will do battle all season long in 2014. South Carolina has the benefit of hosting both the Dawgs and the Tigers in Williams-Brice Stadium. Should Carolina win both of those games, the Gamecocks could easily be Atlanta-bound.
25. South Carolina at Auburn (Oct. 25)
As two of the better programs in the SEC, it feels strange that these two have only met twice in the regular season since 2006. But when they do meet, strange things happen. The Tigers knocked the 2011 Gamecocks out of the SEC title game and crushed the Gamecocks 56-17 in the title game in Atlanta in '10 — their second meeting that year. Steve Spurrier should be well aware that his Gamecocks have beaten the Tigers only once in school history — and that came in 1933.
The best of the rest:
26. Alabama at Ole Miss (Oct. 4)
27. Notre Dame at Florida State (Oct. 18)
28. Arizona State at USC (TBD)
29. Baylor at Texas (Oct. 4)
30. UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, AT&T Stadium)
31. Notre Dame at Arizona State (Nov. 8)
32. Ole Miss at Auburn (Nov. 1)
33. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 29)
34. Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 25)
35. Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 25)
Other non-conference games to watch:
Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 20)
Clemson at Georgia (Aug. 30)
Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 6)
Miami at Nebraska (Sept. 20)
Boise State vs. Ole Miss (Aug. 28, Georgia Dome)
Tennessee at Oklahoma (Sept. 13)
North Carolina at Notre Dame (Oct. 11)
Florida at Florida State (Nov. 29)
Virginia Tech at Ohio State (Sept. 6)
BYU at Texas (Sept. 6)
The BCS is dead. After 16 years of picking a two-team tournament, the Bowl Championship Series took its final breath in the form of a second BCS championship for Florida State. The Noles won one of the greatest college games played in a 34-31 final version of the BCS title.
It was easy to hate the BCS and much more difficult to sing its praises. However, the Bowl Championship Series was a huge upgrade and improvement over the previous championship system where No. 1 and No. 2 weren’t even guaranteed to play.
Were there some controversial decisions? Certainly, Auburn fans in 2004 or Ohio State fans in 1998 might have had a beef with the BCS’ final decision. But most have to agree that the BCS got it right pretty much every time.
But where do these Seminoles rank against the past BCS champions? Athlon Sports ranks the 2013 national champions against the previous 15 Crystal Ball holders.
"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
1. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0, 7-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Key Stats: No. 3 in nation in scoring offense (42.7 ppg), no. 1 in scoring defense (9.8 ppg); average margin of victory 33.2 points per game
Award Winners: Larry Coker (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award), Ken Dorsey (co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl co-MVP), Andre Johnson (Rose Bowl co-MVP), Bryant McKinnie (Outland Trophy), Ed Reed (co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), William Joseph (1st, 2003), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002)
Simply put, this team was loaded and is viewed by many as one of the best ever in college football history. With a roster featuring six first-team All-Americans and 13 first-team All-Big East selections, not to mention 32 future NFL draft picks, these Hurricanes dominated on both sides of the ball and steamrolled their competition from start to finish. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the ‘Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game where they held a 34-0 lead in the first half.
Sept. 1: Miami (Fla.) 33, Penn State 7 (State College, PA)
Sept. 8: Miami (Fla.) 61, Rutgers 0 (Miami, FL)
Sept. 27: Miami (Fla.) 43, Pittsburgh 21 (Pittsburgh, PA)
Oct. 6: Miami (Fla.) 38, Troy 7 (Miami, FL)
Oct. 13: Miami (Fla.) 49, (#14) Florida State 27 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 25: Miami (Fla.) 45, West Virginia 3 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 3: Miami (Fla.) 38, Temple 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 10: Miami (Fla.) 18, Boston College 7 (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Nov. 17: Miami (Fla.) 59, (#14) Syracuse 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 24: Miami (Fla.) 65, (#12) Washington 7 (Miami, FL)
Dec. 1: Miami (Fla.) 26, (#14) Virginia Tech 24 (Blacksburg, VA)
Jan. 3: Miami (Fla.) 37, (#4) Nebraska 14 (Rose Bowl)
2. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (79.4 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.46), led the Pac-10 in scoring (38.2 ppg) and finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), USC did not rank below third in the Pac-10 in any of the 14 tracked team stats.
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Reggie Bush (Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Shaun Cody (Pac-10 Co-Def. Player of the Year),
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009)
The best team in the Pac-10 since the BCS began might have been the best team in any league during the BCS era. After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. An opening weekend win over ACC champ Virginia Tech in Landover started what would become a magical ride to a BCS National Championship. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the brief history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an NFL roster full of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Eighteen different Trojans from the 2004 BCS National Championship team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. This team had the stats, the resume, the undefeated title season, the NFL talent, a superstar coach and is the best Pac-10 team of the BCS era because of it.
Aug. 28: USC 24, Virginia Tech 13 (Landover, MD)
Sept. 11: USC 49, Colorado State 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 18: USC 42, BYU 10 (Provo, UT)
Sept. 25: USC 31, Stanford 28 (Palo Alto, CA)
Oct: 9: USC 23, (#7) Cal 17 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 16: USC 45, (#15) Arizona State 7 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 23: USC 38, Washington 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 30: USC 42, Washington State 12 (Pullman, WA)
Nov. 6: USC 28, Oregon State 20 (Corvallis, OR)
Nov. 13: USC 49, Arizona 9 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 27: USC 41, Notre Dame 10 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 4: USC 29, UCLA 24 (Pasadena, CA)
Jan. 4: USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (Miami Gardens, FL, Orange Bowl, BCS NCG)
3. Texas Longhorns, 2005 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Key Stats: School record 50.2 points per game, school single-season record for total yards (6,657), touchdowns (55), total yards per game (512.1) and yards per rushing attempt (5.9), Vince Young no. 6 in total offense (314.3 ypg) and no. 3 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Mack Brown (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Big 12 Coach of the Year), Michael Huff (Jim Thorpe Award, Rose Bowl Defensive MVP), Vince Young (Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (9): Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006), Limas Sweed (2nd, 2008)
Texas entered the season ranked No. 2 behind defending national champion USC, and that’s where the two found themselves when they met in the Rose Bowl in January 2006. To get to Pasadena, Texas steamrolled the competition, averaging more than 50 points a game and scoring 60 or more four times. In the second week of the season, Texas became the first non-conference opponent in 15 years to defeat Ohio State at home, and followed that win up about a month later by dominating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns destroyed Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship to set up the showdown with No. 1 USC. The Rose Bowl title tilt lived up to every bit of its billing as Vince Young put on the most impressive performance in BCS National Championship history, accounting for 84 percent of Texas’ total offense (467 out of 556) yards, and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to capture the Longhorns’ fourth national championship in thrilling fashion. Young was one of four consensus All-Americans on this Longhorns team, which also produced a total of 24 NFL Draft picks.
Sept. 3: Texas 60, Louisiana-Lafayette 3 (Austin, TX)
Sept. 10: Texas 25, (#4) Ohio State 22 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 17: Texas 51, Rice 10 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 1: Texas 51, Missouri 20 (Columbia, MO)
Oct. 8: Texas 45, Oklahoma 12 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 15: Texas 42, (#24) Colorado 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 22: Texas 52, (#10) Texas Tech 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 29: Texas 47, Oklahoma State 28 (Stillwater, OK)
Nov. 5: Texas 62, Baylor 0 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 12: Texas 66, Kansas 14 (Austin, TX)
Nov. 25: Texas 40, Texas A&M 29 (College Station, TX)
Dec. 3: Texas 70, Colorado 3 (Big 12 Championship — Houston, TX)
Jan. 4: Texas 41, (#1) USC 38 (Rose Bowl, National Championship)
4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Finished second in the nation in total (244.1 ypg), rushing (78.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.7 ppg).
Award Winners: Mark Ingram (Heisman Trophy), Rolando McClain (Butkus, SEC Def. Player of the Year), Javier Arenas (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)
Led by boy genius quarterback Greg McElroy and a host of national award-winning first round NFL Draft picks, the Alabama Crimson Tide won their first national title since 1992. Nick Saban defeated five ranked opponents before taking down No. 2 Texas in the BCS National Championship game 37-21. This was the best defense in the nation, finishing second nationally in three of the four major statistical categories. In a rematch of the 2008 SEC title game, McElroy did his best Tebow impression by completing 12-of-18 passes for 239 yards without a turnover while picking up key yards on the ground. Heisman winner Mark Ingram rushed 28 times for 113 yards and three scores in the tear-inducing 32-13 win over Florida in Atlanta. Thus far, six first round picks have entered the NFL from the 2009 roster. Expect that number to grow in the spring with names like Trent Richardon, Dre Kirkpatrick, Barrett Jones and Mark Barron grading into or around the first round.
Florida and Alabama split against each other over the 2008-2009 seasons. Both had a Heisman Trophy winner and both went on to claim the national title. However, the Crimson Tide get a small edge because they finished the season undefeated — something Tim Tebow never did in his four-year college career. Since these two specific teams will obviously never have the chance to face each other, fans are left to argue about which team would win if pitted against each other on a neutral field with all the marbles on the line.
Now, that might actually be something worth Tebow-ing for.
Sept. 5: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24 (Atlanta, GA)
Sept. 12: Alabama 40, FIU 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 19: Alabama 53, North Texas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 26: Alabama 35, Arkansas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 3: Alabama 38, Kentucky 20 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 10: Alabama 22, Ole Miss 3 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 17: Alabama 20, South Carolina 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 24: Alabama 12, Tennessee 10 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 7: Alabama 24, LSU 15 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 14: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 3 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 21: Alabama 45, Tennessee-Chattanooga 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 27: Alabama 26, Auburn 21 (Auburn, AL)
Dec. 5: Alabama 32, Florida 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: Alabama 37, Texas 21 (Pasadena, CA, BCS NCG)
5. Florida State Seminoles, 2013 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher
Key Stats: Florida State won 14 games by an average of 42.3 ppg, Jameis Winston set an NCAA freshman record with 40 passing touchdowns, led the nation with five rushing TD allowed, 18-point BCS comeback was the largest in BCS history
Award Winners: Jamies Winston (Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien, Walter Camp), Bryan Stork (Rimington), Roberto Aguayo (Groza)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: N/A
The Noles rolled through its 2013 schedule with surprising ease, beating 13 regular season opponents by more than six touchdowns per game (42.3). Jimbo Fisher built a roster loaded with five-star future NFL stars, and this team’s tremendous balance is what makes it great. Elite defensive players at every level compliment a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, a veteran offensive line and big-time playmakers at the skill positions. Even the special teams were elite and decorated with the Groza winner kicking field goals and extra points. This team crushed people to a perfect 14-0 record — one of only four 14-win, unblemished BCS championship teams. The '13 Noles will go down as one of the most dominant, decorated and successful teams in college football history after erasing the biggest deficit in BCS title game history. In the title game, the offense drove the length of the field twice in the fourth quarter, special teams came up with huge plays and the defense held Auburn's No. 1-ranked rushing attack to 100 fewer yards than it averaged all season.
Sept 2: Florida St 41, Pitt 13 (Pittsburgh, PA)
Sept. 14: Florida St 62, Nevada 7 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 21: Florida St 54, Bethune-Cookman 6 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 28: Florida St 48, Boston College 34 (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Oct. 5: Florida St 63, (#25) Maryland 0 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 19: Florida St 51, (#3) Clemson 14 (Clemson, SC)
Oct. 26: Florida S 49, NC State 17 (Tallahassee, FL)
Nov. 2: Florida St 41, (#7) Miami 14 (Tallahassee, FL)
Nov. 9: Florida St 59, Wake Forest 3 (Winston-Salem, NC)
Nov. 16: Florida St 59, Syracuse 3 (Tallahassee, FL)
Nov. 23: Florida St 80, Idaho 14 (Tallahassee, FL)
Nov. 30: Florida St 37, Florida 7 (Gainesville, FL)
Dec. 7: Florida St 45, (#20) Duke 7 (Charlotte, NC)
Jan. 6: Florida St 34, (#2) Auburn 31 (Pasadena, CA)
6. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Key Stats: No. 7 in nation in both scoring offense (39 ppg) and scoring defense (16 ppg), no. 8 in total defense (278.9 ypg), no. 9 in pass defense (170.5 ypg) and no. 2 in pass efficiency defense, Josh Heupel no. 6 in nation in total offense (294.7 ypg)
Award Winners: Josh Heupel (AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Camp Award), Bob Stoops (AP National Coach of the Year, Big 12 Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson/FWAA Coach of the Year, Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Walter Camp National Coach of the Year, Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year), J.T. Thatcher (Mosi Tatupu Award — national Special Teams Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (3): Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004)
This Sooners team entered the season ranked No. 19 in the country, but fueled by an impressive three-game stretch in October, it ended the season ranked considerably higher. Behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel and a stingy defense, the Sooners started October by destroying No. 11 Texas in the Red River Rivalry and then out-scored No. 2 Kansas State on the road and two weeks later dominated No. 3 Nebraska at home to vault to the top of the rankings. The Sooners would defeat Kansas State a second time in the Big 12 Championship to set up a showdown with No. 3 Florida State (No. 2 in the BCS standings) in the Orange Bowl. Even though they were playing in their home state, the Seminoles’ potent offense, led by quarterback and Heisman winner Chris Weinke, was held in check and scoreless by the Sooners defense in the lowest scoring Orange Bowl in 30 years. Fittingly enough, linebacker Torrance Marshall, who had six tackles and an interception (which ranks as the no. 4 Greatest BCS National Championship Performance), took home MVP honors as Oklahoma defeated Florida State 13-2 to capture its seventh national championship and first since 1985.
Sept. 2: Oklahoma 55, UTEP 14 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 9: Oklahoma 45, Arkansas State 7 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 23: Oklahoma 42, Rice 17 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 30: Oklahoma 34, Kansas 16 (Norman, OK)
Oct. 7: Oklahoma 63, (#11) Texas 14 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 14: Oklahoma 41, (#2) Kansas State 31 (Manhattan, KS)
Oct. 28: Oklahoma 31, (#3) Nebraska 14 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 4: Oklahoma 56, Baylor 7 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 11: Oklahoma 35, (#23) Texas A&M 31 (College Station, TX)
Nov. 18: Oklahoma 27, Texas Tech 13 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 25: Oklahoma 12, Oklahoma State 7 (Stillwater, OK)
Dec. 2: Oklahoma 27, (#8) Kansas State 24 (Big 12 Championship – Kansas City, MO)
Jan. 3: Oklahoma 13, (#3) Florida State 2 (Orange Bowl, National Championship)
7. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Key Stats: This team put 11 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft; Peerless Price is second all-time in BCS bowls with 242 all-purpose yards in the Fiesta Bowl, his 49.8 yards per catch is a BCS title game record.
Award Winners: Phillip Fulmer (AP National Coach of the Year), Peerless Price (Fiesta Bowl MVP), David Cutcliffe (Broyles)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Peerless Price (2nd, 1999), Jamal Lewis (1st, 2000), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Chad Clifton (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Casey Coleman (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Travis Henry (2nd, 2001), John Henderson (1st, 2002)
In Year 1 A.P. (after Peyton), the Vols put together their greatest season in nearly five decades. Tee Martin stepped in at quarterback, and aided by a monster backfield that included Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis, Travis Stephens and Shawn Bryson, led the Vols past six ranked opponents for Tennessee’s sixth national championship. The defense held nine of its 13 opponents to 18 points or less. Despite a BCS record 199 yards receiving (242 all-purpose yards) and the game-winning 79-yard touchdown for game MVP Peerless Price, the most important and memorable moment from the 1998 title run involved a stumbling Razorback. Late in the Arkansas game, Tennessee was all but beaten until Billy Ratliff forced guard Brandon Burlsworth into quarterback Clint Stoerner, who gently and inexplicably “placed” the football on the ground. The Vols used a Henry touchdown run in the final seconds to seal the comeback from a 21-3 deficit and the eventual national championship.
Sept. 5: Tennessee 34, (#17) Syracuse 33 (Syracuse, NY)
Sept. 19: Tennessee 20, (#2) Florida 17 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 26: Tennessee 42, Houston 7 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 3: Tennessee 17, Auburn 9 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 10: Tennessee 22, (#7) Georgia 3 (Athens, GA)
Oct. 24: Tennessee 35, Alabama 18 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 31: Tennessee 49, South Carolina 14 (Columbia, SC)
Nov. 7: Tennessee 37, UAB 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 14: Tennessee 28, (#10) Arkansas 24 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 21: Tennessee 59, Kentucky 21 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 28: Tennessee 41, Vanderbilt 0 (Nashville, TN)
Dec. 5: Tennessee 24, (#23) Mississippi State 14 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: Tennessee 23, (#2) Florida State 16 (Tempe, AZ, Fiesta Bowl)
8. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Key Stats: Led the SEC in rushing (231.1 ypg), total offense (445.1 ypg), scoring (43.6 ppg), pass efficiency defense (96.76), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), punting (38.1 ypp), turnover margin (+1.57) and passing efficiency (170.6). Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring at 10.2 ppg.
Award Winners: Tim Tebow (Maxwell, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Brandon James (SEC Special Teamer of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)
Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006). But when the Florida Gators lost to the Ole Miss Rebels in The Swamp on a final drive fourth-down stop, Tebow took his legendary legacy to new heights. After fumbling, taking sacks and missing open receivers, the Gainesville idol gave one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. The win over No. 1 and unbeaten Alabama pushed the Gators into the national title game against another No. 1. The Chosen One then delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14. He claimed his second national championship in three years before announcing he would return for his senior year. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points).
Aug. 30: Florida 56, Hawaii 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 6: Florida 26, Miami 3 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 20: Florida 30, Tennessee 6 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 27: Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 4: Florida 38, Arkansas 7 (Fayetteville, AR)
Oct. 11: Florida 51, (#4) LSU 21 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 25: Florida 63, Kentucky 5 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 1: Florida 49, (#8) Georgia 10 (Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 8: Florida 42, Vanderbilt 14 (Nashville, TN)
Nov. 15: Florida 56, (#24) South Carolina 6 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 22: Florida 70, Citadel 19 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 29: Florida 45, (#23) Florida State 15 (Tallahassee, FL)
Dec. 6: Florida 31, (#1) Alabama 20 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 8: Florida 24, (#2) Oklahoma 14 (Miami Gardens, FL, BCS NCG)
9. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Set a BCS era record with 8.2 points allowed per game, led the nation in total defense (183.6 ypg), rushing defense (72.2 ypg) and passing defense (111.5 ypg). Held LSU to zero points, five first downs and 92 yards of offense in the BCS title game.
Award Winners: Trent Richardson (Doak Walker Award, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Barrett Jones (Outland Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Trent Richardson (1st, 2012), Mark Barron (1st, 2012) Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012), Dee Miliner (1st, 2013), Chance Warmack (1st, 2013), D.J. Fluker (1st, 2013), Eddie Lacy (2nd, 2013)
As Athlon Sports' preseason pick as the National Champion, Alabama rolled through its schedule — which included easy victories over three ranked opponents — until the "Game of the Century" on November 5 against LSU. The Tide outplayed the Tigers on offense and defense in that game, but was destroyed on special teams and it cost Saban a perfect season. After crushing rival Auburn, the Tide headed to New Orleans for a rematch with LSU. In a performance that would make the Bear weep openly, the Tide held Jordan Jefferson and the Bayou Bengals to five first downs, 92 yards of offense and no points. Alabama led the nation in every major defensive team NCAA statistic and it showed in the title game. This Crimson Tide team is the only BCS National Champion who failed to win its conference championship and the offense did not possess the same level of explosive talent on offense (and it lost a game) to be ranked ahead of the 2009 Alabama title squad.
Sept. 3: Alabama 48, Kent State 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 10: Alabama 27, (#23) Penn State 11 (Happy Valley, PA)
Sept. 17: Alabama 41, North Texas 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 24: Alabama 38, (#14) Arkansas 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 1: Alabama 38, (#12) Florida 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 8: Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 15: Alabama 52, Ole Miss 7 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 22: Alabama 37, Tennessee 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 5: (#1) LSU 9, Alabama 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 12: Alabama 24, Mississippi State 7 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 19: Alabama 45, Georgia Southern 21 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 26: Alabama 42, Auburn 14 (Auburn, AL)
Jan. 9: Alabama 21, (#1) LSU 0 (New Orleans, LA, BCS NCG)
10. Florida State Seminoles, 1999 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Key Stats: Janikowski led NCAA in FGM/Game (23 FGM), Led the ACC in passing 302.9 ypg and fourth in the nation in scoring at 37.5 ppg. Led the ACC in total defense (302.6 ypg).
Award Winners: Sebastian Janikowski (Lou Groza), Peter Warrick (Sugar Bowl MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Corey Simon (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003)
The best team of the BCS era in the ACC claimed nine first-team All-ACC performers (AP) and six second-team selections. Florida State became the first team in history to go wire-to-wire as No. 1 team in all three polls after beating five ranked opponents. It was the second-highest scoring Noles team of the BCS era and No. 7 highest-scoring team in FSU history. Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick outlasted Michael Vick and the Hokies in the memorable 1999 championship game. Warrick, after surviving some off-the-field incidents, claimed MVP honors after catching six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt for a score. His 220 all-purpose yards are fourth all-time in a title game and his 20 points (3 TDs, 2-pt) are a BCS title game record. (It was the No. 11 BCS title game performance.) The win gave Bobby Bowden his second national championship.
Aug. 28: Florida State 41, Louisiana Tech 7 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 11: Florida State 41, (#10) Georiga Tech 35 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 18: Florida State 42, (#20) NC State 11 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 25: Florida State 42, North Carolina 10 (Chapel Hill, NC)
Oct. 2: Florida State 51, Duke 23 (Jacksonville, FL)
Oct. 9: Florida State 31, (#19) Miami 21 (Tallahasse, FL)
Oct. 16: Florida State 33, Wake Forest 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 23: Florida State 17, Clemson 10 (Clemson, SC)
Oct. 30: Florida State 35, Virginia 10 (Charlottesville, VA)
Nov. 13: Florida State 49, Maryland 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Nov. 20: Florida State 30, (#4) Florida 20 (Gainesville, FL)
Jan. 4: Florida State 46, (#2) Virginia Tech 29 (Sugar Bowl)
11. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Only one time did a team score more than 14 points against LSU (Arkansas, 24). Led the nation in total defense (252.0 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg), held Heisman winner Jason White to 13-of-37 passing in title game.
Award Winners: Chad Lavalais (SEC Def. Player of the Year), Nick Saban (AP National Coach of the Year), Justin Vincent (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Joseph Addai (1st, 2006), Andrew Whitworth (2nd, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007), Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007), Chris Davis (1st, 2007)
Armed with the nation’s nastiest defense, Nick Saban restored the LSU name to prominence in only his fourth year at the helm. His team led the nation in total defense at 252 yards per game and scoring defense at exactly 11.0 points per game. Arkansas was the only team to score more than 14 points against the Bayou Bengals in 2003. Quarterback Matt Mauck steered the ship, freshman Justin Vincent and sophomore Joseph Addai powered the offense and one of the deepest receiving corps in history gave LSU tremendous balance. With three one-loss teams sitting atop the standings — and USC ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll — the computers controversially placed the Sooners in the National Championship game against the Tigers. After the 21-14 win over an Oklahoma team boasting the Heisman, Thorpe, Lombardi and Bednarik winners, LSU claimed the BCS national title — splitting the votes with USC. It was their first national championship since 1958.
Aug. 30: LSU 49, UL Monroe 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 6: LSU 59, Arizona 13 (Tucson, AZ)
Sept. 13: LSU 35, Western Illinois 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 20: LSU 17, (#7) Georgia 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 27: LSU 41, Mississippi State 6 (Starkville, MS)
Oct. 11: Florida 19, LSU 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Oct. 18: LSU 33, South Carolina 7 (Columbia, SC)
Oct. 25: LSU 31, (#17) Auburn 7 (Baton Rouge, LA
Nov. 1: LSU 49, Louisiana Tech 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 15: LSU 27, Alabama 3 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 22: LSU 17, (#15) Ole Miss 14 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 28: LSU 55, Arkansas 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Dec. 6: LSU 34, (#5) Georgia 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: LSU 21, (#3) Oklahoma 14 (New Orleans, LA, Sugar Bowl)
12. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2012 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing and total defense for the second straight year and was second nationally in scoring defense, AJ McCarron was second nationally in passing efficiency,
Award Winners: Barrett Jones (Rimington)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Dee Miliner (1st, 2013), Chance Warmack (1st, 2013), D.J. Fluker (1st, 2013), Eddie Lacy (2nd, 2013)
The 2012 Crimson Tide championship team isn't as strong defensively as the unit that dominated the college football landscape the year before, but defending a title is almost always more difficult than winning the first one. AJ McCarron had spotlight moments all season long, including 264 yards and four touchdowns against Notre Dame in the title game. Had McCarron not thrown the goal-line interception against Texas A&M, this team would have easily landed in the top 10. This team rolled up 529 yards of offense in one of the more impressive title game performances in the 15-year history of the BCS. And did it against one of the best defenses in the nation.
Sept. 1: Alabama 41, (#8) Michigan 14 (Arlington, TX)
Sept. 8: Alabama 35, Western Kentucky 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 15: Alabama 52, Arkansas 0 (Fayetteville, AR)
Sept. 22: Alabama 40, FAU 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 29: Alabama 33, Ole Miss 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 13: Alabama 42, Missouri 10 (Columbia, MO)
Oct. 20: Alabama 44, Tennessee 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 27: Alabama 38, (#13) Mississippi State 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 3: Alabama 21, LSU 17 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 10: (#15) Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 17: Alabama 49, Western Carolina 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 24: Alabama 49, Auburn 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Dec. 1: Alabama 32, (#3) Georgia 28 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: Alabama 42, (#1) Notre Dame 14 (Miami Gardens, FL, BCS NCG)
13. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Key Stats: Cam Newton's 4,327 yards of total offense fset a single-season SEC record; Tigers set a school record with 41.2 points per game, led the nation in passing efficiency 180.52, won seven games by one score or less.
Award Winners: Cam Newton (Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, SEC Off. Player of Year), Nick Fairley (Lombardi), Lee Ziemba (SEC Top Blocker)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Nick Fairley (1st, 2011)
The one-year wonders Cam Newton and Nick Fairley gave Auburn arguably its most important recruiting haul in history when they both chose the Loveliest Village on the Plains. The Heisman Trophy winner willed his team to victory against Mississippi State, Clemson, Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and defined his legacy with an incredible 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of a tied game with LSU. His 217 rushing yards in the 24-17 win over the Tigers broke a single-game SEC rushing record for a quarterback. Newton finished with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing and an SEC second-best 51 total touchdowns. This is the only 14-win team in school history and was the highest-scoring Tigers team in program history by a wide margin — their 577 points topped Terry Bowden’s 1995 team by 139 points (41.2 ppg against 36.5 ppg).
Sept. 4: Auburn 52, Arkansas State 26 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 9: Auburn 17, Mississippi State 14 (Starkville, MS)
Sept. 18: Auburn 27, Clemson 24 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 25: Auburn 35, (#12) South Carolina 27 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 2: Auburn 52, UL Monroe 3 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 9: Auburn 37, Kentucky 34 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 16: Auburn 65, (#12) Arkansas 43 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 23: Auburn 24, (#6) LSU 17 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 30: Auburn 51, Ole Miss 31 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 6: Auburn 62, Tennessee-Chattanooga 24 (Auburn, AL)
Nov. 13: Auburn 28, (#9) Alabama 27 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Dec. 4: Auburn 56, (#18) South Carolina 17 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 10: Auburn 22, (#2) Oregon 19 (Glendale, AZ, BCS NCG)
14. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Key Stats: Ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and No. 3 nationally in rushing defense (77.7 ypg), this was the first team in NCAA history to finish 14-0
Award Winners: Maurice Clarett (Big Ten Freshman of the Year), Mike Doss (Big Ten Co-Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Mike Doss (2nd, 2003), Will Smith (1st, 2004), Chris Gamble (1st, 2004), Michael Jenkins (1st, 2004), Mike Nugent (2nd, 2005)
The team that never gave up began the season ranked No. 13 in the nation and slowing grinded their way to the No. 1 spot in the final standings. The Buckeyes beat five ranked teams, including the Big East's No. 2 team of the BCS era, en route to the 2002 National Championship. Behind gritty play from quarterback Craig Krenzel and a freshman school rushing record from Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards), the Bucks found themselves as heavy underdogs to defending national champs Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Yet, the staunch Buckeye defense and two key touchdowns (and one great forced fumble/recovery) from Clarett gave Ohio State its sixth consensus national championship. The much-debated pass inference penalty also will go down in history as one of the more controversial plays — even if it was the right call. This Ohio State team sent an NFL record 14 players to the league in the 2004 draft (five were selected in 2003 and three in 2005). This is the only Big Ten team to have claimed a BCS National Championship making them the top Big Ten team of the BCS Era.
Aug. 24: Ohio State 45, Texas Tech 21 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 7: Ohio State 51, Kent State 17 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 14: Ohio State 25, (#10) Washington State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 21: Ohio State 23, Cincinnati 19 (Cincinnati, OH)
Sept. 28: Ohio State 45, Indiana 17 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 5: Ohio State 27, Northwestern 16 (Evanston, IL)
Oct. 12: Ohio State 50, San Jose State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 19: Ohio State 19, Wisconsin 14 (Madison, WI)
Oct. 26: Ohio State 13, (#17) Penn State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 2: Ohio State 34, (#19) Minnesota 3 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 9: Ohio State 10, Purdue 6 (West Lafayette, IN)
Nov. 16: Ohio State 23, Illinois 16 (Champaign, IL)
Nov. 23: Ohio State 14, (#12) Michigan 9 (Columbus, OH)
Jan. 3: Ohio State 31, (#1) Miami 24 (Fiesta Bowl, BCS NCG)
15. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Key Stats: Florida held Heisman winner Troy Smith to four completions in the title game and the Buckeyes to 82 total yards.
Award Winners: Percy Harvin (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)
After defeating a ranked Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, the Florida Gators entered the 2006 BCS national title game as a big underdog to Ohio State. But an NFL-heavy defense delivered one of the greatest defensive performances in championship game history. Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey and company harassed Heisman winner Troy Smith all day. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. They held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown. Cult hero Tim Tebow touched the ball 11 times and scored twice to begin his eternal legacy at Florida. Florida sent nine played into the 2007 NFL Draft. The only loss came at the hands of No. 11 Auburn 27-17 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Sept. 2: Florida 34, Southern Miss 7 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 9: Florida 42, Central Florida 0 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 16: Florida 21, (#13) Tennessee 20 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 23: Florida 26, Kentucky 7 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 30: Florida 28, Alabama 13 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 7: Florida 23, (#9) LSU 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 14: (#11) Auburn 27, Florida 17 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 28: Florida 21, (#25) Georgia 14 (Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 4: Florida 25, Vanderbilt 19 (Nashville, TN)
Nov. 11: Florida 17, South Carolina 16 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 18: Florida 62, Western Carolina 0 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 25: Florida 21, Florida State 14 (Tallahassee, FL)
Dec. 2: Florida 38, (#8) Arkansas 28 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 8: Florida 41, (#1) Ohio State 14 (Glendale, AZ)
16. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Key Stats: LSU beat seven ranked teams; the only BCS champion with two losses.
Award Winners: Glenn Dorsey (Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott, SEC Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Glenn Dorsey (1st, 2008), Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009)
By definition only, this is the “worst” BCS national champion due its two losses. However, wins over ranked Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee (with back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux) and Ohio State gave the Bayou Bengals the crystal ball nonetheless. The Tigers were undefeated in regulation, however, as both Kentucky and Arkansas needed overtime to top the Tigers. Despite the two losses and the 83 combined points allowed, the LSU Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in relatively easy fashion 38-24. Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes, and the defense, led by an 8-tackle, 1.5-sack, forced fumble performance by Ali Highsmith, kept the Bucks at arm’s length the entire game. It was the Tigers' second national title in five years.
Aug. 30: LSU 45, Mississippi State 0 (Starkville, MS)
Sept. 8: LSU 48, (#9) Virginia Tech 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 15: LSU 44, MTSU 0 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 22: LSU 28, (#14) South Carolina 16 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 29: LSU 34, Tulane 9 (New Orleans, LA)
Oct. 6: LSU 28, (#7) Florida 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Oct. 13: (#18) Kentucky 43, LSU 37 (3 OT) (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 20: LSU 30, (#19) Auburn 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 3: LSU 41, (#18) Alabama 34 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 10: LSU 58, Louisiana Tech 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 17: LSU 41, Ole Miss 24 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 23: Arkansas 50, LSU 48 (3 OT) (Baton Rouge, LA)
Dec. 1: LSU 21, (#15) Tennessee 14 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: LSU 38, (#1) Ohio State 24 (New Orleans, LA, BCS NCG)
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Wild Card Weekend:
8: NFL-record consecutive playoff losses for Kansas City
The Chiefs were leading 31-10 at halftime and pushed their lead to 38-10 early in the third quarter. Andrew Luck and the Colts then outscored Kansas City 35-6 over the final 27 minutes of play to win 45-44 in Lucas Oil Stadium. The loss for the Chiefs was an NFL-record eighth consecutive playoff defeat dating back to a 1993 win over Houston in the AFC Divisional round. The Lions have the second-longest losing streak in NFL playoff history with seven losses in a row, while Cleveland, Dallas, Minnesota, Seattle and the New York Giants each have had a six-game playoff losing streak. The Chiefs' losing streak is obviously the longest active streak, followed by the Lions, but Cincinnati, after falling to San Diego on Sunday, joins the next group after its sixth straight playoff loss. Cincy's last playoff win also came against Houston, but in the 1990 Wild Card round, giving the Bengals the longest drought in the NFL without a playoff win (24 years).
28: NFL’s second largest playoff comeback
Luck and the Colts were brilliant in the second half of their Wild Card win over Kansas City. Trailing 38-10 with just over 12 minutes to play, Luck went on a Frank Reich-esque tear to lead Indianapolis to as improbable a playoff win as the league has ever seen. The four-touchdown comeback was the second largest in NFL history, trailing only the Bills' miraculous and infamous comeback against Houston. Buffalo overcame a 32-point deficit in the 1992 Wild Card game against the Oilers to win in overtime. San Francisco topped the Giants 39-38 in 2002 in a 24-point comeback and Detroit beat the 49ers 31-27 after a 20-point comeback in 1957. Those are the four largest playoff comebacks in NFL history.
11: Andrew Luck’s NFL-leading fourth-quarter/overtime game-winning drives since 2012 season
Since entering the NFL last season, no player in the NFL has more game-winning, fourth-quarter or overtime drives over the last two seasons (including playoffs). Sunday marked the 11th time since Week 1 of 2012 that Luck led his team on a game-winning drive. The second-year quarterback finished 29-of-45 for 443 yards passing with seven rushing attempts for 45 yards. He accounted for five total touchdowns. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton set franchise playoff records with 13 receptions and 224 yards as well. Tony Romo and Russell Wilson are tied for second behind Luck with nine fourth-quarter or overtime game-winning drives since the start of the ’12 season. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan are next on the list with eight such drives.
80 and 3.6: Eagles yards rushing and yards per carry against the Saints
Chip Kelly’s offense was one of the best in the NFL in 2013. The Eagles led the NFL in rushing at 160.4 yards per game, led the NFL in yards rushing per carry at 5.1 per and were No. 2 in the NFL with 19 rushing touchdowns this season. The Saints, a team ranked 19th in rushing defense (111.6) and 28th in rushing yards per carry (4.6), did a fabulous job bottling up LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher. McCoy and the Eagles rushed 22 times for 80 yards for just 3.6 yards per carry in the loss. The 80 yards allowed were the second-lowest total allowed by the Saints all season long (75, St. Louis). The 80 yards rushing were the third-lowest total of the year for Kelly’s offense.
1: New Orleans franchise road playoff wins
Entering Wild Card weekend, the New Orleans Saints had never won a road playoff game in nearly 50 years of NFL football. The Saints had lost all five previous road postseason games before topping the Eagles 26-24 in Philadelphia. Using a veteran quarterback and aforementioned tremendous defensive effort, New Orleans earned the right to visit Seattle in the Divisional Round — the same place where the Saints were upset by a 7-9 Seahawks team in the 2010 NFC Wild Card round.
12.1: Colin Kaepernick's playoff yards per carry average against Green Bay
Colin Kaepernick is 3-0 against the Packers in his short career, including two playoff wins in each of the last two seasons. His ability to make things happen with his legs has been the death of the Green Bay defense in each of the two playoff games. Kaepernick has rushed 23 times for 279 yards and two touchdowns at an astonishing 12.1-yard clip in two playoff wins over the Packers. The San-Fran signal-caller made critical plays on the ground when the things broke down in the pocket and the Packers' depleted defense had no answer for No. 7 in the open field. He finished with 98 yards rushing on seven carries to go with 227 yards passing. It was the first road playoff win in five tries for the 49ers at Lambeau Field.
Minus-10: Wind chill temperature at kickoff in Lambeau Field
The coldest game in NFL history was the Ice Bowl in 1967 between Green Bay and Dallas at minus-13 degrees at kickoff with minus-48 wind chill. The Freezer Bowl was the second-coldest in NFL history when the Bengals beat the Chargers in minus-9 degree temperatures in the face of an absurd minus-59 wind chill. The third coldest was the minus-1 degree NFC Championship game between the Giants and Packers at the end of the ’07 season. The 49ers' win over Green Bay featured a temperature of five degrees with a minus-10 degree wind chill at kickoff.
14-0: San Diego’s record when Philip Rivers attempts 21 or fewer passes
The Chargers ran the ball 40 times for 196 yards to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. Philip Rivers completed 12 of just 16 passes in the game for 128 yards in the win. In 128 regular-season and eight career playoff starts, Rivers has thrown fewer than 16 passes just three times and he has thrown 21 or fewer just 14 times in a start. San Diego has never lost (14-0) when Rivers throws 21 or fewer passes in a game, including 2-0 in such playoff starts. When Rivers throws 40 or more passes, San Diego is 6-22 all-time, including one playoff loss. Additionally, the Chargers are 22-2 when Rivers starts and throws 23 or fewer passes in his career. The formula seems pretty obvious for Mike McCoy and company — take the ball out of Rivers’ hands and run it.
1-2: Record of first-year coaches in the playoffs
Three first-year head coaches led their team to the playoffs this fall. Andy Reid watched his Chiefs give up the second-biggest lead in NFL playoff history. Chip Kelly’s powerful rushing attack was totally stuffed by a team not known for its ability to stop the run. So San Diego’s Mike McCoy was the only first-year head coach to claim a playoff victory with his convincing 27-10 road win over the Bengals. San Diego now heads to Denver to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos — a team it beat 27-20 three weeks ago in Denver when Rivers threw just 20 passes.
Just ask Auburn fans how much luck it takes to win a BCS National Championship? Certainly, the Tigers are a great team with a great coach and deserve to play in the title game. But the Fightin' War Eagles needed plenty of good fortune to land in Pasadena this season. Just like Alabama the two years prior where a missed field goal in Ames, Iowa and five yards in the Georgia Dome nearly derailed both of the Crimson Tide's championship runs.
Part of the reason the playoff era (besides money) is now upon us is the supposed inequity in the current BCS system. Below are teams that likely think they could have won the crystal ball had one bounce, one penalty, one tipped pass had gone their way. Sometimes, a team did everything it was supposed to and still got left out of the conversation.
And that is right where the list of the 25 best teams not to play for a BCS National Championship begins...
Editor's Note: USC in 2003 is not eligible since they techincally won a share of the National Championship.
1. Auburn Tigers, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Tigers finished the regular season No. 3 in the BCS standings, led the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg), led the SEC in scoring offense (32.1 ppg); Jason Campbell led the league in passing efficiency (172.89).
Award Winners: Carlos Rogers (Thorpe), Jason Campbell (SEC Off. Player of the Year), Carnell Williams (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Tommy Tuberville (AP National, SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Ronnie Brown (1st, 2005), Carnell Williams (1st, 2005), Carlos Rogers (1st, 2005), Jason Campbell (1st, 2005), Marcus McNeill (2nd, 2006), Ben Grubbs (1st, 2007)
The 2004 Auburn Tigers backfield might be one of the most talented in college football history. Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams (Kenny Irons was redshirting) and Jason Campbell led the Tigers to an unblemished record. Only two teams stayed within 10 points of Auburn during the regular season (LSU 10-9, Alabama 21-13) while the three-headed backfield pounded opposing defenses. While Auburn beat four ranked teams, it missed out on the BCS national title game to an undefeated Oklahoma team. The Sooners got crushed by USC while Auburn snuck past Virginia Tech to win the Sugar Bowl. To this day, Tigers fan rue the missed opportunity of 2004. Auburn would have been a heavy underdog to USC and was defeated by what was largely the same team at home the year before 23-0. But it would have been fun to watch the two teams square off.
2. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring defense at 9.0 points allowed per game, also led the nation in pass defense (134.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense as well. Finished No. 2 in total defense nationally (221.7 ypg).
Award Winners: Rey Maualuga (Bednarik, Pac-10 Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Tyron Smith (1st, 2011)
After starting the season 2-0 and reaching No. 1 status, first-year starter Mark Sanchez and the Men of Troy got upset on a Thursday night in primetime by true freshman dynamo Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State Beaver. Rodgers ran for 186 yards and the Trojans dropped to No. 9 in the polls. They wouldn't lose again. USC punished ranked opponents Oregon and Cal and crushed rivals Notre Dame and UCLA en route to yet another Rose Bowl appearance. Penn State was no match for USC, losing 38-24. The offense was outstanding with Sanchez utilizing names like Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Joe McKnight and Patrick Turner. But the defense was downright unbeatable. One of the greatest linebacking corps in NCAA history — Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing — helped USC lead the nation in scoring defense. Eight teams failed to score more than seven points on the trio in 2008.
3. Florida Gators, 2009 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC East, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Tim Tebow led the nation in passing efficiency (164.17), set the SEC all-time total offense record (12,232 yards), and the SEC’s all-time touchdowns responsible for record (145).
Award Winners: Aaron Hernandez (John Mackey), Maurkice Pouncey (Rimington), Tim Tebow (SEC Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)
After the Gators claimed the 2008 BCS National Championship, Tim Tebow decided to return to Gainesville for his senior season. He led the Gators to an undefeated regular season mark and berth in the SEC Championship game against No. 2 Alabama. The rematch of the 2008 SEC title game went the way of the Tide 32-13, as Greg McElroy outplayed Tebow. While it was not the third national title he wanted, Tebow finished his career by setting a then BCS bowl record for total yards with 533 and passing yards with 482 in the 51-24 win over Cincinnati. It was only the Gators' second win over a ranked opponent all season.
4. Miami Hurricanes, 2000 (11-1, 7-0)
Head Coach: Butch Davis
Championships: Big East, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: No. 2 in nation in scoring offense (42.6 ppg) and no. 5 in scoring defense (15.5 ppg) through regular season
Award Winners: Ken Dorsey (Sugar Bowl MVP), Dan Morgan (Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, Nagurski Award), Santana Moss (co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (20): Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), Damione Lewis (1st, 2001), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Dan Morgan (1st, 2001), Santana Moss (1st, 2001), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Reggie Wayne (1st, 2001), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002)
This is the team that laid the groundwork for the 2001 national championship as the roster featured five All-Americans, 12 first-team All Big East selections and 20 future first- or second-round NFL draft picks. Despite beating then No. 1-ranked Florida State earlier in the season and being ranked higher in the polls, the Hurricanes were prevented a chance to vie for the national championship. Instead, they went to the Sugar Bowl and took their frustrations out on another in-state rival, defeating Florida 37-20 and finishing the season ranked No. 2. That victory also was the last for Butch Davis as a collegiate coach, as he left Miami to become the head coach of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes, 1998 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: John Cooper
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Buckeyes lost five total turnovers (four fumbles) and surrendered 19 unanswered points in home loss to Michigan State.
Award Winners: David Boston (Sugar Bowl MVP), Joe Germaine (Big Ten Co-Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: David Boston (1st, 1999), Antoine Winfield (1st, 1999), Andy Katzenmoyer (1st, 1999), Joe Montgomery (2nd, 1999), Ahmad Plummer (2nd, 2000), Nate Clements (1st, 2001), Ryan Pickett (1st, 2001),
The most talented team to play under John Cooper had the National Championship rings already sized in the preseason. Ohio State began the year atop the polls and rolled to an 8-0 start before giving away a late 15-point lead to Michigan State — and a chance at the national title. Despite crushing Iowa and Michigan to finish the year with one loss, Ohio State just missed a chance to face Tennessee in the BCS National Championship game. After handling Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes finished No. 2 in the polls.
6. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008 (12-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC West
Key Stats: Finished No. 2 nationally against the run (74.1 ypg) and third nationally in total defense (263.5 ypg); John Parker Wilson’s 7,924 yards are an all-time Alabama record.
Award Winners: Andre Smith (Outland), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Andre Smith (1st, 2009), Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)
In Nick Saban’s second season at The Capstone, the Tide was quickly back in the national title picture. The Tide boasted a senior-laden offense, beat three ranked teams for an 8-0 SEC record and were the No. 1 team in the land when they headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game with the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators. The Gators defense foiled the Tide’s hopes for a national title by holding quarterback John Parker Wilson to 12-of-25 passing, no touchdowns and one key interception. The loss to Florida sent Alabama to the Sugar Bowl against an unbeaten Utah team. Without Andre Smith — or a chance at the crystal ball — the Tide failed to play motivated football and fell 31-17 to what might be considered the best Ute team in program history.
7. Michigan State Spartans, 2013 (13-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio
Championships: Big Ten, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Michigan State led the Big Ten in total, scoring, passing and rushing defense, No. 2 nationally in total defense
Award Winners: Darqueze Dennard (Thorpe Award), Mark Dantonio (Big Ten COY), Connor Cook (Rose Bowl MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A
This Spartans team will always be left to wonder what if a few pass interference penalties went their way against Notre Dame. A narrow road defeat to the Irish was the only blemish on an otherwise storybook season for Michigan State. The Spartans never lost a Big Ten game (9-0) and toppled an elite No. 5-ranked Stanford squad in the Rose Bowl. Fans in East Lansing will never forget 2013 but may always be left wondering what could have been had the refs been conservative in South Bend on Sept. 21.
8. Oklahoma State Cowboys, 2011 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Mike Gundy
Championships: Big 12, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Brandon Weeden set single-season Cowboys yards and TD passing records, Finished second in the nation in passing (387.2 ypg) and scoring offense (48.7 ppg), Joseph Randle was fourth in the nation in scoring (12.0 ppg), Justin Blackmon was third in the nation in receptions (9.3/game)
Award Winners: Justin Blackmon (Biletnikoff Award, Fiesta Bowl MVP), Grant Garner (Big 12 Off. Lineman of the Year), Quinn Sharp (Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year),
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Justin Blackmon (1st, 2012), Brandon Weeden (1st, 2012)
The Cowboys never experienced a season like it did in 2011 behind the leadership of quarterback Brandon Weeden. The star quarterback broke his own single-season school records for passing yards (4,727) and touchdowns (37) en route to the program's first Big 12 Championship. The remarkable Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford was the first Pokes first BCS bowl win in its first BCS bowl appearance. Blackmon set all types of records with an 8-catch, 186-yard, 3-TD performance in the Fiesta Bowl. A loss to Iowa State late in the year was the only thing that kept Mike Gundy from taking his alma mater to the promised land.
9. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2012 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: Big Ten Leaders
Key Stats: Led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game, Braxton Miller was second in total offense and fifth in rushing in the Big Ten. Carlos Hyde led the league in scoring at 10.2 points per game.
Award Winners: Braxton Miller (Big Ten Off. Player of the Year), John Simon (Big Ten Def. Player of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A
In Urban Meyer's first season, the Buckeyes were left to wonder what if after a perfect season. One year after going 6-7 and losing in the Gator Bowl to a mediocre Florida team, the Buckeyes, led by super star Heisman candidate Braxton Miller, won every game they played including road wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State and home victories over Michigan and Nebraska. Was this team an elite OSU roster that would have been able to compete against either Notre Dame or Alabama? Odds are no, however, the current BCS system is set-up to put No. 1 and No. 2 into the BCS title game and if Ohio State had been eligible, there is little doubt it would have faced the Fighting Irish in Miami instead of the Crimson Tide.
10. Penn State Nittany Lions, 2005 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Joe Paterno
Championships: Big Ten, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Tamba Hali led the Big Ten in sacks (0.92 pg), PSU finished seventh nationally against the run (93.0 ypg) and never allowed a team to reach 30 points all season.
Award Winners: Michael Robinson (Big Ten Off. Player of the Year), Paul Posluszny (Bednarik Award, Butkus Award), Tamba Hali (Big Ten Def. Lineman of the Year), Joe Paterno (AP, Home Depot, Walter Camp, AFCA National Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tamba Hali (1st, 2006), Levi Brown (1st, 2007), Paul Posluszny (2nd, 2007)
Led by star quarterback Michael Robinson and stellar defensive tandem Tamba Hali and Paul Posluszny, the Penn State Nittany Lions were one play from making quite a ruckus in the BCS standings with an undefeated season. After starting 6-0 with convincing wins over ranked Minnesota and Ohio State, the Lions allowed Chad Henne to connect with Mario Manningham on the final play of the game in Ann Arbor - costing PSU a chance to challenge USC and Texas for title game rights. Penn State then rolled through the rest of its schedule including an impressive 35-14 win over top-15 Wisconsin. The Orange Bowl win over Florida State was the school's first BCS bowl win.
11. Texas Longhorns, 2004 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Rose Bowl
Key Stats: No. 2 in nation in rushing offense (299.2 ypg), no. 7 in total offense (464.4 ypg), Cedric Benson no. 4 in nation in rushing (152.8 ypg), no. 7 in all-purpose yards (167.8 ypg) and scoring (20 TDs, 10.0 ppg)
Award Winners: Cedric Benson (Doak Walker Award), Derrick Johnson (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award, Nagurski Trophy), Vince Young (Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (9): Cedric Benson (1st, 2005), Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Derrick Johnson (1st, 2005), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006),
Led by All-American running back Cedric Benson and sophomore quarterback Vince Young, this Texas team dominated the ground game, rushing for almost 300 yards per game. Texas’ lone loss of the season was a big one, as the Longhorns fell to No. 2 Oklahoma 12-0 in the Red River Rivalry, which kept Texas out of the Big 12 title game. Texas still received a spot in a BCS bowl as they were sent to the Rose Bowl to face No. 12 Michigan. Down by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, Young scored twice and then led his team down the field to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired in the Longhorns’ 38-37 victory over the Wolverines. For the game, Young rushed for 192 yards and was responsible for all five (four rushing, one passing) of Texas’ touchdowns, earning what would be the first of his consecutive Rose Bowl Offensive MVP awards.
12. Oregon Ducks, 2012 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-12 in rushing, scoring and total offense as well as turnover margin and passing efficiency. Freshman QB Marcus Mariota led the nation in passing efficiency on the road and led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency overall.
Award Winners: Marcus Mariota (Pac-12 Freshman of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A
The Ducks boasted the nation's best offense in 2013, averaging over 323 yards rushing per game in the regular season and scoring over 50 points per game — both leading the offense-heavy Pac-12. Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner form one of the most talented and productive backfields ever assembled during the BCS era and featured the last two Pac-12 Freshman of the Year (Thomas and Mariota). Easy wins over bowl teams Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, USC and eventually Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl were extremely impressive. An overtime loss to Rose Bowl Champion Stanford was the only blemish on the nearly perfect resume and it cost Chip Kelly his second shot at a BCS national championship.
13. Washington Huskies, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in rushing (211.7 ypg), topped an 11-1 Miami team 34-29
Award Winners: Marques Tuiasosopo (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Marques Tuiasosopo (2nd, 2001), Jerramy Stevens (1st, 2002), Larry Tripplett (2nd, 2002), Tank Johnson (2nd, 2004)
In what might have been the most exciting and competitive season in modern Pac-10 football, a three way round robin tie between a 7-1 Oregon (who beat Washington 23-16 in Autzen Stadium) and a 7-1 Oregon State led to the Huskies earning the trip to Pasadena. Marques Tuiasosopo led Washington past a brutal non-conference slate that included the aforementioned loaded Miami Hurricanes and head coach Rick Neuheisel's former employer Colorado. A 33-30 win over Oregon State — and an Oregon loss to the Beavers in the Civil War due to five Joey Harrington interceptions — helped U of W return to its first Rose Bowl since 1993. This embattled team and program was willing to do whatever it took to win — and win it did. Capped by a 34-24 win over Drew Brees' Boilermakers in the Rose Bowl, the Huskies won 11 games for the first time since Don James' national title team of 1991, and they haven't come close to touching 10 wins ever since.
14. Texas Longhorns, 2008 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 5 in nation in scoring offense (42.4 ppg), no. 2 in passing efficiency, no. 3 in rushing defense (83.5 ypg), no. 1 in sacks (3.6 pg), Colt McCoy no. 5 in total offense (340 ypg), no. 3 in passing efficiency, Brian Orakpo no. 6 in sacks
Award Winners: Colt McCoy (Archie Griffin Award, Big 12 Offensive MVP, Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP, Walter Camp Award), Roy Miller (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP), Brian Orakpo (Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (5): Earl Thomas (1st, 2010), Lamarr Houston (2nd, 2010), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Sergio Kindle (2nd, 2010), Aaron Williams (2nd, 2011)
This Texas team was firing on all cylinders out of the gate. Led by quarterback Colt McCoy, who would end up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Sam Bradford, his counterpart from Oklahoma, the Longhorns scored 38 or more points in their first seven games. Included in this streak was a 45-35 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry that not only put Texas atop the polls, but also in the driver’s seat for a spot in the Big 12 Championship and potentially, the national championship. However, Texas Tech would have something to say about that as the Red Raiders knocked off the Longhorns 39-33 in Lubbock just three weeks after the Oklahoma game. That resulted in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South. Oklahoma got to play in the Big 12 Championship by virtue of a higher BCS ranking, while Texas was left out and had to settle for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. While the Fiesta Bowl may not have been the postseason spot it had initially hoped for, Texas didn’t let that get in the way of its performance on the field, defeating No. 10 Ohio State 24-21 and setting the stage for its national title run the following season.
15. Georgia Bulldogs, 2007 (11-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: This team led the SEC in sacks (3.23 pg) and was eighth nationally; Georgia’s 42-30 win over Florida was only the second win over the Gators in 10 tries; this was the second highest scoring team in school history at 32.6 points per game.
Award Winners: Knowshon Moreno (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matt Stafford (1st, 2009), Knowshon Moreno (1st, 2009), Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd, 2009)
The most talented quarterback in school history, Matthew Stafford came close to leading Georgia back to the national title game. An early loss to South Carolina would not have ended the Dawgs' title hopes. However, an inexplicable 35-14 road loss to underdog Tennessee did cost Mark Richt a chance at playing a two-loss LSU in the SEC title game. The Tigers defeated the Vols, who won the division on a tie-breaker, and went on to beat Ohio State in the BCS national championship game, while Georgia was left to face an undefeated Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl — in the same building as LSU. Georgia forced six turnovers and held the Warriors to minus-5 yards rushing in the 41-10 victory. Stafford was the first overall pick in the draft one year later.
16. Georgia Bulldogs, 2002 (13-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) and led the SEC in scoring (32.1); no Georgia team has scored more than 2002’s 450 points.
Award Winners: David Pollack (SEC Player of the Year), Mark Richt (SEC Coach of the Year), Musa Smith (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jonathan Sullivan (1st, 2003), George Foster (1st, 2003), Boss Bailey (2nd, 2003), Jon Stinchcomb (2nd, 2003), Ben Watson (1st, 2004), Sean Jones (2nd, 2004), David Pollack (1st, 2005), Thomas Davis (1st, 2005), Reggie Brown (2nd, 2005), Tim Jennings (2nd, 2006)
No Georgia team has ever won more games or scored more points in a single season than the 2002 edition. And other than the 1980 Vince Dooley team and the 1945 Wallace Butts team, no Dawgs squad has had a better record than the 13-1 mark. Led by David Greene at quarterback and a stacked defense (Pollack, Davis, Jones, Jennings), Georgia rolled to an 8-0 mark before losing in the Cocktail Party 20-13 to Florida. After being knocked out of the national title hunt, Georgia crushed Ole Miss, topped Auburn, pummeled rival Georgia Tech before destroying Arkansas in the SEC title game. They capped the season with a Sugar Bowl title over Florida State.
17. West Virginia Mountaineers, 2007 (11-2, 5-2)
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Championships: Big East co-champions, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: No. 3 in rushing offense (297.2 ypg), no. 7 in total defense (301.7 ypg)
Award Winners: Pat White (Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP), Reed Williams (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (1): Pat White (2nd, 2009)
Ranked No. 3 in the preseason, the Mountaineers went into the final game of the regular season, the 100th Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh, as the top-ranked team in the Coaches Poll. The unranked Panthers got the best of their bitter rival, 13-9, dashing the Mountaineers’ title hopes in the process. To make matters worse, head coach Rick Rodriguez left to become Michigan’s head coach as the team prepared for its Fiesta Bowl showdown with No. 3 Oklahoma. The team would rally behind interim head coach Bill Stewart as the Mountaineers stunned the nation by dominating the Sooners 48-28. Pat White led the way with 326 total yards of offense and the Mountaineers ran roughshod over the Sooners, gaining 349 yards on the ground alone.
18. TCU Horned Frogs, 2010 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Gary Patterson
Championships: Mountain West, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring and total defense, Andy Dalton was fifth nationally in passing efficiency,
Award Winners: Andy Dalton (MWC Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl Off. MVP), Tank Carder (MWC Def. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl Def. MVP), Jeremy Kerley (MWC Special Teams Player of the Year)
"First Day NFL Draft Picks: Andy Dalton (2nd, 2011)
The best season in program history culminated with a Rose Bowl Championship over the Wisconsin Badgers in Pasadena. Some of the program's most historic players were stars on this roster as this team rewrote the Horned Frogs record books. Dalton was the only elite pick in the NFL Draft but five players were selected in the 2012 Draft and two more went in the 2012 Draft.
19. Stanford Cardinal, 2011 (11-2, 8-1)
Head Coach: David Shaw
Key Stats: Led the Pac-12 and was third nationally in rushing defense, Andrew Luck led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Andrew Luck (Pac-12 Off. Player of the Year), David Shaw (Pac-12 Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Andrew Luck (1st, 2012), David DeCastro (1st, 2012), Coby Fleener (2nd, 2011), Jonathan Martin (2011)
It is extremely difficult to separate the last three Cardinal teams and decide which one was the best. All three played in BCS bowls with two wins in the Orange Bowl (2010) and Rose Bowl (2012). The 2011 team lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl and it didn't win the Pac-12 crown, however, it was likely the most talented and complete roster of the group. The foursome that was drafted in the first two rounds are as talented a group as any school ever has watched depart in one offseason. Add to the entire collection of defensive stars that made the 2012 team so talented and Cardinal fans will likely look back on their 2011 team as the best of the BCS era.
20. Boise State Broncos, 2009 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Chris Petersen
Championships: WAC, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring at 42.2 points per game and fewest sacks allowed, Kellen Moore was second nationally in passing efficiency, Led the WAC in 10 of the 17 tracked NCAA team stats,
Award Winners: Chris Petersen (National and WAC Coach of the Year), Kellen Moore (WAC Off. Player of the Year), Kyle Efaw (Fiesta Bowl Off. MVP), Brandyn Thompson (Fiesta Bowl Def. MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Kyle Wilson (1st, 2010), Titus Young (2nd, 2011), Austin Pettis (3rd, 2011), Doug Martin (1st, 2012), Shea McClellin (1st, 2012)
One could argue for weeks about which Boise State was the best: 2006, 2009, 2010 or 2011? Each can make a unique case as the best in Boise history, but the combination of unbeaten record, Fiesta Bowl championship and overall talent on the roster gives the slight edge to the '09 group. This team featured all the NFL talent of the 2011 group (Doug Martin, Shea McClellin, etc) and one of two perfect records.
21. Utah Utes, 2008 (13-0, 8-0)
Kyle Whittingham led the Utes to a perfect reocrd behind Brian Johnson and four second round draft picks.
22. Wisconsin Badgers, 2011 (11-3, 6-2)
Russell Wilson led the best UW offense in history and was two Hail Mary's away from a perfect 13-0 record.
23. Tennessee Volunteers, 2001 (11-2, 7-1)
A loss to LSU in the SEC title game knocked the Vols out of the BCS National Championship game.
24. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2013 (11-2, 7-1)
The flukiest play in SEC history ended the Tide's title hopes in one play on The Plains.
25. West Virginia Mountaineers, 2005 (11-1, 7-0)
Steve Slaton and Pat White lost only once — a 34-17 home defeat to a very good Virginia Tech team.
Best of the Rest:
26. Utah Utes, 2004
27. Stanford Cardinal, 2012
28. Oregon Ducks, 2011
29. Boise State Broncos, 2011
30. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2004
Florida State gets a lot of good players from Florida. This is no surprise. But Florida State has long been a national brand with the power to recruit anywhere and anyone in the nation. In its heyday under Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles landed classes chocked full of elite prospects from all over the Southeastern United States. And the Noles played in five national championship games between 1993 and 2000, winning two titles in ’93 and ’00.
However, many felt that recruiting in Tallahassee slipped — like the rest of the program — in the final few years under the legendary head coach.
Enter Jimbo Fisher.
Fisher rejuvenated the Seminoles on the recruiting trail in quick order and returned the Florida State brand to its rightful place atop the college football recruiting mountain. The final class Bowden signed for FSU was ranked 12th nationally (2009) and second in the ACC. Since Fisher took over in 2010, Florida State hasn’t been outside of the top 10 nationally in recruiting and has landed the ACC’s top class every single cycle.
Athlon Sports delved into each national championship depth chart, accounting for every name on offensive and defensive depth charts (plus starting kickers and punters) for the title game.
Related: How Auburn built its 2013 team
We charted their 247Sports Composite star rankings, their signing class with Florida State and their home state. Here’s what we learned:
How Florida State built its 2013 team
• Florida is obviously a hot bed for talent and the Seminoles’ 54-man depth chart includes 32 players from instate. This includes 15 of the 27 starters. As expected, the majority of the Noles roster comes from what many believe is the most talented state in the nation. Georgia is the second-most well represented state in Tallahassee with seven players on the FSU roster. Fisher has done an excellent job evaluating Peach State talent as five of those seven from Georgia are starters, including stars Telvin Smith, Rashad Greene and Cameron Erving. Alabama (4), Mississippi (2) and New Jersey (2) are the only other states with more than one player on the Florida State two-deep. That one from Alabama, however, is pretty special as Jameis Winston was the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation coming out of Bessemer, Ala.
• Most championship teams in any sport, be it football, baseball, basketball, college or pro, have a heavy veteran presence. Interestingly enough, of the 54 names listed on the Seminoles two-deep, 40 of them come from the last three signing classes — with 18 of the 27 starters signing with Florida State between 2011-12. There is only one starter who is a fifth-year player (Bryan Stork) and there are only eight players from 2010 class on the two-deep. The star quarterback is a redshirt freshman, the defensive line features three sophomores and three-fifths of the starting secondary are underclassmen. However, Fisher has experience in two critical areas: offensive line and linebacker. Including tight end Nick O’Leary, there isn’t a single underclassman on the offensive line and defensive leaders Christian Jones and Telvin Smith are seniors.
• While Auburn boasts just three five-star prospects on its two-deep (two freshman and no starters), Florida State’s roster is loaded with elite talent. The Seminoles boast 13 five-star players on their two-deep. Ten of those 13 are starters, including three defensive lineman, quarterback Jameis Winston and true freshman safety Jalen Ramsey. Florida State has a five-star contributor in every position group on the field — backfield (3), pass-catchers (1), defensive line (5), linebackers (1) and secondary (3) — except the offensive line. The Noles veteran-laden front line has three three-star recruits and two four-star prospects paving the way for Winston and company. In all, Florida State has 33 four- and five-star prospects in its two-deep, including 18 total starters.
• Florida State's national team recruiting ranking average between 2009-13 is 7.2. Comparatively, Auburn's average national ranking over that span is 12.0. For reference, Alabama tops the nation with a 2.0 national team recruiting ranking average. Since 2009, Auburn has had a top-three SEC class only once while Florida State has had the best class in the ACC four straight years.
• At Florida State, even the specialists are big time prospects. Both Robert Aguayo and Cason Beatty were three-star prospects in 2012. Aguayo was the No. 3-rated kicker in the nation and was one of only 13 kickers in the country to receive a three-star rating. Beatty was the No. 6-rated punter in the nation and was one of only six players at his position nationally to get a three-star rating. The Seminoles are one of only three teams in the nation to sign a three-star kicker and punter in 2012. The other two were Georgia and TCU.
There is one walk-on (Jonathan Wallace, LT), one two-star prospect (Austin Barron, OC) and one junior college signee (Desmond Hollin, DT) in the 54-man two-deep.
*First-string players listed in parentheses.
|Signing Class||247 Star Rank||247 Class Rank||State|
|2009:||6 (1)||13 (10)||2009:||12th (2nd in ACC)||Florida||32 (15)|
|2010:||8 (7)||20 (8)||2010:||9th (1st)||Georgia||7 (5)|
|2011:||19 (11)||19 (9)||2011:||2nd (1st)||Alabama||4 (1)|
|2012:||11 (7)||1 (0)||2012:||3rd (1st)||New Jersey||2 (1)|
|2013:||10 (1)||NR||1 (0)||2013:||10th (1st)||Mississippi||2 (1)|
Seven of the nation's best prospects announced where they intend to play college football, at the seventh annual Under Armour game in Florida on Thursday.
While a verbal commitment is literally worth nothing in the formal sense, many teams got a lot of good news yesterday. Until the paper work — i.e., the National Letter of Intent — is signed on the first Wednesday in February, these announcements amount to little more than a hill of beans technically. But when six of the top 30 players in the nation make a national television decision on where they will be playing their college ball, it is big news.
Here are the winners and losers from Tropicana Field on Thursday night.
Note: All rankings come from 247Sports
Under Armour Winners:
The Tigers had eyes on going “5-for-5” at the Under Armour event. While that was highly unlikely, Tigers fans everywhere started to get nervous when it missed out on instate talents Speedy Noil and Gerald Willis, along with Texas product Tony Brown. However, Les Miles and "The University of LSU" capped the day by landing the No. 1 overall player in the nation in tailback Leonard Fournette and the No. 2 safety in the nation in Jamal Adams. Picking up two top 30 prospects in one afternoon is a huge coup no matter who else the Tigers might have missed out on. LSU moved from No. 10 in the team rankings to No. 5 and is third in the SEC behind only Alabama and Texas A&M.
Texas A&M Aggies
The nation’s No. 1 quarterback Kyle Allen is playing in the U.S. Army Bowl on Saturday and will be in line to take over for Johnny Manziel in College Station in 2014. Allen and Kevin Sumlin got a big boost on Thursday from the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the nation. New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr playmaker Speedy Noil (5-10, 175) picked Texas A&M over instate LSU at the Under Armour event. He then went on to post a team-high 116 all-purpose yards, including three receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. The diminuative dynamo was electric all week in practice. Adding to that, the nation’s No. 2 defensive end in the nation, Myles Garrett, was unstoppable all week in practice and had a strong showing in the event. The Arlington (Texas) James Martin prospect is 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds and posted a game-high six tackles, including one sack. Sumlin had a good week in Tampa as the Aggies moved from fifth nationally in the team rankings to third.
The Pac-12’s biggest win of the day was Arizona landing Washington (D.C.) Friendship Academy cornerback Jalen Tabor. The 6-foot-1, 182-pound athlete is the nation’s No. 4-rated cornerback and the No. 24-rated overall prospect in the 2014 class. Tabor picked the Wildcats over Alabama and he would likely be the biggest recruit of the Rich Rodriguez era in Tucson. RichRod also pulled the switcharoo with big-time offensive lineman prospect Jordan Poland, luring the four-star tackle away from USC on Thursday. Arizona made a huge jump in the team rankings, moving from 24th to 15th in the 247Sports team rankings.
Florida State Seminoles
Early in the week, the Seminoles got some big news by flipping Dalvin Cook, the nation’s No. 2-rated running back, from his Florida commitment. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is the No. 12-rated overall player in the nation and hails from Miami (Fla.) Central. But then during the game in Tampa, Florida State snagged West Palm Beach star wide receiver Travis Rudolph. Not only did FSU get a commitment from Rudolph over Miami, Florida, Alabama and Auburn, but also watched Rudolph shine all week. He is one of the most developed players at his position nationally and posted four catches for 48 yards and a TD in the game.
Of the seven elite players who announced their college intentions in Tampa, the SEC landed five of them. The No. 1 running back (LSU), No. 1 wide receiver (Texas A&M), No. 2 safety (LSU), No. 2 defensive tackle (Florida) and No. 3 cornerback (Alabama) in the nation all picked to play ball in the SEC. According to 247Sports team rankings, the SEC now boasts the No. 1 (Alabama), No. 3 (Texas A&M), No. 5 (LSU), No. 6 (Tennessee), No. 8 (Auburn), No. 10 (Georgia), No. 11 (Florida) and No. 13 (Ole Miss) classes in the nation.
Under Armour Losers:
A team normally cannot win and lose on the same day but that is what happened to LSU on Thursday. A die-hard LSU friend of mine told me after the game on Thursday that the “fence that was once around Louisiana has definitely come down.” Watching two of the top five players in the Pelican State choose rival schools — Noil to Texas A&M and Willis to Florida — had to be painful. And watching Tony Brown, the No. 9-rated player in the nation, pick the rival Crimson Tide over LSU had to sting a bit as well. Landing the top player in the nation in Fournette and another top 10 athlete nationally in Adams obviously means the day was successful. But had LSU landed one or two more, giving them three or four top 30 commitments in one day could have been a historic moment for Miles and the Bayou Bengals. For the record, LSU has just one of the top six players in the state of Louisiana committed.
The day was saved for Will Muschamp and Florida when Willis decided to “take his talents to Gainesville.” However, the Gators are feeling the blow of a 4-8 record on the recruiting trail. Muschamp’s staff missed on Fournette, Rudolph and Adams to archrivals LSU and Florida State on Thursday. This coming on the heels of losing Dalvin Cook to the Seminoles earlier in the week. Willis is a huge get and keeps the Gators ranked in the top 15 nationally of the team rankings, but right now, Florida is seventh in the SEC team ranks.
The Trojans dropped from 28th in the 247Sports team rankings to 35th in one day. Not only did USC miss out on landing elite cornerback Tony Brown but the Men of Troy appear to have lost La Jolla (Calif.) Country Day School lineman Jordan Poland to a division rival. The four-star 6-foot-6, 330-pound offensive tackle decommitted from USC and switched his commitment to Arizona.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide claims the No. 1 class in the nation and landed an elite talent in Beaumont (Texas) Ozen cornerback Tony Brown. However, Nick Saban and company missed out on Fournette, Tabor and Rudolph to LSU, Arizona and Florida State, respectively. The other angle to consider is how Cameron Robinson, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation, played all week and in the game. Robinson looked overmatched at times and was on his heels for most of the Under Armour event. If Robinson is going to slide inside to play guard, he has no business being ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the nation. All of this on the same day that Bob Stoops whipped Saban’s defense in the Sugar Bowl.
The most famous mother in football recruiting had yet another awkward moment on national television on Thursday. Justin, the mother of star defensive tackle Gerald Willis, clearly didn’t want her son to leave the state of Louisiana. Willis picked Florida and his mother responded with “It is what it is. LSU is still No. 1.” It was bizarrely similar to what happened two years ago at the Under Armour event when her other son, Alabama safety Landon Collins, picked Alabama over the instate Tigers. “I feel that LSU is a better place for him to be” was Justin’s response on ESPN when Collins picked Bama. Justin might be the only woman in the nation who could have two sons become All-SEC performers and not really be excited about it.
The Big Ten
Of the seven players who were committing live at the Under Armour All-American Game in Tampa, one player had one Big Ten school listed as a finalist. Tony Brown, the nation’s No. 3 cornerback, had Ohio State listed among USC, Texas, LSU and Alabama (he picked Alabama). But not one other school in the Big Ten was even a finalists for one of these elite prospects — five of which picked an SEC school. Michigan did have seven prospects in the game and Penn State had four but the Midwestern league was noticeably absent from any headlines in Tampa this week.
Florida State and Auburn will do battle in the 15th and final BCS National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 6, in Pasadena, Calif.
It marks the second trip to the BCS national title game for Auburn, both coming in the past four years. The berth for the Seminoles is their fourth trip to the championship game since the BCS’ inception in 1998, but just their first since losing to Oklahoma in 2000.
Florida State boasts Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and an elite, explosive balanced offense. Auburn enters with “Team of Destiny” headlines and a middle of the pack junior college quarterback recruit who has resurrected his career on The Plains. This bout has all the makings of an instant classic — despite what those in Las Vegas think — with star power both in the huddle and on the sidelines.
Can Auburn’s secondary hold up against that Noles' passing game? Can Florida State find a way to contain Gus Malzahn’s zone-read attack? All will be answered on Monday evening. But before that day comes, here are the facts and figures you need to know before the final BCS National Championship Game kicks off.
14: Florida State’s closest margin of victory
The Seminoles crushed teams in 2013 by an average margin of victory of 42.3 points per game. Only once did the Noles allow more than 17 points in a game and only once did the opponent finish with 27 points against Florida State — both of those coming in a 48-34 win at Boston College. The closest second-half game FSU played all season was when those same Eagles kicked a field goal a few minutes into the second half to cut the lead to 24-20. Florida State then scored back-to-back touchdowns to push the lead to 38-20 with three minutes to go in the third quarter. The point is, Jameis Winston and this team haven’t face one critical fourth-quarter play, series or situation all season long. This has to help Auburn.
335.7: Auburn’s rushing yards per game
In 2012, the Auburn Tigers ranked 118th nationally in total offense at 305.0 yards per game and were 80th nationally in rushing at 148.4 yards per game. In 2013, Gus Malzahn’s team averages more yards rushing (335.7) per game than it did in total offense last season. The Tigers led the nation in rushing and are third nationally in both yards per carry (6.5) and rushing touchdowns (46). Tre Mason led the SEC with 1,621 yards and quarterback Nick Marshall was eighth with 1,023 yards — more than Johnny Manziel or Todd Gurley. Florida State finished the year ranked 13th in rushing defense at 116.5 yards per game and led the nation with just five rushing touchdowns allowed all year. Mason and Marshall combined for 33.
103rd: National ranking for Auburn’s passing defense
Jameis Winston is deadly accurate and has a host of elite weapons to target — wide receivers Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin, tight end Nick O’Leary and running back Devonta Freeman out of the backfield. Auburn’s secondary has had major issues in 2013, allowing an SEC-worst 259.3 yards per game, which ranks 103rd nationally. The Tigers allowed 344 yards passing to Washington State, 272 to Arkansas State, 340 to Ole Miss, 469 to Texas A&M, 415 to Georgia, 277 to Alabama and 303 to Missouri. Good luck stopping the nation’s most efficient passing attack (178.28).
222.7: Average weight of Florida State’s linebackers
Alabama’s four starting linebackers — Adrian Hubbard (252), Trey DePriest (245), C.J. Mosley (238) and Xzavier Dickson (265) — combine to weigh 1,000 pounds at 250.0 pounds per player. Mosley is the smallest at 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds. Florida State’s starting trio is dramatically smaller and will be asked to stop Malzahn’s relentless zone-read. Christian Jones (6-4, 235), Terrance Smith (6-4, 215) and Telvin Smith (6-3, 218) combine to average nearly 30 pounds less per player (222.7 pounds) than Alabama's linebacking corps. And the Noles' defensive line isn’t one of the bigger units either with Nile Lawrence-Stample the largest at 6-foot-1 and 305 pounds. How this unit holds up against Auburn’s rushing attack remains to be seen.
29.0: Sacks allowed this year by Florida State
The Seminoles have allowed 29.0 sacks this season, ranking 87th nationally and 10th in the ACC. Auburn was third in the SEC in getting after the quarterback with 28.0 QB takedowns. The Tigers got to Missouri 3.0 times in the SEC title game but failed to get to AJ McCarron (1.0) or Aaron Murray (1.0) in their two previous games that, frankly, Auburn was very lucky to win. Comparatively, Auburn ranked 18th nationally and third in the SEC with just 16.0 sacks allowed. Some of that are the two totally different offensive styles each team plays, but if Auburn can pressure Jameis Winston into a few mistakes, it could be the difference in the game.
1.31: Florida State’s No. 2-ranked turnover margin
The Noles finished third nationally with 34 turnovers created while only giving the ball away 17 times this fall. The Tigers, who ranked 114th nationally in 2012 with just 13 takeaways, didn’t fare much better this fall, ranking 95th nationally with just 18 turnovers forced all season. Auburn finished dead even in the turnover battle this season with 18 giveaways and 18 takeaways. Florida State has a distinct advantage in the turnover game heading into this bout with Auburn and few stats in the box score indicate victory more so than turnovers.
7.81 and 7.03: Florida State and Auburn yards per play on offense
Florida State led the nation with 7.81 yards per play on 881 offensive snaps. Auburn was seventh nationally and one of only seven teams to average over 7.0 yards per play with 7.03 yards per snap on 934 offensive plays. Florida State (2012 and '13) is the only ACC team to reach the 7.0 level of efficiency since 2007. During that same span, only six SEC teams had reached the 7.0 yards per play benchmark before this season and two of those — Florida in 2008 and Auburn in '10 — went on to win the national title. When both offenses get rolling they can be impossible to stop, so common logic would indicate high-scoring and big numbers.
6: Nation’s longest active bowl winning streak
It is fitting that either Auburn or Florida State will tie Ole Miss for the nation's longest active bowl winning streak on Monday night. The Rebels topped Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, moving their streak to six — their lost postseason loss coming in the 2000 Music City Bowl. The winner of the final BCS National Championship Game will likewise push their bowl winning streak to six straight postseason wins. A fitting footnote for a game of this magnitude and intrigue.
7: Consecutive times the SEC has covered the spread in BCS title games
Yes, we all know about the seven straight national titles by the SEC. But did you know that the SEC has covered the spread in all seven of those games as well? Alabama was the biggest favorite of the bunch as a 10-point pick to beat Notre Dame last year and handled that feat with ease. Auburn is an 8-point underdog, joining only Florida in 2006 (+7) and Auburn in '10 (+1) as SEC underdogs to another conference in the national title game (LSU was a slight underdog to Alabama).
Jan. 6: Jameis Winston's birthday
Yes, every one knows that the final BCS national title game is on Monday, Jan. 6. But did you know that the youngest Heisman Trophy winner in history will turn 20 on the very same day? Winston was born Jan. 6, 1994 (yeah, how old do you feel now?). Emotion is such a huge part of the college game but will it help or hurt Winston that he is trying to win a national championship on his birthday?
The 14th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on NBC live from the Alamodome in San Antonio. This game has been around twice as long as the Under Armour event in Florida and has an excellent track record of luring the nation’s top talent to the heart of Texas every January.
Former MVPs of the Bowl include Vince Young, Chris Leak, DeSean Jackson — despite his hilarious and embarrassing touchdown gaffe — Beanie Wells, Terrelle Pryor, Tajh Boyd and Dorial Green-Beckham. Potential NCAA (and maybe even NFL) Hall of Famers like Haloti Ngata, Adrian Peterson, Joe Thomas, Reggie Bush, Ndamukong Suh and Tim Tebow have graced the Alamodome with their presence — before they became the collegiate superstars.
Which team wins or loses is irrelevant. Getting to study these players in head-to-head situations all week in practice is critical to the evaluation process. Fans get a chance to get to know some of these unknown personalities. And, most importantly, live announcements impact future depth charts from across the nation. Jalen Ramsey (pictured above) played in this game a year ago and is now starting for Florida State at safety in the BCS National Championship game.
What about your favorite team?
Ohio State and Georgia fans will have the most to watch this weekend as both Urban Meyer and Mark Richt boast six prospects respectively. Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, LSU, Oregon, Texas and North Carolina each have commitments from four prospects in San Antonio. Clemson, UCLA, Stanford and Alabama have three each verbally committed. In all, there are 108 prospects on display this weekend — 54 on each team — and 23 have yet to make an announcement on where they will play their college football. There are 37 different college football teams with at least one future prospect to watch, including Western Michigan, Iowa State, Kentucky, Minnesota and Cal.
Who is under center?
While the Under Armour event featured 10 different highly-touted quarterback prospects, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is much more exclusive when it comes to signal callers. Each team has just three quarterbacks on the roster and all six should get plenty of playing time. Four of the top six pro-style quarterback prospects in the nation will be in attendance and two of the top four dual-threat quarterback prospects. Overall, five of the top eight QB recruits — and six of the top 11 — will showcase their talents this weekend.
The West Team will feature Kentucky’s Drew Barker, Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen and Texas’ Jerrod Heard. Allen is widely regarded as he No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation and his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame should be fun to watch on Saturday. Barker is the No. 11 overall QB prospect in the land and Heard is the No. 8-rated QB talent.
The East Team boasts the No. 3 overall signal caller in Florida’s Will Grier. The dual-threat talent is undersized but has tremendous ability and also should be fun to watch. North Carolina’s Caleb Henderson is the sixth-best QB prospect in America and Georgia’s Jacob Park is No. 7.
This is an excellent group of elite level quarterbacks, and all six will face the most talented defense they have ever seen in their careers to date on Saturday.
A big part of every U.S. Army event each year is the live announcements. Message boards buzz all morning with who will pick which hat throughout the event. Here is a list of who might be making their selection tomorrow during the 14th U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Note: Rankings by 247Sports
Joe Mixon, RB (6-2, 195)
Oakley (Calif.) Freedom
Ranks: No. 18, No. 1 APB
Schools: Oklahoma, UCLA, Wisconsin
Marshon Lattimore, CB (6-0, 175)
Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville
Ranks: No. 36, No. 5 CB
Schools: Ohio State, Alabama
Nyles Morgan, LB (6-1, 225)
Crete (Ill.) Crete-Monee
Ranks: No. 54, No. 3 ILB
Schools: Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Florida
Frank Iheanacho, WR (6-6, 220)
Houston (Texas) Westside
Ranks: No. 86, No. 11 WR
Schools: Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, Oregon and Missouri
Bryce Dixon, TE (6-4, 220)
Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure
Ranks: No. 116, No. 2 TE
Schools: UCLA, USC, Texas, Miami
Brian Wallace, OL (6-6, 305)
St. Louis (Mo.) Christian Brothers
Ranks: No. 118, No. 14 OT
Schools: Alabama, Arkansas
Jamil Kamara, WR (6-2, 210)
Virginia Beach (Va.) Bishop Sullivan
Ranks: No. 125, No. 10 ATH
Schools: Virginia, Wisconsin Pitt
Matt Elam, DT (6-5, 350)
Elizabethtown (Ky.) John Hardin
Ranks: No. 166, No. 16 DT
Schools: Kentucky, Alabama
Elisha Shaw, DL (6-4, 295)
Tucker (Ga.) High
Ranks: No. 216 overall, No. 19 DT
Schools: Georgia, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn
The seventh annual Under Armour All-American game will take place Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. Names like A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Manti Te’o, Matt Barkley, Trent Richardson, Jameis Winston, Jadeveon Clowney, Andrus Peat and Christian Hackenberg have made their first big college splash at the Under Armour All-American game.
The All-Star event is a showcase for college football’s next generation of gridiron stars. Frankly, who wins or loses the game means very little to anyone — the players, fans, coaches or family members in the crowd. But the week of practice is a great chance for scouts and evaluators to see the best face the best. And the recruiting announcements carry monumental importance for the future of the sport as a whole, shaping future depth charts for years to come.
The 2014 version of the Under Armour All-American game won’t be any different.
Who has the most players to watch?
Alabama and Nick Saban lead all teams with 11 committed players playing in The Trop on Thursday. Notre Dame and Michigan are second with seven prospects apiece participating. Miami and Auburn each have six prospects involved while Penn State, Florida State and Florida boast four recruits to watch on Thursday. In all, 30 different college teams — including Virginia, Mississippi State, Kansas, Arkansas, Maryland — will have someone to watch in the seventh edition of the all-star game. There are over 100 talented recruits involved in this game and 22 of them are still undecided. Bringing us too…
Who is under center?
Quarterback is the most important position on the field and this game has featured some big-time names of late. Landry Jones starred in 2008, Matt Barkley in '09 and Blake Bell and Devin Gardner played in the '10 event. Braxton Miller and Brett Hundley gave the world a taste of what was to come in 2011, while Jameis Winston starred in the '12 game. Chrisitian Hackenberg was the big name to watch in last year’s showcase.
Ten future college quarterbacks will be on display this Thursday with all 10 already committed to 10 different teams. SEC schools LSU, Arkansas, Auburn and Alabama will have their future signal-caller playing in Brandon Harris, Rafe Peavey, Sean White and David Cornwell. There are many who believe Cornwell, the No. 4-rated pro-style passer by 247Sports, could be the starter for Nick Saban as early as next fall.
Penn State’s Michael O’Connor, Stanford’s Keller Chryst, Oklahoma’s Justice Hansen, Oregon’s Morgan Mahalak, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Michigan’s Wilton Speight will all be featured as well. Chryst is the No. 3-rated QB prospect in the nation while Watson is the No. 1-rated dual-threat prospect and No. 4-rated overall QB in the nation.
Who will be announcing?
According to 247Sports, eight different players are set to announce during the game. The group features the No. 1 player in the nation, six of the top 25 players in the nation and two more ranked in the top 70. Here are those players who could be revealing their choice, where they rank and the list of schools they are believed to be choosing from:
Leonard Fournette, RB (6-1, 226)
New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine
Rank: No. 1 overall, No. 1 RB
Schools: Alabama, LSU, Florida
Tony Brown, CB (6-0, 188)
Beaumont (Texas) Ozen
Rank: No. 9, No. 3 CB
Schools: Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Texas, USC
Speedy Noil, WR (5-10, 175)
New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr
Rank: No. 11, No. 1 WR
Schools: LSU, Texas A&M
Dalvin Cook, RB (5-11, 190)
Miami (Fla.) Central
Rank: No. 12, No. 2 RB
Schools: Florida, Florida State (switched commitment from Florida to FSU on Tuesday)
Gerald Willis, DT (6-3, 275)
New Orleans (La.) Edna Carr
Rank: No. 21, No. 2 DT
Schools: LSU, Florida
Jalen Tabor, CB (6-1, 182)
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Academy
Rank: No. 24, No. 4 CB
Schools: Alabama, Arizona
Jamal Adams, S (6-0, 199)
Carrollton (Texas) Hebron
Rank: No. 27. No. 2 S
Schools: Florida, LSU, Ole Miss
Travis Rudolph, WR (6-1, 185)
West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman
Rank: No. 69, No. 7 WR
Schools: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Miami
Other names to watch:
The No. 1-rated defensive tackle in the nation, Andrew Brown, is committed to Virginia and has played well in practice. Could he save Mike London’s job? Keep an eye on the big fella from famed Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va.
Michigan has a future star in do-everything athlete Jabrill Peppers out of Paramus (N.J.) Catholic. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder is as talented a defensive prospect as scouts have seen in years so his No. 2 overall ranking in the nation should be warranted. Be sure to find Peppers on Thursday afternoon.
The No. 100-rated player in the nation is future Alabama wide receiver Cameron Sims. The Mike Evans-clone has been excellent in practice and could be a productive target for whomever is under center in Tuscaloosa. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder simply makes plays and the Under Armour game should be no different.
Dillon Bates is the son of NFL All-Pro tackler Bill Bates and his football IQ and development is befitting an NFL offspring. He needs to gain some poundage to play quickly for Tennessee but his ability to make plays and be in the right position is uncanny for a player of his age. Watch for Bates to be all over the field on Thursday.
Jacory Washington may get lost among a long list of elite wide receivers in attendance this year. But the No. 6-rated tight end prospect in the nation from Westlake (La.) High has been a bright spot in practice and could find himself moving up rankings following the All-American game.
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
Some like to keep it simple and use the ol' eyeball test, while others fall on the sabermetric side of things. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from another stellar season of Pac-12 college football:
353: Marcus Mariota's Pac-12 record consecutive attempts without an INT
Oregon star quarterback Marcus Mariota set a Pac-12 record by not throwing an interception for over a year. From Nov. 17, 2012 to Nov. 23, 2013, Mariota threw 353 passes without an interception. However, in the season’s most critical game with the Pac-12 North crown hanging in the balance, Mariota tossed two interceptions on the road in an ugly 42-16 loss to Arizona. The loss ended the Ducks' shot at a Pac-12 title and snapped the four-year BCS bowl streak.
2006: The last time Oregon didn’t lead the Pac-12 in scoring
The Oregon Ducks finished fourth nationally and led the Pac-12 in scoring at 45.5 points per game this season. It marks the seventh consecutive season that the Ducks have led the league in scoring offense. Oregon has finished outside of the top 10 nationally in scoring only once over that span, a 12th-place finish in 2007. The Cal Bears led the league in scoring in 2006 at 32.9 points per game while the Ducks finished third at 29.5 points per game.
89: Connor Halliday's NCAA single-game record for pass attempts
Purdue's Drew Brees threw the ball an NCAA-record 83 times against Wisconsin in 1998. Against an Oregon team with a big lead for most of the night, Washington State's Connor Halliday threw the ball 89 times in Week 8. Halliday also tied the NCAA mark for completions with 58 (Andy Schmitt, Eastern Michigan) and set the Pac-12 single-game passing benchmark with 557 yards (Andrew Walter, 536). And much like Brees that night back in '98, Wazzu lost in part because of multiple interceptions. Halliday threw four interceptions to go with his four touchdowns in the 62-38 loss to the Ducks.
16: Consecutive 100-yard games for Ka’Deem Carey
Carey led the nation in rushing and set all types of records as a sophomore in 2012. All he did as an encore this fall was build upon his incredible Pac-12 resume. He rushed for at least 119 yards in every game he played, finishing No. 2 in the nation in rushing at 157.1 yards per game. In the last two seasons, the Zona star tailback has carried 652 times for 3,814 yards and 42 rushing touchdowns. He was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year this year by the coaches.
2: Number of players to win two Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Awards
Only two players in conference history have ever won a second league Defensive Player of the Year award and Arizona State’s Will Sutton is one of them. The senior defensive lineman won back-to-back D.P.O.Y. awards this season after helping lead Arizona State to a Pac-12 South title. He finished with 48 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and 4.0 sacks for the season. Washington’s Steve Emtman split the award in 1990 with Arizona’s Darryl Lewis and won the award outright in '91. Sutton is technically the only two-time outright Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year winner.
133.1: Brandin Cooks' nation-leading yards receiving per game
Oregon State is one of two teams in the nation to ever boast two different Biletnikoff Award winners for the nation’s top receiver. Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks joined Mike Hass (2005) to make the Beavers one of just two teams to claim more than one such winner. Pittsburgh (Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald) is the only other team with two different winners. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech have won two Biletnikoff Awards but both were won by the same player — Justin Blackmon and Michael Crabtree respectively. Cooks led the nation with 1,730 yards, was second with 128 catches and second with 16 touchdowns. He broke the Pac-12 single-season record for receptions and yards this fall.
57-14: Stanford's combined first-half score over Arizona State
Back in September, Stanford jumped out to a 29-0 halftime lead over the Sun Devils in Palo Alto. The Cardinal eventually pushed the lead to 39-7 before letting off the pedal and winning 42-28. Two months later, nothing changed as Stanford blitzed ASU in the first half of the Pac-12 Championship Game. Kevin Hogan and Tyler Gaffney posted a 28-7 second-quarter lead and a 28-14 halftime margin. David Shaw's bunch never looked back, crushing the Sun Devils 38-14 for its second consecutive Pac-12 championship — the first time the school has done that since 1970-71.
529.6: Cal’s total yards allowed per game
Sonny Dykes is a well-respected coach but probably didn’t realize what he was getting himself into when he took the Cal job this season. In his first year, his defense was historically bad. Cal allowed a Pac-12 worst 529.6 yards per game, ranking 124th nationally — out of 125 teams. The Bears had the worst defense of any of the “Big 6” conferences and was better than only New Mexico State’s 549.5 yards per game allowed. Cal’s 45.9 points allowed per game were also dead last in the Pac-12 and among all “Big 6” teams, finishing 124th ahead of only Idaho and their pathetic 46.8 points allowed per game.
7-2: USC’s record without Lane Kiffin
Lane Kiffin was fired on the LAX tarmac in the wee morning hours of the final Sunday in September. USC had been pounded 62-41 in Tempe by Arizona State, dropping their record to 3-2 — and 10-8 since the beginning of the 2012 season. Ed Orgeron, and later Clay Helton for the bowl game, was elevated to an interim position and he proceeded to lead USC to six straight Pac-12 wins. Coach O and Helton combined to finish 7-2 on the year, giving USC 10 wins in the process and clinching its first bowl win since the 2009 Emerald Bowl. Only 18 “Big 6” teams won at least 10 games this year and the USC Trojans were one of them.
The game of football is won and lost with a complete team effort. Are quarterbacks more important than backup guards? Of course. But the outcome is celebrated and opined by an entire roster of players big and small.
That doesn't mean that games within the game don't take place each and every time the ball is kicked off. This year's BCS National Championship showdown between Auburn and Florida State is no exception, as two excellent coaches lead two quality rosters into battle in Pasadena for the final crystal football of the BCS era.
Can Florida State stop the Auburn running game? Can Auburn cover Florida State's receivers? How will Jameis Winston handle a month of Heisman pressure? These are all important big picture questions that will be answered on Jan. 6.
But a narrow look at individual player matchups might be able to help predict what may happen in the Rose Bowl. The unit that wins the most individual matchups will likely be the squad to win the BCS' final national championship game.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR vs. Chris Davis, CB
Benjamin is a monster matchup nightmare for pretty much every defensive back in the nation. His 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame is impossible to stop — even for the most famous defensive back in Auburn history. Davis, who ran the Kick Six back to beat Alabama, may be the one charged with stopping Benjamin. He led the Seminoles with 14 touchdown catches and 19.1 yards per catch. And if it's not Benjamin that is the matchup problem for Davis and the Tigers' secondary, it will be Rashad Greene and his team-high 67 receptions and 981 yards who will be tough to stop.
Cam Erving, OT vs. Dee Ford, DE
Florida State was 87th nationally in sacks allowed at 29.0 while Auburn finished third in the SEC in getting after the quarterback with 28.0 takedowns. Both Erving and Ford have high NFL potential and they could be matched up on a number of occasions in the national title game. If the Seminoles can protect Jameis Winston, the odds Auburn's 103rd-rated pass defense will get smoked by the FSU passing attack is pretty high. If Ford and company can get after the QB, the Tigers may have a significant advantage.
Tre Mason, RB vs. Telvin Smith, LB
Christian Jones came into the season with all of the hype and preseason pomp for Florida State but Smith has been the star of the show. The weakside tackler is asked to flow sideline to sideline to make plays and he will be faced with his tallest order of the season thus far. Smith led the team in tackles with 75 stops but tackling Mason is easier said than done. The Auburn workhorse led the SEC in carries (283), yards (1,621) and touchdowns (22). If Mason hits his season average of 5.7 yards per carry, Auburn will be tough to beat.
Reese Dismukes, C vs. Timmy Jernigan, DT
A junior, Dismukes is the longtime starter at center for Auburn. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Alabama native is charged with stopping as nasty a duo at defensive tackle as there is in the nation. Jernigan is a future NFL star and is the team's No. 4 tackler and is second on the team in sacks (4.5). Dismukes is charged with keeping the middle of the line clean, so handling Jernigan and his counterparts Nile Lawrence-Stample and Jacobbi McDaniel will be critical for Auburn's success.
Nick Marshall, QB vs. Jalen Ramsey, S
Everyone on the Noles defense has to be concerned with Marshall's dual-threat ability. But the guy Auburn may target could be FSU's true freshman safety. The five-star prospect from Nashville, Ramsey stepped right in and started every game for the No. 1 team in the nation. But reading run-pass against Gus Malzahn is downright impossible, so if Ramsey is out of place at all, Marshall will capitalize.
Jameis Winston, QB vs. Ryan Smith, S
Winston is virtually impossible to stop — the bronze Heisman Trophy on his mantle is proof enough of that. So the challenge is even greater for a defensive backfield that has been abused at times this season. Smith and fellow safety Jermaine Whitehead will be in charge of reading the play and aligning the secondary against what is arguably the best passing attack in the nation. If either safety is out of place by even just a few steps, Winston will make them pay with deadly accuracy.
Devonta Freeman and James Widler, LB vs. Cassanova McKinzy, LB
Freeman and Wilder form a tremendous speed-power combination that few teams in the nation can boast. Freeman is explosive and dangerous in space with the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Wilder is a beast between the tackles. This means star sophomore tackler McKinzy will have to be disciplined and tough all game long. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker will be a focus of the Seminoles' front line for much of the game.
Greg Robinson, OT vs. Mario Edwards, DE
Whoever lines up against Robinson will have his hands full and that could be Edwards, the former No. 1 recruit in the nation. Robinson has elite athletic ability and will work to the second level and out in space with amazing ease. So the goal for FSU's ends isn't necessarily to get pressure on quarterback Nick Marshall but rather to occupy Greg Robinson and other blockers. If the Noles can create space for their athletic back seven to move in space and make tackles, Jeremy Pruitt's bunch could have a significant edge most teams don't get against Auburn.
For the first time in four years, Wisconsin won’t be playing in the Rose Bowl. After three straight losses in the Granddaddy of Them All, the Badgers will have to face a 10-win SEC powerhouse coached by a Hall of Famer.
In his first season at the helm in Madison, Gary Andersen led his squad to a respectable 9-3 record that many fans likely feel should have been better. A controversial loss to Arizona State early in the year and inexplicable defeat at the hands of Penn State at home in the season finale relegated UW to the Capital One Bowl.
South Carolina, too, had higher expectations this fall. Wins over Missouri, Clemson and others validate this team as one of the nation’s best, but a critical loss to 5-7 Tennessee cost the Gamecocks a trip to the SEC Championship game.
Neither ended the season where they expected to finish so both teams are better than their record indicates, making this one of the most intriguing matchups of the bowl season. The Badgers and Gamecocks have never faced one another and it should provide an entertaining matching of strengths — Wisconsin’s power rushing game against South Carolina’s NFL defensive line.
Wisconsin vs. South Carolina
Kickoff: Wednesday, Jan. 1. at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Pick 'em
Three Things to Watch
Chris Borland vs. Connor Shaw
Chris Borland was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for a unit that was surprisingly stingy all season long. He is a tackling machine and has showed a major knack for making big plays — i.e., forcing fumbles, blocking kicks and playing in the opponent’s backfield. Connor Shaw, on the other hand, matches his toughness, grit and leadership for South Carolina. The mobile quarterback is the winningest in school history and is one of the top, if not the No. 1, most underrated quarterback in SEC history. Both are winners and both love to compete. Watching the chess match between these two star athletes when South Carolina’s offense is on the field should be a joy for any football fan.
South Carolina's defensive line
Wisconsin likes to run the ball. This isn’t a shock to anyone. But the Gamecocks defensive line will likely be the toughest the Badgers have faced all season. The Big Red finished eighth nationally at 283 yards on the ground per game this season with a trio of dynamic backs. Jadeveon Clowney made himself quite a name with his play in the bowl game last season, and packaged with Kelcy Quarles, create the most formidable defensive wall for the Badgers O-Line to face. Clowney’s effort and commitment has been questioned at times, but he has one game left in college to prove himself, and there is no better task than facing this type of running game. Melvin Gordon and James White better have their chinstraps buttoned up tight in this one.
The 'Ol Ball Coach
Steve Spurrier has been on an absolute roll this season. The original troll is the most entertaining and witty coaches in all of college football and he has been at his best lately. Quips towards the Florida Gators, Jadeveon Clowney’s car and the Redskins soap opera have been vintage Ball Coach in the last few weeks. But what does he know about the Wisconsin Badgers? What will his game week, pregame, halftime and postgame interviews be like against an opponent he has no deep ties or experiences to cull for material? Big, fat offensive lineman? Cows and cheese curds? Slow Big Ten football? His counterpart Gary Andersen couldn’t be a nicer guy, so Spurrier’s opponent offers little in the way of bulletin board copy. And this is a bowl game, after all, so fans should expect some trick plays, bizarre play calls and more than a few dramatic fourth downs to go along with what should be the most entertaining interviews of the bowl season.
Key Player: James White, RB, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon is the most talented running back for Wisconsin — maybe the most talented to ever play in Madison (which is saying a lot). He has elite breakaway speed and power. However, senior James White has quietly completed one of the best careers for a Big Ten running back in history, predominately as a backup. This is his final game in college and he is playing his best football right now. He finished the season with 1,629 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns and brings a versatile skill set. He is an excellent receiver, and more importantly in this game, will be asked to pick up the blitz against a brutally tough Carolina defensive front. If not one, but two Wisconsin running backs can find success, it means Wisconsin could walk away from a bowl game victorious for the first time since beating Miami in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl.
The unstoppable force versus the immovable option. Wisconsin has one of the best backfields and offensive lines in the nation while South Carolina boasts arguably the most talented defensive line in the country. Both would rather be playing in a BCS bowl but will have to settle for what should be one of the more physical games of the bowl season. On the other side of the ball, Connor Shaw and Mike Davis are a formidable duo in their own right, while Wisconsin boasts one of the most underrated defensive units in the nation at 4.5 yards per play allowed. Shaw is the difference maker and will likely make more plays than Wisconsin’s Joel Stave. Expect a close, physical battle against two teams that are better than their five combined losses indicates.
Prediction: South Carolina 27, Wisconsin 21