Articles By David Fox
A little more than a month separates us from the start of the college football seasons. The weather is still unbearably hot at Athlon Sports HQ, but the signs of the fall and football season are in the air as preseason practice takes the place of media day season.
Our series previewing each major conference starts today with the Big 12 in perhaps the most heated race at the top of the league. Our staff agrees Baylor and TCU are a step ahead of the competition right now, but don’t agree with the consensus No. 1. After Baylor and TCU a host of teams could contend to be the surprise team in the league like the Horned Frogs were last season.
On this edition of the Cover 2 College Football Podcast:
• The big question: Does the Big 12 champion need to go undefeated to reach the College Football Playoff? We’re divided.
• Why is Baylor the right choice in the Big 12 when almost everyone else is picking TCU?
• Who has reason to be optimistic in the bottom of the league — Kansas, Iowa State and Texas Tech?
• Which team has the best chance to get into the top two? Our three hosts state cases for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and — perhaps the biggest surprise of them all — West Virginia.
• We take the pulse of Texas and why 2016 might be the season to watch for the Longhorns.
• Finally, we all believe Kansas State will take a step back in 2015, but we firmly believe Bill Snyder will ruin someone’s season.
Preseason camp hasn’t started, but preseason talkin’ season is in full swing. With a little more than a month left before the season, the media day circus is still going. The ACC and Big 12 wrapped up their media days this week with some interesting picks at the top.
On this week’s Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast:
• ACC commissioner John Swofford reiterated his preference for an eight-team playoff, a stance echoed by a handful of coaches in other leagues.
• The ACC media picked Clemson to win the league, which is all sorts of wrong.
• Deshaun Watson was the ACC’s preseason player of the year pick ahead of last year’s winner, James Conner of Pittsburgh. That led us to consider which defending league players of the year have a chance to repeat in 2015.
• Steve Spurrier called a surprise press conference to complain about his “enemies.” This should surprise no one.
• The changing of the guard in the Big 12 was apparent as Art Briles and Gary Patterson enjoyed their time in the spotlight while Charlie Strong and Bob Stoops were on the defensive.
• On our kids' sports question segment, we talk about the proper age for a kid to start playing fantasy sports and why NCAA eligibility rules must be perplexing to a 6-year-old.
The long offseason days are finally starting to get shorter. Conference media days start Monday, meaning preseason practice is not far behind.
The summer has been, thankfully, slower than most in recent years. Conference realignment or rumors thereof were minimal. No head coaches abruptly left their posts.
As with any summer, there was the usual allotment of injuries, suspensions and the like. If you’ve tuned out since spring practice or just wondered if you’ve missed anything major, this is Athlon’s service to you.
Here’s what you may have missed.
The Summer of Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh’s first offseason as the head coach of Michigan has been eventful enough that he gets his own page in the summer news roundup. From needling the SEC to awkward interviews, Harbaugh was arguably the sport’s biggest figure during the offseason.
Greg Sankey becomes SEC head man
Ever since SEC commissioner Mike Slive announced his retirement in October, right hand man Greg Sankey has been the assumed successor. The move was made official on June 1. He’s already presided over an national championships in softball (Florida) and men’s golf (LSU) and a College World Series championship series appearance (Vanderbilt). He’s floated the idea of college football players being able to enter the draft and return to school, provided they don’t hire an agent, similar to college basketball. He supported the removal of the Confederate battle flag from athletic arenas.
Sankey is new in his role, but as the commissioner of the SEC, he’s already one of the most important figures in college athletics. His first address and meetings with the media at SEC Media Days on Monday will be worth monitoring as the new commish sets his agenda.
North Carolina receives notice of allegations
The academic fraud scandal at North Carolina seems to thought of as a basketball issue. That’s only natural given the stature of the Heels’ basketball program, but don’t forget that the paper classes were widespread among many athletes, football included. The NCAA enforcement staff charged UNC with five severe violations, including lack of institutional control. The cloud of uncertainty will hang over football — at least until Midnight Madness in October.
Everett Golson to Florida State
If Everett Golson’s move from Notre Dame to Florida State isn’t the most important transfer of the season, it’s certainly the most high profile. His departure all but ensures Malik Zaire will start for the Irish and makes Golson the probable starter at FSU, replacing a Heisman winner who lost one game as a starter. There’s still a major question if Golson, 17-5 as a starter with the Irish, can pick up Jimbo Fisher’s complex offense in less than one offseason. If not, Sean Maguire might be the starter on Sept. 5.
De’Andre Johnson dismissed from FSU
De’Andre Johnson likely wouldn’t have figured into Florida State’s quarterback plans this season, but his dismissal from the Seminoles is notable merely for the optics — another FSU quarterback involved in legal issues involving a woman. Johnson, a three-star recruit in the 2015 class, was charged with misdemeanor battery and was swiftly dismissed when the state attorney’s office released video of the incident.
OT Isaiah Battle leaves Clemson
In an offseason with its share of questions for Clemson, the Tigers added another one to the list. Already replacing offensive coordinator Chad Morris and rebuilding an elite defense from 2014, Clemson has renewed question marks on the offensive line after losing projected starting tackle Isaiah Battle. Selected in the first round of the NFL Supplemental Draft, Battle leaves Clemson with just one returning starter on the offensive line.
Ole Miss looks into Laremy Tunsil incident
It’s bad enough when a star left tackle is arrested after an altercation with his stepfather — an altercation in which Tunsil may have acted in defense of his mother. It’s worse when NCAA issues arise as a result. Tunsil’s stepfather, Lindsey Miller, told police that he warned Tunsil about contact with agents at the time of the incident. Miller later told NCAA enforcement that agents helped Tunsil with cash, clothes and help with car insurance, according to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. Ole Miss confirmed it is looking into the allegations surrounding its potential All-American tackle.
David Boren ignites realignment talk
Only five years ago, the Big 12 seemed to be the brink of destruction in conference realignment. Since then, the landscape has settled, including the Big 12’s 10-team membership. Things can’t stay quiet for too long in college football, and Oklahoma president David Boren made sure of it this offseason when he said the Big 12 should try to return to a 12-team lineup. Is the sport back to the moment of uncertainty it was in 2010? Not quite, but it’s at least a sign that not everyone is fully satisfied with the current alignments.
Steve Patterson making friends at Texas
There had been smoke that the hire of Steve Patterson as Texas AD might end up a controversial move, especially on the heels of long-timer DeLoss Dodds. By June we learned the full extent of Patterson’s methods, including raising ticket prices, setting up “Loyalty Points” for donors and nickel and diming expenses and budgets for individual sports.
Diddy v. UCLA strength coach
The most bizarre news item of the summer involved P. Diddy, a UCLA strength coach and a kettlebell. Assault charges were not filed against Sean “P. Diddy” Combs stemming from an incident in which the rap mogul was alleged to threaten UCLA strength coach Justin Combs with a kettlebell.
Tennessee and Michigan get swooshes
This summer was slow enough where Tennessee unveiling a new apparel contract with Nike for 2015 seemed to fill the news day. The Volunteers teased it for weeks leading up to the announcement and it ended up being … really nice uniforms. Michigan didn’t unveil uniforms — the Wolverines are still in adidas threads for 2015 — but UM did brag that its 10-year deal with Nike would be the largest contract in the nation.
Harold Brantley’s football future in doubt
Defensive tackle Harold Brantley, a starter on Missouri’s standout line, could see his season in jeopardy after a single-car accident in late June. Brantley, who was listed in serious condition, suffered ligament damage in his knee and a broken leg and ribs.
Georgia’s QB revolving door
Georgia made a bid to land Everett Golson before the Notre Dame QB landed at Florida State. Instead, the Bulldogs added Virginia graduate transfer Greyson Lambert to the mix. Lambert, who lost the quarterback competition to Matt Johns, will compete for a starting spot at Georgia among Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta. Just as Lambert landed at Georgia, redshirt freshman Jacob Park elected to transfer from Athens.
Connor Brewer transfers to Virginia
Quarterbacks transfer all the time, but few have changed zip codes quite like Connor Brewer. The former four-star recruit signed with Texas out of high school, transferred to Arizona and transferred again to Northern Arizona. He still hasn’t won a college starting job. Maybe No. 4 will be the charm.
Knee troubles end Kelby Brown’s career
Duke won’t get its best defensive player back in the lineup. Linebacker Kelby Brown, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, retired from football after re-tearing ligaments in his left knee. The latest knee injury was his fourth torn ACL — twice in each knee — in his career.
Nebraska’s linebacker corps loses another
Nebraska’s linebacker position continued to lose numbers as David Santos, the most experienced returner, left the team under unknown circumstances on June 11. Santos had started 19 games in three seasons.
Washington QB Cyler Miles retires
Washington’s returning starting quarterback was going to have trouble hanging onto his job anyway this season, but Miles’ status was made official when he retired from football due to a chronic hip injury. Jeff Lindquist, K.J. Carta-Samuels and Jake Browning will compete for the job in fall.
Utah starting cornerback arrested brandishing a knife
Utah starting cornerback Dominique Hatfield may see his season in jeopardy after he was arrested July 1 on charges of aggravated robbery. Hatfield used an online ad for an Xbox to lure a man to a car wash when Hatfield threated him with a knife demanding money, according to police.
Miami thins an already-thin offensive line
Offensive line was already going to be Miami’s biggest trouble spot. Even so, the Hurricanes cut down the group by one by abruptly dismissing projected right tackle Taylor Gadbois from the team. Gadbois told the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post he was told he wasn’t “positive enough.”
Another ACC team, another offensive tackle to miss the season
If this is starting to sound familiar, it’s because Pittsburgh is the third ACC team to lose a potential starting offensive tackle this offseason. Projected starter Jaryd Jones-Smith will miss the season with a knee injury. And like Clemson and Miami, Pittsburgh is facing a season with a thin O-line now made thinner.
Navy joins the the American
The final major college football conference realignment move on the books became official when Navy joined the American Athletic Conference on June 1. The longtime independent will be the AAC’s 12th member, allowing the league to host a championship game in 2015.
UAB football is back
The demise of UAB football lasted all of six months. UAB announced on June 1 the football program would, indeed, return after the school found $17.2 million to resuscitate the program as early as 2016. The reasons why the program was shuttered in the first place remains dubious, and now UAB has even more barriers to fielding a competitive team. Transfers from the Blazers now litter the college football landscape, leaving UAB coach Bill Clark to essentially start from scratch after sitting out for 2015.
UCF names George O’Leary interim AD
There once was a time when veteran football coaches would spend the twilight years of their careers as an athletic director. That time still exists at UCF, which named football coach George O’Leary its interim AD. The move is curious for a number of reasons — one, he’s still the football coach, and, two, O’Leary testified as part of a wrongful death suit of a player in 2011.
In 2015, conference bragging rights seem to mean so much, yet so little.
For most of last season, one division — much less one conference — seemed to reign over all others. Yet on the night of the national championship game, the SEC West was nowhere to be found. Instead, the Big Ten’s era of darkness came to an end with Ohio State defeating champions from arguably the two most daunting leagues in the country, the Pac-12 and SEC.
Meanwhile, the power conference with the fewest members, the Big 12, had two teams in the Playoff conversation up to the final minute before the semifinal pairings were revealed.
So what does all this mean? We’re not quite sure how large a role conference strength will play in the College Football Playoff era, but we’re certain having quality teams playing each other week in and week out makes for a more interesting season.
Here’s how that race might shake out during the 2015 season.
The SEC’s national championship drought has extended to — gasp! — two seasons. Yet even if a non-SEC team claims the 2015 national championship, the SEC is poised to be the top conference from top to bottom again. The SEC had seven teams ranked in the final College Football Playoff top 25 before the bowls and six in the final AP top 25 after the postseason. All seven teams from the SEC West went to a bowl and finished with a winning record. Expect more of the same for this 14-team behemoth of a conference. The Athlon preseason top 25 contains a whopping nine SEC teams.
The Pac-12 finished with four teams (Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA) with 10 wins or more, tied with the SEC for the most in the country. The league sported a winning record against three Power 5 conferences (3–1 against the ACC, 2–1 against the Big 12 and 6–2 against the Big Ten) but never faced the SEC head-to-head. That’s a little frustrating because the Pac-12 has remade itself into the solid No. 2 conference behind the SEC with potential to further narrow the gap. Remember, USC is just now exiting the worst of NCAA sanctions and should be a player in the national title race.
3. Big Ten
The same league that seemed hopeless in Week 2 — the week Michigan State lost to Oregon, Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech and Michigan was shut out by Notre Dame — knocked off three Power 5 conference champions during the bowl season. That said, a national championship doesn’t by default elevate an entire conference. Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff and is built to contend for another title in 2015. The question for the Big Ten is if anyone can catch up to Ohio State this season. The hires of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and James Franklin at Penn State in the last two seasons set up those programs to eventually challenge Urban Meyer’s juggernaut.
Favorite: Ohio State
4. Big 12
These are interesting times for the Big 12. Baylor and TCU became Playoff contenders last season, ultimately falling short on selection Sunday. Was it the lack of a conference championship game or the lackluster non-conference schedules that did in the Bears and Horned Frogs? Or was it that they were Baylor and TCU and not Texas and Oklahoma? The Big 12 finished 2–5 in bowl games and went 6-11 against the other Power 5 conferences last season. Will that change in 2015? Baylor and TCU are built to contend again, and Oklahoma and Texas can’t stay down forever.
This could be a challenging season for the ACC. Not only does the league’s national title contender the last two seasons, Florida State, lose its Heisman-winning quarterback, but Clemson also moves on without its offensive mastermind (Chad Morris) and key figures on defense. Depth in this league is an eternal struggle. More than half of the league finished 7–6 or worse last season, and while a 4–0 sweep of SEC rivals during Thanksgiving weekend (plus Georgia Tech’s Orange Bowl win over Mississippi State) may help bragging rights, the ACC as a whole has a long way to go to catch up to the rest of the Power Five.
Favorite: Florida State
The American Athletic Conference adds Navy, meaning the AAC will split into divisions and host a league title game. That may be a positive for a league that should have at least one team vying for the Group of 5’s automatic bid in a major bowl game. Last season, the AAC had a three-way tie for first with one of these teams (UCF) not having played the other two (Memphis and Cincinnati). Division races could be heated in 2015 with Cincinnati, Temple, UCF and East Carolina vying for the East and Houston, Navy and Memphis battling for the West.
The Mountain West produced four 10-win teams last season, same as the SEC and Pac-12, but that shouldn’t be seen as a sign of depth. The West Division champion, Fresno State, finished 6–8. The top of the league is where the action is. Boise State should contend for a major bowl slot and a top-25 finish. The Broncos have a veteran cast, but they lose a starting quarterback and a superstar tailback. Utah State also returns a veteran team that could contend for the title if the Aggies can beat Boise State in Logan.
Favorite: Boise State
Could this shape up for another year of mid-week MACtion madness? Of the 10 league quarterbacks who passed for 2,000 or more yards last season, only two were seniors. And Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson, who threw for 3,467 yards in 2013, returns after missing all but one game last fall. The league’s top three rushers, Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin and Buffalo’s Anthone Taylor, are also back. The usual powers — Toledo, Northern Illinois and Bowling Green — are the teams to beat.
Six different teams have won the Conference USA championship in the last six seasons. Our projected champion, Western Kentucky, would make it seven in seven years. Granted, three of those champions (East Carolina, UCF, Tulsa) are in another conference now, but that’s just another indication of the rotating cast of characters in C-USA. The high-powered Hilltoppers are the favorite, but they’ll need to watch out for Marshall and Louisiana Tech.
Favorite: Western Kentucky
10. Sun Belt
A year ago, league newcomers Georgia Southern and Appalachian State finished in the top three of the league, the former going 8–0. Yet because they were new to FBS, neither team was eligible for bowl games. That’s life in the Sun Belt these days. The league is forever stuck at the bottom of the FBS ranks and carries considerable dead weight at the bottom (New Mexico State, Idaho and Georgia State went a combined 4–31 last season).
Favorite: Arkansas State
New SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and several league basketball coaches supported removing the Confederate flag from conference campuses and athletic facilities.
Speaking on the summer SEC men’s basketball teleconference, Sankey reiterated a statement the league office released Wednesday supporting governors from South Carolina and Alabama in ordering the removal of Confederate flag from state offices.
“Our athletic programs provide a key rallying point for our state and our region and we want to make sure they are a welcoming circumstance as much as that’s possible when you’re a visiting team in our arenas and stadiums,” said Sankey, who replaced Mike Slive officially on June 1. “Let’s make our campuses welcoming for all who are on our teams and populating our campuses.”
South Carolina men’s basketball coach Frank Martin echoed statements made by football coach Steve Spurrier and athletic director Ray Tanner in support of removing the Confederate flag.
Although the flag represents something positive for many, Martin said, the battle flag remains offensive to other groups and should not be displayed on government grounds.
“We can’t just embrace one side and say to heck with the other group,” Martin said. “That’s why I think there’s a place for that flag in people’s private homes and in museums that represent the Confederate states and history of South Carolina, but not in public places. Government buildings are a representation of all of our people and not just some of our people.”
Martin also said the Confederate flag never came up as a barrier in recruiting. The Miami native and former Kansas State coach also called South Carolina the most "unified" state he's lived in.
"It’s important that the message gets out there that the people of South Carolina are absolutely beautiful," Martin said. "The way they’ve reacted to difficult times shows the amount of love that this state has."
Kentucky’s John Calipari, the league’s most visible basketball coach, also supported removing the Confederate flag from public grounds.
“Sure,” Calipari said. “They offend, and I would say do it (remove them).”
He’s describing the maturity required to allow a younger teammate to become his mentor. He’s describing the maturity that same teammate must possess not to see him as a threat.
If Tennessee is going to continue on its path back to prominence, the Volunteers are going to need Kamara, a new arrival, to be part of a dynamic duo of running backs — a staple of some of the best SEC teams in recent years.
Tennessee finished last season with half of that equation. Jalen Hurd was one of the Volunteers’ breakout stars during the program’s first winning season since 2009. A five-star recruit and one of the jewels of Butch Jones’ first full signing class in Knoxville, Hurd established himself as one of the best freshman backs in Tennessee history, rushing for nearly 900 yards. But fielding merely one standout running back is not a foundation for SEC championships, so Tennessee added another highly touted prospect in Kamara from junior college.
“I’m older, but he’s established here,” Kamara says. “I came with respect for him. That might be one of the hardest things for guys, putting that pride aside, that ego aside and learning from someone younger than you. I had to come in and be mature about it.”
While Kamara’s addition may be a key development in turning Tennessee into an SEC contender once again, the road to his awakening wasn’t short or direct. The top-100 national recruit from Norcross, Ga., started his college career at Alabama, left the Crimson Tide with more suspensions than carries and landed at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. He arrived at Alabama two years ago amid a talented running back class that included four recruits rated four-stars or better, Derrick Henry among them. And a year before Kamara’s class, Alabama had signed two other four- and five-star running backs, one of them being T.J. Yeldon.
There were only so many carries to go around, but Kamara made decisions easier for Alabama. He suffered a knee injury in the preseason, but he also was not on the sidelines for a 2013 game against LSU due to what Alabama deemed were “behavior reasons.” Alabama later suspended him from the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. Kamara transferred to junior college weeks later.
Kamara’s absence from Division I football, and the SEC in particular, lasted only one year. Getting a second chance at running the ball in the SEC was reason for him to exhale.
“You know when something’s right and you’re stepping into a good situation, you’re like, ‘Ahh, OK,”’ Kamara says. “It was like relief.”
If all goes as planned, the relief in Knoxville will be twofold. Kamara steps onto a roster that’s thin at the position but with its leader firmly established.
Hurd rushed for 899 yards last season, the third-highest freshman total in Tennessee history after Jamal Lewis’ 1,364 yards in 1997 and James Stewart’s 908 yards in 1991.
Kamara, though, started spring as the only healthy scholarship tailback on the roster. Hurd participated in spring drills, but he was still recovering from a shoulder injury from the end of the season. Hurd has twice had shoulder surgery since his senior year of high school. And all too often, the Tennessee offense seemed to rest on those shoulders. Without Hurd running the ball effectively, Tennessee had few other places to turn in the running game.
The arrival of Kamara, in theory, should put another top running back on the field and limit some of the wear and tear on Hurd. Winning in the SEC in 2015 will likely require two or more tailbacks anyway.
Take Alabama and its pairings of Yeldon and Henry, or Eddie Lacy and Yeldon, or Trent Richardson and Lacy, for example. Georgia replaced one Heisman-contending running back (Todd Gurley) with another (Nick Chubb) last season. LSU seemingly has two or three NFL-caliber running backs at its disposal on an annual basis.
Tennessee’s issues have been numerous over recent years. The run game might not even be at the top of the Volunteers’ list of their most pressing priorities, but it will be a part of the solution in 2015.
What has been lacking at Tennessee hasn’t been individual running backs, necessarily; the problem has been running back depth. Tennessee hasn’t finished in the top half of the SEC in rushing since 2004 when Gerald Riggs and Cedric Houston both topped 1,000 yards on the ground that season. Not coincidentally, Tennessee has played in the SEC Championship Game only once since then.
Tennessee also hasn’t had a first-team All-SEC running back since 2001 when Travis Stephens and Travis Henry earned those honors in back-to-back years. (Granted, Houston, Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty all were second-teamers at some point.)
Hurd would seem to be a logical candidate to end that drought, but even with Hurd enjoying a standout season in 2014, Tennessee ranked 13th in the SEC in rushing yards per game (146.4) and yards per carry (3.6).
His value, though, could not be overstated. Hurd had some of his best moments in Tennessee’s most important games. He rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown in a three-point loss at Georgia. He had 125 yards on 21 carries in the 45–42 upset of South Carolina. And he completed his season with a 122-yard, two-touchdown performance on 16 carries in the 45–28 win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
The final game in that list of Hurd’s highlights might be the key. He had more than a month before the game to get healthy, and there was perhaps a little extra motivation. Bowl practice was also the first time Hurd met Kamara, who was committed to the Vols when he visited Tennessee’s practice in Jacksonville, Fla.
“I need guys to push me every day,” Hurd says. “The more competition we have, the better I’m going to get. When I see him break a long run, I want to break a long run.”
The two backs might be a clear No. 1 and No. 2. Or they might be better suited for particular situations. Or they could be interchangeable. None of that is quite clear yet.
“These guys will carve out who they are as football players on their own,” Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillespie says. “These guys will determine who they are as playmakers. They’ll determine the role they play in the offense.”
That said, the skill set of each of Tennessee’s top two running backs is easy to see. Hurd is 6'3" and 230 pounds and trying to get bigger before the season. Tennessee would love for Hurd to get to a sturdy 235 pounds.
“It’s hard for me to get fat,” Hurd says. “I was trying to eat everything I could, drink as many shakes as I could, get as many calories as I could.”
Kamara is 5'11" and 210 pounds and more likely to run to the outside. Hurd does some of his best work between the tackles.
“We’re two backs that are going to feed off each other,” Hurd says. “He’s more of a shifty back. That’s something he can push me on. I play a little bit bigger.”
The goal, though, is for both to be complete backs with the ability to excel in all situations.
With a year in the system compared to Kamara, Hurd is used to Tennessee’s up-tempo style, which is a stark contrast to what Kamara experienced at Alabama. Hurd knows the protections and blocking concepts, and he caught 35 passes last season, so he can play on third down.
By the time Tennessee opens against Bowling Green on Sept. 5 in Nashville, Hurd will try to do what he can to help Kamara get up to speed.
“Running the ball, that’s easy for Alvin,” Hurd says. “He’s a natural athlete. It’s just understanding the scheme of our offense, who to block, where to be, your alignments.”
This is a simple proposition for Hurd: If Kamara improves by fall, then Hurd probably does, too. And if Kamara and Hurd make up one of the best running back duos in the SEC, Tennessee’s rise will be that much quicker.
“(Hurd has) been able to see that some of the best running backs in the league are part of a tandem,” Gillespie says. “Alvin came on where he could see that, too, where everyone would be a bit better with competition.
“We have two guys that are going to be special.”
Anyone can have bad results at a lackluster college football program. Even Bear Bryant or Nick Saban might have trouble staying above water at a program in a bad recruiting era, little tradition and scant resources.
However, it takes a unique situation for someone to struggle at a place sitting in good recruiting territory, with a championship tradition and ample backing from fans and administration.
Granted, the pressures of coaching at top programs aren’t for everyone. The pressure to win every game — and answering to media and fans when it doesn’t happen — isn’t realistic.
These are the coaches who struggled to great proportions despite the advantages that come at top programs. These are the coaches who missed bowl games where it should be really, really tough to miss bowl games. We are considering great programs to be among the leaders in win percentage during since the Associated Press poll began in 1936.
One thing to note: We are only listing coaches who were hired after a program reached national prominence. Thus, pre-Nick Saban coaches at LSU or pre-Howard Schnellenberger coaches at Miami, for example, were not considered.
1. Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Record: 15-21 (.417) from 2010-12
A Nick Saban disciple and the son of one of the SEC’s greatest coaches, what could go wrong? Pretty much everything. Dooley inherited a program damaged by Lane Kiffin’s lone season, but Dooley set the Volunteers further back by going winless against ranked teams, winless against SEC teams in October and 2-14 in the SEC his last two seasons. Quotable, yes. Great hair, yes. Good coach, not really.
2. Joe Kuharich, Notre Dame
Record: 17-23 (.425) from 1959-62
Gerry Faust, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis are remembered with more vitriol than Kuharich, but that’s a product of recent memory. Kuharich took over six seasons after Frank Leahy’s tenure and never had a winning season in four years at Notre Dame despite having talented teams at the height of Notre Dame’s popularity.
3. Gerry Faust, Notre Dame
Record: 30-26-1 (.535) from 1981-85
Imagine any major program hiring a high school coach these days. Plenty of programs have hired high school coaches as assistants, but head coach? No way. That’s what Notre Dame did when it replaced Dan Devine with Faust, coach at powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller. The gamble was predictably a failure, but at least Notre Dame could keep the high ground by giving Faust a full five seasons. Subsequent coaches wouldn’t be able to say the same.
4. John Blake, Oklahoma
Record: 12-22 (.353) from 1996-98
An assistant for Barry Switzer and former Sooners player, Blake knew better than to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor Howard Schnellenberger, but that didn’t help him win games. Blake had never been even a coordinator, and it showed as the Sooners went 8-16 in the Big 12. At least his recruits were the centerpieces for OU’s 2000 national championship team under successor Bob Stoops
5. Howard Schnellenberger, Oklahoma
Record: 5-5-1 (.500) in 1995
Schnellenberger had one of the most puzzling tenures in college sports in his lone season at Oklahoma. He built Miami into a national power in the 1980s and brought Louisville to relevance, but Oklahoma fans were turned off by Schnellenberger’s dismissiveness of Sooners history — especially after Oklahoma finished 1995 with three straight blowout losses.
6. John Mackovic, Texas
Record: 41-28-2 (.592) from 1992-97
Mackovic started to rebuild Texas after the David McWilliams era with three consecutive bowl games and a Big 12 title game appearance between 1994-96. But his fate was sealed on Sept. 12, 1997 with a 66-3 loss to UCLA at home that became known as “Rout 66.” Mackovic went 4-7 his final season despite having Ricky Williams in his backfield.
7. Mike DuBose, Alabama
Record: 24-23 (.511) from 1997-2000
DuBose followed national championship coach Gene Stallings to go 4-7 in his first season thanks in part to NCAA sanctions. Though DuBose led the Tide to a 10-3 season and top 10 finish in 1999, he went 3-8 the following year and was the coach during major NCAA recruiting violations.
8. Mike Shula, Alabama
Record: 26-23 (.531) from 2003-06
Perhaps Shula was doomed from the beginning. Alabama fans were wounded by the sudden departure of Dennis Franchione to Texas A&M just as NCAA sanctions were levied. Shula wasn’t even on the radar until Washington State coach Mike Price was fired amid scandal before his first game. Shula went to the Cotton Bowl in 2005 but otherwise became the first Alabama coach since the pre-Bear Bryant days to have three non-winning seasons.
9. David McWilliams, Texas
Record: 31-26 (.544) from 1987-91
Aside from a 10-2 season and Southwest Conference championship in 1990, McWilliams had a lackluster tenure at Texas on the heels of the Darrell Royal and Fred Akers days. McWilliams’ time at Texas was doomed when the Longhorns went 5-6 after reaching the Cotton Bowl a year earlier.
10. Ray Goff, Georgia
Record: 46-34-1 (.574) from 1989-95
Goff had the unenviable task of taking over for the best coach in Georgia history. He had two losing seasons and two 6-6 seasons in six years, but his greatest sin was ushering in an era of futility against Florida. Goff lost his final six meetings against the Gators, the start of a 1-13 stretch in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
11. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
Record: 15-22 (.405) from 2008-10
Michigan swung for the fences when it tried to shake up its square-jawed image by hiring spread-offense acolyte Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia. The experiment was a failure as the offense was dismal in a 3-9 season in Rodriguez’s first year, the worst for Michigan in 46 years. Michigan improved in his final two years, but Rodriguez became the first coach to leave Michigan with a losing record. RichRod has taken West Virginia and Arizona to major programs, making his struggles at Michigan that much more perplexing.
12. Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame
Record: 21-15 (.583) from 2002-04
Willingham was Notre Dame’s second choice after George O’Leary resigned after it was discovered his resume contained false information. It seemed for a time to be a good break for Notre Dame when Willingham’s first team started 8-0. The Irish went 13-15 thereafter. Willingham became the first Notre Dame coach fired after only three seasons.
13. Charlie Weis, Notre Dame
Record: 35-27 (.565) from 2005-09
Notre Dame was outclassed in two BCS games in Weis’ first two seasons, but at least the Irish were back in the national consciousness. Weis looked like an offensive genius by leading Brady Quinn to several Notre Dame passing records and the Heisman presentation, but the bottom fell out in 2007 with a 3-9 record and the Irish’s first loss to Navy since 1963. Considering his ability to collect a buyout from two schools, he's smarter than all of us.
14. Paul Hackett, USC
Record: 19-18 (.514) from 1998-2000
The journeyman coach put up journeyman results in his three seasons at USC, going 5-11 in the Pac-10 in his final two years. In his three-year tenure, Hackett became the first USC coach in 41 years to never go to the Rose Bowl.
15. Bill Callahan, Nebraska
Record: 27-22 (.551) from 2004-07
Frank Solich’s 58 wins in six season was not enough to keep him employed at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers tried to move away from their traditional option by bringing in Callahan from the NFL ranks, but a 5-6 season in 2004 ended Nebraska’s streak of 35 consecutive bowl games. The pro-style offense eventually caught on, but big wins never did as Nebraska bookended his tenure with a 5-7 season in 2007.
16. Randy Shannon, Miami
Record: 28-22 (.560) from 2007-10
The decorated defensive coordinator never could match Miami’s level of success the Hurricanes had while Shannon was an assistant or a player. The Hurricanes’ decline that began under Larry Coker was hastened under Shannon. The Canes went 5-7 in his first season, including a 48-0 loss to Virginia in the final game at the storied Orange Bowl.
17. Will Muschamp, Florida
Record: 29-21 (.580) from 2011-14
Muschamp went 11-2 in his second season, losing in the Sugar Bowl to Louisville. The rest of his tenure was an offensively challenged comedy of errors. Muschamp's Florida teams endured a losing season for the first time since 1979, lost to an FCS school for the first time in school history and lost to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1945.
18. Ron Zook, Florida
Record: 23-14 (.621) from 2002-04
Zook inherited the Heisman runner-up (Rex Grossman) when Steve Spurrier left and never more than eight games as the Gators coach. The tenure included two losses to Ole Miss (albeit led by Eli Manning), a loss to Mississippi State and three unranked finishes. The Zooker could recruit, though.
19. Lane Kiffin, USC
Record: 28-15 (.651) from 2010-13
USC went 10-2 with a win over Oregon despite a bowl ban in 2011, raising the stakes for 2012. The Trojans, though, went from preseason No. 1 to 7-6 with a loss in the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech. A listless performance on offense in 2013 prompted his abrupt ouster less than 12 hours after a loss to Arizona State. A hot start under interim coach Ed Orgeron has become a further indictment on Kiffin’s tenure.
20. Gary Crowton (26-23 at BYU), Dan Hawkins (19-39 at Colorado) and Keith Gilberston (7-16 at Washington)
We can debate if BYU, Colorado and Washington are “great” programs, but all had won national championships and were viable winners when the three coaches above took over. BYU and Washington have recovered to a degree, but both programs are long ways off from winning national championships again.
For Athlon Sports, the offseason is one of our favorite times of the year.
Of course, we enjoy the season as much as any crazed college football fan, but the bread-and-butter for Athlon since 1967 has been helping readers prepare for the season, helping them get to know the teams and players they need to watch.
This is the time of year we get to share our preseason annuals, our national edition and regional previews for five conferences. Countless hours of study and work from dozens of individuals went into the 2015 editions, and we still have room for debate on the outlook for every team.
Of course, Athlon isn’t the only publication out there. And just like anyone we like to compare how everyone evaluates the season ahead. Here’s how the top 25 and conference champions shook out in the various publications.
We’ll continue to update the grid as more rankings are released through the offseason.
|2015 Preseason College Football Rankings|
Cody Kirby engineered a 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter of a game against Kansas State five years ago that might not be memorable to most. Kirby was the senior quarterback of Missouri State in a game his team lost by 24 points. The game, in the grand scheme of things, was forgettable. From there, Kirby finished his career at Missouri State, played football in Canada and in the Arena Football League before returning to his alma mater as a graduate assistant.
Everywhere he’s gone, Kirby has kept with him a copy of Mind Gym, a book on mental training for athletes. And for the past five years, Kirby has used a souvenir from that game against Kansas State as a book mark. Marking his spot in Mind Gym is an envelope and letter on Kansas State stationery.
“The envelope is kind of torn and tattered,” Kirby says. “But I haven’t let the letter go without care.”
Kirby still reads the letter from time to time as a reminder of the values that stood out to the sender — in this case, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder.
The note, handwritten, complimented Kirby’s competitive nature and the way he handled himself. The message predicted he’d be successful in any future endeavor.
Kirby left that game against Kansas State honored to have shaken the hand of Snyder after the game. Early the next week, the Missouri State football staff told him he had a delivery in the mail room. With the Kansas State return label, Kirby wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
“This was written diagonally across the letter and in a purple marker, so you know he sat and took the time to write that out,” Kirby says.
Related: Buy the 2015 Big 12 Preview Magazine
Anyone around Kansas State, though, will find those trademarks unmistakable: The Kansas State letterhead, the ink from a purple felt-tip pen, the lines of handwriting tilted clockwise at nearly a 45 degree angle.
And finally: Warm Regards, Bill Snyder
Kirby was just one of what must be hundreds of recipients of similar notes over the years. Without any fanfare or public announcements, this is a tradition as much as anything else is at Kansas State.
Snyder estimates he’s sent one of these handwritten notes after nearly every game since he became the head coach at Kansas State in 1989. He’s sent them for dozens of reasons, from consoling an injured player to congratulating an opponent on a victory over Kansas State to simple acknowledgements of competitiveness and leadership.
“I could think of 25 different reasons over the years when I’ve sent a young person a note,” Snyder says.
The process for him doesn’t seem to be a special one, even if he’s the only coach who corresponds with an opponent in such a way.
On an ordinary day in March this spring, for example, Snyder was at his desk, sending thank-you notes from a coaching event in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in the week.
His colleagues are familiar with the notes, too. R.C. Slocum, who as Texas A&M coach overlapped with Snyder in the Big 12, recalls one of his players getting a note from Snyder at some point during his tenure, though he doesn’t remember which one.
Slocum himself received a note from Snyder this winter after attending an event with the Kansas State coach.
“I’m never surprised when I get a nice note from him,” says Slocum, who coached at Texas A&M from 1989-2002. “That’s what he does. That’s what separates him from some of other people. ... That’s why Bill is respected like he is. It’s the personal touch.”
Even bitter rivals have received that personal touch.
Glen Mason, the coach at Kansas from 1988-96, recalled one of his captains receiving a note from Snyder in the late ’80s. Again, the identity of the recipient is lost to memory.
Snyder can’t recall why he started sending the notes. Did one of his coaches do the same? Did an opposing coach do that for him when he first started coaching or when he played?
“I wasn’t a good enough player, so if anyone sent anything to me, they were mistaken,” Snyder says.
When the practice started he can’t really say, either. Joan Friederich has worked in the Kansas State football office since 1973 — predating even Snyder in Manhattan. She’s been the administrative assistant to four football coaches at Kansas State, including both tenures for Snyder.
“That’s been too long ago, I don’t remember,” Friederich says. “It was a little bit later than when he first got the job. He sends so many things out, but he’s been doing it for several years.”
The routine, though, hasn’t changed. After nearly every Kansas State game, Friederich thumbs through her desktop directory to find the address to the football office of the most recent opponent. She loads an envelope into her typewriter — yes, a typewriter — to address Snyder’s note, and off it goes.
Even though this personal touch has gone on for decades, in the past, few people apart from the sender and recipient would have known of each note. Social media changed that, though. After North Dakota State upset Kansas State 24–21 in Manhattan to open the 2013 season, Snyder sent a letter to Bison quarterback Brock Jensen:
“Congratulations Brock. I was truly impressed with you & your teammates. You played so very well, virtually error free & with such poise. I wish you a great year & hope you achieve all you desire. Please share my thoughts w/ your teammates. Warm Regards Bill Snyder.”
From bill Snyder to Brock Jensen. Classy move by the coach. pic.twitter.com/OIMwsH6AWo— Jay Bartley (@Jaybartley34) September 7, 2013
A North Dakota State fan tweeted an image of the note, and the story quickly went viral.
“It caught me by surprise,” says Jensen, who led North Dakota State to its third of four consecutive FCS national championships that season. “I didn’t know he wrote notes to opponents like that. I found out when he wrote me.”
Former Texas running back Fozzy Whittaker didn’t know one was coming, either. During his senior season in 2011, Whittaker suffered a knee injury in a loss at Missouri on Nov. 12, a week before Texas’ final home game of the season against Kansas State. Whittaker, as a result, wouldn’t be able to play on Senior Day for the Longhorns. The week before the game against the Wildcats, Whittaker received an envelope from Kansas State.
“The letter he wrote to me, it was basically — not a sympathy letter — but to give me words of encouragement,” Whittaker says. “The fact that it was a Big 12 opponent and it was a head coach that wrote it, it was a gesture that I feel like is unparalleled.”
Coaches often like to say that locker room conversations or postgame exchanges should remain private, and Snyder is notoriously guarded when it comes to information he shares about his program. If his correspondence with opponents is being shared with the public through social media, he can live with it.
“As I tell our young people, don’t write or say anything that you would not want to be repeated,” Snyder says.
• • •
The letters, at least to one opposing quarterback, have become one of the sport’s top honors of sorts.
A note from Snyder doesn’t acknowledge the stats or the result of the game. It means the recipient competed at a level to impress Bill Snyder, a coach whose teams have consistently overachieved in the Big 12 for nearly 30 years.
West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett entered the 2014 season with plenty of goals that would have been obvious — get the Mountaineers back to a bowl game, stay healthy for the season and so on. One of the objectives for Trickett was more specific than wins and losses: Make Bill Snyder sit down at his desk in the Kansas State football office and write out his thoughts about the West Virginia quarterback.
Trickett knew this was a possibility. A year earlier, Trickett’s friend, Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, received a letter from Snyder during his junior season. In a 49–26 loss to Kansas State on Nov. 9, 2013, Amaro caught nine passes for 67 yards. During the course of the Kansas State game, Amaro took a hard hit and had to be helped off the field. He didn’t return to the game. Again, Snyder noted the details:
“You’ve had a great year Jace. Admire how hard you play & the innate toughness you display to help your team. Hope you weren’t hurt badly on Sat. Wishing you & your teammates continued success, good fortune & health. Warm Regards Coach Snyder”
THE upmost respect to Kansas State and Coach Snyder, great program and an even greater coach. Huge fan. pic.twitter.com/fjeflBLU47— Jace Amaro (@J_ACER22) November 18, 2013
After Amaro shared the letter on Twitter, Trickett hoped he could live up to the standard to earn one of his own. “That was one of my goals going into the season,” Trickett says. “When we played them, I wanted to be the guy who gets the letter.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, the note came. Trickett sustained a concussion in West Virginia’s 26–20 loss to Kansas State on Nov. 20 and had to leave the game in the third quarter facing a two-touchdown deficit.
“Sorry I didn’t get to see you after the game Clint. Wasn’t aware that you had received a concussion. I hope the symptoms are gone by now & that you will be back soon. Always appreciate you as a young man of great values as well as being an excellent quarterback. Pulling for you to finish off the season at your best. Warm Regards Coach Snyder.”
Trickett, of course, has the letter. He’s taking it with him to East Mississippi Community College, where he’ll start his career as a quarterback coach.
At some point, the letter will hang on his wall. He’ll have framed a memento, essentially, from the injury that ended his playing career. “He’s the foundation of what a coach should be,” Trickett says. “When you think what a coach should be, you think of Bill Snyder. The handwritten letter epitomizes it.”
Every college football fan knows that one person whose opinion changes of a friend or colleague as soon as they learn they’re a fan or graduate of a rival school.
Perhaps you are that person.
Let’s say you’re an Alabama fan and your co-worker seems pleasant enough until you find out he or she has a cubicle full of Auburn memorabilia.
If you’re that person, look away.
Some person with a sick mind combined rival logos in college football, blending Auburn and Alabama, Alabama and Tennessee, Florida and Georgia and more.
The preseason top 25 is a starting point as much as it is a prediction of what’s to come. We've had our share of hits and misses over the years, some No. 1 teams that have won championships, some leaps of faith tha panned out and some that did.
Certainly, we want to nail every pick, but we're just fine if not everything goes to plan. Who wants to watch a sport they can forecast perfectly months before the season?
Now that the Athlon top 25 has been released, and our magazines are available all across America, this is a perfect time to look back at this year’s top 25 and how teams rank compared to years past.
In some ways, this is a typical year. Ohio State and Alabama sit near the top of the rankings, which is pretty much a sure-thing at this point.
But at the same time, teams like Baylor, TCU and Michigan State all have their highest ranking in Athlon history while Florida and Texas are nowhere to be found in the top 25.
Here’s what made this year’s top 25 standout compared to Athlon’s preseason rankings going back to 1976.
• Ohio State is No. 1 for the fourth time since Athlon’s rankings began in 1976. Only Florida State (eight times), USC (six) and Oklahoma (five) have been ranked No. 1 more.
• The Buckeyes have the distinction of having the longest active streak in the Athlon top 25 at more than two decades. Ohio State has been in every Athlon top 25 since 1994. The next longest streaks belong to Oklahoma (in the top 25 every year since 2000) and Georgia (since 2002).
• Alabama, ranked second in this year’s top 25, has been ranked Nos. 1, 2 or 3 every year since 2010.
• Baylor’s No. 3 ranking is the highest ranking for the Bears in Athlon history, beating their old record of No. 10 last season. Baylor was unranked from 1992-2013 and had never been ranked higher than No. 14 in 1978.
• Another sign the Big 12 has been turned upon its head: No. 5 TCU is making its first appearance in the Athlon top 10.
• After back-to-back AP top-five finishes, Michigan State has finally taught us a lesson. The No. 7 Spartans have earned their highest ranking in Athlon history, topping a No. 11 ranking in 1988 — a team that finished 6-5-1 with a Gator Bowl loss.
• No. 21 Mississippi State is ranked for the first time since 2001, which the Bulldogs probably hope is a better omen than it was back then. Mississippi State followed an 8-4 season in 2000 by going 3-8 in 2001. Oops.
• No. 17 Oklahoma is tied for its lowest ranking since the last time the Sooners were last out of our top 25 in 1999. Oklahoma has been ranked in our preseason top 10 in all but three seasons since 2000 (ranked 17th in 2015, 2013 and 2000). Oklahoma won the national title in 2000 — but started the season ranked No. 17 by Athlon and No. 19 by the AP.
• Welcome back, Tennessee. The No. 22 Volunteers are ranked for the first time since 2008. Tennessee had been ranked every year from 1990-2008.
• More good news for Vols fans: Florida is out of the top 25 for the second time in the last four seasons. The Gators had been in our preseason top 25 every year from 1991-2011.
• Texas is out of the top 25 for the first time since 1998.
• No. 13 Arizona State highest ranking since 1998 when the Sun Devils were ranked eighth.
• The longest rankings drought ended in this year’s top 25 belongs to No. 18 Georgia Tech, ranked for the first time since 2009.
• How different was the college football landscape 10 years ago? Purdue (No. 15), Boston College (No. 17), Virginia (No. 22) and UTEP (No. 24) were all ranked in the top 25 in 2005. None have been ranked since. Pittsburgh was ranked 23rd in 2005 and has only been ranked once since then.
• Another sign of how things change: Oregon has been in the top 10 in six consecutive magazines. The Ducks had been ranked in the top 25 only five times from 1990-2008.
Last season was a good one for the 40-and-under crowd in college football.
Three of the four offensive coordinators in the College Football Playoff were under the age of 40 at the start of the season — Ohio State’s Tom Herman, Oregon’s Scott Frost and Alabama’s Lane Kiffin.
Herman took the Houston head coaching job, and Kiffin resurrected his coaching career by leading a dynamic Alabama offense.
Herman, Kiffin and Frost have moved off our list of the top coaches under the age of 40 — as has Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald — as they enter their 40s.
In their place are plenty of 30-somethings with bright futures ahead of them.
Best Head Coaches Under 40
1. Justin Fuente, Memphis head coach
Fuente has been on the fast track since Gary Patterson plucked him from the staff at Illinois State in 2007. As TCU’s offensive coordinator, Fuente coached in two BCS games, including a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin to cap an undefeated season in 2010. At Memphis, he led one of the best turnarounds of the 2014 season. In three seasons, Fuente led Memphis to its first AP top 25 final ranking in school history and first 10-win season since 1938. And remember: Memphis had lost 10 games in each of the three seasons preceding Fuente’s tenure. Another year like that and Fuente will be the top coaching candidate in the 2015 carousel.
2. Bryan Harsin, Boise State head coach
Harsin wasn’t even 30 when Chris Petersen promoted him to offensive coordinator on his first staff at Boise State — a move that coincided with the Broncos’ undefeated season in 2006. Of Boise State’s three major bowl games in school history — the 2007 Rose Bowl and the 2010 and 2015 Fiesta Bowls — Harsin has been a coordinator or head coach of all three. In two seasons as a head coach, Harsin has captured a share of a Sun Belt title at Arkansas State and an outright Mountain West title.
3. Matt Campbell, Toledo head coach
Starting during his time as an assistant, Campbell has been instrumental in Toledo’s re-emergence as one of the most consistent programs in the MAC. The Rockets have finished in the top four in the MAC in yards per play each season since 2010, including No. 1 in the league last season. He’s 26-13 as Toledo’s head coach and 19-6 in the MAC. Ending the Rocket’s MAC title game drought (since 2004) should propel him to a big-time job.
4. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan head coach
The former Rutgers wide receivers coach arrived with a reputation as an ace recruiter and lived up to it. He had the top signing classes in the MAC in 2014 and 2015, the former by a wide margin. He has 11 3-stars committed so far for 2016. The rest of the MAC has 12 total. He has some quirks — his “row the boat” mantra, for starters — but Fleck can coach. After going 1-11 in his first season, Western Michigan went 8-5 in 2014.
5. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech head coach
Kingsbury is still Coach Cool even if his stock has dropped since starting his career 7-0 in 2013. Since then, Kingsbury is 5-13 overall and 2-12 in the Big 12. The Red Raiders’ offense remains formidable, but Kingsbury needs new coordinator David Gibbs and the defense to turn his program’s momentum.
6. Willie Taggart, USF head coach
Western Kentucky is a legitimate Conference USA contender, and some of the thanks should go to Taggart, a former Hilltoppers quarterback. He shepherded the program in the FBS, going 7-5 in each of his final two seasons there. Progress has been slower at USF, which improved from 2-10 to 4-8 in his second season.
7. Neal Brown, Troy head coach
Troy won back-to-back outright Sun Belt titles with Brown as offensive coordinator in 2008-09. At the time, Brown was a green 28-year-old. From there, Brown took his version of the spread to Texas Tech under Tommy Tuberville and Kentucky under Mark Stoops. That’s Big 12 and SEC experience and a head coaching gig all before his 35th birthday.
Best Coordinators Under 40
1. Dave Aranda, Wisconsin defensive coordinator
Paul Chryst gets a leg up on his tenure as Wisconsin’s head coach thanks to the return of Aranda, who already has five seasons of coordinator experience under his belt at Hawaii, Utah State and Wisconsin. The Badgers have finished third in the Big Ten in yards allowed per play, remarkable considering they switched to a 3-4 defense in his first season and replaced All-American Chris Borland in his second.
2. Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator
As Alabama’s defensive coordinator since 2008, Smart has been an assistant of interest for several seasons. Presumably, the 2009 Broyles Award winner has had a number of head coaching jobs available to him as the Tide has been a perennial national championship contender. The question is when Smart, a Nick Saban assistant for all but one season since 2003, will leave his mentor’s shadow.
3. Rhett Lashlee, Auburn offensive coordinator
No coach has worked with Gus Malzahn longer than Lashlee, who was Malzahn’s quarterback in high school. Malzahn tends to receive the credit as the offensive mastermind, but no one is more embedded in the system than his 32-year-old offensive coordinator.
4. Justin Wilcox, USC defensive coordinator
A defensive coordinator for two undefeated Boise State teams under Chris Petersen, Wilcox is at home on the West Coast. His defenses at USC and Washington each ranked third in the Pac-12 in yards per play the last two seasons.
5. Kalani Sitake, Oregon State defensive coordinator
Gary Andersen’s hire of Sitake from Utah was a coup for the first-year Oregon State coach. Sitake is one of the Pac-12’s most respected defensive coordinators as Utah has remained solid on that side of the ball despite the move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. His defenses have had a knack for the fundamentals even if they’ve been at a talent deficiency.
6. D.J. Durkin, Michigan defensive coordinator
Any coach who has worked for both Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh is on a good career trajectory. He’s also due for some good timing. Durkin left Stanford just before the Cardinal became a BCS regular and arrived at Florida in time for Meyer’s final season and into the Will Muschamp era. Even if Florida struggled in 2013 and 2014, it wasn’t because of Durkin’s defenses, which ranked fifth and first, respectively, in yards per play in the SEC.
7. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma offensive coordinator
Riley may have made a career-defining move this offseason, leaving East Carolina for Oklahoma. All Bob Stoops needs Riley to do is revive OU’s spot on the cutting edge of offense. After all, Norman is where Mike Leach, Mark Mangino, Kevin Wilson and Kevin Sumlin all turned their offensive coordinator posts into their first head coaching jobs. Riley, a former Leach assistant at Texas Tech, led the No. 3 passing offense in the country last season.
8. Sonny Cumbie, TCU co-offensive coordinator/QB coach
Doug Meacham calls the plays at TCU, but the arrival of Meacham and Cumbie at TCU was critical to the Horned Frogs’ run at a College Football Playoff spot last season. The duo represented a culture shift for the TCU offense to the spread, and Cumbie was critical in grooming Trevone Boykin into a Heisman-contending QB. If you’re noticing a trend, Cumbie is also a Leach guy, passing for 4,724 yards for Texas in 2004.
9. Barry Odom, Missouri defensive coordinator
Odom returned to his alma mater after leading a turnaround for the Memphis defense last season. The Tigers ranked 10th nationally in yards allowed per play and 11th in scoring defense. In only his sixth season as a full-time assistant coach, Odom is an SEC defensive coordinator.
10. Mike Norvell, Arizona State offensive coordinator
Statistically, Arizona State wasn’t the most dynamic offense in the Pac-12 — fifth in passing efficiency, sixth in yards per play, seventh in yards per carry and third in points per game. That said, Arizona State needed to start its backup quarterback for three games (against two ranked teams) and still finished with 10 wins for the second consecutive season.
11. Jake Spavital, Texas A&M offensive coordinator
Surprise, surprise: Another Air Raid devotee on the list. Spavital comes from the Dana Holgorsen branch of that coaching tree, getting his first full-time coaching gig as West Virginia’s quarterback coach in 2011. He replaced Kliff Kingsbury at Texas A&M to work with Johnny Manziel and then supervised the Aggies’ QB derby last season. He’s another bright offensive mind entrenched in the most trendy scheme of the day. He’ll be sure to follow Kingsbury and others as they move into head coaching jobs.
12. Scottie Montgomery, Duke offensive coordinator
Well before age 40, Montgomery notched an NFL position coach stint under his belt and now sits at the right hand of David Cutcliffe at Duke. A Blue Devils alum and North Carolina native, Montgomery could slip into a head coaching role in a few years.
13. Mike Sanford Jr., Notre Dame offensive coordinator
Not to be confused with Mike Stanford Sr., his father who is the former coach at UNLV and current coach at Indiana State. After serving as offensive coordinator for Fiesta Bowl-bound Boise State last season, Sanford had a chance at coordinator posts at Ohio State and Notre Dame. He picked Notre Dame. Not bad for a guy born in the 1980s.
Good news, everyone: Schedule-shaming works.
Those two weeks during the SEC schedule in November aren’t nearly as embarrassing as they used to be. Sure, every league team didn’t try to add another conference game or big-time out-of-conference game. But many of the FCS games that week have been traded out with Conference USA or Sun Belt teams.
They’re cupcakes for the most part, but it’s nice to see overmatched FCS teams depart schedules in September rather than setting up rivalry week.
In the final weeks of November, Conference USA replaces the SoCon as Florida faces FAU and Tennessee faces North Texas. Georgia is taking a bit of an in-state risk by hosting the option-running Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern. Missouri plays Southeast Missouri State early in the season but balances that with BYU in November.
Don’t worry for those of you who are for some reason fans of the SEC-FCS challenge, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas A&M are holding out with their own shameful games in November.
Shameful games here aren’t just ordinary power teams facing FCS competition. They’re they ones who are going out of their way to cross state lines to face a historically bad team from a Division with fewer scholarships and few resources.
In other words, they’re buying wins and ripping off their season-ticket holders.
And let’s be clear: We do not care about the circumstances of these particular games and if an opponent bought out of a series. Find a way to do better, we say.
1. Nov. 21: Charleston Southern at Alabama
Most of the SEC has been shamed into shedding its traditional November FCS opponent in November for Conference USA or Sun Belt opponents. Not Alabama. The Crimson Tide have played an FCS opponent in November every season since 2009, and the final scores have been predictably lopsided. As an opponent, Charleston Southern isn’t particularly shameful. The Buccaneers are 18-5 the last two seasons, a long way from 2011 when they went 0-11 with losses to Florida State at UCF that year. Alabama has been a consistent top-five team for eight seasons and continues to import an FCS team to face the week before Auburn. We’ve come to accept the late-season SEC tune-up game but Alabama has FBS candidates in arm’s reach — Troy, South Alabama and until this season, UAB.
2. Sept. 5: Norfolk State at Rutgers
If Rutgers continues this shameful series any longer, it should have a rivalry trophy. Rutgers has faced Norfolk State in 2007, 2010 and 2013, winning by a combined score of 128-0.
3. Nov. 14: Western Carolina at Texas A&M
Again, most of the SEC is ditching the November FCS opponent. A&M is bringing one from Cullowhee, N.C., to visit. And until last season, Western Carolina was an automatic win — for FCS teams. The Catamounts won 14 games from 2006-13 (and lost twice at Alabama). They went 7-5 last season. Still, Texas A&M is inviting and paying a team to travel nearly 1,000 miles for a likely rout.
4. Sept. 5: Savannah State at Colorado State
No list of shameful games would be complete without Savannah State, a woefully overmatched opponent FBS teams can’t help but schedule to start the season. In an 0-12 season, Savannah State faced three FBS opponents and scored two total touchdowns in garbage time against Middle Tennessee (61-7), Georgia Southern (83-9) and BYU (64-0). Savannah State has played seven FBS teams in three seasons, losing by a combined score of 490-26.
5. Sept. 5: South Dakota at Kansas State
On a streak of four consecutive FCS national titles, North Dakota State has defeated an FBS opponent in each of the last five seasons. One of those victims has learned the lesson and scheduled a lesser Dakota school. Former Wyoming coach Joe Glenn is 7-28 in three seasons with the Coyotes.
6. Sept. 26: Nicholls State at Colorado
Colorado is 10-39 in the last four seasons. Nicholls State is 6-40. One of which is in the Pac-12 and the other is in the Southland and getting a paid trip from Thibodaux, La., to Boulder, Colo. The Buffaloes need all the wins they can get, so this will suffice.
7. Sept. 4: Rhode Island at Syracuse
Syracuse may be fighting for bowl eligibility, so the Orange probably need to sweep this opening stretch against Rhode Island, Wake Forest and Central Michigan. At 7-39 the last four seasons and no winning seasons since 2001, Rhody seems like a sure bet for 1-0 for Syracuse.
8. Sept. 5 Grambling State at Cal
Grambling State rebounded nicely with a 7-5 season under Broderick Fobbs last season, just a year removed from a 2-21 record in two seasons and a player revolt against the administration and the midseason firing of Doug Williams in 2014. Grambling rarely plays power conference teams but has traveled to Oklahoma State and Washington in recent years, both for loss by more than 40 points.
9. Nov. 21: The Citadel at South Carolina
Another SEC-FCS game in late November, but at least this is an in-state game with a little bit of history, most of it bad for The Citadel. South Carolina played The Citadel regularly until 1965. The Gamecocks have a 7-40-3 edge in the series.
10. Sept. 4: Weber State at Oregon State
Not long ago, Weber State could be competitive against some lesser FBS teams. Those days are over as the Ogden, Utah, school is 6-29 in the last three seasons.
11. Sept. 3: New Hampshire at San Jose State
New Hampshire is a solid FCS program, winning 10-plus games six times since 2004 and in each of the last two seasons. Not all of that was with Chip Kelly as offensive coordinator. The question is why New Hampshire has to go all the way to San Jose to get an FBS game. This is less shameful for the Spartans than it is for teams like Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn and Boston College.
12. Sept. 19 Austin Peay at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt needs wins and knows it doesn’t have to look far to get one from the school up the interstate. Austin Peal is 1-23 in two seasons under its current coach. The Governors went 20-46 under his predecessor, 11-33 under the coach before him and 19-46 under the coach prior. Need we go on?
The Buckeyes finish the countdown where they ended last season at No. 1, but they’re also Athlon’s preseason No. 1 for the fourth time since our first rankings in 1976. Only three teams have been Athlon’s preseason No. 1 more than Ohio State — Florida State (eight times), USC (six) and Oklahoma (five).
Selecting a preseason No. 1 is no easy task. After all, no one spends a ton of time thinking about the preseason No. 2 or No. 3. The top spot has a special place. The preseason No. 1 is as much a prediction for the future — a national championship — as it is a starting point.
Does the preseason No. 1 always win the national championship? No. Far from it. Six of our preseason No. 1 teams have won the national title, but many more have come close, falling short by one game or one play. Half of our preseason No. 1 teams have finished in the top five. Only one, Lane Kiffin’s 2012 USC team, fooled everybody by earning preseason No. 1 honors and finishing unranked in the AP poll with a 7-6 record and a loss in the Sun Bowl.
You can’t win them all. Just don’t tell Ohio State.
|Year||Athlon Preseason No. 1||AP Finish, record, bowl result|
|2014||No. 5, 13-1, lost Rose Bowl|
|2013||No. 7, 11-2, lost Sugar Bowl|
|2012||NR, 7-6, lost Sun Bowl|
|2011||No. 1, 12-1, won BCS Championship Game|
|2010||No. 10, 10-3, won Capital One Bowl|
|2009||No. 3, 13-1, won Sugar Bowl|
|2008||No. 1, 13-1, won BCS Championship Game|
|2007||No. 3, 11-2, won Rose Bowl|
|2006||No. 11, 11-3, lost Fiesta Bowl|
|2005||No. 2, 12-1, lost Rose Bowl|
|2004||No. 1, 13-0, won Orange Bowl|
|2003||No. 3, 12-2, lost Sugar Bowl|
|2002||No. 21, 9-5, lost Sugar Bowl|
|2001||No. 3, 10-2, won Orange Bowl|
|2000||No. 5, 11-2, lost Orange Bowl|
|1999||No. 1, 12-0, won Sugar Bowl|
|1998||No. 2, 11-1, won Sugar Bowl|
|1997||No. 18, 8-4, won Aloha Bowl|
|1996||No. 9, 10-2, won Citrus Bowl|
|1995||No. 4, 10-2, won Orange Bowl|
|1994||No. 6, 10-2, lost Orange Bowl|
|1993||No. 1, 12-1, won Orange Bowl|
|1992||No. 4, 10-1-1, won Cotton Bowl|
|1991||No. 6, 10-2, lost Rose Bowl|
|1990||No. 4, 10-2, won Blockbuster Bowl|
|1989||No. 8, 9-2-1, won Rose Bowl|
|1988||No. 3, 11-1, won Sugar Bowl|
|1987||No. 3, 11-1, lost Orange Bowl|
|1986||No. 13, 9-3, lost Cotton Bowl|
|1985||No. 1, 11-1, won Orange Bowl|
|1984||No. 14, 9-4, won Liberty Bowl|
|1983||No. 2, 12-1, lost Orange Bowl|
|1982||No. 10, 9-3, lost Cotton Bowl|
|1981||No. 12, 9-3, won Bluebonnet Bowl|
|1980||No. 15, 9-3, lost Fiesta Bowl|
|1979||No. 2, 11-0-1, won Rose Bowl|
|1978||No. 9, 9-3, won Sugar Bowl|
|1977||No. 7, 10-2, lost Orange Bowl|
|1976||No. 6, 9-2-1, won Orange Bowl|
In a poll conducted by Athlon Sports, former SEC players say Florida and LSU are the toughest road trips.
Nearly all of them said they’ve sustained a concussion at some point in their careers. But almost none of them took money from a bag man or sold an autograph.
Through the course of the 2014 football season, Athlon Sports conducted a straw poll of 11 former SEC players, active from the late 1990s through the 2013 season.
In exchange for candid answers, Athlon granted our subjects anonymity on a wide variety of subjects from coaches they’d want to see work with their kids to advice they would give to their younger selves.
We also asked about some of the most pressing issues of the day regarding concussions and amateurism.
These are the results:
1. What is the toughest road trip in college football?
Arkansas — “because it’s a two-hour drive from the airport.”
2. Which active coach would you want to coach your child?
• Mark Richt, Georgia
• Nick Saban, Alabama
• Butch Jones, Tennessee
• Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
• Gus Malzahn, Auburn
• Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
• Will Muschamp, Florida
• Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
• No answer
3a. If your child could be a student-athlete at any school, which would you want it to be?
• “Oregon or Alabama”
• “Stanford or Harvard”
• Vanderbilt, “the Harvard of the South”
• Notre Dame
3b. Is this the same school you attended?
• 6 Yes
• 5 No
4. What was the biggest factor in recruiting that led you to pick the college you attended?
• “Playing the best of the best.”
• “Recruited to play WR, most schools recruited me to play D.B”
• “It was close to home and the love there was incredible.”
• “Connection to the head coach.”
• “Championship contender.”
• “Starting our own tradition and winning the SEC championship.”
• “Support system, close to family and friends.”
• “Grew up a fan.”
• “Close to home, great school.”
• “Opportunity to play right away.”
• “Home state.”
5. What piece of advice would you give to yourself at age 18 before beginning your college career?
• “Enjoy every last minute. It goes by fast.”
• “Focus from the moment you get on campus.”
• “Don’t pick a school based on football alone but a school that will make you a better person.”
• “Commit earlier to film study.”
• “It goes fast. Don’t worry. It works out well.”
• “Relax. You made it to the NFL.”
• “Don’t be so hard headed.”
• “Never take it for granted. Enjoy every moment.”
• “Time flies, enjoy it.”
• “Stay away from social media.”
• “Stay humble.”
6. What change in college athletics would you want to see in the next 5-10 years?
Pay players (“or allow them to profit from their name and fame.”)
• “Expand the playoff to eight teams, top four teams get a bye.”
• “Better medical support for athletes.”
• “Hold players more accountable to academics.”
• “Eight-team playoff.”
• “Better support system for students past playing years.”
• “No more NCAA.”
7a: Did you ever sustain a concussion or other serious head injury when you played in college?
• 8 Yes (one respondent expanded: “not all concussions were documented because as a competitor you always wanted to play.”
• 3 No
7b. How long after the concussion or head injury did you play or practice again?
• “Didn’t practice all week, but played the next Saturday because we were down by 14.”
• “A day or two.”
• “One week.”
• “One or two days later.”
• “Two days.”
• “Next day.”
• “No time missed.”
• “Right after.”
8. During your college career, did you ever sell your autograph or memorabilia?
• 10 No
• 1 “I wish.”
• 1 “Well... does the barter system count?”
9. During your college career or during recruiting, did you ever receive any impermissible benefits from a booster, agent or “bag man?”
• 9 No
• 2 Yes
• 1 “I wish.”
When Stephen Curry took tiny Davidson College to the brink of the Final Four, any college basketball fan could tell the NBA what it has learned in recent years: Curry is something special.
The point guard this week earned NBA MVP honors, leading the Golden State Warriors to the best record in the league this season.
As the son of another NBA star, Curry path has been rare on a number of fronts. But he’s also the rare NBA superstar to come from outside of the college basketball power structure.
Of the last five NBA MVPs, two came directly from high school (LeBron James and Kobe Bryant), one from Europe (Dirk Nowitzki), one from Texas (Kevin Durant) and one from Memphis (Derrick Rose).
The last NBA MVP from a mid-major or low-major program was Santa Clara’s Steve Nash in 2005 and 2006. Before that, it was Karl Malone in 1999.
In honor of Curry’s rise from Davidson to NBA MVP, we’re looking back at the best small school players in the NBA, going back to Larry Bird.
1. Larry Bird, Indiana State
A Hall of Famer, three-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP and All-Star Game MVP, Bird is on the short list of best NBA players of all time. His career started at Indiana, but the French Lick, Ind., native found the Bloomington experience overwhelming. He landed at Indiana State to set up a legendary NCAA Tournament championship game with Michigan State and Magic Johnson for the first round in one of the greatest NBA rivalries.
2. Karl Malone, Louisiana Tech
A Hall of Famer and two-time NBA MVP, Malone stayed in his home state of Louisiana and led Louisiana Tech to its first NCAA Tournament bid in 1984 and a Sweet 16 in 1985. Since Malone left, the Bulldogs have won one NCAA Tournament game in three trips, none since 1991.
3. John Stockton, Gonzaga
A bit of an asterisk here: Gonzaga is a major program now, but not when Stockton signed with the Bulldogs in 1980. By the time Stockton left, the Zags would still have to wait 11 years for their first NCAA Tournament bid. Meanwhile, Stockton was on his way to becoming a Hall of Famer and the NBA’s all-time assist leader.
4. David Robinson, Navy
The Admiral was a National Player of the Year at Navy, leading the Midshipmen to a 30-win season and an Elite Eight. With the San Antonio Spurs, Robinson became a 10-time All-Star and a Hall of Famer before handing the torch to Tim Duncan.
5. Steve Nash, Santa Clara
Santa Clara reached the NCAA Tournament three times with Nash, a run that included an upset of Maryland in 1996. The Broncos haven’t made the NCAA Tourney since. Nash waited until his sixth season in the league to become a star, but since then, he became the top point guard of his era.
6. Scottie Pippen, Central Arkansas
Central Arkansas is a Division I program now, but Pippen played there, it was in the NAIA, making his rise to the No. 5 pick in the draft and Michael Jordan's running mate all that more impressive.
7. George Gervin, Eastern Michigan
Gervin’s college career did not end on high note. He was suspended and his coach resigned after Gervin punched a Roanoke College player unconscious during a Division II semifinal. Gervin’s career was less eventful as he won four NBA scoring titles, earned 12 ABA/NBA All-Star selections and landed in the Hall of Fame.
8. Dennis Rodman, Southeastern Oklahoma State
Like Pippen, Rodman was a star on the NAIA level before finding his way to the NBA. The public persona may have outweighed his on-court play, but Rodman finished his career with five championship rings, two All-Star selections and a spot in the Hall of Fame.
9. Stephen Curry, Davidson
In 2008, Curry led Davidson to NCAA Tournament upsets of Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before a two-point loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight. His NBA career is young, but he’s an MVP, a two-time All-Star and two-time league leader in 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted.
10. Robert Parish, Centenary
Parish averaged 24.8 points per game and 18 rebounds per game for an AP top-20 team during his final season at Centenary, but his college career was destined to obscurity due to NCAA sanctions at Centenary. The same wouldn’t happen in the NBA as the Hall of Fame center won four NBA titles in his career with the Celtics and Bulls.
About a month has passed since Duke defeated Wisconsin for the 2015 championship, and we’ve already had a busy offseason.
Coaches have been fired and hired and headed to the NBA. Underclassmen have put their names into the draft or elected to return. Most transfers and incoming freshmen have found their landing places.
In that case, now is as good a time as any to revisit our early top 25 for the 2015-15 season. Since we last took a snapshot of the national scene, our top two teams, Virginia and North Carolina, lost key players while Duke, Kentucky and — surprise! — Cal added key recruits.
1. Kentucky (38-1, 18-0 SEC)
Losses: F Karl-Anthony Towns, C Willie Cauley-Stein, G Aaron Harrison, G Andrew Harrison, F Trey Lyles, G Devin Booker, C Dakari Johnson
Returnees: G Tyler Ulis, F Alex Poythress, F Marcus Lee
New arrivals: C Skal Labissiere, G Isaiah Briscoe, G Charles Matthews, G Mychal Mulder
Outlook: In a rare string of recruiting losses, Kentucky lost out on guard Brandon Ingram (Duke), Cheick Diallo (Kansas), Malik Newman (Mississippi State) and Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV) in postseason commitments. Kentucky filled one spot with Mychal Mulder, a standout shooter from the junior college ranks.
2. Duke (35-4, 15-3 ACC)
Losses: G Quinn Cook, C Jahlil Okafor, F Justise Winslow, G Tyus Jones
Returnees: F Amile Jefferson, G Matt Jones, G Grayson Allen
New arrivals: F Chase Jeter, G Luke Kennard, F Sean Obi, G Brandon Ingram, G Derryck Thornton
Outlook: If 2015 proved Duke could win a championship with a roster full of freshmen, the 2016 recruiting class proved Mike Krzyzewski could reload just as quickly. The team won’t be as stocked as the championship team, but the key holes have been filled with a big man (Jeter), a shooter (Kennard), a point guard (Thornton, who reclassified from the 2016 class to 2015) and a big, versatile shooter that has served Duke well in the past (Ingram).
3. North Carolina (26-12, 11-7 ACC)
Losses: F J.P. Tokoto
Returnees: G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, F Kennedy Meeks, F Justin Jackson, F Isaiah Hicks, G Nate Britt, G Joel Berry
Outlook: North Carolina was a candidate for preseason No. 1 the first time around with every key player returning. Since then, J.P. Tokoto elected to leave for the pros. Carolina should still be very good, but Tokoto was a standout defender. His departure tempers expectations a bit.
4. Kansas (27-9, 13-5 Big 12)
Losses: G Kelly Oubre, F Cliff Alexander
Returnees: F Perry Ellis, G Frank Mason, G Wayne Selden, G Brannen Greene, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
New arrivals: F Carlton Bragg, F Chieck Diallo
Outlook: Losing Oubre and Alexander is notable, but not unexpected in the big picture (even if both had uneven freshman seasons). The biggest victories came in recent weeks. Ellis decided to return to school, and Kansas was able to add top-10 forward Cheick Diallo, a freshman who should be an ideal fit in Kansas’ system.
5. Maryland (28-7, 14-4 Big Ten)
Losses: G Dez Wells, G Richaud Pack, F Evan Smotrycz
Returnees: G Melo Trimble, F Jake Layman, G Jared Nickens, G Dion Wiley
New arrivals: C Diamond Stone, F Robert Carter Jr.
Outlook: Maryland was one of the biggest surprises in 2014-15, finishing second in the Big Ten. Next season will bring legitimate expectations. Melo Trimble and Jake Layman are back. Moreover, landing the top-10 prospect Stone was a major coup for Mark Turgeon. Forward Robert Carter Jr. also will be eligible after averaging 11.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds at Georgia Tech in 2013-14.
6. Virginia (30-4, 16-2 ACC)
Losses: G Justin Anderson, F Darion Atkins
Returnees: G Malcolm Brogdon, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey, G London Perrantes
Outlook: Virginia’s hopes of being a preseason No. 1 are probably dimmed with the surprising departure of Justin Anderson to the NBA Draft. That said, the Cavs’ preseason hopes last season were dampened when Joe Harris was believed to be an irreplaceable void. Virginia won the ACC regular season title anyway.
7. Michigan State (27-12, 12-6 Big Ten)
Losses: G Travis Trice, F Branden Dawson
Returnees: G Denzel Valentine, G Bryn Forbes, F Matt Costello, F Gavin Schilling, F Marvin Clark Jr., G Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.
New arrivals: G Eron Harris
Outlook: Michigan State will miss Trice’s scoring punch and Dawson’s rebounding. Harris, who averaged 17.2 points per game for West Virginia in 2013-14, will help the former. Tum Tum Nairn will hold down the point guard spot and take over leadership of the team as just a sophomore.
8. Iowa State (25-9, 12-6 Big 12)
Losses: G Bryce Dejean-Jones, F Dustin Hogue
Returnees: F Georges Niang, G Monte Morris, F Jameel McKay, F Abdel Nader
New arrivals: G Hallice Cooke, G Deonte Burton
Outlook: The biggest story of the Iowa State offseason will be coach Fred Hoiberg’s recovery from open-heart surgery. The Cyclones are in good hands with Niang and Morris still on board. As usual, transfers — Cooke from Oregon State, and Burton, a point guard from Marquette — will round things out. The Cyclones are still in contention for two graduate transfers (Michigan’s Max Bielfeldt and Providence’s Tyler Lewis).
9. Gonzaga (35-3, 17-1 West Coast)
Losses: G Kevin Pangos, G Byron Wesley, G Gary Bell Jr.
Returnees: F Kyle Wiltjer, C Przemek Karnowski, F Domantas Sabonis, G Kyle Dranginis, G Eric McClellan
Outlook: Wiltjer could have left to begin a pro career somewhere, but his return means he’ll be a potential national player of the year candidate. Replacing Pangos at point guard will be no small issue. Otherwise, this is a team built for another run. The replacements include a handful of players who saw few if any minutes last season — McClellan (who was dismissed from Vanderbilt before landing at Gonzaga), Josh Perkins (who missed all but five games with a broken jaw) or redshirt Bryan Alberts.
10. Oklahoma (24-11, 12-6 Big 12)
Losses: F TaShawn Thomas
Returnees: G Buddy Hield, G Isaiah Cousins, F Ryan Spangler, G Jordan Woodward
New arrivals: G Rashard Odomes
Outlook: The return of Hield, the Big 12 Player of the Year, is key as the Sooners look to stay in the mix in the Big 12. Most of the key pieces are back, but losing Thomas means the Sooners will rely even more heavily on the backcourt.
11. Notre Dame (32-6, 14-4 ACC)
Losses: G Jerian Grant, G Pat Connaughton
Returnees: F Zach Auguste, G Demetrius Jackson, G Steve Vasturia, F Bonzie Colson
Outlook: The departures of Grant and Connaughton probably mean Notre Dame won’t come within a hair of the Final Four again, but there are plenty of pieces for Notre Dame to make noise in the ACC. Colson is a future star.
12. Wisconsin (36-4, 16-2 Big Ten)
Losses: F Frank Kaminsky, F Sam Dekker, G Traevon Jackson, G Josh Gasser, F Duje Dukan
Returnees: F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter
New arrivals: G Brevin Pritzl
Outlook: Hayes’ decision to return to school is critical. The Badgers won’t be Final Four contenders again, but don’t forget that the Badgers were a consistent top-four Big Ten team regardless of personnel before this run in the last two seasons.
13. Indiana (20-14, 9-9 Big Ten)
Returnees: G Yogi Ferrell, G James Blackmon Jr., F Troy Williams, G Robert Johnson, G Nick Zeisloft, F Hanner Mosquera-Perea
New arrivals: F Thomas Bryant, F Juwan Morgan
Outlook: Tom Crean could be well-positioned to return to the good graces of Indiana fans next season. Nearly everyone is back, and the frontcourt will get some desperately needed help from the 6-10 Bryant, a McDonald’s All-American.
14. Villanova (33-3, 16-2 Big East)
Losses: G Darrun Hilliard, F JayVaughn Pinkston, G Dylan Ennis
Returnees: G Josh Hart, G Ryan Arcidiacono, F Daniel Ochefu
New arrivals: G Jalen Brunson
Outlook: Hilliard was the closest thing Villanova had to a star player last season, but this was a balanced team with six guys averaging nine or more points per game. Losing Ennis, a graduate transfer, hurts. Nova adds the five-star point guard Brunson to a team that will already have a senior point guard in Arcidiacono.
15. Wichita State (30-5, 17-1 Missouri Valley)
Losses: F Darius Carter, G Tekele Cotton
Returnees: G Fred VanVleet, G Ron Baker, F Shaquille Morris, G Evan Wessel
Outlook: Wichita State already survived a tense moment when Alabama courted Gregg Marshall. Baker mulled the draft but elected to return to school. The Shockers can’t be dismissed as long as VanVleet and Baker are in the backcourt.
16. Arizona (34-4, 16-2 Pac-12)
Losses: F Stanley Johnson, G T.J. McConnell, F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F Brandon Ashley
Returnees: C Kaleb Tarczewski, G Gabe York
New arrivals: F Ryan Anderson, G Allonzo Trier, F Ray Smith, G Justin Simon, C Chance Comanche
Outlook: McConnell, Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson are big losses. Yet Sean Miller continues to reload with 247Sports’ No. 2 recruiting class featuring four top-50 prospects and Anderson from Boston College (14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg in 2013-14).
17. Cal (18-15, 7-11 Pac-12)
Losses: F David Kravish
Returnees: G Tyrone Wallace, G Jordan Matthews, G Jabari Bird, F Christian Behrens
New arrivals: F Ivan Rabb, F Jaylen Brown
Outlook: Cal was already poised to take a step forward with the backcourt of Wallace, Matthews and Bird returning. Then, Cuonzo Martin beat out Kentucky, North Carolina and Michigan for the No. 2 small forward prospect (Jaylen Brown), adding to a recruiting class that already included No. 2 power forward (Ivan Rabb). Cal should contend for the Pac-12 title.
18. Utah (26-9, 13-5 Pac-12)
Losses: G Delon Wright
Returnees: G Brandon Taylor, G Jordan Loverage, F Jakob Poeltl, G Dakari Tucker, F Brekkott Chapman
Outlook: Wright could have the biggest impact of any single departure in the country. He’s a lockdown defender and an efficient point guard, two things not easily replaced. Poeltl could have gone to the draft as an intriguing prospect, but he elected for more seasoning in college after a dominant finish to last season.
19. Louisville (27-9, 13-6 ACC)
Losses: G Terry Rozier, F Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear
Returnees: G Quentin Snider, F Chinanu Onuaku, F Mangok Mathiang, G Anton Gill
New arrivals: G Trey Lewis, F Damion Lee, F Raymond Spalding, G Donovan Mitchell, F Deng Adel
Outlook: Rick Pitino bolstered his young roster with a pair of transfers, adding Trey Lewis from Cleveland State and Damion Lee from Drexel. Lee was arguably the top graduate transfer available after averaging 21.4 points per game last season. Lewis hit 96 3-pointers for Cleveland State. That will be a welcome sight after long-range shooting was a problem all year for the Cards.
20. SMU (27-7, 15-3 American)
Losses: C Yanick Moreira
Returnees: G Nic Moore, F Markus Kennedy, F Ben Moore
New arrivals: G Shake Milton
Outlook: SMU has been knocking on the door of postseason relevance for two seasons. First came a snub to the 2014 NCAA Tournament and then the questionable goaltending call in a loss to UCLA in the round of 64. Moreira is a substantial loss, but SMU returns enough to contend for another AAC title.
21. LSU (27-11, 11-7 SEC)
Losses: F Jarell Martin, F Jordan Mickey
Returnees: G Keith Hornsby, G Tim Quarterman, G Josh Gray, G Jalyn Patterson
New arrivals: F Ben Simmons, G Antonio Blakeney
Outlook: LSU underachieved in the Martin/Mickey era, reaching one NCAA Tournament and losing in a second-half collapse to NC State. The Tigers will be expected to contend in the SEC next season after adding Simmons, the top prospect in the 247Sports rankings. Blakeney is also a five-star prospect. LSU’s supporting cast of Hornsby, Quarterman and Patterson is solid.
22. Vanderbilt (21-14, 9-9 SEC)
Losses: F James Siakam, F Shelton Mitchell
Returnees: C Damian Jones, G Riley LaChance, G Wade Baldwin IV, F Luke Kornet, G Matthew Fisher-Davis, F Jeff Roberson
New arrivals: G Nolan Cressler
Outlook: The Commodores were an awfully young team last season and improved as the year went along. Jones’ decision to stay in school was huge. The one major departure is made up for by the arrival of Cressler, who averaged 16.8 points per game as a sophomore at Cornell.
23. NC State (22-14, 10-8 ACC)
Losses: G Trevor Lacey, G Ralston Turner
Returnees: G Cat Barber, F Kyle Washington, F Abdul-Malik Abu, F Caleb Martin, F Beejay Anya
Outlook: The unexpected departure of Lacey to the NBA Draft will dampen expectations. He was the Wolfpack’s most consistent player on a team that sorely needed consistency.
24. Butler (23-11, 12-6 Big East)
Losses: G Alex Barlow, F Kameron Woods
Returnees: G Kellen Dunham, F Roosevelt Jones, F Andrew Charbascz
New arrivals: G Tyler Lewis
Outlook: Dunham and Jones will be seniors, and 5-11 NC State transfer Lewis should take over the point guard spot. More important, Butler locked up coach Chris Holtmann with a contract extension. The gap between Butler and Villanova in the Big East is narrowing.
25. Michigan (16-16, 8-10 Big Ten)
Losses: G Max Bielfeldt
Returnees: G Caris LeVert, G Zak Irwin, G Derrick Walton, G Spike Albrecht, G Aubrey Dawkins
Outlook: Michigan was a preseason top 25 team before everything went wrong, starting with an injury to star Caris LeVert. Before falling to .500, Michigan reached an Elite Eight and a national championship game. Let’s give John Beilein another chance at this, especially after LeVert elected to return to school.
Others of Note
Baylor (24-10, 11-7 Big 12)
Losses: G Kenny Chery, F Royce O’Neale
Returnees: F Taurean Prince, F Rico Gathers, F Johnathan Motley
Outlook: Not much was expected out of Baylor last season, but they made a nice run before losing to Georgia State in the NCAA Tournament. The Bears need to find a replacement for Chery at point guard to go with that solid front line.
Cincinnati (23-11, 13-5 American)
Returnees: F Octavius Ellis, G Troy Caupain, G Farad Cobb, F Gary Clark, G Kevin Johnson, F Shaquille Thomas
Outlook: Cincinnati’s roster returns essentially intact, but the Bearcats hope to have coach Mick Cronin for the season after he missed most of 2015 with a medical issue.
Florida State (17-16, 8-10 ACC)
Returnees: G Xavier Rathan-Mayes, G Brandon Montay, G Devon Bookert, G Phil Cofer
New arrivals: G Dwayne Bacon, G Malik Beasley
Outlook: A pick for a sleeper? Florida State returns nearly everybody to a mediocre team and adds two top-25 prospects at guard.
Georgetown (22-11, 12-6 Big East)
Losses: C Josh Smith, G Jabril Trawick
Returnees: G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, F Isaac Copeland, G Tre Campbell, F L.J. Peak, F Paul White
New arrivals: C Jessie Govan, F Marcus Derrickson, F Kaleb Johnson
Outlook: Placing expectations on Georgetown is always a tricky proposition. Smith-Rivera is already a star, and his return was critical to the Hoyas’ hopes. Copeland was a highly touted freshman and should start to reach his potential as a sophomore.
Oregon (26-10, 13-5 Pac-12)
Losses: G Joseph Young, G Jalil Abdul-Bassit
Returnees: F Elgin Cook, F Dillon Brooks, F Dwayne Benjamin, F Jordan Bell
New arrivals: G Tyler Dorsey
Outlook: The Ducks will need to find someone to replace the scoring that Young provided the last two seasons, but the Ducks got major contributions from last year’s freshman class. Oregon adds a top-30 point guard in a class with three top-100 freshmen
Purdue (21-13, 12-6 Big Ten)
Losses: G Jon Octeus
Returnees: C A.J. Hammons, G Rapheal Davis, F Vince Edwards, G Kendall Stephens, C Isaac Haas, G Dakota Mathias
Outlook: The seven-footer Hammons elected to return to Purdue rather than the NBA Draft, meaning the Boilermakers are gearing up to contend for the Big Ten title.
Texas (20-14, 8-10 Big 12)
Losses: F Jonathan Holmes, F Myles Turner
Returnees: G Isaiah Turner, G Javan Felix, C Cameron Ridley, G Demarcus Holland
New arrivals: G Eric Davis, G Kerwin Roach, C Shaquille Cleare
Outlook: How much of a difference can first-year coach Shaka Smart make? Many of the same pieces of a team that was picked to challenge for the Big 12 title last season will return. Adding two four-star freshmen in Davis and Roach and Maryland transfer Cleare means the pieces are in place for Texas to contend for an NCAA spot or more.
Texas A&M (21-12, 11-7 SEC)
Losses: F Kourtney Roberson, G Jordan Green
Returnees: G Danuel House, G Jalen Jones, G Alex Caruso,
New arrivals: C Tyler Davis, F D.J. Hogg, G Anthony Collins
Outlook: The Aggies were NIT bound after a disastrous SEC Tournament, but they were on the fringe for most of the season. They hope a standout recruiting class puts them over the top. USF point guard Anthony Collins is also eligible immediately.
West Virginia (25-10, 11-7 Big 12)
Losses: G Juwan Staten
Returnees: F Devin Williams, F Jonathan Holton, G Jevon Carter, G Daxter Miles Jr.
Outlook: The Mountaineers, who are still smarting from a 39-point loss in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky, will have to replace the point guard Staten, but they return nearly every other key player from a surprise team in 2014-15.
Florida State has gone 39-3 during the last three seasons with three ACC titles, a national championship and a playoff appearance.
None of this is by accident or by fluke.
The Seminoles have had 29 players drafted during that span, a record for the modern era. In the 2015 draft, Florida State led all teams with 11 selections from Thursday through Saturday, starting with Jameis Winston as the No. 1 pick through guard Bobby Hart in the seventh round.
While Florida State was the top school, the SEC as usual led all leagues in the draft in a decade of dominance of sending players to the pro ranks.
Here’s a look at the top schools and a few notes on how schools performed in this year’s draft.
|School||Draft Picks||Conference||Draft Picks|
*includes Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham
• For the first time in five drafts, the SEC did not have the most first-round draft picks as the Pac-12 and ACC had nine apiece. The SEC had seven first-rounders. For the ninth consecutive draft, however, the SEC produced the most overall picks (54).
• Florida State produced the most picks with 11, giving the Seminoles 18 picks in the last two seasons. There’s a good reason the 2013 ‘Noles overwhelmed just about everyone they played.
• With 11 picks for Florida State and 10 for Louisville, the Seminoles’ 42-31 win over the Cardinals on Oct. 30 had the most draft picks of any game last season.
• On the other hand, TCU’s 42-3 win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl featured a grand total of three draft picks so far.
• Another oddity: Oklahoma State defeated Washington 30-22 in the Cactus Bowl. The Cowboys had one draft pick (defensive back Josh Furman, the 35h pick of the seventh round). Washington had three draft picks in that game, including two first-round picks. That doesn’t include first-round cornerback Marcus Peters, who was dismissed from Washington in early November.
• Ohio State is the first reigning national champion to be shut out of the first round of the NFL Draft since the 2002 Buckeyes. Ohio State’s five overall picks are the fewest for a reigning champion since 2010 Auburn (four).
• Not a bad problem to have: Alabama’s seven draft picks was the fewest for the Crimson Tide since 2011. Alabama has produced 44 picks since the 2010 draft.
• LSU’s four picks was the fewest for the Tigers since 2005.
• As has been trumpeted several times: Miami and Florida produced more draft picks than wins. Ereck Flowers an Phillip Dorsett became the first Miami players to go in the first round since 2008. The Hurricanes had seven players drafted but finished 6-7.
• Florida’s draft output was even more astonishing. The 7-5 Gators had eight players drafted, including six from an offense that 96th in yards per game. By one measure, the Will Muschamp era was more productive than the Urban Meyer era at Florida. Muschamp’s teams produced 5.5 draft picks per year (22 from the 2012-15 drafts) while Meyer’s produced five picks per year (30 from 2006-11).
• Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon was the Badgers’ first skill position player to be drafted in the first round since wide receiver Lee Evans in 2004 and first running back since Michael Bennett in 2001. Wisconsin’s first-round picks since 2004 have included four offensive linemen and two offensive linemen.
• The 2010 Texas A&M offensive line class may be one of the best classes for any position ever. Former coach Mike Sherman signed three first-round linemen (Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi) and fifth-rounder Jarvis Harrison.
• On a bit of a technicality, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was Oklahoma’s highest draft pick at No. 40. Green-Beckham was dismissed from Missouri, transferred to OU but never played. The next highest Sooner in the draft was No. 52 overall pick Jordan Phillips. Excluding Green-Beckham, Oklahoma has had only one top-50 pick since 2010, the draft when quarterback Sam Bradford, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and offensive tackle Trent Williams were all drafted in the top four.
• Two notable first-round droughts ended: Duke guard Laken Tomlinson became the Blue Devils’ first first-round pick since 1987, and Arizona State safety Damarious Randall became the Sun Devils’ first first-round pick since Terrell Suggs in 2003.
• Nine Power 5 teams were shut out of the draft: Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Illinois, NC State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Syracuse and Vanderbilt. The Volunteers didn’t have a player drafted for the first time since 1963.
Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly delivered one of the most inspirational moments of the NFL Draft when he was the surprise guest picker on behalf of the Buffalo Bills in the second round.
A little more than a year ago, Kelly was fighting an aggressive return of oral cancer, originally diagnosed in June 2013. Through treatment, Kelly had part of his jaw and teeth removed, and tests in January cleared of cancer.
Kelly made his pick to a standing ovation in Chicago for one of the draft’s most touching moments. Watch:
Perhaps no one was more happy not to hear his team called on Thursday than Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
Presumably, Meyer would have been pleased to hear an NFL team take his wide receiver Devin Smith in the first round, but whether Ohio State produced one first-round pick or none Meyer, that's a good thing.
For the first time since 2003 — the last time Ohio State won a national championship — the reigning national champion did not produce a first-round draft pick the following April. Since the start of the BCS era in 1998, Oklahoma in 2000 is the only other team that did not produce a first-round pick immediately after winning a national title.
Meyer won’t have the draft day brag sheet to take on the recruiting trail, or at least not one as impressive as past national champions. Not that it really matters.
Most of the draft picks from the 2014 national championship team will be playing for Ohio State in 2015.
This isn’t major news for anyone who has been paying close attention to Ohio State. The Buckeyes have all three quarterbacks in tow, including their top pro prospect at the position Cardale Jones. Defensive end Joey Bosa appears to be on pace for a first-round pick. Ezekiel Elliott may or may not continue Thursday’s run on first-round running backs, but he’ll be in the draft eventually.
Linebackers Joshua Perry and Darron Lee are back. So is end-turned-tackle Adolphus Washington.
Even if Smith, defensive tackle Michael Bennett and cornerback Doran Grant are selected this weekend, the Buckeyes will have to wait until 2016 for their big draft celebration.
That’s not totally uncommon for national championship teams. Since 1998, four reigning national champions produced four or fewer draft picks the following year — 2010 Auburn, 2008 Florida, 2003 USC and 2000 Oklahoma. The USC team went on to repeat in 2004. Florida started 13-0 in 2009 before losing to eventual national champion Alabama in the SEC title game. Only 2011 Auburn finished unranked.
Here’s a look at the national champions since 1998 and how they fared in the NFL Draft after their title season.
|Year||School||First Round||Total Picks||Following season|
|2013||1||7||13-1, No. 5, lost in CFP semifinal|
|2012||3||9||11-2, No. 7, lost Sugar Bowl|
|2011||3||8||13-1, No. 1, won BCS championship|
|2010||2||4||8-5, NR, won Chick-fil-A Bowl|
|2009||2||7||10-3, No. 10, won Capital One Bowl|
|2008||1||3||13-1, No. 3, won Sugar Bowl|
|2007||1||7||8-5, NR, won Chick-fil-A Bowl|
|2006||2||9||9-4, No. 13, lost Capital One Bowl|
|2005||2||6||10-3, No. 13, won Alamo Bowl|
|2004||2||5||12-1, No. 1, lost Rose Bowl*|
|2003 (BCS)||1||7||9-3, No. 16, lost Capital One Bowl|
|2003 (AP)||1||4||13-0, No. 1, won BCS championship|
|2002||0||5||11-2, No. 4, won Fiesta Bowl|
|2001||5||11||12-1, No. 2, lost Fiesta Bowl*|
|2000||0||2||11-2, No. 6, won Cotton Bowl|
|1999||3||7||11-2, No. 5, lost Orange Bowl*|
|1998||1||5||9-3, No. 9, lost Fiesta Bowl|
*Lost in national championship game
With both the top two picks, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, watching the NFL Draft from home, viewers had to wait for a memorable interaction between a draftee and commissioner Roger Goodell.
Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton made it worth the wait. The No. 12 pick overall pick of the Cleveland Browns gave Goodell a bear hug and then lifted the commissioner off his feet.
College basketball coaching changes are in a weird place in 2016.
Gregg Marshall passed on Alabama to stay at Wichita State. He’ll make more than $3 million to coach the Shockers, he’ll have the institutional support of any major conference team, and he’ll enjoy near-ironclad job security.
Shaka Smart didn’t go to UCLA two years ago; he went to Texas this season. And who knows what kind of college job would have pulled Brad Stevens from Butler if the Boston Celtics never took a chance on the Bulldogs coach.
Florida isn’t Alabama. Nor is it UCLA. Perhaps not until the Gators hire a successor or two for Billy Donovan will we know exactly what Florida is in college basketball for the long haul.
The Gators lost a top-five college coach to the NBA on Thursday. If they didn’t know it before, the Gators will soon learn they aren’t hiring to a top-five job, perhaps not a top-10 job in college basketball.
That’s not exactly a bad place to be, considering that Donovan left Marshall for a job that wasn’t even close to top 10 or top 20 in 1996. There's no better way to say it: Donovan took Florida basketball to unimaginable heights. He took the Gators to their second Final Four in school history and added three more. He won 500 career games before he turned 50 and could be a Hall of Famer.
When Donovan was hired at Florida, the Gators had been to five all-time NCAA Tournaments and one Final Four. He went to 14 tournaments and four Final Fours, winning two titles.
The previous all-time wins leader had 235 victories and was fired amid NCAA sanctions. Donovan finished with 232 wins more than Norm Sloan at Florida and 363 wins more than Lon Kruger, the only other Florida coach to reach the Final Four.
Donovan probably have the court at the O’Connell Center named after him some day, and he built the program to a point where the Gators can chase after the most attractive names on the coaching market if they choose.
The question, though, is how Archie Miller and those of his ilk look at Florida.
They may see Florida as the two-time national champion and a team that has reached the Elite Eight six times in the last 10 seasons. Or as the only SEC program that can consistently challenge Kentucky in the league.
At the same time Florida has been putting up blue blood results, Florida can't claim to be a basketball blue blood like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, UCLA or Kansas.
First, this isn’t a salary issue. Donovan’s salary kept up with those programs, ranking fifth behind Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Rick Pitino and Bill Self.
This isn’t a football school issue, either. The Gators may still be one of only a handful of schools — Ohio State, Texas, Michigan, Michigan State and Louisville — who can claim to be both right now. Beyond basketball, Florida’s non-revenue teams have thrived in the last 20 years.
Even if the institutional support is there, Florida’s ability to stay at the top is in question.
Florida has committed to a $1.2 million upgrade for the basketball weight room (also used by women’s basketball, golf and tennis). Meanwhile, the renovation to the O’Connell Center has been delayed a year.
Although Florida has upgraded its football facility and stadium in the last 15 years, the Gators tend to step into the facilities arms race cautiously. The Gators are the last program in the SEC to begin work on an indoor football facility.
In other words, Florida’s not going to renovate a facility just because its SEC brethren are.
Recruiting may be of greater concern if Florida is going to compete for titles on a yearly basis, especially in a league that has added Bruce Pearl, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland to keep pace with Calipari at Kentucky.
Florida is a good state for talent, but not one where the Gators can set up a base. Of the 20 top-50 prospects in the state of Florida since 2010, Florida has signed four of them.
That said, in-state recruiting in basketball isn’t the same as in football. Too many prospects move around from high school to high school or AAU team to AAU team.
Florida’s never struggled to bring McDonald’s All-Americans to Gainesville under Donovan. The Gators signed 14 in 19 season under Donovan and at a fairly consistent pace from Teddy Dupay, Mike Miller and Brett Nelson through Patric Young, Kenny Boynton and Kasey Hill.
There’s also a reason Donovan so embraced the emerging transfer market at a pace second only to Iowa State.
Since the class of 2007 — after Florida’s first national championship, mind you — the Gators signed six McDonald’s All-Americans. Kentucky signed 24, Duke and North Carolina signed 18 each. Kansas signed 10. UCLA — a team Florida knocked out of the NCAA Tournament four times under two coaches during this span — signed nine.
Again, Florida shouldn’t be surprised it is hauling in fewer McDonald’s All-Americans than Duke, Kentucky, Kansas or North Carolina. But that much fewer with an established coach with two national titles on his resume?
Even if Florida won big with players who didn’t get the McDonald’s stamp of approval — Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Scottie Wilbekin for starters — those are pretty telling numbers.
Horford and Noah, highly touted recruits, became two-time champions under Donovan. Wilbekin was a three-star who ended up playing in three Elite Eights and a Final Four.
The next coach at Florida will know has quite a legacy to maintain. The question is if he’ll have the tools to do so.
Two of the most popular programming in America this week may be the NFL Draft and the premiere of The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In other words, this is a good time to mash the two worlds together. What if the Avengers were the mascots for the Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans.
Now, designer Justin Kozisek brings us have NFL teams re-imagined with mascots from Marvel Comics. Some of the A-list heroes are there — Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine and The Hulk, but Kozisek also digs deep for Fin Fang Foom, Sentry and Iron Fist.
It’s pretty much a bonanza for the 12-year-old version of ourselves.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is no stranger to conducting a job search in order to replace a championship coach.
He’s done it with Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer on the football side. And thanks to Billy Donovan’s brief dalliance with the Orlando Magic in 2007, he started the process to replace Donovan once before. Ironically, the likely replacement in ’07 was then-VCU coach Anthony Grant, who returned to the staff as an assistant this season.
Presumably, Donovan’s time with the Oklahoma City Thunder will be longer than his four-day tenure in Orlando, and the Gators will need to hire a new coach.
Here are a few potential candidates who might end up in the mix to replace the best basketball coach in program history.
Archie Miller, Dayton
He’s one of the hottest coaching candidates out there after taking Dayton to the Elite Eight and NCAA round of 32 in the last two seasons. The 2014-15 season was especially impressive as the shorthanded and undersized Flyers finished 13-5 in the Atlantic 10 and defeated Boise State and Providence in the NCAA Tournament. Miller, however, just agreed a contract extension through 2022 at Dayton. Is Miller waiting for a job like Florida or perhaps a bigger target?
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Alabama did all it could to woo Marshall from Wichita State, but he resisted. And to Wichita’s credit, the Shockers responded with a contract extension and a raise to a reported $3.3 million a year. Florida is a better situation than Alabama, will that be enough for the coach to both make the move and walk away from a school that did all it could to keep him. Marshall has turned Wichita State into one of the nation's premier programs, leading the Shockers to 30 wins in each of the last three seasons, including a Final Four in 2013 and a 35-1 season in 2013-14. Marshall also led Winthrop to seven NCAA Tournaments in nine seasons.
Chris Mack, Xavier
The last three Xavier coaches went to Wake Forest, Ohio State and Arizona with all enjoying success at the major conference level. Mack is just as capable to flourish at a higher level after three Sweet 16 appearances in six seasons.
Anthony Grant/John Pelphrey, Florida
The Gators are in a bind by making a coaching change in late April and early May. The carousel has slowed (in particular with Shaka Smart now at Texas and Marshall and Miller agreeing to contract extensions). Grant and Pelphrey have both won on the mid-major level at VCU and South Alabama, respectively. But they’re also back at Florida after being fired from SEC head coaching jobs.
Richard Pitino, Minnesota
Donovan did a good job of sending assistants to bigger and better jobs, but few of them would be realistic candidates. Shaka Smart just left VCU for Texas. Anthony Grant and John Pelphrey returned to Donovan’s staff because they were fired at Alabama and Arkansas, respectively. Matt McCall is 33 and was just hired at Chattanooga. That leaves Pitino, who was a Florida assistant for two seasons in between stints working for his father at Louisville. The 32-year-old Pitino is 14-22 in the Big Ten at Minnesota but led an impressive one-year turnaround in his first head coaching gig at FIU.
Mike White, Louisiana Tech
White turned down Tennessee hired Donnie Tyndall last season. The 38-year-old is primed for a move, but no NCAA Tournament appearances despite three Conference USA regular season titles is a bit concerning. The Bulldogs are 44-8 in C-USA the last three seasons, stalling in the league tournament each year.
Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
The star has dimmed at bit for Dixon during the last four seasons. His program was once one of the biggest overachievers in the Big East, reaching the NCAA Tournament in each of his first seven years. Pitt has missed the Tournament in two of the last four seasons and has won only three Tournament games since the heartbreaking loss to Villanova in the 2009 Elite Eight.
Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
Jacobson has been at Northern Iowa since 2001 and as head coach since 2006. The entire run includes six NCAA appearances. Jacobson led the Panthers to the Sweet 16 with an upset of No. 1 seed Kansas in 2010, but this year’s squad (31-4) may have been his best team in Cedar Falls.
Steve Prohm, Murray State
In four seasons at Murray State, Prohm has coached a team that went 31-2 in 2011-12 and another that won 25 in a row en route to a 27-5 record in 2014-15. He unearthed point guard Cam Payne out of Memphis two years ago and watched him develop into a pro prospect. He’s an Alabama graduate who was not a factor in the Crimson Tide’s coach search.
Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin
The former Frank Martin assistant has been a head coach for only two seasons, but it’s been quite the run. The Lumberjacks are 61-8 in two seasons with two Tournament appearances and two conference titles. His pressure defense has finished in the top 10 in defensive turnover rate in teach of the last two seasons.
Dan Hurley, Rhode Island
Arizona State just hired Hurley’s brother Bobby, but Dan has orchestrated arguably the better programs. He’s never been to the NCAA Tournament but has led dramatic improvement at two spots already. Wagner went 13-17 in his first season and 25-5 in his second. Rhode Island improved from 8-21 in his first year to 23-10 and an NIT appearance in his third.
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Krystkowiak led a major rebuilding project at Utah, taking over a shell of a roster and going 6-25 in his first season. The Utes improved their Pac-12 record each season and reached the Sweet 16 in 2015. Krystkowiak also took Montana to the NCAA Tournament twice, leading an upset over fifth-seeded Nevada in 2006. He also has significant experience in the NBA, including more than a year as a head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Larry Shyatt, Wyoming
Florida might be in dire straits if the Gators get to Shyatt. It’s not that he’s a bad candidate. He was an assistant on Florida’s two national championship teams and took Wyoming to the NCAA Tournament last season. But he’s also 64 years old with a 70-84 tenure at Clemson on the resume.
One of the most bizarre games in Baltimore Orioles history was played in front of nobody.
The announced attendance for Wednesday’s game between the Orioles and Chicago White Sox was zero as Camden Yards was closed to the general public due to the ongoing civil unrest in Baltimore.
Though the game was closed to fans, it was open to the broadcast teams and other media members.
The sights and sounds of the game were ranged from humorous to downright eerie. Here’s a quick look:
Orioles game, closed to public, is under way. pic.twitter.com/dThcReZvcl— The Baltimore Sun (@baltimoresun) April 29, 2015
Some fans watching from hotel and through fences. Recorded national anthem was played. PA announcer is working. pic.twitter.com/8IlOqz8AVC— The Baltimore Sun (@baltimoresun) April 29, 2015
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis hit a fourth-inning home run that reverberated through the empty stadium. Inside the stadium, the call from Gary Thorne of MASN could be heard from the booth where WGN's Hawk Harrelson was on the call for the White Sox.
At one point, Thorne was having enough fun to invoke Jim Nantz calling the Masters on this Adam Davis double.
Chris Davis chucks ball into empty stands pic.twitter.com/b8FwyjYSOz— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) April 29, 2015
For the record, there are three scouts in the stands. But official attendance: zero. pic.twitter.com/Uj2kJZ6IrN— Brian Costa (@BrianCostaWSJ) April 29, 2015
There is a lone stadium employee (upper right) walking around picking up foul balls that landed in the stands. pic.twitter.com/ekNallN2CY— Brian Costa (@BrianCostaWSJ) April 29, 2015
There is a lone stadium employee (upper right) walking around picking up foul balls that landed in the stands. pic.twitter.com/ekNallN2CY— Brian Costa (@BrianCostaWSJ) April 29, 2015
Foul ball retriever dude has both hands full and pockets stuffed with baseballs. pic.twitter.com/X0YxU4Zd4E— Brian Costa (@BrianCostaWSJ) April 29, 2015