Articles By David Fox

All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL
Path: /nfl/2016-nfl-draft-carson-wentz-not-only-small-school-player-keep-eye
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If you can play, the will find you, or so the adage goes. Rarely are players from Alabama and Grand Valley State on equal footing, but when the draft process comes along, front offices will dissect each player for signs that he can help win football games on the professional level.

 

Every season brings dozens of players who are unknown to even the most ardent football fans.

 

Here’s a look at four of the most interesting prospects from the FBS small conferences and FCS ranks. Each is listed among Athlon Sports' .

 

 

Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

Brock Jensen won three FCS national championships as the starter at North Dakota State from 2011-13 — but he might not have been the best quarterback on the roster according to one member of the Bison’s staff.

 

Chris Klieman, NDSU’s secondary coach in 2011, couldn’t help but be impressed with a young true freshman named Carson Wentz.

 

“He carved us up with a bunch of young scout team receivers,” says Klieman, who was promoted to the program’s head coach two years ago. “He was the best quarterback we faced all year.”

 

Jensen remained NDSU’s starting quarterback for two more national championships while Wentz remained the backup.

 

“We saw great promise in Carson,” says Craig Bohl, who won three national titles at NDSU before leaving for Wyoming in 2014. “When you’re in a winning phase, it’s not like you’re going to change horses in the middle of the race. Carson was always watching and observing and playing the game vicariously.”

 

And when it was time to play the game for real, Wentz guided the Bison to a 20–3 record and two FCS national championships in his two seasons as the starter. Wentz, however, was still a relative unknown in the college football world until he showed up at the Senior Bowl in early January.

 

He had the size (6-5, 232), and his record as a winner was impeccable. There were questions, though: How would he fare against FBS defenders (and with FBS receivers)? And how would he handle this first big moment in the draft process? After all, this was a kid who graduated from Bismarck (N.D.) Century High, whose father played linebacker at Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D., and whose brother was a four-year starting pitcher at NDSU.

 

“I think there’s, obviously, a lot of doubts coming from the FCS level,” Wentz said at a Senior Bowl press conference. “I want to address that right away. Prove I can play at a high level, play at a fast level, compete with these guys and just really excel. I feel I have the mental and physical abilities to play at this level, and I’m ready and really excited to prove that.”

 

Wentz more than answered questions in Mobile. He became the story of the week, improving his status from one of the top five QB prospects to a potential top-10 pick.

 

The Senior Bowl wasn’t the first time in the month of January he had to ease doubts.

 

In 2015, Wentz led North Dakota State to a 4–2 start, the first loss by three in the opener to Montana. In the second, he suffered a wrist injury early in the game. After the 24–21 loss to South Dakota, Wentz learned that he had suffered a broken wrist that would keep him out 6-8 weeks.

 

Backup Easton Stick led North Dakota State on an eight-game winning streak through the FCS semifinal against Richmond. The layoff between the Dec. 18 semifinal and the Jan. 9 championship game against Jacksonville State opened a window for Wentz. After the Christmas break, Wentz returned to practice, and by the Monday before the title game he was medically cleared.

 

Wentz completed 16-of-29 passes for 197 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while rushing for 79 yards and two scores to help North Dakota State win its fifth consecutive national title.

 

“People asked if I was worried about him being rusty or throwing off the team chemistry so to speak. Not one bit,” Klieman says. “It’s Carson Wentz, and he’s the best player on the field every time he’s on the field.”

 

Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky

Even though Dean Hood had known Ohio State coach Urban Meyer since their days growing up in Ashtabula, Ohio, he had never known Meyer to call in many favors.

 

That is, Meyer never called on behalf of a player until Noah Spence, a former top-10 recruit, had seen a promising career at Ohio State end due to off-the-field issues.

 

“He’s never texted me or called me about a player ever, anywhere he’s been,” says Hood, then the coach at Eastern Kentucky. “He texted me on Noah, so I knew it was a special case right away.”

 

Other than Carson Wentz, Spence may be the most intriguing FCS prospect, and that’s mainly because of where he started.

 

Spence was the top signee in Meyer’s first recruiting class at Ohio State, signing the same year as quarterback Cardale Jones, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and offensive linemen Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein. Spence was a star player as a sophomore with 7.5 sacks in 2013 (tied for the team lead with Joey Bosa) and 14 tackles for a loss (second on the team to eventual Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier).

 

But his abuse of the drug Ecstasy meant that his days as a Buckeye were numbered.

 

He tested positive for Ecstasy after the 2013 Big Ten title game. He told coaches and family that he suspected someone slipped it into his drink. By the time he tested positive a second time in September 2014, he couldn’t hide anymore. Per league policy, he was permanently banned from the Big Ten.

 

“I didn’t know where I was going,” Spence says. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

 

Meyer connected Spence with Hood, and together they started to lay out a recovery plan. Spence would meet with an off-campus counselor. He would be put in the pool any time EKU drug tested. The staff would also monitor his class attendance, something usually reserved for underclassmen.

 

Spence bought a calendar and wrote different goals — numbers of sacks, tackles for a loss, All-America nods and an invitation to the Senior Bowl among them.

 

He had one slip-up at Eastern Kentucky, a charge of alcohol intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct. The record was later expunged.

 

On the field in 2015, Spence picked up where he had left off. He was fifth in the FCS in sacks (11.5 in 11 games) and fourth in tackles for a loss (22.5). He was an FCS All-American, earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl and graduated.

 

Spence hasn’t lost the explosiveness that made him a top recruit, but there’s a question of where he fits in a pro system. At 6-foot-2 and 254 pounds, he could be a designated pass rusher or play weak-side linebacker for some teams.

 

Spence also knows he will continue to face non-stop questions about his troubled past and the circumstances that led him to Eastern Kentucky. He must convince NFL teams that he’ll be able to continue his progress while making the move from Richmond, Ky., to an NFL city with more distractions.

 

Spence says his support system — family, friends and coaches — is firmly in place, and the fast life has no allure for him anymore.

 

“I’m in a better place mentally right now,” Spence says. “I don’t need to go out to have a good time. Certain things don’t excite me like they would before. I’d rather go to the movies than go to a party. I’d rather go out

and get good food than go out (and socialize). That’s the biggest change.”
 

Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah

If Killebrew didn’t look the part of an NFL prospect when he graduated from Henderson (Nev.) Foothill, it was by design.

 

Killebrew’s father, David, kept his son away from weights even though Miles was an all-state running back and safety. David Killebrew was an elite athlete in his own right, making it to the Olympic trials for velodrome cycling. At his peak, he squatted 750 pounds, but he steered his son to more cardio work and warned him against pushing himself to the max in the weight room.

 

Like any teenager in that situation, Miles doubted this philosophy. But as Killebrew went through his college career at Southern Utah, he never had any ligament or joint issues, and for that, he credits his father’s hardline stance.

 

“He knew what he was doing, man,” Killebrew says. “He just wanted my body to develop. He knows I’m a late bloomer just like he was. He didn’t want to stress out my joints and ligaments.”

 

Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb, now an assistant at BYU, didn’t know if Killebrew could play running back at the collegiate level, but thought he had the length, athleticism and speed to contribute somewhere once he filled out.

 

The 6-foot-1, 219-pound Killebrew finished his senior season as an All-Big Sky safety and has been compared as a prospect to Arizona Cardinals 2014 first-round pick Deone Bucannon out of Washington State. With his big-hitting ability, Killebrew could fit as a big nickel back or as a safety playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

 

Deiondre’ Hall, CB, Northern Iowa

When Hall was in his final two seasons at Blue Springs High School in Kansas City, he didn’t play enough football to get looks from major conference schools.

 

Up to that point, he focused more on basketball and track than football and didn’t have the grades for Power 5 programs.

 

By the end of his time at Northern Iowa, he had all the football he could handle.

 

When Hall was a sophomore, Northern Iowa played him at cornerback and as a small outside linebacker. When he was a senior, the Panthers needed him to play corner, return punts and line up at receiver.

 

“Sometimes I didn’t come off the field,” Hall says. “The transition from defense to special teams to offense to special teams to defense — you’re taking twice as many snaps as other guys on the team. It came down to taking more snaps than everyone else. I was OK with that. That’s what you want. I look at it as a blessing to do all that.”

 

In the NFL, he’ll likely stay at corner, where he could excel as a playmaker and disruptor. He had six interceptions as a senior despite playing most of the year with a broken hand. Thanks to his long arms (34 3/4 inches) and wingspan (82 1/4) — the latter a figure closer to that of a defensive end — he’ll be one of the more intriguing physical prospects in the 2015 draft.

 

This is just one of the features found in Athlon Sports' 2016 NFL Draft Preview Magazine. The most complete preview of this year’s draft, Athlon has once again enlisted the expertise of Dan Shonka from Ourlads Scouting Services, to provide our scouting reports and rankings. With his guidance, our perview magazine dives deep into the 2016 draft class with in-depth scouting reports on 218 of the top prospects and position-by-position rankings of 554 draft-eligible players. We also take a detailed look at every NFL team with depth charts and needs for the upcoming season. Our draft magazine also includes a profile of sure first-rounder Joey Bosa, a mock draft, a draft board, a peek ahead at the 2017 draft and much more.

 

(Noah Spence photo courtesy of Eastern Kentucky Sports Communications, Carson Wentz photo courtesy of North Dakota State Sports Communications; Miles Killebrew photo courtesy of Southern Utah Sports Communications)

Teaser:
2016 NFL Draft: Carson Wentz Not the Only Small School Player to Keep an Eye On
Post date: Monday, April 25, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/very-early-college-basketball-top-25-2016-17
Body:

Even as Villanova is still basking in the glow of its first national championship since 1985 and fans are catching their breath after a wild NCAA Tournament, it’s still a good time to start looking ahead.

 

This upcoming season is a little bit different for those of us in prediction land, as we have even less of a picture than we’ve had in recent years.

 

The NCAA returned to its old stance regarding the NBA Draft, allowing underclassmen to start the evaluation process and return to school, as long as they do not hire an agent.

 

Many freshmen, sophomores and juniors have already ended their eligibility by hiring agents, but many others are leaving us playing the waiting game as they work through the possibilities.

 

That said, the most important news for the top 25 came from a player staying in school. Grayson Allen didn’t even test his prospects in the NBA Draft, meaning a National Player of the Year favorite will return to school. He’ll join a star-studded recruiting class that makes Duke the easy call as preseason No. 1 at this point.

 

Here’s a snapshot of the landscape for 2016-17 — at least until the deadline for underclassmen to return to school on May 25.

 

1. Duke (25-11, 11-7 ACC)

Key Returners: G Grayson Allen, G Luke Kennard

Departures: F Brandon Ingram, F Marshall Plumlee, G Derryck Thornton

Wild Card: F Amile Jefferson

New Arrivals: F Harry Giles, G Frank Jackson, F Jayson Tatum

Buzz: The return of National Player of the Year contender Allen solidifies Duke as the preseason No. 1. The arrival of the No. 2 recruiting class gives Duke six five-star prospects on its roster, not including Allen.

 

2. Kentucky (27-9, 13-5 SEC)

Key Returners: G Isaiah Briscoe, F Marcus Lee

Departures: G Jamal Murray, F Skal Labissiere, F Alex Poythress, G Tyler Ulis

New Arrivals: F/C Bam Adebayo, G De’Aaron Fox, F Wenyan Gabriel, G Malik Monk

Buzz: Expect more the same at Kentucky. Ulis, Murray and Labissiere are headed to the draft. They’ll be replaced by the top recruiting class in the country. Fox and Monk are top-five talents in an elite 2016 class.

 

3. Villanova (35-5, 16-2 Big East)

Key Returners: G Phil Booth, F Mikal Bridges, G Jalen Brunson, F Kris Jenkins

Departures: G Ryan Arcidiacono, C Daniel Ochefu

Wild Card: G Josh Hart

New Arrivals: C Omari Spellman

Buzz: The Wildcats lose the inside-out duo of Arcidiacono and Ochefu. Brunson, a five-star guard in 2015, will see more time at the point, and Bridges flashed his potential in the run to the title. If Hart returns, Jay Wright's team will be in the mix again.

 

4. Kansas (33-5, 15-3 Big 12)

Key Returners: G Devonte Graham, F Landen Lucas, G Frank Mason, G Svi Mykhailiuk

Departures: F Perry Ellis, G/F Brannen Greene, G Wayne Selden, F Jamari Traylor

Wild Cards: F Carlton Bragg, F Cheick Diallo

New Arrivals: C Ukoka Azubuike, F Josh Jackson, F Mitch Lightfoot

Buzz: Losing veterans like Ellis, Selden and Traylor is a concern, but Kansas is able to reload as well as any program in the country. The backcourt will lead the way, but KU will need its young frontcourt to contribute immediately. Adding five-star freshman Josh Jackson a week after the title game was a major get.

 

5. Oregon (31-7, 14-4 Pac-12)

Key Returners: F Jordan Bell, G Casey Benson

Departures: F Dwayne Benjamin, F Chris Boucher, F Elgin Cook

Wild Cards: G/F Dillon Brooks, G Tyler Dorsey

New Arrivals: F Kavel Bigby-Williams

Buzz: Brooks will be a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate after averaging 16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists last season. Dorsey was an unsung hero as a freshman. If both pull out of the draft as expected, Oregon is the Pac-12 favorite and a Final Four contender.

 

6. Virginia (29-8, 13-5 ACC)

Key Returners: G Devon Hall, G London Perrantes, F Isaiah Wilkins

Departures: G Malcolm Brogdon, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey

New Arrivals: G Kyle Guy, G Ty Jerome, F Austin Nichols

Buzz: Losing Brogdon is a major blow on both ends of the court. Gill’s departure shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Virginia under Tony Bennett has replaced major players before, so the system should be trusted. This is Perrantes’ team now, but Nichols, a former Memphis Tiger, could be the most important transfer in the country.

 

7. North Carolina (33-7, 14-4 ACC)

Key Returners: G Joel Berry, F Isaiah Hicks, F Justin Jackson, F Kennedy Meeks, G Theo Pinson

Departures: F Brice Johnson, G Marcus Paige

New Arrivals: C Tony Bradley, G Seventh Woods

The national runners-up have enough veterans returning to contend, but the Tar Heels will need to find a new guy who can take over a game late with Johnson and Paige gone. Jackson is the next man up.

 

8. Xavier (28-6, 14-4 Big East)

Key Returners: G Myles Davis, F J.P. Macura, G Edmond Sumner

Departures: G Remy Abell, F James Farr

Wild Cards: G Trevon Bluiett, F Jalen Reynolds

New Arrivals: F RaShid Gaston

Buzz: Bluiett’s decision on whether or not to enter the draft will determine if Xavier is a Big East title contender again or merely a solid NCAA Tournament team.

 

9. Indiana (27-8, 15-3 Big Ten)

Key Returners: G James Blackmon, C Thomas Byrant, F Collin Hartman, G Robert Johnson,

Departures: F Max Bielfeldt, G Yogi Ferrell, G Nick Zeisloft

Wild Cards: F OG Anunoby, F Troy Williams

New Arrivals: G Curtis Jones, F De’Ron Davis, G Josh Newkirk

Bryant’s decision to stay for his sophomore year is huge. If Anunoby and Williams make the same call, Indiana could be the Big Ten favorite. Newkirk, a Pittsburgh transfer, takes over Ferrell’s point guard spot.

 

10. Michigan State (29-6, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key Returners: G Eron Harris, G Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, C Gavin Schilling

Departures: F Matt Costello, G Bryn Forbes, F Denzel Valentine

Wild Cards: F Deyonta Davis

New Arrivals: F Miles Bridges, G Josh Langford, G Cassius Winston, F Nick Ward

Buzz: Few teams lose more than Michigan State’s Valentine, Costello and Forbes. The Spartans’ backcourt of Nairn and Harris should emerge next season, and Tom Izzo brings in four top-50 freshmen.

 

11. Arizona (25-9, 12-6 Pac-12)

Key Returners: G Kadeem Allen, G Allonzo Trier, C Dusan Ristick

Departures: F Ryan Anderson, C Kaleb Tarczewski, F Mark Tollefsen, G Gabe York

Wild Card: G/F Terrance Ferguson

New Arrivals: G Rawle Alkins, F Lauri Marrkanen, G Kobi Simmons

Buzz: Trier’s return is key as Arizona replaces veterans Anderson, York and Tarczewski. Three top-50 recruits join a team that should contend in the Pac-12 again.

 

12. Louisville (23-8, 12-6 ACC)

Key Returners: F Deng Adel, G Donovan Mitchell, G Quentin Snider

Departures: F Damion Lee, G Trey Lewis

Wild Card: F/C Chinanu Onuaku

New Arrivals: G Tony Hicks, G/F V.J. King

The draft decision of Onuaku will loom large. If he returns, he could average a double-double. Former Penn guard Hicks will fill the void left by Lewis alongside Snider and Mitchell.

 

13. Wisconsin (22-13, 12-6 Big Ten)

Key Returners: F Vitto Brown, F Ethan Happ, F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter

Departures: None

Buzz: The Badgers went 13-4 after Jan. 12, upsetting Xavier in the second round. Everyone returns from a team that will have all of 2016-17 under head coach Greg Gard.

 

14. Texas (20-13, 11-7 Big 12)

Key Returners: G Eric Davis Jr., G/F Tevin Mack, G Kerwin Roach

Departures: G Javan Felix, C Prince Ibeh, F Connor Lammert, C Calvin Ridley

Wild Card: G Isaiah Taylor

New Arrivals: G Andrew Jones

Buzz: If Taylor returns to school, he’ll be the senior leader on a team with up-and-coming talent in sophomores Davis, Mack and Roach. Despite the loss to Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament, Texas finished the season in fine form, beating Oklahoma and West Virginia down the stretch.

 

15. Syracuse (23-14, 9-9 ACC)

Key Returners: F Tyler Lydon, G Malachi Richardson, F Tyler Roberson

Departures: G Trevor Cooney, F Michael Gbinije

New Arrivals: G Tyus Battle

Buzz: Syracuse will try to ride the wave of its surprising Final Four run. Lydon and Richardson need to carry their star status through the entirety of the season.

 

16. SMU (25-5, 13-5 American)

Key Returners: G Sterling Brown, G Shake Milton, G Ben Moore

Departures: F Markus Kennedy, G Nic Moore, F Jordan Tolbert

New Arrivals: F Semi Ojeleye

Buzz: The postseason ban is over, and SMU should contend in the American again. Losing Moore leaves a major void at point guard. The arrival of Ojeleye, an import from Duke, keeps Larry Brown’s transfer pipeline moving.

 

17. USC (21-13, 9-9 Pac-12)

Key Returners: F Bennie Boatwright, G Julian Jacobs, C Nikola Jovanovic, G Jordan McLaughlin, G Elijah Stewart

Departures: F Katin Reinhardt

Buzz: USC will return four players who averaged double figures from a team that improved from 3-15 in the Pac-12 to 9-9. The goal in Andy Enfield’s fourth season will be to keep a consistent level of play into February and March.

 

18. Seton Hall (25-9, 12-6 Big East)

Key Returners: G Khadeen Carrington, C Angel Delgado, F Desi Rodriguez, F Ismael Sanogo

Departures: G Derrick Gordon

Wild Card: G Isaiah Whitehead

New Arrivals: G Myles Powell, G Jevon Thomas

If Whitehead returns, the Big East Tournament champs would bring back all five starters. Powell, a standout shooter, and Thomas, a former starter at Kansas State, will look to fill the void left by Gordon.

 

19. Oklahoma (29-8, 12-6 Big 12)

Key Returners: G Dante Buford, C Khadeem Lattin, G Jordan Woodard

Departures: G Isaiah Cousins, G Buddy Hield, F Ryan Spangler

New Arrivals: F Kristian Doolittle, G Kameron McGusty, G Austin Grandstaff

Buzz: Hield’s supporting cast showed its limitations at times last season, so Woodard and Lattin will need to take a step forward. Grandstaff, a transfer from Ohio State, will try to fill the biggest perimeter shooting void in the country.

 

20. Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Key Returners: F Vince Edwards, C Isaac Haas, G P.J. Thompson, G P.J. Thompson

Departures: G Rapheal Davis, C A.J. Hammons

Wild Card: F/C Caleb Swanigan

New Arrivals: G Carsen Edwards

Buzz: Keeping Swanigan is the key piece. His return would mean Purdue returns three of its top four scorers. The freshman Edwards could take over point guard duties.

 

21. Iowa State (23-12, 10-8 Big 12)

Key Returners: G Deonte Burton, G Monte Morris, G Matt Thomas

Departures: F Jamel McKay, F Abdel Nader, F Georges Niang

New Arrivals: G Donovan Jackson, F Emmanuel Malou

Buzz: The return of Morris at point guard will give Iowa State a fighting chance in the Big 12. No more Niang lowers the bar. Transfers, this time JUCOs, will continue to play a role.

 

22. Notre Dame (24-12, 11-7 ACC)

Key Returners: F VJ Beachem, F Bonzie Colson, F Matt Ryan, G Steve Vasturia

Departures: F Zach Auguste, G Demetrius Jackson

New Arrivals: G Temple Gibbs

Beachem, Colson and Vasturia were all double-digit scorers last season, but losing a point guard and a double-double machine is significant.

 

23. Gonzaga (28-8, 15-3 West Coast)

Key Returners: G Josh Perkins

Departures: G Kyle Dranginis, G Eric McClellan F Domantas Sabonis, F Kyle Wiltjer

Wild Cards: C Przemek Karnowski

New Arrivals: C Zach Collins, F Johnathan Williams, G Nigel Williams-Goss

Buzz: Gonzaga will be a new-look team from the Wiltjer-Sabonis-Pangos squads of the last two years. Transfers Williams (from Missouri) and Williams-Goss (from Washington) will be a standout inside-out duo.

 

24. Saint Mary’s (29-6, 15-3 West Coast)

Key Returners: C Evan Fitzner, F Calvin Hermanson, C Jock Landale, G Emmett Naar, F Dane Pineau, G Joe Rahon

Departures: None

Buzz: The Gaels swept Gonzaga during the regular season but didn’t have enough on the non-conference schedule to earn an at-large bid after losing to the Bulldogs in the WCC tourney. With everyone back, Saint Mary’s should make another run.

 

25. UCLA (15-17, 6-12 Pac-12)

Key Returners: G Bryce Alford, G Isaac Hamilton, G Aaron Holiday, C Thomas Welsh

Departures: F/C Tony Parker

New Arrivals: G Lonzo Ball, F T.J. Leaf

Buzz: UCLA’s first losing season since 2010 has Steve Alford feeling the heat. This season will be key to his long-term future in Westwood. With only one notable loss (Parker) and two top-20 recruits arriving, UCLA will have to turn things around immediately.

Teaser:
A Very Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2016-17
Post date: Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ranking-college-basketballs-national-champions-1985-2016
Body:

Not all national champions are created equal, especially in .

 

With 64 teams — and now 68 — competing for a national title, the odds for a random result in the postseason is almost certain.

 

In some ways, that makes sustained greatness through the course of the season even more impressive. Only one team since the field expanded has gone wire-to-wire as a No. 1 team in the country, far fewer than the number of .

 

Thanks to the three weeks of the NCAA Tournament, a handful of teams that won a national title might not end up on a list of the top 40 or 50 teams of the era. Instead, they got hot that the right time, caught the right matchups or got lucky that upsets in the bracket helped clear the way for a title.

 

In ranking the top national champions of the 64-team era, starting in 1985, we attempted to look at the entire picture — chiefly, how the team performed from beginning to end during the season, who each team had to beat in the Tournament and the overall talent on the roster.

 

1. 1992 Duke

Record: 34-2, 14-2 ACC

Championship game: Defeated Michigan 71-51

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Duke won the national title a year earlier, vanquishing undefeated UNLV in the Final Four. That was only the beginning. The Blue Devils went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country, ending the season with a rout of the Fab Five in the championship game. Before that, national player of the year Christian Laettner hit the the greatest shot in NCAA history for the Blue Devils to defeat Kentucky in overtime in the Elite Eight. In the next game, Mike Krzyzewski had to out-duel mentor Bob Knight in an 81-78 win over Indiana in the Final Four.

 

2. 1996 Kentucky

Record: 34-2, 16-0 SEC

Championship game: Defeated Syracuse 76-67

Coach: Rick Pitino

“The Untouchables” outscored opponents by 22 points, and their only regular season losses came to teams that reached the Final Four. Kentucky atoned for one of those losses by defeating UMass, national player of the year Marcus Camby and coach John Calipari in the national semifinal. Led by Tony Delk, Ron Mercer and Antoine Walker, Kentucky finished off Syracuse in the title game for the Wildcats’ first national title since 1978.

 

3. 2001 Duke

Record: 35-4, 13-3 ACC

Championship game: Defeated Arizona 82-72

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

The Blue Devils featured two national players of the year in Shane Battier and Jay Williams, who won the award a year earlier. Duke spent the entire season in the top five but needed the biggest comeback in Final Four history to that point to advance to the title game. Duke trailed Maryland by 22 in the first half before rallying for a 95-84 win to face Glibert Arenas and Richard Jefferson for Arizona in the title game.

 

4. 2012 Kentucky

Record: 38-2, 16-0 SEC

Championship game: Defeated Kansas 67-59 

Coach: John Calipari

Perhaps the Kentucky team with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe a year earlier was more talented, but this squad was pretty darn close. Anthony Davis won pretty much every award in the sport before being the No. 1 overall draft pick. Despite the two losses, Kentucky defeated every team it faced — the Wildcats lost in the SEC tournament to Vanderbilt, a team it had defeated twice during the regular season, and then atoned for its one-point loss to Indiana in December with a 102-90 win over the Hoosiers in the Sweet 16. Teammates Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the top two picks in the following NBA draft.

 

5. 2009 North Carolina

Record: 34-4, 13-3 ACC

Championship game: Defeated Michigan State 89-72

Coach: Roy Williams

Led by national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, North Carolina was a dominant team for most of the season but especially in the postseason. The Heels’ 72-60 win over Blake Griffin and Oklahoma was their closest game in the NCAA Tournament.

 

6. 1990 UNLV

Record: 35-5, 16-2 Big West

Championship game: Defeated Duke 103-73

Coach: Jerry Tarkanian

The 1991 team that went to the Final Four with a 34-0 record was the better UNLV team of the two during this stretch, but the 1990 squad won the national title behind the play of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. The Rebels stunned Duke 103-73, setting the stage for the Blue Devils’ win over UNLV the following year in the Final Four.

 

7. 2005 North Carolina

Record: 33-4, 14-2 ACC

Championship game: Defeated Illinois 75-70

Coach: Roy Williams

North Carolina’s first championship team since 1993 and Roy Williams’ first title-winning team spent most of the season in the shadow of 37-2 Illinois. The Tar Heels settled that once and for all with a 75-70 win over the Illini in the national title game. In the following NBA draft, four Tar Heels (Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants) were lottery picks.

 

8. 2008 Kansas

Record: 37-3, 13-3 Big 12

Championship game: Defeated Memphis 75-68 (OT)

Coach: Bill Self

Kansas’ first championship team in 20 years wasn’t quite a sure thing, even though the Jayhawks spent all but one week of the season ranked in the top five. To reach a Final Four that included all No. 1 seeds, Kansas had to survive Stephen Curry-led Davidson with a 59-57 win in the Elite Eight and then needed a Mario Chalmers miracle shot and missed free throws from Memphis to clinch the title.

 

9. 1999 UConn

Record: 34-2, 16-2 Big East

Championship game: Defeated Duke 77-74 

Coach: Jim Calhoun

After knocking on the door several times, UConn won the national title in its first trip to the Final Four. Led by Rip Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin, the Huskies spent the entire season ranked in the top four before defeating Elton Brand, Shane Battier and Duke in the national title game.

 

10. 2004 UConn

Record: 33-6, 12-4 Big East

Championship game: Defeated Georgia Tech 82-73

Coach: Jim Calhoun

Calhoun’s second national title team was loaded with NBA Draft picks. Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon were selected second and third overall, respectively, in the 2004 draft, and Charlie Villanueva followed as a first-round pick in the 2005 draft. Josh Boone and Marcus Williams, late first-rounders in 2006, were both freshmen on this team.

 

11. 1987 Indiana

Record: 30-4, 15-3 Big Ten

Championship game: Defeated Syracuse 74-73

Coach: Bob Knight

The first season with the 3-point shot was indeed a game-changer as this Final Four was marked more by run Rick Pitino’s Providence team made to the national semifinal. Knight’s team, led by Steve Alford, showed plenty of ability to adjust, defeating UNLV 97-93 in the semifinals and Syracuse 74-73 in the title game.

 

12. 2015 Duke

Record: 35-4, 15-3

Championship game: Defeated Wisconsin 68-63

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

This Duke team will be remembered for what it accomplished for Krzyzewski — his fifth national title and his 1,000th career win, among other records broken this season. It was also one of his most unique teams, starting three freshmen and playing zone from time to time. The Blue Devils spent all season in the top five and lost twice after Jan. 13, both to the same Notre Dame team that took Kentucky to the wire in the Elite Eight. All-American Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow could be top-five picks, and Tyus Jones could be a first-rounder.

 

13. 1991 Duke

Record: 32-7, 11-3 ACC

Championship game: Defeated Kansas 72-65

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

The Blue Devils made up for a 30-point loss to UNLV in the title game a year earlier by spoiling UNLV’s undefeated season in the Final Four. Though this was a team amid a run of five Final Fours and on the front end of back-to-back titles, this Duke team spent most of 1990-91 chasing UNLV, Ohio State, Arkansas and Indiana in the rankings.

 

14. 2007 Florida

Record: 35-5, 13-3 SEC

Championship game: Defeated Ohio State 84-75

Coach: Billy Donovan

The second of Florida’s back-to-back champions had the tougher mountain to climb, not just because the Gators were the preseason No. 1. This Florida team needed to defeat Aaron Brooks-led Oregon in the Elite Eight, UCLA in the Final Four and then a Greg Oden/Mike Conley Ohio State team in the championship game.

 

15. 1994 Arkansas

Record: 31-3, 14-2 SEC

Championship game: Defeated Duke 76-72

Coach: Nolan Richardson

Arkansas and the 40 Minutes of Hell won the first title for the SEC since 1978, going through Michigan (with four of the Fab Five still remaining), Arizona and Duke (led by Grant Hill).

 

16. 1993 North Carolina

Record: 34-3, 14-2 ACC

Championship game: Defeated Michigan 77-71

Coach: Dean Smith

Smith’s final national championship run had to go through four coaches who would finish their careers with national titles or Hall of Fame inclusion or both: Nolan Richardson, Bob Huggins, Roy Williams and Steve Fisher. The title game would end on Chris Webber’s infamous timeout blunder.

 

17. 2016 Villanova

Record: 35-5, 16-2 Big East

Championship game: Defeated North Carolina 77-74

Coach: Jay Wright

After two years of gaudy records, high seeds and early NCAA Tournament exits, Villanova answered with a run for the ages. The Wildcats knocked off Iowa, Miami as well as Big 12 champion and No. 1 overall seed Kansas to get to the Final Four. Once there, Villanova handled National Player of the Year Buddy Hield for a 44-point win over Oklahoma and then saved the best for last with Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating 3 to beat North Carolina. Villanova didn’t have a roster stocked with draft picks, but the Wildcats had an unforgettable season.

 

18. 2002 Maryland

Record: 32-4, 15-1 ACC

Championship game: Defeated Indiana 64-52

Coach: Gary Williams

This might not be the most memorable national champion for a handful of reasons. Juan Dixon lost out on national player of the year to Duke’s Jay Williams, and the team had few other prominent players (Steve Blake ended up as this team’s best pro). The Terrapins lost only one ACC game (at Duke) during the regular season before defeating Kentucky, UConn, Kansas and Indiana in the Tournament.

 

19. 1995 UCLA

Record: 31-2, 16-2 Pac-12

Championship game: Defeated Arkansas 89-78

Coach: Jim Harrick

UCLA’s championship team and the only Bruins title team not coached by John Wooden was saved in the second round by a layup from Tyus Edney for a come-from-behind win over Missouri.

 

20. 2013 Louisville

Record: 35-5, 14-4 Big East

Championship game: Defeated Michigan 82-76

Coach: Rick Pitino

The 2013 Cardinals were the rare national champion to endure a three-game losing streak at some point during its championship season (to Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown in January). The Cards also faced only one top-three seed (No. 2 Duke in the Elite Eight) in its Tourney run.

 

21. 1998 Kentucky 

Record: 35-4, 14-2 SEC

Championship game: Defeated Utah 78-69

Coach: Tubby Smith

For Kentucky’s second title in three seasons, the Wildcats needed to overcome double-digit deficits in each of their final three games. 

 

22. 2010 Duke

Record: 35-5, 13-3 ACC

Championship game: Defeated Butler 61-59

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Duke has had better championships teams and better teams that didn’t win a title. That said, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler gave us a classic title game that was also one of the sport’s great what-if moments when Gordon Hayward’s final shot attempt fell short.

 

23. 1989 Michigan

Record: 30-7, 12-6 Big Ten

Championship game: Defeated Seton Hall 80-79

Coach: Steve Fisher

One of the truly bizarre national championship runs in the history of the sport. Michigan was a preseason top-three team and then went through a 5-5 stretch in the conference season. All of that was before athletic director Bo Schembechler replaced coach Bill Frieder, who had accepted the job at Arizona State, with Steve Fisher for the NCAA Tournament.

 

24. 2003 Syracuse

Record: 30-5, 13-3 Big East

Championship game: Defeated Kansas 81-78

Coach: Jim Boeheim

One may ask why a Syracuse team led by Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara is this low. Before the Tournament, this was was not one of Boeheim’s best teams. Those three great players lost to Rutgers in January and spent the first two months of the season unranked.

 

25. 1997 Arizona

Record: 25-9, 11-7 Pac-10

Championship game: Defeated Kentucky 84-79 (OT)

Coach: Lute Olson

Even with Mike Bibby and Michael Dickerson, Arizona didn’t have many guarantees entering the 1997 Tournament. They lost seven conference games during the regular season but defeated three No. 1 seeds and a handful of future pros on the way to the title — Kansas (with Paul Piece and Raef LaFrentz), North Carolina (with Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison) and Kentucky (with Scott Padgett, Ron Mercer and Nazr Mohammed)

 

26. 2000 Michigan State

Record: 32-7, 13-3 Big Ten

Championship game: Defeated Florida 89-76

Coach: Tom Izzo

This was the high point of Izzo’s magic touch in March. The Spartans won the Big Ten and earned a No. 1 seed, but they were hardly a dominant team all season. They also had a draw that included a No. 8 seed and a No. 5 in the Final Four.

 

27. 2006 Florida

Record: 33-6, 10-6 SEC

Championship game: Defeated UCLA 73-57

Coach: Billy Donovan

Between his first Final Four and his first national title, Donovan was snakebit for several years in the first weekend of the Tournament. This run from a team that lost six games in the SEC was a major surprise.

 

28. 1988 Kansas

Record: 27-11, 9-5 Big 8

Championship game: Defeated Oklahoma 83-79

Coach: Larry Brown

How can a team coached by a Hall of Famer and led by a national player of the year, Danny Manning, be this low? Danny and the Miracles were 18-11 and unranked entering the NCAA Tournament.

 

29. 1986 Louisville

Record: 32-7, 10-2 Metro

Championship game: Defeated Duke 72-69

Coach: Denny Crum

A great nickname (“Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison) and an upset of Duke in the title game made this Tournament run memorable. Otherwise, Louisville spent only three weeks of the season ranked in the top 10.

 

30. 2011 UConn

Record: 32-9, 9-9 Big East

Championship game: Defeated Butler 53-41

Coach: Jim Calhoun

The Big East was loaded in 2010-11, so that .500 league record has to be taken in context. Still, UConn went 4-7 in its last 11 games before the Big East Tournament. Kemba Walker caught fire in the postseason before a dud of a national title game against Butler.

 

31. 2014 UConn

Record: 32-8, 12-6 American

Championship game: Defeated Kentucky 60-54

Coach: Kevin Ollie

A pedestrian regular season became special when Shabazz Napier led UConn to wins over No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State, No. 4 Michigan State, No. 1 Florida and No. 8 Kentucky. The latter was the last time the Wildcats lost a game.

 

32. 1985 Villanova

Record: 25-10, 9-7 Big East

Championship game: Defeated Georgetown 66-64

Coach: Rollie Massimino

A Big East team winning a title wasn’t a surprise in a year when Georgetown and St. John’s spent time as the No. 1 team in the rankings. Villanova, led by top-10 draft pick Ed Pinckney, remains the lowest-seeded team to win the national championship (eighth).

Teaser:
Ranking College Basketball's National Champions since 1985
Post date: Tuesday, April 5, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /college-basketball/athlon-cover-catch-wayne-simien-talks-big-12-championships-joining-ministry-0
Body:

In the long history of Kansas basketball, Wayne Simien will have a special place. In his first two seasons, he played for two Final Four teams under Roy Williams. When Williams left for North Carolina, Simien was the first great player of the Bill Self era, reaching the Elite Eight in 2004.

 

In 2004-05, Simien was the Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus All-American, but more important he was the leader of Kansas’ Big 12 championship team that year. That Jayhawks’ squad started a run of 12 consecutive conference titles. If KU wins a Big 12 title next season, the Jayhawks will tie John Wooden’s UCLA teams for the record of 13 consecutive titles.

 

Simien played two seasons in the NBA before returning home to Kansas when he quickly became involved in the Called to Greatness ministry. A transformative meeting during his sophomore year led him on a path that now sees him as the campus director of Called to Greatness back at his alma mater.

 

Before Kansas plays in the Sweet 16, Athlon Sports talked to Simien, who appeared on our College Basketball preview cover in 2004-05, about his call to ministry and his connection with Kansas now.

 

 

I understand you’ve been traveling for mission work earlier this week.

 

I was gone six days. Now I’m getting my feet under me and getting caught up on emails and messages. Of course, we’ve got the NCAA Tournament and we’re alive in it. The Madness isn’t just happening on the basketball court. It’s all over.

 

Where were you for your mission?

 

We took a group of 50 students who are involved in our campus ministry and took them to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region. We were doing some campus outreach there at the University of Northern Kentucky and then we were doing some service projects in the Cincinnati area.

 

What kind of organization is Called to Greatness and how did you get involved with them?

 

It’s a campus ministry. We do ministry mentoring and leadership development with college students. I had something like that really impact my life when I was a college student here at KU. That was something that gave me and my wife an affinity to do that sort of thing. We’ve been doing that the last seven years since transitioning out of professional basketball. Our main focus is here at the University of Kansas, but we also have some chapters at some other college campuses with in the Midwest.

 

What happened in college that led you down this path?

 

I really had someone when I was in a difficult time at the end of my sophomore year to come alongside me and mentor me and shared the gospel with me about who Jesus is and what he’s done for life and how that impacts every part of our life. I had someone mentor me, not just in faith-related things but in character and how to handle responsibility and how to walk as a leader in every part of my life. My wife had a similar kind of experience at Florida State where she went. That gave us an excitement and passion to see those kinds of things happen in the next generation.

 

Was faith a big part of your life before that sophomore year in college?

 

It was all new. I would say prior to that basketball was my god. It was the No. 1 priority in my life. I came to a point where I had everything that the world says should make you happy as a 20-year-old big-time college athlete at one of the top programs in the country. I had it all, but I was bored and broken and looking for something greater to live for than myself and basketball. It wasn’t until someone shared the gospel with me that I was able to recognize that. It was also an identity transfer. I used to get so much of my identity in how I performed and what people what people would say about me and future potential. Really finding my identity in the opinions of others led me on a roller coaster ride. I was looking for something that was steady and stable and would anchor my life and emotions and motivations beyond the game of basketball.

 

Was this a goal to get into ministry when you were in your final years at Kansas or in the NBA?

 

I would say it happened more than when I was in the NBA. My passion changed. My competitive nature changed. I would come back during the offseason and come back to Lawrence and train, but I would be working and doing things on the college campus. When that became more exciting to me than putting a ball through a hoop, I knew that’s when it was time to make that transition full time.

 

Is Called to Greatness athletic-focused?

 

No, we serve all students. There’s an athletic niche to it because we have some guys with collegiate and professional athletic backgrounds, but we serve regular students, international students, graduate school students. It’s not exclusive to athletes.

 

Was it also a goal to get back to Lawrence?

 

I’m from Kansas. I grew up not too far away from here. I have a lot of relationships here. I would say it was the relationships that brought us back.

 

Obviously, this has been another big year for Kansas. It looked like their streak of Big 12 titles would come to an end, and they ended up winning by two games. You were at the started of that run under Bill Self. What does that mean to you that Kansas is on this streak of Big 12 championships?

 

It’s something that’s unprecedented. I don’t think that anyone, myself or coach Self included, would have thought that this run would have been sparked in 2005. We’re certainly glad it has. It’s just a real testament to coach Self and his coaching staff and they’re vision and core values and continuing to bring in guys who play the game the right away, tough and unselfishly, and really value all the things this program has had to offer.

 

What were your initial impressions of Bill Self when he got there? You were recruited by Roy Williams and played two years for him. Self before he got to Kansas was an established coach, but not to the degree of Williams. Was there a little bit of anxiety with the new coach?

 

Of course, I didn’t know him. Coming off a tremendous amount of success with coach Williams, back-to-back Big 12 championships, back-to-back Final Fours, it’s one of those things were if it isn’t broke, why fix it. Why do we have do things different? It was pretty jarring at first. Quickly we came to realize that he’s great coach and that he does care about his players. It was an honor to play for two Hall of Fame coaches and usher in a new generation of KU basketball which is still being played at a high level. [Williams was inducted in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame 2007. Self is not yet in the Hall of Fame, but likely to be inducted once eligible.]

 

I’d image the list of guys who played for two Hall of Fame coaches in their college careers is pretty short. How much did you recognize that it was part of your college experience?

 

I got a chance to play for coach Self for two years, but once he started bringing in his own guys and sustain the winning culture here and winning a national championship in 2008 and getting to the championship game in 2012 and winning coach of the year honors and pumping out All-Americans, you can’t argue that. If anything, it’s made me appreciate him more.

 

You mentioned watching the NCAA Tournament coming up. What is your experience watching Kansas? Do you get nervous, do you have watch by yourself, are you pacing around?

 

I watch it in a variety of settings. Sometimes I’m with my family. Sometimes I’m with college students. Sometimes I’m by myself. I don’t have a ritual or routine. My experience is different in that I grew up a fan. I had a chance to play here and experience the highs and lows of March, and now I’m back to being a fan. I just enjoy it like anyone else.

 

When you’re around the Kansas program, do the players know who you are and that you were there at the start of this run?

 

I’m around quite a bit. One of the things I appreciate about coach Self is that there’s no one player or one coach that’s bigger than the entire program. He’s constantly having former players around, former coaches and letting the current guys now that they’re stewards of things that were built before they got here. He reminds them of things I did when was there back in the day. There’s an understanding. He even orchestrated it this year that once they clinched the Big 12 championship, they had myself and a few my other teammates from 2005 that started the streak hand the trophy to the guys.

 

Did you every have an experience like that at Kansas, where you met someone from an earlier time who made an impact on you?

 

I can remember meeting, after I signed a letter of intent and was coming to games as a high school player, Raef LaFrentz, Jacque Vaughn and Paul Pierce when they came back over All-Star Break. It was up to me to carry the baton. Meeting guys like that is pretty cool for 17-year-old at the time, especially growing up in Kansas. There’s a lot of generational transfer that happens at Kansas. We make an effort to make it a family environment, to have former coaches and players to be encouraging and challenging the next guys coming up.

Teaser:
Athlon Cover Catch-Up: Wayne Simien talks Big 12 Championships, Joining a Ministry
Post date: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 13:17
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Magazines
Path: /college-basketball/everything-athlon-sports-got-right-and-wrong-2015-16-college-basketball-season
Body:

In many ways, this has been an unpredictable first weekend — Middle Tennessee’s historic upset of Michigan State, Northern Iowa’s one-of-a-kind collapse, rare NCAA tournament wins for Yale and Hawaii.

 

At the same time, the Sweet 16 field is totally predictable. All four No. 1 seeds advanced to the second weekend. Blue bloods like Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and Indiana are in every bracket. The lowest-seeded teams to make it this far are familiar names — Wisconsin, Syracuse and Gonzaga.

 

As the NCAA Tournament moves into its second weekend, this is a perfect time look back at Athlon’s picks for the 2015-16 season. Like many college basketball coaches looking back on their own seasons, we saw some things we liked and some things we didn’t.

 

Our preseason No. 1 team (Kentucky) is already out of the field. Our preseason No. 2 team (Duke) played with fire against UNC Wilmington and Yale, but still advanced to the second round.

 

Yet, Kentucky is the only team in our top preseason seven that didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

 

We’ll take that.

 

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of how Athlon’s preseason college basketball preview stacked up with the Sweet 16 and the overall field.

 

• Athlon had 13 teams from the Sweet 16 in our preseason top 25. Miami, Notre Dame and Syracuse are the only Sweet 16 teams we did not have in our preseason top 25, though we projected all three in the field. 

 

Here’s how our top 25 compared with the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament:

 

Athlon's Top 25 in the Sweet 16 Other Athlon Top 25 Teams  
No. 2 Duke No. 1 Kentucky Lost to Indiana in the second round
No. 3 North Carolina No. 8 Arizona Lost to Wichita State in the first round
No. 4 Maryland No. 12 Michigan State Lost to Middle Tennessee in the first round
No. 5 Virginia No. 13 Cal Lost to Hawaii in the first round
No. 6 Kansas No. 14 Wichita State Lost to Miami in the second round
No. 7 Iowa State No. 15 Vanderbilt Lost to Wichita State in the First Four
No. 9 Oklahoma No. 16 Purdue Lost to Little Rock in the first round
No. 10 Villanova No. 18 UConn Lost to Kansas in the second round
No. 11 Gonzaga No. 20 Butler Lost to Virginia in the second round
No. 17 Indiana No. 22 Michigan Lost to Notre Dame in the first round
No. 19 Wisconsin No. 23 Louisville Ineligible
No. 21 Oregon No. 24 SMU Ineligible
No. 25 Texas A&M    

• Athlon's preseason bracket predicted 43 of the 68 teams in the field. Among the 25 teams Athlon predicted to be in the field that didn’t make it were the two ineligible teams that would have made the field under normal circumstances (Louisville and SMU). The Mustangs were banned form the postseason Sept. 30, and the Cardinals announced their self-imposed ban in February.

 

Our preseason picks included eight regular season champions in one-bid leagues that were upset in conference tournaments: North Florida (Atlantic Sun), Hofstra (Colonial), UAB (Conference USA), Valparaiso (Horizon), San Diego State (Mountain West), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Texas Southern (SWAC) and New Mexico State (WAC).

 

A generous reading, then, would say Athlon pinpointed 53 NCAA Tournament-caliber teams: The 43 teams that actually made the field, the two teams that were banned from the post season and eight one-bid conference champions.

 

• Athlon missed on nine teams from major conferences that made the field as at-large bids. Seeding-wise, Seton Hall was our biggest miss. The Pirates won the Big East tournament and earned No. 6 seed, but lost to Gonzaga in the first round. We projected Seton Hall as the No. 8 team in the Big East and going to the NIT. USC probably was the biggest overall miss, as Athlon picked the Trojans to finish 11th in the Pac-12. Andy Enfield's team ended up making the tournament safely as a No. 8 seed.

 

These are the major teams that we projected for the NIT or worse that made the NCAA Tournament:

 

  We predicted... What actually happened...
Colorado Eighth in Pac-12, NIT No. 8 seed, lost to No. 9 UConn
Pittsburgh 10th in ACC, NIT No. 10 seed, lost to No. 7 Wisconsin
Seton Hall Eighth in Big East, NIT No. 6 seed, lost to No. 11 Gonzaga
St. Joseph's Seventh in A-10 No. 8 seed, beat No. 9 Cincinnati, lost to No. 1 Oregon
Temple Seventh in AAC No. 10 seed, lost to No. 7 Iowa
Texas Tech Eighth in Big 12 No. 8 seed, lost to No. 9 Butler
Tulsa Fourth in AAC, NIT No. 11 seed, lost to No. 11 Michigan
USC 11th in Pac-12 No. 8 seed, lost to No. 9 Providence
VCU Fourth in A-10, NIT No. 10 seed, lost to No. 2 Oklahoma

• Athlon predicted seven major teams to make the field, but they ended up in the NIT or worse (not counting Louisville and SMU)

 

  We predicted... What actually happened...
Florida Fifth in SEC, NCAA First Four Tied for eighth in SEC, NIT
Florida State Sixth in ACC, NCAA second round 11th in ACC, NIT
Georgetown Fourth in Big East, NCAA second round Eighth in Big East
LSU Fourth in SEC, NCAA second round Tied for third in SEC
NC State Ninth in ACC, NCAA First Four 13th in ACC
Rhode Island Second in A-10, NCAA first round Seventh in A-10
UCLA Fourth in Pac-12, NCAA second round 10th in Pac-12

 

Teaser:
Everything Athlon Sports Got Right and Wrong in the 2015-16 College Basketball Season
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 11:49
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-football/ranking-nations-top-30-football-basketball-coaching-duos
Body:

 

Fans in East Lansing, Mich., and Norman, Okla., have something in common — they’re spoiled.

 

The last year or so has been a great time to pull for Michigan State or Oklahoma. In football and men’s basketball, the Spartans and Sooners have been final four contenders in both sports.

 

While neither team could claim the ultimate prize of a championship, Michigan State and Oklahoma State are among the few schools who are in contention for conference and national championships in both sports at the same time.

 

As we finish our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

1. Michigan State

Football: Mark Dantonio

Basketball: Tom Izzo

Here’s what makes up an elite coaching tandem: In four of the last five seasons, the football team has reached a major bowl (two Cotton Bowls, a Rose Bowl and Capital One Bowl) in the same season the basketball team reached the Sweet 16 or better. Since Jan. 2014 alone, Michigan State has accounted for:

• A Rose Bowl win and Big Ten football championship,

• An Elite Eight appearance and Big Ten tournament championship,

• A Cotton Bowl win,

• A Final Four and

• A College Football Semifinal appearance and Big Ten title.

 

2. Oklahoma

Football: Bob Stoops

Basketball: Lon Kruger

After one of his worst seasons at Oklahoma in 2014, Stoops reinvented his offense with a new coordinator and landed in the College Football Playoff. In 17 seasons, Stoops has led OU to 10 top-10 finishes and nine Big 12 titles. His basketball counterpart knows even more about longevity: He’s the only coach who has taken five teams in the NCAA Tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma). With Buddy Hield on board, Kruger might reach his second Final Four in what could be a Hall of Fame career.

 

3. Ohio State

Football: Urban Meyer

Basketball: Thad Matta

In many years, Ohio State could get the nod as the top college coaching tandem. But Meyer, a year after winning the third national championship of his career, saw his chance to repeat end with a loss to Michigan State and Dantonio. Meyer still has an absurd 50-4 mark (31-1 in the Big Ten) at Ohio State. Matta is perhaps the nation’s most underrated coach, but his program is in a three-year downswing. The Buckeyes averaged more than 30 wins with a Final Four, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s from 2010-13. The Buckeyes haven’t topped 25 wins since and could miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

 

4. Michigan

Football: Jim Harbaugh

Basketball: John Beilein

Harbaugh has arguably transformed the Big Ten even more than Meyer. The Ohio State coach brought SEC-style recruiting to the Big Ten, and Harbaugh is one-upping even one of the most ruthless recruiters in the business. Oh, and he can coach, too. Michigan exceeded expectations in his first season as 10-win team and top-15 finisher. Michigan hasn’t matched the heights of the 2013 national title game and 2014 Elite Eight, but Beilein has reached the NCAA Tournament five times in seven seasons at Michigan — the best run since the Fab Five-fueled ‘90s.

 

5. Duke

Football: David Cutcliffe

Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski

Hard to believe, but Krzyzewski’s stature has only grown since this time last season. Coach K won his fifth career national championship in 2015 and did it in a new way using one-and-done talent. This season has been bumpy, with the Blue Devils going unranked for the first time since 2006-07. David Cutcliffe has done the unthinkable with Duke football, producing three consecutive winning seasons for the first time and the program’s first bowl win since the early ‘60s.

 

6. Louisville

Football: Bobby Petrino

Basketball: Rick Pitino

The off-field/off-court exploits — failed professional careers, extramarital affairs gone public and the most recent basketball postseason ban stemming from allegations a staffer used prostitutes to lure recruits — are troubling. Their coaching ability, though, is unquestioned. Pitino averaged 30.8 wins from 2011-15, including a national championship and a Final Four. In his third year on his second tour of duty, Petrino should have the Cardinals ready to take the next step after going 10-6 in the ACC in the first two seasons.

 

7. Notre Dame

Football: Brian Kelly

Basketball: Mike Brey

Brian Kelly has brought Notre Dame back to national prominence with at trip to the national championship game in 2012. The Irish have spent time in the top five in each of the last two seasons despite playing two years snakebit by injuries. Mike Brey is on the short list of most underrated coaches. In the last two years, Brey has defeated Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino with regularity.

 

8. Arizona

Football: Rich Rodriguez

Basketball: Sean Miller

After Arizona football went 10–4, won the Pac-12 South and reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2014, last year’s 7–6 campaign, the worst under Rodriguez, was a major let down. It was an injury-plagued year, and Rodriguez still managed to reach a bowl game in each of his four seasons at Arizona. Miller has restored Arizona to national power status with three Pac-10/12 championships, three Elite Eight appearances and one Sweet 16 in his first six seasons.

 

9. Baylor

Football: Art Briles

Basketball: Scott Drew

A decade ago, Baylor was a non-factor in both college football and basketball. These days, Baylor is doing things that a program like Texas should be doing. Football has topped 10 wins and been ranked in the top 15 in four of the last five years. Basketball hasn’t shown the same year-in-and-year-out consistency, but two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in seven seasons is a notable achievement for a program with four NCAA appearances before Drew arrived.

 

10. Alabama

Football: Nick Saban

Basketball: Avery Johnson

With four national championships at Alabama, one title at LSU, and eight consecutive top-10 finishes, Saban is the top coach in either football or men’s basketball right now. There’s no sign this streak is going to slow down any time soon. The former NBA coach Johnson seemed to be a questionable pick for Tide (especially as he was the program’s second choice after Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall). Now, Johnson could be the Coach of the Year in the SEC if the Tide reach the NCAA Tournament in his first year. He also had a standout recruiting class coming in for 2016-17.

 

11. North Carolina

Football: Larry Fedora

Basketball: Roy Williams

Williams has his best North Carolina team in at least five years, the last time the Tar Heels won the ACC. Williams is looking to reach his eighth Final Four and first since 2009, an eternity for the Hall of Fame coach. It probably took Fedora longer to turn the corner with the football program than UNC fans would have hoped, but the Heels are coming off their best season since 1997.

 

12. Utah

Football: Kyle Whittingham

Basketball: Larry Krystkowiak

When Utah joined the Pac-12, few expected the Utes to be one of the league’s best football/basketball programs. Instead, Whittingham and Krystkowiak have navigated various challenges to produce top-25 programs in both sports. Krystkowiak took Utah to its first Sweet 16 since 2005 and could deliver a Pac-12 title for the Utes. Whittingham’s team never matched the 62-20 rout at Oregon, but they finished with 10 wins for the fourth time under Whittingham and the first time as a Pac-12 member.

 

13. Iowa

Football: Kirk Ferentz

Basketball: Fran McCaffrey

This is possibly the most overachieving duo in the Big Ten. Ferentz led the football team to a 12-2 season and the Big Ten title game. True, Iowa won the easier division and the team may never has been as good as its top-10 ranking, but Ferentz’s fifth 10-win season comes after averaging 6.8 wins in the five seasons prior. McCaffrey has Iowa on pace for its third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, the best streak for Iowa since 1991-93. If the Hawkeyes secure a top-two seed, it will be the first time for the program since 1987.

 

14. Miami

Football: Mark Richt

Basketball: Jim Larranaga

If Richt does for Miami what he did for Georgia — averaging 9.6 wins per year and fielding regular top-10 teams — he’ll be in the College Football Hall of Fame. Larranaga already has an ACC title and Sweet 16 at Miami and a Final Four at George Mason on his résumé, and he has a top-15 team again in Coral Gables. Fun fact: Larranaga has more career wins than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.

 

15. Oregon

Football: Mark Helfrich

Basketball: Dana Altman

With all the success Altman has had at Oregon, it’s hard to believe that the Ducks’ coaching search in 2010 was a comedy of errors. After bigger names passed, Altman turned out to be the right guy. He has topped 20 wins in all six of his seasons in Eugene. All other Oregon coaches have 11 20-win seasons. He’s also heading for a fifth consecutive top-three finish in the league. Helfrich proved a perfect steward of the football program in 2014, taking the Ducks to the national championship game in his second season. In 2015, Oregon slipped back to 9-4, the Ducks’ worst record since 2007, but there’s reason to believe the season would have been different if Vernon Adams had been healthy all year.

 

16. Florida State

Football: Jimbo Fisher

Basketball: Leonard Hamilton

Florida State football is an all-around powerhouse — in recruiting, on the field and on draft day — again with Fisher in charge. His 68-14 record through six years gives him one of the hottest starts in college football history. Hamilton breathed life into the Florida State program with four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 from 2009-12. Since then, the Seminoles topped 20 wins just once.

 

17. Mississippi State

Football: Dan Mullen

Basketball: Ben Howland

This is rare territory for Mississippi State to be among the top coaching tandems in the SEC. Usually a place like Florida would be near the top. The case for Mississippi State is pretty clear: Mullen has taken the Bulldogs to unthinkable heights with 19 wins in a two-year span and six consecutive bowl games in a two-year span. Howland’s first season at Mississippi State may be somewhat of a disappointment considering the fanfare surrounding his hire and the presence of a five-star recruit (Malik Newman), but this is still a three-time Final Four coach in Starkville.

 

18. Syracuse

Football: Dino Babers

Basketball: Jim Boeheim

Syracuse’s NCAA issues — the postseason ban in 2015, scholarship limits and Boeheim’s suspension earlier this year — cast a shadow on the latter years of his tenure. Syracuse might not get to the Final Four or win 30 games again before he retires in 2018. Babers, an Art Briles protégé, who has two conference championships in four seasons at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois under his belt, could be a transformative hire for Syracuse football.

 

19. Ole Miss

Football: Hugh Freeze

Basketball: Andy Kennedy

Freeze has done what no coach at Ole Miss has been able to do since John Vaught in the ‘60s — turn the Rebels into a consistent heavy hitter in the SEC. Ole Miss’ win total has increased every year under Freeze, giving the Rebels only their second 10-win season since 1971. Kennedy isn’t competing for championships, but he’s turned the moribund Ole Miss basketball program into a consistent postseason contender, including two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last four seasons. He’s the school’s all-time wins leader by a wide margin.

 

20. San Diego State

Football: Rocky Long

Basketball: Steve Fisher

Fisher keeps getting it done at San Diego State. The Aztecs have made the NCAA Tournament six times in a row and reached the Sweet 16 twice in that span. He has twice as many NCAA Tournament wins (six) as all of his predecessors had trips to the Tournament combined (three). Long picked up the torch from Brady Hoke in 2011 has done even better than his predecessor, leading the Aztecs to 11 wins and a Mountain West title last year. In his last 10 years as a coach at New Mexico and SDSU, Long has missed a bowl game just twice.

 

21. Auburn

Football: Gus Malzahn

Basketball: Bruce Pearl

A year ago, we could have ranked this as the top duo in the SEC. Now, we’re wondering where Malzahn and Pearl really stand. After a trip to the 2013 national title game, Auburn has gone just 6-10 in the SEC since then including a five-game losing streak at one point. Coaching turnover presents another challenge to Malzahn only two years after he was on top of the profession. Pearl’s program seemed to show momentum in the SEC Tournament last year, but they’re headed to another losing season. Pearl, though, can recruit and will have more talent next year than in either of his first two seasons.

 

22. Virginia

Football: Bronco Mendenhall

Basketball: Tony Bennett

Bennett has remade Virginia basketball with his pack-line defense. Of the Cavaliers’ three 30-win seasons in school history, two are under his watch in the last two seasons, and the Cavs could make it three 30-win seasons in a row this year. They’ve won back-to-back ACC regular-season titles and an ACC tournament for Virginia’s best run since Ralph Sampson played in Charlottesville. Mendenhall was an outside-of-the-box hire for a moribund football program. He has plenty of questions about recruiting in the East, but he averaged nine wins per season at BYU.

 

23. Virginia Tech

Football: Justin Fuente

Basketball: Buzz Williams

There’s a ton to love about the combo of Fuente and Williams. The reason they’re ranked lower than one might expect is because both have done their best work at other places. Obviously, Fuente hasn’t even coached spring practice in Blacksburg, but he’s making all the right moves (i.e., retaining Bud Foster). He was a miracle worker at Memphis. Williams has already topped his first-year win total with the basketball program, and a trip to the NIT would be a major step forward. Still, he’s a long way from turning Virginia Tech into the consistent overachiever Marquette was.

 

24. UCLA

Football: Jim Mora

Basketball: Steve Alford

Mora has lifted UCLA out of a funk, winning 37 games in his first four seasons. No other Bruins coach has won more than 29 in his first four years. At 23-13 in the Pac-12 (and never better than 6-3), however, the Bruins haven’t become the conference elite. Alford hasn’t proven he’s an upgrade over predecessor Ben Howland, but back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances (buoyed by three wins over double-digit seeds and a controversial finish against No. 6 SMU) still count for something.

 

25. Houston

Football: Tom Herman

Basketball: Kelvin Sampson

Herman is the hot new thing in college coaching after a 13–1 season, a championship in the competitive American Athletic Conference and a win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl in just his first season. Before that, he was the offensive coordinator for Ohio State’s national title team. Sampson, who has reached the NCAA Tournament 14 times as the head coach at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana, has had modest success in his return to college basketball. After going 4-14 in the American in Sampson’s first season, Houston topped 20 wins for the second time since 2009.

 

26. Clemson

Football: Dabo Swinney

Basketball: Brad Brownell

Wait, how can Dabo Swinney — a coach who led Clemson to the national title game and 56 wins in five years — be ranked this low? Swinney would be near the top of football coach rankings, but this is a tandem. The basketball program is never going to get the same love as the football program, but aside from a couple of nice weeks and upsets here and there, Brownell’s program hasn’t done much to draw attention. The Tigers have reached the NCAA Tournament just once in his six-year tenure – as a No. 12 seed in Dayton in his first year.

 

27. Penn State

Football: James Franklin

Basketball: Pat Chambers

Recruiting has raised the pressure on both coaches. Granted, recruiting to both Penn State football and Penn State basketball is a challenge for wildly different reasons. After going 7–6 in each of his first two seasons, Franklin will essentially re-boot with two new coordinators and a new quarterback in his third season. Chambers averaged just four Big Ten wins during his first four seasons, but he has a top-20 class signed for 2016-17. 

 

28. West Virginia

Football: Dana Holgorsen

Basketball: Bob Huggins

Holgorsen hasn’t matched the 10–3 season and an Orange Bowl win in 2011, WVU’s last year in the Big East. Life in the Big 12 has been tougher (20-23 in four years). In the last two seasons, Huggins has shown again why he’s a 700-win coach, reinventing his program into “Press Virginia.” West Virginia has reached the Sweet 16 or better three times under Huggins, including the 2010 Final Four. No other West Virginia coach has been in the final 16 more than twice.

 

29. Pittsburgh

Football: Pat Narduzzi

Basketball: Jamie Dixon

This tandem for Pittsburgh just seems so … right. Narduzzi and Dixon are two defensive-minded coaches whose teams tend to grind their way through a season. Narduzzi led Pitt to eight wins for the first time since 2010, and he should have enough returning to make a run at the ACC Coastal. After Pitt basketball was the most overachieving team in the Big East (nine NCAA appearances in 10 years), Dixon’s program is hovering around .500 in ACC play the last three years. That’s a bit of concern.

 

30 (tie). Temple

Football: Matt Rhule

Basketball: Fran Dunphy

Rhule has led a four-win improvement in each of his first three seasons at Temple from 2-10 to 6-6 to 10-4. He’s been a part of the entire Temple renaissance from 2006-11 as an assistant and the last three years as head coach. Dunphy, who reached the NCAA Tournament for six consecutive seasons, is aiming to return for the first time after a two-year absence.

 

30 (tie). Cincinnati

Football: Tommy Tuberville

Basketball: Mick Cronin

Both Cincinnati programs are solid, if unspectacular. Tuberville has reached a bowl game every year with the Bearcats, though last year’s 7-6 season was the worst of his three-year tenure. Cronin’s teams have an identity of a grinding defensive squad, and that’s been enough for five consecutive NCAA appearances.

Teaser:
Ranking the Nation's Top 30 Football-Basketball Coaching Duos
Post date: Monday, February 29, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, News
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The Pac-12 is generally considered the top all-sports conference in college athletics.

 

Stanford alone has won the NACDA Directors’ Cup every year since 1994-95. The top three schools in the 2014-15 Directors’ Cup all came from the Pac-12 (Stanford, UCLA, USC).

 

That is one heck of a bragging right, but we’re not concerned with fencing, rowing, water polo or rifle.

 

The top football and men’s basketball coaching tandems in the Pac-12 come from two of the schools not recently associated with the Directors’ Cup.

 

As we start our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

1. Arizona

Football: Rich Rodriguez

Basketball: Sean Miller

After Arizona football went 10–4, won the Pac-12 South and reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2014, last year’s 7–6 campaign, the worst under Rodriguez, was a major let down. It was an injury-plagued year, and Rodriguez still managed to reach a bowl game in each of his four seasons at Arizona. Miller has restored Arizona to national power status with three Pac-10/12 championships, three Elite Eight appearances and one Sweet 16 in his first six seasons.

 

2. Utah

Football: Kyle Whittingham

Basketball: Larry Krystkowiak

When Utah joined the Pac-12, few expected the Utes to be one of the league’s best football/basketball programs. Instead, Whittingham and Krystkowiak have navigated various challenges to produce top-25 programs in both sports. Krystkowiak took Utah to its first Sweet 16 since 2005 and could deliver a Pac-12 title for the Utes. Whittingham’s team never matched the 62-20 rout at Oregon, but they finished with 10 wins for the fourth time under Whittingham and the first time as a Pac-12 member.

 

3. Oregon

Football: Mark Helfrich

Basketball: Dana Altman

With all the success Altman has had at Oregon, it’s hard to believe that the Ducks’ coaching search in 2010 was a comedy of errors. After bigger names passed, Altman turned out to be the right guy. He has topped 20 wins in all six of his seasons in Eugene. All other Oregon coaches have 11 20-win seasons. He’s also heading for a fifth consecutive top-three finish in the league. Helfrich proved a perfect steward of the football program in 2014, taking the Ducks to the national championship game in his second season. In 2015, Oregon slipped back to 9-4, the Ducks’ worst record since 2007, but there’s reason to believe the season would have been different if Vernon Adams had been healthy all year.

 

4. UCLA

Football: Jim Mora

Basketball: Steve Alford

Mora has lifted UCLA out of a funk, winning 37 games in his first four seasons. No other Bruins coach has won more than 29 in his first four years. At 23-13 in the Pac-12 (and never better than 6-3), however, the Bruins haven’t become the conference elite. Alford hasn’t proven he’s an upgrade over predecessor Ben Howland, but back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances (buoyed by three wins over double-digit seeds and a controversial finish against No. 6 SMU) still count for something.

 

5. Stanford

Football: David Shaw

Basketball: Johnny Dawkins

Shaw has been the coach at Stanford five years, and only one of those ended without 11 or more wins and a major bowl game. NFL suitors will continue to pursue him, but it’s starting to seem like he’ll be a campus institution at Stanford for a long time. One of the few highlights of Dawkins’ eight-year tenure was an upset of No. 2 seed Kansas and a trip to the Sweet 16 in his only Tournament appearance in 2014.

 

6. Cal

Football: Sonny Dykes

Basketball: Cuonzo Martin

Dykes has led a quick turnaround at two different programs. Cal went 1-11 in his first season (and 3-9 the year before he arrived) and 8-5 in this third season. He also went 17-8 in his final two seasons at Louisiana Tech. The only question is how long he wants to stay at Cal. The hopes for a Pac-12 basketball title this season never panned out for Martin, but he should head to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons at two schools.

 

7. Washington

Football: Chris Petersen

Basketball: Lorenzo Romar

Petersen has lost as many games in his first two seasons at Washington (12) as he did in his eight years at Boise State, but there’s clear momentum here. His team will be in contention in the Pac-12 North in 2016. Romar has 286 wins and three Sweet 16 appearances at Washington, but he hasn’t reached the Tournament since 2011.

 

8. Oregon State

Football: Gary Andersen

Basketball: Wayne Tinkle

Given his track record at Utah State and Wisconsin, Gary Andersen’s 2-10 debut at Oregon State should be viewed as an aberration and an indication of the lack of talent in Corvallis. In just two seasons, Tinkle has brought life to one of the Pac-12’s worst programs. If the Beavers get to the NCAA Tournament, it will be their first trip since 1990.

 

9. Arizona State

Football: Todd Graham

Basketball: Bobby Hurley

Arizona State was one of the most disappointing teams in the country last season, falling to 6-7 after back-to-back 10-win seasons. Graham’s fifth season at Arizona State in 2016 will be the longest he has stayed at any school. Hurley needed only two seasons to take Buffalo to its first NCAA Tournament, but it’s been a rough first season at Arizona State.

 

10. USC

Football: Clay Helton

Basketball: Andy Enfield

USC twice went with young and flashy for its head coach, and it didn’t work out. Helton is young-ish (43) and solid. USC was better under his watch last year (5-4), but the Trojans will have to be even better if he’s going to be the answer in Los Angeles. Rare is the basketball coach who makes the leap from the Atlantic Sun to a Power 5 job, but Enfield is starting to look like the real deal with a team that’s solidly in the NCAA Tournament field after going 5-31 in the Pac-12 in his first two years.

 

11. Washington State

Football: Mike Leach

Basketball: Ernie Kent

In 2015, Leach led Washington State to its best season since 2003. And if it’s possible, his teams are even more pass-oriented than they were at Texas Tech. Basketball’s questionable hire of the veteran Kent isn’t looking any better as the Cougars are headed to a last-place finish in the Pac-12.

 

12. Colorado

Football: Mike MacIntyre

Basketball: Tad Boyle

Colorado is better under MacIntyre but still a non-factor in the Pac-12 (10-27 overall). On the basketball side, Boyle led Colorado to an unprecedented three consecutive NCAA Tournaments from 2012-14, but last year’s losing season sapped a ton of momentum from the program.

Teaser:
Ranking the Pac-12's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos
Post date: Friday, February 26, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, News
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In some ways, the Big Ten could argue it has become the best combined football-basketball conference in recent years.

 

True, the conference has produced just one football championship since 2002 and no basketball championships since 2000. But at the same time, the Big Ten has had more programs in the running for mix big prizes, especially since Kentucky has become the lone basketball power in the SEC.

 

Michigan State was in the College Football Playoff in 2015, the same year the Spartans were in the Final Four, also the same year Wisconsin reached the basketball national championship game. And of course, Ohio State won the college football national championship in 2014.

 

The Big Ten has produced at least one Final Four team in each of the last four years. Since 2007, only twice has the Big Ten been shut out of the Final Four.

 

Michigan State and Ohio State’s recent success notwithstanding, football has some catching up to do — and judging by the first calendar year of Harbaugh-mania, Michigan will be the next school to catch up.

 

As we start our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

1. Michigan State

Football: Mark Dantonio

Basketball: Tom Izzo

Here’s what makes up an elite coaching tandem: In four of the last five seasons, the football team has reached a major bowl (two Cotton Bowls, a Rose Bowl and Capital One Bowl) in the same season the basketball team reached the Sweet 16 or better. Since Jan. 2014 alone, Michigan State has accounted for:

• A Rose Bowl win and Big Ten football championship,

• An Elite Eight appearance and Big Ten tournament championship,

• A Cotton Bowl win,

• A Final Four and

• A College Football Semifinal appearance and Big Ten title.

 

2. Ohio State

Football: Urban Meyer

Basketball: Thad Matta

In many years, Ohio State could get the nod as the top college coaching tandem. But Meyer, a year after winning the third national championship of his career, saw his chance to repeat end with a loss to Michigan State and Dantonio. Meyer still has an absurd 50-4 mark (31-1 in the Big Ten) at Ohio State. Matta is perhaps the nation’s most underrated coach, but his program is in a three-year downswing. The Buckeyes averaged more than 30 wins with a Final Four, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s from 2010-13. The Buckeyes haven’t topped 25 wins since and could miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

 

3. Michigan

Football: Jim Harbaugh

Basketball: John Beilein

Harbaugh has arguably transformed the Big Ten even more than Meyer. The Ohio State coach brought SEC-style recruiting to the Big Ten, and Harbaugh is one-upping even one of the most ruthless recruiters in the business. Oh, and he can coach, too. Michigan exceeded expectations in his first season as 10-win team and top-15 finisher. Michigan hasn’t matched the heights of the 2013 national title game and 2014 Elite Eight, but Beilein has reached the NCAA Tournament five times in seven seasons at Michigan — the best run since the Fab Five-fueled ‘90s.

 

4. Iowa

Football: Kirk Ferentz

Basketball: Fran McCaffrey

This is possibly the most overachieving duo in the Big Ten. Ferentz led the football team to a 12-2 season and the Big Ten title game. True, Iowa won the easier division and the team may never has been as good as its top-10 ranking, but Ferentz’s fifth 10-win season comes after averaging 6.8 wins in the five seasons prior. McCaffrey has Iowa on pace for its third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, the best streak for Iowa since 1991-93. If the Hawkeyes secure a top-two seed, it will be the first time for the program since 1987.

 

5. Penn State

Football: James Franklin

Basketball: Pat Chambers

Recruiting has raised the pressure on both coaches. Granted, recruiting to both Penn State football and Penn State basketball is a challenge for wildly different reasons. After going 7–6 in each of his first two seasons, Franklin will essentially re-boot with two new coordinators and a new quarterback in his third season. Chambers averaged just four Big Ten wins during his first four seasons, but he has a top-20 class signed for 2016-17. 

 

6. Indiana

Football: Kevin Wilson

Basketball: Tom Crean

Say this for Indiana’s duo: They will be entertaining. Both Wilson’s teams and Crean’s teams can score with anyone. Defense, though, is optional. Wilson has been on hot seat lists, but he led the Hoosiers to only their second bowl game since 1993. Crean, too, has been under pressure, but he led Indiana to back-to-back Sweet 16s in 2012-13 for the first time since 1991-94.

 

7. Northwestern

Football: Pat Fitzgerald

Basketball: Chris Collins

Northwestern’s 2015 football season may have been a bit of a mirage, but two 10-win seasons in a four-year span is a notable achievement for the Wildcats. Fitz, the school’s all-time wins leader, is two years away from being Northwestern’s longest-tenured coach. Northwestern basketball is a long way from making its first NCAA Touranment, but Collins could lead the Wildcats to their first 20-win season since 2011.

 

8. Nebraska

Football: Mike Riley

Basketball: Tim Miles

This might be the most congenial pairing in the Big Ten, but it’s not one that’s brought a ton of consistency. Riley’s first season was a series of unfortunate events at best, but it still ended with a bowl win thanks to a waiver allowing the five-win Cornhuskers to play in a bowl. We expected the basketball program to turn the corner after the 2014 NCAA Tournament appearance, but the Huskers are facing the possibility of a second consecutive losing season.

 

9. Wisconsin

Football: Paul Chryst

Basketball: Greg Gard

In his first year, Chryst pieced together a 10-win season despite a shockingly inept run game. Now, he’ll have to find away to replace the coordinator (Dave Aranda) of a defense that carried his team. Gard may or may not be the permanent coach after the abrupt retirement of Bo Ryan, but he has the Badgers in contention for the NCAA Tournament, something the Ryan-version of the team couldn’t say this year.

 

10. Maryland

Football: D.J. Durkin

Basketball: Mark Turgeon

The first two seasons in the Big Ten have been better than the last 12 in the ACC for Maryland basketball. In 2015, Turgeon led Maryland to its best season since the 2002 national title, and he has a team with Final Four potential this year. Maryland football has a major climb ahead of it in a division with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, but Durkin, a former Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh assistant, should understand the terrain better than most.

 

11. Purdue

Football: Darell Hazell

Basketball: Matt Painter

After back-to-back losing seasons in 2012-14, Painter has Purdue on the upswing again. The Boilermakers have their best team since the Robbie Hummel era, which included back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. Hazell is 2-22 in the Big Ten, and there’s little reason to believe that mark will improve anytime soon.

 

12. Illinois

Football: Bill Cubit

Basketball: John Groce

With the hiring of a new athletic director, Illinois’ coaching duo could be facing some changes. Cubit went 5-7 as an interim head coach, and Groce is facing the worst season of his mediocre four-year tenure with the Illini.

 

13. Minnesota

Football: Tracy Claeys

Basketball: Richard Pitino

Minnesota made a continuity hire with Claeys, who went 2-4 after Jerry Kill’s sudden retirement last year. Meanwhile, Minnesota basketball has regressed in three seasons under the once-promising Pitino. The Gophers have gone from 25 wins to 18 and might not get to 10 wins this season.

 

14. Rutgers

Football: Chris Ash

Basketball: Eddie Jordan

Ash is a first-year coach from the Urban Meyer coaching tree who hopes to inject life into a program that sorely needs it. Rutgers basketball has had many bad seasons over the years, but this year’s Scarlet Knights are one of the worst Power 5 teams in decades.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big Ten's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos
Post date: Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, News
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Not long ago, one SEC program could easily claim having the best football-basketball coaching tandem in the nation. From 2006-08, Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan won four national championships for Florida.

 

Eight years later, Meyer and Donovan are in different jobs, and the SEC looks quite a bit the same and yet different. No tandem really towers over any other.

 

Sure, football — or at least Alabama football — is still on top of the world, and Kentucky basketball has Final Four hopes year in and year out. But no SEC school can hope to do both in the same year like Florida once did.

 

As we start our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

1. Alabama

Football: Nick Saban

Basketball: Avery Johnson

With four national championships at Alabama, one title at LSU, and eight consecutive top-10 finishes, Saban is the top coach in either football or men’s basketball right now. There’s no sign this streak is going to slow down any time soon. The former NBA coach Johnson seemed to be a questionable pick for Tide (especially as he was the program’s second choice after Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall). Now, Johnson could be the Coach of the Year in the SEC if the Tide reach the NCAA Tournament in his first year. He also had a standout recruiting class coming in for 2016-17.

 

2. Mississippi State

Football: Dan Mullen

Basketball: Ben Howland

This is rare territory for Mississippi State to be among the top coaching tandems in the SEC. Usually a place like Florida would be near the top. The case for Mississippi State is pretty clear: Mullen has taken the Bulldogs to unthinkable heights with 19 wins in a two-year span and six consecutive bowl games in a two-year span. Howland’s first season at Mississippi State may be somewhat of a disappointment considering the fanfare surrounding his hire and the presence of a five-star recruit (Malik Newman), but this is still a three-time Final Four coach in Starkville.

 

3. Ole Miss

Football: Hugh Freeze

Basketball: Andy Kennedy

Freeze has done what no coach at Ole Miss has been able to do since John Vaught in the ‘60s — turn the Rebels into a consistent heavy hitter in the SEC. Ole Miss’ win total has increased every year under Freeze, giving the Rebels only their second 10-win season since 1971. Kennedy isn’t competing for championships, but he’s turned the moribund Ole Miss basketball program into a consistent postseason contender, including two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last four seasons. He’s the school’s all-time wins leader by a wide margin.

 

4. Auburn

Football: Gus Malzahn

Basketball: Bruce Pearl

A year ago, we could have ranked this as the top duo in the SEC. Now, we’re wondering where Malzahn and Pearl really stand. After a trip to the 2013 national title game, Auburn has gone just 6-10 in the SEC since then including a five-game losing streak at one point. Coaching turnover presents another challenge to Malzahn only two years after he was on top of the profession. Pearl’s program seemed to show momentum in the SEC Tournament last year, but they’re headed to another losing season. Pearl, though, can recruit and will have more talent next year than in either of his first two seasons.

 

5. Arkansas

Football: Bret Bielema

Basketball: Mike Anderson

Neither Arkansas football nor basketball are the best programs in the SEC, but both keep things interesting. For all of Bielema’s bluster, it gets overlooked that Arkansas has improved from 0-8 in the SEC to 2-6 to 5-3. Arkansas basketball probably could be better than one NCAA Tournament appearance in five years under Anderson, but the Razorbacks are just one year removed from a 27-win season and a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

 

6. Kentucky

Football: John Calipari

Basketball: Mark Stoops

Calipari has a national championship and four Final Fours at Kentucky (plus two more at UMass and Memphis), but again this is a tandem ranking. The SEC’s top basketball coach is paired with Stoops, who is 12-24 overall and 4-20 in the SEC. Stoops has improved Kentucky’s recruiting, but his third season ended with a thud — a five-game SEC losing streak and a loss to rival Louisville.

 

7. Tennessee

Football: Butch Jones

Basketball: Rick Barnes

Some football fans might consider last season to be a disappointment, but the Volunteers are right where they should be in the rebuilding process. The 9–4 Vols lost to the national champion (Alabama), a playoff team (Oklahoma), the SEC East champion (Florida) and an eight-win team from the West (Arkansas). The Volunteers clobbered just about everyone else, and 2016 should be the season his standout recruiting classes will bring UT back to the top of the SEC East. Tennessee might sneak into the NIT this season, but if there’s any sign of life, it’s the Volunteers’ toughness at home, where they beat Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and LSU this season.

 

8. Texas A&M

Football: Kevin Sumlin

Basketball: Billy Kennedy

Sumlin’s program has garnered plenty of skepticism as the Aggies have gone 11-13 in the SEC during the last three seasons. The 2015 mess at the quarterback position could have ramifications into 2016 if Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight doesn’t pan out. After five seasons, Kennedy’s program has been building to this year when the Aggies at times looked like the best team in the SEC. They may still finish behind Kentucky, but they’ll be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Kennedy’s tenure.

 

9. Florida

Football: Jim McElwain

Basketball: Mike White

McElwain impressed in his first season at Florida, leading the Gators to the SEC East title. By the end of the season, the flaws were plenty evident that the offense has a long way to go for the Gators to be true SEC contenders again. Billy Donovan essentially handed his successor a blank slate after the Gators went 16-17 in his final season. Florida’s not a factor in the SEC race but could reach the Tournament as an at-large — a nice change of pace for White, whose three-time conference championship teams at Louisiana Tech stalled in the league tournament.

 

10. LSU

Football: Les Miles

Basketball: Johnny Jones

LSU has every reason to believe it’s not getting the most out of its coaching tandem. Since the 2012 title game, the football program under Miles has pulled in five top-15 signing classes, yet LSU is 20-12 in the SEC in that span. Under Jones, LSU likely won’t make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team despite having Ben Simmons on the roster. The Tigers squeaked into the NCAA Tournament last year, but bizarre losses to Missouri, Mississippi State and Auburn (twice) sent LSU to an 8-9 game.

 

11. South Carolina

Football: Will Muschamp

Basketball: Frank Martin

This would rank as the most combustable coaching tandem in the SEC as both have explosive personalities on the sideline. Martin’s gamble to leave Kansas State for one of the toughest jobs in the SEC is paying off as the Gamecocks should make the Tournament for the first time since 2004. Muschamp was a puzzling hire as he flamed out in the same division at Florida. South Carolina is banking on the promise that the defensive guru learned from his mistakes in Gainesville.

 

12. Georgia

Football: Kirby Smart

Basketball: Mark Fox

Smart’s hire is a mystery as coaches from the Saban tree have been a grab bag. After Georgia parted with Richt, Smart has a good idea of the expectations at his alma mater. Fox is a solid coach, but Georgia doesn’t have the commitment to basketball to help him reach the next level.

 

13. Vanderbilt

Football: Derek Mason

Basketball: Kevin Stallings

Mason’s move to take over the defense himself may have taken some of the heat off a coach who went winless in the SEC in his first season. The Commodores went 2-6 in his second year. Stallings is the longest-tenure SEC coach in either sport, but he’s facing the most disappointing season of his career. The Commodores were a preseason top 20 team, but they’re fighting for an NCAA bid. If this is his last year, Stallings would have reached the NCAA Tournament six times in 17 years. Not terrible for Vanderbilt, but enough to leave fans wanting more.

 

14. Missouri

Football: Barry Odom

Basketball: Kim Anderson

Odom has been groomed for the Missouri coaching job for a while now, playing linebacker for the Tigers in the 90s and spending 10 of the last 12 years on the staff in some capacity. Anderson was a questionable hire from the get-go, moving up from Division II ranks. With player defections and fallout from the Frank Haith era, he’s had little chance to succeed. Both coaches will need to navigate a host of issues brought to the forefront by student protests and ensuing administrative resignations last fall.

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos
Post date: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12-football-basketball-coaching-duos
Body:

At this point last season, we ranked Oklahoma as the top coaching duo in the Big 12. It was a pretty easy call.

 

Although the football program was coming off an 8-5 season, Bob Stoops presided over a program that won 10 games or more nine times in 16 years to that point. And although Lon Kruger rarely led spectacular seasons, he had a long track record of taking over troubled programs and turning them into contenders.

 

A year later, the stature of the Stoops-Kruger tandem has only grown. Stoops led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff, and Kruger has at times this year had the No. 1 team in the country. It wouldn’t be a surprise if OU produces a final four team in both sports.

 

As we start our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

1. Oklahoma

Football: Bob Stoops

Basketball: Lon Kruger

After one of his worst seasons at Oklahoma in 2014, Stoops reinvented his offense with a new coordinator and landed in the College Football Playoff. In 17 seasons, Stoops has led OU to 10 top-10 finishes and nine Big 12 titles. His basketball counterpart knows even more about longevity: He’s the only coach who has taken five teams in the NCAA Tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma). With Buddy Hield on board, Kruger might reach his second Final Four in what could be a Hall of Fame career.

 

2. Baylor

Football: Art Briles

Basketball: Scott Drew

A decade ago, Baylor was a non-factor in both college football and basketball. These days, Baylor is doing things that a program like Texas should be doing. Football has topped 10 wins and been ranked in the top 15 in four of the last five years. Basketball hasn’t shown the same year-in-and-year-out consistency, but two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in seven seasons is a notable achievement for a program with four NCAA appearances before Drew arrived.

 

3. West Virginia

Football: Dana Holgorsen

Basketball: Bob Huggins

Holgorsen hasn’t matched the 10–3 season and an Orange Bowl win in 2011, WVU’s last year in the Big East. Life in the Big 12 has been tougher (20-23 in four years). In the last two seasons, Huggins has shown again why he’s won more than 700 career games, reinventing his program into “Press Virginia.” West Virginia has reached the Sweet 16 or better three times under Huggins, including the 2010 Final Four. No other West Virginia coach has been in the final 16 more than twice.

 

4. TCU

Football: Gary Patterson

Basketball: Trent Johnson

Considering where TCU started under Patterson — moving from the WAC to Conference USA in his first year — perhaps no program’s rise into a national power is more astonishing. The Horned Frogs have won 10 games or more 10 times since 2002, a feat topped only by Alabama, Boise State, Ohio State and Oklahoma. TCU basketball, on the other hand, has been left behind.

 

5. Kansas

Football: David Beaty

Basketball: Bill Self

Self may wrap up Kansas’ 12th consecutive Big 12 title, a streak in a power conference that may never be matched again. If the Jayhawks win a conference title next year, they will match UCLA’s run of 13 consecutive conference titles under John Wooden. Again this is a tandem ranking so one of the top coaches in college basketball is balanced with a former position coach who went 0-12 in his first season with the worst Power 5 football program.

 

6. Texas

Football: Charlie Strong

Basketball: Shaka Smart

After back-to-back losing seasons, Strong is under pressure to turn Texas around. With a strong close on National Signing Day and a shake-up in the athletic department, Strong may have the resources to do so. Smart, meanwhile, is exceeding meager expectations in his first season with the basketball program and has the Longhorns on track for the NCAA Tournament.

 

7. Kansas State

Football: Bill Snyder

Basketball: Bruce Weber

Snyder is college football’s greatest miracle worker. Under Snyder, Kansas State has won 65.6 percent of its games with 17 bowl appearances. Without Snyder, K-State has won 38.9 percent of its games with two bowl appearances. The basketball program won 27 games in Weber’s first season, but it has been treading water since that year ended with a first-round upset loss to La Salle in the NCAA Tournament.

 

8. Oklahoma State

Football: Mike Gundy

Basketball: Travis Ford

Gundy should become the first 100-win coach in Oklahoma State history. The Cowboys haven’t matched the 2011 Big 12 championship season, but Pokes have won 10 or more games in four of the last six years. A bad contract (from Oklahoma State’s perspective) has saddled the Cowboys with a basketball coach with a losing Big 12 record and one NCAA Tournament win in eight seasons.

 

9. Texas Tech

Football: Kliff Kingsbury

Basketball: Tubby Smith

The return of Kliff Kingsbury has yet to produce a breakout season for the Red Raiders. Kingsbury’s 10-17 Big 12 record includes a 1-11 mark against Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU. The hire of an aging Tubby Smith to one of the toughest jobs in the Big 12 was a head-scratcher. If the Red Raiders reach their first NCAA Tournament since 2007, the Smith hire will look like a stroke of genius.

 

10. Iowa State

Football: Matt Campbell

Basketball: Steve Prohm

Campbell (Toledo) and Prohm (Murray State) both proved their ability to run programs at a lower level. Campbell has the tall task of winning at one of the Power 5’s toughest jobs. Prohm has the impossible task of stepping into the shoes of a wildly popular predecessor.

 

Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12 Football-Basketball Coaching Duos
Post date: Tuesday, February 23, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-football/ranking-acc-football-basketball-coaching-duos
Body:

Few would argue that Duke is college basketball royalty. Even fewer would argue that one coach is the primary reason Duke is among the bluest of the blue bloods.

 

At the same time, few would argue that Duke is one of the toughest jobs in college football. The program’s overall record attests to that.

 

And yet although Mike Krzyzewski and David Cutcliffe have drastically different sets of expectations, they make up the top coaching tandem in the ACC. Coach K expects to compete for championships every season, winning his most recent in 2015.

 

Meanwhile, Cutcliffe has elevated Duke football into a consistent bowl contender, something that hasn’t been done since the '50s and '60s.

 

As we start our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.

 

1. Duke

Football: David Cutcliffe

Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski

Hard to believe, but Krzyzewski’s stature has only grown since this time last season. Coach K won his fifth career national championship in 2015 and did it in a new way using one-and-done talent. This season has been bumpy, with the Blue Devils going unranked for the first time since 2006-07. David Cutcliffe has done the unthinkable with Duke football, producing three consecutive winning seasons for the first time and the program’s first bowl win since the early ‘60s.

 

2. Louisville

Football: Bobby Petrino

Basketball: Rick Pitino

The off-field/off-court exploits — failed professional careers, extramarital affairs gone public and the most recent basketball postseason ban stemming from allegations a staffer used prostitutes to lure recruits — are troubling. Their coaching ability, though, is unquestioned. Pitino averaged 30.8 wins from 2011-15, including a national championship and a Final Four. In his third year on his second tour of duty, Petrino should have the Cardinals ready to take the next step after going 10-6 in the ACC in the first two seasons.

 

3. Notre Dame

Football: Brian Kelly

Basketball: Mike Brey

Brian Kelly has brought Notre Dame back to national prominence with at trip to the national championship game in 2012. The Irish have spent time in the top five in each of the last two seasons despite playing two years snakebit by injuries. Mike Brey is on the short list of most underrated coaches. In the last two years, Brey has defeated Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino with regularity.

 

4. North Carolina

Football: Larry Fedora

Basketball: Roy Williams

Williams has his best North Carolina team in at least five years, the last time the Tar Heels won the ACC. Williams is looking to reach his eighth Final Four and first since 2009, an eternity for the Hall of Fame coach. It probably took Fedora longer to turn the corner with the football program than UNC fans would have hoped, but the Heels are coming off their best season since 1997.

 

5. Miami

Football: Mark Richt

Basketball: Jim Larranaga

If Richt does for Miami what he did for Georgia — averaging 9.6 wins per year and fielding regular top-10 teams — he’ll be in the College Football Hall of Fame. Larranaga already has an ACC title and Sweet 16 at Miami and a Final Four at George Mason on his résumé, and he has a top-15 team again in Coral Gables. Fun fact: Larranaga has more career wins than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.

 

6. Florida State

Football: Jimbo Fisher

Basketball: Leonard Hamilton

Florida State football is an all-around powerhouse — in recruiting, on the field and on draft day — again with Fisher in charge. His 68-14 record through six years gives him one of the hottest starts in college football history. Hamilton breathed life into the Florida State program with four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 from 2009-12. Since then, the Seminoles topped 20 wins just once.

 

7. Syracuse

Football: Dino Babers

Basketball: Jim Boeheim

Syracuse’s NCAA issues — the postseason ban in 2015, scholarship limits and Boeheim’s suspension earlier this year — cast a shadow on the latter years of his tenure. Syracuse might not get to the Final Four or win 30 games again before he retires in 2018. Babers, an Art Briles protégé, who has two conference championships in four seasons at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois under his belt, could be a transformative hire for Syracuse football.

 

8. Virginia

Football: Bronco Mendenhall

Basketball: Tony Bennett

Bennett has remade Virginia basketball with his pack-line defense. Of the Cavaliers’ three 30-win seasons in school history, two are under his watch in the last two seasons, and the Cavs could make it three 30-win seasons in a row this year. They’ve won back-to-back ACC regular-season titles and an ACC tournament for Virginia’s best run since Ralph Sampson played in Charlottesville. Mendenhall was an outside-of-the-box hire for a moribund football program. He has plenty of questions about recruiting in the East, but he averaged nine wins per season at BYU.

 

9. Virginia Tech

Football: Justin Fuente

Basketball: Buzz Williams

There’s a ton to love about the combo of Fuente and Williams. The reason they’re ranked lower than one might expect is because both have done their best work at other places. Obviously, Fuente hasn’t even coached spring practice in Blacksburg, but he’s making all the right moves (i.e., retaining Bud Foster). He was a miracle worker at Memphis. Williams has already topped his first-year win total with the basketball program, and a trip to the NIT would be a major step forward. Still, he’s a long way from turning Virginia Tech into the consistent overachiever Marquette was.

 

10. Clemson

Football: Dabo Swinney

Basketball: Brad Brownell

Wait, how can Dabo Swinney — a coach who led Clemson to the national title game and 56 wins in five years — be ranked this low? Swinney would be near the top of football coach rankings, but this is a tandem. The basketball program is never going to get the same love as the football program, but aside from a couple of nice weeks and upsets here and there, Brownell’s program hasn’t done much to draw attention. The Tigers have reached the NCAA Tournament just once in his six-year tenure – as a No. 12 seed in Dayton in his first year.

 

11. Pittsburgh

Football: Pat Narduzzi

Basketball: Jamie Dixon

This tandem for Pittsburgh just seems so … right. Narduzzi and Dixon are two defensive-minded coaches whose teams tend to grind their way through a season. Narduzzi led Pitt to eight wins for the first time since 2010, and he should have enough returning to make a run at the ACC Coastal. After Pitt basketball was the most overachieving team in the Big East (nine NCAA appearances in 10 years), Dixon’s program is hovering around .500 in ACC play the last three years. That’s a bit of concern.

 

12. NC State

Football: Dave Doeren

Basketball: Mark Gottfried

Of Doeren’s six ACC wins in three years, four are over Wake Forest and Syracuse. Gottfried has led NC State to a pair of Sweet 16 appearances in five seasons. Although this will be the first year under Gottfried NC State failed to make the NCAA Tournament, his career ACC record will likely dip under .500 after a disastrous 2015-16 season.

 

13. Georgia Tech

Football: Paul Johnson

Basketball: Brian Gregory

Johnson never got a chance to celebrate his second 11-win season and first top-10 in eight seasons. His team bottomed out at 3–9, the worst season for the Yellow Jackets since 1994. According to KenPom.com, this is Georgia Tech’s best team since 2009-10, but the Yellow Jackets have never finished better than 6-12 in the ACC under Gregory. Time is running out.

 

14. Wake Forest

Football: Dave Clawson

Basketball: Danny Manning

Things looked promising for Wake Forest basketball when the Deacons started 10–5. They’ve since lost 11 in a row and will finish close to the 13–19 mark in Manning’s first year. He’s still a bright young coach with a major rebuild. The story is the same on the football side where Clawson has gone 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the ACC in each of his first two seasons.

 

15. Boston College

Football: Steve Addazio

Basketball: Jim Christian

After back-to-back 7–6 seasons, BC football dropped to 3–9 due to an inept offense, which is supposed to be Addazio’s side of the ball. Boston College could hold the distinction of going winless in conference play in both football and basketball.

Teaser:
Ranking the ACC Football-Basketball Coaching Duos
Post date: Monday, February 22, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/athlons-2015-college-football-predictions-what-we-got-right-what-we-got-wrong
Body:

The end of the year is a time of reflection, a time to make promises to ourselves to do better in the next year.

 

For us at Athlon Sports, we like to take stock of the predictions we made back in May and June to see how they panned out. Which teams did we get right? Which teams did we get wrong? Which teams repaid or betrayed our faith in them this season?

 

In looking at the results, we try to get better for future seasons and maybe find some warning signs or predictors for success. Did we not put enough stock in teams with returning linemen or more depth than we realized? Did we put too much trust in untested quarterbacks?

 

One tool we track closely is . The site is not only a wealth of historical information, but it also grades preseason accuracy. Stassen grades accuracy based on predictions within a conference or a division.

 

In this year’s Stassen evaluation, Athlon Sports ranked second among preseason magazines and tied for fourth among the 21 preseason rankings Stassen tracks. Here’s how Athlon :

 

Stassen's 2015 Preseason Accuracy Rankings
1. Phil Steele
2. Athlon Sports
T3. ESPN
T3. Sports Illustrated
5. Lindy's
6. Conference media polls
7. USA Today
8. The Sporting News

Beyond the conference picks, we also like to check in with the top 25. Of Athlon’s preseason top 14 teams, 11 were ranked in the final College Football Playoff top 25. Each of the semifinal teams was ranked in our top 17.

 

Clearly, there’s a flip side in all of this. Iowa, ranked 53rd, was our biggest top 25 miss, and our No. 4 team Auburn finished 6–6. If there’s any silver lining those rankings, .

 

Athlon would never claim to have perfect rankings, though that’s certainly our goal. In fact, a season that lined up completely with our expectations would probably be pretty boring.

 

Nevertheless, it’s still fun to look back on all the picks that panned out and the ones that fizzled.

 

So let’s get this over with and start with the picks we got wrong, followed by the fun part of looking at the teams we got right:

 

Preseason picks Athlon (and everyone else) got wrong

 

Ohio State . The Buckeyes were No. 7 in the final CFP rankings but didn’t even make the Big Ten title game. This is perhaps the easiest mistake to make in the preseason rankings: A defending national champion with loads of returning starters (Ohio State returned 14).

 

We’d look like we’re making a statement if we didn’t put Ohio State at No. 1. Maybe one day we won’t fall in the trap of picking a repeat national champion. Unless it’s Alabama.

 

Auburn at No. 4. Every preseason magazine and both polls had Auburn in the top 10, so at least Athlon isn’t alone in buying the Tigers’ Kool-Aid. Heck, even coach Gus Malzahn sent his green starting quarterback, Jeremy Johnson, to represent Auburn at SEC Media Days. Let that be a lesson that defenses don’t get fixed overnight and we need to tread lightly around new starting quarterbacks.

 

Georgia at No. 10 and No. 1 in the SEC East. Another SEC pick everyone missed. The injury bug hit the running position back again. The defensive staff never seemed to be on the same page with the head coach. And a Virginia quarterback castoff didn’t turn into Matthew Stafford or Aaron Murray overnight.

 

Oklahoma winning the Big 12. Everyone loved either TCU or Baylor (mostly TCU) in the Big 12. OU was a preseason top 25 team — No. 17 in Athlon — but almost no one had the Sooners toppling last year’s Big 12 co-champs. OU was coming off its worst season since 1999 and lost in a bowl rout to Clemson. Clearly, we should have put more stock in the marriage of new coordinator Lincoln Riley and quarterback Baker Mayfield — both Air Raid guys — making over the OU offense.

 

The ACC Coastal race. The ACC Coastal was considered in the preseason to be one of the tightest division races in the country. Then how come everyone got it so wrong? Georgia Tech was a consensus top 25 team. Most everyone picked the Yellow Jackets or Virginia Tech to win the Coastal, which was eventually won by North Carolina. Georgia Tech (3–9) was out of the race by October and had its worst season since 1994. Oops.

 

Iowa, North Carolina and the rise of the American Athletic Conference. Iowa and North Carolina played for conference titles and perhaps spots in the College Football Playoff in the last week of the season. They were nowhere to be found in any preseason top 25. Neither was the American Athletic Conference, and yet by September and October, it was clear the AAC champ would grab a major bowl bid. Houston, Navy, Temple and Memphis all spent time in the top 25.

 

Most Underranked
TeamAthlon RankFinal CFP RankDifference
Iowa535-48
Northwestern5813-45
Houston5018-42
Temple6224-38
Navy5721-33
North Carolina4210-32
Most Overranked
TeamAthlon preseason rankFinal record
Auburn46-6, 2-6 SEC
Georgia Tech183-9, 1-7 ACC
Arizona State136-6. 4-5 Pac-12
Georgia109-3, 5-3 SEC
Arkansas167-5, 5-3 SEC
Missouri275-7, 1-7 SEC

 

Athlon rolled the dice… and was wrong

 

Clemson at No. 14. Consider this: At press time, Clemson returned only six starters, had a quarterback coming off an injury and had lost arguably the game’s top offensive coordinator to a head coaching job. A No. 14 ranking would seem generous for other teams. For this year's Clemson team, a No. 14 ranking and second-place finish in the ACC Atlantic was also quite wrong. Watson recovered just fine, and Clemson had built enough depth to absorb all those personnel losses.

 

Overall SEC strength. Athlon ranked the entire SEC West in the preseason, not to mention Georgia and Tennessee from the East. With all those SEC teams, we still missed Florida in the top 25 (in fairness, Florida was No. 26 and was in our top 25 until shortly before press time). Only No. 2 Alabama, No. 12 Ole Miss, No. 19 Florida and No. 22 Tennessee actually finished the season ranked. Athlon underestimated the quarterback woes in the league for teams like Auburn, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU and overestimated the impact of new coordinators at Auburn and Texas A&M.

 

Oddly enough, the team that had the best coordinator hire in 2015 may have been the one that got the least traction: Dan Enos at Arkansas effectively turned a run-first and run-second offense into a unit with one of the top three passers in the league in Brandon Allen.

 

Stanford at No. 24 and No. 2 in the Pac-12 North. Few tabbed Stanford as a top 10 team, but Athlon was on the lower end of the spectrum for the Pac-12 champs. That’s partly because Oregon wasn’t nearly good as expected, especially when Vernon Adams was hurt. We didn’t put enough stock in Christian McCaffrey’s breakout season, Kevin Hogan’s improved play at the end of 2014 or the four returning offensive linemen.

 

Arizona State at No. 13. The Sun Devils finished 6-6. Why we didn’t consider that possibility when the Sun Devils lost every impact defensive player and a starting quarterback is a mystery.

 

Athlon rolled the dice … and was right

 

Alabama at No. 2. While we picked Auburn in our top four, we still picked Alabama at No. 2 and the champion of the West. No one else had Alabama this high in the preseason. The Tide have stacked top recruiting classes for years, and Lane Kiffin had worked wonders with Blake Sims last season. We expected the same with Jake Coker in 2015.

 

A Big 12 champion not named TCU. The Horned Frogs were a near-unanimous pick to win the Big 12 with Athlon as the only holdout. The Frogs also were ranked No. 2 in a number of preseason rankings. We were skeptical of TCU’s luck with turnovers in 2014 and the possibility that the rest of the Big 12 would catch up to the Frogs’ offense in 2015. Injuries limited TCU’s ceiling more than anything, but we’ll take the correct prediction anyway. We still picked TCU at No. 5 and second behind Baylor in the Big 12.

 

We were more skeptical of preseason No. 25 Boise State and No. 26 Missouri than others … but not skeptical enough, it seems.

 

We nailed Conference USA East. How about that?

 

If you're really interested how we did, here's how each of our preseason rankings lined up with the actual results.

 

*indicates conference champion/actual champion

 

ACC AtlanticACC Coastal
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Florida State*1. Clemson*1. Georgia Tech1. North Carolina
2. Clemson2. Florida State2. Virginia Tech2. Pittsburgh
3. Louisville3. Louisville3. Pittsburgh3. Miami
4. NC State4. NC State4. North CarolinaT4. Duke
5. Boston College5. Syracuse5. MiamiT4. Virginia Tech
6. Wake Forest6. Wake Forest6. Duke6. Virginia
7. Syracuse7. Boston College7. Virginia7. Georgia Tech
AAC EastAAC West
Athlon predictionActual finishAthlon predictionActual finish
1. Cincinnati*1. Temple1. HoustonT1. Houston*
2. Temple2. USF2. NavyT1. Navy
3. UCFT3. Cincinnati3. Memphis3. Memphis
4. East CarolinaT3. UConn4. SMU4. Tulsa
5. USF5. East Carolina5. TulaneT5. SMU
6. UConn6. UCF6. TulsaT5. Tulane
Big 12
Athlon predictionActual finish
1. Baylor*1. Oklahoma
2. TCUT2. Oklahoma State
3. OklahomaT2. TCU
4. Oklahoma State4. Baylor
5. TexasT5. Texas Tech
6. West VirginiaT5. West Virginia
7. Kansas StateT5. Texas
8. Texas Tech8. Kansas State
9. Iowa State9. Iowa State
10. Kansas10. Kansas
Big Ten EastBig Ten West
Athlon predictionActual finishAthlon predictionActual finish
1. Ohio State*T1. Michigan State*1. Wisconsin1. Iowa
2. Michigan StateT1. Ohio State2. NebraskaT2. Northwestern
3. Penn State3. Michigan3. MinnesotaT2. Wisconsin
4. Michigan4. Penn State4. Iowa4. Nebraska
5. Maryland5. Indiana5. NorthwesternT5. Illinois
6. IndianaT6. Maryland6. IllinoisT5. Minnesota
7. RutgersT6. Rutgers7. Purdue7. Purdue
C-USA EastC-USA West
Athlon predictionActual finishAthlon predictionActual finish
1. Western Kentucky*1. Western Kentucky*1. Louisiana Tech1. Southern Miss
2. MarshallT2. Marshall2. Rice2. Louisiana Tech
3. Middle TennesseeT2. Middle Tennessee3. UTEPT3. UTSA
4. FAUT4. FAU4. Southern MissT3. Rice
5. FIUT4. FIU5. North TexasT3. UTEP
6. Old DominionT4. Old Dominion6. UTSA6. North Texas
7. Charlotte7. Charlotte  
MAC EastMAC West
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Bowling Green1. Bowling Green*1. Toledo*T1. Northern Illinois
2. UMassT2. Ohio2. Northern IllinoisT1. Western Michigan
3. AkronT2. Akron3. Western MichiganT1. Toledo
4. Ohio4. Buffalo4. Ball StateT1. Central Michigan
5. BuffaloT5. Kent State5. Central Michigan5. Ball State
6. Kent StateT5. Miami6. Eastern Michigan6. Eastern Michigan
7. MiamiT5. UMass  
MW MountainMW West
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Boise State*1. Air Force1. San Diego State1. San Diego State*
2. Utah StateT2. New Mexico2. NevadaT2. Nevada
3. Colorado StateT2. Utah State3. Fresno StateT2. San Jose State
4. Air ForceT2. Boise State4. San Jose StateT4. Fresno State
5. WyomingT2. Colorado State5. HawaiiT4. UNLV
6. New Mexico6. Wyoming6. UNLV6. Hawaii
Pac-12 NorthPac-12 South
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Oregon1. Stanford*1. USC*T1. USC
2. Stanford2. Oregon2. Arizona StateT1. Utah
3. Washington3. Washington State3. UCLA3. UCLA
4. CalT4. Cal4. Arizona4. Arizona State
5. Washington StateT4. Washington5. Utah5. Arizona
6. Oregon State6. Oregon State6. Colorado6. Colorado
SEC EastSEC West
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Georgia1. Florida1. Alabama*1. Alabama*
2. TennesseeT2. Georgia2. Auburn2. Ole Miss
3. FloridaT2. Tennessee3. Ole MissT3. Arkansas
4. MissouriT4. Vanderbilt4. LSUT3. LSU
5. South CarolinaT4. Kentucky5. ArkansasT5. Texas A&M
6. KentuckyT6. Missouri6. Texas A&MT5. Mississippi State
7. VanderbiltT6. South Carolina7. Mississippi State7. Auburn
Sun Belt
Athlon predictionsActual finish
1. Arkansas State1. Arkansas State
2. Georgia Southern2. Appalachian State
3. UL Lafayette3. Georgia Southern
4. Appalachian State4. Georgia State
5. Texas StateT5. South Alabama
6. South AlabamaT5. Troy
7. ULMT5. New Mexico State
8. TroyT5. Idaho
9. New Mexico StateT5. UL Lafayette
10. Idaho10. Texas State
11. Georgia State11. ULM

 

Teaser:
Athlon's 2015 College Football Predictions: What We Got Right, What We Got Wrong
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/2010-coaching-carousel-revisited-big-winners-and-bigger-losers
Body:

College football programs tend to be copycats. They borrow offensive and defensive schemes, recruiting tactics and coaches from the same handful of staffs.

 

By 2010, another trend took off — the coach-in-waiting. This was supposed to be the way aging coaches would ease fears in recruiting. Bobby Bowden tabbed Jimbo Fisher as his eventual successor at Florida State. Rich Brooks did the same with Joker Phillips at Kentucky.

 

This policy, though, had its drawbacks. Fisher and Phillips had never been head coaches before, and only one of them still was less than five years later. Maryland named James Franklin a coach-in-waiting for Ralph Friedgen, but a new athletic director had a change of heart and let Franklin leave for Vanderbilt. Will Muschamp was named a coach-in-waiting at Texas, but he tired of waiting for Mack Brown to leave. He left for Florida, and Texas fans would eventually be relieved he didn’t stick in Austin.

 

The 2009-10 coaching carousel was also the year Notre Dame and USC hired new coaches with wildly different results.

 

Of the 22 coaches hired for 2010:

 

• Only three remain with the teams that hired them (Jimbo Fisher, Brian Kelly and Doc Holliday)

• 12 were fired and have yet to get other FBS coaching jobs.

• Five left for bigger jobs (Butch Jones, Charlie Strong, Sonny Dykes, Mike MacIntyre and Willie Taggart).

• Two left voluntarily for lateral jobs or steps down (Tommy Tuberville and Dan Enos).

 

As the 2015-16 coaching carousel continues to spin, here’s what Athlon had to say about the 2010 class of new coaches and how they actually turned out.

 

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

What did Athlon say?

“Notre Dame hit a home run by hiring Kelly … There’s no season to believe he will not have Notre Dame back to prominence in the near future. The days of losing to Syracuse at home are over.”

How’d he do?

Kelly has, for the most part, returned Notre Dame to national prominence. The Irish have been ranked in the top five at some point in three of the last four seasons, including a trip to the BCS title game (and subsequent drubbing at the hands of Alabama) after the 2012 season. If not for a rash of injuries and academic casualties in the last two seasons, Notre Dame may have hit even greater heights.

 

Lane Kiffin, USC

What did Athlon say?

“It is noteworthy than a school that is facing an ongoing NCAA investigation hired a coach who showed so little regard for NCAA rules in his only season as a head coach.”

How did he do?

Tennessee fans were furious to lose Kiffin after only one season, and USC fans were thrilled to have one of Carroll’s own (plus Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin) returning to Los Angeles. All of turned to be much ado about nothing. USC went 10-2 and defeated then-No. 4 Oregon at Autzen despite NCAA sanctions in 2010. It was all downhill from there. USC was a preseason No. 1 in 2012 and finished 7–6 with an embarrassing performance in the Sun Bowl — both on the field and off. USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Kiffin on a tarmac after an September loss to Arizona State the following season. Kiffin went 28-15 at USC and has become a hot name again after only two years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

 

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

What did Athlon say?

“The school could have had its pick of just about any coach in the nation to succeed Bobby Bowden. What is so special about Fisher?”

How did he do?

Plenty was special about Fisher. The handoff of the program from the legendary Bobby Bowden to the coach-in-waiting Fisher was clunky but nonetheless a resounding success. Fisher modernized the program from nutrition to conditioning while finally capitalizing on all those elite recruiting classes FSU had been signing for years. By the end of his third season in 2012, Florida State was back among the national elite, winning 29 consecutive games including a Heisman trophy for Jameis Winston, the 2013 national title and a 2014 College Football Playoff appearance. The question is if FSU gets to keep him. Reports linked Fisher to the LSU job when the Tigers mulled parting with Les Miles.

 

Derek Dooley, Tennessee

What did Athlon say?

“Dooley could very well enjoy tremendous success, but his record at Louisiana Tech has to be cause for concern.”

How did he do?

Cause for concern? How about alarm bells. Kiffin’s shocking departure for USC in January 2012 left Tennessee in a bind, but the Volunteers surely could have done better than a 17-20 coach at Louisiana Tech. Dooley ended up as one of the worst hires for a major program in college football history as Dooley went 15-21 in three seasons. Tennessee was uncompetitive in the SEC in his final two seasons, going a combined 1-14. With his perfect hair, orange pants and quotables, Dooley could have been one of the SEC’s greatest characters if not for that dismal record. Dooley is now the wide receivers coach with the Dallas Cowboys.

 

Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech

What did Athlon say?

“As long as everyone remains on the same page philosophically, the Tuberville-Texas Tech marriage should be a happy one.”

How did he do?

This marriage was not a happy one as Texas Tech might not have been ready to move on from Mike Leach. Even as the Red Raiders led the Big 12 in passing in 2012, Tuberville had his eye on leaving. Tuberville bolted after three seasons and took a lesser job — at least conference-wise — at Cincinnati. Tuberville went 20-17 (9-17 in the Big 12) in three seasons, a record not that different from his successor. Kliff Kingsbury, a Leach QB at Texas Tech, is 19-18 overall and 10-17 in the Big 12.

 

Mike London, Virginia

What did Athlon say?

“This is one of the top hires of the 2009-10 offseason.”

How did he do?

This seemed like a slam dunk hire. It was not. London, a former Virginia assistant, went 24-5 at Richmond with an FCS title. He proved Virginia didn’t have a recruiting problem as the Cavaliers brought in above-average ACC talent. The record never matched up. London had one winning ACC season and one bowl game before he was fired this season. London finished 27-46 overall and 14-34 in the ACC. London quickly found a spot on D.J. Durkin's staff at Maryland as associate head coach.

 

Charlie Strong, Louisville

What did Athlon say?

“Strong possesses all the qualities necessary to be a good head coach, and he is at school that should be able to sustain success in the Big East.”

How did he do?

Strong’s first head coaching opportunity was long overdue. At 50, he was a national championship coordinator who had worked under Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. He went 14-12 in his first two seasons at Louisville but made quick progress, going 23-3 in his last two seasons with an upset of Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. His hire at Texas was greeted at skepticism. A 5–7 record with the Longhorns hasn’t done much to change that perception even considering Texas’ disastrous hire of AD Steve Patterson.

 

Joker Phillips, Kentucky

What did Athlon say?

“Ideally, if you are a BCS conference school, you’d like to hire someone with experience as ahead coach, but it’s hard to poke a hole in Phillips’ résumé.”

How did he do?

When Rich Brooks, who had reached four consecutive bowl games at Kentucky, tabbed Phillips as coach-in-waiting, the move made perfect sense. Phillips was an alum and ran solid offenses. Kentucky’s program momentum came to a screeching halt by the time he finished 2-10 and winless in the SEC in his second season. Phillips landed as a wide receivers coach at Florida but was fired when he ran afoul of NCAA rules. Phillips is now a receivers coach with the Cleveland Browns.

 

Butch Jones, Cincinnati

What did Athlon say?

“Jones walked into a great situation at Central Michigan, but he deserves credit for winning a bunch of games. Still, it won’t be easy to keep Cincinnati at the top of the Big East.”

How did he do?

Jones was still in Brian Kelly’s shadow when he left Central Michigan. That perception continued when he took over for Kelly a second time at Cincinnati. After a rocky first season, Jones went 19-6 in his last two with a share of the Big East title in both. His 2016 season at Tennessee will be the first time he’s coached to his fourth season anywhere.

 

Turner Gill, Kansas

What did Athlon say?

“Cons: None.”

How did he do?

Just five years ago, Gill was one of the hottest coaches on the market after leading a moribund Buffalo program to its first MAC title. A year prior, he had interviewed for the Auburn position when the Tigers hired Gene Chizik. Gill proved to be in over his head at Kansas, going 5-19 and 1-16 in the Big 12. Since Kansas, the ex-Nebraska quarterback seemed to find his comfort zone in the FCS coaching at Liberty.

 

Skip Holtz, USF

What did Athlon say?

“Jim Leavitt did a tremendous job building the program; Holtz can take it to the next level."

How did he do?

Holtz was another hire that seemed to be destined to success. Leavitt built the USF program from scratch, but it had seemed to have gone stale as the Bulls entered the Big East. A player mistreatment scandal gave USF a reason to let go of Leavitt and bring in Holtz, fresh off back-to-back Conference USA titles. Holtz took USF to another level — he set the program back several years, going 16-21 overall and 5-16 in the Big East.

 

Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina

What did Athlon say?

“McNeill wasn’t ECU’s first choice, but he is a solid hire for a school that has been a consistent winner in C-USA.”

How did he do?

Even though East Carolina hoped to hire Rick Stockstill from Middle Tennessee, McNeill ended up doing a pretty good job. An ECU Alum, McNeill led East Carolina to its first 10-win season in 22 years in 2013. He went 26-13 from 2012-14 before dipping to 5-7 in 2015, despite being competitive for most of the season. His abrupt firing following the season was one of the biggest surprises of the 2015-16 coaching carousel. McNeill wasn't out of work for long, landing as assistant head coach on Bronco Mendenhall's first staff at Virginia.

 

Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech

What did Athlon say?

“There are no guarantees he will compete for WAC titles, but you can sure that this disciple of both Hal Mumme and Mike Leach will run exciting offenses in Ruston.”

How did he do?

The former Texas Tech assistant revived Louisiana Tech with a high-flying offense. The departure of Boise State to the Mountain West opened the door for the Bulldogs to win the WAC in 2011. Tech entered the top 25 in 2012 before losing to Utah State and San Jose State to finish the season. Dykes left for Cal, a job he seems to be trying to leave at the moment.

 

Doc Holliday, Marshall

What did Athlon say?

“He will get good players to come to Marshall; now he just has to coach them.”

How did he do?

Holliday brought in good players and coached them. The Thundering Herd are 32-8 in the last two seasons, including a 20-4 mark in Conference USA behind one of the nation’s most up-tempo offenses.

 

Larry Porter, Memphis

What did Athlon say?

“Can he run a program? We’ll find out.”

How did he do?

We did find out, and, no, Porter could not run a program. He was a Memphis alum who had never been anything but a running backs coach, and now it’s easy to see why. Memphis went 3-21 in his two seasons before the Tigers pulled the plug. His biggest contribution to the Memphis program was making successor Justin Fuente look like miracle worker. Porter is — you guessed it — a running backs coach again, this time at North Carolina.

 

Dan Enos, Central Michigan

What did Athlon say?

“He has strong name recognition in the state and is regarded as a good recruiting, but the school could have found a coach with a more accomplished résumé.”

How did he do?

This was a ho-hum hire that offered ho-hum results. Predecessors Brian Kelly and Butch Jones were big winners in Mount Pleasant while Enos just barely made two bowl games in five seasons. Enos bolted to be the offensive coordinator at Arkansas.

 

Rob Ianello, Akron

What did Athlon say?

“There is an opportunity for upward mobility if he is able to bring in some top recruiting classes.”

How did he do?

A former Notre Dame assistant, Ianello worked under Barry Alvarez and Dick Tomey and was considered to be a strong recruiter. After going 2-22 in two seasons, it was clear why Ianello was a career assistant. He rejoined Charlie Weis at Kansas, making him a part of three consecutive dismal tenures. He’s now an assistant at Buffalo.

 

Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State

What did Athlon say?

“Seems to be a strange fit.”

How did he do?

MacIntyre was a little-known assistant who had served time at Ole Miss and Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. He turned out to be the best hire at San Jose State since the 1980s. Despite no West Coast roots, MacIntyre revived a program that went 1-12 in his first season and 11-2 in his third. MacIntyre would try to revive another struggling West Coast program when he left for Colorado.

 

Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky

What did Athlon say?

“Taggart is a perfect fit at Western Kentucky.”

How did he do?

The former Hilltoppers quarterback who played for longtime WKU coach Jack Harbaugh shepherded the program into the FBS era. Taggart took over a program that went 0-12 the year before he arrived and went 7-5 in 2011 and 7-6 with the program’s first bowl appearance in 2012. Many of the players on this year’s 8-4 team were Taggart recruits. Taggart engineered another big-time turnaround with an 8-4 season in his third year at USF.

 

Jeff Quinn, Buffalo

What did Athlon say?

“If I’m an AD at a MAC-level school, I’d be elated to bring on a guy who has worked so closely with Brian Kelly over the past two decades. This is a great hire.”

How did he do?

Little did we know in 2010 that the Brian Kelly coaching tree would bear little fruit. Quinn went 20-36 with one bowl appearance in five seasons.

 

Todd Berry, ULM

What did Athlon say?

“Army is a difficult job, but Berry’s record at West Point was dreadful. That has to be a cause for concern as he embarks on a new job at another school that has not experienced any sustained success in the FBS ranks.”

How did he do?

Berry led ULM to its first bowl game in school history in 2012 with a trip to the Independence Bowl. The Warhawks have been saddled with APR difficulties and recruiting limitations. Berry was fired after a 1-11 season in 2015.

 

Bobby Hauck, UNLV

What did Athlon say?

“Hauck has a great track record, but it will be far more difficult to win at UNLV in the improving MWC than it was to win at Montana in the Big Sky.”

How did he do?

Hauck was an enormously successful FCS coach, going 80-17 in seven seasons at Montana. Hauck ended UNLV’s 12-year bowl drought with a trip to the 2013 post season. Otherwise, Hauck had four two-win seasons in five years before he was fired in 2014. Hauck was an assistant at San Diego State in 2015.

Teaser:
The 2010 Coaching Carousel Revisited: The Big Winners and Bigger Losers
Post date: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/should-florida-prepare-inevitable-alabama-win
Body:

Jim McElwain sounds like a coach who’s just happy to be here. The Florida coach is gracious in his praise for Nick Saban, thankful for his old boss giving him the call-up to the big time at Alabama in 2008.

 

Seven years later, McElwain is the coach at Florida, taking the Gators to the SEC Championship Game in only his first season.

 

To hear McElwain tell it, Saban plucked “some guy from Montana” and installed him as offensive coordinator just as the Crimson Tide’s dynasty was getting started. Never mind that McElwain had already been an assistant at Louisville and Michigan State, a quarterbacks coach in the NFL for a year and an offensive coordinator for Saban’s old friend Pat Hill at Fresno State.

 

No doubt, McElwain has some Lou Holtz to his press conference game — deferring to his opponent and downplaying his own team to almost an absurd level. This is the same coach who two weeks ago compared his team’s energy level to that of dead fish on ice in the meat department of the grocery store.

 

Nevertheless, McElwain is leaning into this “aw shucks” routine hard as Florida and Alabama prepare for the SEC title game in Atlanta, a game that will send the Tide to the College Football Playoff or result in the biggest upset in the history of the SEC Championship Game. And McElwain is playing right into it.

 

To him, Alabama’s front seven is so overwhelming, it might as well be a “front 30.”

 

“I just hope our offensive line, their knees don’t crack together from shaking as they got to play against those guys,” McElwain said.

 

If the SEC title game is going to be a coronation of Alabama in the SEC, McElwain doesn’t seem to be sweating that perception.

 

Maybe this is all an act with McElwain trying to goad Alabama into skipping over Florida and start planning for a potential trip to the College Football Playoff. Maybe mind games are all Florida has.

 

A trip to the College Football Playoff is on the table for only one of the participants in Atlanta, a change of pace from recent SEC title games.

 

Florida’s last two trips to the SEC Championship Game, both against Alabama, were de facto play-in games for the BCS title. The Gators won in 2008. The Tide won in 2009. Both followed with BCS championships. Matchups between Alabama and Georgia in 2012 and Auburn and Missouri in 2013 also sent their winners to the title game.

 

Long before the Crimson Tide were installed as a 17.5-point favorite in Atlanta, the prospect of an Alabama SEC title and place in the College Football Playoff had seemed inevitable.

 

Florida sealed its spot in the SEC title game early, defeating Georgia 27–3 on Oct. 31 for a key head-to-head win in the division race and then clinching a week later against Vanderbilt. The Gators’ offense, though, hasn’t been the same since the Cocktail Party.

 

Florida averaged 13.8 points per game and 4.3 yards per play in the in the month of November. This stretch included games against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and FAU and a performance against Florida State in which a safety kept the Gators from enduring their first shutout since 1988.

 

While Florida is limping into the SEC title game, Alabama is rounding into national championship form.

 

The Crimson Tide have their best defense since at least 2012. Only two opponents — Georgia with a healthy Nick Chubb and Tennessee — have topped 100 rushing yards or 3.0 yards per carry against Alabama this season.

 

This also has been the best pass rush Alabama has had under Saban, statistically speaking. The Tide’s 41 sacks (and 3.4 per game) are more than any other team under Saban. In other words, this could be a nightmare matchup for a Florida offense that struggled to move the ball against a Conference USA team that finished 3–9.

 

As much as Alabama is on a march to the College Football Playoff, running back Derrick Henry may be on a march to the Heisman Trophy.

 

He’s already broken Alabama’s single-season rushing record and is within striking distance of Herschel Walker’s SEC rushing record. Another standout performance by Henry — this time against the nation’s No. 7 rush defense — may all but clinch the award for another Alabama running back.

 

If it sounds like McElwain is playing with house money, there’s good reason. With a Heisman and College Football Playoff bids on the line, Alabama has the most to lose in Atlanta.

 

Saban doesn’t have the luxury of simply being happy to be the West representative in Atlanta. Though Saban will urge his team to live in the moment, the expectation is that Alabama will have two more games after Saturday.

 

“It still means a lot to us to be in the SEC Championship Game, and it certainly means a lot if you can accomplish winning the SEC,” Saban said. “Regardless of what anybody might say, there’s a lot of good teams, a lot of good coaches, a lot of good programs. It’s something special to me to be able to play in the game and have an opportunity to maybe win a championship.”

Teaser:
Should Florida Prepare for the Inevitable Alabama Win?
Post date: Friday, December 4, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/stability-good-say-michigan-state-and-iowa
Body:

Michigan State is headed to the Big Ten Championship Game for the third time in five seasons. The Spartans are a game away from the College Football Playoff, which would represent a new high point in the best era for Michigan State football since the 1950s.

 

And Mark Dantonio wants to get on a bit of a soapbox.

 

“I saw where the assistant coach of the year (finalists) came out,” Dantonio said. “I’ll just say it like it is — I never got anything on that in the mail to nominate any of our guys. I don’t know where the ball got dropped.”

 

For the record, the Broyles Award folks say they did send materials to Michigan State, but nonetheless, Michigan State won’t have a finalist for the nation’s top assistant.

 

For Michigan State, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Award-winning assistants become head coaches, as former Spartans defensive coordinator and 2013 Broyles winner Pat Narduzzi did when he took the Pittsburgh job last year.

 

This season, then, might be another one when Michigan State’s coaching staff stays together. The same may be said at Iowa.

 

In what is already one of the busier offseasons for coaching moves, Michigan State and Iowa are noted for their stability. And they’re playing for a Big Ten championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff because of it.

 

With the retirement of Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz will be tied with Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops for the nation’s longest continuous tenure at a single school at 17 years. (Bill Snyder has coached at Kansas State for 24 years but not from 2006-08.) Dantonio is in his ninth season at Michigan State.

 

In 2015, any tenure longer than five seasons seems like an eternity.

 

Since 2000, only one coach who won his first national title didn’t win it within his first four seasons at a school.

 

Mack Brown won a championship in his eighth season at Texas. Urban Meyer won in his second year at Florida and third at Ohio State. Nick Saban won in his third season at Alabama and fourth season at LSU. Jimbo Fisher won in his fourth year at Florida State. Les Miles and Pete Carroll each won titles by Year 3. Gene Chizik and Jim Tressel won titles in their second seasons. Larry Coker won in his first.

 

An athletic director with a quick trigger has ample evidence to say that a national championship coach will have his title within four years.

 

That’s what makes the Big Ten title game a victory for those with patience. Either Dantonio in Year 9 or Ferentz in Year 17 likely will be in position to play for their first national championship.

 

Granted, neither coach started their tenures with turn-key programs. And the expectations for Michigan State and Iowa aren’t what they are for Alabama or Ohio State.

 

Any mention of Ferentz’s up-and-down tenure at Iowa must include his contract: His buyout was believed to be a boondoggle, especially as Iowa went 19–21 in the Big Ten from 2010-14.

 

After nearly two decades at Iowa, this season seemed to have something special for Ferentz after four subpar years, offensive lineman Austin Blythe said.

 

“It’s real satisfying,” Blythe said. “When you see that kind of emotion, you want to go out and perform for him. … That’s not who we wanted to be. That’s not the standard he’s set for 17 years.”

 

In retrospect, continuity has paid clear dividends.

 

Michigan State endured a rash of injuries all year — from losing linebacker Ed Davis and cornerback Vayante Copeland for the year, offensive lineman Jack Allen and Jack Conklin at midseason and quarterback Connor Cook in the landmark win over Ohio State.

 

Even with Narduzzi leaving for Pitt, Dantonio still has nine assistants who have been with him during all nine years at Michigan State and at his previous stop at Cincinnati. Two other assistants have been in East Lansing for at least five years.

 

When Michigan State turned to backups, it turned to backups who have been entrenched in a system since their freshman seasons.

 

“When you change relationships, you start fresh and those are tough to build,” Dantonio said. “As a coach I can always get better redesign and get better, but when relationships are damaged because of too much changed and there’s something different, a new teacher in the classroom, it’s tough.”

 

Due to Iowa’s five-year dip after the 2010 Orange Bowl, Ferentz has needed to reinvent his staff within the last four seasons. Only two of Ferentz’s assistants (defensive coordinator Phil Parker and defensive line coach Reese Morgan) have been with him for more than five seasons. But Iowa has been able to inject new blood without changing the culture.

 

Like Michigan State, Iowa has dealt with its share of injuries through the season — primarily at running back and to star defensive end Drew Ott — but the Hawkeyes have been able to lean on a consistent system to stay in contention all season.

 

“You have an administration that has stood behind him,” Dantonio said. “That’s rare, as you see, these days. That allows for success to continue.”

Teaser:
Stability is Good, say Michigan State and Iowa
Post date: Friday, December 4, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/athlon-cover-catch-brodie-croyle-finds-his-calling-giving-homes-kids
Body:

Before Jake Coker, Blake Sims, AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy, Alabama had Brodie Croyle.

 

The former Crimson Tide quarterback was successful during his time, leading Alabama to a 10-win season in 2005, one of only three 10-win seasons between the time Gene Stallings retired and Nick Saban was hired. The Cotton Bowl that was a high water mark that eventually would be eclipsed several times over.

 

The same season he appeared on Athlon Sports’ SEC preview cover in 2006, Croyle became Alabama’s all-time leading passer. He’s now third behind McCarron and John Parker Wilson.

 

Croyle spent five seasons in the NFL, mostly as a backup and starting 10 career games with the Kansas City Chiefs. After his retirement, he returned to Alabama for a brief career in business before feeling the call to return to his family’s life work.

 

Croyle’s father John, a former Alabama quarterback himself, started the outside Gadsden, Ala., in 1974 to provide homes and families for abused, neglected or abandoned children. Brodie’s sister Reagan Croyle Phillips returned to work at the Branch several years ago. Brodie was a tougher sell.

 

Eventually, Brodie returned three years ago as executive director. Brodie joined Athlon to talk about how he finally found the calling that had impacted his life since he was 5 years old.

 

How did you get started with Big Oak Ranch?

Do you want the whole story of the Cliffs Notes? My dad played at the University of Alabama and a chance to play professional football and he went to Coach Bryant and said I want to take the money from pro football and start a home for kids. Coach Bryant said don’t play pro football unless you’re willing to marry it. Go chase that dream you’re talking about. My dad walked out of his office and never looked back, moved out to the woods on a 120 acres and that’s how the ranch got started 41 years ago. Since that time, we’ve had over 2,000 children who have called Big Oak home. We currently have about 160 kids that we take care of on a daily basis. We take care of orphaned, neglected, abused, abandoned kids. We have 10 homes at the boys’ ranch. We have 10 homes in the girls’ ranch and in each home we put a godly man and woman in there with 6-8 boys or 6-8 girls and raise them to be godly men and women. Show them every day what a family is supposed to look like. Show them every day what a husband and wife is supposed to look like. We’ve got kids that have lived in cardboard boxes and we didn’t know what their birthday was that still live with us today. They lived with us two-and-a-half years and no one has checked on them to make sure they’re alive and acknowledge that they exist. We’ve got kids that showed up with no shoes, decaying teeth, borrowed clothes. They walked up and said do we look good enough to stay. We also got horror stories of kids who were hurt by their parents at a young age and re-establishing boundaries and what love is supposed to look like. Our house parents and our staff and what we get to do every day is show them is that the past is the past and why it happened we’ll never know until we meet God Almighty, but we don’t have to let the past define where we’re going. That’s what we get to do on a daily basis. Now that we’ve been here for 40 years, we have kids that come back that have grandchildren. To see guys that I grew up have wives and children of their own, got great jobs and are successful.

 

After I got done playing, I did the business world for a while and we have a land and timber real estate business and I decided I chased a lot of things in my life. When I was 11 years old I told my parents that I wanted to play pro football and instead of holding me back they said shoot for the moon and worst-case scenario we end up in the stars. That was my guide. That was everything I chased. I got to do it. I was blessed to go do it. Did it turn out the way I wanted it to? Absolutely not. But I got to do it. It was a dream realized. I came back and into the business world and realized God prepared me for this. This is what he put me on earth to do. He put me on earth take care of kids, the same kids I grew up with. And now me and my sister and our families get to carry on the legacy that my mom and dad started 41 years ago.

 

You said these were the kids you grew up with. How involved were in you in the Ranch when you were a kid?

I lived there. Those were my brothers and sisters. … When I was five years old, I was standing with my dad three days before Christmas at the administration building. This old beat-up truck pulled out. This guy put a cigarette out and stomped it out, walked up to my dad and said, ‘you the man in charge? Well, I got a new girlfriend and she says it’s either her or my boys, so if it’s OK with you, I’m going to leave my three boys with you.’ The 11 year old got out and said ‘no more fighting, no more getting beat up, no more going hungry. This sounds like a pretty good deal for me. I’m in.’ The 10-year-old got out  and said, ‘I told you he was going to leave us.’ He ran off and it took a social worker three hours for us to catch him and bring him back and let him know everything was going to be OK. My play in life and why I’m talking to you about Big Oak Ranch was the last one, he’s six years old. He realizes what’s going on. He jumped up and put his arms around his daddy’s neck and said ‘you’re my daddy and you can’t leave me the same way mama.’ My dad pulled this boy off and the dad drove away. They never saw him again until they graduated high school. That little boy grew up my best friend. He was my brother. He was in my wedding. We played baseball and rodeo’d and did everything together. You talk about the ripple effect and the success stories and what the Ranch does. Three weeks ago, I was in his wedding and he married a godly woman who has a seven-year-old girl that doesn’t have a daddy. He said, ‘Brodie, how cool is it that God new 27 years ago when my dad dropped me off at a stranger’s house and he put me in a house with two people I didn’t know that He was preparing me for that day. I get to be the same daddy that Ranch was to me.’ That’s how I grew up, and now we get to see it from an adult perspective. The kids haven’t changed. Circumstances have. Our goal 20 years from now is, is that kid a good husband, a good father, is she a good wife, is she a good wife. Have they broken the cycle from which they came. At the end of the day, that’s success for us.

 

How much did your parents talk to you about what these kids were dealing with? Did they try to shield you from it?

We didn’t always know the stories, the extent of what it is the child came from, but our parents never hid anything from us. People ask all the time sharing your mom or sharing your dad. We didn’t sacrifice anything. Me and my sister asked ourselves why were we so blessed that we got the mom and dad that we got that we didn’t grow up like the kids around us who didn’t have a mom or a dad or their mom and dad abused them or abandoned them. At the same time, we realized our mom and dad had a bigger role than our mom and dad. They had to bridge that gap and they had to be a whole lot to a whole lot of other people. We had to learn how to share. We had to learn how to help. Moving through sports, especially as a quarterback, I think that helped me get to the dreams and goals I had to know what made people tick.

 

You mentioned a conversation between your father and Bear Bryant about not playing pro football unless you planned on marrying it. Did you ever have that discussion with your father or anyone else?

My conversation happened with a business partner of mine. We had a land and timber real estate business in Tuscaloosa. We were coming back from a timber sale. Everything was doing what we wanted to do. We were growing the way we wanted to grow. We had our niche that we went after. We got to talking about the future and if everything goes the way we think it’s going to and in 10 years we’re not the ones out here chasing these deals and we get to sit back and do other things. He asked what do you see yourself doing. I said I see myself back in North Alabama. Children at Big Oak Ranch have always had a big place in my heart, but that’s my mom and dad’s deal. That’s my family’s deal, and he raised me to be my own man, so that’s why I’m out here. But the kids there have always had a special place in my heart. I got home and my wife and boys were out of town. Us Southern Baptists can sometimes throw the words out that the Lord spoke to us a little generous at times. But that was the first time in my life I felt God really saying, ‘what are you waiting on? I gave you everything you thought you wanted in life — you thought you wanted to play in the NFL and that was going to bring you happiness. You thought the business world and making money was going to bring you happiness. When are you going to do what I’ve called you to do?’ To be honest, for two months I fought it. I thought why not on my time, when it works for me in 10 years. After two months, I felt that this is what we had been put on earth to do. I sat my wife down and said I feel like God’s calling us back to the Ranch. She broke down crying, and I thought ‘this isn’t going how I thought it was going to go. My wife said ‘I’d been waiting for you to say that for five years. I knew it had to be on your time and on God’s time. Tell me when and I’ll have us packed.’ That was almost three years ago.

 

What was the conversation with your dad like? Was the door always open? Was he expecting you to come back?

Little did I know that my dad and my mother and my wife and my sister had all be talking about this for five years and not a one of them had mentioned a word to me.

 

So he was pretty happy about it, that you figured out what everyone else already knew?

He was like, ‘you big dummy, what took you so long.’

 

To get to football a bit, do you still have a connection with Alabama? Do you go to games, practices, events?

I don’t. I travel a lot, speaking and doing different things. I love Alabama. It was a dream come true to play there. But if I’ve got Saturday off, I live at a boys’ ranch where there are 60 boys that don’t have a mom and a dad and I’ve got two little boys of my own who want to play with daddy. I’m grateful with the opportunity that Alabama provided me and the platform it provided with what we do now. I had my time. I’m blessed for my time. But the last thing I ever want to be is a hanger-on and one of those guys who is always around. I’ve never met Jake Coker but I’m his biggest fan. I root for him from a distance and I hope they win every single game, but it’s their time. I’m going to root for them from a distance.

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The 2015-16 coaching carousel is just getting started, a scary thought with more than a dozen jobs opening up before Thanksgiving. That number is only going to balloon as coaches start to fill those positions and other coaches and schools wait until the end of the season to part ways.

 

Most new coaches bring with them a sense of optimism. In the winter and spring, every hire seems like a good one. The reality, of course, is different. Some hires work. Some don’t. Some hires work so well a coach is gone to a better opportunity in a short matter of years.

 

We decided we’d mark this year’s coaching carousel with a look back at the coaching moves from just a decade ago. This was the year Urban Meyer stepped into the SEC, Oklahoma State, BYU and Utah hired coaches who became campus institutions and Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington made disastrous moves.

 

Of the 23 hires in the 2005-06 cycle:

 

• Two coaches would win a national championship (Urban Meyer and Les Miles).

• Four are still coaching the team that hired them (Miles, Frank Solich, Kyle Whittingham and Mike Gundy). A fifth would retire midway through the season (Steve Spurrier).

• 11 coaches would be fired in five seasons or less. Of the 14 coaches fired out of this class, only two (Bill Cubit and Charlie Weis) would get another non-interim FBS coaching job.

• And, in a surprise, only two would use the school that hired him in 2005 as a stepping stone to another job. Skip Holtz moved from East Carolina to USF. Bronco Mendenhall, after 11 seasons at BYU, made a surprise move to Virginia.

 

Here’s a look back at all the coaching hires in 2005-06 along with how Athlon Sports evaluated each move in the pages of the 2006 college football preview annual.

 

Urban Meyer, Florida

What did Athlon say?

“Meyer should have the Gators in the hunt for the national title on a consistent basis.”

How did he do?

Exactly what he was projected to do. The Gators won the national championship in 2006 and 2008 and came within a game of the 2009 BCS title game before losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. He also coached Florida third Heisman winner, Tim Tebow, and proved that his version of the spread option offense — then a novel idea — could work in the SEC. Off-field issues and health problems contributed to an 8-5 season in 2010 and his abrupt departure. He and Nick Saban are 1a and 1b in terms of the best coaches in the game today.

 

Charlie Weis, Notre Dame

What did Athlon say?

“He must lead the Fighting Irish to a national championship and compete for a BCS bowl year in and year out.”

How did he do?

Weis started well enough, seemingly living up to his status as one “one of the most highly regarded coordinators in NFL history,” as Athlon put it. Remember, at the time he was hired at Notre Dame, Weis had three Super Bowl rings and was considered the mastermind behind the rise of Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense. At Notre Dame, he took underutilized talent by the previous staff and reached two BCS games in his first two seasons, losing both. He was far less adept at building his own program and installing a college system, going 16-21 in his last three seasons. His 3-9 season after Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija left was the worst for Notre Dame in 44 years. That, and his failed tenures as head coach at Kansas and offensive coordinator at Florida have effectively ruled his college coaching career a punchline.

 

Les Miles, LSU

What did Athlon say?

“Some Tiger faithful had hoped the program could have lured a bigger name to Baton Rouge, but Miles is a very good coach who succeeded at Oklahoma State during a time when Oklahoma emerged as one of the top two or three programs in the nation.”

How did he do?

It’s complicated. If Miles was an underwhelming hire at first — he had coached only four years at Okie State and never won more than nine games — he erased doubts early. LSU finished 11-2 and in the top six in his first season before winning a BCS title in 2006 despite two losses. LSU made a second title game appearance in 2011, but the loss to Alabama was a sign of things to come. Oddly enough, what distinguished Miles at Oklahoma State — competing with Oklahoma and Texas in a loaded division — put him in a tough spot at the end of the 2015 season. Miles was reported to be on thin ice due in part to losing five in a row to Alabama. After a win over Texas A&M in the last week of the regular season, Miles a victory lap in front of a supportive Tiger Stadium and was the LSU athletic department announced he'd be back for 2016.

 

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

What did Athlon say?

“Perhaps no coach in the country was a better fit for South Carolina than Steve Spurrier.”

How did he do?

This wasn’t exactly Florida, Part II, but Spurrier may have exceeded even the expectations of South Carolina. South Carolina held its own with four bowl games in his first five seasons before a breakout in 2010 when the Gamecocks upset then-No. 1 Alabama 35-21. From 2011-13, Spurrier led South Carolina to three 11-win seasons and three top-10 seasons — neither of which had ever been achieved even once in South Carolina history. He retired abruptly in 2015 as one of four coaches as the all-time wins leader for two major college schools. Athlon predicted he’d last six or seven years before retiring. He stayed almost 11.

 

Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss

What did Athlon say?

“The Ole Miss administration turned to a Orgeron, a high-energy coach who will offer a significant change from the laid-back Cutcliffe. But bringing energy alone won’t satisfy Ole Miss.”

How did he do?

He followed through on the energy part, recruiting at a torrid pace and becoming either a caricature of himself or an SEC folk hero, depending your perspective. Gameday, though, was a disaster. His tenure was one of the worst in SEC history as Orgeron went 10-25 overall and 3-21 in the SEC. Orgeron won twice as many conference games as an interim coach in the Pac-12 than he won in three seasons at Ole Miss. He’s back in his comfort zone, professionally and geographically, as the defensive line coach at LSU.

 

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

What did Athlon say?

“He is a solid hire, but he has a difficult job. Life in the Big 12 South can be overwhelming. With Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech on the schedule every year, there is almost no margin for error.”

How did he do?

Gundy became Oklahoma State’s career wins leader in his sixth season at Oklahoma State, and that was a year before a 12–1 season and Big 12 title in 2011. Oklahoma State’s confidence in its former quarterback paid off — he was promoted the same day Les Miles left for LSU. Gundy raised eyebrows when he retained only one assistant from Miles’ staff, but his offensive coordinator post (Larry Fedora, Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken) has become a stepping stone to head coaching jobs.

 

Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh

What did Athlon say?

“Wannstedt should have no problem keeping Pittsburgh near the top of the re-configured Big East.”

How did he do?

He did not keep Pitt near the top of the Big East. Instead of the traditional power Pitt leading the way in the Big East, it was Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers. The Panthers didn’t reach a bowl game until Wannstedt’s fourth season, and his most meaningful impact on the league was an upset of No. 2 West Virginia to knocking the Moutanineers out of the BCS title picture in 2007. Wannstedt returned to the NFL as an assistant in 2011 and later became a TV analyst on Fox Sports.

 

Walt Harris, Stanford

What did Athlon say?

“Harris might not be the most exciting hire of the offseason, but he will likely end up being one of the best.”

How did he do?

Terrible. Harris was hired at Stanford with the reputation of a quarterback guru and a perfect hire for the Cardinal. He was a Bay Area guy who cleaned up a mess at Pitt and was poised to do the same at Stanford. Instead, he had the Cardinal at new depths, going 1-11 in his second and final year. At least he set the stage for the arrival of Jim Harbaugh in 2007.

 

Bronco Mendenhall, BYU

What did Athlon say?

“He doesn’t make a big splash nationally as a big-name hire, but he his a well-respected defensive coach and a solid choice for a program that has struggled both on and off the field in recent years.”

How’d he do?

BYU made a run at alum Kyle Whittingham and didn’t get him, but the Cougars’ consolation prized ended up pretty good. Mendenhall restored BYU as a consistent program that has flirted with the top 25 most of his tenure. This may be hard to believe given today’s infatuation with young coaches, but Mendenhall was the second-youngest Division I-A coach at the time at the advanced age of 38. He’s led BYU to bowl games in all 11 seasons as head coach and a pair of Mountain West titles before the Cougars went independent in 2012. Mendenhall's move to Virginia after the 2015 season was one of the biggest surprises of this year's carousel.

 

Kyle Whittingham, Utah

What did Athlon say?

“It will be almost impossible to maintain the same level of success the program achieved under Meyer, especially considering the underclassmen who left for the NFL following Meyer’s departure.”

How did he do?

Whittingham not only maintained the same level of success under Meyer, he exceeded it. Whittingham won 24 games in his first three seasons when Meyer won 22 in his two years in Salt Lake. His third season, though, was a turning point as Utah went 13-0, upset Alabama, fresh of a BCS championship game elimination bout with Florida, in the Sugar Bowl. After 2008, Whittingham couldn’t topple TCU in the Mountain West and had two losing seasons in his first three in the Pac-12. His ability to adapt seems to have prevailed with an 11-7 record in the Pac-12 in 2014-15.

 

Tyrone Willingham, Washington

What did Athlon say?

“Willingham was a safe hire for a program that desperately needs some stability — and someone to stay clear of NCAA sanctions. He is a solid coach with a great reputation, but Willingham is far from a sure thing.”

How did he do?

The alarm bells from a lackluster tenure at Notre Dame rang true. Willingham avoided any NCAA entanglements but also any bowl entanglements. He went 11-37 in four seasons, bottoming out with a winless year in 2008. He’s now a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

 

Terry Hoeppner, Indiana

What did Athlon say?

“He was a safe hire — but safe might not be good enough or the struggling Hoosiers.”

How did he do?

Hoeppner was on his way to proving that he was no lukewarm hire. The Hoosiers went 4-7 and 5-7 in his two seasons, but they had clearly picked up momentum with three Big Ten wins in 2006 with an upset of No. 15 Iowa. Hoeppner’s infectious energy also sparked interest in the football program on the basketball-mad campus. Hoeppner never got a chance to finish the job, passing away in June 2007 due to complications from a brain tumor. A hint of where Hep could have led Indiana happened the following year when his former assistant Bill Lynch took IU to a bowl game in 2007, ending a 15-year drought.

 

Ron Zook, Illinois

What did Athlon say?

“Zook will bring some much-needed energy to the Illini program. Zook’s first order of business is to improve Illinois’ in-state recruiting.”

How did he do?

Zook brought energy to Illinois along with an influx of recruiting talent (Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn, Martez Wilson). His seven-year tenure had one banner year — an upset of Ohio State and a 9–4 campaign in 2007. That year, Illinois became one of the worst teams to play in a BCS game, losing 49-17 to USC in the Rose Bowl. Zook went 34-51 in seven season at Illinois before he was replaced by Tim Beckman. Now, Illinois is seeking a coach who will bring some much-needed energy to the Illini program and whose first order of business is to improve Illinois’ in-state recruiting.

 

Greg Robinson, Syracuse

What did Athlon say?

“Robinson is about as qualified as any non-head coach in the game.”

How did he do?

Maybe there was a reason Robinson never got his own program before 2005. He was a decorated assistant with Mack Brown and Terry Donahue in the college ranks and with Mike Shanahan and Dick Vermeil in the NFL, a stint in the NFL that included two Super Bowl rings. The Robinson era at Syracuse had fans pining for Paul Pasqualoni. Robinson went 10-37 in four seasons. He resurfaced as a midseason replacement at defensive coordinator for Texas in 2013 before landing as DC at San Jose State in 2014.

 

Skip Holtz, East Carolina

What did Athlon say?

“There is no reason Holtz can’t have this program among the elite in Conference USA.”

How did he do?

East Carolina needed someone to clean up a mess after John Thompson went 3-20 in two seasons. Holtz delivered and more. The Pirates went 5-6 in his first season before four consecutive winning seasons. Holtz can’t take credit for Chris Johnson, whom he inherited, but he did lead ECU to a pair of nine-win seasons and Conference USA titles in his last two years. Holtz flamed out at USF, but his turnaround in three seasons at Louisiana Tech shows that maybe Conference USA is his home.

 

Frank Solich, Ohio

What did Athlon say?

“With a few breaks, Ohio could make a move in the next few years.”

How did he do?

He’s the dean of MAC coaches by a long shot. His hire at Ohio was greeted with skepticism if only because Solich had never coached anywhere but Nebraska at the best time in program history and his five-year tenure with Huskers had the benefit of a running start at the end of the Tom Osborne era. He build a solid contender at a moribund Ohio program, reaching a bowl game every year from 2009-13. He’s had one losing season at Ohio but no MAC titles in three trips to the championship game.

 

Mark Snyder, Marshall

What did Athlon say?

“Bobby Pruett’s decision to retire in early March took everyone by surprise. Marshall didn’t panic, however. The school took its time to find the right fit for the program as it makes its move from the MAC to Conference USA.”

How did he do?

Marshall brought back an alum who was fresh off a national championship as a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, but he never took the Thundering Herd to the same heights Pruett did. Marshall went 22-37 seasons with one bowl appearance. Snyder served as defensive coordinator at USF and Texas A&M, and landed with another former Jim Tressel assistant, Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, after he was fired from Texas A&M.

 

Bill Cubit, Western Michigan

What did Athlon say?

“Cubit has had a difficult time staying on one place for very long.”

How did he do?

When he was hired, he had five jobs in seven years, but ended up staying for eight seasons in a transient league. Western Michigan was rarely bad, but the Broncos never won the MAC in Cubit’s 51-47 tenure. Cubit was fired at WMU an immediately scooped up as Illinois’ offensive coordinator. He revived the Illini’s offense, took over as interim coach in 2015 and was eventually promoted to full-time coach at the end of the season.

 

Shane Montgomery, Miami (Ohio)

What did Athlon say?

“Miami has a solid track record in the hiring process, and Montgomery should be next in a long line of successful RedHawk coaches.”

How did he do?

To the contrary of our assessment in 2005, Montgomery, who earned the job as Ben Roethlisberger’s quarterback coach, was the first in a line of failed coaches for Miami. He went 7-4 his first season, but went 2-10, 6-7 and 2-10 in three seasons since. The RedHawks have had one winning season (2010 under Mike Haywood) since Hoeppner was hired at Indiana. Montgomery is now the offensive coordinator under Bo Pelini at Youngstown State.

 

Hal Mumme, New Mexico State

What did Athlon say?

“Mumme brings some baggage to Las Cruces, but New Mexico State is a program that needs to take some risks.”

How did he do?

Mumme is the godfather of the modern-day Air Raid, but he’s also been one of the least successful head coaches to employ the offense — particularly taking into account a trail of NCAA violations at Kentucky. New Mexico State threw the ball around, but all it got the Aggies and Mumme was an 11-38 mark in four years. Mumme is at NAIA Belhaven where his team is 4-17 in two seasons.

 

Dick Tomey, San Jose State

What did Athlon say?

“His credentials are outstanding, but he will have a very difficult time succeeding at San Jose State.”

How did he do?

The architect of the Desert Swarm defense and all-time wins leader in Arizona history did not have a nice coda to his head coaching career. He started well enough, leading San Jose State to nine wins and a bowl in 2006, but the program fell apart to 2-10 in his final season in 2009. Tomey stepped away from football after a one-year stint as an assistant at Hawaii before resurfacing as an associate AD overseeing football at USF earlier this year.

 

Mike Sanford, UNLV

What did Athlon say?

“Sanford should do a solid job, and he should be able to recruit quality athletes to play in what should be an offense as exciting as the city itself.”

How did he do?

About the same as most head coaches at UNLV — without a bowl game and out in a few years. Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Utah improved from two wins in his first three seasons to five in his last two. The journeyman coach landed as an offensive coordinator at Louisville under Charlie Strong but was fired early in the 2011 season — sound familiar, Texas fans? He’s at Indiana State now where he’s 14-23 in three seasons. His son, Mike Sanford Jr., is offensive coordinator at Notre Dame and a potential head coaching candidate in his own right.

 

Brent Guy, Utah State

What did Athlon say?

“Guy should be given plenty of time to rebuild because Utah state will be playing more difficult competition over the next few years.”

How did he do?

A non-descript defensive coordinator ended up with, at best, a non-descript tenure. He went 9-38 in four seasons with one of college football’s worst — at the time — programs.

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Clemson and Alabama are significant favorites in their conference championship games. Oklahoma is an outright Big 12 champion with no games left to play. And the Big Ten championship game is between Nos. 5 and 6.

 

If everything holds steady, the playoff picture seems so ... clean.

 

TCU fans, though, would be quick to remind anyone that things can change quickly and even a No. 3 team winning by 52 points can get left out of the four-team playoff without warning a week later.

 

There’s always hope, though. That Clemson or Alabama will lose. That the committee will wake up and decide that conference championship games really are that important.

 

The question this week is who needs to do the hoping.

 

Stanford is best positioned for chaos

The Cardinal checked in at No. 7 behind Ohio State, but Stanford may still have the best case for the College Football Playoff in the event of an upset of Clemson or Alabama — provided the Cardinal win the Pac-12 title game. Stanford could finish the season with a Pac-12 title and wins over five teams with winning records (USC twice, UCLA, Washington State, Cal, Notre Dame, plus 6-6 Washington and Arizona). By comparison, Ohio State wouldn’t even have a division championship and just two wins over winning teams (Michigan and Penn State). 

 

North Carolina doesn’t have much hope

The Tar Heels’ rise during the last month has been impressive — from unranked to 23rd, 17th, 14th and now 10th. Yet it’s tough to see North Carolina moving up six more spots even if the Tar Heels can add a win over a No. 1 team to its résumé and an ACC championship. “It’s hard to speculate on that until we see that game, if they won, how they won the game,” selection committee chairman Jeff Long said. “I can’t anticipate how the committee will respond to that.” But at the same time, Long said two other things that shed light on how the committee would view ACC champion North Carolina. First, the committee hasn’t seen the “depth and breadth” of a résumé that has allowed Oklahoma to all but clinch a playoff spot despite a loss to 4-7 Texas. The Heels lost to 3–9 South Carolina, played two FCS teams and won one of the weakest divisions in a Power 5 conference. Second, Long indicated the committee considers Ohio State’s strength of schedule to be significantly better than North Carolina’s even though both are ranked in the 60s according to Sagarin. Put that together and a potential Pac-12 champion Stanford would almost certainly rank ahead of ACC champion North Carolina, and the committee may have enough evidence to say a non-conference champion such as Ohio State or Notre Dame is “unequivocally” better than the 12-1 Heels.

 

Ohio State will have some entertaining TV watching

The Buckeyes continue to get the benefit of the doubt in the rankings at No. 6 despite a résumé that essentially includes one notable win (Michigan). The Buckeyes may still be a Playoff team with a combination of Clemson and/or Alabama losing and Stanford losing to USC. And Ohio State can still play in the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl’s Big Ten participant is up to the discretion of the bowl itself, but the game will weigh each team’s rank, division title status, head-to-head result (not applicable here) and last trip to the Rose Bowl. Ohio State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since the 2009 season. Iowa hasn’t been since 1990. The Buckeyes should root for a comfortable Michigan State win for a trip to the Rose Bowl — but they’re still well-positioned for the Fiesta or Peach bowls regardless.

 

Get ready for the next mini-controversy: Oklahoma playing in Dallas

If the seeding remains as is, with Clemson at No. 1 and the Big Ten champ at No. 4, that leaves Alabama and Oklahoma playing in the Cotton Bowl. Of course, Dallas is a stronghold for the Sooners. Long made clear that the No. 1 team determines the semifinal sites, in this case Clemson playing at the Orange Bowl. The committee, he says, will not fudge seeding to ensure that a lower-seeded team, in this case, Oklahoma, doesn’t play in front of a friendly crowd. The only ways Oklahoma doesn’t play in Dallas, then, would seem to be either Michigan State or Iowa moving to No. 3.

 

The AAC champion will play in a major bowl

Either Houston or Temple will play in a College Football Playoff host bowl, likely the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31. The AAC champion seemed destined for this for weeks now, but there was a bit of a question last week when Houston was unranked, Temple was No. 25 and Toledo was at No. 24. Houston’s win over then-No. 15 Navy put the Cougars back in the top 25 with a matchup with No. 22 Temple in the AAC title game. At the same time, Toledo fell out of the rankings and was eliminated from the MAC championship game with a loss to Western Michigan.

 

New Year’s Six Projections

Orange Bowl semifinal: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Iowa

Cotton Bowl semifinal: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma

 

Rose: No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 7 Stanford

Sugar: No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Baylor

Fiesta: No. 8 Notre Dame vs. No. 9 Florida State

Peach: No. 19 Houston vs. No. 6 Ohio State

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The final week of college football is here. Dry your eyes and enjoy what's left during championship week. The Playoff pecking order may be set, but conference title game bring plenty of intrigue and entertainment.

 

The  gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.

 

Think you’re up for taking on our experts every week? Think you can beat the writers and editors each week?  and compete for .

 

Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:

 

Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois

MAC championship, Detroit (Friday)

For the third consecutive season, Bowling Green and Northern Illinois will meet for the MAC championship, with each team winning one of the previous two matchups. NIU is here for the sixth consecutive year. The Huskies, as one would expect, have the best run game in the MAC. Bowling Green has the best passing attack with Matt Johnson running the show. It’s tempting to go with NIU’s experience, but Bowling Green is the more explosive team.

Fox’s pick: Bowling Green 49-42

 

Texas at Baylor

The Big 12 and the College Football Playoff is out of the picture for Baylor. A bowl game is off the table for Texas. Yet the stakes in this game will be more than just Baylor trying to get to the Sugar Bowl as the second-ranked team in the conference. Baylor can further bury Texas down the food chain in the Big 12 by handing the Longhorns only their third eight-loss season in school history (1-9 in 1956, 1-8 in 1938). Look for Baylor’s offense to return to form after a rain-drenched loss to TCU. Throw out an expected blowout of Kansas and Texas has lost its last three games by a combined score of 110-65.

Fox’s pick: Baylor 42-21

 

Temple at Houston

American championship

Houston welcomed Greg Ward back to the lineup and, what do you know, the Cougars clinched the AAC West with a 52-31 win over Navy. Ward completed 26-of-35 passes with 308 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 83. This will be one of the better defenses Houston has played this season after Temple held Memphis to 12 points and Notre Dame to 24. Remember: Notre Dame won that game in part because of a dual threat quarterback. This is a likely play-in game for a major bowl game as the Group of 5 representative in the CFP host bowls.

Fox’s pick: Houston 31-21

 

Southern Miss at Western Kentucky

Conference USA championship

Southern Miss is one of the great stories of the year as Todd Monken program resurrected a program that went 4-32 from 2012-14. This game has high shootout potential as these teams are 1-2 in Conference USA in both total and passing offense. Southern Miss led the league in total defense, but Western Kentucky won the tougher division and faced three Power 5 teams (Vanderbilt, Indiana and LSU). Go with Hilltoppers QB Brandon Doughty and the defending league champs.

Fox’s pick: Western Kentucky 41-28

 

Florida vs. Alabama

SEC championship, Atlanta

This will not be the heavyweight bout we’re used to seeing the SEC Championship Game. Alabama is built to grind teams down with the front seven and with Derrick Henry in the run game. Since the suspension of quarterback Will Grier, Florida has shown no signs of a team able to withstand Alabama’s ruthless precision, especially in the second half. The Gators’ run defense may hold Henry in check for a time, but Florida State’s Dalvin Cook proved last week even the Gators’ defense has its limits. If Florida plays close in the first half, the Gators should consider it a minor victory. Anything beyond that is a plus.

Fox’s pick: Alabama 35–10

 

West Virginia at Kansas State

West Virginia lost its first four games in the Big 12, but that was more a reflection of playing a murderer’s row of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU (with three of those on the road). The Mountaineers have since flexed their muscles against the bottom half of the league. Kansas State is fighting for a bowl berth, but the Wildcats just aren’t consistent enough on offense to beat a solid West Virginia squad.

Fox’s pick: West Virginia 31-20

 

Air Force at San Diego State

Mountain West championship

San Diego State went 8-0 in the Mountain West by dominating both sides of the run game. The Aztecs outrushed conference opponents by an average of 210 yards per game. Air Force just allowed 377 yards to New Mexico’s option attack in a 47-35 loss and before that gave up 4.4 yards per carry in a win at Boise State. Air Force is probably a more solid team, but San Diego State has all the momentum.

Fox’s pick: San Diego State 35-31

 

Stanford vs. USC

Pac-12 championship, Santa Clara, Calif.

USC’s 40-21 win over UCLA was apparently good enough to seal the full-time job for coach Clay Helton. The Trojans are still a team that struggles to put together a complete game from week to week, and it’s likely the senior Kevin Hogan will be more prepared for this stage than freshman Josh Rosen was a week ago for the Bruins. Stanford still found a way to beat Notre Dame last week despite Christian McCaffrey falling below 100 rushing yards for the first time since Week 2.

Fox’s pick: Stanford 38-24

 

Michigan State vs. Iowa

Big Ten championship, Indianapolis

There’s no denying Iowa’s undefeated record, but it’s also no coincidence that the Hawkeyes’ unblemished record was helped by a schedule that did not include Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. Michigan State is simply more battle tested with wins over the Buckeyes and Wolverines on the road (not to mention Oregon at home). Both teams have proven they can win a defensive struggle or a more wide-open game, but the edge goes to Connor Cook’s experience at quarterback and Aaron Burbridge’s explosiveness at receiver. 

Fox’s pick: Michigan State 35–24

 

North Carolina vs. Clemson

ACC championship, Charlotte

North Carolina is still fighting for respect even after going 11-1. The only way to get it will be to beat Clemson. The Tar Heels are good, no doubt, but they haven’t faced a ranked team all year. There’s plenty of reason to have high hopes for an entertaining matchup between two explosive offenses, but Clemson simply has too much talent, and despite a close call with rival South Carolina, the Tigers have shown they’re not prone to much of a let down.

Fox’s pick: Clemson 42-28

 

Last week: 15-5

Season to date: 194-66

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One of the great Thanksgiving traditions is snickering at who is playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions.

The list of Lions quarterbacks starting on Thanksgiving is a list of draft busts, journeymen, career backups and former stars whose best days had gone by.

Giggling at Lions quarterbacks on Thanksgiving, though, is getting tougher. Thank you, Matthew Stafford.

To fill that void is our (somewhat arbitrary) ranking of the quarterbacks who have started on Thanksgiving for the Lions since the NFL merger (1970).

To be clear, we’re looking at their entire career, not just their starts on Thanksgiving nor their tenures with the Lions. You’re welcome, Daunte Culpepper.

1. Matthew Stafford (2009, 2011-14)
Stafford has made the most starts for the Lions on Thanksgiving since Joey Harrington and delivered the Lions' first Turkey Day win in a decade with a 40-10 win over the Packers in 2013. After nine straight losses, Detroit has won two Thanksgiving games in a row under Stafford. Give the Lions' all-time leading passer a keg ().

2. Dave Krieg (1994)
The longtime Seahawks quarterback made one Thanksgiving start for Detroit, and it was one of the Lions’ best. Subbing for Scott Mitchell, Krieg went 20-of-25 for 351 yards with three touchdowns in a win over the Bills. By then, Kreig was a 36-year-old QB with three Pro Bowl selections and an NFC Championship Game behind him.

3. Daunte Culpepper (2008)
Remember the Culpepper era in Detroit? We didn’t, either. From 2000-04, Culpepper was a rival to Peyton Manning. After that? Not so much. By 2008, the three-time Pro Bowler made five starts during the Lions’ winless season in 2008. Culpepper was 0-10 as a starter in two seasons for the Lions.

4. Jon Kitna (2006-07)
Kitna entered the league in 1997, and he was still on an NFL roster at age 41 in 2013. The Cowboys signed him away from being a high school math teacher and coach at Lincoln High in Tacoma, Wash. — during winter break, of course. Kitna then . Oh, and he started on Thanksgiving for both the Lions and Cowboys during his career. You’re a cool teacher, Mr. Kitna.

5. Joe Ferguson (1986)
Ferguson made five career starts for the Lions in his mid-30s, well after he played for the Bills from 1973-84. He led the league in passing in 1977 and touchdowns in '75 and pulled the Bills out of the doldrums. But he also had a knack for throwing interceptions in the playoffs and also during the 1982 regular season when he threw 16 picks.

6. Scott Mitchell (1995-97)
Mitchell enjoyed his best season in 1995 with 4,338 yards and 32 touchdowns, including a win over Minnesota on Thanksgiving. He started three full seasons for Detroit and hung around the NFL for five more years until 2001. He resurfaced as a in 2014.


7. Greg Landry (1970-72, 1974, 1976-77)
Landry spent 10 seasons with the Lions, only four as their primary quarterback. After spending 1968-84 in the NFL, he was an assistant in the pros and in college until 1986. Bet you didn’t know there’s a National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, and . Now you know.

 

8. Erik Kramer (1991-92)
He started 15 games in three seasons for the Lions, including twice on Thanksgiving and three times in the playoffs. He didn’t become a full-time starter until age 31 for the Bears.

 

9. Gus Frerotte (1999)
The journeyman Frerotte is one of 14 quarterbacks to throw a 99-yard pass. In that way, he’s just like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Jim Plunkett and Otto Graham.

 

10. Rodney Peete (1993)
Peete bounced around the league as a backup for most of his 15 seasons. He finished with a 45-42 career record, which for this list is pretty good.

11. Eric Hipple (1981-83, 1985)
Hipple played his entire career for the Lions, going 3-1 on Thanksgiving and 25-29 otherwise.

12. Gary Danielson (1978, 1980, 1984)
The CBS college football commentator started three non-consecutive Thanksgivings for the Lions and had a couple of nice seasons in 1978-80.

 

13. Bill Munson (1973)
Munson played for the Lions from 1968-75, started 48 games and yet only one of them came on Thanksgiving. In his first two seasons in the NFL in 1964-65 for the Rams, Munson threw 29 total interceptions. A decade later, he led three game-winning drives for the Lions in 1974 alone.


14. Charlie Batch (1998, 2000-01)
We could have sworn Charlie Batch was still a backup somewhere. He’s not.

 

15. Joey Harrington (2002-05)
Harrington started four Thanksgiving games for the Lions. He finished two of them. He’s on TV now.

16. Bob Gagliano (1989-90)
For Detroit in two years: 11 starts, 16 touchdown passes. For three other NFL teams in five years: Two starts and one touchdown pass Also played two years in the USFL.

17. Shaun Hill (2010)
Hill started one season while Stafford was hurt, threw 12 interceptions, including two against the Patriots on Thanksgiving.

18. Chuck Long (1987-88)
He started twice on Thanksgiving and went a combined 8-of-20. His 2.8 passer rating in 1988 is the worst for any Lions QB on Thanksgiving since 1970. Led the NFL with 20 interceptions in 1987.

19. Joe Reed (1975)
Enjoyed one extended look as a starter in 1975 and threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

20. Jeff Komlo (1979)
A ninth-round pick, Komlo threw 23 interceptions and went 2-12 in his lone season as a starter in the NFL as a rookie. His .

 

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An optimist might say Notre Dame is right where it needs to be.

 

The Irish are No. 6 in this week's College Football Playoff rankings, the same spot eventual champion Ohio State was at this point last season. The two teams ahead of Notre Dame will play each other, and a third will play a one-loss, No. 11 team on the road in the last week of the season.

 

On the other hand, Notre Dame has every reason to be nervous.

 

After Tuesday’s rankings, there’s reason to believe the Irish could finish 11-1 with a win over potential Pac-12 champion Stanford and still get left out of the Playoff. 

 

Certainly, the Playoff committee is not beholden to any week’s rankings. For example, this week when Notre Dame slipped from No. 4 to No. 6 despite a win over Boston College. But No. 3 Oklahoma would presumably be safe with a win over 10-1 Oklahoma State, and the committee seems to have set up a play-in game between Iowa and Michigan State, provided the Spartans clinch the Big Ten East against Penn State this week.

 

Although there’s no reason to hold the committee to what it did last year, it’s tough to ignore how TCU ended up one of the odd teams out. The Horned Frogs clobbered a bad Iowa State team in the last week of the season while Ohio State won the Big Ten championship with a 59-0 win over Wisconsin. Even a lopsided win wasn't enough to stop the Buckeyes from leapfrogging TCU into the top four.

 

Like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Notre Dame won’t play during the final week of the season on Dec. 5, leaving the Bedlam Game and Notre Dame-Stanford as the last statements for all three teams. In other words, where the Bedlam winner and Notre Dame stand this time next week may be where they end up in the final rankings. And that doesn’t take into account Baylor, lurking at No. 7 with a chance at the Big 12 title playing that week against Texas.

 

Notre Dame could lose to Stanford and render the entire debate moot, but the Irish may not want to leave any doubt when they head to Palo Alto.

 

Here are some other thoughts on this week's rankings:

 

The big wins mean more than a bad loss

What we learned last season when Ohio State’s loss to a mediocre Virginia Tech seemed not to matter late in there year was on display again. The forgiveness of an early loss to a bad team was repeated again as Oklahoma moved up to No. 3 this week. The Sooners’ 24-17 loss to 4-6 Texas on Oct. 10 — a game that wasn’t even that close — doesn’t seem to hold sway over the committee. Apart from the loss to Texas, the Sooners have defeated Baylor (9-1) and West Virginia (6-4) soundly and Tennessee (7-4) on the road. Last week, Oklahoma needed TCU, with its backup quarterback and without its All-America receiver, to miss a two-point conversion to win. Even an identical opponent — Notre Dame beat Texas soundly in Week 1 — didn’t seem to help the Irish vault over OU. “It’s more a function of how Oklahoma has performed since that loss,” selection committee chair Jeff Long said. “They’ve overcome that loss with their play on the field and wins they’ve accumulated.” In other words, as long as a team can prove that early loss was a fluke, it's OK.

 

The committee isn’t giving the SEC a pass

This is worth reiterating if only because there’s a sentiment that SEC teams receive the benefit of the doubt. Clearly the committee has not been impressed with the SEC East and to a lesser extent the SEC West. Despite needing overtime to beat FAU and eking out wins over Vanderbilt and South Carolina, the Gators are still in the top 10 of both polls. For the committee, the Gators slipped from No. 8 to No. 12 this week. The top conference in the rankings in terms of numbers has been the Big Ten for three consecutive weeks. The SEC this week had four top 25 teams compared to five in the Big Ten and Pac-12.

 

Undefeated still counts

Somewhat definitively, Long said the committee views Oklahoma as a better team than undefeated Iowa. The difference between Iowa and Michigan State, though, came down to one team being undefeated and one having a loss. Michigan State has three top 25 wins, and two top-10 wins on the road (Michigan and Ohio State). Iowa has one top 25 win altogether, over No. 16 Northwestern on the road. The difference, Long said, was Iowa being undefeated. Although the committee has repeatedly shown that it will rank undefeated power teams behind one-loss teams, having a zero in the loss column counts.

 

Ohio State is still getting the benefit of the doubt

The Buckeyes don’t have a top 25 win but still checked in at No. 8 despite a loss to Michigan State in a listless performance that is starting to become the trend of the season. Despite a hole in Ohio State’s résumé, the committee still may view the Buckeyes as a potential playoff team if they can get into the Big Ten title game and beat Iowa.

 

The AAC isn’t guaranteed a spot as the Group of 5 representative

The American Athletic Conference still has the highest ranked Group of 5 team by nine spots with Navy at No. 15, but the league has gone somewhat haywire. Navy needs to beat unranked one-loss Houston to go to the AAC title game and either Temple or USF could win the AAC East. Should Navy lose to Houston and/or USF win the AAC, that might open the door for a potential MAC, Conference USA or Mountain West champion to steal a big-time spot that was assumed to be sealed for the AAC.

 

New Year’s Six Projections

Orange Bowl semifinal: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Iowa

Cotton Bowl semifinal: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma

 

Rose: No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 9 Stanford

Sugar: No. 12 Florida vs. No. 7 Baylor

Fiesta: No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Michigan

Peach: No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Navy

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Rivalry week will bring about its share of icy handshakes and frosty interactions, and that has nothing to do with the looming winter.

 

As much as rivalries have to do with close games, traditional matchups, hated fanbases and trophy games, they pit coaches with differing styles — both in demeanor and on-field scheme — who have to recruit against one another and beat each other to win conference and national championships.

 

This year will mark the first meeting between Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, a matchup that may produce one of college football's all-time best coaching rivalries. The reasons are easy to see why: They coach at rival schools. They’re both elite coaches who expect to be competing for national championships at the end of every season. And both of these coaches have accrued plenty of other personal rivals over the years.

 

Of course, the gold standard for coaching rivalries is one between Ohio State and Michigan, between Woody and Bo. Urban and Jim might not have a Ten Year War, but they should end up on this list sooner or later.

 

Woody Hayes vs. Bo Schembechler

Woody vs. Bo is the template for great coaching rivalries. The Ten Year War took an already heated Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and elevated it to one of the best in sports. To Hayes, Michigan was “the school up north.” To Schembecher, Ohio State was simply “ohio.” Hayes and Schembechler had two rival schools in Rose Bowl contention every season when the two met at the end of the year. They had a shared history with Hayes coaching Schembechler at Miami (Ohio). They respected each other, but neither coach could stomach a loss in The Big Game.

 

Steve Spurrier vs. Bobby Bowden and Phillip Fulmer

To Spurrier, every coach was a rival. He sparred with Ray Goff and Dabo Swinney, but none of his rivalries were more heated than his matchups with Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer. It helped that the Florida-Tennessee game was the gateway to the SEC title, and Florida-Florida State was a gateway to a national championship. The cracks at his rivals — “Free Shoes University,” “you can’t spell Citrus without U-T” — were enough to make the sideshow entertaining. But from time to time, it could get personal, with Spurrier on multiple occasions accusing Florida State of cheap shots and intentionally injuring his players.

 

Jim Harbaugh vs. Pete Carroll

The rivalry reached its peak when Harbaugh joined Carroll in the NFC West, but it got its start when Harbaugh at Stanford put the bull’s eye on Carroll’s USC program. Even before his first season at Stanford, Harbaugh theorized Carroll would last “one more year” at USC before going to the NFL. Carroll, of course, fired back, “If he's going to make statements like that, he ought to get his information right.” Harbaugh doubled down and said: “We bow to no man. We bow to now program here at Stanford University.” The Cardinal defeated USC 24-23 in 2007 for one of the most stunning defeats in college football history, a moment that signaled the rise of Stanford and the erosion of Carroll’s dynasty at USC. Two years later, Harbaugh elected to go for a two-point conversion to go up 55-21 in a win over USC. During the postgame handshake, Carroll admonished Harbaugh, “What’s your deal?” and the rivalry was born. Harbaugh had a 2-1 edge in college, but Carroll’s Seahawks went 5-4 against Harbaugh’s 49ers in the pros.

 

Urban Meyer vs. Nick Saban

The beef between Meyer and Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin provided better material during Meyer’s time in the SEC, but Kiffin didn’t stay long enough in Knoxville to call it a true rivalry. Meyer and Saban don’t snipe at each other publicly, but . One is an old-school defensive guy. The other one of the primary figures in the rise of the spread offense. Any list of the top coaches in the sport today starts with these two, in either order. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve met three teams in de facto national championship semifinals. They split their meetings in the SEC championship game in 2008 and 2009, and Meyer won in the 2014 College Football Playoff semifinal on the way to the national championship.

 

Gary Patterson vs. Art Briles

The rise of Baylor and TCU’s admission to the Big 12 revived one of the Southwest Conference’s best rivalries. The Frogs already heald a grudge against former Texas governor and Baylor grad Ann Richards for exerting pressure to keep TCU out of the Big 12 when the league originally formed. In the here and now, though, Patterson and Briles have been up for the moment. Patterson is the defensive mind. Briles is the offensive guru. And neither has much of a filter.

 

Joe Paterno vs. Jackie Sherrill

The rivalry between the former Penn State coach and former Pittsburgh coach could be distilled into one off-hand remark Paterno thought was off the record. Paterno said in 1979 he wouldn’t retired and leave the game to “the Switzers and the Sherrills.” Paterno late apologized to Switzer and wrote a forward to his book. Paterno also. “We've had one or two incidents outside of coaching that I'd rather not go into. But when I said 'certain things,' I meant an attitude — an emphasis on winning, an emphasis on how much a coach should make,” Paterno told the New York Times. “Some people interpreted what I said as meaning that they were cheating. But that was not the case both for Switzer and for Sherrill.” Paterno and Sherrill eventually made amends with Paterno inviting his former Pitt rival to address his team in 2004.

 

Darrell Royal vs. Barry Switzer

Switzer and Tom Osborne were friendly even in the throes of the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry in 70s and 80s. Switzer and Bedlam rival Pat Jones got along fine. Even Royal and Arkansas coach Frank Broyles were friendly during nearly 20 years of Southwest Conference matchups. Switzer and Royal, though, squeezed plenty of animosity into the four years they overlapped at Oklahoma and Texas. Royal in 1976 accused Switzer of spying on Texas practices and offered to resign if the OU could pass a lie detector test. Turns out Royal was partially correct — .

 

Darrell Royal vs. Frank Broyles

Royal and Broyles weren’t rivals in that they despised one another — far from it. The Texas and Arkansas coaches were downright chummy even though they had the longest rivalry in modern college coaching at 19 years. Royal went 14-5 during that span.

 

Bret Bielema vs. Gus Malzahn

As rivalries go, there’s not much here that would have been obvious. Auburn and Arkansas both claim several rivalries that are more heated. Bielema and Malzahn never really crossed paths before the two became SEC head coaches. Then, Bielema claimed in 2013 hurry-up offenses like Malzahn’s contribute to the concussion crises. Malzahn called such a claim a joke, and from there the rivalry became a test of which football philosophy would prevail.

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Thanksgiving hasn’t been the same since the Texas A&M and Missouri started hanging out with the SEC. Or since West Virginia and Pitt started rolling with the Big 12 and ACC, respectively.

 

Conference realignment ended a handful of traditional rivalries, either because of scheduling conflicts or acrimonious relationships.

 

In other words, no more Texas-Texas A&M. No more Border War.

 

Rivalry week isn’t what it used to be, and, frankly, we’d wish everyone would just get along. Here’s a look at what conference changes have cost the sport in terms of history and tradition.


Texas-Texas A&M

Last played: 2011
Played on Thanksgiving in most years, this heated rivalry ended when the Aggies left the Big 12 for the SEC. The 2012 season maked the first time since 1915 that A&M and Texas haven’t been in the same league — both were charter members of the Southwest Conference and then the Big 12. Few rivalries run as deep in the traditions of each school. Both fight songs mention the other (“Goodbye to Texas University. So long to the Orange and White” in the Aggie War Hymn, “And it’s goodbye to Texas A&M” in Texas Fight). Bevo has been kidnapped through the course of the rivalry, so has Reveille. Long in the shadow of the Longhorns, Texas A&M broke with Texas to join the SEC. Coaches for both programs have expressed interest in resuming the rivalry, but there's too much animosity between the powers that be to expect an Aggies-Longhorns Thanksgiving in the near future.

 

Kansas-Missouri

Last played: 2011
Just because the Border War (now the Border Showdown) doesn’t rise to the same level of national attention as Michigan-Ohio State or the Iron Bowl, that doesn’t make it any less nasty across all sports. Before Missouri left for the SEC, Kansas-Missouri was the oldest rivalry West of the Mississippi. The series has included brawls, conniving and upsets over the years. But now it’s just a Cold War. While he won’t be the final say, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has indicated he wouldn’t mind of the Jayhawks never played Missouri again.

 

Michigan-Notre Dame

Last played: 2014

The Michigan-Notre Dame series has been marked by lulls from 1944-77 and 1910-41, but the two teams have met nearly every year since 1978. The series was an apparent casualty from Notre Dame’s agreement to face four or five ACC schools every season. It remains to be seen how the arrangement will affect Notre Dame’s other traditional games against Michigan State and Purdue. Notre Dame has indicated its top rivalries to preserve would be those with USC, Navy and Stanford.

 

Louisville-Cincinnati

Last played: 2014

Louisville and Cincinnati have been travel partners for most of their history, sharing conference affiliations in the Missouri Valley, the Metro, Conference USA, the Big East and for a year the American. That ended when Louisville bolted for the ACC. The Ohio River rivalry separated by 100 miles is also the home for one of the better non-Big Ten trophy games with the Keg of Nails. With Bobby Petrino back at Louisville and his former boss Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati, this one could be a good personal grudge match.

 

Baylor-Texas A&M

Last played: 2011

The Aggies lost a host of old Southwest Conference matchups when they joined the SEC — though they did get one back with Arkansas in the SEC West, plus the continuation of the series with LSU. Baylor-Texas A&M isn’t missed as much as Texas-Texas A&M, but the Battle of the Brazos has deep roots. Baylor was the closest co-educational school to Texas A&M when College Station was an all-male campus before 1911 — so do the math. From 1958-90, the series was more competitive than one might thing, and the Aggies 31-30 win in 1986 was regarded as the game of the ‘80s by Texas Football magazine. As with all Texas rivalries, there’s a political element here with the governorships (Ann Richards for Baylor and Rick Perry for Texas A&M) in play.

 

Rivalries making a Comeback


Arkansas-Texas

Last played: 2014 (bowl game), 2008 (regular season)

Next meeting: 2021
The two programs have played only three times in the regular season since Arkansas left the Southwest Conference in 1992. The most recent meeting was a 31-7 Arkansas win in the Texas Bowl last season. The rivalry was at its best when the top two coaches for each school — Darrell Royal at Texas and Frank Broyles at Arkansas — overlapped from 1958-78. In 1969, No. 1 Texas defeated No. 2 Arkansas 15-14 on Dec. 2 of that season. In that famous game, President Richard Nixon attended and declared the Longhorns national champions. Unless there's another postseason matchup between the two, the Hogs and Horns won't play for a period of 13 years during the regular season. There are no plans to play afte 2021.

 

Florida-Miami

Last played: 2008

Next meeting: 2019?
Once the longest running series in the Sunshine State ended when the SEC moved to an eight-game schedule. The Gators kept their annual series with Florida State, set in motion by the state legislature (Miami also continued to play FSU every year well before both were in the ACC). Florida and Miami played every year from 1938-87, ending just as both programs achieved national prominence. The two teams met intermittently since, but they’ve played only five times since the series ended. Reports have indicated that Florida and Miami will open the 2019 season with a matchup in Orlando, but the deal is not yet official.


Nebraska-Oklahoma

Last played: 2010

Next meeting: 2021
Consider this: there’s a whole generation out there that never watched Nebraska and Oklahoma face off on Thanksgiving.  As the Big Eight’s preeminent powers during the 1960s, '70s and '80s, one program in the rivalry was a consistent foil for the other. At one point, the winner of this game won the Big Eight in 31 of 36 seasons, including the 1971 Game of the Century between the No. 1 Cornhuskers and No. 2 Sooners. The formation of the Big 12 ended this game as an annual event, and Nebraska’s departure for the Big Ten ended regular meetings altogether. A sliver of good news, though: The series has been scheduled for a non-conference home-and-home in 2021-22.

 

Penn State-Pittsburgh

Last played: 2000

Next meeting: 2016
This used to be the biggest rivalry game for both schools, but it was at its best in the late 1970s and '80s when Pitt was a national title contender under Jackie Sherrill and Johnny Majors. Penn State coach Joe Paterno was not the biggest fan of Sherrill, and Pittsburgh was not the biggest fan of the Eastern football league Paterno hoped to establish. Pitt joined the Big East instead. When Penn State joined the Big Ten, it all but ended the series.

 

Pittsburgh-West Virginia

Last played: 2011

Next meeting: 2022

Separated by 80 miles, the Backyard Brawl was turned up a notch when Pittsburgh stopped playing its other top rival, Penn State. With both teams in the Big East and the game taking place in the final week of November in all but one year since 1997, the rivalry took a new look. The most significant game in the rivalry, though, was in 2007 when a then-No. 2 West Virginia team lost its bid to the national championship thanks to a monumental 13-9 upset to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team.

 

Virginia Tech-West Virginia

Last played: 2005

Next meeting: 2017

The Hokies and Mountaineers were regular foes when the two programs were independents and then as Big East rivals. This is each team’s No. 2 rival at best with the Commonwealth Cup and Backyard Brawl taking top billing for both fanbases. But they did play for the Black Diamond Trophy since 1997, and played a classic matchup in 1999 when Mike Vick led a game-winning drive in the final 23 seconds. The series will resume on a neutral field in 2017 and then as a home and home in 2021-22.

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If rivalry week means anything, it's to expect the unexpected. Games that on paper should go one way will end up as close calls or outright upsets. Picking rivalry week is not for the faint of heart.

 

The  gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.

 

Think you’re up for taking on our experts every week? Think you can beat the writers and editors each week?  and compete for .

 

Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:

 

Friday’s Games

 

Navy at Houston

Houston’s prolific dual-threat Greg Ward Jr. wasn’t healthy enough to take the load of quarterback duties against UConn as backup Kyle Postma struggled to keep the Cougars offense moving in their first loss of the season. Ward’s health will be key as Navy tries to shorten the game with the triple option. Mistakes may be at a premium in a game between two of the top four teams in turnover margin. With a trip to the AAC title game on the line, Navy is playing more consistent football right now.

Fox’s pick: Navy 44–35

 

Iowa at Nebraska

Iowa has clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game, but it won't overlook Nebraska. A year ago, Iowa led Nebraska by 17 late in the third quarter when the Huskers mounted a comeback that ended with a 37–34 win in overtime. Iowa’s run game is as healthy as it has been all season, and quarterback C.J. Beathard has been efficient for most of the season despite a host of bumps and bruises. The Hawkeyes have to be concerned, however, about a defense that has allowed 400 yards in three consecutive games after allowing an average of 287.6 in the first eight. Nebraska already has played the role of spoiler once this season, handing Michigan State its only loss of the season. The Cornhuskers are looking to close Mike Riley’s disappointing debut season with three consecutive wins and a bowl appearance.

Fox’s pick: Iowa 35–27

 

Oregon State at Oregon

Perhaps no team in the country is on a better hot streak than Oregon since the return of quarterback Vernon Adams. The Ducks have averaged better than nine yards per play against Stanford and USC. Oregon State, allowing a Pac-12-worst 6.3 yards per play, is in trouble.

Fox’s pick: Oregon 56–28

 

Baylor at TCU

Baylor looked every bit as dangerous with Chris Johnson at quarterback as it did with Jarrett Stidham — and Seth Russell before that. TCU put up a valiant effort last week against Oklahoma without Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson, but the rally ultimately came up short. With or without Boykin, TCU may be in trouble due to its overmatched defense.

Fox’s pick: Baylor 48–28

 

Saturday’s Games

 

Alabama at Auburn

Don’t expect Alabama to overlook its chief rival, primarily because Alabama still needs to beat Auburn (or needs Ole Miss to lose) to clinch the SEC West. The Tide have shown little vulnerability in the last two months, holding opponents to an average of 2.1 yards per carry just as running back Derrick Henry has vaulted himself into the front of the Heisman race. Auburn is getting better, too, on both sides of the ball. The maligned defense has held its last two SEC opponents to 4.04 yards per play. And quarterback Jeremy Johnson, benched earlier this season, has regained the confidence of the coaching staff. Will it be enough to shock the Tide?

Fox’s pick: Alabama 42–20

 

UCLA at USC

The Pac-12 South is on the line in the battle for Los Angeles. This game is a toss-up as far as we’re concerned. Both teams have been unpredictable, but the Bruins have won three in a row in the series — all by double digits. USC, though, has the home field advantage as was on a hot streak before running into the Oregon buzz saw a week ago.

Fox’s pick: USC 38-35

 

Florida State at Florida

Strictly speaking, Florida is a College Football Playoff contender. The Gators have one loss (on the road by seven to LSU), a marquee win (by 28 over Ole Miss) with opportunities for two statement wins in the last two games (Florida State and Alabama and Ole Miss in the SEC title game). The reality during the last three weeks couldn’t be further from the truth. Since beating Georgia, Florida has hardly looked like a 10–1 team with an outside shot of playing for a national title. The Gators’ offense has been dormant against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and FAU, averaging 4.6 yards per play with eight turnovers during that span. Florida also will need to overcome a rash of injuries on the defensive line while facing a Heisman-contending running back in Dalvin Cook.

Fox’s pick: Florida State 28–10

 

Texas A&M at LSU

LSU has gone from No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings to full-on crisis mode in a matter of three weeks. The Tigers are riding their first three-game losing streak since 1999 when the Tigers lost eight in a row in the final season under Gerry DiNardo. All signs pont to this being the final season under coach Les Miles, who has lost at least three SEC games in his last three seasons. Texas A&M has won three of four, but those wins include flailing South Carolina, FCS Western Carolina and a field goal fest at Vanderbilt. This game may be a referendum of sorts on coach Kevin Sumlin and quarterback Kyle Allen, who re-acquired the starting job last week against the Commodores.

Fox’s pick: Texas A&M 28–17

 

Georgia at Georgia Tech

Oddly enough, Georgia and Georgia Tech both need this game to send their fans home with something, anything, positive to say about this season. The Yellow Jackets are further in the hole with their worst season since 1994. Georgia could win nine games in the regular season, but the Bulldogs have been out of the national and SEC picture since October.

Fox’s pick: Georgia 28–21

 

Ole Miss at Mississippi State

Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen have turned the Egg Bowl into a must-see rivalry even for those outside of the state of Mississippi. The rivalry will feature two ranked teams for the sixth time in history and for the first time in consecutive years. Expect a hero’s welcome for quarterback Dak Prescott, arguably the best player in Mississippi State history, in his final home game just a week after a 508-yard performance in a win over Arkansas. Ole Miss has won three of four since its loss at Memphis on Oct. 17, but the Rebels will need its streaky defense to show up in order to contain Prescott to pick up their first win in Starkville since 2003.

Fox’s pick: Mississippi State 35–31

 

North Carolina at NC State

After clobbering Duke and Miami, North Carolina needed overtime to escape Virginia Tech. We’re willing to credit some of that to Virginia Tech giving a little extra in the final game in Blacksburg for Frank Beamer. NC State has been streaky this season. The Wolfpack failed to score 20 points against Louisville, Virginia Tech and Florida State but scored 41 on Clemson. If the good version of Jacoby Brissett shows up, the Pack can give UNC a game.

Fox’s pick: North Carolina 41–31

 

Vanderbilt at Tennessee

The season didn’t start the way Volunteers’ fans envisioned with four losses in the first seven games, but Tennessee is on the verge of its first eight-win season since going 10–4 in 2007 under Phillip Fulmer. Vanderbilt brings a stout defense that should give Tennessee’s inconsistent offense trouble, but the ‘Dores are averaging 3.28 yards per play in the month of November, worst in the country.

Fox’s pick: Tennessee 28–7

 

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State

Oklahoma’s offense under Baker Mayfield has been unstoppable since the loss to Texas. The Sooners have averaged 604 yards per game over the last six, and that includes a half of ineffective football behind a backup quarterback against TCU. The Cowboys pride themselves on their pass rush and ability to come up with the big play in shootouts, but giving up 642 yards to Texas Tech, 663 to TCU and 700 to Baylor is not advisable in any situation.

Fox’s pick: Oklahoma 44–34

 

Notre Dame at Stanford

Notre Dame’s five turnovers against Boston College was alarming, but the Irish have been one of the most consistent offenses in the country. Notre Dame had success moving the ball against a stout BC defense … at least until it reached the red zone. Instead, Notre Dame’s defense will be under the microscope. The Irish haven’t played a ton of explosive offenses this season with the exception of Clemson in a loss and USC, which racked up 590 yards and 7.7 yards per play.

Fox’s pick: Stanford 35–28

 

Wisconsin at Minnesota

Wisconsin will try to end a bizarre season with a sign of normalcy. The Badgers have won eight games this season with smoke and mirrors and not with their trademark run game, which ranks 104th nationally. They’ll try to finish the season by defeating Minnesota and claiming Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 12th consecutive year. Minnesota’s season has been no less eventful, as the Gophers look to extend their bowl streak to four seasons despite changing coaches midseason. Minnesota is flirting with a losing season, but the Gophers have been close against top teams this year, losing one-score games to TCU, Michigan and Iowa.

Fox’s pick: Minnesota 24–17

 

Clemson at South Carolina

South Carolina will look to salvage its season, which now includes a four-game losing streak and a loss to The Citadel, by destroying Clemson’s hopes for a national championship. South Carolina’s run game has been non-existent in the last two games, so it’s hard to imagine the Gamecocks summoning enough offense to counter a fast and physical Brent Venables defense.

Fox’s pick: Clemson 42–17

 

Ohio State at Michigan

Ohio State’s bid for a back-to-back national championships suddenly has devolved into damage control. Running back Ezekiel Elliott apologized for his criticism of the coaching staff after he received only 12 carries in the 17–14 loss to Michigan State. Coach Urban Meyer tried to move on from the controversy, saying he agreed with his star running back not getting enough touches against the Spartans. Certainly, the timing of such a dust-up is not ideal with Michigan looming. Michigan’s run defense isn’t what it was back in September and October, but Ohio State may still be inclined to feed Elliott. That, after, all was the winning strategy all season. Meanwhile, the Wolverines’ own run game has gone quiet in recent weeks. Only the improved play of quarterback Jake Rudock, considered a liability at the start of the season, has kept the Wolverines in contention for the Big Ten East and a major bowl spot. If Michigan State losses to Penn State later in the day, the winner in Ann Arbor will play Iowa for the Big Ten title.

Fox’s pick: Ohio State 35–31

 

Colorado at Utah

Utah’s Joe Williams was productive in the absence of running back Devontae Booker, but the Utes struggled to finish drives in a loss to UCLA. With Utah out of the Pac-12 South mix and Colorado out of bowl contention, both teams may struggle to find energy.

Fox’s pick: Utah 21–14

 

Northwestern vs. Illinois (Chicago)

If Illinois interim coach Bill Cubit, who took over for Tim Beckman a week before the start of the season, is going to make a bid to be the permanent coach, this may be the most important game. The Illini are on the verge of bowl eligibility despite the turmoil at the start of the season. Beating Northwestern would be impressive — and not just because it’s a rivalry game. The Wildcats have managed to lean on their defense and the running of Justin Jackson to go 9–2. The Wildcats are seeking their first 10-win regular season since going to the Rose Bowl in 1995. 

Fox’s pick: Northwestern 24-14

 

Penn State vs. Michigan State

Mark Dantonio says quarterback Connor Cook is “close” to a return from a shoulder injury, but the Michigan State coach never let on that his veteran signal-caller would miss last week’s game. In other words, don’t believe Cook is playing until he takes the field. Penn State is stout up front on defense, so this will be a tall task for any quarterback. The Nittany Lions will head to a second consecutive bowl game under James Franklin, but he’s feeling the heat for another lackluster offense despite the presence of pro prospect Christian Hackenberg at quarterback. Franklin is also seeking his first signature win as the Nittany Lions’ head coach.

Fox’s pick: Michigan State 28–20

 

Last week: 13-7

Season to date: 179-61

Teaser:
Week 13 College Football Picks: Challenge Athlon Sports Experts
Post date: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 - 07:00
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Former Oregon State wide receiver Mike Hass remains one of the Pac-12’s most prolific receivers, and if his post-playing career vocation goes well, he’ll continue to slip in the record book.

 

Hass is one of two Pac-12 receivers with three consecutive 1,000-yard receivers, winning the Biletnikoff Award in 2005. His 1,532 yards in 2005 was a record at the time, one that’s been exceeded twice, by USC’s Marqise Lee in 2012 and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks in 2013.

 

Since retiring from the NFL in 2011, Hass has kept himself in the sport — and impacting the next generation of receivers, even if they don’t know it. Hass returned to Portland where he started working with Nike as a developer for football gloves.

 

Hass, who appeared on the cover of the 2005 Athlon Sports Pac-12 football preview annual, talked to Athlon about working with Nike, walking on at Oregon State and the moment he was put on scholarship.

 

What do you do for Nike?

I develop football gloves, of all things.

 

When you say you develop football gloves, do you mean the design and look or the “Sport Science” part of it?

I would say more like the technology part of it, so to speak: The fit, the function, the costing, the manufacturing and engineering.

 

How did you get started with it?

I got done playing, and I was a Nike athlete when I was in the NFL. I had connections and some friends that worked there. I started networking and meeting the right people and finding my place with the company.

 

What would a normal day or week be for you?

A lot of meetings, answering emails, usually from Asia. We’re negotiating manufacturing, costing and then going back to Portland to make sure the gloves fit and form properly for the players and that the sizing is OK.

 

So do you test the gloves yourself?

That’s one of the things that helped me get the job. I used them for 15 years and whatnot. When samples come in, I can try them. We rely on the athletes out there to give us the insights but I can at least put them on and figure out if something is wrong.

 

Was this in line with your academic background or something you targeted for after your playing career?

My background was civil engineering at Oregon State. While it’s not civil engineering by any means there are definite aspects of school that I use in my day to day job, just in putting things together, solving problems.

 

I know Oregon State is a Nike school, but do any of your OSU friends have any opinions on you working for the most visible Oregon backer in the world?

I’ve got to do a lot of stuff for Oregon. We do so much stuff for them compared to any other school. There are times when I want to sneak some gloves through for the Beavers, but I need to get the right people on board for that one.

 

You played for Mike Riley when he was getting started at Oregon State. What are Nebraska players getting to know about this guy?

That he’s genuine. A lot of times coaches in the college profession churn you through and spit you out when you’re done. I think his program allows you to grow as a man. You’re cared about. He’ll be a good fit there.

 

Were you surprised he left after being there for so long and turned down other opportunities?

Yes and no. Change was a good thing in this situation. He was getting a lot of criticism. I think a lot of it has to do with what’s happening down the road with Oregon and their success. Oregon doesn’t have the money and the things that Oregon does. There are things to improve in that aspect. It’s a good change for him.

 

Do you still keep in touch with the Oregon State program and people there?

Sure. They’ve had the same equipment manager for I don’t know how long, maybe 20 years. I like to go down there and meet those familiar faces. The coaching staff has changed, so I need to meet with them and keep that relationship going. I’ll always be a Beaver and fan.

 

You were a walk-on at Oregon State. Now it seems like any time a walk-on gets a scholarship, it’s a YouTube video and people see that moment in real time. What do you recall about the time you were put on scholarship?

It’s a big deal. It’s what every walk-on’s goal is. I remember mine. It was my redshirt sophomore year and we were out at practice, and they drew up a pass play for me, and James Newson, a receiver who was the No. 1 guy at the time, said if you catch this one you’re going to get a scholarship. They ran the play, and I caught the ball and Coach Riley called it in and announced it in front of everybody. It was a cool experience and one I’ll never forget.

 

Do you ever watch those walk-on videos whenever they come up? Does it take you back?

Definitely. They’re cool. As a young man who’s worked his ass off when no one would give him a chance, it’s always cool to see guys own it. Guys come out of high school and get stars put on them and some don’t pan out and some to. But those guys actually earned it.

 

I had remembered you won the Biletnikoff in 2005, but I forgot what a monster year it was. You had 300 more yards than anyone else and your peers that year were Dwayne Jarrett, Greg Jennings and Jeff Samardzija. What do you remember about that year?

That was the season we wanted to have. We didn’t go to a bowl game. We only got to play 11 games. I wish I had another game to put more yards on that total. I remember we had a young team on defense, and it was frustrating to put up points and then have a defense that was going through growing pains.

 

Do you have your Biletnikoff Trophy? Where do you keep it?

It’s in my house, in my office. It has the program to it (from the ceremony) that I keep with other awards that I had accumulated through my career, NFL game ball and those things.

Teaser:
Athlon Cover Catchup: Mike Hass Talks About Working for Nike, Getting his Scholarship
Post date: Friday, November 20, 2015 - 07:00

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