Articles By David Fox

All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/athlons-2015-college-football-predictions-what-we-got-right-what-we-got-wrong
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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.

Teaser:
Athlon Cover Catch-up: Brodie Croyle Finds his Calling by Giving Homes to Kids
Post date: Friday, December 4, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/2005-coaching-carousel-revisited-big-winners-and-bigger-losers
Body:

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.

Teaser:
The 2005 Coaching Carousel Revisited: The Big Winners and Bigger Losers
Post date: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 - 12:01
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/five-thoughts-dec-1-college-football-playoff-rankings
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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

Teaser:
Five Thoughts on the Dec. 1 College Football Playoff Rankings
Post date: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 19:04
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/week-14-college-football-picks-challenge-athlon-sports-experts
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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

Teaser:
Week 14 College Football Picks: Challenge Athlon Sports Experts
Post date: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Detroit Lions, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/detroit-lions-thanksgiving-quarterbacks-ranked
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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 .

 

Teaser:
The Detroit Lions' Thanksgiving Quarterbacks, Ranked
Post date: Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - 08:05
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
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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

Teaser:
Five Thoughts on the Nov. 24 College Football Playoff Rankings
Post date: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 - 16:19
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
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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

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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.

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If last year’s College Football Playoff rankings are in any way a guide  _ and there’s no guarantee that its is — this week might be the turning point.

 

The Nov. 18 rankings in 2014 had Nos. 1-2-3 lined up perfectly. Although Alabama, Oregon and Florida State would move around in the final three weeks, they’d end up exactly where they were on Nov. 18.

 

This was also the time last season when Ohio State started to make its ascent, which would end in the top four.

 

Should any of this matter in this year’s Playoff process? Probably not. Different teams. Different résumés. Different opponents in the final two weeks.

 

That said, what seems to be clear is that Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame are in win-and-you’re-in territory.

 

Everything else is just a guess.

 

1. Notre Dame is going to be the great mystery

Many of the committee’s pet phrases — game control, body clock and so on — have come up in the spur of the moment, but in writing as one of the criteria is “conference championships won.” That, of course, is irrelevant to Notre Dame, and how much that will impact the Irish in the final rankings isn’t clear. True, the Irish lost to their toughest opponent — No. 1 Clemson on the road — but clearly the committee thinks highly of Notre Dame’s wins. No. 16 Navy has rocketed up the top 25, and No. 24 USC entered the rankings this week. If No. 11 Stanford and USC both reach the Pac-12 title game, and Notre Dame has victories over both, would the committee go so far as to give partial credit for a Pac-12 title?

 

2. Maybe Baylor’s not out of it after all

Dating back to last season, Baylor has vexed the selection committee with its lackluster non-conference schedule. The September schedule, which included SMU, Lamar and Rice, would seem to erase a margin of error for Baylor. Yet the Bears lost their first game of the season, 44-34 to Oklahoma in Waco, and fell merely to No. 10. With games remaining at No. 6 Oklahoma State, at No. 18 TCU and Texas, maybe the Bears can climb six spots — as long as the Sooners lose. Baylor’s strength of schedule is ranked 76th by Sagarin, and the Bears lost at home to the best team they’ve faced. A competitive game, however, “validated the strength of Baylor,” committee chair Jeff Long said.

 

3. North Carolina is going to have trouble

With blowout wins over Miami and Duke, the Tar Heels have climbed at least in public notoriety in recent weeks. In a vacuum, moving from unranked to 23rd to 17th is no small matter, but the Tar Heels are little more than a fringe contender. North Carolina lost to a 3-7 South Carolina team, played two FCS opponents and avoided Clemson and Florida State in the ACC schedule. That’s a good way to get to 9-1 and perhaps win the Atlantic, but not a good profile for the top 10. And with a semifinal in the Orange Bowl, the ACC doesn’t have an automatic tie-in for a host bowl. The Heels may have to beat Clemson in the ACC title game to guarantee a major bowl — and it won’t be a semifinal.

 

4. Right or wrong, Ohio State is getting the benefit of the doubt

This could have been noted in any of the first three weeks the Buckeyes were ranked No. 3, but the committee is going with the eye test on this one. Iowa has road wins over two teams that have been in the committee’s top 25, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Ohio State is the only team in this week’s top 16 that hasn’t even played another CFP top 25 team. Many of the same players who won last year’s championship are still in Columbus, but this isn’t exactly indicative of “starting with a fresh piece of paper,” as the committee likes to say.

 

5. The final spots are worth watching

The final 5-8 spots are always interesting, if only as a peek into strength of schedule. Three three-loss teams entered the rankings with No. 22 Ole Miss, No. 23 Oregon and No. 24 USC. And getting close to that territory is one-loss TCU at No. 18. A team that was ranked in the top 10 two weeks ago might be in danger of slipping out. TCU lost its only significant game in the committee’s estimation and escaped close calls with Texas Tech and Kansas State.

 

New Year’s Six Projections

Orange Bowl semifinal: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Notre Dame

Cotton Bowl semifinal: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State

 

Rose: No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 11 Stanford

Sugar: No. 6 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Florida

Fiesta: No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Michigan State

Peach: No. 16 Navy vs. No. 10 Baylor

Teaser:
Five Thoughts on the Nov. 17 College Football Playoff Rankings
Post date: Tuesday, November 17, 2015 - 21:09
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
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The College Football Playoff race isn't close to being determined. With two weeks remaining in the regular season, teams are playing themselves in and out of contention. This has been a season of crazy finishes and heated competition on and off the field.

 

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:

 

Michigan at Penn State

The Wolverines’ stifling defense has been ordinary in recent weeks. By a wide margin, Michigan has allowed more rushing yards in the last three games (579) than it did in the first seven (453). Opponents in those last three games have averaged 4.75 yards per carry against the Michigan defense. The Wolverines’ slump coincides with a Penn State offense that is slowly becoming more consistent. The Nittany Lions are averaging 6 yards per play in conference games this season, compared to 3.72 a year ago. This may come down to which quarterback — Jake Rudock for Michigan or Christian Hackenberg for Penn State — can crack the opposing defense.

Fox’s Pick: Michigan 28–20

 

Cal at Stanford

The implications of the Big Game have been dampened by Stanford’s loss to Oregon, likely knocking the Cardinal out of the playoff picture. The Pac-12 North title, though, is still in play as Oregon and Washington State have new life in the race. Cal ended its four-game losing streak with a rout of Oregon State and 453 passing yards and six touchdowns from Jared Goff. Cal may be able to pick up yards against the Stanford defense, but the Bears have showed little indication they’ll be able to contain a player like Christian McCaffrey.

Fox’s Pick: Stanford 42–28

 

Louisville at Pittsburgh

Louisville has quietly put together a four-game winning streak after a 2–4 start. A road trip to Pitt, however, figures to be the toughest test for the Cardinals in the second half of the regular season. Quarterback Kyle Bolin and running back Brandon Radcliff have taken charge of an improved Louisville backfield in the last two weeks. The most dynamic player on the field, though, will be Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd, who added a new dimension to the Panthers’ offense with his production in the run game.

Fox’s Pick: Louisville 31–24

 

UCLA at Utah

Few teams are more confounding than UCLA. Nevertheless, the Bruins control their own path to the Pac-12 Championship Game by virtue of playing Utah and USC to finish the season. UCLA’s defense had major lapses in losses to Washington State and Stanford, but the real question is if the Bruins’ offense can get efficient production against the Utah defense. The Utes lead the Pac-12 in rush defense while freshman quarterback Josh Rosen will try to avoid turnovers against a team that leads Pac-12 in interceptions.

Fox’s Pick: Utah 27–20

 

North Carolina at Virginia Tech

North Carolina finally has our attention just in time to go to Blacksburg for Frank Beamer’s final home game as the Hokies’ head coach. In other words, this will be an intriguing game if only for the intangibles involved. On the field, North Carolina has been clobbering teams on the way to an ACC Atlantic title. Despite Virginia Tech’s pedigree in the secondary, the Hokies may have trouble slowing an offense averaging 8 yards per play in the last two games.

Fox’s Pick: North Carolina 38–21

 

Mississippi State at Arkansas

Since a 2–4 start including losses to Toledo and Texas Tech, the Hogs have won four in a row and could finish second in the SEC West. This year’s Arkansas team, though, has a more well-rounded offense compared to last year’s squad that also got hot in November. Both quarterback Brandon Allen and running back Alex Collins have played the role of hero. After Alabama overwhelmed Mississippi State for nine sacks,  quarterback Dak Prescott will try to regroup against a lackluster Arkansas defense. The Hogs are last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense and have allowed a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns.

Fox’s Pick: Arkansas 31–27

 

Georgia Tech at Miami

Despite this season’s dual embarrassments of a 58-point loss to Clemson and a 38-loss to North Carolina, Miami can still play for a decent bowl with a chance to get to eight regular season wins and a 5–3 ACC record. That’s more than Georgia Tech can say, as the Yellow Jackets will miss the postseason for the first time since 1996. There’s little reason to put trust in either of these teams, but at least Georgia Tech isn’t losing in blowouts. Five the Jackets’ losses have been by one score.

Fox’s Pick: Georgia Tech 28–20

 

Purdue at Iowa

The Hawkeyes are coming off their worst defensive performance of the season, allowing 434 total yards and 7.6 yards per play to Minnesota. That’s a week after another pedestrian defensive game, by Iowa’s standards, against Indiana. In its last three games, Purdue beat Nebraska and played a one-score game with Northwestern. For the sake of keeping quarterback C.J. Beathard and others healthy, Iowa will hope this turns out like other routs against Purdue this season.

Fox’s Pick: Iowa 41–21

 

TCU at Oklahoma

Oklahoma seems to get stronger by the week while TCU’s season is hanging by a thread. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is starting to get Heisman attention, but the Sooners’ defense was just as impressive against Baylor. OU neutralized Corey Coleman and intercepted Jarrett Stidham twice. TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson could be the most dangerous run-pass-catch duo in the country when healthy, but they’ve been hobbled. The stars are aligning for the Sooners.

Fox’s Pick: Oklahoma 44–35

 

Northwestern at Wisconsin

The race to keep up with Iowa in the Big Ten West is a matchup between two top-notch defenses and offenses that are still, in Week 12, trying to find identities. Wisconsin’s problem is easy to pinpoint. The Badgers have a young offensive line and have had limited contributions from running back Corey Clement. The Badgers expect Clement, who rushed for 949 yards last season, to play despite injuring his hand in an off-campus altercation last week. Northwestern would like to rely on running back Justin Jackson, but the passing game has struggled. The Wildcats pulled quarterback Clayton Thorson last week after two interceptions against Purdue. Yards will be tough to come by, though. Wisconsin is third in the Big Ten at 4.5 yards allowed per play. Northwestern’s defensive pace has slowed since the first month of the season, but the Wildcats are allowing only 291.5 yards per game and 4.2 per play when not facing Michigan and Iowa.

Fox’s Pick: Wisconsin 21–14

 

USC at Oregon

Oregon is heating up just as the window has opened for USC to win the Pac-12 South. Since the return of Vernon Adams, the Ducks have been progressively more efficient on offense — from 5.82 yards per play against Washington four weeks ago to 9.1 against Stanford. No question USC has been better under interim coach Clay Helton but the three close wins against the weaker teams in the Pac-12 — by 6 over Cal, by 8 over Arizona and by 3 over Colorado — are cause for concern.

Fox’s Pick: Oregon 42–31

 

Baylor at Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State will try to replicate what led to a 49–29 win over TCU two weeks ago by pressuring Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham and forcing turnovers. Meanwhile, Stidham will look to adjust after throwing two picks and getting sacked twice against Oklahoma. Baylor’s defense won’t face as dangerous and offense as it did last week against OU, but Stidham may be facing a better defense — and on the road.

Fox’s Pick: Oklahoma State 41–38

 

Arizona at Arizona State

From the “where has this been all season” department, both Territorial Cup teams ended three-game losing streaks last week: Arizona in an overtime upset of Utah and Arizona State with a fourth-quarter comeback against Washington. Combine Arizona’s inconsistent offense with Arizona State’s pressure defense, and the Sun Devils may come out on top.

Fox’s Pick: Arizona State 31–24

 

LSU at Ole Miss

LSU was No. 2 in the first College Football Playoff rankings two weeks ago, but the Tigers have lost to Alabama and Arkansas by a combined 31 points, the latter at home. Most staggering has been the results in the run game on both sides of the ball for LSU. The Tigers have been outrushed 599–114 in two losses, effectively pushing Leonard Fournette aside in the Heisman race. The Rebels’ 43–37 win at Alabama in Week 3 now seems like a distant memory after Ole Miss lost to Florida, Memphis and Arkansas in the last games. Ole Miss’ defense has rarely been at full strength all season, so the Rebels are hoping the off week will allow them to regroup.

Fox’s Pick: Ole Miss 35–28

 

Michigan State at Ohio State

Both teams have work to do in order to make this the true heavyweight bout fans have been seeking all season. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was critical of his offensive line after a 28–3 win over Illinois. The timing for calling out the pass protection makes perfect sense. The Spartans aren’t as strong defensively as they’ve been, but they are 13th in sacks per game (2.9). Michigan State has its own problems protecting the passer in part because of season-long injuries on the line. The result has been a bum shoulder for quarterback Connor Cook, who was 6-of-20 with an interception against Maryland last week before he was finally pulled to preserve him for this week. Michigan State needs Cook healthy if the Spartans are going to atone for a loss to Nebraska to weeks ago and make a run at the Big Ten East.

Fox’s Pick: Ohio State 35–24

 

Texas A&M at Vanderbilt

The Aggies and Commodores have both made the switch to freshman quarterbacks in recent weeks and the results, predictably, have been mixed. Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur is the hotter hand right now, completing 13-of-26 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Kentucky. The goal for the Commodores will be to rely on their defense to make this an ugly game for Aggies freshman quarterback Kyler Murray. Vanderbilt has been tough on top-tier opposing quarterbacks this season, much less signal-callers who are struggling. Despite his recruiting profile, Murray falls into he latter category. He threw two interceptions against Western Carolina, giving him five picks and 4.8 yards per attempt in his last two starts.

Fox’s Pick: Texas A&M 21–14

 

Tennessee at Missouri

Missouri’s defense has been elite for most of the season, and the Tigers’ run game had their best two games of the year in the last two weeks. The difference, though, was the passing game. Drew Lock completed 19-of-28 passes for 244 yards with a touchdown and an interception, the first time in four games Mizzou quarterbacks completed half of their passes. Now, the question is if Missouri can keep that momentum in what will be coach Gary Pinkel’s final home game. Tennessee sleepwalked through a 24–0 win over North Texas. The game was never in doubt, but the Volunteers amassed only 409 yards against one of the worst defenses in college football. Tennessee is under pressure for a strong finish this season and will face two of the SEC’s best defenses in Mizzou and Vanderbilt.

Fox’s Pick: Tennessee 27–27

 

Colorado at Washington State

Let’s go ahead and put Washington State on upset alert. Colorado is still struggling to win in the Pac-12, but the Buffaloes are getting better. Colorado is fifth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. If the Buffs can get after Luke Falk, they’ll have a chance.

Fox’s Pick: Washington State 42–28

 

Wake Forest at Clemson

The Tigers haven’t been sharp against overmatched teams from NC State and Syracuse, which isn’t uncommon for heavy favorites at this stage of the season. Wake hasn’t scored 20 points in a conference game all season, so one can guess how this is going to go.

Fox’s Pick: Clemson 41–10

 

Boston College vs. Notre Dame (Fenway Park)

Boston College’s season may be notable for just one thing — an astounding lack of balance. The Eagles lead the nation in total defense and rank last in total offense. Perhaps BC’s defense will do enough to give Notre Dame trouble, but as the Eagles’ 3–7 record indicates, they can’t score enough to make it matter.

Fox’s Pick: Notre Dame 24–7

 

Last week: 15–5

Season to date: 166–54

Teaser:
Week 12 College Football Picks: Challenge Athlon Sports Experts
Post date: Tuesday, November 17, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/kentuckys-tyler-ulis-taking-charge-being-small-and-watching-his-friends-leave-lexington
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Tyler Ulis may be the most unique player John Calipari has coached in the last decade at Kentucky or Memphis. Since Derrick Rose in 2005-06, Calipari point guards for the most part have been big and physical — and one and done. In 2015-16, the 5'9" Ulis, a sophomore, will be Calipari’s floor general a year after averaging 3.6 assists in 23.8 minutes per game in UK’s platoon system. Ulis joined Athlon Sports to talk about his new leadership role, his confidence even as an undersized point guard recruit, and his outlook on the Wildcats’ upcoming season.

 

Now that you’ve had time to reflect, how do you view last season’s accomplishments? That was clearly a great team, a great Kentucky team, but one that lost in the Final Four to another good team.

 

As a whole, we did a great job. We made history. It was fun playing with those guys. I got better individually, and playing with seven people who went to the pros, it was a special team. This year I think we’re going to come out and compete like we did last year but not fall short.

 

One thing that was evident at the SEC Tournament was how loose and relaxed you guys were. Was it always that way last season?

 

No, it wasn’t always that way. When we got to the SEC Tournament everybody started playing a lot better as a team. That comes with playing together all year. Eventually you want to click, and we started playing really good basketball.

 

So you felt like the SEC Tournament was a turning point, even though you didn’t lose during the regular season?

 

We were at our best in a lot of games during the regular season, but in the SEC Tournament we came out every game and played well. Everybody came in and did their job. For the most part, everyone played well.

 

Why do you think things changed then in terms of attitude?

 

We just had more chemistry as a team as the season went on. We were going on trips. Our guys started playing games together, started playing Super Smash Bros.

 

This interview and previews of every team in the country is available in the , available on newsstands or .

 

There was a moment during the SEC Tournament where you stared down Auburn’s 7'2" center Trayvon Reed. What do you remember about that moment?

 

I was standing on the block and he pushed me a little bit, so I pushed him back. We exchanged a few words. That’s about it.

 

How often has that happened in your career where you’ve stared down a bigger player?

 

It doesn’t happen often. But when it does happen, people are going to make a huge deal of it because of my size.

 

After last season, coach John Calipari told you, “Get your guys and let’s do this again.” Can you describe that interaction?

 

He texted me. It might have been right after the game (the loss in the Final Four to Wisconsin) or that night. It was a good moment because I felt like he trusted me with the team this year and he felt like we could do this again.

 

How did it feel to watch seven of your teammates go to the NBA Draft when you were returning to school?

 

It was a good feeling when guys that you played with saw their dreams come true and knowing you can do the same. I’m happy for all those guys, happy they got drafted. It worked out for the best for everyone. They helped me get better. I’m going to miss practices with those guys because it was non-stop competition.

 

Did you watch the draft and text those guys?

 

Oh yeah, of course. I congratulated them and tweeted them.

 

Related:  |

 

Was it weird to watch almost your entire team leave all at once?

 

It wasn’t weird. Those guys were ready. I figured they would be leaving because we had so many great players. They were ready to take their game to the next level.

 

Do you feel like this year’s team has to be your team?

 

I feel like that’s the way it’s got to be. Me, Alex (Poythress) and Marcus (Lee). We’ve got a lot of young guys coming in and a lot of people left. Derek (Willis) is going to have to step up, but he doesn’t have that much experience. Once everybody gets used to playing the game of basketball together, it will be the same way it was last year. We’ll have a ton of talented players who will share leadership.

 

A huge part of your game is your vision and playmaking ability. When was the first time you realized you could see things other guys couldn’t or could see plays develop better than other guards?

 

At a young age. High school, middle school, ever since I’ve been playing I’ve been known as a high-IQ guy, so I always used that to my advantage, like bigger guys always use their size as an advantage. I was always the smallest guy. That was always my gift. I always played that way, trying to find my teammates, trying to get everyone involved.

 

What was the first sense of validation that you could be a high-major player and the point guard at a place like Kentucky?

 

I’ve always felt like that. I’m very confident in my game. I can play at a high level. My parents always told me I’m going to get there. I’ve always had the confidence that my friends and family had. I just waited around for all the offers to come in.

 

You mentioned your confidence. Your height has been a topic ever since you were a recruit. How did that confidence in your abilities and your future develop?

 

I don’t know. But I just have been playing so long. I trust my game and I trust in myself and know everything is going to work itself out.

 

When you were being recruited, you said that a primary reason you went to Kentucky was Calipari’s record of developing point guards. Where are you in that development?

 

Just make sure I stay healthy. Get more flexible. Get my body together. Get in the weight room, gain weight. Try to polish my game in every way. Right after the season ended, I got with the strength coach and we did a lot of work over the summer. I went back home, and my best friend back there worked me out a lot. We were in the weight room every day. I’m just trying to get stronger. Regardless of my size, I am pretty strong. I’m just trying to go out there and show it.

 

More than any position on the court, point guard has an identity that comes with it. For you last season, do you feel like you had one even though you were coming off the bench?

 

I felt like I developed an identity in practice because guys know what you’re doing. And they trust you, trust your game and trust you with the ball in your hands. With me and Andrew (Harrison) playing together, that could have gone wrong because we’re both point guards, but I trusted him and he trusted me.

 

You’ll have another big freshman point guard this season in Isaiah Briscoe. What did you learn from Andrew in how to handle that dynamic?

 

Andrew didn’t have to accept me coming in and taking some of his minutes. He never made a big deal about it, never made a problem of it. He just accepted it, and we both played together.

 

You’ve mentioned your size and how it becomes a big deal. Do you ever get tired of people asking you about your size and how stories always bring it up?

 

Not anymore. I’m not really focusing on what people say. I just try to listen to my family, my friends and coaches. I’m not trying to live up to anybody’s expectations. I feel like I know what I can do, and no matter what my size is, at the end of the day, you have to know how to play the game.

 

Was there ever a time when that bothered you?

 

Of course. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. I wasn’t getting recruited highly early in my career, and that was because of my size. That’s what a lot of people said. I kept at it, and kept working and it all worked out.

 

What was the toughest place to play last season?

 

LSU and Georgia and Texas A&M were pretty tough games. I actually like away games. I like the crowd and when they boo you. I like to feed off that.

 

Who was the toughest team to guard last season?

 

Probably Ole Miss. Everyone I guarded against Ole Miss seemed like they made a shot. It was a rough game.

 

Where would you want to play college basketball if not Kentucky?

 

Right now, this is where I want to be. I love it here. I grew up a Michigan State fan. That’s probably where I would want to be if I wasn’t at Kentucky.

Teaser:
Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis on taking charge, being small and watching his friends leave Lexington
Post date: Friday, November 13, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/30-second-shot-clock-wont-save-college-basketball
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For fans who checked into college basketball last season just in time for March Madness, the sport appeared to be in pretty good shape.

 

Three of the four regional finals were decided by single digits, as were two of the three games at the Final Four in Indianapolis. Average TV viewership for the NCAA Tournament reached its highest point in 22 years.

 

Georgia State and UAB were the early underdog darlings, but by the final weekend, the mid-majors gave way to nine eventual first-round NBA Draft picks and four current or future Hall of Fame coaches in the Final Four.

 

Popular teams. Star coaches. Future pros. Close games. Compelling storylines. Villains.

 

Judging by three weeks of postseason play, the game had rarely been so compelling.

 

But for those you who were watching from November through February — and if you’re the type of person who buys this magazine, you probably were — you are well aware that these NCAA Tournament classics were not the norm for the 2014-15 season. For example, who can forget this unforgettable stretch of games in December?

 

• Wisconsin 49, Marquette 38 on Dec. 6

• Washington 49, San Diego State 36 on Dec. 7

• Eastern Michigan 45, Michigan 42 on Dec. 9

• Cal 45, Wyoming 42 on Dec. 10

• Nebraska 56, Cincinnati 55 in double overtime on Dec. 13

 

And that was just one week.

 

All of those games involved major programs. All five also involved bad offense (teams shooting less than 35 percent from the field) and a glacial pace (fewer than 120 total possessions in regulation).

 

Even higher-scoring, up-tempo games weren’t immune to slowing to a crawl when coaches hoarded timeouts until the final moments or when officials huddled around a tiny television at the scorer’s table. It wasn’t unusual for the final minute of a game to stretch to 15 minutes of real time.

 

If the pace of play in the sport isn’t in a state of crisis, it’s at least at a crossroads. Even in this era of tempo-free statistics that have revealed that points per game is not a true measure of effective offense, the downward scoring trend has been alarming.

 

Starting this season, the NCAA hopes the rules won’t be to blame if the game is unwatchable.

 

For 2015-16, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a handful of rules designed to increase the pace of play, reduce the sport’s physicality and speed up end-of-game situations.

 

“We’re trying to get the balance between offense and defense to swing more to the offensive side,” says Belmont coach Rick Byrd, chair of the playing rules committee.

 

Scoring has been on a progressive decline during the last 15 years. Teams averaged 67.5 points per game in 2012-13, the lowest average since 1952. After a brief uptick to 71.0 points per game in 2013-14, scoring returned to snooze-inducing levels at 67.6 points per game a year ago. The scoring average (per team) has been greater than 70 points per game only once since 2003.

 

During the height of the sport’s popularity, teams averaged better than 70 points per game every season from 1986-87 through 2002-03. That’s the era of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill at Duke, Jerry Tarkanian teams at UNLV, Rick Pitino teams at Kentucky and pro pipelines at UConn and Arizona.

 

Those teams played with a 45-second shot clock until 1993-94 and a 35-second shot clock thereafter.

 

Reducing the shot clock to 30 seconds — still short of the 24 seconds used by the NBA and FIBA — is the clear headliner of sweeping rules changes and directives to the officiating community designed to speed up the game.

 

But it might not be the most significant change.

 

The real power to tip the game back in favor of the offense belongs to hundreds of de-centralized independent contractors better known as referees.

 

“I don’t see 35 to 30 being a huge player at all,” Kansas coach Bill Self says. “I think how the officiating will be called is where we’ll see the biggest difference, the freedom of movement and less physicality. I don’t see the shot clock being a major deal.”

 

The rules committee has urged the officials to clean up physical play in the post and has mandated that players be stationary when they set a screen and be allowed greater freedom when they are moving without the ball. Most important, the committee reinforced a rule guideline from 2013-14, forbidding a player from keeping a hand or arm on an opponent, putting two hands on an opponent, hand-checking and using an arm to impede a dribbler.

 

This was supposed to be a point of emphasis two years ago, but after only a few months, officials fell back into old habits, and hand-checking was back. The game continued to be physical on the perimeter. Coaches continued to push the envelope with ball screens that were illegal — by the rule book — but in practice could continue with impunity. Post play became a wrestling match.

 

“There’s a whole lot of different opinions about what rules would be good and what rules would be bad, but no one has come to me and said the game needs to be more physical,” Byrd says. “We’ve just sort of incrementally got to a point where a lot of physical contact that is illegal in the rule book is being allowed on both sides.”

 

The NBA issued a similar edict in 1999, urging a tighter interpretation of the rules on physical play and improving the flow of the game. Over time, scoring boomed; since 2008-09, the league average (per team) has topped the 100-point mark four times.

 

“The NBA, they hit it on the head and hit it out of the park when they changed the plan altogether and scoring went up and appeal went up and it became a much more enjoyable game for the fans,” says Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, who coached in the NBA from 2000-03.

 

The fear is that the officials will settle back into their old ways and the game will change only for a short time. Even if officials intend to call the game by the letter of the law as planned, the desired effect of more freedom of movement for offensive players might not be fully realized for a couple of years.

 

“It took two-and-a-half years from what we’re told by NBA folks by the time they were comfortable with what they got,” Byrd says. “We’re going to have to be patient.”

 

***

 

The move to the 30-second shot clock has been lauded by many in the college basketball world  — but beware of some unintended consequences. A number of coaches have said that the reduced clock will contribute to more zone defense and bring about an even slower game.

 

When the NCAA implemented the first shot clock at 45 seconds in 1985-86, scoring shot up from 69.2 points per game in 1984-85 to more than 76 points per game in a matter of four seasons.

 

Yet when 10 seconds were shaved off that shot clock in 1993-94, scoring increased for a season and then began its decline. The shorter shot clock and the scoring drop may only be a coincidence. Around the same time, players and coaches started to push the boundaries on physical defense, leading to the current predicament for officials.

 

Still, the decline is evidence that a shorter shot clock isn’t a cure-all.

 

Mississippi State coach Ben Howland fears that the officiating directives on physical play will result in more foul calls that will further slow the game to a crawl. He also believes that more teams will play zone defense.

 

“I think we’re going to see more zone, and what zone does is slow the game down,” Howland says. “You’re going to see more pressing and falling back into a zone and trying to get you to use more clock in the backcourt and then you have less time to attack the zone.

 

“I think you’re going to see less scoring, not more scoring.”

 

There’s also a fear that the goal of more possessions in a game — and thus more scoring — will diminish the effectiveness of unconventional offenses and random nature of the game. More possessions generally increase the likelihood that a more talented team will win a game. Teams that compensate for a deficit of talent with unorthodox, slower styles of play or more sets, cuts and passing might see their advantage diminished.

 

In part, that’s why the drastic move to the 24-second shot clock used by the NBA was not seriously discussed — even if some coaches would like the college game to go that direction.

 

“What I would be concerned about personally is if (the shot clock) goes any further it takes away the identity of the college basketball game from an offensive standpoint, the different kinds of offense people can run,” Byrd says. “You’re getting down there on the edge where Princeton can’t do their stuff very long. They would have to do what everybody else does and go one-on-one and use ball screens.”

 

On the other hand, pressing teams like VCU or Arkansas might have an edge when teams don’t have as much time to run offense in the halfcourt. And it’s tough enough to score against a team like Virginia in 35 seconds, much less 30.

 

“You can make a case that it helps the offensive-minded and you could make a case that it helps the defensive-minded because they don’t have to guard as long,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings says. “Over the course of time, the good coaches will be the good coaches and they’ll win the games.”

 

***

 

The idea, though, is that the college game had to do something, and that’s where other rules changes will leave less to the imagination.

 

The coaches lost a timeout in the second half and lost their ability to call a timeout during live play.

 

The goal is for the final minute of game time not to drag on for 15 minutes and alienate viewers looking for buzzer beaters.

 

Byrd says eliminating the five-second closely guarded rule was done to help the referees. Officials were trying to call the five-second rule while trying to call fouls, travels and double dribbles. The officiating of the five-second rule was so ineffective and inconsistent that the NCAA just ditched the rule.

 

Makes sense, but again, beware of some unintended consequences.

 

“We could see an NBA approach if you have a dominant ball handler like a John Wall,” Stallings says, “someone that is so superior that without there being a five-second (closely guarded) call on the dribble, they sit there and pound the ball like LeBron did in the NBA Finals and then they try to make a play in the final seconds of the shot clock.”

 

In that case, some coaches just don’t want to turn the college game into NBA Lite.

 

“I’m puzzled with the infatuation with the NBA,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins says. “We continue to go in that direction, and I think we have a better game. We have a game that is more pleasing to the eye. … There’s something to be said for someone who does a great job of guarding, playing in the halfcourt and doing those things.”

 

Panic, though, might not be in order. The game could open up only marginally as a result of rule changes.

 

The NIT, College Basketball Invitational and CollegeInsider.com Tournament all used the 30-second shot clock after last season, and the impact was marginal.

 

In a piece for Deadspin, tempo-free statistics analyst Ken Pomeroy examined scoring in those tournaments compared to past years and compared to the NCAA Tournament.

 

Scoring in the NIT and lesser tournaments are generally higher than the NCAA Tournament anyway, but the difference was 5.6 points per game more in the smaller tournaments, adjusting for matchups and expected points, Pomeroy wrote. That’s 2.4 points per game more than the normal difference between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT/CBI/CIT.

 

Could an extra two-and-half points per game be on the horizon in 2015-16?

 

“The differences that we saw in the (smaller) tournaments are reasonable to assume that’s what we’ll see in the regular season,” Pomeroy says. “When you watch a game with a 35-second shot clock, there’s not much urgency. There’s some dead time early in the possession. I think that’s where things will change.”

 

Pomeroy’s study also indicated that offensive efficiency was not negatively impacted in the NIT, CBI and CIT with the 30-second shot clock.

 

Judging the shot clock by the minimal changes in the smaller tournaments would be hasty, though.

 

Stallings, whose team lost in the NIT quarterfinals to Stanford, says he didn’t change any strategies going into the tournament — there simply wasn’t enough time.

 

“I did like it; I think I’ll like it more when we play with it more,” Stallings says. “We got up against the shot clock a few more times than we would during a normal game. I also liked that we told our guys that the clock’s going to be running here and you’ve got to be aggressive, and they seemed to respond well to that.”

 

And if that nudge means fewer games decided in the 40s and 50s and more open play, the NCAA hopes March Madness isn’t the only time the sport is played at its full potential.

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Since the selection committee last met, five undefeated teams took their first loss of the season. In theory, this should give greater clarity to the weekly proceedings, but the week-to-week horse race is never short on surprises.

 

This week, the new top four of Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame separated themselves from the competition in the eyes of the committee. That’s not too far off popular sentiment.

 

But the committee also jumped Iowa into its top eight, seemingly giving the Hawkeyes a shot at the playoff if they can win out. The committee also continued to punt on making any strong statements about the Big 12.

 

Oklahoma State jumped from No. 14 to No. 8, a sizable move in a vacuum, but this is also an undefeated Power 5 team that just beat the No. 8 team by 20 points.

 

1. Iowa’s not in as much trouble as we thought

The Hawkeyes moved up from No. 9 to No. 5 and one spot out of the Playoff scenario. The snarky response is that Iowa’s 35-27 win over Indiana must have been impressive for the committee. Perhaps. More than likely, the committee reevaluated wins over No. 18 Northwestern and No. 25 Wisconsin, both on the road. Committee chair Jeff Long stated that Iowa had a better strength of schedule to date than Baylor, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Houston. A week after Long mentioned Baylor’s “explosive” offense as part of the reason the Bears were ranked sixth last week despite a weaker schedule, Long said Iowa is “not flashy (but) they’ve been solid on both sides of the ball.”

 

2. The Big 12’s backloaded schedule gamble is indeed a gamble

Long called Oklahoma State’s 49-29 win over TCU to be the "first piece of real strength" the committee had seen out of the undefeated Cowboys. Long also has stressed for two weeks in a row the difficulty of evaluating a Baylor team that hasn’t faced a team with a winning record. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma all will face each other in the final month of the season. And it may not help that the league is top heavy — Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas State and Kansas are a combined 11-24 in the league, and only one of those wins (Texas over OU) is over the top four teams in the conference. Long also let slip that Ohio State is ranked in the top three in part on the eye test. The Buckeyes haven’t played a significantly tougher schedule than Baylor, TCU or Oklahoma State, yet they’re securely in the top four.

 

3. Notre Dame-Stanford is setting up to be a CFP elimination game

Other than Iowa, the two biggest beneficiaries from two top 10 teams losing last week were Notre Dame and Stanford. Notre Dame moved into the top four — and Long said the top four was clearly better than teams ranked fifth through eighth. Stanford moved from No. 11 to No. 7 with a 42–10 win over a bad Colorado team. The Cardinal face Oregon and Cal at home, so Stanford’s schedule before a Nov. 28 matchup with Notre Dame (which faces Wake Forest and Boston College). If both teams win their next two games before that meeting in Palo Alto, that could be a play-in game for Notre Dame and erase any doubt that a one-loss Pac-12 champion Stanford gets into the Playoff.

 

4. Speaking of Stanford...

This week’s top 25 confirmed what we kind of suspected: Stanford is getting a bit of a pass for its 16-6 loss at Northwestern in Week 1. Long noted that Stanford played that game at 9 a.m. Pacific time with an 11 a.m. kickoff in Evanston. The toll on Stanford’s body clocks was “significant,” Long said, though individual committee members weighed it differently. It probably doesn’t hurt Stanford’s case that the Cardinal have been dominant for most of their ensuing eight-game winning streak.

 

5. Navy’s win over Memphis must have been mighty impressive

Four Group of Five teams were ranked last week, but the highest-ranked a week later was one that wasn’t in the top 25. Navy debuted at No. 20, ahead of No. 21 Memphis, No. 22 Temple and No. 24 Houston. The Cougars, curiously, are the only undefeated team of the bunch. Navy defeated the former No. 13 team, Memphis, 45-20.

 

CFP Bowl Projections

 

National Semifinals

Orange: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Notre Dame

Cotton: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State

 

CFP Host Bowls

Rose: Iowa vs. Stanford

Sugar: Baylor vs. LSU

Fiesta: Oklahoma State vs. Utah

Peach: Navy vs. Florida

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After a week in which five previously unbeaten teams lost, the season is getting more clarity and yet championships and playoff spots are as hotly contested as they've been all year. This is a season of crazy outcomes and heated competition on and off the field.

 

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:

 

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Michigan at Indiana

Michigan is among the nation’s best defensive teams because of a physical approach and plenty of talent, but the Wolverines also haven’t faced a ton of fully functioning offenses, particularly an effective spread offense. BYU and Michigan State are the only top-50 offenses Michigan has faced this season. Indiana ranks 30th, but the Hoosiers have played stretches this year without quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard. If anything this might give UM a barometer of how it will fare against Ohio State. Indiana is winless in the Big Ten, but the Hoosiers have proven they can play with anyone for three quarters. Unfortunately for Indiana, those fourth quarters have been problematic — to put it lightly.

Fox’s pick: Michigan 38–24

 

Arkansas at LSU

The loss to Alabama was humbling for all around for LSU. Fournette had his worst game of the season. Brandon Harris threw his first interception of the year and completed only 6-of-19 passes. The defense also gave up a season-high 250 rushing yards. Arkansas is playing with the most confidence it has had all season. The Razorbacks are getting hot at the end of the season just as they did last season when the Hogs shut out LSU and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks in November. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has suddenly fallen in love with the passing game, mainly because he has a quarterback who can do some damage. Brandon Allen has completed 52-of-76 passes for 975 yards with nine touchdowns and an interception in his last two SEC games, wins over Auburn and Ole Miss. Will Allen put up similar numbers against LSU on the road? Probably not, but it will be interesting to see Arkansas try.

Fox’s pick: LSU 28–24

 

Memphis at Houston

Memphis’ loss to Navy exposed what we’ve known for a few weeks: The Tigers were only going to go as far as their defense would carry them. Navy was the perfect team to exploit Memphis’ weakness, rushing for 374 yards and controlling the clock with the option. Three turnovers by Memphis didn’t help. Houston’s offense could be even more effective against the Tigers. The Cougars and Baylor are the only teams in the country that rank in the top 10 in both rushing and passing offense — and Houston has played a more challenging schedule relative to its talent level. This is an entertaining game that should end in Houston’s favor.

Fox’s pick: Houston 56–42

 

Utah at Arizona

In a game that flew under the radar because of its time slot and teams involved, Utah put up an impressive performance by scoring 34 points on an above-average Washington defense on the road. The Utes got back to what they do best, forcing turnovers and playing solid defense. Arizona has few answers this season. The Wildcats pressed USC last week, but Arizona’s defense can’t get off the field, and the quarterback situation has been uncertain for most of the season.

Fox’s pick: Utah 35–21

 

Clemson at Syracuse

The only risk for Clemson is that spending two weeks at No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, clinching the ACC Atlantic and beating their chief competition before the postseason results in some kind of emotional letdown. Syracuse has lost six in a row and ranks 13th in the ACC in total offense and 14th defense.

Fox’s pick: Clemson 42–10

 

Kentucky at Vanderbilt

The Wildcats’ season has come unraveled. Kentucky has lost four in a row, the last three by an average of 27 points. If the Wildcats are going to rebound and get to six wins, the next two weeks (Vanderbilt and Charlotte) are their best chance to do it. The Wildcats expect running back Stanley “Boom” Williams to return, but they’re also mulling a quarterback change after Patrick Towles had one of the worst starts of his career against Georgia last week. Despite a 3–6 record, Vanderbilt has one of the SEC’s better defenses, and head coach/defensive coordinator Derek Mason has been able to devise schemes to keep opposing quarterbacks off balance.

Fox’s pick: Vanderbilt 14-10

 

Oklahoma at Baylor

Buying into Oklahoma is a tricky proposition. The Sooners have a way of showing well for a few weeks and then collapsing soon after — look no further than the loss to Texas earlier this season. Despite our better judgment, we’re back on the Sooners’ bandwagon. The Sooners have been dominant on both sides of the ball, albeit against Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State. Here’s what’s to like about OU right now: A balanced offense that can play in a shootout behind quarterback Baker Mayfield or slow the pace of the game with Samaje Perine in the run game. Jarrett Stidham looks like he’ll be fine as Baylor’s quarterback of the future, but he’ll be asked to take on the Sooners in a game with Playoff implications in only his second start.

Fox’s pick: Oklahoma 41-38

 

Oregon at Stanford

The marquee game in the Pac-12 the last few years won’t have the same luster it’s had in the past. Oregon’s three losses are to blame, but the Ducks are getting better. This is clearly a different team with a healthy Vernon Adams at quarterback. The Ducks put up 777 yards against Cal last week and 501 two weeks ago against Arizona State in overtime. This game will be more competitive than many will expect, but Stanford had Oregon’s number when both were at their best in 2012-13.

Fox’s pick: Stanford 41–28

 

Pittsburgh at Duke

These teams were once in front of the pack for the ACC Coastal, but both have lost two in a row. Duke has lost in more spectacular fashion, first on the wild kickoff return against Miami and then in a rout against rival (and current Coastal leader) North Carolina. Pitt lost to Carolina and Notre Dame, making this a de facto elimination game in the Coastal. Neither team is particularly great. Trust the team with more overall balance and may be less susceptible to an emotional hangover.

Fox’s pick: Pittsburgh 28–21

 

Miami at North Carolina

The Tar Heels are rolling now, mainly behind the play of Marquise Williams. He’s accounted for seven touchdowns in the Heels’ pair of wins over their chief competition for the ACC Coastal, Pitt and Duke. The defense has been the turnaround story of the year. Brad Kaaya has returned for Miami, but even with their star quarterback, the Hurricanes limped to a home win over Virginia. A let down might be a concern for the Heels, but this is also the last home game of the season for UNC.

Fox’s pick: North Carolina 38–24

 

Georgia at Auburn

The question heading into the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” is which team will be able to extend its momentum. Georgia ditched the Fauton Bauta experiment at quarterback and installed a plan in which Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey shared QB duties and running backs Sony Michel and wide receiver Terry Godwin took direct snaps. The result was 5.5 yards per play and 390 yards of total offense in a 27–3 win over Kentucky. At the same time, Auburn had its best rushing day of the season with 311 yards behind the emergence of Jovon Robinson, but the Tigers quarterback position will be in question. Starter-turned-backup Jeremy Johnson stepped in to completed 13-of-17 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in place of an injured Sean White.

Fox’s pick: Auburn 28–21

 

Oklahoma State at Iowa State

Oklahoma State has a few more believers after the Cowboys intercepted TCU’s Trevone Boykin four times in the Pokes’ breakout game. What will Oklahoma State do with their newfound attention? The Cowboys have one last road game before Oklahoma and Baylor and it’s against the same team and coach who ruined their national championship hopes in 2011. The Cowboys played close games with lesser competition earlier this year, so they’d be advised to leave no doubts in Ames.

Fox’s pick: Oklahoma State 42–20

 

NC State at Florida State

Jacoby Brissett may have unfinished business after playing the best game of his career in a loss to Florida State last season. The Seminoles won’t be caught off guard this time around, but they will be facing a rare bit of adversity for the first time in several years. The Seminoles lost earlier this year to Georgia Tech, but they haven’t had to play many seasons under Jimbo Fisher where their major goals — the national title and ACC championship — are out of reach.

Fox’s pick: Florida State 38-31

 

Washington State at UCLA

UCLA remains one of college football’s great mystery teams: Look like title contender one week, a dud the next. Meanwhile, we know what Wazzu is: an Air Raid team with questionable defense. That’s not enough to win every game, but it will win many. UCLA has faced a similar scheme an flourished in a 40-24 win over Cal on Oct. 22. UCLA has every reason to win this game, but we simply have a hunch. Washington State has won three of four, the only loss by two to Stanford.

Fox’s pick: Washington State 49–42

 

Florida at South Carolina

Florida is coming off a dismal offensive performance against Vanderbilt in a 9–7 win. South Carolina has been more competitive under interim coach Shawn Elliott, beating Vanderbilt and playing one-score games at Texas A&M and at Tennessee. That said, facing the South Carolina defense has been a nice confidence booster for SEC offenses. The Gamecocks are allowing a league-worst 454.6 yards per game in conference play. If there’s any upset potential it’s because Florida’s offense picks up where it left off against Vanderbilt and the absence of defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard — Florida’s top player in the front seven — allows quarterback Perry Orth and running back Brandon Wilds to pick up yards on the ground.

Fox’s pick: Florida 21–10

 

Maryland at Michigan State

The Spartans shouldn’t have too much trouble with a Maryland team that has lost six in a row and whose only victories are over Richmond and USF. If anything, this game could be a confidence builder for the Michigan State secondary that has been burned for 628 yards and five touchdowns the last two weeks. Maryland has thrown 25 interceptions in nine games this season, five more than any other team and 10 more than any other Power 5 team. The Terrapins thrown an interception every 11 passes — an astounding rate for a major team.

Fox’s pick: Michigan State 31–13

 

Alabama at Mississippi State

Alabama’s 25–20 win last year was the closest game the last six meetings, but Alabama led 19–0 at one point and intercepted Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott three times. Prescott has been far more secure with the football during his senior season, throwing only one interception to 18 touchdown passes. Prescott has proven he is the top quarterback in the SEC, but the Bulldogs don’t have much else. Prescott leads MSU with 418 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground; no one else on the roster has more than 220 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Alabama is coming off arguably the best defensive performance of any team this season, considering the opponent. Heisman frontrunner Leonard Fournette managed only 1.6 yards per carry against the Crimson Tide. Prescott presents a different challenge, but with the exception of the Ole Miss game, Alabama’s defense has been arguably the best in the country.

Fox’s pick: Alabama 31–14

 

Wake Forest at Notre Dame

Wake Forest has a decent defense, but the Demon Deacons’ offense is dismal. This is a team whose high point was beating Boston College 3-0 because the Eagles were even more inept on the goal line. Notre Dame will have to try hard to lose this one.

Fox’s pick: Notre Dame 38–10

 

Minnesota at Iowa

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard is battling through bumps and bruises, but he’s about to get some help. Leading rusher Jordan Canzeri is on track to return this week from a ankle injury, joining a running back corps that returned LeShun Daniels Jr. two weeks ago. The run game that was down to a third-stringer could be healthy for the stretch run. Minnesota has lost three in a row and four of the last five games, but included in that mix are games against three ranked teams (Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State) and one close call with the Wolverines. Minnesota has put more on the arm of quarterback Mitch Leidner in recent games, and it’s easy to see why: Three of Minnesota’s last five opponents have held the Gophers to fewer than 100 yards rushing. Leidner is averaging 299.7 passing yards per game in the last three with mixed results.

Fox’s pick: Iowa 35–21

 

Last week: 16-4

Season to date: 151-22

 

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A second-generation Georgetown fan, Kevin Rieffel has been watching Hoyas basketball for his entire life even though he grew up in Philadelphia.

 

In the days before ESPN2 was in every house, he and his father would drive to sports bars as far away as Maryland to watch John Thompson coach against Syracuse or St. John’s. At least once a year, they’d see a game in person, either in D.C. or near their home at Villanova.

 

Rieffel, naturally, went to Georgetown as an undergrad, and after he finished law school in Philadelphia, he became a season ticket holder.

 

Now, on his first trip to a Georgetown home game this season, Rieffel will ask a favor: He wants to step onto the floor — re-sanded and re-painted for this season — and take a free throw.

 

“If I get one request, it’s going to be that I can take a shot on it,” Rieffel says.

 

Georgetown would be foolish not to grant his request, considering Rieffel, a patent attorney in Philadelphia, is the person who designed the program’s new court on his lunch breaks.

 

When Georgetown opened a contest to submit designs for its new floor, fans — all-grey courts, stripes, an oversized bulldog logo at midcourt, a dog collar for the center court circle, and coach John Thompson III sitting on Game of Thrones’ Iron Throne (really).

 

The fan-submitted designs were garish in part because the contest was all in good fun and in part because fans surely were following the lead of new wild court designs that have been popping up in recent years across the country.

 

Oregon plays “deep in the woods” on a pattern that looks more like the view from a sleeping bag than a court for a major program. Xavier and Memphis run the floor across their respective city skylines. Notre Dame plays on an oversized shamrock. UCF and Oakland have brought the blacktop indoors. Cal State Bakersfield went blue. Manhattan has gone green.

 

Rieffel, though, had a feeling Georgetown wouldn’t go with an all-grey court with a silhouette of the National Mall (George Washington, which shares the District of Columbia with Georgetown, already has the latter on its home court).

 

Instead, Rieffel remembered a pattern from his youth watching Georgetown as the Hoyas entered the Allen Iverson era — the kente cloth pattern than ran down the sides of the jersey and shorts in the mid-’90s. Back then, Nike introduced the kente cloth, a pattern with origins in West Africa, to the Hoyas’ uniforms as a homage to Georgetown basketball’s place in the African-American community in the ’80s and ’90s.

 

Rieffel, who had been bouncing floor concepts off other Georgetown fans online, remembered the kente cloth. One of the designs he submitted featured a slightly larger block G at midcourt and the kente cloth pattern in the free throw lane.

 

Georgetown’s athletic leadership, including Thompson, was immediately attracted to Rieffel’s design.

 

 

“It’s a little throwback to those days, and that design is unique to Georgetown,” says Brian McGuire, Georgetown’s associate athletics director for facilities and operations. “I don’t think anyone else has used that look in college basketball. It’s a little bit of throwback, and it’s a little bit new. It was subtle enough and classic that it wasn’t off the deep end.”

 

Though Georgetown stayed with a traditional look, some basketball programs have embraced more radical approaches with their court designs. Georgetown went with history and subtlety. Some schools have gone for eyeballs.

 

Either way, the wave of creative court designs is another indication of just how important branding and marketing are in today’s collegiate athletics environment.

 

“A basketball floor is a billboard,” San Jose State athletic director Gene Bleymaier says. “It’s a mural. It’s an opportunity to have some fun and make something relevant to your university.”

 

Bleymaier would know. He was the athletic director who turned Boise State’s football field blue in 1986. As the AD at San Jose State 27 years later, Bleymaier had five oversized Spartan warriors painted on the San Jose State basketball court. The redesign was so radical that the Spartans’ athletics logo — the kind of logo that’s normally at center court — has been pushed from the center circle to near the sideline.

 

Not all the new court designs in recent years are as gaudy as San Jose State’s, but they are becoming more and more common, from the smallest of Division I basketball programs to conference tournaments all the way to the Final Four.

 

The court for SEC Tournament last season featured a sideline-to-sideline logo bleached into the wood. The Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis featured a rendition of the Gateway Arch painted across the entire floor. Even the Final Four in Indianapolis featured a two-tone look.

 

Connor Sports, an Illinois-based manufacturer of sports floors for colleges, pro teams and events, estimates that it works on 26 Division I floors a year, not including courts for the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, conference tournaments or early-season events.

 

In the last few years, requests from colleges have gone from simple shading and logos to more ambitious designs.

 

“The trend is that it’s not a playing surface,” says Lauren Gillian, brand manager at Connor Sports. “It’s a work of art, and (colleges) want to incorporate that into their programming.”

 

As usual, the mainstreaming of an outlandish design finds its origin in Eugene, Ore.

 

When Oregon opened its Matthew Knight Arena in 2011, the most striking part of the facility was the floor.

 

Nearly the entire court was taken up by some kind of design element, chiefly a perimeter of pine trees meant to honor Oregon’s Tall Firs team that won the first NCAA championship in 1939.

 

 

The concept was ambitious enough on a blueprint. The execution — which fell into the hands of Connor Sports — was another thing. Painting a floor like Oregon’s, and the others that followed, requires giant stencils, layered paint schemes and an assurance the colors will be suitable for television.

 

“It was challenging in a sense that it was something you’d never seen before,” Gillian says of Oregon. “We’re talking overlays upon overlays upon overlays to get that forestry effect that they wanted.”

 

Before Oregon, courts on and off college campuses had some subtle design elements painted onto the floor, comparatively speaking. The Ducks, though, opened the door for schools to ask places like Praters Athletic Flooring to push the boundaries.

 

“Oregon hits and either people hated it or loved it,” says John Praters, president of the athletic flooring firm based in Chattanooga, Tenn. “With us, we didn’t care either way. As long as the attention is on the floor, it’s a good thing because people are saying, ‘Maybe we can do that.’ Oregon has brought more attention than any other one.”

 

Other designs aren’t as intricate as Oregon’s, but they are — um — eye-catching.

 

Eight years ago, former Cal State Bakersfield athletic director Jeff Konya was searching for a way to differentiate his program from the slew of California-based mid-majors. Bakersfield’s program dated back to 1971 and had won three Division II national titles, but the Roadrunners didn’t join Division I until the 2006-07 season.

 

Bakersfield went the same route as Boise State football — and then some. The entire court was painted blue, save for the free throw lane. At center court, an oversized Roadrunners logo stretched from 3-point line to 3-point line in the foreground, with the outline of the state of California in the background and a ‘B’ where Bakersfield is located. If that wasn’t enough, Bakersfield used the court for an advertiser, adding McDonald’s golden arches near the sideline. The current iteration of the court, dyed by Praters Flooring, is only slightly less busy; Bakersfield removed the outline of the state of California and changed the full-bodied Roadrunner logo to an angry-eyed Roadrunner head.

 

Bakersfield hasn’t won much on that court, but the look has made an impression.

 

“I knew we hit a home run with the look when opposing teams would start taking selfies with the court in the background and we started to get an increase in terms of camp participation,” Konya says. “People just wanted to be around the court.”

 

Konya moved across the country last year to accept a job as the athletic director at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. His new school’s basketball program was more established — the Grizzlies have been to the NCAA Tournament three times since 2005 — but Konya wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to market the school.

 

But unlike a power program like Oregon, Oakland can’t exactly pay Nike, Under Armour or an outside firm for design concepts for its floor, so the Golden Grizzlies asked the same person who had been designing game brochures, event invitations and social media graphics.

 

She also happened to be a graduate assistant.

 

Konya enlisted Sarah Merritt, a former soccer player at Division III Alma College in Michigan, to pitch designs for a new floor at the O’rena. The best three would come up for a fan vote.

 

Merritt came up with one design with an oversized Grizzlies head bracketed by the outline of the state of Michigan on a traditional court and another with the name Oakland and the Grizzlies head stained into a conventional court look.

 

The winner, though, was an all-black court with the Grizzlies logo at center court. The rec center blacktop look, Merritt says, was aimed directly at recruits.

 

 

“I was recruited, so I know how geeky we are about what we wear and what we play on,” Merritt says. “If you want to try and get recruits, you have to do something crazy and different.”

 

Oakland’s is a different look, but it’s not even the only blacktop-inspired court in the game. When Central Florida rebranded from the Knight logo to a stacked U-C-F, the athletic program looked to its in-house art director to take a swing at a new look for the court in 2013.

 

Carlos Phillips had worked on design elements around stadiums and practice fields, the athletics website and on tickets and promotional materials. No project would be as visible as the UCF basketball floor.

 

He studied the Brooklyn Nets’ court and floors in Europe for inspiration before coming up with a blacktop. The stained wood outside the 3-point lines, though, is more gray than black. The reason: TV cameras.

 

“My first drafts were painted black,” Phillips says. “It’s very shiny and it would have been very hard for TV. That was one thing we wanted to consider. That’s why we didn’t go all black, because of the reflection.”

 

Many schools have used their floor to convey a sense of location for their universities — both for the eyes of basketball recruits but also for prospective students.

 

Xavier doesn’t have the luxury of having the name of its city in its school name. That belongs to rival Cincinnati. So how does Xavier hope to educate people who wouldn’t otherwise know that the Musketeers play in the heart of a metropolitan area?

 

The school painted the city skyline on its basketball court.

 

Xavier searched for a Cincinnati skyline that was just right and stumbled upon one from a designer in Spain. The Musketeers tracked down the designer, paid for the rights to the design and turned it into a stencil for the floor at the Cintas Center.

 

“What it does for us, you can look at it and know Xavier University is in an urban center, a metropolitan area,” says Brian Hicks, Xavier’s associate athletic director for external relations. “That was something we felt strongly about.”

 

Basketball fans and recruits could be forgiven for not knowing much about Florida International University. The Panthers haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1995, and they’ve been a non-factor for the most part while playing in three different conferences.

 

Yet if anyone happens to watch an FIU basketball game, they should know the campus is a quick trip from the ocean.

 

“I said, ‘Listen, I want water. I want sand. And I want palm trees,’” FIU athletic director Pete Garcia says he told his staff in 2013. “I want those three things.”

 

 

He got all of it and more with a basketball court that looks more like a postcard than a playing surface. Miami-based FIU has run with the theme. Seating sections are named after streets on South Beach. One half of the arena is painted to look like the ocean and the horizon line. The other half looks like the hotel-laden Miami Beach backdrop.

 

Manhattan briefly considered the New York skyline for its new court at Draddy Gymnasium, but the Bronx-based college decided to go another direction. When the Jaspers sanded their court down this offseason, they painted the floor Kelly green from 3-point line to 3-point line.

 

 

“We wanted to own the color green,” Manhattan athletic director Noah LeFevre says. “The color is a large part of our identity. From our perspective, the more green we could involve, the better.”

 

And here’s the thing about new court designs — many times they’re not new courts at all.

 

A basketball floor has a lifespan of about 15 to 20 years, but it will usually require some kind of repair and maintenance after each season. Floor designs — including 3-point lines or conference or sponsor marks — can be sanded down and re-painted.

 

Many courts are portable — they are disassembled in the arena, packed up on a truck, and sent to a warehouse where they are re-assembled and sanded, painted, stained and sealed over the course of 1-3 weeks.

 

The total cost to refurbish a court can range from a $25,000 for basic repairs up to $80,000 for a complete repaint. The entire process can range from a week to three weeks.

 

Figures like that make court designs an expensive change. Northwestern, for example, abandoned its purple-stained arc at Welsh-Ryan Arena after three seasons.

 

When Long Beach State was down to its final year of its old court in 2012, the 49ers took their branding to another level. The school’s marketing already leveraged its status as the only Division I program with the word “beach” in its name.

 

Not content just to say “The Beach” in signage, Dedan Brozino, Long Beach State’s former senior associate athletic director for external relations, wanted to show it. Though he’s not a graphic designer by trade, he sketched a new design for the court at Walter Pyramid with four palm trees — two facing the crowd on each side of the court.

 

“At the time we thought it would be negatively received, and if it is, it will be a one-year and done deal and we’ll go back for the traditional look,” says Brozino, who left Long Beach State to work for the Rose Bowl Operating Company.

 

On the contrary, when Long Beach State bought a new court before last season, the 49ers stained the palm trees onto the new floor with all four on the side of the court facing TV cameras.

 

What started as an experiment for Long Beach State and other schools is now standard operating procedure for dozens of programs. If one program can turn its court into a beach and others can turn their floors into blacktops, what’s next?

 

Praters believes the next step is in decals, once the scourge of the NCAA Tournament and other events. Praters says his firm has been able to build decals that won’t cause players to slip.

 

That means colleges can mix and match for sponsors. Or they can change a center logo for special events — for example, schools could change their logo to pink for breast cancer awareness or change it to camouflage to honor the military.

 

For a peek further into the future, take a look at the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers project 3D graphics onto their floor for pregame hype and lineups, and there’s no doubt at least one college or two has started to think about adding such a feature to their own arenas.

 

That might be a few years down the line. An NBA-level pregame graphics show is as much a lighting and projection issue as it is a flooring issue. But once a college is ready, don’t be shocked to see a court act as a canvas.

 

“These questions come about very often for us,” Gillian says. “We’re always thinking about what can we do to make the court the star.”

Teaser:
How College Basketball Courts Went Crazy
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Preseason predictions are an inexact science, particularly in college basketball.

 

Stars leave. Coaches change. Players develop. That’s always been the case. Now, impact freshmen and transfers have proven to be gamechangers. Teams can turnover their rosters on a year-to-year basis and still compete with teams full of veterans.

 

This season appears to be especially tricky. For the first time in several years, there is no consensus at the top. As many as four teams have earned a No. 1 ranking from major publications.

 

As Athlon Sports releases its preseason college basketball annual, we still like to look at the landscape of picks around the country, and this season is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable in recent years.

 

2015-16 College Basketball Preseason Top 25
 
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2015-16 Conference Champion Predictions
 
ACC
America East
American
Atlantic 10
Atlantic Sun
Big 12
Big East
Big Sky
Big South
Big Ten
Big West
Colonial
Conference USA
Horizon
Ivy
MAAC
MAC
MEAC
Missouri Valley
Mountain West
Northeast
Ohio Valley
Pac-12
Patriot
SEC
Southern
Southland
Summit
Sun Belt
SWAC
WAC
West Coast

 

Teaser:
Comparing All 2015-16 Preseason College Basketball Rankings and Picks
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Call us crazy, but something has been missing this season.

 

We can’t say it’s been a lackluster season — not even close. Wild finishes in Durham, Ann Arbor and Atlanta in the last three weeks have made this a season to remember.

 

It’s not a season that seems to be marching to an inevitable end, either. Every conference as at least two teams with hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff. Even the American Athletic Conference has given us three teams in the first top 25.

 

No, what the season has been lacking is definitive statements by the top 15 or so contenders.

 

That’s about to change, starting this week. LSU-Alabama and Florida State-Clemson are true statement games. That will be followed by a round robin among the top four teams in the Big 12.

 

If the big games follow the trend of the craziness of the first two months, buckle up.

 

 GameDateLocation
1.Nov. 7Tuscaloosa, Ala.

In the eyes of the selection committee, this is a top-four matchup, and we might not argue. Leonard Fournette faces the Alabama run defense. Derrick Henry faces the LSU defense. This already hurts.

2.Nov. 27Fort Worth, Texas

For two seasons, this has been the Big 12’s best rivalry. Art Briles and Gary Patterson don’t particularly like each other, and if freshman Jarrett Stidham steps in like his predecessors at Baylor, this could be the highest-scoring game between Playoff contenders.

3.Nov. 21Columbus, Ohio

No series has been more important in the Big Ten during the last three seasons, and this one could be a matchup of undefeated teams to determine the Big Ten East title.

4.Nov. 7Clemson, S.C.

The Seminoles can still win the ACC, but Clemson is on a path to the College Football Playoff. The Tigers have no more than two ranked teams left, Florida State and a potential ACC Coastal foe in the title game. A loss here likely ends Clemson’s bid for the Playoff.

5.Nov. 28South Bend, Ind.

The Irish were ranked No. 5 in the first College Football Playoff ranking, but Stanford at No. 11 has just as legitimate a shot at reaching the semifinal. The Cardinal have been on a hot streak since a bizarre loss to Northwestern. Wins over Notre Dame and the Pac-12 South champion could seal the deal.

6.Nov. 21Norman, Okla.

Another key Big 12 game has been one of the more competitive series: Five of the last six matchups have been decided by one score.

7.Nov. 21Ann Arbor, Mich

Meyer vs. Harbaugh I: The Wolverines’ loss to Michigan State probably knocks Michigan out of the Playoff race. Michigan’s defense and home-field advantage give the Wolverines plenty of ability to spoil the Buckeyes’ season.

8.Nov. 21Oxford, Miss.

If LSU defeats Alabama, this could be the game that determines the SEC West title. If not, it’s still a game that plays into Fournette’s Heisman race and a spot for a major bowl game.

9.Nov. 7Stillwater, Okla.

How legitimate is Oklahoma State in the four-way crowd atop the Big 12? The two-quarterback system is unconventional, but it scored 70 on the road against Texas Tech.

10.Nov. 14Waco, Texas

Oklahoma already has a loss to a bad Texas team on the résumé and Baylor’s non-conference schedule is so poor that this might be an elimination game for the Playoff. Baylor has won the last two meetings by a combined 63 points.

11.Nov. 28Gainesville, Fla.

The Gators may be able to walk to Atlanta and a 10-win season with Vanderbilt, South Carolina and FAU remaining. If the Gators can beat Florida State for only the second time since 2009, they’ll go to the Georgia Dome with more on the line the SEC title.

12.Nov. 21Stillwater, Okla.

Even if Oklahoma State is out of the Big 12 race by the time Baylor visits Stillwater, this will be a key game for the Bears. Baylor’s offense sometimes stumbles on the road, and this will be first of the Bears’ two big road tests.

13.Nov. 28Stillwater, Okla.

The wild finish in the Bedlam Game last year relieved pressure on Mike Gundy and put it on Bob Stoops. This is always a heated rivalry, but it could have national title implications for the first time since 2011.

14.Nov. 14Houston

The Tigers could face two ranked AAC foes on the road in November. We’re expecting this one to be the more entertaining game when Paxton Lynch faces off against Greg Ward Jr.

15.Nov. 28Tuscaloosa, Ala.

This game won’t live up to the preseason hype when many thought it could be for the SEC West. Auburn is getting better by baby steps, enough to make weird things happen in a rivalry game? We can hope.

16.Nov. 21Philadelphia

The Tigers’ offense is one of the most productive in the country while Temple has a stifling defense. These two teams could meet against in the AAC title game for a trip to a major bowl game.

17.Nov. 28Starkville, Miss.

The Egg Bowl is more interesting than it has ever been — especially if Ole Miss is still in the SEC West hunt. Ole Miss knocked Mississippi State out of the top four last season. Dak Prescott is equipped to return the favor this season. 

18.Nov. 21Salt Lake City

Josh Rosen goes on the road against a stout Utah defense. The Utes remain the leaders in the Pac-12. Which UCLA and which Utah shows up?

19.Nov. 28Los Angeles

Interim coach Clay Helton has USC thinking about reaching the Pac-12 title game for the first time. The Trojans could be the spoiler of the conference with both Stanford and Utah seeking a CFP spot or a major bowl game.

20.Nov. 21Palo Alto, Calif.

Washington State’s Air Raid came to upsetting Stanford. Did the Cougars establish a blueprint for Jared Goff to beat the rival Cardinal?

Teaser:
Ranking the Best College Football Games in November 2015
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The month of November may end up having more games between College Football Playoff contending teams than the first two months combined.

 

Besides being great entertainment, those November matchups — starting this week with Alabama-LSU, Florida State-Clemson and others — will clear up a top 25 that is short on any real answers.

 

That the selection committee’s first College Football Playoff top 25 is a bit of a mess is to be expected and it’s by design. The Big 12 and Big Ten have backloaded schedules. Rivalry games and conference championship games promise to blow up the rankings as well.

 

With that said, here’s what we learned out of the first set of rankings:

 

1. The Big 12 got bad news

Sorry, Baylor, the committee still thinks your non-conference schedule should keep you out of the Playoff. Despite dominating results, the Bears are ranked behind two one-loss teams, Alabama and Notre Dame. Yet committee chair Jeff Long said No. 6 Baylor and No. 8 TCU’s explosive offenses gave those teams an edge over No. 9 Iowa, another undefeated team with a stronger strength of schedule. That said, Baylor is ahead of undefeated Michigan State, a team that has played close games against lesser competition despite a win over No. 17 Michigan.

 

2. The Big 12 got good news

No. 6 Baylor, No. 8 TCU, No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 15 Oklahoma will all play each other in the final month of the season. That’s an awful lot of résumé building for one month of the season. Alabama and LSU have similar opportunities, as does Ohio State, but the Big 12 has the most to gain.

 

3. The committee’s analysis of strength of schedule and big wins is still lacking

Repeatedly, Long justified rankings with wins over teams with winning records. Alabama has defeated three (Wisconsin, Georgia and Texas A&M) and Florida has defeated two (Ole Miss and Georgia). Though Long later clarified that the Tide beat a Georgia team with Nick Chubb on the road while Florida did not face Chubb, this continues a troubling trend of the way the committee defines strength of schedule and landmark wins. A case could be made for Florida with a win over No. 18 Ole Miss and loss to No. 2 LSU should be ahead of Alabama, whose best win is over No. 19 Texas A&M and whose loss is to the Rebels. No. 3 Ohio State has three wins over teams with winning records: Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Penn State. The Buckeyes and Crimson Tide probably pass the eye test for members of the committee — and that’s fine — but a blanket statement about opponents’ winning record is flimsy reasoning.

 

4. Iowa is already in trouble

The committee, this week at least, seems enamored with explosive offenses and wins over .500 teams. The Hawkeyes aren’t going to turn into Baylor and TCU overnight, and their remaining schedule has no teams with winning records on the schedule. Iowa’s two remaining 4–4 opponents (Indiana and Minnesota) are a combined 1–7 in the Big Ten. A Hawkeyes win over an undefeated Michigan State or Ohio State would seem to bring few guarantees.

 

5. We’ll see the Group of Five race take shape in real time

The early polls last year didn’t have Group of Five teams in the top 25 until the final weeks. The first committee this season had four: No. 13 Memphis, No. 22 Temple, No. 24 Toledo and No. 25 Houston. Remember, a team has to be the highest-ranked champion not simply the highest-ranked team. Conceivably, the AAC could have enough teams beat each other up, including an unranked team in the league title game, to allow a potential MAC champion Toledo to take a major bowl slot.

 

CFP Bowl Projections

 

National Semifinals

Orange: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama

Cotton: No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Ohio State

 

CFP Host Bowls

Rose: Michigan State vs. Stanford

Sugar: Baylor vs. Florida

Fiesta: Notre Dame vs. TCU

Peach: Iowa vs. Memphis

Teaser:
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The College Football Playoff picture is starting to get some clarity, and the competition off the field among fans is nearly as heated as the competition on the field on game day.

 

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:

 

Rutgers at Michigan

Was the Minnesota game a fluke for Michigan or a sign of the Wolverines regressing to the mean? After a dominating defense carried the way for Michigan through he first half of the season, Minnesota outgained the Wolverines 461–296. The lackluster offense can be attributed in part to an injury to starting quarterback Jake Rudock and a shaky performance by backup Wilton Speight, but 461 yards to Minnesota? That’s a concern. First and foremost, Michigan needs to jumpstart its run game. Two of the Wolverines’ worst three performances on the ground this season have come in the last two games. Rutgers’ offense is in even worse shape. Quarterback Chris Laviano has led one offensive touchdown drive in the last two games against Ohio State and Wisconsin. 

Fox’s pick: Michigan 28–10

 

Florida State at Clemson

The most important game of the ACC season in shrouded in mystery. Florida State hasn’t committed to either Everett Golson or Sean Maguire as the starting quarterback, and running back Dalvin Cook has been hobbled with an ankle injury. Both Golson and Cook missed the Seminoles’ last game against Syracuse. Clemson gave up 41 points to NC State, including one touchdown on a kickoff return and two others on short fields. The Tigers, though, answered each time. Clemson has demonstrated time and time again that it’s ready for the stretch run while Florida State may be starting over.

Fox’s pick: Clemson 41–28

 

Utah at Washington

Washington made a statement with a 49–3 rout of Arizona last week, perhaps giving us some reservations about picking Utah. The Huskies have a solid defense, and freshman quarterback Jake Browning is coming into his own. Even though Arizona was without running back Nick Wilson, Washington still impressed by holding a Rich Rod offense to 2.9 yards per carry. Both teams will try to ugly the game up with turnovers. The advantage goes to the team with the veteran quarterback.

Fox’s pick: Utah 27–14

 

Kentucky at Georgia

Georgia’s move to start Faton Bauta against Florida proved to be disastrous, and it remains to be seen if he’ll get another shot at the job. Kentucky had two tough losses through the first six games of the season, but those close losses have turned into blowouts the last two weeks. The Wildcats lost by a combined score of 94–37 to Mississippi State and Tennessee, and now Kentucky will be without starting running back Stanley “Boom” Williams.

Fox’s pick: Georgia 24–17

 

Navy at Memphis

Navy is not getting the attention of undefeated Temple, Houston and Memphis, but the Midshipmen — whose only loss is to Notre Dame — is every bit the American Athletic Conference contender as the other three. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds’ next touchdown, his 78th, will break the career record, not for quarterbacks, but for everyone who has played major college football. Navy will look to control the clock with the option and keep Memphis QB Paxton Lynch off the field, and we’ve seen little out of the Tigers’ defense that shows Memphis can slow Reynolds. Then again, Navy has played only two top-50 offenses and one of them, Air Force, was another service academy.

Fox’s pick: Memphis 41–35

 

Arizona at USC

Arizona is going back to the drawing board on offense. Nick Wilson has been hurt, and Anu Solomon is coming off the worst performance of his career in a 49–3 loss to Washington. Rich Rodriguez said he’s changing his approach with Solomon after two sub-par performances. USC has played its best football of the season under interim coach Clay Helton, but the Trojans need to overcome a hand injury to one of their best playmakers, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Fox’s pick: USC 42–28

 

LSU at Alabama

As usual, this game should be a tense, physical matchup that will be determined by which team can run successfully and which team puts the pressure on a first-year starting quarterback to make a play in a pressure situation. Alabama and LSU rank first and second in the SEC in rush defense, each holding opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards. Yet neither has faced an elite running back like they’ll see on Saturday between Heisman contenders Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry.

Fox’s pick: Alabama 24–20

 

TCU at Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State scored 70 points on the road against a not-terrible Big 12 opponent, and the Cowboys still have doubters. That’s with good reason. Wins over Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia were all by a touchdown or less, and Texas Tech put up 53 points against the Pokes. The Cowboys are good, but they haven’t shown exactly what separates this team from the other three Big 12 contenders. TCU, though, can stake a claim on having the best quarterback and wide receiver in the Big 12 (though Baylor’s Corey Coleman may object to the latter). All signs point to this being another Big 12 shootout, but the team with Trevone Boykin will have the advantage.

Fox’s pick: TCU 56–42

 

Vanderbilt at Florida

The Commodores’ defense can’t be overlooked. Vanderbilt held Western Kentucky and Houston to their lowest scoring and yardage totals all season. Trouble is, Florida did the same against Ole Miss and Georgia. The Gators aren’t getting world-beating quarterback play from Treon Harris, but the Commodores duo of Johnny McCrary and Kyle Shurmur have been turnover prone all season.

Fox’s pick: Florida 31–7

 

Arkansas at Ole Miss

For the first time this season, the Rebels ran the ball well against two SEC opponents, albeit against two of the three worst run defenses in the league. And despite three takeaways against Texas A&M two weeks ago, Ole Miss has been on the wrong end of the turnover margin in each of the last six games and at minus-10 overall since the Alabama win. Arkansas beat UT Martin last week as expected, but the Hogs gave up a season-high 519 yards in the process. 

Fox’s pick: Ole Miss 31–21

 

South Carolina at Tennessee

After weeks of frustration, Tennessee finally got the lopsided win it needed with a 52–21 win at Kentucky. Now, the Volunteers will try to extend a modest two-game win streak against South Carolina. The Gamecocks have their issues, but Perry Orth (192 passing yards, 90 pre-sack rushing yards) gave their offense a spark against Texas A&M. The overall talent for the Vols should be too much.

Fox’s pick: Tennessee 37–20

 

Cal at Oregon

Cal’s momentum has come to a halt with three consecutive losses in the Pac-12 South to Utah, UCLA and USC. Is Oregon better than any of those teams? Perhaps not. The Ducks look awfully ordinary on offense and just plain awful on defense. That might help Cal quarterback Jared Goff get back on track, but after two close road wins over Washington and Arizona State, Oregon may be ready to reboot its season when it returns to Autzen.

Fox’s pick: Oregon 38–30

 

Penn State at Northwestern

Northwestern and Penn State both have nice records and stout defenses, but neither bas been a sure commodity. Northwestern’s offense failed to reach 200 yards against Michigan and Iowa, so it will be looking to acquit itself against Penn State. Behind a strong defensive front, the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in tackles for a loss by a wide margin and rank fifth in total defense. The offense has been a work in progress, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been on a hot streak of late, averaging 9.9 yards per attempt the last three weeks. Not surprisingly, this trend coincides with freshman running back Saquon Barkley’s return to the lineup.

Fox’s pick: Northwestern 24–21

 

Duke at North Carolina

Miami’s improbable win over Duke means this won’t be the ranked Duke-North Carolina game Tobacco Road would have hoped to see, but it’s no less meaningful. North Carolina is undefeated in ACC play, and Duke can lead the Coastal with a win over the Tar Heels. North Carolina has been under the radar, especially after an inexplicable season-opening loss to South Carolina, but the Heels have been stout on both sides of the ball. Coordinator Gene Chizik has turned around the offense, and quarterback Marquise Williams has responded to a near-benching with three straight weeks of standout play.

Fox’s pick: North Carolina 31–27

 

Iowa at Indiana

When quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard are healthy — as they are now — Indiana’s offense is among the best in the country. Iowa counters with cornerback Desmond King, who is tied for the national lead with seven interceptions. The big question will be if Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has been hobbled with a groin injury, is healthy enough to answer punch for punch if this turns into a back-and-forth affair.

Fox’s pick: Iowa 35–24

 

Arizona State at Washington State

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk passed for 601 yards against Arizona State in only his second career start. The Sun Devils’ pressure, though, contributed to four interceptions. Falk will be a different quarterback this time around. He’s thrown only six picks in 448 attempts after throwing seven in 243 attempts last year. Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici can match Wazzu’s Air Raid, especially against that vulnerable Cougars defense.

Fox’s pick: Washington State 49–42

 

Notre Dame at Pittsburgh

This game might not be pretty with Notre Dame coming off a slugfest with Temple and Pittsburgh coming off a loss to North Carolina. Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer continues to acquit himself as the Irish’s No. 1 QB and not just a sub for Malik Zaire. Meanwhile, Pitt’s vulnerability on both sides of the ball finally caught up with the Panthers against North Carolina.

Fox’s pick: Notre Dame 31–21

 

Auburn at Texas A&M

Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin benched Kyle Allen last week and turned to his freshman — a freshman who has the benefit for playing the two worst defenses in the league in his first two starts. Murray flourished against South Carolina, passing for 223 yards and running for 156. Auburn finally got defensive end Carl Lawson back last week, and while he was disruptive (three QB hurries), Ole Miss still put up 558 total yards in the Tigers’ loss. 

Fox’s pick: Texas A&M 42–28

 

Michigan State at Nebraska

Purdue was supposed to be the type of opponent that would help Nebraska turn its season around. Instead, the Cornhuskers lost 55–45 to the Boilermakers and are in a state of disarray just before facing a rested and undefeated Michigan State team. Nebraska’s run game has gone cold the last two weeks with 82 yards against Northwestern and 77 against Purdue. Michigan State’s defense isn’t as stout as it has been in recent years, but the Spartans still rank in the top 30 against the run. On the bright side for the Huskers, Nebraska expects to get Tommy Armstrong Jr. back at quarterback after backup Ryker Fyfe turned the ball over five times in his first career start. 

Fox’s pick: Michigan State 38–21

 

Minnesota at Ohio State

Ohio State will need to return to Cardale Jones at quarterback after J.T. Barrett was suspended for a game due to a DUI citation. Jones was shaky in September, ultimately leading to Barrett taking a larger role as Ohio State’s season went on. Perhaps buoyed by the emotion of a rivalry game with Michigan and the departure of coach Jerry Kill, Minnesota played its best game of the season against Michigan before a clock management snafu at the goal line contributed to a 29–26 loss. Quarterback Mitch Leidner has topped 300 passing yards in back-to-back games for the Gophers, which usually isn’t a great sign for Minnesota, but he came up with a gutsy effort against the Wolverines that gave Minnesota chance for the upset. 

Fox’s pick: Ohio State 35–14

 

Last week: 16–4

Season to date: 135–18

Teaser:
Week 10 College Football Picks: Challenge Athlon Sports Experts
Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 07:00

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