Articles By David Fox

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Suffice to say, the SEC has not shaken out the way anyone would have predicted in mid-December.

Missouri is the last undefeated team in the league, and Kentucky has the same amount of losses as Vanderbilt and Auburn. Granted, not every loss or undefeated season is created equal. But Kentucky’s losses in two of the last three games have fans in Lexington wondering what’s going on with Big Blue.

In lauding Kentucky’s great freshman class, maybe we forgot the freshman part as the Wildcats are finding their way through the season.

Kentucky headlines will dominate in the SEC as long the Wildcats have John Calipari on board, but Florida is looking every bit the contender Kentucky was expected to be, especially after Wednesday’s wins over Memphis and Kansas. Missouri hasn’t had the same breakout performance, but the Tigers keep absorbing big personnel losses and chugging along under Frank Haith.

Early Season Report Card: SEC

NCAA teams as of today: Florida, Kentucky, Missouri

Bubble watch: LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee

Best win: Florida 67, Kansas 61

Worst loss: Northwestern State 111, Auburn 92

Power rankings so far
1. Florida
2. Kentucky
3. Missouri
4. Tennessee
5. LSU
6. Ole Miss
7. Arkansas
8. Texas A&M
9. Alabama
10. Vanderbilt
11. Georgia
12. South Carolina
13. Mississippi State
14. Auburn

Important non-conference games remaining:
Missouri vs. Illinois (Dec. 21)
Louisville at Kentucky (Dec. 28)
Dayton at Ole Miss (Jan. 4)
MVP so far: Casey Prather, Florida
Tuesday’s game against Memphis was a chance for Casey Prather to further his case for SEC player of the year, a major upset not only in a league with Kentucky but also on his own roster. Between suspensions, academic casualties and injuries, Florida hasn’t played with its full roster for most of the season, but Prather has been the steadying influence for the Gators around the basket. By averaging 18.7 points, Prather has pulled off the rare senior breakout by topping his 181 points as a junior in his 10th game as a senior.

Top freshman: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Matched up against James Michael McAdoo, Randle struggled with 11 points and five rebounds in an 82-77 loss to North Carolina on Saturday, but he is still one of the most athletically overwhelming players in the country only 11 games into his career. Randle is averaging 17.2 points and 11.4 rebounds. We’re not backing off Randle's potential.

Top newcomer: Jordan Clarkson, Missouri
Missouri expected to rely heavily on Clarkson to replace point guard Phil Pressey. The Tulsa transfer has delivered as much as Frank Haith expected and probably more. Clarkson averaged 16.5 points in his final season at Tulsa but has averaged 19.4 during Mizzou’s undefeated start. Clarkson is producing, but a Pressey clone he is not. Freshman Wes Clark may be the better distributor, and Clarkson isn’t much of an outside scoring threat. But Clarkson has shot 56.9 percent from inside the 3-point line.

Surprise player: Michael Qualls, Arkansas
Qualls showed flashes of his athleticism as a freshman, but his name was tough to find in the preseason for Arkansas. After averaging 15.6 minutes last season, Qualls is averaging 14.8 points per game as a sophomore.

Early season flop: Alabama
Athlon projected this year’s Alabama team to go to the NIT, but even that’s looking iffy. The Crimson Tide has lost to Duke, Wichita State and Oklahoma (not so bad), but losses to Drexel and USF will put the pressure on Anthony Grant. At 5-5 and games upcoming against Xavier, UCLA and Robert Morris, Alabama could enter conference play with a losing record.

Lingering concerns: Is Kentucky ready to contend for the title?
The ludicrous talk of Kentucky going 40-0 was dispensed with a Nov. 12 loss to Michigan State. The Wildcats, though, have more questions after losing to the top three teams on their schedule so far (Baylor and North Carolina). Kentucky is one of maybe three teams capable of winning the SEC, but are the Wildcats better than Florida? Not right now. Jason King of Bleacher Report spelled out the issues plaguing Kentucky right now from lack of leadership to an underachieving point guard and problems on the wing and the perimeter.

Best NCAA resume: Florida
Florida lost in Madison with a skeleton crew of a roster in the second game of the season and to Connecticut on the road on a last-second shot by Shabazz Napier. Neither Wisconsin nor UConn have lost this season. Along the way, Florida has defeated three teams ranked in the top 40 on KenPom.com — Florida State, Kansas and Memphis. And there’s a case that Florida will be getting even better when freshman Chris Walker is eligible.

Teaser:
SEC Basketball: The Best and Worst in 2013-14 So Far
Post date: Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/acc-basketball-best-and-worst-2013-14-so-far
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Let’s get this out of the way: The greatest conference in college basketball history the ACC is not. ... yet.

Don’t blame the powerhouses, though. Even though North Carolina has two losses it would like to forget, the Tar Heels have three wins as good as anyone in the country. Meanwhile, Syracuse and Duke are contending for the ACC and probably more thanks to the play of key freshmen — Jabari Parker at Duke and Tyler Ennis at Syracuse.

The rest of the ACC has some work to do. After the top three, the league’s other teams are works in progress. We’ve seen signs of encouragement from teams like Pittsburgh, Virginia, Notre Dame and Florida State, but not enough to think any of them can challenge the league’s top three.

Early Season Report Card: ACC

NCAA teams as of today: Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse

Bubble watch: Florida State, Maryland, Notre Dame, Virginia

Best win: North Carolina 76, Michigan State 65

Worst loss: St Francis (NY) 66, Miami 62

Power rankings so far
1. Syracuse
2. Duke
3. North Carolina
4. Pittsburgh
5. Virginia
6. Florida State
7. Notre Dame
8. NC State
9. Maryland
10. Georgia Tech
11. Clemson
12. Wake Forest
13. Boston College
14. Virginia Tech
15. Miami

Important non-conference games remaining:
Duke vs. UCLA (Dec. 19)
Virginia Tech vs. VCU (Dec. 21)
Florida State vs. UMass (Dec. 21)
Villanova at Syracuse (Dec. 28)
MVP So Far: Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker has head-to-head losses to fellow top freshmen Andrew Wiggins at Kansas and Aaron Gordon at Arizona on neutral courts, but it’s hard to be too critical about the Duke forward. Parker has been Duke’s go-to player from the start, averaging 22 points (second in the ACC) and 7.6 rebounds (fourth) per game. He’ll be in the No. 1 overall draft pick and national player of the year discussions all season.

Top freshman (non-Jabari Parker division): Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Ennis was a five-star freshman, too, but he may be in danger of being lost amid talk of Parker and other rookies. All Ennis has done is step in as a freshman to lead an undefeated team while compiling 50 assists to 11 turnovers.

Top newcomer: Rodney Hood, Duke
Duke’s other ridiculously versatile wing, Hood is averaging 18.9 points and five rebounds. His season will be overlooked due to the presence of Parker, but Hood’s mid-range game has been lethal as he’s improved from shooting 50.6 percent from 2-point range in his final year at Mississippi State to 61.6 at Duke.

Surprise player: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Paige is every bit the MVP contender in the league as C.J. Fair or Parker. Might as well call him the MVP of the Bluegrass State as he was the top player on the court in wins over Louisville (32 points) and Kentucky (21 of his 23 points came in the second half). Paige’s development from an average point guard to the top player for the Heels has been staggering. On a team that had been reeling from the absence of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, who was reinstated Wednesday, Paige ended up picking up the slack.

Early season flop: Boston College
With returning veterans, Boston College looked like a team that could work its way onto the NCAA bubble. By early December, Boston College looks like it will be ACC Tournament or bust. The Eagles lost virtually every notable non-conference game (Providence, UMass, Toledo, UConn, Purdue, USC).

Lingering concerns: Where will the ACC find depth?
Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse are as good as any top three teams in any league, but where will the ACC find its second tier? Pittsburgh started 9-0 before scoring only 43 points in its first real test against Cincinnati (in fairness, Cincinnati scored only 44). Notre Dame has lost to Indiana State and North Dakota State at home, and that’s before facing teams in a new league. Virginia has lost to VCU, Wisconsin and Green Bay as Joe Harris has slumped to 11.3 points per game. Florida State may be the team to watch as the Seminoles’ big men are starting to emerge. Florida State’s three losses include an overtime loss to Michigan and one-point defeat in Gainesville.

Best NCAA resume: North Carolina
The losses to Belmont and UAB were baffling, and Wednesday's loss to Texas suggests Carolina's Jekyll and Hyde act isn't finished. No team has three better wins than Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville — three of Athlon’s top four teams. With McDonald returning and marked improvement by James Michael McAdoo and Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina may be closer to winning the ACC than landing on the bubble.

Teaser:
ACC Basketball: The Best and Worst of 2013-14 So Far
Post date: Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-college-football-podcast-dec-18
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Who says there’s a lull in the college football season? The coaching carousel gets new life with the Texas job. Braden Gall and David Fox talk about their top three realistic candidates for the job.

It’s also time for a bit of reading as our hosts react to columns on Mack Brown as Mr. Football and the Nickelback of college football coaching. Lastly, a moderately successful game of word association for the early bowl games.

Contact us with questions, comments and debate topics at podcast@athlonsports.com or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615.

Teaser:
Athlon Sports College Football Cover 2 Podcast: Dec. 18
Post date: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 16:29
Path: /college-basketball/mountain-west-basketball-best-and-worst-2013-14-so-far
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The Mountain West has had a legitimate claim on being the top conference out West in recent years. That’s not going to happen this season.

With the Pac-12 making its long-awaited comeback and turnover at key programs in the Mountain West, the MW may have trouble just holding off the West Coast for league bragging rights.

Even so, the two teams at the top of the league are as good as ever. San Diego State and New Mexico have had standout non-conference seasons, fueled by unexpected breakouts by Xavier Thames and Cameron Bairstow. Boise State doesn’t have a marquee win yet, but the Broncos have one of their best rosters in program history.

Other programs have work to do — both in the short term and long term.

Early Season Report Card: Mountain West

NCAA teams as of today: New Mexico, San Diego State

Bubble watch: Boise State

Best win: New Mexico 86, Creighton 80

Worst loss: Cal State Bakersfield 74, Nevada 66

Power rankings so far
1. San Diego State
2. New Mexico
3. Boise State
4. Utah State
5. UNLV
6. Colorado State
7. Fresno State
8. Wyoming
9. Nevada
10. San Jose State
11. Air Force

Important non-conference games remaining
New Mexico vs. Marquette (Dec. 21)
San Diego State at Kansas (Jan. 5)
MVP so far: Xavier Thames, San Diego State
A secondary scorer on teams featuring Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, the point guard Thames has come into his own as a senior. His opportunities have increased, but his efficiency numbers explain why Thames has gone from barely averaging double figures to averaging 17.4 points. Thames has gone from shooting 35.1 percent from the field to 44.9 and from 35.6 percent from 3 to 51.4. Thames scored 29 points against Marquette and 26 against Creighton in San Diego State’s breakout performance in the Wooden Legacy tournament.

Top freshmen: Matt Shrigley and Dakarai Allen, San Diego State
Standout signing classes for San Diego State and UNLV are a year away, so the best candidates are the Aztecs duo off the bench. The forward Shrigley and the guard Allen are averaging a combined 12 points per game.

Top newcomer: J.J. Avila, Colorado State
A transfer from Navy, Avila is a major reason Colorado State may keep its head above water despite an exodus of seniors from last year’s 26-win team. Avila is averaging 19.2 points while shooting 50.7 percent from the field. The 6-7 junior leads his team in assists (3.4) and is second in rebounds (6.1)

Surprise player: Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
New Mexico already has Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk, the foundation of the Lobos’ Mountain West champion team last season. Bairstow has given first-year coach Craig Neal a big three. Bairstow is leading the Lobos in scoring at 20.7 points per game, more than twice his average from a year ago.

Early season flop: UNLV
Few teams can lose a No. 1 overall draft pick without much of a dropoff, but UNLV is flirting with missing the NCAA Tournament. Home losses to UCSB, Arizona State and Illinois are particularly concerning, especially for a team that underachieved a year ago. There’s still talent here, led by Khem Birch, but the Runnin’ Rebels are last in the Mountain West in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com.

Lingering concerns: The depth of the league
The Mountain West produced a league-record five NCAA teams last season but won’t come close to that number this season. San Diego State is a virtual lock for the Tourney, and Boise State a legitimate hopeful. New Mexico looks like a strong contender even if the Lobos lost at home to New Mexico State on Tuesday. After that, the league has few certainties. The bottom half of the league is dead weight. UNLV is 4-4, and Colorado State is rebuilding. Utah State might have the potential to surprise in league play, but the Aggies lost in the non-conference schedule to BYU and Pacific from the West Coast Conference. Three NCAA bids may be the maximum here.

Best NCAA resume: San Diego State
Steve Fisher keeps losing key players (Kawhi Leonard, Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley) and continues to put Mountain West contenders on the court. San Diego State did most of its heavy lifting against Creighton and Marquette in the Wooden Legacy, played in Anaheim, Calif. But don’t forget the Aztecs gave Arizona a game on Nov. 14, a showing that’s more impressive in retrospect.  Kansas doesn’t lose in Lawrence often, but San Diego State’s trip there on Jan. 5 is awfully interesting.

Photo courtesy of Ernie Anderson/San Diego State athletics.

Teaser:
Mountain West basketball: The Best and Worst of 2013-14 So Far
Post date: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Big Ten, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/big-ten-best-and-worst-2013-14-so-far
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A handful of Big Ten teams are still striving for an identity at this stage of the season, meaning the league may not have a quite the depth top-flight teams as it did last season.

The Big Ten, though, may be the most watchable league in the country again.

Even in losses, Michigan and Iowa managed to entertain during the weekend. Michigan gave No. 1 Arizona all it could handle, and Iowa lost in the waning seconds on the road against Iowa State in the biggest game for the rivalry since 1987.

And that’s not even getting to undefeated Wisconsin and Ohio State and preseason top-four team Michigan State. Even a team like Penn State will be dangerous with the high-scoring duo of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill.

By the time the conference season comes around, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan will hope they’re ready to take their place as Big Ten title contenders with the top three in the league.

If that happens, the Big Ten won't be far off last season's pace.

Early Season Report Card: Big Ten

NCAA teams as of today: Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State Wisconsin

Bubble watch: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan

Best win: Michigan State 78, Kentucky 74

Worst loss: Illinois State 68, Northwestern 64

Power rankings so far
1. Wisconsin
2. Ohio State
3. Michigan State
4. Iowa
5. Michigan
6. Indiana
7. Illinois
8. Minnesota
9. Penn State
10. Purdue
11. Nebraska
12. Northwestern

Important non-conference games remaining
Ohio State vs. Notre Dame (Dec. 21)
Michigan State at Texas (Dec. 21)
Michigan vs. Stanford (Dec. 21)
Illinois vs. Missouri (Dec. 21)
Purdue at West Virginia (Dec. 22)
MVP so far: Keith Appling, Michigan State
Compared to other leagues, the Big Ten doesn’t have a clear MVP (especially when you’ve already decided to list Frank Kaminsky, Noah Vonleh and Rayvonte Rice elsewhere). Appling is as good a candidate as anyone. Tom Izzo hasn’t hesitated to put more pressure on Appling this season as Gary Harris missed two games this season with an ankle injury and Adreian Payne has dealt with a foot injury. Appling has career highs in scoring (16.9 points per game), assists (5.1) and shooting (54.7 percent). With Harris out, Appling scored 21 to escape Oakland 67-63 to avoid an upset.

Top freshman: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh leads the Big Ten in rebounding at 9.6 per game, but his offensive game will need to take the next step if Indiana is going to be a strong NCAA Tournament contender out of the Big Ten. Vonleh is a combined 6 of 11 from the field in the Hoosiers’ three losses to Connecticut, Syracuse and Notre Dame this season.

Top newcomer: Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
Rice has stepped into a team that replaced guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. The junior from Champaign, Ill., who started his career at Drake is averaging 17.7 points and shooting 49.7 from the field. Rice scored 25 points and added 10 rebounds and four steals in Illinois’ signature win of the season at UNLV. Illinois hasn’t fared as well in other games outside of Champaign (Oregon, Georgia Tech), but Rice has given the Illini a major leg up in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Surprise player: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
The seven-foot junior shocked everyone with a 43-point effort against North Dakota in the fourth game of the season after averaging 4.2 points last season. Kaminsky has done enough for the undefeated Wisconsin to prove that game wasn’t a fluke. Kaminsky is averaging 14.7 points in the Badgers’ other 11 games this season. Bo Ryan has a knack for finding his big man, and it seems Kaminksy is the guy this season.

Early season flop: Michigan
Michigan lost its national player of the year point guard and replaced him with a freshman. It’s probably not fair to call Michigan a flop. A two-point loss to Charlotte on a neutral court is the worst offense here, and the Wolverines put up a spirited effort in a 72-70 loss to AP No. 1 Arizona on Saturday. That’s a sign that things may be coming together for Michigan. Saturday was especially encouraging for Glenn Robinson III, who was 8 of 9 from the field with 20 points against the Wildcats. Robinson and Mitch McGary are still adjusting to playing without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr, but freshman point guard Derrick Walton has to be able to deliver more than the 14 minutes he did against Arizona.

Lingering concerns: How good is Ohio State?
Ohio State is 10-0 and ranked second by KenPom.com, but we know little about the Buckeyes. Ohio State has played once outside of Columbus, demolishing Marquette 52-35. The second-best win on the schedule is against Maryland. Even an upcoming non-conference game against Notre Dame has lost luster. Ohio State won’t really be tested until the Buckeyes face Michigan State and Iowa in back-to-back games on Jan. 7 and Jan. 12. By then, Ohio State will hope to have a go-to scorer.

Best NCAA resume: Wisconsin
Never doubt Bo Ryan. The Badgers’ coach who has never finished lower than fourth may have a Big Ten championship team on his hands. The Badgers don’t have a lot of dead weight on their 12-0 schedule so far. Wisconsin has defeated Florida and Marquette at home, Virginia on the road and St. John’s, Saint Louis and West Virginia on neutral courts.

Teaser:
Big Ten: The Best and Worst of 2013-14 So Far
Post date: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 07:00
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One shot from a point guard in a slump has helped change the perception of the new Big East.

Ryan Arcidiacono has been in a shooting funk before Villanova coach Jay Wright drew up a play for him in the waning seconds against Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Arcidiacono hit the 3 to beat Kansas, moving Villanova to the final against Iowa.

The pair of wins is the shining moment this season for a Big East still finding its way. The league will have its share of NCAA Tournament teams, but no team in the league has a single win as good as as the pair Villanova picked up in the Bahamas.

We can’t call the league a disappointment, though. Doug McDermott remains an All-America candidate. Georgetown remains in contention despite the departure of Greg Whittington. Xavier is poised to make a run in the NCAA Tournament despite missing the postseason a year ago. Preseason favorite Marquette has four losses, but those have come against four quality teams, including two who remain undefeated.

Early Season Report Card: Big East

NCAA teams as of today: Villanova, Creighton, Georgetown, Xavier

Bubble watch: Marquette, Butler

Best win: Villanova 63, Kansas 59

Worst loss: Fairleigh Dickinson 58, Seton Hall 54

Power rankings so far
1. Villanova
2. Creighton
3. Georgetown
4. Xavier
5. Marquette
6. Butler
7. St. John’s
8. Providence
9. DePaul
10. Seton Hall

Important non-conference games remaining
Georgetown at Kansas (Dec. 21)
Xavier at Alabama (Dec. 21)
Marquette vs. New Mexico (Dec. 21)
Cal at Creighton (Dec. 22)
Villanova at Providence (Dec. 28)
MVP so far: Doug McDermott, Creighton
In the year of superstar freshmen, Doug McDermott remains one of the few upperclassmen in National Player of the Year contention. McDermott has done what he’s done throughout his career, averaging a Big East-best 25.3 points per game. A couple of question marks though: McDermott is averaging a career-low — but still very good — 50.3 percent form the floor. And George Washington may have given McDermott’s new Big East completion some ideas on limiting the Creighton forward. McDermott had trouble finding his shot in a 2-of-12 performance against the Colonials.

Top freshman: Myles Davis, Xavier
The Big East is not a league flush with high-profile freshmen. The top-scoring freshman in the league ranks 24th and plays for DePaul. Davis, though, has become a key rotation player for Xavier with a knack for the big shot. The 6-2 guard hit two 3-pointers in overtime to avoid a bad loss to Bowling Green in addition to a 3-pointer during the decisive run against Cincinnati. Davis is averaging 9.5 points in 22 minutes off the bench for the Musketeers.

Top newcomer: Joshua Smith, Georgetown
Smith so far is delivering on his talent in a way that rarely happened at UCLA. He’s playing fewer than 20 minutes per game, but he’s averaging a career-high 13.6 points. He’s still huge (6-10, 350 pounds), so his pace will be worth monitoring once the Hoyas get into conference play.

Surprise player: James Bell, Villanova
Villanova is usually at its best with big-time point guards, but this season, the Wildcats are led by their wings. No one has been a bigger revelation than Bell. A bit player last year, Bell is averaging 16.1 points per game. After scoring 20 points with nine rebounds against Iowa on Nov. 30, Bell was named the MVP of Villanova’s breakout performance in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Early season flop: Marquette
The preseason conference favorite has started 6-4 with only one decent win (George Washington). Marquette doesn’t have any awful losses according to the rankings, but it’s tough to forget the utter futility of a 52-35 loss at Ohio State. The Eagles are missing Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan, but Marquette also ranks ninth in the Big East in 3-point shooting (30.1 percent) and free-throw shooting (64.5 percent).

Lingering concerns: Besides Villanova, who has big wins?
Villanova is one of the surprise teams of the season after knocking off Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but the rest of the Big East is short on marquee wins despite ample opportunities. Georgetown has defeated VCU (but lost to Northeastern), Creighton has defeated Arizona State, and Xavier has defeated Tennessee and Cincinnati (but lost to the Volunteers on a neutral court weeks later). Our guess is that a Big East team or two will get burned by this by selection Sunday.

Best NCAA resume: Villanova
Villanova used wins over Louisville and Syracuse during the Big East season to seal an NCAA bid. The Wildcats this season have picked up two wins over ranked teams on neutral courts (Kansas, Iowa) and three Big 5 wins (Penn, St Joe’s, La Salle) during a 10-0 start. Villanova will have a shot at a major road win when it faces Syracuse on Dec. 28 during a stretch of four of five games on the road.

Teaser:
Big East: The Best and Worst of 2013-14 So Far
Post date: Monday, December 16, 2013 - 13:31
Path: /college-football/three-things-we-learned-2013-heisman-voting
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Thanks to the Heisman Trust, media folks and other voters had to wait until the day after the ceremony to reveal their ballots.

Not that it added to any of the suspense Saturday night: Jameis Winston’s coronation as the Heisman winner has been clear for weeks. Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota played themselves out of serious contention. The running back trio of Auburn’s Tre Mason, Boston College’s Andre Williams and Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey played themselves onto ballots in the final weeks.

All of that, and an investigation into a sexual battery allegation that yielded no charges, did not hinder Winston’s Heisman campaign. The Florida State quarterback turned in one of the most lopsided Heisman wins in the award's history. Winston had the seventh-largest margin of victory and ninth-most first-place votes, according to Chris Huston of HeismanPundit.com.

While the Heisman ceremony gave us little drama, we did learn a bit beyond Winston’s win.

Three Things We Learned from the 2013 Heisman Voting

Forget preseason Heisman lists. Midseason Heisman lists are meaningless, too. The 2014 Heisman watch has already begun, but the last four years should teach us not to give such lists much credence. Athlon isn’t exempt. Our preseason magazine will have a Heisman watch, of course. The Heisman watch is a fun discussion, and that’s about it. Of the last four Heisman winners, only Baylor’s Robert Griffin III even played the season before. Winston’s win gives us two redshirt freshmen and a junior college transfer to win the Heisman in the last four years. Preseason favorites AJ McCarron (second), Jordan Lynch (third), Johnny Manziel (fifth) and Braxton Miller (ninth) all made appearances, but the rest of the field was nowhere to be found on a list in August or September. Sixth-place finisher Tre Mason from Auburn hadn't even built enough clout to be a Doak Walker finalist before a 304-yard performance in the SEC championship game. That alone put him 277 points ahead of Bryce Petty, who was on everyone’s short list in October. Even Boston College’s Andre Williams used a monster November to finish ahead of defending winner Johnny Manziel. In future seasons, it wouldn't be inconceivable for a contender to appear on the scene and win the award in a span of two or three games in November.

Regional biases are still a big deal. Jameis Winston won every region by a significant margin, but the voters were provincial in picking the second and third spots on their ballots. Only the Far West didn’t show a regional bias with Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey finishing sixth. Elsewhere, the voters favored candidates in their backyard. Jordan Lynch was second in the Midwest. Johnny Manziel west second in the Southwest. Andre Williams was second in the Northeast. The Mid-Atlantic had AJ McCarron second, but ACC country also had Williams third. In the South, McCarron, Tre Mason and Johnny Manziel all lined up behind Winston.

Playing in front of a captive audience matters. On the surface, the Heisman resumes for Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch and Fresno State’s Derek Carr weren’t all that different. Both contenders had eye-popping statistics — Lynch’s 1,881 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, Carr’s 4,866 passing yards and 48 touchdowns. Both lost their chance at BCS games late in the season. And both came into the season with notable fanfare. So how did Lynch finish third and Carr finish eighth? Lynch’s last four games were all primetime ESPN2 broadcasts on a Tuesday, two Wednesdays and a Friday. Lynch’s previous five games were only televised locally. Meanwhile, Fresno State had four kickoffs after 10 p.m. Eastern, all on Saturdays, in the final six games. Carr led his team to a Mountain West title on a game featured on CBS ... in a game that ended well after midnight Eastern. Lynch’s exposure late in the season in wins over Ball State, Toledo and Western Michigan, vaulted the NIU quarterback to third in the voting.

Teaser:
Three Things We Learned from the 2013 Heisman Voting
Post date: Sunday, December 15, 2013 - 13:38
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-game-preview-kentucky-wildcats-north-carolina-tar-heels
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At first, the question for Kentucky’s trip to North Carolina on Saturday is: How did we get here?

The Wildcats and the Tar Heels have four losses between them. Kentucky’s two losses, even on neutral courts to major teams, are probably two more than fans hoped they’d see at this stage of the season. North Carolina’s two losses aren’t that surprising as a number. That the losses came to Belmont and UAB and not Louisville and Michigan State is shocking.

The more important question for John Calipari and Roy Williams is what happens next. Kentucky has this game, plus the all-important game against Louisville on Dec. 28. Calipari may have the best collection of freshmen in basketball history, but they’re still freshmen trying to find their way.

Williams has had similar lineup issues, exacerbated by the absence of projected starters P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. When his lineup is on, North Carolina can beat anyone. When Williams’ lineup is off, well, that’s how Carolina ended up as the nation’s biggest question mark.

Kentucky at North Carolina Game Preview

Whens and Wheres
Time: Saturday, 5:15 p.m. Eastern
TV: ESPN
Site: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Player to Watch: Julius Randle, Kentucky
One of four freshmen in the rookie of the year debate in college basketball, Randle has a double-double in all but two games this season, one of which was Kentucky’s loss to Baylor on Friday. Randle is averaging 17.8 points and 12 rebounds per game. Appointment viewing.

Top Matchup: Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein vs. North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks
North Carolina’s freshman big man started to play like a big-time freshman in wins over UNC Greensboro and Michigan State. Meeks also had 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in the win over Louisville on Nov. 24. Meeks will be facing Cauley-Stein, who has the advantage of a year of experience and three inches. The Kentucky forward has also flirted with triple-double numbers at times this season in the post, but Meeks is also gives North Carolina a leg up in transition as an excellent outlet passer.

Key Stat: 1-to-1. Andrew Harrison’s assist-to-turnover ratio in the last four games
Harrison has 12 assists and 12 turnovers in the last three games, and that includes a six assist, one turnover performance against Baylor. Kentucky, with all its youth, is still learning how to play together. The proof is in the point guard play.

Kentucky’s Key Storyline: James Young’s outside shot
The Kentucky wing Young has been on a hot streak in the last three games, hitting 11 of 22 shots from 3-point range. This comes after Kentucky shot 31.5 percent from 3 in the first seven games. Teams haven’t been shy about taking 3s against the Tar Heels this season — Belmont made 15 of 37 — so Young’s shot will be worth watching.

North Carolina’s Key Storyline: James Michael McAdoo’s slump
The North Carolina forward has been playing out of position at small forward at times, a factor that’s surely played a role in his slump recently. McAdoo was 4 of 8 for 13 points against UNC Greensboro, but he was 9 of 35 in the three games prior against Michigan State, UAB and Louisville. Facing Julius Randle probably isn’t conducive to breaking out of a funk.

Teaser:
College Basketball Game Preview: Kentucky Wildcats at North Carolina Tar Heels
Post date: Saturday, December 14, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-freshman-power-rankings-dec-13
Body:

It’s finals week for many schools across the country, so this has been a relatively quiet few days for many of the top freshmen.

Aaron Gordon doesn’t need to be the No. 1 player for Arizona, but he does play for the No. 1 team in the country this week.

Elsewhere, Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle continue to play well but their teams as a whole are struggling. Kansas lost twice last week on the road, and Kentucky split games against Baylor and Boise State.

Despite the results, our top five remianed unchanged from last week. The action was in the bottom half where Zach LaVine — again despite a loss to Missouri — showed why he's going to be one of the more fun players to watch in the Pac-12. And we made a swith on Kentucky's second freshman in the rankings with James Young taking the place of Aaron Harrison after a standout week.

College Basketball Freshman Power Rankings: Dec. 13

1. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Arizona remains undefeated and reached the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for the first time since 2002-03 as Gordon has averaged 11.9 points and 8.5 rebounds. Gordon doesn’t need to be a superstar for Arizona to win, as was on display when Gordon went 2 of 10 from the field with eight rebounds in the win over UNLV on Saturday. He came back to score 11 of points on 5 of 12 shooting Wednesday against New Mexico State.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Duke is amid a nine-day layoff since beating Michigan on Dec. 3. Parker remains the second-ranked freshman in offensive efficiency by KenPom. He was 0 of 7 from 3-point range and 14 of 35 from the field in his last two games against Michigan and Arizona.

3. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Kentucky endured its second loss in two years to Baylor last Friday and its second loss of the season before bouncing back to beat Mountain West contender Boise State 70-55 on Tuesday. Randle scored 16 and 17, respectively. He’s a physically imposing matchup, but he also had four assists against Baylor. The big games for the Kentucky freshman class continue in the coming weeks against North Carolina (Saturday) and Louisville (Dec. 28).

4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Wiggins returned from his Battle 4 Atlantis struggles to scored 22 with five rebounds against Colorado and 26 points with 11 rebounds against Florida, both on the road. Wiggins needs help though. Kansas’ young roster lost both games ... and the Jayhawks still have New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State before conference play begins.

5. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Syracuse remains among the ranks of the undefeated thanks to the play of its freshman point guard. Ennis has 44 assists and nine turnovers this season. His next game is a non-conference game with St. John’s (thanks, realignment!) at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

6. Zach LaVine, UCLA
USC hired the Dunk City coach, but UCLA’s LaVine has put on the dunk show in Los Angeles so far this season.  The Bruins’ lost 80-71 to Missouri on Saturday, but LaVine finished with 13 points. In the process, though, LaVine showed why he’s going to be must-watch viewing. LaVine is also among the national leaders with a 72.8 effective field goal rate.


7. James Young, Kentucky
Outside shooting had been a liability for Kentucky earlier this season, but Young has become a top 3-point threat in recent games. Against Providence, Baylor and Boise State, Young was 11 of 22 from beyond the arc. Young averaged 17.7 points in the last three games.

8. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh returned to form on the glass with 10 rebounds against Oakland and 11 rebounds against North Florida last week before facing Notre Dame on Saturday.

9. Austin Nichols, Memphis
Memphis has played once since beating Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic, easily defeating Northwestern State on Saturday. Nichols is averaging 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Tigers.

10. Eric Mika, BYU
Mike has scored in double figures in every game this season other than the opener and picked up his first career double-double against North Texas on Dec. 3. The Cougars forward scored 18 points and added eight rebounds in a wild 105-96 loss at UMass.

Out this week:
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Joel Embiid, Kansas

Teaser:
College Basketball Freshman Power Rankings: Dec. 13
Post date: Friday, December 13, 2013 - 12:51
Path: /college-basketball/atlantic-10-best-and-worst-2013-14-so-far
Body:

The Atlantic 10 was one of the biggest losers in conference realignment. Losing Xavier, Temple and Butler robbed the league of three of its most high-profile and well-respected programs.

The A-10 may not have the stature it once did, but not all is lost at the top of the conference.

Thanks to surprising starts for Dayton and George Washington, the Atlantic 10 has scored early season wins over Gonzaga, New Mexico, Creighton and Virginia. At least five teams will enter conference play with hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

The story of the league, though, is UMass. The Minutemen, who haven’t reached the NCAa Tournament since 1998, are off to an 8-0 start and entered the AP top 25 for the first time in 15 years behind the play of dynamic point guard Chaz Williams.

Early Season Report Card: Atlantic 10

NCAA teams as of today: Dayton, George Washington, UMass, VCU

Bubble watch: Saint Louis

Best win: Dayton 84, Gonzaga 79

Worst loss: New Hampshire 84, Duquesne 83

Power rankings so far:
1. UMass
2. Dayton
3. VCU
4. George Washington
5. Saint Louis
6. Richmond
7. St. Joe’s
8. La Salle
9. George Mason
10. St. Bonaventure
11. Fordham
12. Rhode Island
13. Duquesne

Important non-conference games remaining:
La Salle at Villanova (Dec. 15)
UMass vs. Florida State (Dec. 21)
Providence at UMass (Dec. 28)
Dayton at Ole Miss (Jan. 4)
MVP so far: Chaz Williams, UMass
The 5-9 senior is finally starting to get national attention as UMass has jumped to an 8-0 start. Williams’ moxie was on full display Dec. 7 when the point guard scored 32 points and added 15 assists in a 105-96 win over BYU. Williams wasn’t afraid to mix it up with 6-10 BYU forward Eric Mika along the way. Surrounded by a veteran supporting cast, Williams is averaging a career-high 17.5 points and 7.6 assists.

Top freshman: DeAndre Bembry, St. Joseph’s
Fordham freshman Jon Severe leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 19.4 points per game, but our nod still goes to Bembry. The 6-6, 200-pound guard Bembry has heated up in Philadelphia Big 5 play with 12 points and nine rebounds against Temple and 17 points against Villanova. Bembry also scored 20 against Creighton. Now, all St. Joe’s needs are wins.

Top newcomer: Jordan Sibert, Dayton
Sibert has stepped in to fill the void left by departed guard Kevin Dillard. Sibert never found his way into the regular rotation at Ohio State, but he’s averaging a team-best 13.6 points per game for Dayton. The junior wing led the way in the Flyers’ 84-79 upset of Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational with 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting.

Surprise player: Maurice Creek, George Washington
Like Sibert, Maurice Creek is another Big Ten-to-Atlantic 10 transfer leading his team in scoring. But Creek has to take the award for the biggest surprise. He signed with Indiana in 2009 in a class with Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford before injuries derailed his career. He’s found a home at George Washington where he’s led the Colonials to a surprising 9-1 start with wins over Maryland and Creighton.

Early season flop: La Salle
No one really expected La Salle to look like a Sweet 16 team this season, but the Explorers don’t look like a team ready to compete for the Atlantic 10 title after losses to Manhattan, Penn State, Providence and Northern Iowa.

Lingering concerns: VCU
VCU is an Atlantic 10 contender and probably an NCAA Tournament team, but the ceiling may be a bit lower than in years past. The Rams are still forcing turnovers at a high rate (second to Louisville in opponent turnovers per possession), but VCU’s offensive numbers are down. The Rams rank 66th on Kenpom in offensive efficiency when they tend to rank in the top 25. They’re also converting only 65.3 percent of free throws. VCU’s two losses are to Florida State in a blowout and by four to Georgetown.

Best NCAA resume: UMass
Few teams in the Atlantic 10 can be considered an NCAA lock at this point of the year. The bottom portion of the league is going to be a drag on conference RPI, and losses to teams like Fordham, Rhode Island and Duquesne would fall into the “bad losses” column. UMass doesn’t have a win as good as Gonzaga (Dayton) or Creighton (George Washington), but the Minutemen have four wins over top-50 teams on Kenpom (New Mexico, Clemson, BYU and LSU).

Teaser:
Atlantic 10: The Best and Worst of 2013-14 So Far
Post date: Friday, December 13, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-college-football-podcast-dec-11
Body:

Our hosts duke it out over a two-team and four-team playoff. Is it possible the BCS wasn’t all bad if it worked perfectly in a year like this?

We can’t ignore the chatter around the Texas job, whether it’s vacant yet or not. Should Nick Saban really consider leaving Alabama to coach the Longhorns?

And then finally, we get into some takeaways from the season. Our hosts go through each major conference and finish the sentence ... “2013 was the year that ...”

The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.

Please send any comments, questions and podcast topics to @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615 on Twitter or email podcast@athlonsports.com.

Teaser:
Athlon Sports' Cover 2 College Football Podcast: Dec. 11
Post date: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 16:35
Path: /college-football/big-12-2013-season-awards-and-all-conference-teams
Body:

The Big 12 didn’t really play out as we expected it back in August. We tabbed four teams as being in close contention for the conference title (we got three of them right) but had none of them in the top 15. In other words, we didn't think the Big 12 would produce a national title contender.

Baylor, though, swooped in and surprised us all.

The dark horse candidate with a no-name quarterback to start the season became the Big 12’s last hope for a team in the national championship race and one of the most exciting teams of the season.

Baylor quickly became the on-field story of the Big 12. Bolstered by a weak early season schedule, the Bears started the season on pace to shatter a number of national records. The season turned, though, on Baylor’s loss on the road to Oklahoma State on Nov. 23 when the Cowboys re-announced themselves as conference contenders to set up a final week of the season with three teams still in contention for the Fiesta Bowl.

Baylor won out to complete perhaps the best regular season in its history.

The top off-field story, though, promises to send reverberations throughout the sport. The prospect of Texas coach Mack Brown’s retirement became apparent as the season progressed, from losses to BYU and Ole Miss in September, to the retirement of longtime athletic director DeLoss Dodds, to the report Tuesday that Brown’s resignation was imminent.

There may not be another coaching change in the Big 12 this season, but a change at Texas will create a domino effect throughout the coaching ranks and will surely be the top storyline for the remainder of December and perhaps into January.

More Postseason Awards and All-Conference Teams: ACC | Big Ten Pac-12 | SEC

Big 12 2013 Season Awards

Coach of the Year: Art Briles, Baylor
So Baylor didn’t break every offensive record in the NCAA and Big 12 record books. So Baylor didn’t finish undefeated as seemed to be a possibility in mid-November. This is still a Baylor team that went 11-1, won the Big 12 with one loss in a season when it seemed two losses wouldn’t be too many for the Big 12 champion. Baylor came back from injuries to Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin, Teven Reese and Spencer Drango to beat Texas on the last day of the season to seal the outright title. Briles led Baylor to its first 11-win season, potentially its first top-10 finish since 1951 and first conference title since 1980.

Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Petty told Athlon in the preseason Briles “still hasn’t given me the keys to the car.” It didn’t take long for Bryce Petty to look more like Richard Petty in that regard. Petty finished second in the nation in passing efficiency and yards per pass attempt to Jameis Winston. Petty is the only quarterback since at least 2007 with 30 touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Defensive Player of the Year: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert became the key player on another ball-hawking defense at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys cornerback finished the season with six interceptions, including two in a key win at Texas. Oklahoma State was second in the Big 12 and ninth nationally in pass efficiency defense.

Newcomer of the Year: Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
Here’s a scary thought: What if Sims hadn’t transferred from Houston and become eligible immediately? Sims was one of the few consistent spots on offense in a 4-8 season. The senior delivered as a multi-threat back with 1,095 rushing yards, 401 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.

Biggest Disappointment of 2013: The 2012 imports
TCU and West Virginia had rocky first seasons in the Big 12, but the bottom fell out in 2013. Neither could withstand player injuries and departures to compete for bowl berths. TCU might be the bigger disappointment as the Horned Frogs had hoped to compete for the conference title, but the offense was dismal when Casey Pachall was injured. West Virginia, though, finished the season with losses to the other dregs of the league in Kansas and Iowa State. Dana Holgorsen enters 2014 on the hot seat.

Biggest Surprise of 2013: Texas’ Greg Robinson-led comeback
Texas ranked 119th in run defense at the end of September after embarrassing losses to Ole Miss and BYU cost one-time rising star Manny Diaz his job. The Longhorns plucked former coordinator and Syracuse coach Greg Robinson from his couch in a move that was widely lampooned. Robinson simplified the defense, though, and put Texas in a position to contend for the conference title on the last day of the season. Texas finished fourth in the Big 12 in run defense in conference games and led the league in sacks.

Athlon’s 2013 All-Big 12 Team

First Team OffenseSecond Team Offense
QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
RB Charles Sims, West Virginia
WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
C Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
G Cyril Richardson, Baylor
G Parker Graham, Oklahoma State
T Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
T Spencer Drango, Baylor
AP B.J. Catalon, TCU
QB Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State
RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
RB Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State
WR Tevin Reese, Baylor
WR Eric Ward, Texas Tech
TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
C B.J. Finney, Kansas State
G Trey Hopkins, Texas
G Quinton Spain, West Virginia
T Donald Hopkins, Texas
T Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State
AP Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
First Team DefenseSecond Team Defense
DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
DT Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
DT Will Clarke, West Virginia
LB Jeremiah George, Iowa State
LB Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State
LB Eddie Lackey, Baylor
CB Jason Verrett, TCU
CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
S Gabe Lynn, Oklahoma
S Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
DE Cedric Reed, Texas
DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
LB Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
LB Paul Dawson, TCU
LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
CB K.J. Morton, Baylor
S Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
S Sam Carter, TCU
First Team Special TeamsSecond Team Special Teams
K Anthony Fera, Texas
P Nick O’Toole, West Virginia
KR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
PR Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
K Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
P Trevor Pardula, Kansas
KR B.J. Catalon, TCU
PR Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State

 

Teaser:
Big 12 2013 Season Awards and All-Conference Teams
Post date: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/american-athletic-conference-best-and-worst-2013-14-so-far
Body:

The American Athletic Conference so far is performing like a league born from a diverse group of programs with different resources and expectations.

Not that we’d expect anything else, since this is a league smashed together among programs with different resources and expectations.

On one end, there’s Louisville, Connecticut and Memphis who are continuing on what all three programs did last season.

The defending national champion Cardinals get the benefit of the doubt given the returning cast, but they’ve played only one major opponent and lost to North Carolina. Now that Connecticut has a chance to play for the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies are relishing in the opportunity, despite obvious limitations. And Memphis has flipped the narrative after earning redemption from a blowout road loss to Oklahoma State with a win over the same Cowboys in Orlando.

On the other end is a team like SMU still striving to prove it belongs among the upper echelon of the league with Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinnati. To do that, SMU may have to prove what it’s not and that means separating itself from Rutgers, UCF, USF and Houston.

Early Season Report Card: American Athletic Conference

NCAA teams as of today: Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis

Bubble watch: Cincinnati, SMU

Best win: Memphis 73, Okla. State 68

Worst loss: FAU 75, UCF 64

Power rankings so far
1. Connecticut
2. Louisville
3. Memphis
4. Cincinnati
5. SMU
6. Temple
7. USF
8. UCF
9. Rutgers
10. Houston

Important non-conference games remaining
Cincinnati at Xavier (Dec. 14)
Florida at Memphis (Dec. 17)
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (Dec. 17)
Stanford at Connecticut (Dec. 18)
Connecticut at Washington (Dec. 22)
Louisville at Kentucky (Dec. 28)
MVP so far: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
The AAC’s leading scorers Russ Smith and Sean Kilpatrick deserve mention, but Napier has been the clear do-it-all player for the Huskies. Drawing comparisons to Kemba Walker, Napier has been huge in the Huskies’ top wins with 26 points against Florida, 27 against Indiana, 20 against Boston College and 18 against Maryland. The only question is if he’ll need to keep up this torrid pace (15.3 points, seven rebounds and 5.9 assists per game) for UConn to remain an AAC contender. And then there was this shot.

Top freshman: Austin Nichols, Memphis
Nichols has stepped in to give Memphis the inside presence the Tigers need in their guard-heavy lineup. The 6-8, 212-pound forward has averaged 5.9 rebounds per game including a 19-point and eight-rebound performance against LSU in the Old Spice Classic.

Top newcomer: Chris Jones, Louisville
Taking over for Peyton Siva is no easy task, but Jones has assumed the point guard role successfully with the Cardinals. He’s second to Russ Smith in scoring (14.9 ppg) and has played relentless defense. One of the more interesting games of the season will be when the junior college transfer Jones returns to his hometown of Memphis to face the Tigers and to play in the AAC Tournament.

Surprise player: Justin Jackson, Cincinnati
Justin Jackson had been a steady contributor on the defensive end as shot blocker, but he didn’t have a developed offensive game. That has changed in his senior season. Before this year, he’d never averaged more than 5.1 points per game in a season. He’s up to 10.6 points while averaging 3.3 blocks.

Early season flop: Louisville’s loss to North Carolina
Let’s forget that North Carolina has been wildly inconsistent this season and just count Louisville’s 93-84 loss to the Tar Heels as a loss to a solid team on a neutral court. Even then, how do you account for the dismal performance of Louisville’s supporting cast, a group that came up huge in the Cardinals’ title run last season. Montrezl Harrell was 2 of 5 (but with 10 rebounds). Luke Hancock was 1 of 8. Wayne Blackshear was invisible, missing his only shot in 17 minutes. Louisville still has a game at Kentucky on Dec. 28, but of the top 10 or so preseason teams, we know the least about Louisville. After North Carolina, Lousiville has faced only two other top-100 opponents on KenPom (Southern Miss and Louisiana-Lafayette).

Lingering concerns: Connecticut’s inside presence
Napier, a 6-1 guard, leads UConn in rebounding at seven per game. The next best player, forward DeAndre Daniels, averages 4.7. The Huskies have managed to start 9-0 despite ranking 240th in defensive rebounding percentage and 182nd in offensive rebounding percentage. That can’t hold up over the course of the season.

Best NCAA resume: Connecticut
No one is comparing the 2013-14 Huskies to the 2010-11 team that won the title, but a hot start has been a big part of both. Defeating Florida on a buzzer beater at home is nice, defeating Indiana on a neutral court is just as good. Maryland and Boston College might not be NCAA teams, but the Huskies beat both on neutral courts as well.

Teaser:
American Athletic Conference: The Best and Worst of 2013-14 So Far
Post date: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/inside-wild-and-wacky-votes-coaches-and-harris-polls
Body:

For the last time, the coaches’ poll and Harris poll will factor into the national championship.

The end of the BCS means the end of the coaches’ poll as a component of postseason selection and the end of the Harris Interactive top 25 altogether.

For that, college football fans should be relieved.

Whatever their intentions, both polls ended up with their share of voters who made bizarre choices for their rankings. A disregard to head-to-head records, conference favoritism and voters who may or may not have paid attention to the season infiltrated the final polls year after year.

Granted, a majority of the voters probably made an honest effort and could justify their ballots with well-thought out data and observations.

The others, though ... it's fun to point and laugh sometimes.

Here’s what we found when the ballots were released late Sunday.

Inside the coaches’ poll (link to every ballot)

• Eight coaches did not start their polls with Florida State, Auburn and Alabama in that order. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio voted his team second, ahead of Auburn and Alabama. Can you blame him? West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen also voted Michigan State second for reasons unknown.

• Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier voted Florida State and Auburn first and second but Michigan State third. Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury voted FSU and Auburn and then Baylor, a team in the same league and led by another coach from Texas Tech stock. Washington State coach Mike Leach voted Stanford third

• Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, ever the pot-stirrer, voted Ohio State at No. 12, the Buckeyes' lowest ranking. Bielema did vote his former team Wisconsin at No. 21 despite Badgers’ fans ire at his departure. Bielema also gave Louisville its highest ranking at No. 6.

• Steve Spurrier for years gave Duke the No. 25 spot on his preseason ballot as a thank you to the Blue Devils for giving him his first head coaching job. USA Today eventually told him to knock it off to protect the integrity of the poll. Now given a chance to vote for Duke for real, Spurrier gave the Blue Devils their highest rank at No. 16.

• Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was not totally impressed with the SEC this season, ranking Missouri 14th and LSU 15th. Both were ranked behind the top three teams in the Big 12 (Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) and top two teams in the American (UCF and Louisville).

• Baylor coach Art Briles was quite the Big 12 homer, voting Baylor fourth, Oklahoma State sixth and Oklahoma seventh. That came at the expensive of No. 8 Michigan State and No. 11 Missouri.

• The coaches’ poll as a whole did not peg UCF ahead of Louisville until the final week of the season (UCF beat Louisville 38-35 on Oct 18). Arizona State coach Todd Graham didn’t get the memo, voting Louisville ninth and UCF 22nd. For the record, UCF coach George O’Leary and Louisville coach Charlie Strong both voted the Knights higher.

• Washington State coach Mike Leach was even less of a fan of the American Athletic Conference with UCF at No. 24 and Louisville at No. 25. Leach also gave Oregon its highest ranking at No. 6.

• Texas State coach Dennis Franchione had two MAC teams on his ballot, neither of which won the championship. Franchione voted Ball State 24th and Northern Illinois 25th.

• Other evidence of conference favoritism: Dantonio tacked Iowa and Minnesota at the end of his ballot, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher gave his last two votes to Miami and Virginia Tech, Marshall coach Doc Holliday made room for C-USA champion Rice at No. 24.

• Where coaches voted their own teams (final ranking in parentheses):
David Bailiff, Rice, NR (also receiving votes)
Art Briles, Baylor, No. 4 (No. 5)
Rod Carey, Northern Illinois, No. 13 (No. 23)
Dave Clawson, Bowling Green, No. 25 (also receiving votes)
David Cutcliffe, Duke, No. 20 (No. 21)
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State, No. 2 (No. 4)
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State, No. 18 (No. 20)
Jimbo Fisher, No. 1 (No. 1)
James Franklin, Vanderbilt, No. 23 (also receiving votes)
Al Golden, Miami, No. 24 (No. 25)
Todd Graham, Arizona State, No. 14 (No. 17)
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State, No. 10 (No. 13)
Mark Helfrich, Oregon, No. 7 (No. 12)
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame, No. 25 (also receiving votes)
Jerry Kill, Minnesota, No. 25 (also receiving votes)
Urban Meyer, Ohio State, No. 5 (No. 6)
Les Miles, LSU, No. 11 (No. 14)
George O’Leary, UCF, No. 12 (No. 15)
Mark Richt, Georgia, No. 20 (No. 24)
Nick Saban, Alabama, No. 3 (No. 3)
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina, No. 7 (No. 8)
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma, No. 9 (No. 10)
Charlie Strong, Louisville, No. 12 (No. 16)
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M, No. 20 (No. 21)
Dabo Swinney, Clemson, No. 9 (No. 11)
Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati, No. 25 (also receiving votes)

Inside the Harris poll (link to every ballot)

Related: Identifying every voter in the Harris poll


• Auburn received eight first-place votes, becoming the only other team besides Florida State to be ranked No. 1. Among those who voted Auburn first were Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey and former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.

• Auburn, though, hasn’t convinced everyone in the Harris poll. Jack Ebling, a host for WVFB in Lansing, Mich., voted Alabama second, one spot ahead of Auburn, despite the Tigers’ victory on a last-second missed field goal returned for a touchdown.

• How much did Ohio State’s 34-24 loss in the Michigan State hurt the Buckeyes’ stock? Seven voters dropped Ohio State to No. 10 or lower after the Buckeyes were second in the poll before the championship game. A few of these must have taken into account the weakness of the Big Ten as five of the seven ranked Michigan State lower than the rest of the poll. Former Notre Dame player Derrick Mayes ranked Ohio State 13th and Michigan State 11th. Former Army player Bob Anderson ranked Ohio State 12th and Michigan State eighth.

• For four voters, it’s as if the Big Ten championship game never happened. The following voted Ohio State ahead of Michigan State:
Bob Grim, former Oregon State player: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan State
Mike McGee, former Cincinnati and USC athletic director: No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan State
Jordan Palmer, former UTEP quarterback: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan State
Riley Skinner, former Wake Forest quarterback: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan State

• Speaking of blatant disregard for head-to-head results among teams with similar records, 19 voters kept Oklahoma State ahead of Oklahoma despite identical records and the Sooners’ 33-24 win in Stillwater. Former Texas player Denny Aldridge ranked the Cowboys a full eight spots ahead of Oklahoma (No. 8 and No. 16).

• At least former South Alabama athletic director Joe Gottfried paid attention to Bedlam: He ranked Oklahoma sixth ... and Baylor ninth. Baylor won the Big 12 in part by beating Oklahoma 41-12 on Nov. 7.

• Former UAB broadcaster Gary Sanders turned in one of the strangest ballots with Louisville as high as No. 7. But the most eye-catching ranking was UCLA at No. 12. He found room for Pac-12 South champion Arizona State at No. 25.

• Sanders was one of 36 voters to rank UCLA ahead of Arizona State. The Sun Devils beat the Bruins 38-35 in the Rose Bowl to clinch the Pac-12 South.

• One storyline of the season was Louisville remaining ahead of UCF despite the Knights’ 38-35 win on the road over the Cardinals. UCF’s win, plus an edge in the non-conference schedule that included a win at Penn State and three-point loss to South Carolina, didn’t swing the 39 voters who kept Louisville ranked ahead of UCF in the final poll. Five voters ranked Louisville at least seven spots higher than UCF: former West Virginia player John Mallory, former Cal player Craig Morton, former UAB broadcaster Gary Sanders, former Kentucky player Jeff Van Note and former Louisville player Dwayne Woodruff.

• Dwayne Woodruff’s No. 8 ranking of his alma mater Louisville aside, favoritism didn’t appear to be too rampant in the final Harris poll. One notable exception: Former Fresno State athletic director Scott Johnson voted the Bulldogs 12th. Fresno State was ranked 20th in the final poll.

• Among the more, shall we say, interesting ballots:

Former Miami and Kentucky coach Fran Curci voted Baylor fourth, Louisville, eighth, Miami 17th, Rice 19th and Arizona State 24th ... while leaving Texas A&M and Georgia unranked.

Former Stanford quarterback Todd Husak ranked Oregon eighth, Arizona State 13th, UCLA 16th and Washington 25th.

Bob Marcum, former athletic director at Kansas, South Carolina and Marshall, voted Fresno State 13th, Northern Illinois 15th and Duke 16th ... all ahead of Clemson, Oregon, LSU and Arizona State.

Former Notre Dame player Derrick Mayes ranked Missouri fourth, South Carolina fifth, Clemson sixth, Oregon eighth, Michigan State 11th, Louisville 12th and Ohio State 13th.

Jim Walden, a former coach at Iowa State and Washington State, ranked both UCF (sixth) and Louisville (eighth) in the top 10 at the expense of South Carolina and Missouri. South Carolina defeated UCF 28-25 in Orlando.

Teaser:
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Despite fears to the contrary two weeks ago, the final BCS standings and selection for the major bowls featured little controversy or drama.

Ohio State lost in the Big Ten title game, clearing the path for Auburn to be the undisputed No. 2 team. Northern Illinois’ loss in the final week cleared the path for Oklahoma to be the final at-large pick, ironic given undefeated NIU pushed the Sooners out a year ago.

Perhaps the only questionable decision by the BCS game executives was the Sugar Bowl’s selection of Oklahoma to face Alabama rather than a higher-ranked Oregon team.

Maybe the matchup is less attractive for most viewers, but Oklahoma promises to bring more fans to a closer game site. The Sugar Bowl also will have an SEC-Big 12 matchup when the College Football Playoff begins next season. To the end, politics and tradition played a role in the selection of the top postseason games.

Here’s a look at the final pairings and the selection process in the final bowl lineup of the BCS era.

BCS Games

BCS Championship: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn
Rose: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Stanford
Orange: No. 12 Clemson* vs. No. 7 Ohio State*
Sugar: No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 11 Oklahoma*
Fiesta: No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 15 UCF
*At-large selections

Other team eligible for at-large selections:
No. 10 Oregon
No. 14 Arizona State

Order of selection:
1. Florida State and Auburn were automatic bids placed in the championship game.
2. Michigan State and Stanford were automatic to the Rose, Baylor automatic to the Fiesta.
3. Orange selects Ohio State to replace ACC champion Florida State.
4. Sugar selects Alabama to replace SEC champion Auburn.
5. Orange selects Clemson as at-large.
6. Sugar selects Oklahoma as at-large.
7. Fiesta selects UCF as the final automatic bid.

Observations on the final standings (full standings as a .pdf)

• In the first BCS standings of the season after Week 9, Auburn was ranked No. 11, behind teams like Miami and Texas Tech. Auburn’s rise to the title game was the biggest of the BCS era, second only to LSU moving from No. 12 in the first rankings in 2003 to No. 2.

• Michigan State enjoyed a jump from No. 10 to No. 4 in the final rankings after defeating Ohio State 34-24 in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans were unranked in the first BCS standings in Week 8. Before Sunday, Michigan State had never been ranked higher than fifth in the BCS standings (Oct. 24, 2010).

• The SEC finished with four teams in the top 10 (No. 2 Auburn, No. 3 Alabama, No. 8 Missouri, No. 9 South Carolina), a year after the SEC had six teams in the top 10 a year ago. Eight different teams account for those 10 spots in the top 10.

• The Harris poll and coaches’ poll were in lockstep on the top four (Florida State, Auburn, Alabama and Michigan State). No top 25 team in either poll was separated by more than three spots.

• The computers continued to love No. 14 Arizona State compared to the human polls. The Sun Devils, who faced Wisconsin and Notre Dame in the non-conference schedule, ranked 11th in the computer average and in the top three in three of six computer rankings. The flip side was No. 6 Baylor, who ranked eighth or lower in four computer rankings and ninth in the computer average.

• The BCS standings ends where it started in a way with Florida State at No. 1. The Seminoles were No. 2 in the final BCS standings of the season when the rankings began in 1998. Tennessee, of course, was No. 1 that year and won the title, but the top 10 also included Kansas State, Ohio State, UCLA, Texas A&M, Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin and Tulane.

All-Time BCS Rankings At a Glance

For better or worse, the BCS standings have been a way to measure success for prominent teams, here’s a look how teams have fared in the BCS standings since 1998:
 

Most weeks in top 25Most weeks at No. 1Most teams in top 25Most BCS Game Appearances
1. Texas, 1041. Oklahoma, 201. SEC, 5551. Ohio State, 10
2. Oklahoma, 1002. Alabama, 162. Big 12, 4992. Oklahoma, 9
3. Florida, 92T3. Ohio State, 153. Big Ten, 4333. Florida State, 8
4. LSU 89T3. USC, 154. Pac-12, 381T4. Florida, 7
5. Oregon, 855. LSU, 105. ACC, 374T4. USC, 7
6. Ohio State, 846. Florida State, 96. Big East/AAC, 186T6. Alabama, 6
7. Virginia Tech, 82T7. Florida, 77. Mountain West, 137T6. Virginia Tech, 6
8. Florida State, 80

T7. Miami, 7

8. WAC, 79 
9. Michigan, 77T9. Nebraska, 59. C-USA, 78 
10. USC, 73T9. Tennessee, 510. Independents, 51 
T11. Georgia, 72 11. MAC, 44 
T11. Wisconsin, 72   
13. Alabama, 66   
T14. Boise State, 64   
T14. Miami, 64   

 

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By the time Missouri took a 17-14 lead in the second quarter, Saturday’s SEC Championship Game was already was one of the wildest title games in league history.

Then Tre Mason happened.

On Auburn’s next drive, Mason rushed for 49 yards on five carries and took the lead on a 7-yard touchdown run. He topped that with a 52-yard run on his next carry and another touchdown four attempts later.

With Bo Jackson on the sideline, Mason put up Bo Jackson-like numbers and a running performance never seen in the previous 21 SEC title games.

Mason rushed for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries to give Auburn a 59-42 win and a chance to play for the national championship. The record-setting performance earned Mason Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors and an outside shot to become a Heisman finalist.

“It was always a dream growing up, wanting to win the Heisman,” Mason said. “I’m sure that every kid that played football, that’s one of their dreams. It’s hard to describe, the feelings that I’m having right now.”

Athlon Sports Week 15 National Awards

National Player of the Week: Tre Mason, Auburn
Mason put on the best rushing performance in SEC history, setting records for carries (46), rushing yards (304), all-purpose yards (312) and touchdowns (four). Mason’s 304 rushing yards was tied for the fifth-highest total in 2013, and he did it against a Missouri defense that hadn’t allowed 200 rushing yards in a game all year.

National Defensive Player of the Week: Telvin Smith, Florida State
Even the ACC Championship Game became routine for Florida State. Telvin Smith led the defensive effort in a 38-7 win over Duke as the senior linebacker picked up eight tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss and an interception. His pick early in the second quarter set up a quick drive to give FSU a 24-0 lead.

National Freshman of the Week: Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green
Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson spread the ball around in knocking Northern Illinois out of BCS contention, completing five touchdown passes to five different receivers in the 47-27 win in the MAC Championship Game. Freshman Ronnie Moore was one of the beneficiaries, catching four passes for 165 and a touchdown. He had a 61-yard catch to set up a field goal in the first quarter and added 36-yard TD catch on the following drive.

National Coordinator of the Week: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State
Ohio State got its rushing yards in the Big Ten Championship Game, but that was about it. Michigan State allowed a season-high 273 rushing yards, but the defense dominated just about every other facet of the 34-24 win over the Buckeyes to clinch the Big Ten title. Narduzzi’s defense held Ohio State to 8 of 23 passes for 101 yards and 1 of 12 on third and fourth downs. The Spartans tightened up even more in the fourth quarter, allowing Ohio State to amass only 25 yards on the final three possessions.

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Say this for the BCS era: Many of the controversies that seem to be possibilities during the season play themselves out by the end of the season.

The final week of the season began with the possibility of either Auburn or Ohio State being left out of the national championship game. A month ago, we had four undefeated teams with national championship aspirations, plus two undefeated outsiders vying for one spot in the BCS.

Saturday ended with only Florida State without a blemish on the record.

An unstoppable offense in the SEC and an uncrackable defense in the Big Ten on championship Saturday wrapped up a final BCS season without controversy.

But it also hinted at what the playoff selection committee may have to decide. Florida State vs. Auburn will be the championship pick, but which teams would fill out a four-team bracket in the 2014 system?

Thankfully, that debate is a year away.

Three and Out: College Football Championship Week Recap

Three Things We Learned from Auburn 59, Missouri 42


Gus Malzahn is already one of the nation’s elite coaches. Regardless of the outcome in the Big Ten that put Auburn in the title game, Malzahn in two seasons has already put himself into the discussion of one of the nation’s elite coaches. It’s tough not to make a big deal of the one-year turnaround Malzahn has had at Auburn. The Tigers went 0-8 in the SEC and were outgained by more than 200 yards per game in league games. Auburn averaged 235 yards in SEC games last season, a mark the Tigers exceeded in the first half against Missouri. And this was not a Mizzou team accustomed to giving up chunks of points. Missouri had been allowing 3.6 yards per carry this season and hadn’t allowed 28 points in a game all season. Auburn won the most unlikely of SEC championships, but Malzahn has been a part of three conference champions in four seasons. With one season at Arkansas State and one at Auburn, Malzahn’s ability to sustain a program will be the only remaining question, but many of the players who picked up nearly 700 yards on Missouri were recruited to play for Malzahn as an offensive coordinator.

Tre Mason may find his way to New York. Jameis Winston has all but sealed the Heisman Trophy, but Mason is a perfect example of why the unofficial field shouldn’t be set in October. Not that Mason should beat out Winston, but the Auburn tailback was nowhere to be found in the conversation entering Saturday. He wasn’t even a finalist for the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s top running back. Mason should be a contender for a host of postseason awards after rushing for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri hadn’t even allowed 200 yards rushing to any team in a game this season. Over the course of the season, perhaps Mason and Nick Marshall are equally as responsible for the success of the Auburn offense. But Marshall’s SEC Championship Game breakout gave him an average of 156.9 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in his last eight SEC games. While voters were reaching for Andre Williams and Ka’Deem Carey in recent weeks, maybe Mason was the running back they were seeking.

Special teams were Auburn’s secret weapon. This is still worth reiterating even after Chris Davis’ miracle missed field goal return to beat Alabama. No one would have confused the SEC Championship Game as one where field position was a key, but Auburn can do that, too. Auburn punter Steven Clark pinned Missouri inside its own 10-yard line three times, including twice in the second half. Chris Davis had 22-yard punt return, and Cody Parkey split his two field goal attempts outside of 50 yards. In a game where defensive stops were at a premium these little things made major difference.

Three Things We Learned From Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24

Michigan State’s defense comes up huge yet again. The unexpected is a major part of Mark Dantonio’s playbook with a handful of fake field goals and fake punts in his arsenal. In the fourth quarter against Ohio State, it was an onside kick. Michigan State failed to gain possession, but Dantonio can afford to take risks with this defense. The nation’s top defense proved it against Ohio State, especially in the second half. Thorpe Award finalist Darqueze Dennard shut down the passing game as Braxton Miller was 8 of 21 for 101 yards and a touchdown. After Ohio State blocked a punt, linebacker Denicos Allen stopped Miller on a run toward the sideline on fourth and 2 at the Spartans’ 39. The two-headed run game of Miller and Carlos Hyde had its moments, but Ohio State overall was 1 of 9 on third down.

Michigan State doesn't need to kick itself for Notre Dame loss. Auburn is the one-loss team heading to the national championship game rather than the team that actually knocked out Ohio State. The Big Ten schedule is a big reason for Michigan State missing a chance at the national championship game, but the Spartans’ 17-13 loss to an 8-4 Notre Dame is now the only blemish on the schedule. Michigan State was called for four critical pass interference calls in the game, but the Spartans also amassed only 135 passing yards and 119 rushing against the Irish on Sept. 21. Flash forward to Saturday, and Connor Cook completed 24 of 40 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and an interception against Ohio State. As much as Michigan State’s defense has been dominant all season, the Spartans’ offense has improved progressively during the season, helping Michigan State outscore nine Big Ten opponents by an average of 17.8 points per game. A year from now, Michigan State might be a good candidate for one of four playoff spots. Even in the current system, an undefeated Michigan State would have to answer for facing only one ranked team all year.

This isn’t a totally awful development for the Big Ten. The Big Ten lost a chance to play for the national title, and Michigan State may have gone to the Rose Bowl win or lose. In the end, though, this may end up being a net gain for the league. Ohio State likely would have gone to the BCS Championship Game as a major underdog to Florida State. Instead, the Buckeyes could face Clemson in the Orange Bowl while Michigan State faces Stanford in the Rose Bowl. No, it’s not the stage the Big Ten craves, but both teams will be evenly matched in their bowl games. And consider this: Before the season started, one narrative was that Ohio State and Michigan were poised to take a commanding lead in the league. The Wolverines’ struggles mean that won’t happen this year, but Michigan State isn’t going away.

Three Things We Learned from Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24

Blake Bell redeemed himself in a wacky season. The Belldozer may as well be the name of a roller coaster in Norman. That’s the kind of season Blake Bell had. The junior was the assumed heir to Landry Jones at quarterback until the final weeks of training camp when Trevor Knight was named the opening day starter. Knight’s injury issues put Bell back into the starting job when he led the Sooners to a win at Notre Dame before a concussion gave the job back to Knight. Bell had been struggling enough this season to be the third guy in against Oklahoma State. With Knight out in the second half, Bob Stoops went to sophomore Kendal Thompson rather than Bell. The quarterback who had been passed over, though, was brilliant on the final drive. In a game in which every quarterback struggled, Bell got made the final statement, completing 5 of 8 passes for 57 yards with a beautiful touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders to win the game. Even if he made a risky throw in the direction of Thorpe Award finalist Justin Gilbert, who dropped a potential interception, Bell can once against claim the role of fan favorite.

How did Oklahoma win this game again? Take a look at those quarterback numbers for Oklahoma. First, one of the guys who threw a touchdown pass is the holder. The other entered the game third string. Oklahoma needed three quarterbacks to beat Oklahoma State, and none of them looked that great until the final drive. With an ineffective offense, the Sooners were in a position of desperation when holder Grant Bothun completed a touchdown pass to kicker Michael Hunnicutt on a fake field goal in the third quarter. A play earlier, a potential touchdown catch was erased on when defensive back Daytawion Lowe knocked the ball out of the hands of Brannon Green in the end zone. Before the final drive, Oklahoma’s scoring included a punt return for a touchdown, a fake field goal and two extended drives ending in field goals. The Sooners were a mere 2 of 15 on third down (but 3 of 3 on fourth) and were outgained on a per play basis 6.2 yards to 4.9. The Sooners got to their 10th win of the season in the way they got to a handful of their first nine: By winning ugly. Still, the Sooners won 10 games for the 12th time under Bob Stoops despite injuries in the front seven and to fullback Trey Millard and a rotating cast at quarterback.


Oklahoma State can’t get over Oklahoma.
How did Oklahoma win? Well, the Cowboys helped. The tone was set on the first play of the game when Desmond Roland’s 75-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding call on wide receiver Charlie Moore. Moore dropped two more passes, including a third down pass in OU territory in the fourth quarter. Moore wasn’t alone as a the goat, though. Even though the Cowboys could move the ball on the ground, Clint Chelf struggled with accuracy until Oklahoma State’s fourth-quarter go-ahead drive. The Cowboys also went for a touchdown on fourth down from the Oklahoma 2 in the first quarter. Oklahoma stuffed it for the Sooners’ first red zone stop since the second game of the season. This era remains the best in Oklahoma State history, but the Cowboys remain under the thumb of their in-state rival.

Moving the Chains

Baylor. Maybe Baylor never was as good as the team that started 9-0 and averaged 61 points per game into mid-November. That shouldn’t diminish the season. Baylor won an outright Big 12 and reached the Fiesta Bowl, a remarkable feat. This is a program that won more than four games only once from 1996 to 2009, a bottom feeder for most of the existence of the Big 12. Baylor didn’t heat up until the second half against Texas, thanks in part to the return of safety Ahmad Dixon, who was suspended for the first half. When Baylor returned to form, the Bears made easy work of the Texas defense for 523 yards and 27 second-half points. With Robert Griffin’s Heisman in 2011, a Big 12 title in 2013 and a new stadium in 2014, Baylor looks like a program with staying power ... especially if Art Briles hangs around.

Kevin Hogan, Stanford. The Cardinal quarterback is rarely the first person mentioned on the Stanford offense. That usually goes to the offensive line or running back Tyler Gaffney. Hogan, though, finished the season on a hot streak, going 12 of 18 for 277 yards with a touchdown against Arizona State. Hogan hadn’t completed 60 percent of his passes in three consecutive games games before completing 66.1 percent of his passes in the final three games.

David Bailiff, Rice. No one will mistake Rice for a Conference USA power, but with the way the league has thinned during conference expansion, maybe the Owls can be a consistent winner. Rice defeated Marshall 41-23 for the C-USA title, the first league title of any kind since Rice won the Southwest Conference in 1957. Bailiff rarely gets much national notoriety, but he’s led Rice to two 10-win seasons. The Owls are in bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1960-61.

False Starts

Texas. If this was indeed the final regular season game for Mack Brown at Texas, it wasn’t a great sendoff beyond the loss. Quarterback play was again the undoing for the Longhorns as Case McCoy was 12 of 34 for a mere 53 yards. McCoy escaped a rush for a highlight reel two-yard touchdown pass, but he also threw two interceptions against the Bears as Texas finished 3 of 17 on third down. No single game is the reason Brown may retire earlier that he’d like, but it’s hard not to look at this Baylor loss as emblematic of Texas’ recent years.

Arizona State. Most teams have difficulty cracking Stanford, but the Cardinal have been Arizona State’s nemesis this season. The Sun Devils fell behind 29-0 to Stanford in the first matchup. Home field advantage and a season’s worth of improvement was little help as the Sun Devils fell behind 28-7 in the first half in a 38-14 loss. The Sun Devils’ defense finally broke, allowing 517 yards and a season-high 8.3 yards per play.

Fresno State on fourth down. The Bulldogs won the Mountain West with a 24-17 win over Utah State, but they didn’t mind giving the Aggies chances. Fresno State 24-7 in the third quarter before surrendering 10 fourth-quarter points, but the Bulldogs twice failed to convert fourth down attempts. The last was an inexplicable fourth and 3 from inside the Utah State 30 when a field goal would have clinched the win. Fresno State needed an interception inside its own territory to end the Utah State threat.

Heisman Movers

Quick BCS projections
BCS Championship: Florida State vs. Auburn
Rose: Stanford vs. Michigan State
Orange: Clemson vs. Ohio State
Sugar: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Fiesta: UCF vs. Baylor

Quick Heisman projections
Jameis Winston, Florida State
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Tre Mason, Auburn
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Tre Mason, Auburn. It would take an uncommon effort to being on almost no ballots to ending up in the top 10 in the voting or perhaps a finalist. Rushing for 304 yards and four yards in the SEC Championship Game would qualify.

Jameis Winston, Florida State. Winston finished this week with his off-field issues resolved and an above-average performance in the ACC title game. Winston was 19 of 32 for 320 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions against Duke. Despite a healthy 38-point lead, Jimbo Fisher kept his starters in the game into the fourth quarter.

Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. Lynch was never going to overtake Winston for the lead, but he had done enough to look like a finalist. That looks less likely after championship week. Auburn’s Tre Mason and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller impressed in conference championship games as Northern Illinois lost 47-27 to Bowling Green in the MAC title game. Lynch was 21 of 40 for 219 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. In a field that has no certainties beyond Winston at No. 1, Lynch will probably land on plenty of ballots, but maybe not enough to get to New York.

Stat Watch

7-1. UCF’s record in games decided by a touchdown or less. The Knights wrapped up their season like they played most games this season, on the razor’s edge. UCF needed two third-quarter touchdowns to beat SMU 17-13 before crowd that would generously be described as sparse. UCF is heading to the Fiesta Bowl as the American Athletic Conference champions, but the season included one-score wins over Memphis (3-8), Temple (2-10), USF (2-9) and SMU (5-6).

5. Teams to be win Big 12 titles in five seasons. The Big 12 has lost a championship game and four teams in the last three years, but it’s gained a bit of unpredictability. Baylor became the fifth team to win a Big 12 title in the last three seasons, joining Kansas State and Oklahoma in 2012 (K-State earned the BCS bid), Oklahoma State in 2011, Oklahoma in 2010 and Texas in 2009.

15. SEC Championship Games outscored by Auburn alone. Auburn set a number of SEC Championship Game records, including rushing yards and total offense, but it’s tough not to be most impressed with the scoring record. Auburn’s 59 points alone outscored 15 of the 21 SEC title games before Saturday.

 

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Michigan State ensured the BCS will go out with a whimper.

The final season of a two-team competition for the national title will end again with a simple two-team decision. With Ohio State’s loss, there will be no debate between an undefeated team against a weaker schedule and a one-loss team against a stronger schedule.

That’s the headline as Ohio State is eliminated from the national championship race and along with Urban Meyer’s first loss as the coach for the Buckeyes.

Michigan State can’t be overlooked, though. The Spartans clinched their first outright conference title and Rose Bowl appearance since 1987.

The Spartans relied on a stifling defense in the second half against Ohio State, but an consistently improving offense has been the difference between a good Big Ten season and a conference title. And a contingent of new fans from Auburn.

Three Things We Learned From Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24

Michigan State’s defense comes up huge yet again. The unexpected is a major part of Mark Dantonio’s playbook with a handful of fake field goals and fake punts in his arsenal. In the fourth quarter against Ohio State, it was an onside kick. Michigan State failed to gain possession, but Dantonio can afford to take risks with this defense. The nation’s top defense proved it against Ohio State, especially in the second half. Thorpe Award finalist Darqueze Dennard shut down the passing game as Braxton Miller was 8 of 21 for 101 yards and a touchdown. After Ohio State blocked a punt, linebacker Denicos Allen stopped Miller on a run toward the sideline on fourth and 2 at the Spartans’ 39. The two-headed run game of Miller and Carlos Hyde had its moments, but Ohio State overall was 1 of 9 on third down.

Michigan State doesn't need to kick itself for Notre Dame loss. Auburn is the one-loss team heading to the national championship game rather than the team that actually knocked out Ohio State. The Big Ten schedule is a big reason for Michigan State missing a chance at the national championship game, but the Spartans’ 17-13 loss to an 8-4 Notre Dame is now the only blemish on the schedule. Michigan State was called for four critical pass interference calls in the game, but the Spartans also amassed only 135 passing yards and 119 rushing against the Irish on Sept. 21. Flash forward to Saturday, and Connor Cook completed 24 of 40 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and an interception against Ohio State. As much as Michigan State’s defense has been dominant all season, the Spartans’ offense has improved progressively during the season, helping Michigan State outscore nine Big Ten opponents by an average of 17.8 points per game. A year from now, Michigan State might be a good candidate for one of four playoff spots. Even in the current system, an undefeated Michigan State would have to answer for facing only one ranked team all year.

This isn’t a totally awful development for the Big Ten. The Big Ten lost a chance to play for the national title, and Michigan State may have gone to the Rose Bowl win or lose. In the end, though, this may end up being a net gain for the league. Ohio State likely would have gone to the BCS Championship Game as a major underdog to Florida State. Instead, the Buckeyes could face Clemson in the Orange Bowl while Michigan State faces Stanford in the Rose Bowl. No, it’s not the stage the Big Ten craves, but both teams will be evenly matched in their bowl games. And consider this: Before the season started, one narrative was that Ohio State and Michigan were poised to take a commanding lead in the league. The Wolverines’ struggles mean that won’t happen this year, but Michigan State isn’t going away.

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Three Things We Learned from Michigan State's Big Ten title
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The SEC season could end no other way.

Starting with the second week of the season when Georgia beat South Carolina 41-30, the SEC hasn’t been the old defense-wins-championships league all year. It continued when Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron matched each other drive for drive in College Station. Auburn, as it did in 2010, has become the center of offenses running wild and teams producing crazy finishes in the SEC this season.

The Tigers wrapped up one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history with a wild 59-42 win over Missouri for the SEC championship, only a year after going winless in the league.

The Auburn run game has been a machine all year, but on Saturday it was unstoppable. With 59 points, Auburn alone outscored 15 SEC Championship Games. Combined, Auburn and Missouri scored 101 points, 26 more than the previous highest scoring SEC Championship Game in 1996.

Among records broken in Atlanta on Saturday:

Carries: Auburn’s Tre Mason, 46
Previous record: 31, Jamal Lewis, Tennessee (1997)

Rushing yards: Mason, 304
Previous record: 201, Justin Vincent, LSU (2003)

All-purpose yards: Mason, 312
Previous record: 227, Darvin Adams, Auburn (2010)

Touchdowns: Mason, 4
Previous record: Three, three different players

Scoring: Mason, 24
Previous record: 18, three different players

Longest field goal: Auburn’s Cody Parkey, 52 yards
Previous record: 51, three different players

Most rushes: Auburn, 74
Previous record: 53, Alabama (2009)

Rushing yards: Auburn, 545
Previous record: 350, Alabama (2012)

Rushing touchdowns: Auburn, 7
Previous record: Three, six different teams

Total offense: Auburn, 677
Previous record: 589, Auburn (2010)

Most points: Auburn, 59
Previous record: 56, Auburn (2010)

Most combined points: Auburn and Missouri, 101
Previous record: 75, Florida and Alabama (1996)

First downs rushing: 26, Auburn
Previous record: 18, Alabama (2012)

Total plays: 85, Auburn (tie)

Three Things We Learned from Auburn 59, Missouri 42

Gus Malzahn is already one of the nation’s elite coaches. No matter what happens with Ohio State and the BCS standings, Malzahn in two seasons has already put himself into the discussion of one of the nation’s elite coaches. It’s tough not to make a big deal of the one-year turnaround Malzahn has had at Auburn. The Tigers went 0-8 in the SEC and were outgained by more than 200 yards per game in league games. Auburn averaged 235 yards in SEC games last season, a mark the Tigers exceeded in the first half against Missouri. And this was not a Mizzou team accustomed to giving up chunks of points. Missouri had been allowing 3.6 yards per carry this season and hadn’t allowed 28 points in a game all season. Auburn won the most unlikely of SEC championships, but Malzahn has been a part of three conference champions in four seasons. With one season at Arkansas State and one at Auburn, Malzahn’s ability to sustain a program will be the only remaining question, but many of the players who picked up nearly 700 yards on Missouri were recruited to play for Malzahn as an offensive coordinator.

Tre Mason may find his way to New York. Jameis Winston has all but sealed the Heisman Trophy, but Mason is a perfect example of why the unofficial field shouldn’t be set in October. Not that Mason should beat out Winston, but the Auburn tailback was nowhere to be found in the conversation entering Saturday. He wasn’t even a finalist for the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s top running back. Mason should be a contender for a host of postseason awards after rushing for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri hadn’t even allowed 200 yards rushing to any team in a game this season. Over the course of the season, perhaps Mason and Nick Marshall are equally as responsible for the success of the Auburn offense. But Marshall’s SEC Championship Game breakout gave him an average of 156.9 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in his last eight SEC games. While voters were reaching for Andre Williams and Ka’Deem Carey in recent weeks, maybe Mason was the running back they were seeking.

Special teams were Auburn’s secret weapon. This is still worth reiterating even after Chris Davis’ miracle missed field goal return to beat Alabama. No one would have confused the SEC Championship Game as one where field position was a key, but Auburn can do that, too. Auburn punter Steven Clark pinned Missouri inside its own 10-yard line three times, including twice in the second half. Chris Davis had 22-yard punt return, and Cody Parkey split his two field goal attempts outside of 50 yards. In a game where defensive stops were at a premium these little things made major difference.
 

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Three Things We Learned from Auburn's SEC Championship
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A typical season this was not for Oklahoma.

The Sooners started the year outside of the Associated Press top 10 for the first time since 2000. They fell out of Big 12 contention, in essence, when they lost to Texas for the first time in four years. Bob Stoops had a rare quarterback competition that lasted, due to injury, until the final weeks of the season.

By Dec. 7, Oklahoma had its two typical results: 10 wins and control of the Bedlam rivalry.

Oklahoma won 10 games for the 12th time in 14 seasons and defeated Oklahoma State for the 10th time in 11 years thanks to an improbable touchdown drive from quarterback Blake Bell on the road in the fourth quarter.

The Sooners don’t want to admit it, but they are spoilers for the Cowboys. Oklahoma’s Bedlam win knocked Oklahoma State out of the Fiesta Bowl and out of contention for an outright BCS title.

The Cowboys are enjoying their best era in program history, but they remain under the thumb of rival Oklahoma after a game-winning drive in the final 24 seconds (the final OU touchdown was a fumble recovery from desperation laterals).

Similar to John Cooper's Ohio State teams against Michigan and Mark Richt's early squads against Florida, Mike Gundy's teams are conference and national contenders, but rivalry games continue to vex them.

Three Things We Learned from Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24

Blake Bell redeemed himself in a wacky season. The Belldozer may as well be the name of a roller coaster in Norman. That’s the kind of season Blake Bell had. The junior was the assumed heir to Landry Jones at quarterback until the final weeks of training camp when Trevor Knight was named the opening day starter. Knight’s injury issues put Bell back into the starting job when he led the Sooners to a win at Notre Dame before a concussion gave the job back to Knight. Bell had been struggling enough this season to be the third guy in against Oklahoma State. With Knight out in the second half, Bob Stoops went to sophomore Kendal Thompson rather than Bell. The quarterback who had been passed over, though, was brilliant on the final drive. In a game in which every quarterback struggled, Bell got made the final statement, completing 5 of 8 passes for 57 yards with a beautiful touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders to win the game. Even if he made a risky throw in the direction of Thorpe Award finalist Justin Gilbert, who dropped a potential interception, Bell can once against claim the role of fan favorite.

How did Oklahoma win this game again? Take a look at those quarterback numbers for Oklahoma. First, one of the guys who threw a touchdown pass is the holder. The other entered the game third string. Oklahoma needed three quarterbacks to beat Oklahoma State, and none of them looked that great until the final drive. With an ineffective offense, the Sooners were in a position of desperation when holder Grant Bothun completed a touchdown pass to kicker Michael Hunnicutt on a fake field goal in the third quarter. A play earlier, a potential touchdown catch was erased on when defensive back Daytawion Lowe knocked the ball out of the hands of Brannon Green in the end zone. Before the final drive, Oklahoma’s scoring included a punt return for a touchdown, a fake field goal and two extended drives ending in field goals. The Sooners were a mere 2 of 15 on third down (but 3 of 3 on fourth) and were outgained on a per play basis 6.2 yards to 4.9. The Sooners got to their 10th win of the season in the way they got to a handful of their first nine: By winning ugly. Still, the Sooners won 10 games for the 12th time under Bob Stoops despite injuries in the front seven and to fullback Trey Millard and a rotating cast at quarterback.


Oklahoma State can’t get over Oklahoma.
How did Oklahoma win? Well, the Cowboys helped. The tone was set on the first play of the game when Desmond Roland’s 75-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding call on wide receiver Charlie Moore. Moore dropped two more passes, including a third down pass in OU territory in the fourth quarter. Moore wasn’t alone as a the goat, though. Even though the Cowboys could move the ball on the ground, Clint Chelf struggled with accuracy until Oklahoma State’s fourth-quarter go-ahead drive. The Cowboys also went for a touchdown on fourth down from the Oklahoma 2 in the first quarter. Oklahoma stuffed it for the Sooners’ first red zone stop since the second game of the season. This era remains the best in Oklahoma State history, but the Cowboys remain under the thumb of their in-state rival.

Teaser:
Three Things We Learned from Oklahoma's Bedlam win
Post date: Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 16:59
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-will-north-carolina-reach-ncaa-tournament
Body:

The award for the most bizarre start to the season undoubtedly goes to North Carolina.

The Tar Heels lost at home to a team Athlon picked second in its division in the Ohio Valley (Belmont) and a week later defeated our preseason No. 2 team (Louisville). That turned out to be a mirage as Carolina lost on the road to a team picked fifth in Conference USA (UAB). Or did it? Three days later, Carolina defeated the preseason No. 3 team (Michigan State) that had already defeated our preseason No. 1 (Kentucky).

Belmont and UAB are both top 100 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s team rankings, and North Carolina sits at No. 8. But the results hint at a team that can beat anyone and lose to anyone on any given night.

How might that shape up for North Carolina on Selection Sunday. Here’s the case for both sides.

The case for North Carolina as an NCAA Tournament team

There’s one word to describe North Carolina’s season to date — schizophrenic. How else do you describe a team that was good enough to beat Louisville on a neutral court and Michigan State in East Lansing yet lost at home to Belmont and to UAB on the road? Clearly this is a team with some issues — the Heels as currently constructed do not have enough outside shooting and they struggle mightily at the foul line — but it’s foolish to suggest this team won’t make the NCAA Tournament, even if guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald do not return.
 
First of all, North Carolina already has two elite wins on its resume. There likely won’t be another team in the nation that will have two wins as good as Louisville and Michigan State — both away from home — throughout the entire season. So if North Carolina finds itself on the bubble in March, these two wins should be more than enough to earn the Tar Heels a bid in the Field of 68.
 
That being said, it’s unlikely that North Carolina will be on the bubble. Any team that is good enough to beat Michigan State and Louisville is good enough to at least break even in the ACC. Even with two losses in their first seven games, the Tar Heels are still ranked No. 8 nationally by Kenpom.com, checking in with the 17th-most efficient offense and 12th-most efficient defense. Those numbers suggest this team should have no problem winning games in the tough ACC — and no problem receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

—Mitch Light

The case against North Carolina as an NCAA Tournament team

Wins against Louisville and Michigan State present a great resume for any team. I tend to agree that North Carolina will cobble something together in the ACC season to augment these two wins for an NCAA Tournament bid. But look beyond the names for those two big wins and remember that Carolina’s wins were as much of a product of Louisville and Michigan State playing poorly in the early part of the season. On Wednesday, Michigan State’s lineup was not in a good spot. Adreian Payne was in and out late with cramping (though he still finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Gary Harris and Keith Appling were hobbled through the course of the game and struggled down the stretch. And Carolina shot 54.2 percent against Louisville. The Cardinals aren’t going to give that up very often. Louisville and Michigan State might not have games that bad for the rest of the season.

North Carolina has plenty of major issues though. P.J. Hairston’s return seems unlikely, and his development helped turn the Tar Heels around a year ago. Marcus Paige can look like an All-America guard, but that doesn’t always happen. And when it does, he’s still the only major outside shooting threat for Carolina. James Michael McAdoo still hasn’t developed, and the big guys aren’t exactly Tyler Zeller or Tyler Hansbrough. Beyond that, this isn't a team that can afford another major absence from a key player.

The ACC’s going to be strong enough to where Carolina will struggle against Duke and Syracuse and deep enough where Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Virginia will cause problems. Given the way the Tar Heels were outworked against UAB and lost to Belmont, Roy Williams team can’t count on any ACC opponent as a sure thing. I worry about North Carolina like I worried about Virginia last season. The Cavaliers beat teams like Duke and NC State, but in the end they had too many bad losses to overcome to put them in the Tourney.

—David Fox

Teaser:
College Basketball: Will North Carolina reach the NCAA Tournament?
Post date: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 12:02
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-football-post-week-14-award-watch-2013
Body:

The Heisman ceremony is a week away, and the winner may be all but determined.

Thursday's announcement that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will not be charged following an investigation related to an allegedy sexual battery ends a saga that clouded the second half his season.

Meanwhile, the field for other position awards is starting to narrow as the season-long voting for many of these awards has been whittled to finalists.


While we love prognosticating who will win college football’s most coveted individual trophy, we also love the glut of postseason awards that go to each position, each with a nod to the game’s history from Davey O’Brien and Doak Walker to Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe to Ray Guy and Lou Groza.



Everyone tracks the progress in the Heisman race, but Athlon Sports will try to keep an eye on who will take home college football’s positional awards.



Here’s our look at the “other” trophies through the 14th week of the season.

The majority of winners for college football’s position awards will be announced Dec. 12 on the College Football Awards Show on ESPN.

Maxwell (Player of the Year)
Our leader: Alabama’s AJ McCarron
Those looking at the loss column will unfairly diminish McCarron. His performance in the Iron Bowl was excellent with two scoring drives from his own 1, including a 99-yard touchdown pass. The Maxwell Award recipient tends to differ from the Heisman winner in recent seasons (exceptions: Cam Newton in 2010 and Tim Tebow in 2007), though both technically award the top player in the nation. Voters have tended to pick career achievers for this award.
Finalists: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Biggest snub: Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch

Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Winston heads into the ACC Championship Game with the top credentials for the Davey O'Brien, the Heisman and a host of other preseason awards. The state attorney announced Thursday that Winston would not be charged with a crime after an investigation into an alleged sexual battery incident.
Finalists: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Biggest snub: Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch

Doak Walker (Top running back)

Our leader: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey
Andre Williams left the loss to Syracuse with injury, but he had rushed for only 29 yards on nine carries. Carey’s team lost big to Arizona State, but he still rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries.
Finalists: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Boston College’s Andre Williams
Biggest snub: Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews

Biletnikoff (Top wide receiver)

Our leader: Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks
Mike Evans’ four catches for eight yards has tilted this back into the favor of Cooks, who had a combined 20 catches for 227 yards against Washington and Oregon.
Others: Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins
Biggest snub: Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews

Mackey (Top tight end)

Our leader: Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro

Amaro remains a snub for the award because he doesn’t always line up as a classic tight end in Texas Tech’s wide open offense. Amaro’s 98 receptions for 1,240 yards with six touchdowns is more than enough to merit attention at a position that’s diminished in prominence in recent years.
Finalists: North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Biggest snub: Amaro

Outland (Top interior lineman)

Our leader: Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald
The Outland has tended to favor offensive linemen with the exception of LSU’s Glenn Dorsey and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh. Donald is in that class. His 26.5 tackles for a loss is 4.5 more than anyone else in the country.
Finalists: Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Baylor’s Cyril Richardson
Biggest snub: Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio

Nagurski (Defensive player of the year)

Our leader: Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald

Finalists: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Missouri’s Michael Sam
Biggest snub: UCLA’s Anthony Barr

Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)

Our leader: Donald

Finalists: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Missouri’s Michael Sam
Biggest snub: BYU’s Kyle Van Noy


Butkus (Top linebacker)

Our leader: UCLA’s Anthony Barr
Barr has finished the season in a flurry with seven tackles for a loss and four sacks in the final three games, including three TFLs and two sacks in a 35-14 win over USC.
Finalists: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Stanford’s Shayne Skov
Biggest snub: Wisconsin’s Chris Borland

Thorpe (Top defensive back)

Our leader: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard

Dennard played closer to the line against run-oriented Minnesota, picking up nine tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup in the 14-3 win. Michigan State has five interceptions and has not allowed a passing touchdown in the last two games.
Finalists: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner
Biggest snub: Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu



Lou Groza (Top kicker)

Our leader: Texas’ Anthony Fera
With two field goals against Texas Tech, Fera has made 15 kicks in a row and 19 of 20 this season.
Others: Florida State’s Robert Aguayo, Texas’ Anthony Fera, USF’s Marvin Kloss
Biggest snub: Texas Tech’s Ryan Bustin



Ray Guy (Top punter)

Our leader: Memphis’ Tom Hornsey
Memphis is fourth in the nation in net punting, led by Hornsey’s 45.9 yards per kick. 

Finalists: Memphis’ Tom Hornsey, Texas A&M’s Drew Kaser, Purdue’s Cody Webster
Biggest snub: Alabama's Cody Mandell



Freshman of the year

Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston

An easy choice for Winston, who remains the frontrunner for the Heisman. Winston should make it back-to-back for redshirt freshmen for the award.
Others: Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, UCLA's Myles Jack

Coach of the year
Our leader: Duke’s David Cutcliffe

Auburn has had top recruiting talent, and Missouri has played in conference championship games before. As remarkable as those turnaround are, David Cutcliffe is the first 10-win coach in Duke history and still has an ACC Championship Game in his future.
Others: Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel



Broyles Award (Top assistant)

Our leader: Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi
The phone for the coordinator of the nation’s top defense is about to to start ringing. He’ll have his pick of head coaching jobs by the end of the season.
Others: Minnesota’s Tracy Claeys, Baylor’s Phillip Montgomery, Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama’s Kirby Smart, Oklahoma State’s Glenn Spencer
 

 

Teaser:
College Football Post-Week 14 Award Watch 2013
Post date: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-sooners-oklahoma-state-cowboys-game-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Trying to bait Oklahoma into the spoiler role will get you nowhere.

Four Big 12 teams are in action this weekend, and only one of them isn’t in contention for a conference title league’s spot in the BCS. Instead, the Sooners are — in the short term — playing for bowl positioning.

Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard rolled his eyes at reporters who asked if the Sooners relished the spoiler role for Oklahoma State’s bid at an outright Big 12 title.

“The fact that you call us the spoiler against Oklahoma State, I’m not even going to answer that,” Ikard told reporters.

Sooners coach Bob Stoops called the spoiler role “the lowest form of motivation that a competitor can have.”

Fine. So here are a few other things at stake: Oklahoma is seeking its fourth consecutive 10-win season and 12th of the Bob Stoops era. Oklahoma State is seeking its second outright Big 12 championship in three seasons, something the Cowboys haven’t done in either the Big 12 or the Big Eight.

Bedlam has traditionally been one of the most lopsided rivalries in college football in OU’s favor, but it is in danger of tilting toward Oklahoma State in the short term. Oklahoma won eight in a row from 2003-10 and never lost from 1977-94 and 1946-64. The Pokes won the last meeting in Stillwater 44-10 and the last two meetings in Norman have gone the Sooners’ way but by less than seven points each time.

In other words, Oklahoma State has good reason to feel it’s on even footing with Oklahoma these days. The Sooners have another chance to prove otherwise Saturday.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State

Kickoff: Noon
TV: ABC
Spread: Oklahoma State by 9.5

Oklahoma’s key to victory: Tighten up in the red zone

The Sooners’ defense has been up and down for most of the season, in part due to injuries in the front seven and inexperience. One thing that’s been consistent is Oklahoma’s poor red zone defense. The Sooners are getting better at forcing field goals, but they haven’t recorded a red zone stop since the second game of the season against West Virginia. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 in touchdown rate in the red zone, scoring six on 76.8 percent of trips inside the 20. A major part has been Clint Chelf’s mobility and Oklahoma State’s ability to keep him upright, despite a rotating cast on the offensive line.

Oklahoma State’s key to victory: Take the turnover edge to Trevor Knight

The secret to Oklahoma State’s success on defense in recent years, despite changes at defensive coordinator, has been the ability to force turnovers. The Cowboys again lead the Big 12 in takeaways with 29 in 11 games to go with a plus-16 turnover margin. The back end of the Cowboys’ defense is led by Thorpe Award finalist Justin Gilbert, who has six interceptions and two touchdowns this season. The Cowboys’ linebackers also excel in pass coverage. Oklahoma redshirt freshman Trevor Knight will be making his second consecutive start after a good showing against Kansas State. The Sooners would like to use Knight in the run game, and Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said he’s expecting the pistol formation and veer option plays at quarterback. But Knight may need to make some plays in the pass game on the road against an opportunistic defense for the Sooners to win.

Key player: Brennan Clay, Oklahoma

The Sooners played without running back Damian Williams against Kansas State and still rushed for 301 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries. Williams has since been dismissed, diminishing the Sooners’ running back depth. Now the clear-cut top option, Clay rushed for 200 yards against Kansas State and has been a reliable big-play threat. But he’s facing the top ranked run defense in the Big 12 that has allowed only eight rushing touchdowns all season. Oklahoma State recently held Baylor’s similarly depleted running back group to 94 yards on 36 carries.

Final analysis

Oklahoma State has become one of the most improved teams in the nation largely because of changes on offense. Clint Chelf quickly lost his starting quarterback job and reacquired it as the Cowboys began their hot streak. The Pokes also found a running back rotation that works with Desmond Roland leading the way. Oklahoma hopes it is undergoing a similar transformation with Knight, who like Chelf began the season at quarterback and lost the job. But this is also a matchup of the top two defenses, statistically, in the Big 12. Oklahoma leads the league in total D while Oklahoma State boasts the top run defense and top pass efficiency defense.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 27-17

Teaser:
Oklahoma Sooners vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Game Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-freshman-power-rankings-dec-5
Body:

The freshman power rankings are going to change from week to week. That seemed inevitable before the season started, and it’s been even more clear through a little more than a month.

Andrew Wiggins had his time in the spotlight. Jabari Parker had his. So did Julius Randle. Noah Vonleh turned the big four freshmen into a big five for a bit, and he may again.

This week, Arizona's Aaron Gordon takes the top spot. He’d been given second billing to start the season, despite standout performances against San Diego State and others. The reason was the early showcase for Duke, Kansas and Kentucky in the first days of the season.

But the Thanksgiving week gave Gordon a chance to face Duke and Parker. In proving Arizona’s resume as a top-five teams, Gordon takes the top spot this week.

The only question is if he can stay.

College Basketball Freshman Power Rankings: Dec. 6

1. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Gordon will have an advantage Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh and to a lesser extent Jabari Parker won’t have this season: Playing with an ample supply of veterans. That helped Gordon in the last week or so, especially in the NIT Season Tipoff. In a 72-66 win over Duke, Gordon had 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a balanced effort from the Wildcats. He’s still averaging nearly a double-double at 13 points and 9.1 rebounds.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker is still averaging 22.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, including 19 points in a loss to Arizona and 15 in a win over Duke last week. His torrid pace efficiency-wise has slowed, as was bound to happen. Parker was 11 of 16 from 3-point range in the first three games (including 4 of 7 against Kansas). He’s 3 of 14 since. Duke is still running good deal of its offense through Parker as he shot 14 of 38 from the field against the Wildcats and Wolverines. Parker is second among freshmen and 47th overall in kenpom’s efficiency rating.

3. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle’s pace has slowed a bit since the first week of his career, but he’s still had a double-double in all but one game this season. Randle is averaging 18.1 points and 12.5 rebounds and is the the top freshman and 39th nationally in kenpom’s offensive efficiency rating.

4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Wiggins struggled with illness in the Battle 4 Atlantis, contributing to Kansas’ loss to Villanova and close call with UTEP. Wiggins’ (short) career-low came with six points and seven rebounds against the Miners. With Florida and Colorado coming up, Wiggins will have plenty of opportunities to return to form on the mainland.

5. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Syracuse is looking the part of a national championship contender in the early going thanks in part to the play of its new backcourt. Stepping in for point guard Michael Carter-Williams, Ennis was one of the key cogs in a statement week for Syracuse. The Orange won the Maui Invitational (defeating Minnesota, Cal and Baylor) and defeated Indiana. Ennis averaged 17 points and 6.5 assists in four consecutive games against high-major competition.

6. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Put Harrison onto the free throw line at your own risk. The line doomed Kentucky against Michigan State, but Harrison went 9 of 11 against Eastern Michigan and 10 of 10 against Texas Arlington. The shot will come along, but he hit 7 of 9 against Providence while filling in at point guard for his brother, Andrew, who was on the bench with foul trouble.

7. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh’s early results were slowed in the last two weeks as the Hoosiers’ competition improved. Vonleh played only 10 minutes with four fouls against Connecticut in the 59-58 loss in the Legends Classic. Vonleh acquitted himself with 17 points and six rebounds at Syracuse in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

8. Austin Nichols, Memphis
The Tigers are back to where they’d hope to be after winning the Old Spice Classic. Nichols averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds against Siena, LSU and Oklahoma State.

9. Zach LaVine, UCLA
The Bruins have yet to play a top team this season, but LaVine has been a stud sixth man, averaging 14.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists coming off the bench. His big moment could come this week against Missouri on the road.

10. Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid fouled out in the loss to Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but he finished 12 of 19 from the field with 17 rebounds in the tournament. He added seven blocks in a consolation game against UTEP.

Teaser:
College Basketball Freshman Power Rankings: Dec. 5
Post date: Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 12:44
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-championship-week
Body:

Championship week — finally, unfortunately — is here.

By now you’ve replayed the final play in the Iron Bowl over and over again. Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox quickly reflect on where it ranks among top plays or does it stand apart from all others.

Auburn’s win, of course, brings up another philosophical debate of who should play in a two-team national championship situation.

Gall wants to break precedent by favoring the one-loss team over an undefeated team with a weak schedule. Fox is sticking with undefeated teams for now, but would like to see the playoff committee take a broader look.

In a big news week in the Pac-12, USC takes center stage with a hire that divided the fanbase.

And then on to previews: Is Arizona State’s homefield advantage enough to overcome the earlier rout against Stanford? How underrated is the Michigan State offense? Does Duke have a chance? Who wins in Bedlam? And why Missouri can go toe-to-toe with Auburn?


The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Championship Week
Post date: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 18:45

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