Articles By David Fox
The last time Arizona State was on this kind of stage, coach Todd Graham exited Sun Devil Stadium using words like “atrocious” and “pathetic.”
More than a month after the 62-27 loss to UCLA, Graham still calls that defeat a “disastrous game.”
Perhaps the game was disastrous on the field but not disastrous for Arizona State’s 2014 goals.
Arizona State moved to No. 9 in the selection committee’s rankings Tuesday evening, giving the Sun Devils a five-spot jump from last week. The leap puts more attention onto an already-critical game against No. 10 Notre Dame in Tempe on Saturday.
Of any team in the top 10, Arizona State may be the biggest question mark, but College Football Playoff’s mystery team won’t be a mystery much longer.
The Sun Devils are 7-1, riding a four-game winning streak since the loss to UCLA. They’ve held their last three Pac-12 opponents to one offensive touchdown apiece. They’ve won despite a three-game absence by veteran quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Yet the lingering question is how much faith should anyone have in Arizona State as a true playoff contender?
During its worst moment of the season, Arizona State allowed UCLA free reign in the end zone. The Sun Devils gave up 35 points in 8:46 of game time thanks to two passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown, a pick six and a kickoff return.
Since then, Arizona State has allowed 328 yards per game and 4.0 yards per play, both the best averages in the Pac-12 since Oct. 1.
Graham has good reason to see this as a trend. His defense replaced nine starters from last season, broke in a new defensive coordinator (Keith Patterson from West Virginia) and fielded four junior college or Division I transfers among the top six tacklers.
In other words, this should be a defense that gets better as the season goes along.
“Early on it was tough because what we do defensively is complex,” Graham said. “It wasn’t a whole bunch of errors it was just critical errors that were being made. Once they’ve got the system and got to where we can execute, we’re able to execute at a high level.”
The question here, though, is if the defensive numbers is as much a product of playing lackluster offense more than anything. Stanford, Washington and Utah combined for a total of 36 points against Arizona State in the last three weeks.
Those three teams are in the bottom five in the Pac-12 in yards per play. Two of them (Washington and Utah) rank 100th or worse nationally in that category.
Notre Dame isn’t Oregon, but the Irish rank 36th in yards per play for the most prolific offense Arizona State has faced since UCLA.
Arizona State has needed its defense to stifle opponents during the last three games because its offense has sputtered despite the return of Kelly, who is working himself into game shape after suffering a broken right foot Sept. 13.
Kelly is completing 57.7 percent of his passes for 7.4 yards per attempt in three games since his return, both figures are lower than his numbers from the first two games for 2014 and his season-long numbers from 2013 and 2012.
“When you think of a guy who broke his foot, had surgery, had a pin put in his foot, didn’t do anything for six weeks and then came back and then got put into the Washington game,” Graham said. “He played against two of the best defenses getting after you in attacking and blitzing in the Pac-12.”
Now, Arizona State will find out if its quarterback and defense are ready for what could be the defining moment of the season against Notre Dame.
Graham knows his team has received a reprieve from its loss to UCLA and still has an outside shot at the playoff.
“We talk about it differently than we had in the past,” Graham said. “Once we lost a game, we said it’s a single-elimination tournament from here on out. You can’t expect to lose another game and reach our goals.”
When Kelvin Sampson tries to convince a high school prospect to play basketball for Houston, he’s probably not going to spend too much time talking about the glory days of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
Three Final Fours, two Hall of Famers and one great team nickname (Phi Slama Jama) in a three-year period is a fine brag sheet — if Sampson could guarantee that these 18-year-old recruits would have any idea who he’s talking about.
“These kids think Michael Jordan is the guy on the Hanes commercial,” Sampson says.
He’s joking, maybe. But the sentiment still echoes what kind of an uphill battle Sampson might have at Houston with challenges he never had to face at Oklahoma and Indiana.
Like Auburn’s Bruce Pearl, Sampson is re-starting his college head-coaching career after a detour spurred by NCAA sanctions. Sampson agreed to a buyout from Indiana in February 2008, weeks after the NCAA charged the coach with five major violations. Sampson was charged with making 100 impermissible phone calls to recruits and providing misleading information to investigators, all while he was under sanctions stemming from similar violations while at Oklahoma.
The NCAA penalized Sampson with a five-year show-cause that expired in 2013. The sanctions and the fallout that contributed to a 28–66 record in the ensuing three seasons at Indiana (under Tom Crean’s watch) would have made Sampson a tough sell for more high-profile programs, even if most of the phone call rules Sampson violated are no longer in place. Houston, instead, assumed the risk.
“He said the rules were the rules then, and he broke them and there’s no excuse,” Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades says. “He’s earned a second chance, no question. I think he’s going to make the most out of it.”
While Sampson’s history with the NCAA infractions committee was in question upon his return to the college game, his coaching credentials remain impressive. He reached the NCAA Tournament in 13 of his final full 14 seasons, dating back to his final year at Washington State.
He succeeded at two rebuilding projects early in his career, with Washington State (1987-94) and Division II Montana Tech (1981-85).
No doubt Sampson has rebuilding to do at Houston. The Cougars have had six head coaches, including Drexler himself, and no NCAA Tournament wins in four appearances since the Phi Slama Jama era ended in 1984. The challenge doesn’t seem to faze Sampson.
“I didn’t care about going back to the level I left,” he says.
But Sampson could have stayed at the level where he was. He spent six seasons as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets and interviewed for NBA head-coaching jobs. The allure of a return to college didn’t hit him until a conversation with his father in the final days before Ned Sampson’s death in February. Sampson’s return also gives him a chance to work with son Kellen, who joined Houston as an assistant after three seasons at Appalachian State.
“It’s been 30 years since (Houston) won an NCAA Tournament game,” Sampson says. “That’s what I needed. I needed a reclamation project. I needed something that required a lot of work and a lot of commitment.”
It will be hard work. Sampson is optimistic that Houston, with its recruiting base in the state of Texas, can make a move in the American Athletic Conference. The league contains defending national champion Connecticut, consistent programs in Memphis and Cincinnati and an in-state upstart in SMU. But after that, Houston is as good a bet to move up as any team in a league that includes UCF, South Florida, East Carolina and Tulane. Houston, at least, has a history those programs lack.
Sampson says he’s not interested in talking about the past — he’s referring to Olajuwon and Drexler, but he may as well be talking about himself.
The future to him is more pressing. Houston has hired a name coach, one that the Cougars wouldn’t have been able to lure if not for NCAA baggage, and the school has approved a $20 million practice facility.
“The school is a little bit of a have-not right now,” Sampson says. “Phi Slama Jama isn’t going to win any more games. A new practice facility will. A new arena will. Those are things we’re going to push for, and we’re going to push for them until they’re done.”
Oregon took Ole Miss’ spot in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, but a handful of teams may be gaining on a spot in the semifinals.
No. 4 Ole Miss’ loss to Auburn allowed the next three teams to move up a spot in the second top 25. The top three of Mississippi State followed by Florida State and Auburn stood pat at their spots from last week.
Those moves followed standard operating procedure for the traditional polls in which winning teams continue to move up as long as teams ahead of them lose.
Yet in other spots — most notably Arizona State’s move up the rankings — the committee appeared to follow its promise to start with “a clean sheet” each week.
Here’s how the second top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 4|
|1. Mississippi State||10. Notre Dame||18. UCLA|
|2. Florida State||11. Ole Miss||19. Arizona|
|3. Auburn||12. Baylor||20. Georgia|
|4. Oregon||13. Nebraska||21. Clemson|
|5. Alabama||14. Ohio State||22. Duke|
|6. TCU||15. Oklahoma||23. West Virginia|
|7. Kansas State||16. LSU||24. Georgia Tech|
|8. Michigan State||17. Utah||25. Wisconsin|
|9. Arizona State|
Oregon moves into the top four
With No. 4 Ole Miss’ loss to Auburn, some team was likely to move into the top four spots. The next three teams from last week’s rankings (Oregon, Alabama and TCU) all moved up a spot. The Ducks’ thrashing of Stanford’s defense for a 45-16 win helped, but selection committee chair Jeff Long noted wins over No. 8 Michigan State and No 18 UCLA helping Oregon’s cause.
Alabama “very close”
No. 5 Alabama may be the impact team for the final weeks of the season. The top three of Mississippi State, Florida State and Auburn were solidly in place, Long said, but the placement of the Tide, Oregon and TCU was a matter of question. Where Oregon’s quality wins gave the Ducks the edge for the No. 4 spot, Long said the selection committee used film study to give Alabama an edge this week over TCU. The Tide have one top 25 win (West Virginia) combined to TCU’s two (Oklahoma, West Virginia).
On a conference call with reporters after ESPN’s rankings show, Long clarified a comment that “misrepresented” that the committee evaluated game film as a group. Long said the committee evaluated film prior to meeting, not during the rankings meeting this week in Dallas.
Who Shouldn’t Worry:
TCU, Kansas State and Baylor
The No. 6 Horned Frogs and No. 7 Wildcats meet this week in a critical game that could vault the winner closer to the playoff mix. Both teams could claim a better signature win than Alabama (Oklahoma for both) but continued to lag behind the Tide. Long reiterated that conference champions would play a role in the final selection. Only one SEC West team can win the division, much less the conference. That leaves the Big 12’s three one-loss teams feeling like they control their own destiny.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised
Just before facing Notre Dame this week, the Sun Devils enjoyed a major jump from No. 14 to No. 9, leapfrogging the Irish. That’s good news for Arizona State, but some of Long’s reasoning was puzzling. He noted a common opponent for Arizona State and Notre Dame (Stanford). Arizona State beat Stanford 26-10 and Notre Dame beat the Cardinal 17-14 on its final possession of the game. But both of those games were weeks ago. Arizona State needed overtime to defeat Utah, which stood pat at No. 17.
Who Should Worry:
Group of 5 teams
With East Carolina’s loss to Temple, the two-loss Pirates slipped out of the top 25. That left the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt out of the top 25. One of the champions of those leagues is guaranteed a spot in the major New Year’s holiday bowls, but there’s no indication of the leader at this point. The contenders may be undefeated Marshall, Colorado State, Boise State or even a two-loss ECU.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Oregon
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Auburn
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 6 TCU vs. No. 10 Notre Dame
Fiesta: No. 7 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Arizona State
Orange: No. 21 Clemson^ vs. No. 8 Michigan State
Peach: Marshall* vs. No. 5 Alabama
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
Time to sort through the contenders and the pretenders in the College Football Playoff race.
Certainly, the top teams in the mix have challenges ahead of them for the remainder of the season, but this will be a critical week for teams ranked fifth and lower.
Start with the Big Ten: Michigan State and Ohio State have recovered from Week 2 losses to set up the game of the year in the Big Ten in East Lansing.
Kansas State and TCU meet in a matchup to become the Big 12’s best representative for the playoff while Baylor and Oklahoma are fighting for survival.
Arizona State and Notre Dame will meet in Tempe in a matchup of one-loss teams looking for a signature win to boost themselves into the playoff conversation.
Not that Alabama needs much help to get attention, but the Crimson Tide begin a critical stretch that includes LSU on the road and Mississippi State and Auburn at home.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 8
All times Eastern. All games Saturday.
Kansas State at TCU
When and where: 7:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... we’re happy to be along for the ride in potentially magical seasons for Kansas State and TCU. The winner of this game is in position to crash the SEC/Florida State/Oregon playoff party. TCU is two weeks removed from hanging 82 on Texas Tech, but the Horned Frogs can still win on defense. The D saved an inconsistent performance in Morgantown by forcing five West Virginia turnovers and holding the Mountaineers’ offense to 162 passing yards. TCU’s offense will be tested by a Kansas State defense that clamped down on Texas and Oklahoma State for a total of one offensive touchdown in the last two weeks. Neither opponent topped 200 yards passing.
Vegas says: TCU by 5
Listen to the Week 10 recap podcast:
Baylor at Oklahoma
When and where: Noon, Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... the preseason Big 12 favorites are relegated to undercard status. The two teams won their Week 10 matchups by combined scores of 119-28 over a pair of teams winless in conference (Iowa State and Kansas). The question is if any of this is too little too late for a two-loss Oklahoma and a one-loss Baylor with few major non-conference wins. Beyond the playoff, the loser of this game may find itself relegated to a second-tier bowl game.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 4 1/2
Notre Dame at Arizona State
When and where: 3:30 p.m., NBC
We’re watching because... Arizona State may be the Pac-12 South favorite, and Notre Dame has yet to prove playoff-worthy. The Sun Devils have defied the odds all season: First, starting quarterback Taylor Kelly was lost for three games due to injury. And second, a rebuilt defense has become one of the best in the league. Heading into the game against Notre Dame, Kelly has returned to action (though he’s been unspectacular), and the Sun Devils’ defense has allowed two offensive touchdowns in the last three games against Stanford, Washington and Utah. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson will lead the best offense ASU has seen in a month. The selection committee isn’t convinced Notre Dame is playoff worthy yet, but this would be the perfect time to prove it.
Vegas says: Arizona State by 1
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... this will have the feel of a Big Ten championship game. The Spartans and Buckeyes are the top two teams in the conference (thought Nebraska may attempt to object). Michigan State swiped Big Ten dominance from Ohio State last season with a 34-24 championship game win and a victory in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes could get revenge by knocking the Spartans out of the Big Ten East and playoff races in a single game. This game has all the signs for a powerhouse matchup as neither team has faltered since their Week 2 losses.
Vegas says: Michigan State by 1 1/2
Alabama at LSU
When and where: 8 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... Alabama takes its final road trip of the season. That’s right, the Crimson Tide won’t play a road game after Nov. 8 after not playing on the road until Oct. 4. That’s some fortunate scheduling, but LSU is better in November than it was at the start of October. After a loss to Ole Miss and a scare against Arkansas, Alabama’s offense is back to its early season form, albeit against Texas A&M and Tennessee. Meanwhile, LSU is starting to look like LSU. In wins over Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss, the Tigers are allowing 4.4 yards per play with three total offensive touchdowns. LSU also is averaging 254 rushing yards on 52 carries per game during that span.
Vegas says: Alabama by 6 1/2
Talk Back on U-verse Game of the Week: Florida at Vanderbilt
Each week, AT&T U-verse and Athlon Sports will host a live interactive experience for an SEC game in which two greats from each school will take fan questions live throughout the game.
This week, former Florida quarterback Rex Grossman and former Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson will join Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the fun.
Visit att.com/talkback during Florida-Vanderbilt to watch the game with us.
When and where: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
We’re watching because... Florida may be worth watching again. The Gators’ 38-20 win over Georgia might not be enough to save Will Muschamp’s job, but it at least makes the Gators a more interesting team down the stretch. The Gators rushed for 445 yards against Georgia in the first start for freshman quarterback Treon Harris. For all of Florida’s struggles, the Gators should be a bowl team this season a year after finishing 4-8. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is just looking to pick up any kind of meaningful win. The Commodores’ victories this year are over UMass, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion.
Vegas says: Florida by 14 1/2
Anthony Lee had never been in greater demand as a basketball player than the morning after Temple released him from his scholarship. That day in March, Lee woke up to 40 text messages and dozens of missed calls from people he didn’t know.
“It was like a bum rush, a stampede almost, with so many schools calling as soon as they gave me my release,” Lee said.
Before Temple signed the forward out of high school, teams from the Pac-12, SEC and a handful of prominent mid-majors all pursued Lee, so this was not entirely unfamiliar ground.
He was a veteran power forward who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds last season for the Owls. And more important, he was on track to graduate by the end of the semester. He was the fourth-leading scorer from a bad team, but he was among the most valuable commodities in college basketball in 2014-15 — a proven veteran player ready to transfer and, as a graduate, eligible to play immediately for a new team.
Critics have called the recent transfer trend everything from an epidemic to free agency, but here’s what it is: reality. In 2012-13, 13.3 percent of Division I college basketball players had transferred from another four-year school. Another 14.5 percent were junior college transfers.
Transfer season has become a second recruiting season.
The transfer trend isn’t just for upstarts or mid-majors. Final Four contenders and national powers have made Division I transfers a major plank in their recruiting strategies. Even Duke embraced transfers by adding Rodney Hood from Mississippi State in 2012 and Sean Obi from Rice following the ’13-14 season.
As the trend has become more pronounced, more public and more accepted, coaches and players have to be ready to navigate the transfer recruiting waters.
Ohio State, for example, rarely dives into the transfer market, but the Buckeyes knew they’d enter the 2014-15 season with major holes in their frontcourt. Lee, with the right skill set and the ability to play now, was one of the top targets on their list.
Compared to the typical high school recruiting process, Lee’s transfer moved at lightning speed.
Two days after Lee announced his intent to transfer, Ohio State was upset by Dayton in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament on March 20. By March 29 — the day Dayton lost in the Elite Eight — Lee signed a letter of intent with the Buckeyes. In between, Ohio State coach Thad Matta and associate head coach Dave Dickerson met with Lee in Philadelphia near the Temple campus, and Lee took an official visit to Columbus.
Lee knew other coaches weren’t pleased that he committed to Ohio State before taking the visits he promised to make, but like many transfers, he knew the terrain better than he did as a high schooler.
“I didn’t want to let that opportunity slip by,” Lee says. “At that time, the (McDonald’s) high school All-Americans were making their decisions. I couldn’t wait and enjoy it too much. I was a high-profile athlete, but I was with other high-profile athletes, incoming freshmen and other transfers who were looking to make decisions, too.”
Lee had played through the recruiting game — and waiting game — before. VCU recruited him out of high school, and although Lee liked coach Shaka Smart, he wasn’t thrilled about living in Richmond. Instead, he hoped to land at USC with all that Los Angeles had to offer, but another recruit snatched the last scholarship offer before Lee had a chance to commit. He eventually signed with Temple.
He started 73 games, played in two NCAA Tournaments and helped the Owls win a regular-season Atlantic 10 title before they bottomed out at 9–22 last season. Lee says he enjoyed his time at Temple and parted on good terms with coach Fran Dunphy. But he asks himself, what if he signed with VCU? The Rams reached the Final Four in 2010-11 (a year Lee redshirted at Temple due to injury) and have played in the last four NCAA Tournaments overall.
When he approached recruiting the second time, Lee couldn’t be swayed by the cities or the facilities he considered. He was more interested in developing his game. Temple wanted him to rebound and play close to the basket — an area where he excelled — but Ohio State would allow him to expand his offensive game and play away from the basket.
“The only reason I didn’t go to VCU was because of the city, and when I look back at that now, it’s kind of crazy,” Lee says. “This time around, it wasn’t about the city or how the place looked.”
Experiences like that of Lee are why Florida coach Billy Donovan has been wore willing to seek out transfers in recent years.
Donovan’s team this season will include four players who transferred from major conference programs — Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), Alex Murphy (Duke), Jon Horford (Michigan) and Eli Carter (Rutgers). Finney-Smith led the team in rebounding last season, and another transfer, Mike Rosario from Rutgers, led Florida in scoring two years ago.
“A lot of times these guys don’t make the best choices in terms of what is going to make them happy,” Donovan says. “When you go out and recruit a kid who is transferring, there’s just a different level of maturity, a different level of understanding because they have more of a foundation of what’s important to them and what’s going to make them happy.”
For Donovan, one of the most important factors in targeting a transfer is learning why a player is looking to change schools. And, yes, more playing time and more opportunities to thrive are valid reasons.
“You always want to get to the core of why a kid is transferring,” Donovan says. “In a lot of ways, the problems that they’re enduring at one institution are not going to go away at another one.”
Like Florida, Iowa State under coach Fred Hoiberg has become a prime destination for transfers.
The last three Big 12 Newcomers of the Year (there’s a separate award for freshmen) have been Division I transfers at Iowa State. The haul under Hoiberg has included star players like All-Big 12 performers DeAndre Kane (Marshall), Will Clyburn (Utah) and Royce White (Minnesota) and role players like Chris Babb (Penn State), Korie Lucious and Chris Allen (Michigan State) and Scott Christopherson (Marquette).
Iowa State added three more since December in Bryce Dejean-Jones from UNLV (eligible immediately), Jameel McKay from Marquette (eligible in December) and Hallice Cooke from Oregon State (eligible in 2014-15).
Hoiberg’s program isn’t the first or only national power to take a deep dive into the transfer waters, but the competition for these collegiate free agents has become more intense since the former NBA player and executive returned to his alma mater in 2010.
Besides Iowa State and Florida, high-major programs like Gonzaga, Illinois, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Missouri, Oregon, UNLV and West Virginia have re-stocked their rosters with multiple transfers from Division I programs.
“We weren’t competing against too many schools or so many high-profile schools as we are now,” Hoiberg says. “It’s become difficult, but it is the landscape of college basketball right now.”
The transfer trend is exacerbated by a number of factors, among them the graduate transfer rule allowing players like Lee to be eligible immediately if they’re holding a degree and want to pursue a post-grad program not available at their current school. Undergraduate recruits generally sit out one year by NCAA rules unless granted a waiver.
In addition, many new coaches encounter a wave of transfers after they’re hired or they release signees from a previous staff from their letters of intent. Or both. This transition creates an immediate need to fill some scholarships. There’s no official transaction wire maintained per the NCAA, but Jeff Goodman, a reporter for ESPN, has been tracking Division I transfers since 2006 — a list he updates regularly throughout the season.
Coaches check the list of hundreds of available players on a regular basis.
“Our staff does and I think every staff in America does,” says Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski, who was hired in April after 15 years as a Duke assistant.
After a transfer target is pinpointed, the recruiting process begins.
Coaches and assistants often call their counterparts at other schools to figure out how to track down a transfer. Even though transfers may have been in college for up to four years, the parents, high school coaches and AAU coaches may be gatekeepers to the process.
Point guard Matt Carlino, who signed to play for Wojciechowski at Marquette, used his father as well as BYU assistant coach Mark Pope as intermediaries in his most recent recruitment. During the summer, Carlino was taking two regular classes and an online class while serving as a teaching assistant and finishing papers at BYU so he could finish his undergraduate degree and be eligible immediately. With that workload, Carlino gave his father and Pope the parameters and allowed them to sift through requests so he could finish his class work. Like Lee, Carlino wasn’t interested in finding a sexy locale — he started his career at UCLA and decided it wasn’t for him.
He even considered playing time to be an unnecessary topic to broach.
“They’re not bringing in a guy for a year not to play,” Carlino says.
Carlino took a month to make his decision during a process that included visits with Purdue, Providence and Saint Joseph’s. His final decision came down to another truth in recruiting transfers — the coach matters perhaps even more than with high school prospects.
Strip away the bells and whistles like location and facilities, and what’s left? Coaching, style-of-play and ability to thrive.
“I knew everywhere I was going to go the facilities would be nice, the campus would be nice,” Lee says. “So it wasn’t about the facilities, the area. It was about the coaches.”
The same was true for Carlino.
Marquette wasn’t completely on Carlino’s radar at first. His uncle played there and his family is from the Midwest, but he had little contact with former coach Buzz Williams.
When Wojciechowski arrived — and needed a point guard immediately — that changed. Carlino clicked with the former point guard from Duke and signed in late April.
In other words, recruiters would be well advised to get right to business.
“The fluff is eliminated,” Wojciechowski says. “You talk directly about what the school can offer the player, what the player can offer the school and you really hone in on what I would consider are the most important things of the decision. It’s their last chance or close to it, so you’ve really got to get it right when you decide transfer.”
Bryce Dejean-Jones is another player who knew exactly what he wanted in a school this summer. After starting his career at USC, Dejean-Jones transferred to UNLV, where he averaged 11.8 points per game in two seasons. While Dejean-Jones was at UNLV, the Runnin’ Rebels went one-and-done in the 2013 NCAA Tournament and missed it altogether his second season. With a churn of freshmen — and, yes, other transfers — consistency was tough to find. In the transfer market a second time, Dejean-Jones looked more closely at rosters and where he had a chance to fit.
“Choosing UNLV, I was coming there to sit out, so I wasn’t looking at the players that would be playing with me,” Dejean-Jones says. “This time, I looked at who else would be on the floor with me.”
When Hoiberg recruited Dejean-Jones, he talked about style of play and how the guard could step in for the departure of Kane.
And that’s a completely different conversation Hoiberg had with Cooke, his undergraduate transfer from Oregon State who would redshirt in 2014-15.
“You have a support system for those guys. You talk about skill development in their year off,” Hoiberg says. “When you recruit a kid who’s sitting out, it is more like recruiting a high school kid.”
In other words, the recruiting pitch is different, depending on the player. But as the players are more in tune with what they are seeking when they transfer, coaches have to be ready to prepare. And many times, decisions are closed within a matter of weeks.
If landing a transfer starts to sound like a lot of networking, background research and job interviews, there’s a good reason for that.
“It’s a business for the players, too,” Carlino says.
The first College Football Playoff rankings are here, and now we have an idea of what the selection committee will value in the final month of the season.
We also have an idea of what the teams out of the top four right now might have to do to get in. For the SEC contenders, the answer is simple: Just keep winning.
For teams like Notre Dame and Ohio State, who were perhaps ranked lower than expected, not only to they have to win the major games on their schedule, they may have to look great doing it.
The playoff has made the season more interesting for several teams, and every game will be important. Some, though, will be more critical than others.
Auburn at Ole Miss
The selection committee’s first rankings with Auburn at No. 3 and Ole Miss at No. 4 give this matchup a little more juice. Both teams have one loss to a top-five team, but Ole Miss’ situation seems a little more dire. The Rebels are facing injury issues, but more concerning Bo Wallace and his playcaller don’t appear to be on the same page.
Oregon at Utah
Whether or not Utah defeats Arizona State this week for at least a share of the Pac-12 South lead, Salt Lake City will be a tough trip for the Ducks. Oregon travels to the spot where Stanford saw its national title hopes evaporate with a loss in Salt Lake City a year ago. The Ducks will face a challenging road trip only a week after a critical game against Stanford’s physical defense.
Notre Dame at Arizona State
The No. 10 Irish and the No. 14 Sun Devils are on the fringes of the playoff picture after the committee’s first set of rankings. Notre Dame’s best statement this season is a close loss in Tallahassee while Arizona State needs to atone for a 62-27 home loss to UCLA. A critical game for two dark horses.
Ohio State at Michigan State
The Big Ten’s playoff hopes appeared to be awfully dim on Sept. 6 when Michigan State lost to Oregon on the road and Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes’ loss to the Hokies is more embarrassing, but this game is a must-win for both. Not to mention — this is a division game in the Big Ten East.
Kansas State at TCU
Surprise. Surprise. The two Big 12 teams in purple were top 10 teams in the first playoff rankings. TCU has to get through a road trip to West Virginia and Kansas State has to beat Oklahoma State at home before this matchup. If both survive, this may be an elimination game. A bit of an irony: TCU became a contender thanks to an up-tempo spread and will have to beat a stifling ball control team to continue the ride.
Baylor at Oklahoma
The preseason Big 12 favorites have their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. A loss here probably ends the playoff and league hopes for either.
Nov. 13 (Thursday)
East Carolina at Cincinnati
This game won’t factor into the national semifinals, but East Carolina is the only Group of 5 team in the first playoff rankings. Winning the American and being the top ranked team from outside of the major conferences guarantees East Carolina a major bowl bid. The road trip against Cincinnati will be the last major barrier until ECU faces UCF at home on Dec. 4.
Mississippi State at Alabama
Alabama started at No. 6 in the playoff rankings but no team has a more direct path to improve its stock thanks to remaining games against No. 1 (Mississippi State) and No. 3 (Auburn).
Auburn at Georgia
Hey, the SEC East makes an appearance in a playoff discussion. This is with good reason. Georgia’s lone loss is to South Carolina on the road by 3, and the Bulldogs have been able to absorb the absence of Todd Gurley. Provided Georgia can get through two more games without him (Florida and Kentucky), Georgia and Gurley can make a playoff statement against rival Auburn.
Nebraska at Wisconsin
One-loss Nebraska might be a playoff sleeper, but the Cornhuskers have no wins over ranked teams. The Cornhuskers need to beat Wisconsin and Iowa on the road and a Big Ten title to sniff the top four.
Auburn at Alabama
Not that a rematch of the Kick Six and the Iron Bowl needed any extra juice, but the game could end up deciding the SEC West and a playoff spot by the time the two teams meet.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Like the Iron Bowl, the Egg Bowl has the potential to be a matchup with SEC West and playoff implications. As it stands now, it’s the No. 1 vs. No. 4 game in the semifinals. And there’s recent history here as an Ole Miss turnover meltdown contributed to a Mississippi State win to set the momentum for this season.
How Alvin Dupree Jr. became Bud Dupree starts with a dream by his godmother.
The story is a little too unbelievable and a little too perfect, but this is how Bud tells it:
“My godma had dream before I was born that everyone was calling me ‘Bud’ because I was playing football, and they were saying how good Bud was playing football and how good he’s doing,” Dupree told Athlon Sports. “My mom just went with it.”
The dream turned out to be accurate, though the eventual outcome didn’t always seem clear.
Dupree is now the leader of a defense that has Kentucky on the verge of bowl-eligibility for the first time since 2010. The Wildcats have lost their last two games — to LSU and Mississippi State — but at 5-3, Kentucky has already exceeded its win total of the previous two seasons combined.
Second-year coach Mark Stoops said before the season he’d be “very shocked” if Dupree isn’t Kentucky’s first first-round NFL draft pick since 2003.
Again, that’s some dream.
Kentucky at Missouri (4 p.m., SEC Network) is the Talk Back Game of the Week. Join former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and former Missouri quarterback James Franklin as they take your questions live throughout the game.
Dupree grew up in rural Georgia in a town of less than 600 people where football wasn’t even the No. 1 high school sport. The roster for the Wilkinson County football team had roughly 30 players, some of whom, like Dupree, split time with the school’s basketball team, a powerhouse in the state. For the football team, many played on both sides of the ball.
“A lot of guys had to play both ways, but that’s all we needed,” Dupree said.
That meant Dupree had to cut his teeth at wide receiver and then tight end in high school.
A big body like that split out wide could fool most high school teams — he’s now 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds playing defensive end and linebacker at Kentucky — but not rival Baldwin County.
That school had inside information from offensive Travis Carswell, a Wilkinson County alum who is a cousin and a mentor to the young Dupree since he was in elementary school. Carswell would eventually become Dupree’s offensive coordinator, but in that first meeting, Carswell was on the opposite sideline.
“I told our defensive coordinator, ‘If he’s lining up at receiver, don’t think he’s slow,’” Carswell said.
Carswell had good reason to know better. Starting when Dupree was 9 years old, he spent time trying to keep up with the Carswell family. Travis played college football at North Alabama. His younger brother, T.J., played at Bowling Green under Urban Meyer.
Other members of Travis’ extended family, spanning several generations, played college football at a high level — Chuck Carswell and Travis Jones at Georgia, Ryan Taylor at Auburn, Robert Carswell at Clemson and Brandon Carswell at USC.
When Dupree was younger, T.J. Carswell would return home to Irwinton, Ga., to train. Travis Jones, who would go on to become a defensive line coach with the Saints and Seahawks, would return home, too.
All the while, Dupree would tag along.
“He’d want to compete with the older guys,” said Carswell, who is now offensive coordinator at Miles College in Fairfield, Ala. “He was always around older athletes who played football at the higher level. That is what put him above the rest in high school.”
In high school, Dupree, also was Carswell’s most trusted lieutenant in delivering messages to the team and keeping an eye on his teammates. Carswell had only four coaches on his staff, so the extra eyes and ears on and off the field were critical.
“We had a lot of hard heads on our team,” Dupree said. “In high school a lot of people don’t want to listen to coach. He told me to do things, relaying things to the team make sure they’re focusing. Once you’ve got someone who can vouch for you on everything you say, it helps a lot in the coaching process.”
Dupree may have been above the rest on the field in high school, but recruiting didn’t pick up until he put up an MVP performance in a national camp before his senior year.
Kentucky, Auburn and Georgia Tech started recruiting him late in the process, but Auburn eventually took tight end C.J. Uzomah. Meanwhile, Kentucky and Joker Phillips stayed on Dupree through signing day.
With he Wildcats. Dupree expected to play tight end, but Phillips quickly moved him to the defensive side of the ball.
As prolific as he was in high school with 10 sacks as a defensive end, he never considered it his primary position until the move at Kentucky. After all, he topped 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as a tight end.
If defensive end was his future, that would be his focus.
“I wanted to be the best player to come out of my county,” Dupree said. “I worked hard every day to get out. I wanted to make sure I wasn't a person left behind I didn’t want to be stuck behind where I’m from.”
Dupree was on track at Kentucky to be an impact player in the SEC even though the Wildcats struggled with a combined 2-14 league record his first two seasons. As a sophomore, Dupree ranked in the top 10 in the league in tackles, sacks and tackles for a loss.
During a 2-10 season, Kentucky fired Phillips, and Dupree found himself wondering if he should stick around. New coach Mark Stoops wondered if his blossoming star defender would stick around.
“He was preparing to transfer,” Carswell said.
Carswell told Dupree to get to know the new staff first. A day after defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh was hired in December 2012 — three weeks after Stoops was hired and six weeks after Joker Phillips was fired — Dupree told Carswell he planned to stay.
As happened on Dupree’s high school team, the rest of Kentucky’s defense fell in line when Dupree opted to stay in Lexington.
The trend has continued through his senior season. Dupree is a potential high draft pick and has the athletic ability to “blow up the combine,” as he said at SEC media day. But his numbers don’t jump off the page — 45 tackles, four sacks through eight games — so far this season.
“We had some circumstances where, not Bud, but certain people were trying to do too much (to boost statistics) and it was hurting us,” Stoops told reporters prior to the LSU game two weeks ago. “You have to be very unselfish to play D line, and I think we're getting good D line play. No matter what the recognition they're getting, they're playing very hard and fundamentally getting better and better and Bud is starting to get his statistics.”
Meanwhile, Dupree is just as interested in keeping himself and his old offensive coordinator on their toes.
The two stay in touch through the offseason, but even a round of golf can get cut short for a voluntary workout. During the season, Dupree critiques Carswell’s defensive players at Miles College. Carswell would try to pick apart Dupree’s game at Kentucky, but Dupree is usually well ahead of him.
“He’ll tell me exactly what play and what he did wrong,” Carswell said. “That lets you know his focus. ... “He’s a kid who was destined for greatness.”
“Two weeks until Ohio State-Michigan State” may as well be the theme for this Saturday in the Big Ten.
A nice way to put this week would be to call it a table-setting Saturday. Northwestern and Iowa meet in an important game to set the table for a Wildcats’ bowl bid or the Hawkeyes’ hopes for a division title.
Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah have a chance to rack up huge numbers to further their Heisman campaigns. And the Buckeyes are looking to pick up one more win before a critical matchup against the Spartans.
Big Ten Week 10 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Northwestern at Iowa
Noon, Big Ten Network
This isn’t the most sexy game in the Big Ten this season, but this is a key momentum game for both teams. Iowa hardly looked the part of Big Ten West contender by losing 38-31 at Maryland two weeks ago. Now, Iowa can’t afford to limp into its backloaded schedule against Minnesota on the road and Wisconsin and Nebraska at home. Northwestern, meanwhile, needs to win three of its final five games for bowl eligibility. Both teams are emerging from off weeks, but while Northwestern is getting healthier, Iowa has a host of problems. Among them is a two-game suspension for starting linebacker Reggie Spearman, who was charged with a DUI on Saturday. Iowa has allowed 528 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns in the last two games. Meanwhile, Northwestern has found a workhorse in the running attack in Justin Jackson, who has topped 100 yards in three consecutive games.
Listen to the Week 10 preview podcast:
2. Illinois at Ohio State
8 p.m., ABC
Hey, Illinois, congratulations on an upset of Minnesota, now you get to face Ohio State in Columbus. The Illini will face a Buckeyes team looking to make a statement on multiple fronts. Ohio State was ranked No. 16 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, giving the one-loss Buckeyes quite a climb if they want to get into the playoff mix. The Buckeyes needed overtime to beat Penn State 31-24 in a game defined by shoddy officiating. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett saw his progress stall thanks to shaky offensive line play, two interceptions and a knee sprain. Illinois is coming of arguably its best defensive performance of the season after holding Minnesota to 5.8 yards per play. For a team allowing more than 300 rushing yards per game in conference play, that qualifies as a solid effort.
3. Maryland at Penn State
Some rivalry: Penn State and Maryland haven’t played since 1993, and the Terrapins haven’t won since 1961. Still, the two coaches during the summer talked like this was some kind of rivalry. Penn State likes to recruit in Maryland’s backyard, and as Terps coach Randy Edsall admitted, the Nittany Lions have rarely missed on prospects there. This has all the makings of a low-scoring, ugly game. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown will face a solid Penn State defense after averaging only 4.6 yards per attempt with one touchdown and three interceptions in his last three games. In theory, Penn State’s lackluster offensive line and Big Ten-worst run game could pick up confidence against a Maryland defense that ranks 13th in the league against the run. But the Nittany Lions’ meager running attack is now down a tailback following a season-ending injury to Zack Zwinak.
4. Wisconsin at Rutgers
Get ready to watch Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon go wild again. Rutgers allowed a total of 616 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns and 7.6 yards per carry in its last two games against Ohio State and Nebraska. Containing Gordon isn't the only problem for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, already down starting running back Paul James, likely will be down to backup quarterback Chris Laviano. Starting QB Gary Nova left last week’s game against Nebraska with a knee injury.
5. Indiana at Michigan
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
The rematch will be hard-pressed to live up to the 63-47 shootout Michigan won a year ago. The Wolverines have topped 20 points just once since Sept. 13, and the Hoosiers are down to a freshman third-string quarterback, who completed 5-of-15 passes for 11 yards in his only start this season. Look for a steady diet of IU running back Tevin Coleman against Michigan’s defense, which is actually an interesting matchup. Coleman has rushed for at least 120 yards in each game this season while Michigan is third in the Big Ten in rush defense.
6. Purdue at Nebraska
3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
The Ameer Abdullah watch continues as the Nebraska tailback faces a Purdue defense that allowed 294 rushing yards to Michigan State and 285 yards to Minnesota in the last two games.
Big Ten Week 10 Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Northwestern at Iowa (-4)
|NW 28-21||Iowa 31-30||Iowa 24-20||Iowa 24-19|
Maryland at Penn State (-3 1/2)
|Md 17-13||PSU 30-27||PSU 27-24||Md 20-10|
Wisconsin (-11) at Rutgers
|Wisc 42-14||Wisc 40-24||Wisc 38-17||Wisc 31-13|
Purdue at Nebraska (-23 1/2)
|Neb 38-17||Neb 45-21||Neb 45-20||Neb 41-24|
Indiana at Michigan (-7)
|IU 35-28||Mich 19-17||Mich 31-20||IU 34-30|
Illinois at Ohio State (-28)
|OSU 41-10||OSU 48-21||OSU 45-17||OSU 41-10|
The first rankings by the College Football Playoff selection committee followed the mainstream sentiment with three SEC West teams in the top four.
The only mild surprise was the three teams included. Auburn debuted at No. 3 despite a single loss to Mississippi State on the road on Oct. 18. Ole Miss landed at No. 4 on the strength of a win over Alabama on Oct. 4.
Here’s how the first top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Oct. 28|
|1. Mississippi State||10. Notre Dame||18. Oklahoma|
|2. Florida State||11. Georgia||19. LSU|
|3. Auburn||12. Arizona||20. West Virginia|
|4. Ole Miss||13. Baylor||21. Clemson|
|5. Oregon||14. Arizona State||22. UCLA|
|6. Alabama||15. Nebraska||23. East Carolina|
|7. TCU||16. Ohio State||24. Duke|
|8. Michigan State||17. Utah||25. Louisville|
|9. Kansas State|
Auburn at No. 3.
The Tigers ended up as the highest-ranked one-loss team ahead of Alabama, Ole Miss and Oregon. The selection committee put significant weight on the Tigers’ 20-14 road win over Kansas State, a team the selection committee ranked ninth. Auburn’s only loss is on the road to No. 1 Mississippi State 38-23
Ole Miss at No. 4
The selection committee showed it wouldn’t follow the lead of the polls by ranking Ole Miss at No. 4, two spots ahead of Alabama. Both polls, which have no role in the playoff process, ranked Alabama No. 3. The AP had Ole Miss at No. 7, the coaches had the Rebels even lower at No. 9. Ole Miss defeated Alabama 23-17 on Oct. 4.
Who Shouldn’t Worry:
The committee placed Oregon at No. 5 despite a loss to Arizona, a team ranked 12th. Committee chair Jeff Long cited a win over Michigan State at home and UCLA on the road as contributing to a strong “body of work” in his interview on ESPN. In interviews with reporters, Long also noted the injury to starting left tackle Jake Fisher in the loss to Arizona. Fisher is now healthy. The Ducks control their own path to the Playoff as the three SEC teams start to weed themselves out.
No reason for the Crimson Tide to worry about being No. 6. The Tide still have two of the top three teams on their schedule, both at home. If the committee liked the head-to-head win for Ole Miss over Alabama, it will love a Tide team with wins over Mississippi State and Auburn.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised
TCU and Kansas State
The pair of Big 12 teams that were nowhere to be found in preseason top 15, but both landed in the top 10. The Horned Frogs and Wildcats have wins over Oklahoma and narrow losses to fellow one loss teams (Baylor for TCU, Auburn for Kansas State).
Who Should Worry:
We don’t know what would be considered a major climb from the first playoff poll to the final one, but Ohio State could present an interesting test. The Buckeyes, who lost at home to 4-4 Virginia Tech, started at No. 16. Entering Tuesday, Ohio State knew it needed to beat No. 8 Michigan State for a shot at the playoff. Now, the Buckeyes have to wonder if even that will be enough.
The Irish were ranked sixth in the AP poll but 10th in the playoff poll due to the lack of significant wins. A good showing in a loss in Tallahassee wasn’t enough to move up any further.
East Carolina and Marshall appeared to be the clubhouse leaders for the Group of 5 spot in the New Year’s bowls, but Marshall probably needs one-loss East Carolina to lose again ... at least. Marshall was unranked while ECU landed at No. 23. The Thundering Herd has one of the weakest schedules in the country while East Carolina beat Virginia Tech and North Carolina and lost to South Carolina.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Ole Miss
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Auburn
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 7 TCU vs. No. 10 Notre Dame
Fiesta: No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 9 Kansas State
Orange: No. 21 Clemson^ vs. No. 6 Alabama
Peach: No. 23 East Carolina* vs. No. 8 Michigan State
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
Years before Bruce Pearl took the Auburn job, the coach had already secured the approval of the most important face of Tigers basketball.
Pearl was midway through his tenure at Tennessee, and he had the Volunteers humming. The program's return to relevance in the SEC and the national stage was enough to draw the attention of Charles Barkley.
The Hall of Famer and Auburn legend reached out to Pearl and left the coach a voicemail.
“You don’t need to call me back,” Pearl recalls Barkley saying. “I know you don’t know me, but I’ve watched you coach. I like how hard your kids play. I like the swagger. It seems like you’re passionate. I just want to let you know I’m a fan.”
Pearl took this as the ultimate compliment. At the time, when he had Tennessee in the same stratosphere as Florida and Kentucky, Pearl had no way of knowing that this was a sign of his future in coaching.
Still, he followed Barkley’s request and went about his day.
“I did not call him back,” Pearl says. “I saved the message. It was special.”
Pearl and Barkley have crossed paths more often in recent months, since Pearl began a twofold resurrection process — that of his coaching career and that of Barkley’s alma mater.
Three years after he was fired at Tennessee and slapped with an NCAA penalty that essentially made him unhirable in the college ranks, Pearl has returned to the SEC, where he’ll try to accomplish what no one has been able to do for more than a decade. He’s looking to make Auburn relevant in basketball, not just in wins and losses but also to the school’s fan base.
“If anyone can do it, he has what it takes to do it,” says Tom Davis, the former Iowa coach who was the first to give Pearl a job in basketball at Boston College.
Indeed, Auburn has good reason to believe it scored a coup by hiring a coach with Pearl’s track record. Tennessee reached the NCAA Tournament all six seasons under Pearl, three times won at least a share of the SEC title, and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2010. He had opportunities to make the jump to higher-profile programs — Indiana was reportedly interested before hiring Kelvin Sampson — but he found a home in Knoxville. He had no plans to leave Tennessee.
What happened next is well documented. A cookout at his home with high school junior recruits led to a lie to the NCAA, which eventually led to his dismissal at Tennessee. Slapped with a three-year show-cause — which among other things bans a coach from recruiting — Pearl was basically unemployable by any other college.
Pearl embarked on a broadcasting career at ESPN and SiriusXM and served as a vice president for marketing for a wholesale grocery distribution company in Knoxville. He knew he wanted back on the sidelines but figured his next job would have to wait until the ’15-16 season at the earliest since his show-cause wasn’t scheduled to expire until Aug. 23. What school would hire a coach who couldn’t recruit for the first five months on the job?
How about a school that averaged 4.8 SEC wins in the previous five seasons and hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003?
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs fired Tony Barbee, the coach he hired in 2010, hours after the Tigers bowed out of the 2014 SEC Tournament with an 18-point loss to South Carolina. Shortly after, Jacobs began his pursuit of the popular, but potentially toxic, former Tennessee head coach.
Jacobs admits he had reservations about Pearl before speaking with former Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton among other references. Jacobs then met with Pearl in Bristol, Conn., where Pearl was serving as a college basketball analyst for ESPN.
“He was remorseful and repentant (about his NCAA transgressions),” Jacobs says. “I was as thorough as I had been with anyone because of the history. I was convinced he was the right guy at the right time for Auburn.”
The timing, though, wasn’t perfect.
Rather than using energy to fight and appeal the show-cause, Auburn and Pearl devised plans to navigate the sanctions for the first five months of his tenure as required by the show-cause order. When recruits visited Auburn on official or unofficial visits, Pearl left campus or left town altogether to avoid any possibility of violating his show-cause. Instead of meeting with Pearl, recruits met football coach Gus Malzahn in addition to the Tigers’ assistant basketball coaches.
When Pearl hit the road for speaking or booster engagements, a compliance officer accompanied him in case a prospect would be present. Although he was barred from any contact with recruits or in-person evaluation or prospects, Pearl was not barred from evaluating prospects on film or keeping in contact with his assistants on the recruiting trail.
When his staff was on the road evaluating prospects, Pearl kept in touch every few days for updates. Pearl brought in Tony Jones, who coached with him dating back to his Milwaukee days, and former Auburn great Chuck Person. Jones served his own show-cause for a year before coaching two seasons at Alcoa (Tenn.) High School outside of Knoxville.
Pearl’s son, Steven, also was listed as a full-time assistant to help in recruiting before moving into an off-court role after the show-cause expired. In other words, Pearl has filled his staff with people who know him and know the terrain of the SEC.
Recruiting limitations, though, didn’t mean Pearl could take the summer off. The NCAA now allows basketball coaches to work with players up to two hours a day and eight hours a week during the summer. Pearl took full advantage of this time.
“Him not being able to recruit doesn’t necessarily lessen his workload,” Jones says. “He’s got a head start on Xs and Os.”
The time away from recruiting also gave Pearl time to do what he does best (aside from coaching) — build enthusiasm for a program.
For all of Auburn’s passion for football, Tiger fans have good reason to be apathetic about the basketball product. Auburn has had nine losing seasons in the last 11 years — quite the feat considering how light non-conference schedules can make even a .500 record attainable for a major-conference program.
Barbee was not able to capitalize on the opening of a new $92 million arena and was fired after an 18–50 SEC record in four seasons.
Attendance dropped nearly seven percent during Barbee’s final season at Auburn, according to AL.com. Auburn’s average home crowd of 5,823 ranked 13th in the SEC and was the worst since Auburn’s new arena opened in 2010.
“Auburn wanted more than just a guy that blows a whistle in a gym,” Pearl says. “They wanted somebody who would reenergize and educate a fan base about what college basketball can look like.”
Pearl sets lofty goals. He wants to have more home sellouts than 75 percent of the teams in the SEC. Auburn didn’t sell out a home game all of last year and may not be improved on the court in terms of wins and losses. Pearl returns only two players who averaged more than 20 minutes per game last season. He is filling the gaps with two graduate transfers (guards K.C. Ross-Miller from New Mexico State and Antoine Mason from Niagara) and the top junior college prospect in the country (forward Cinmeon Bowers).
The 2015 class, though, is where Pearl will make a major impact. He has four four-star commitments, according to the 247 Composite. The class is ranked 10th nationally and second in the SEC, behind only Texas A&M.
Pearl is essentially selling an experience, selling the up-tempo style of play and aggressive defense, selling the future and selling himself until tangible progress can be made. Jacobs has called him a “one-man marketing machine.” Pearl has visited students on campus, visited classrooms, visited dining halls and assisted with fundraisers.
“I try not to say no,” Pearl says. “I’d say five nights out of seven I’m somewhere visiting.”
That’s what the dean of admissions at Boston College saw when he recommended Pearl to then-coach Tom Davis in the late 1970s for a similar role — drumming up interest in a program.
“It was his ability to coordinate and get people to join him,” Davis says. “He had students painting signs and posters, knocking on dorm room doors, getting fans to dress up in costumes.”
But it’s another trait that may help Pearl rebuild at Auburn. Davis gave Pearl his first full-time coaching job and brought his protege to Iowa as an assistant in the late '80s. After a heated recruiting battle over Deon Thomas, Pearl reported Illinois to the NCAA for violations in 1989. The incident and the stigma of reporting another program likely cost Pearl a shot at more high-profile jobs. He settled for a head-coaching gig at Division II Southern Indiana, where he went 231–46 and won one national title in nine seasons.
“He’s a tough-minded guy,” Davis says. “He’s got mental toughness, which you need to bounce back.”
The reclamation project Pearl is now singularly focused on is the one at Auburn, where he says all the resources are in place for a turnaround.
The arena is new. The facilities are on par with other programs in the league. And while the SEC produced three teams in the Sweet 16 in 2014, the league’s pecking order after Kentucky and Florida is wide open.
“If I don’t get this done, it’s on me,” Pearl says. “It’s not on Auburn.”
The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first rankings today, and no one really knows what to expect.
Will the selection committee’s top 25 be a carbon copy of the AP or coaches polls? Will it be wildly different?
How much change will we see from week to week as the committee goes through its made-for-TV rankings process every Tuesday?
How will the committee of 12 — the 13th member, Archie Manning, took a leave due to medical reasons — justify the teams in and out of the top four from week to week?
Indeed, this is a new era, but how much of a break the playoff will be from the BCS remains to be seen. Maybe we’ll find out Tuesday night. Maybe we’ll find out on selection Sunday on Dec. 7.
Either way, these are among the most heady issues the committee must face starting this week.
Dilemmas the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will Face
The SEC West question
The architects of the playoff have been clear that no limits will be placed on the amount of teams a conference can send to the playoff. That may be put to the test immediately within one division. In three of the last four weeks, three SEC West teams have been ranked in the top four of the Associated Press poll. Whether that’s an indication of what the selection committee might do isn’t clear. What’s certain is that the SEC West has the most playoff contenders of any conference as a whole in Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. That field will be narrowed to two or one in the final month of the season, but the SEC West may put immediate pressure on the committee to set some sort of precedent on league representation in the Football Four.
The case for Oregon
We’re told one of the advantages here is that a committee of 12 experts will be able to better gauge teams impacted by injury. There’s no better example than Oregon. With left tackle Jake Fisher, the Ducks defeated Michigan State, UCLA and Washington by an average of 18.7 points per game. Without their starting tackle, the Ducks lost at home to Arizona and survived a scare on the road against Washington State. Of the top playoff contenders, Oregon’s loss to Arizona is one of the worst losses. Will the committee overlook this glaring flaw on the resume as long as the Ducks continue to look like a contender when its offensive line is intact?
The case for Ohio State
Again, one of the advantages of the committee is that it’s supposed to recognize when a team improves as the season goes along. Look no further than Ohio State, whose lone loss to Virginia Tech looks worse with each passing week. The Buckeyes faced Virginia Tech in the second week of the season when J.T. Barrett, pressed into starting duty only 10 days before the season, was making his second career start. Since that loss, Barrett has looked more and more like an elite Big Ten quarterback, and Ohio State rolled over its subsequent four opponents. If Ohio State can defeat Michigan State on Nov. 8 and wins the Big Ten, the Buckeyes may have a playoff-worthy resume provided that loss to 4-4 Virginia Tech doesn’t become an albatross.
The head-to-head question
Ole Miss suffered its first loss of the season Saturday and dropped to No. 7 in the AP poll. That’s four spots behind Alabama, a team the Rebels beat 23-17 on Oct. 7. The reasons for the Tide to be ranked ahead of Ole Miss are reasonable — the Tide lost a close game in Oxford, defeated a Big 12 contender on a neutral field (West Virginia) and showed dominance on both sides of the ball in wins over Texas A&M and Florida. But one school of thought will maintain that as long as both have one loss apiece, Ole Miss should have an edge over Alabama in the rankings. The same dilemma could arise if Mississippi State and Auburn each end up with one loss — the Bulldogs defeated Auburn 38-23 on Oct. 4, but the Tigers may end up with a better resume with wins over Kansas State, South Carolina and potentially Georgia compared to Mississippi State’s East wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
The rematch question
The seeding of the final playoff pairings could present a handful of rematches from the Iron Bowl to the Egg Bowl to Michigan State-Oregon to any other SEC West matchup. Will the committee artfully try to avoid rematches in the semifinals?
Marshall or East Carolina?
Remember: The playoff selection committee isn’t just seeding the semifinals; it’s also filling the Orange, Cotton, Peach and Fiesta bowls. One of those spots is guaranteed to go to the highest ranked team in the so-called Group of Five (the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt). The two most likely teams right now to fill that slot are East Carolina and Marshall. East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech and North Carolina but lost by 10 to South Carolina.
By Saturday, the release of the first College Football Playoff top 25 may feel like an afterthought.
True, the playoff is one of the defining features of the season, but the first weekend of November is a clear indication of the other major storyline for 2014 — unpredictability.
On Nov. 1, teams like TCU, West Virginia, Utah and Arizona State will be playing in games relevant to conference title chases, if not the playoff.
Remember, this is a week in which Stanford-Oregon is a featured game, and games like TCU-West Virginia and Utah-Arizona State are nearly as important.
The SEC West, as usual, is a centerpiece of attention, too, as Ole Miss tries to recover from its first loss of the season while Auburn attempts to solidify its spot among the top contenders in its division.
The Week Ahead: Oct. 30-Nov. 1
All times Eastern. All games Saturday, unless noted.
Florida State at Louisville
When and where: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Florida State is on upset alert. Despite being 7-0, the Seminoles rarely have looked like the dominant team they were a year ago. This could be a chance for FSU to flex its muscles or it could be a tricky game against one of the top defenses in the country. Louisville is second in yards allowed per play and first in total defense. The Cardinals have allowed more than 100 rushing yards twice all season and more than 200 passing yards three times.
Vegas says: Florida State by 6
Listen to the Week 9 recap podcast:
Auburn at Ole Miss
When and where: 7 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... this may be a crossroads for both teams in the SEC West. Auburn responded to its 38-23 loss to Mississippi State with a 42-35 win over South Carolina. The Tigers’ offense is clicking after they rushed for a season-high 395 yards against South Carolina. Ole Miss, meanwhile, may have its season hanging in the balance after a 10-7 loss to LSU. The Rebels have a handful of injuries (linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil) and shades of internal dissension between quarterback Bo Wallace and coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels may need to take care that a banner season doesn’t crumble in short order.
Vegas says: Ole Miss by 2 1/2
TCU at West Virginia
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
We’re watching because... no two teams improved more since the end of last season. Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia both went 4-8 a year ago and now will play in a game that will factor in the league title race. Besides, given these two offenses, this matchup could be a shootout. TCU is the only team in the country averaging more than 50 points per game, while West Virginia has quietly put together a balanced offense ranked in the top four in the Big 12 in both rushing and passing.
Vegas says: TCU by 5 1/2
Stanford at Oregon
When and where: 7:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... the matchup of the year in the Pac-12 now has Stanford playing the role of spoiler. Stanford has all but dropped out of the playoff race, but that doesn’t mean the Cardinal can’t give Oregon trouble. Stanford has won the last two meetings and still has a dominant and physical defense that can give the Ducks fits. The only question is if Kevin Hogan and the embattled Stanford offense can keep up.
Vegas says: Oregon by 9 1/2
Utah at Arizona State
When and where: 11 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... two of the biggest surprises in the Pac-12 will meet for at least a share of the lead in the South. Arizona State has overcome the loss of nine starters on defense since last season and an injury to starting quarterback Taylor Kelly (who returned last week) to beat USC, Stanford and Washington. Utah has been living on the edge in Pac-12 play with each league game decided by less than touchdown. Utah’s game-winning scores in the last three wins have come with 34 seconds left, 8 seconds left and in double overtime.
Vegas says: Arizona State by 5
Talk Back on U-verse Game of the Week
Each week, AT&T U-verse and Athlon Sports will host a live interactive experience for an SEC game in which two greats from each school will take fan questions live throughout the game.
This week, former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and former Missouri quarterback James Franklin will join Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the fun.
Visit att.com/talkback during Kentucky-Missouri to watch the game with us.
Kentucky at Missouri
When and where: 4 p.m., SEC Network
We’re watching because... Missouri has quietly kept itself alive in the SEC East race. Given the way the season has gone, though, that might not be a good omen for the Tigers. Either way, Missouri is 3-1 in the league but needs Georgia to falter to return to the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers also need more from quarterback Maty Mauk, who is completing less than 40 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and five interceptions in SEC play.
Vegas says: Missouri by 6 1/2
The #FearAmeer campaign was in full force Saturday, but we’re not entirely sure who should be trembling the most when Ameer Abdullah in on the field.
Let’s start with Rutgers: Abdullah set a school record with 321 all-purpose yards in a 42-24 rout of Rutgers with 225 rushing yards, 26 receiving yards and 90 kickoff return yards.
The tally included touchdown runs of 48, 53 and 23 yards and a kickoff return of 76 yards to set up a touchdown in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Abdullah has given Nebraska legend Mike Rozier plenty of reason to fear losing his spot atop the Cornhuskers' record book.
With 4,226 career rushing yards, Abdullah is 553 yards short of tying Rozier for the school rushing record.
With 1,249 yards in eight games, Abdullah also has an outside shot of breaking Rozier’s single-season school record from 1983. Rozier rushed for 2,148 yards during his Heisman-winning season.
Abdullah started the season eighth on Nebraska's career rushing list and finished Saturday second. Along the way, he passed names like Ahman Green, Eric Crouch, Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead. On Saturday, Abdullah topped the 200-yard rushing mark for the fourth time this season and added his fifth consecutive multi-touchdown game.
At Abdullah’s current average of 156.1 rushing yards per game, here’s how he could finish at his current pace:
|1983||MIke Rozier||12||2,148 (275 attempts)|
|2014||Ameer Abdullah||12*||1,874 (270 attempts)|
|13*||2,040 (293 attempts)|
|14*||2,185 (315 attempts)|
If there’s one possible hangup to his bid for a record season, it’s the final stretch of the schedule. Of Nebraska’s final four regular season opponents, only Purdue (83rd) entered Saturday ranked outside of the top 50 nationally in rush defense. That doesn't include what's likely to be a tough defense in the Big Ten title game — potentially Michigan State — and a bowl game.
Against Michigan State, Abdullah rushed for a season-low 45 yards and 1.9 yards per carry against the toughest defense he’s faced all year.
Still, with prolific numbers from Abdullah, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott may fear Abdullah as a Heisman finalist.
West Virginia wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway was blocked from seeing the play of the day from his new star player on Saturday against Baylor.
Even from his spot in the press box, he missed the replay on the big screen at Milan Puskar Stadium.
After the game, he asked the source, Kevin White, about the 12-yard go-ahead touchdown catch against Baylor in the fourth quarter.
“I asked him if he caught that one-handed,” Galloway said. “He said ‘You know I did.’”
He also made the catch with a Baylor defensive back draped all over him.
For his part, White says he didn’t watch the replay of his potential season-defining catch until he saw it during film study.
Elsewhere, the catch was replayed all through the college football weekend as West Virginia upset Baylor 41-27.
The one-handed grab — and the 132-yard, two-touchdown day against Baylor — brought attention to what West Virginia and Big 12 fans already knew. White has emerged from obscurity to become of the nation’s top receivers.
White has topped six receptions and 100 yards in all seven games this season against a schedule that includes Alabama and Oklahoma. As the nation’s first receiver to 1,000 yards, White is on pace to rival two of the most productive receivers in college football history.
Both played for Dana Holgorsen in some capacity. Both won the Biletnikoff Award twice.
Through seven games, White emerged from being the No. 2 receiver on a 4-8 team to putting his name alongside Michael Crabtree and Justin Blackmon.
At Texas Tech, Crabtree set a Big 12 record with 1,962 yards, and he won the Biletnikoff in 2007 with Holgorsen as receivers coach. Blackmon at Oklahoma State followed with the second-highest total in Big 12 history with 1,782 yards to go with a Biletnikoff Award of his own in 2010. (Both Blackmon and Crabtree won back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards, the second coming the year after Holgorsen left).
White’s pace puts him in between the pair. At his current pace, he’ll finish a 13-game season with 1,894 yards.
If the Baylor game was any indication, opponents will do anything they can to make sure White does not reach those milestones. The Bears were called for pass interference five times while trying to defend White.
“He's just such a big, physical presence and the nature of Baylor's defense was going to put those guys in some one-on-one situations,” Holgorsen said. “Baylor is a physical team. They use their hands. They play hard. They play with good effort. They play reckless at times, too.
“We were going to take shots and we were going to take a bunch early and take them throughout the course of the game. If we hit on some of them or if we didn't hit on some of them, based on some P.I. calls. So he's a dominating player, that's for sure.”
West Virginia saw shades of this kind of season from White but not until the spring. This breakout for White required patience.
White committed to Pittsburgh out of Emmaus (Pa.), but grades forced him to take the junior college route at Lackawanna College. Once there, he had to redshirt a year.
"I don't know (why)," White said. "I guess I wasn't ready."
West Virginia signed White out of JUCO, and his first season in Morgantown was immediately stalled due to a foot injury to start 2013.
Beyond White, the Mountaineers’ offense struggled throughout last season, as quarterback Clint Trickett was in and out of the lineup and battled injuries.
White looked the part of a lost new arrival to the roster with a red zone fumble against Oklahoma in Week 2 of last season.
“It was difficult,” White said. “Coming from JUCO and high school, you didn’t have to put this kind of time into football. You didn’t have to put hours in the film room. You didn’t have to work out this much. Practice is different here. It’s mentally frustrating with different defenses they throw at you, and corners are smarter at this level.
“It was different. I didn’t know how to handle everything all at once.”
He had seven catches for 130 yards in October against Baylor, but Galloway said the game didn’t start to truly click for White in 2013 until the final games of the season.
“The Iowa State game (two catches, 27 yards, one touchdown) was a good one for him, that last stretch where he had made some plays,” Galloway said. “In spring practice, he started showing he could be dominant.”
The meager gains from the end of last season are now coming to full fruition.
West Virginia’s offense has stabilized with a healthy quarterback and a dominant receiver in White.
“He’s done a great job of high pointing the football, attacking the football,” Galloway said. “That’s been good to see. Kevin has put in a lot of hard work. The light’s come on for him and I’m glad it has. The best football is still ahead of him.”
The ninth week of the college football season presents a pair of intriguing coaching matchups — one will be the first matchup in a new coaching rivalry, the other likely is the final meeting.
In State College, two of the most aggressive recruiters in the country will face off in the first meeting between Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Penn State’s James Franklin. The two never crossed paths at their former jobs in the SEC as Meyer left Florida a year before Franklin landed at Vanderbilt.
No doubt, the winning coach will use this game as bragging rights as both schools try to recruit Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The other coach matchup to watch will be in East Lansing. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio has tried to avoid overt references to the Spartans’ dominance in the series with Michigan, but it’s clear Dantonio’s program relishes the shedding of the little brother tag. That, of course, is why this may be the final Michigan-Michigan State game for Brady Hoke.
Week 9 Previews and Predictions
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Big Ten Week 9 Game Power Rankings
All times Eastern. All games Saturday.
1. Ohio State at Penn State
8 p.m., ABC
In the four games since the loss to Virginia Tech, Ohio State looks every bit the dominant team the Buckeyes were expected to be with Braxton Miller at quarterback. Credit J.T. Barrett and his development. The redshirt freshman has led four consecutive 50-point performances or better, completing 71.7 percent of his passes for 9.75 yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns and an interception during that span. Penn State may be be the toughest test of the season for Barrett so far with the game on the road against an imposing front seven. Penn State is allowing two yards per carry, the best average in the country, so it will be interesting to see how Barrett fares if running back Ezekiel Elliott is not productive. While Barrett vs. the Penn State defense will be a fascinating matchup, the Ohio State defensive line vs. overmatched Penn State’s offensive line may be as big a mismatch as any this week.
Listen to the Week 9 predictions podcast:
2. Michigan at Michigan State
3:30 p.m., ABC
Michigan State now has the clear upper hand in this in-state rivalry, and that doesn’t look to change this season. Michigan State has won five of the last six, with four of those wins coming by two touchdowns or more. A year ago, Michigan State sacked Michigan seven times and held the Wolverines to minus-48 rushing yards in Ann Arbor. This game could make a run at being as lopsided as Sparty’s 29-6 win in 2013. Michigan State rolled over Indiana last week for 330 rushing yards and five touchdowns despite the absence of injured starting center Jack Allen, who is expected to be back this week. For all of Michigan’s struggles this season, the Wolverines are fifth in the country in yards allowed per carry (2.73 per rush).
3. Maryland at Wisconsin
Noon, Big Ten Network
The game may feature the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year (Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon) and defensive player of the year (Maryland’s William Likely). The pair are putting up wild numbers and will have plenty of chances to flourish. Gordon has rushed for 868 yards and nine touchdowns in his last four games. This week, he’ll be matched up with the No. 13 rush defense in the Big Ten. Likely has four interceptions this season, including his second pick six of the year last week against Iowa. Likely also has three tackles for a loss and a punt return for a touchdown. Like Gordon, Likely has a fortunate matchup. Wisconsin is sticking with two quarterbacks in Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave, who have combined to complete 54.9 percent of their passes with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. Maryland’s quarterback situation also will be worth watching as C.J. Brown has been nursing a back injury all week as his backup, Caleb Rowe, was lost for the season to a torn ACL.
4. Rutgers at Nebraska
Welcome to the Big Ten, Rutgers. A week after a 56-17 loss to Ohio State in Columbus, the Scarlet Knights visit Nebraska. After that, Wisconsin visits Piscataway next week. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah re-asserted his Heisman credentials with 146 yards and four touchdowns last week against Northwestern, but as much as Abdullah’s season deserves attention, don’t overlook the Nebraska D. The Cornhuskers are allowing 4.83 yards per play and 338.6 yards per game, both their best averages since 2010.
5. Minnesota at Illinois
Minnesota needed a 52-yard field goal in the final five minutes to complete a 39-38 comeback win against Purdue last week. The Gophers are a surprising 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten. They have to be taken seriously as Big Ten West contenders, but their schedule will get tougher into November. They may not be able to afford many slip ups against teams like Purdue and Illinois. Prolific running back David Cobb continues to be the centerpiece of the Gophers’ offense, but the passing game has at least proved to be capable in conference games. The Gophers average only 18.7 passes in Big Ten play, but they are second in the league in pass efficiency in conference games.
Big Ten Week 9 Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Minnesota (-6 1/2) at Illinois
|Minn 28-10||Minn 34-27||Minn 34-24||Min 30-20|
Maryland at Wisconsin (-11)
|Wisc 31-21||Wisc 37-24||Wisc 31-27||Md 28-24|
Rutgers at Nebraska (-17 1/2)
|Neb 49-14||Neb 41-20||Neb 38-20||Neb 31-17|
Michigan at Michigan State (-17 1/2)
|MSU 42-10||MSU 41-10||MSU 38-10||MSU 34-13|
Ohio State (-13 1/2) at Penn State
|OSU 35-10||OSU 31-14||OSU 34-14||OSU 23-6|
Rejection stings. When the time comes for Florida and Michigan to hire new football coaches, the two college football powers may find out how much.
The Gators’ Will Muschamp and the Wolverines’ Brady Hoke remain employed today, but both of their fates are all but sealed. The two fourth-year coaches who entered the season under pressure to win now, have not.
Florida lost 42-13 to Missouri on Saturday to fall to 7-11 overall and 5-8 in the SEC since last season. Michigan defeated Penn State two weeks ago, but Hoke remains the first coach in school history to lose three games before Oct. 1.
By December or earlier, both programs will be looking for new coaches, but finding the perfect answer will be tough.
Hiring the right coach for a power program is hard, and these two programs know as much as any. Since 2003, Florida and Michigan have made more questionable hires (Ron Zook, Rich Rodriguez, Hoke and Muschamp) than successful ones (Urban Meyer).
Finding an elite coach in 2014 may be tougher than ever, especially if Florida and Michigan are not able to land high-profile, popular candidates. The next tier beyond the dream candidates for fans — Dan Mullen and Jim Harbaugh — is a thin and somewhat unproven group.
Here’s why Florida and Michigan may be in trouble when trying to fill the most important pair of headsets:
The coaching talent pool has dried up
Arguably, coaching across the board is better than it’s been in a long time. Spread coaches have changed the dynamic from coast to coast. So how can the talent pool be dry?
Coaching acumen across the board may be high, but so are coaching moves. In 2013, 25.2 percent of schools had head coaching turnover. In 2012, the rate was 22.5 percent. Generally, fewer than 20 percent of FBS programs hire new coaches in a given year. Back-to-back seasons of that kind of turnover hasn’t been seen in 40 years.
In other words, many head coaching upstarts have already moved into their new jobs. Meanwhile, the pool of second-tier or lower-tier coaches that would be candidates at programs like Florida or Michigan haven’t had an opportunity to build lengthy track records.
The most likely candidates to move up are staying put
Think about it: In general, Coach X who takes teams like Baylor, Utah, TCU or Boise State to major bowls would be on a fast track to a big-time job. That’s what Urban Meyer did when he left for Florida. Meyer’s successor, Kyle Whittingham, also took Utah to a BCS bowl but stayed put with the Utes (more on him later).
Coaches like Art Briles at Baylor and Gary Patterson at TCU might not be contenders for the Florida or Michigan jobs to begin with, but for one reason or another, they didn’t take (Briles) or contend for (Patterson) the Texas job that opened a year ago.
Boise State’s Chris Petersen could have had any number of open jobs since leading Boise State to a pair of BCS games. He can only fill one of those, and he picked Washington this season.
...or typical candidates to move up have been there, done that
Again, Coach X who wins a Fiesta Bowl at UCF would generally generally a contender for a major job. Not so if that coach is a 68-year-old George O’Leary who previously was the coach at Georgia Tech and has plenty of baggage.
Even the Cincinnati job, which has been a stepping stone in the past, doesn’t have an intriguing young candidate. Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Butch Jones (Tennessee) all turned the Cincinnati gig into major conference jobs. Cincinnati’s coach, Tommy Tuberville, already has been the head coach at Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas Tech.
Louisville has sent two of its last three coaches to the NFL (Bobby Petrino) and Texas (Charlie Strong). Now, Petrino is back, and his viability — and interest — for another job may be a matter of debate.
Good jobs are better
Why hasn’t Briles left Baylor? Two words: McLane Stadium. Surely, that’s not the only reason Briles isn’t the coach at Texas or anywhere other than Waco, but it doesn’t hurt. Facilities upgrades and other investments in football programs have turned good jobs or mediocre jobs into better ones.
Patterson rarely entertained jobs when TCU was in the Mountain West, though he did refute a report linking him to the Kansas State position in 2008. TCU also has a Big 12 affiliation that wasn’t on the radar six years ago.
For Mullen at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are doing their part to keep up in the facilities arms race. They opened a $25 million football facility in January 2013. Ole Miss completed a renovation and expansion of its 10-year-old football facility in spring.
The College Football Playoff also opens up championship possibilities simply by doubling the field from two to four. The BCS standings aren’t a perfect indicator of what the selection committee might do, but it’s worth noting the following programs have been ranked in the top four of the BCS in just the last five seasons: Michigan State, South Carolina, Oklahoma State, Stanford (twice), Cincinnati and TCU (twice).
The notion that certain (Power 5) programs can’t play for a national championship doesn’t hold true as much as it once did. In other words, the coaches at Michigan State and Stanford don’t have to leave to be able to win a title.
Realignment casts doubt on would-be candidates
Utah’s Whittingham and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen have seen their records take a hit due to realignment. Around 2010, Whittingham had the record of a coach who would follow in the footsteps of his old boss, Meyer, when he went 33-6 during a three-year span that included an undefeated season in 2008. Since then, his team is 11-19 in its first three seasons in the Pac-12 with one bowl appearance in four years.
Holgorsen was a hotshot offensive coordinator when he took over at West Virginia, winning the Big East and the Orange Bowl in 2011. The Mountaineers went 6-12 in their first two seasons in the Big 12.
Coordinators are playing the waiting game
How many times have Alabama’s Kirby Smart, Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi and Clemson’s Chad Morris appeared on candidate lists for head coaching jobs in the last few seasons? Yet every time they stay put.
Thanks to rising salaries, the best assistants can make head coach money while remaining a coordinator. Smart and Morris both make in excess of $1.1 million. Narduzzi makes more than $900,000.
Top assistants can be choosy with head coaching jobs, but that also means they will be unproven if their first gigs end up at a power program. Bob Stoops, Mark Richt and Jimbo Fisher were first-time head coaches when they landed at their current jobs, but so were Will Muschamp, Ron Zook, Charlie Weis and Mike Shula.
When Florida and Michigan officially enter the market for a new coach, who knows? Perhaps they’ll make that clear, slam dunk hire and all of this will be moot. But at the same time, fans expecting the perfect candidate from Day One may end up disappointed.
About a month ago, the schedule for Week 9 of the college football season probably didn’t look all that meaningful.
At that time, Baylor and Oklahoma were the clear cut favorites in the Big 12, so games like Texas-Kansas State and West Virginia-Oklahoma State probably carried little weight.
Ohio State was still stinging from a loss to Virginia Tech, so a game at Happy Valley probably didn’t carry much buzz.
And USC-Utah may have looked like a formality for USC rather than a matchup featuring a Pac-12 South upstart.
Recent weeks have changed the stakes.
The Big 12 is one of the most wide-open leagues in the country with Kansas State and West Virginia moving into the role of contenders. Ohio State’s offense has topped 50 points in four consecutive games. And Utah has picked up back-to-back Pac-12 wins over UCLA and Oregon State to position the Utes as a factor in the division.
The Week Ahead: Oct. 25
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Texas at Kansas State
When and where: Noon, ESPN
We’re watching because... Kansas State can further solidify its Big 12 credentials against an improving Texas team. The Wildcats squeaked by Oklahoma thanks in part to two missed field goals and an extra point in Norman. If K-State is truly a national contender, the Wildcats should be able to handle Texas at home. The Longhorns, though, may end up as one of the most improved teams during the second half of the season. Tyrone Swoopes is a rising star after passing for 321 yards and rushing for 95 against Iowa State on Saturday.
Vegas says: Kansas State by 10
West Virginia at Oklahoma State
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... this game has the best chance for weekly Big 12 fireworks. West Virginia is a sneaky-good 5-2 team. The Mountaineers have a win over Baylor on the resume and the two losses came to Alabama and Oklahoma in games decided in the second half. After building a 3-0 record against the worst teams in the league, Oklahoma State received a rude awakening win a 42-9 loss to TCU. The Cowboys will need to bounce back from a two-turnover, 258-yard effort on offense.
Vegas says: Oklahoma State by 2 1/2
Ole Miss at LSU
When and where: 7:15 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... LSU is starting to look like LSU again. After starting 0-2 in the SEC, the Tigers picked up back-to-back wins over Florida and Kentucky. Does that signal a team ready to beat No. 3 Ole Miss? No. But this does look like a much tougher game that it seemed at the start of the month. The Rebels’ defense is dominant, but LSU returned to its running back-by-committee for 303 rushing yards against Kentucky.
Vegas says: Ole Miss by 3 1/2
Ohio State at Penn State
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... Ohio State is starting to round into Big Ten title form. If the Buckeyes’ are legitimate contenders, they won’t have too much trouble with an undermanned Penn State team, even on the road. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has accounted for 10 total touchdowns in two Big Ten games, and Ohio State’s defensive line should be no match for the poor Penn State offensive front.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 13
USC at Utah
When and where: 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... Utah is creeping into the Pac-12 South picture. The Utes should be kicking themselves for coughing up a one-point loss to Washington State at the end of September. The Utes have since defeated UCLA and Oregon State. A win over USC would be a clear signal that Utah is ready to contend in the Pac-12. Otherwise, this will be a matchup of two of the best running backs in the league. Utah’s Devontae Booker is averaging 188 rushing yards per game in league play. USC’s Buck Allen is averaging 149 yards.
Vegas says: USC by 1
Talk Back on U-verse Game of the Week
Each week, AT&T U-verse and Athlon Sports will host a live interactive experience for an SEC game in which two greats from each school will take fan questions live throughout the game.
This week, former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia and former Auburn wide receiver Ben Obomanu will join Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the fun.
Visit att.com/talkback during South Carolina-Auburn to watch the game with us.
South Carolina at Auburn
When and where: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
We’re watching because... we haven’t written off Auburn as an SEC West contender. Mississippi State and Ole Miss remain undefeated, and Alabama flexed its muscles. Auburn can't be dismissed, even after the loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago. The Tigers still have Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama on the road, so they can’t squander an opportunity against a vulnerable Carolina team at home.
Vegas says: Auburn by 17 1/2
Art Briles has brought Baylor to new territory for most of his tenure. On Saturday, he’ll be in another place he’s rarely been.
He’ll field questions asking what’s wrong with the Baylor offense.
The Bears’ College Football Playoff hopes were derailed Saturday with a 41-27 loss at West Virginia in a game in which Baylor did something that has been rare in recent years. The Bears struggled to move the ball.
Baylor averaged only four yards per play against West Virginia on Saturday, the Bears’ lowest average since a loss to Texas in 2009. The quarterback for Baylor that day was Nick Florence.
The stakes then, of course, were much lower. Baylor entered Saturday as a legitimate playoff contender and the de facto Big 12 favorite.
The Bears’ schedule had been lacking, but they remained one of the six undefeated teams still standing. Bryce Petty entered the week back in the Heisman race after a comeback effort against TCU a week earlier.
Against West Virginia, Baylor’s offense was as pedestrian as it has been since Robert Griffin arrived on campus.
Penalties didn’t help. Baylor was flagged 18 times for 215 yards. Only five of those calls came against the offense, including two offensive pass interference calls. West Virginia was flagged 14 times.
Penalties derailed the offense, but not nearly as much as West Virginia’s 3-3-5 scheme.
Petty completed only 16-of-36 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. A year ago, the raw numbers would have been halftime statistics for the Bears.
Petty completed nine of his passes to Antwan Goodley and five to Corey Coleman. In a deep receiver group, those were the only players with multiple catches.
And at a critical juncture in the second half, K.D. Cannon dropped a key deep pass play in West Virginia territory.
Baylor’s run game was even more ineffective. The Bears rushed for 95 yards on 42 carries and didn’t break a run of longer than 10 yards until the fourth quarter.
Most troubling, this may be part of a trend.
Petty is two weeks removed from a 7-of-22 performance against Texas and a week removed from a two-interception day against TCU. Petty threw three interceptions all of last season.
The Bears have time to assess the damage with an off week and then a home date with Kansas. Baylor’s next major test will be Nov. 8 at Oklahoma.
If Baylor remains a Big 12 and playoff contender, the Bears will have two weeks to figure it out.
On its face, perhaps Kansas State’s 31-30 win at Oklahoma doesn’t put the Wildcats in anyone’s playoff picks next week.
The Wildcats remain a one-loss squad, and its win over the Sooners included a certain amount of good fortune.
Kansas State won in part because Sooners kicker Michael Hunnicut looked nothing like an All-America-type kicker from short range. A missed 19-yard field goal and a blocked extra point were major gifts in a game decided by one point.
At the same time, though, Kansas State can’t be ignored in the Big 12 or perhaps the playoff race after a win in Norman only weeks after a close call with Auburn.
Give Kansas State an inch, and the Wildcats will swipe a victory.
The Wildcats were outgained by 148 yards, but Bill Snyder quickly dismissed such numbers.
“Those numbers are not significant,” Snyder told the media. “Turnovers, those are significant. In all reality, that is the difference in the ball game. ... The right numbers can tell you something, but not yardage.”
This was a vintage effort by a Snyder team, reminiscent of the 2012 team that won the Big 12 title and flirted with the BCS title game.
Yardage differential doesn’t matter. A perceived edge in talent doesn’t matter.
Leaving the door just slightly ajar against Kansas State, though, is treacherous.
Auburn tried earlier in the year. The Tigers won a sloppy 20-14 game on Sept. 18. Auburn averaged only 2.8 yards per carry and had a handful of dropped passes that day, but Kansas State had more miscues with three turnovers to cost the Wildcats a landmark win.
On Saturday, Kansas State played the kind of opportunistic game that has been the foundation of Snyder’s best teams. The Wildcats didn’t turn the ball over and committed only two penalties for 20 yards.
Quarterback Jake Waters went 15-of-23 for 225 yards with two touchdowns, and his 51-yard run was the longest of the game. Meanwhile, Oklahoma threw an interception on an ill-advised out route near its own end zone for a pick six. A wide receiver pass in the third quarter ended a drive with an interception in the end zone.
As for the road ahead, Kansas State now has a signature win this season. Even if it came against an Oklahoma team that already lost to TCU, the Wildcats showed they have the ability to contend in the Big 12.
If they can win in Norman, Kansas State can win at TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. Even with one loss, Kansas State should will have plenty of opportunities to continue a climb into the playoff race.
Attention: Nebraska and Northwestern. We’re counting on you.
The most exciting week in Big Ten history this is not. Teams like Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin are off. And the league’s top teams this season, Michigan State and Ohio State, are facing Indiana and Rutgers.
This week may be a bit of a snoozer, but Nebraska and Northwestern have provided some of the more memorable games in the league the last three seasons, starting with a Wildcats upset in Lincoln in 2011 and most recently a Hail Mary for a Huskers win in 2013.
Big Ten Week 8 Game Power Rankings
All times Eastern. All games Saturday
1. Nebraska at Northwestern
7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Northwestern might not be the team Nebraska wants to see to re-start its bid for the Big Ten West. The Cornhuskers have won the last two meetings by a combined margin of four points, the most recent victory on a Hail Mary. Before that, the Huskers lost their first meeting with Northwestern as a member of the Big Ten. The off week was fortunately timed, though, as Nebraska could get several key players back from injury — linebacker David Santos, cornerback Daniel Davie, wide receiver Kenny Bell. The Cornhuskers also will look to regroup on the offensive line after Ameer Abdullah rushed for a season-low 45 rushing yards against Michigan State two weeks ago. Northwestern is an improved team but some of their offensive issues resurfaced against Minnesota as the Wildcats managed only one play longer than 20 yards in 84 snaps against the Gophers.
Listen to the Week 8 preview podcast:
2. Iowa at Maryland
After an uneven start to the season, Iowa has won three games in a row to put the Big Ten West back on the radar. The Hawkeyes’ run game has stabilized in recent games, and the pass defense has been stifling. That perhaps makes for a bad matchup against Maryland. The Hawkeyes run game posted its top two rushing performances of the season in the last two games. Meanwhile, Iowa has held its last two opponents to 20-of-53 passing with a touchdown and five interceptions, granted that was against Purdue and an Indiana team down to a backup QB. Maryland is 13th in the Big Ten in rush defense, and quarterbacks C.J. Brown and Caleb Rowe are coming off a four-interception performance against Ohio State.
3. Rutgers at Ohio State
3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
Ohio State’s improving offensive line will receive its toughest test since a disastrous game against Virginia Tech in Week 2. Rutgers has an active front four that has contributed to 24 sacks, tied for most in the Big Ten this season. Since giving up seven sacks in the loss to the Hokies, Ohio State has surrendered five sacks in the last three games. Meanwhile, Rutgers is getting more solid quarterback play from Gary Nova. The senior completed 22-of-39 passes for 404 yards with three touchdowns in a win over Michigan, but winning in Columbus without running back Paul James (ACL) and with an injured center will be difficult.
4. Michigan State at Indiana
3:30 p.m., ESPN
Indiana might not be a major obstacle in Michigan State’s bid to win the Big Ten East, but the Spartans will be under pressure to put together a full four quarters. The Spartans gave up 19 unanswered points in the third quarter against Nebraska and two late touchdowns against Purdue. Indiana is just looking for any sign that the Hoosiers can salvage their season without starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The Hoosiers may be down to a third-string quarterback in Zander Diamont, who was expected to redshirt this season.
5. Purdue at Minnesota
Noon, Big Ten Network
Minnesota is 2-0 in the Big Ten with a backloaded schedule against the top teams in the Big Ten West. The Gophers may still be a long shot to win the division and have little room for slip ups against teams like Purdue at home. The Boilermakers, though, have become an improved team with Austin Appleby at quarterback. Appleby is 39-of-57 for 413 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the last two games.
Big Ten Week 8 Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Iowa at Maryland (-4 1/2)
|Md 31-27||Iowa 34-30||Iowa 27-24||Md 27-22|
Purdue at Minnesota (-12 1/2)
|Minn 28-14||Minn 34-27||Minn 30-13||Minn 23-17|
Michigan State (-14 1/2) at Indiana
|MSU 38-10||MSU 40-20||MSU 41-10||MSU 48-27|
Rutgers at Ohio State (-19 1/2)
|OSU 42-10||OSU 38-24||OSU 40-17||OSU 41-20|
Nebraska (-6 1/2) at Northwestern
|Neb 35-28||Neb 34-30||Neb 30-24||Neb 30-23|
Not since 2010-11 with Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins has Calipari had a third-year player in a key role. That said, Cauley-Stein’s minutes won’t be guaranteed simply because he’s been around the block a few times. Cauley-Stein will be a member of one of the best frontcourts in the country with holdovers Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee and freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles.
Athlon Sports spoke with Cauley-Stein about Kentucky’s transformation from a 12–6 team in the SEC to the national runner-up and how Cauley-Stein is embracing his role as one of the veterans for another team with national title aspirations.
This interview and more appears in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports college basketball annual, available on newsstands and in our online store now.
Related: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats Preview
We may as well start with this. One of the last times people saw you was wearing that wild shirt while on the bench at the Final Four. It got quite a bit of run. Where did you find that?
I had just seen it in a mall. When I first saw it I didn’t look twice at it, and as I was walking around. I was like, you know what, I like that shirt after all, so I picked it up.
Did you know people would be talking about it? It was quite the subject on Twitter.
Anything different is going to be a subject.
How do you view last season in retrospect? How you finished was great with a run to the national championship game, but your team didn’t show that potential until you got to the postseason.
I think we just stayed focused. When you have a lot of young guys out of the gates, it takes a long time to start clicking together like a real team. We did the things we did at the end because we learned how to play with each other. It just took a whole season to figure out that out.
So do you consider it to be a successful season or do you feel like you left something on the table since you didn’t start playing to that potential until the late?
It was real successful. We made it to the finals. Everybody had us canceled out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
When did you sense the switch had started to flip and you were starting to play together?
It was the first game of the SEC Tournament. That’s when the sense of urgency was different. The feel was different. You can tell players had finally figured out how they wanted to play and how they were supposed to play. They had starting giving of themselves for the team, and that started at the SEC Tournament and carried over from there.
Coach John Calipari said he had to learn through the season how to coach this team and figure which buttons to push. Did you notice a change in him during the season?
He got more chill as we were starting to win. When you’re losing, the coach isn’t going to be chill. You change a lot when things are going to right. He just changed the way guys are playing. The change he made with Andrew (Harrison) was vital. Andrew should have been playing like that from Day 1. That changed the whole team up.
You suffered an ankle sprain against Louisville in the Sweet 16 on March 28 but didn’t undergo surgery until mid-April. How has your recovery progressed?
Pretty good. I’m pretty much cleared to do stuff now. Now it’s just getting back to playing shape and strengthening my legs back up again. Other than that, I’m able to do little workouts here and there and hit the weights hard.
How tough was it to watch the Final Four, and do you feel like you could have won the title had you been able to play?
That’s hard to say. People say it’s true, but you don’t really know. I’d like to think that I’d be able to change the game that much to change the outcome. But it’s hard to say. You don’t know what could happen.
For the last few years Kentucky has been a team without a lot of veterans, and you’re going to be one of the guys that Kentucky looks to. How do you prepare for that role?
It’s going to be different, but I think it’s time to just go into that role and stopping all the kiddish stuff. It’s time to step up and take a role that older dudes take.
What do you mean by “kiddish stuff” and stuff that you’re cutting out?
Like arguing with the coach or looking for calls. Just playing like nothing really matters, playing with a good attitude and a good mind and not worrying about little petty stuff.
Do you feel that arguing with coaches or officials held you back?
No. But when you get to the veteran stage it’s almost like you’re a coach. You have to start telling young guys what you’ve been through and you got through it. And if you’re doing the same things as a young dude when they come in, you don’t get the kind of respect as a veteran.
When you were contemplating going to the NBA Draft after the season, what was your conversation like with John Calipari?
He just gave us all the facts, what teams are saying. He’s trying to pick your brain on whether you’re ready to go or not. That’s all he tells you, or if he thinks you can go.
He said he was surprised that you returned to school instead of going to the draft. What led to that decision?
I feel like if I never got injured I would have left. A lot played into that because I was kind of thinking earlier in the season of leaving. I was banking on making my draft stock go up by going through the workouts you have to go through. Since I was injured, I couldn’t go through any of that. I wasn’t able to change any spots to go earlier because I wasn’t able to work out.
Were you just as surprised as anyone that Andrew and Aaron Harrison decided to come back to Kentucky or did you have a feeling they’d return as well?
I really wasn’t thinking about it. By the time they were going through their decision, I was going through surgery and wasn’t paying attention to anything other than getting healthy again. It took a long time to decide, so I figured if they were taking that long that they were coming back.
With the group of big guys coming into this team, Kentucky is going to have one of the best frontcourts in the country. How do you think this group and the competition is going to help you for the next level?
They’re all pros. We’re all future pros. In a practice setting, going against future pros every single day, you have no choice but to get better. You’ve just got to get your mind right before you get to the next level.
How competitive do you think it’s going to be for playing time? As you said, you’re all future pros and you can’t all be on the court at the same time.
I don’t know, but it’s the same thing every year. It’s no different this year than it was the last three years, the last four years or the last five years. It’s the same every year. Coach is going to play the guys he thinks deserves to play more or who is working hard and doing the right things. Those are the guys who are going to play. But there are so many combinations you can play with this team coming in that it doesn’t really matter who is coming off the bench or who starts because everyone is going to play the same minutes.
With that competition and the mixing and matching, how do you make sure that’s something healthy and not something that can disrupt the team?
You’ve got to sacrifice yourself for the team, tell yourself that I’m not getting 35 minutes a game, so I disagree with what coach is doing. That’s just a sacrifice you have to make to play at a level we’re trying to play at.
Is that where you could use Marcus Lee as an example? Here’s a guy who didn’t play much during the season, but when the time came, he was ready.
For sure, that’s how it is. Everyone here can play the game of basketball. You have to be ready for your opportunity. When you’re called up, you’ve got to be ready to go. That’s how we run practices and how we run workouts. You never say one guy is over everybody else.
The two most impossible jobs in college football this week will belong to two anonymous players in Eugene and Seattle.
One of their tasks this week will be to imitate a linebacker who can play running back and has more touchdowns than one entire FBCS team. The other will be to play the role of a dual threat quarterback who hasn’t thrown a pick since last season.
These are players stepping in to help Oregon and Washington prepare for two of the biggest game-changers in the country in linebacker Shaq Thompson and quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“In terms of preparation, you don’t have many Shaq Thompsons running around on your scout team,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.
Or Mariotas, for that matter. When Oregon and Washington meet at Autzen Stadium on Saturday, the subplot of Mariota vs. Thompson may be the most compelling individual offense vs. defense matchup this season.
True, this may not be a true one-on-one matchup on every down, but rest assured, one will always be wary of the other.
Moreover, this could be the rare time two Heisman contenders face each other when they’re on the field at the same time.
Though Mariota never slumped when his offensive line was down to backups, the return of left tackle Jake Fisher re-established Mariota as one of the top quarterbacks in the country.
The senior is completing 69.7 percent of his passes for 1,621 yards with 17 touchdowns while rushing for 290 yards and five scores.
“He’s an accurate thrower and understands their systems inside and out and that makes him a great player,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said.
Petersen, though, has a player who is just as much a difference-maker on his defense.
Thompson was a highly coveted recruit in 2012 and finished his first two seasons as an All-Pac-12 honorable mention. The next step for Thompson has been astronomical.
Washington experimented with Thompson on offense, where he’s rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. He hasn’t needed to play running back, though, to reach the end zone.
Thompson has recovered four turnovers this season (three fumbles, one interception) and returned them all for touchdowns.
The junior will be in a matchup whose only turnovers this season were two fumbles in a game two weeks ago against Arizona.
“(Thompson)'s been phenomenal,” Helfrich said. “It’s not usual that you need to worry about a defensive player in the end zone so much. That’s something we need to eliminate. It’s been incredible how many plays he’s made and also guys around him that have created a tipped ball or a ball knocked out that went the other way. That’s not by accident.”
Heisman contenders face off all the time, but usually this is a quarterback paired with another quarterback or running back. Even as defensive players are becoming more and more realistic contenders for the award, they’ve rarely been able to impact another Heisman contender directly.
In 2011, LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and Alabama running back Trent Richardson were on the field at the same time for a 9-6 LSU win. Both finished in the top five of the Heisman voting.
The most impactful recent offense vs. defense matchup was 2009. Nebraska lost the Big 12 championship game to Texas that year, but defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh turned himself into a Heisman finalist with a dominant performance (4.5 sacks, 12 tackles) against Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy.
The Texas signal caller finished third that year, but only 159 points behind winner Mark Ingram of Alabama in a close race. Suh finished fourth.
This game may be too early in the season to declare one as the clear winner over the other, at least as far as postseason awards are concerned, but the possibilities in this matchup are too good to miss.
“I just know (Mariota)’s one of the elite players in the country,” Petersen said. “I talked to the Oregon guys more then than I would now because we compete against each other. I know how strongly they felt about him. They were always jumping up and down about him. I knew he was the real deal for a long, long time.”
On Saturday, Petersen will learn if he has a talent to match.
If the last two weeks were a celebration of what the state of Mississippi has accomplished, this week’s slate of games will be a chance for the traditional powers to recapture the attention of the country.
On Sunday, Florida State dropped from its perch at No. 1, a spot where it had been since Dec. 1 last year. The Seminoles could reclaim the top ranking when it faces Notre Dame, provided they can emerge (again) from a wave of off-field news surrounding Jameis Winston.
Meanwhile, teams like Oklahoma and Alabama haven’t looked like the playoff contenders they appeared to be only weeks ago. Games against Kansas State and Texas A&M, respectively, could be key games for the Sooners and Tide to return to the forefront of the conversation.
Previewing the Top five Games of Week 8
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Kansas State at Oklahoma
When and where: Noon, ESPN
We’re watching because... we want to see if Oklahoma starts to look the part of a national title contender again. The Sooners followed a loss to TCU with a mere five-point win over a 2-4 Texas team. Oklahoma amassed only 232 yards against Texas (partially due to two fewer possessions due to non-offensive touchdowns), but the Sooners are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry the last two games. Kansas State is coming off a bye week after a 45-13 throttling of Texas Tech.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 8 1/2
Oklahoma State at TCU
When and where: 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... we’re curious what TCU has left in the tank after the last two weeks. Until the 10:39 mark against Baylor, TCU had a win over Oklahoma and a three-touchdown lead against Baylor on its resume. The Bears finished with 24 unanswered points for a 61-58 win. What kind of toll with that take on TCU’s psyche? Oklahoma State is 3-0 in the Big 12 but its wins have come against the three worst teams in the conference by an average of 11.3 points.
Vegas says: TCU by 9
Texas A&M at Alabama
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... after the last two seasons, this game has proven to be the most entertaining series in the SEC. Without Johnny Manziel facing a No. 1-ranked Alabama team, perhaps the stakes feel different, but both teams need to add a jolt to their seasons. The Tide responded to a loss to Ole Miss with a sloppy 14-13 win at Arkansas. Facing the Aggies’ defense may provide the boost the Crimson Tide offense needs. Meanwhile, A&M quarterback Kenny Hill has cooled since a torrid start. He’s thrown six interceptions the last three SEC games.
Vegas says: Alabama by 12
Listen to the Week 7 recap podcast:
Notre Dame at Florida State
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... Florida State can reclaim its spot at No. 1, or Notre Dame can build some legitimacy. Wide-ranging off-field issues — mostly concerning quarterback Jameis Winston — haven’t impacted FSU's record, but that’s against teams like Wake Forest and Syracuse. The lack of statement wins helped knock Florida State out of the No. 1 spot in the polls, so a game against undefeated Notre Dame is an opportunity for the Seminoles to restore their championship credentials. Meanwhile, the Irish are coming off two nail-biting wins over Stanford and North Carolina. Is Notre Dame finding ways to win like it did during the run to the 2012 title game or is it flirting with disaster?
Vegas says: Florida State by 12
Washington at Oregon
When and where: 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... Oregon is becoming an intriguing litmus test for the selection committee. True, this is a rivalry game featuring a Heisman contender (Marcus Mariota) and an upstart program looking to reverse a 10-game losing streak in a rivalry (Washington). That said, a one-loss Oregon could be an interesting test for the first College Football Playoff selection committee. The Ducks lost to Arizona and played their worst football of the season with an injured offensive line. When that offensive line is healthy, the Ducks have two of the best wins of the season (Michigan State, at UCLA). The BCS system likely would have punished a team like this. The selection committee is supposed to take these nuances into account ... but only if Oregon keeps winning. Also: Marcus Mariota vs. Shaq Thompson is the best offense vs. defense matchup of the year.
Vegas says: Oregon by 21
Reports of the demise of the Big Ten back in Week 2 were overstated even if that’s not to say the Big Ten is better than we thought it would be.
The league’s 5-11 record against the other power conferences and Notre Dame will haunt this conference for the remainder of the season.
Michigan and Penn State are shells of what they should be. Division contenders Wisconsin and Iowa are unranked. The Big Ten’s two highest ranked teams — Michigan State and Ohio State — both lost their toughest non-conference games of the season.
All of those are reasons the Big Ten’s playoff hopes looked dim back in Week 2.
More than a month later, the league doesn’t have any guarantees of reaching the playoff, and the 14-team Big Ten has fewer viable contenders right now than the SEC West alone.
But a chaotic October nation-wide has improved the Big Ten’s position for the playoff as much as the play of Michigan State and Ohio State has.
The question for the remainder of the year is if it will be enough for the Big Ten to crack the top four at the end of the season.
Midseason Reviews and Second-Half Predictions
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
2014 Big Ten Midseason Review and Second-Half Preview
Coach of the Year: Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Minnesota started its 2014 Big Ten season with wins over Michigan and Northwestern, giving the Gophers a 6-2 record in the league since Oct. 19. Even though that kind of record will be tough to maintain into November against a backloaded schedule with Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin round out the final month, Minnesota continues to be a competitive program in the league under Kill. Minnesota’s lone loss is ugly, but the 30-7 defeat came on the road against TCU, a team that’s proven to be better than expected when the two teams played on Sept. 13.
Newcomer of the Year: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
A season-ending injury to Braxton Miller didn’t end Ohio State’s Big Ten hopes. Credit redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. Despite struggling against the Virginia Tech pass rush in a loss, Barrett remains the Big Ten leader in total offense by 34 yards per game (326 yards).
Offensive Player of the Year: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
The numbers have been staggering at 1,046 yards and 13 touchdowns through six games. Productive running backs at Wisconsin are commonplace, but this is a little different. Gordon is not part of a one-two punch at running back as he was a year ago, and the Badgers' passing game hasn’t been effective enough to keep opponents honest. In other words, defenses know Gordon is carrying the offense and still haven’t been able to contain him.
Defensive Player of the Year: William Likely, Maryland
The cornerback from Belle Glade, Fla., has been a major difference-maker for the Terrapins with three interceptions and two non-offensive touchdowns this year. He's also adept at playing near the line with three tackles for a loss at 36 solo stops.
Midseason Disappointment: Michigan’s offense
Michigan has one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. The offense, though, hasn’t matched that level of production. Michigan is averaging 254.3 yards per game in conference play to go with 16 turnovers. Only Eastern Michigan and New Mexico State have given the ball away more.
Midseason Surprise: Ohio State as a legitimate contender
Ohio State’s season looked lost based on a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6 when the Buckeyes gave up seven sacks and three interceptions. Since then, Ohio State trounced Cincinnati and Maryland. Those aren’t landmark wins, but they are enough to show the Buckeyes remain a Big Ten East contender.
Listen to the Week 7 recap podcast:
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
Michigan State’s bid to run the table
With a stifling defense and a balanced offense, Michigan State looks like the favorite to win the Big Ten for a second consecutive season. The Spartans likely will be favored to win every game to finish the season, including a home date with Ohio State on Nov. 8. With a 46-27 loss to Oregon in Week 2, Michigan State may need to run the table in the Big Ten to reach the playoff.
Ohio State as a playoff contender
The Buckeyes’ hopes of winning the Big Ten East probably hinge on a Nov. 8 game at Michigan State. A win in that game could present Ohio State as a playoff contender as well. The Buckeyes are better than the were when they lost to Virginia Tech, but what does that mean on the national stage?
Michigan’s next move
Brady Hoke’s fate seems sealed despite Saturday’s win over Penn State. So what’s the next step in Ann Arbor? Is Hoke done before the season? Does athletic director Dave Brandon follow his coach out of town? And who could the next guy be at Michigan?
Top Five Games in the Second Half
Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 25)
The Buckeyes’ pass defense numbers are good — Ohio State has allowed five pass plays of more than 20 yards, seven fewer than any other Big Ten team. A matchup against Christian Hackenberg is another big test.
Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 8)
The game of the regular season in the Big Ten will either solidify Michigan State’s spot as the best team in the league or re-establish Ohio State as a national contender.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15)
Provided these teams can get through the likes of Rutgers, Purdue, Northwestern and Maryland, the Cornhuskers and Badgers could have gaudy records in time for this matchup. Either way, Ameer Abdullah vs. Melvin Gordon will be the best running back showdown of the year.
Nebraska at Iowa (Nov. 28)
Iowa is 5-1 overall and undefeated in the Big Ten. By the end of November this could be a key Big Ten division game. For Nebraska, this could be a revenge game after the Huskers lost 38-17 at home in last year’s meeting.
Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 29)
The Big Ten’s best rivalry could be a matchup between an Ohio State team playing for the Big Ten East title (or more) and a Michigan team trying to salvage a season. Always an interesting situation.
Projecting the Final Big Ten standings
|EAST||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|WEST||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Being forgotten isn’t always bad news.
Minnesota’s David Cobb has twice been overlooked in his collegiate career. He’s been a name on a roster for two years, and before that, he was a name added to a signing list more than a week after most teams wrapped up recruiting in 2011.
By virtue of playing at Minnesota in a league with two headlining tailbacks, Cobb may be overshadowed, but he can’t be ignored anymore.
Cobb ranks sixth nationally in rushing yards per game at 144.4 yards. Yet even in the Big Ten, he’ll have trouble being noticed as Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah entered the season with more fanfare.
This week, though, Cobb will be one of the key players in the spotlight. With Northwestern at 2-0 in the Big Ten and Minnesota picking up a 30-14 win over Michigan, the two teams will face off in a surprisingly important game in the Big Ten West division race.
Cobb has been the focal point for a Minnesota team that has been one of the tougher outs in the Big Ten since last October. Since Cobb has become the primary running back, Minnesota is 8-4 with wins over Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan.
Much of that is because the senior Cobb has been a workhorse back for Minnesota, a throwback to when the Gophers churned out 1,000-yard running backs on a yearly basis from 1999-2006.
In his last 12 games, Cobb has topped 25 carries seven times, including 66 rushes in his last two games.
“I didn’t play much my first two years, so I never want to come out,” Cobb told Athlon Sports.
This week’s game against Northwestern ultimately may end up being a footnote during the season, but Cobb’s emergence is a reminder to exhaust every option and make every phone call in recruiting.
Cobb was the last player Minnesota coach Jerry Kill signed in his first recruiting class in Minneapolis. Minnesota signed the running back from Killeen, Texas, on Feb. 11, 2011. Signing Day that year was Feb. 2.
That year, Cobb had held out hope to join the signing class at Stanford, but he was never able to take a visit to Palo Alto and lost out on a numbers game in David Shaw's first class. Memphis, North Texas, Texas State, Army and Navy also recruited Cobb, but he wasn’t completely sold on any of them.
Even though Cobb rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in three seasons at Killeen Ellison, major programs had good reason to overlook even a prolific tailback from a team that went 0-10 his senior year and 4-6 in each of his first two. Recruited as an "athlete," he had no clear position waiting for him in college.
Kill and former assistant Thomas Hammock had recruited Texas enough to build contacts throughout talent-rich areas. Considering they were recruiting for Minnesota — and before that, Northern Illinois — the Gophers often recruited prospects outside of “the circle.”
That's to say Minnesota had little interest in going head-to-head with Big 12 programs like Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor to pry kids out of the Lone Star State.
A three-star prospect who was listed as an athlete despite his prodigious production in the Wing T fit the bill.
“To a kid like David at running back we are appealing because that’s something we’ve done really well (at Minnesota),” running backs coach Pat Poore told Athlon Sports. “He’s a kid who wants to run the ball but not necessarily in a one-back spread offense.”
Cobb said he didn’t know much about Minnesota until they called his high school coach after Signing Day and persuaded him to take a visit to Minnesota.
A trip to Minnesota in February didn’t deter him, especially once he started to look at what Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney did at Minnesota under former coach Glen Mason.
Cobb said he also built a relationship with Jerry Kill, who had little interest in sugar-coating what he might expect with the Gophers.
“When you’re being recruited, they tell you you can play or you can have this number or whatever and put a big picture in your head that’s unrealistic,” Cobb said. “(Kill) told me that if I wanted it, I was going to have to work for it and that I had a chance to play. If I was good enough, he’d play me. If I wasn’t, I’d sit on the bench. Unfortunately, that’s what I did.”
Cobb carried only 11 times during his first two seasons, a long way from the workhorse back from high school.
He remained a secondary option until his junior season. In his first career start against Northwestern on Oct. 19, Cobb rushed for 103 yards on 20 carries in the first of four consecutive wins for Minnesota.
With five 100-yard games in the final seven in 2013, Cobb became Minnesota’s first 1,000-yard back since Amir Pinnix in 2006.
“He’s developed himself into a really good running back to where he can handle that workload and stay healthy and play with a lot of juice and physicality,” Poore said. “From a mental standpoint, he’s in a great sync right now with the tempo he plays with and the vision that he has.”
Cobb is well ahead of that pace again with 722 yards through the first five games.
Minnesota isn’t a team that’s going to pass on every down, especially as starting quarterback Mitch Leidner has missed time this season with turf toe.
That has put the offense on Cobb, who carried 34 times for 207 yards with two touchdowns against San Jose State when the Gophers were down to a backup quarterback. He added 32 carries for 183 yards in the 30-14 win over Michigan.
With another 29-carry, 220-yard performance earlier in the year, Cobb earned Minnesota’s off week last week.
“He was beat up a bit after the Michigan game and we didn’t do a lot with him until (eight days later) because he carried it and he was beat up some,” Kill said. “He seems to be doing well. At times we need to spell him a little bit more, but it’s hard to take him off the field.”
As Cobb says, though, he has plenty of carries saved up from his first two seasons as the forgotten man on campus.
“As far as body-wise, I’m feeling good, maybe some bruises here and there,” Cobb said.” When you win, you’re not sore at all.”