Articles By David Fox
The middle of summer is upon us, and for many elite high school prospects, that means 7-on-7 competitions.
If quarterbacks, receivers and running backs aren’t working on passing skeletons in their spare time, they’re probably at one of the showcases or tournaments.
Last week’s 7-on-7 drills at The Opening in Beaverton, Ore., and this week’s National Select 7-on-7 championship in Hoover, Ala., have us wondering which college team would have the best 7-on-7 squad in 2014.
Take away the offensive line and the defense, which offenses would we want to watch play against air? We’ve noted the national unit rankings for quarterbacks, running backs and receivers as published in our 2014 preview magazines.
A silly exercise, but it is the middle of July.
1. Florida State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 1 | RB: 7 | WR/TE: 4
Could it be anyone else? The returning Heisman winner at quarterback is the headliner here, but Jameis Winston still has plenty of company despite personnel departures. Kelvin Benjamin and his 15 touchdown catches are gone as are the top two running backs. Rashad Greene may become the school’s career-leading receiver, and Kermit Whitfield and Isaiah Jones are up-and-comers. Nick O’Leary, who averaged 16.9 yards per catch last season, could be the nation’s top tight end. Former safety Karlos Williams proved himself a breakaway threat at running back with 8.0 yards per carry last season. Even while playing against live defenses, Florida State led the nation at 7.7 yards per play.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 4 | RB: 19 | WR/TE: 2
Baylor sure looked like a 7-on-7 squad early last season, when it racked up numbers at a record pace against an overmatched non-conference schedule. Eventually, the Bears proved it had depth, too. Receiver Levi Norwood and running back Shock Linwood stepped in for injured starters, and Baylor didn’t miss a beat. Both return in bigger roles this season. And then there’s Bryce Petty, who finished last season with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first season as a starter. He’ll have two returning starters at receiver back in Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 6 | RB: 14 | WR/TE: 7
In a league short on experienced quarterbacks, Auburn will have a leg up on the SEC with Nick Marshall. The Tigers want Marshall to develop as a passer this season. A year ago, backing off Marshall the passer and focusing on the run game helped turned Auburn into SEC champions. A year after averaging 21.5 yards per catch, Sammie Coates earned a spot atop Bruce Feldman’s annual “freaks” list. Auburn should have plenty of bodies in the run game to replace Tre Mason. The question is how Cameron Artis-Payne, the speedy Corey Grant, inside zone threat Peyton Barber and talented freshmen will end up in the rotation.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 1 | WR/TE: 1
Alabama is back to the two-man running back tandem after T.J. Yeldon rushed 115 times more than anyone else last season. Yeldon and Sugar Bowl star Derrick Henry may come closer to approaching the Yeldon/Eddie Lacy duo in 2012 that topped 2,400 yards. Breakaway threat Amari Cooper leads the a veteran receivers group, and O.J. Howard is a weapon at tight end few Nick Saban teams have had. The question is Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Jimbo Fisher has talked him up since the quarterback left Tallahassee, but he’s still an unknown quantity.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 2 | WR/TE: 3
Georgia would have had one of the best 7-on-7 teams last season had this group stayed healthy. The Bulldogs will make another run for it this season, though with senior Hutson Mason replacing SEC career leading passer Aaron Murray. The star here, though, is Todd Gurley. Think he’s a big deal? Georgia averaged two yards per play more on drives when Gurley carried compared to when he didn’t. The receiver group is deep, especially if it can stay healthy. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley missed significant time last season, but that allowed Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, who missed two games with an MCL injury, take more prominent roles.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 2 | RB: 10 | WR/TE: NR
Marcus Mariota is much more effective when he can run, but he still finished last season with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions despite a balky knee for a stretch. Running back as usual is loaded for Oregon with Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner (1,739 yards, 23 touchdowns combined) returning. The question will be at receiver with sure-handed receiver Josh Huff gone and Bralon Addison out with a torn ACL.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 8 | WR/TE: 9
Cody Kessler’s season took off in 2013 after the coaching switch, culminating with 344 yards and four touchdowns in the bowl game against Fresno State. Receiver Marqise Lee is out, but USC as usual has another star No. 1 receiver ready to take over in Nelson Agholor. The underrated portion may be the running backs where Buck Allen emerged under the new coaching staff for 785 yards and 15 total touchdowns. The best news in all of this: Offensive coordinator Clay Helton is back.
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 5 | RB: NR | WR/TE: 18
Brett Hundley will keep UCLA in Pac-12 contention after passing for more than 3,000 yards and rushing for more than 700 to go with 35 total touchdowns. Leading receiver Shaq Evans is gone, but the next four players in line are sophomores and juniors ready to break out. Running back needs an upgrade after linebacker Myles Jack swooped in and propped up the run game with seven rushing touchdowns.
9. Michigan State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 11 | RB: 11 | WR/TE: 17
Michigan State may not be the program anyone names when it comes to dynamic offense, but the 2014 skill positions are solid across the board. Mark Dantonio trusted Connor Cook with more of the offense as the season went along, and Jeremy Langford topped 100 yards in eight consecutive games before the Rose Bowl victory. The receiver group led by Tony Lippett is deep and underrated.
10. Ohio State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 3 | RB: 15 | WR/TE: 19
Braxton Miller remains one of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks, and he’s continuing to get better. His completion percentage went up five points from last season with only a marginal change in yards per attempt. Devin Smith can be a deep threat at receiver, and Evan Spencer is a returning starter. Carlos Hyde is a major loss at running back, so Miller may be under more pressure to handle a heavy burden of the offense.
11. North Carolina
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 19 | RB: 24 | WR/TE: 12
Though his end of season statistics were boosted by a 409-yard, five-touchdown performance against Old Dominion, Marquise Williams did enough in the air and on the ground to signal he could be the best ACC quarterback not named Jameis. North Carolina has a pair of 6-4 receivers (Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard) who combined for 14 touchdown catches last season to go with an effective committee of running backs.
Others of note: BYU, Ole Miss, Stanford, Texas A&M
HOOVER, Ala. — In baseball, most pinch-hitters take their at-bat and head back to the dugout. It’s one hitter, one pitcher and the day is done.
Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah pinch hit for more than three hours, taking the best (and sadly, the worst) the SEC media contingent had to offer.
When Auburn coach Gus Malzahn pulled his SEC champion quarterback Nick Marshall from the media day roster Monday, he called on Uzomah.
Instead of a quarterback who passed for more than 1,900 yards and rushed for more than 1,000, Uzomah and his 17 career receptions represented Auburn at media day. Instead of a quarterback who had just been cited for marijuana possession over the weekend, Auburn sent a senior who otherwise expected to enjoy a quiet Monday.
“It is a privilege and a reward to represent Auburn here at the SEC Media Days,” Malzahn said. “Last Friday Nick lost that privilege.”
But is it really a privilege, hearing the same questions over and over again, many of which were the same questions back in the spring and the fall? There’s a way for a player to survive media day. Here’s what we learned from following Uzomah and asking some seasoned vets for the survival guide.
As Alabama quarterback-turned-ESPN and Sirius XM host Greg McElroy says, “appreciate the hassle.”
Lead image borrowed from @SEC.
Rule 1: Call mom
The first call to replace Marshall went from Mazlahn to Uzomah. The second was from Uzomah to mom.
Some teams will show up in suits. Some will show up in team polos. Auburn went for suits, and Uzomah didn’t have one on campus.
Never underestimate mom’s devotion to make a kid look good. His mom drove two-and-half hours from Suwanee, Ga., to Auburn, Ala., to bring him his suit.
Maybe mom didn’t bring dress socks. Maybe she did, but Uzomah wasn’t going to pass on a chance to turn his socks into a conversation piece. Uzomah is a U.S. soccer fan and used red, white and blue socks with a small flag hanging off the ankle.
Like Uzomah, Florida’s Dante Fowler called mom for a trip to Men’s Warehouse. Mom picked out the suit, but Fowler needed to accessorize.
“I saw a bow tie, and I said as long as I get this bow tie I’m fine,” Fowler said. “(Defensive lineman) Alex McCallister tied it for me. It was too tight on my neck, but Alex is 6-7 so his long arms helped out.”
Rule 2: Prep for questions
Even on media day, players need to put in some study time. Media has its own tendencies just like any offense or defense.
All of Auburn’s players had to answer to some degree for Marshall. Did he address the team (he did). Does he still have the team’s trust (he does).
“We prepared just like it was a game,” Uzomah said.
When McElroy came for media day before his senior season in 2010, he and his teammates knew most of the questions that were going to be asked.
“What’s Nick Saban like? What’s Trent (Richardson) like? What’s Mark Ingram like? Can you win the national championship? Can you do it again?” McElroy said. “We knew what the questions are going to be.”
Here’s where C.J. Uzomah was for SEC Media Day:
12:00-12:10 Fox Sports South
12:30-12:50 Print/Online Media
1:30-1:40 SEC Video
1:40-1:50 Sirius XM
1:50-2:00 SEC Radio
2:10-2:40 Radio Row
Jeff Driskel, another veteran quarterback, knew the drill Monday, too, although no one was going to ask about going to the national championship game.
He plopped himself down in front of the media horde.
“Do I just pick someone?”
“All right. Let’s do this.”
Then the standard series of questions on Florida’s new hurry-up offense, Will Muschamp on the hot seat, and his recovery from a broken right leg.
“I’m feeling great ... thanks for asking.”
Rule 3: Stay on schedule
There’s one person on media day whose influence trumps anyone but the coach: The 5-foot-4 woman keeping players on schedule from the main print media room to breakout rooms for SEC broadcast rights holders ESPN and CBS.
Uzomah may be on a roll. The lingering media may still have follow ups. Two more questions in the media pool means two more questions. Exactly.
“She’s the boss,” Uzomah said as he was whisked from newspaper reporters to TV reporters.
And a harsh reminder for reporters: The follow-up to the last question doesn’t start the clock over again.
“They always want to ask more questions,” grumbled one of Monday’s timekeepers.
Rule 4: Have patience
Not only is Uzomah pinch-hitting. He’s putting in extra time.
A radio row trip isn’t on the schedule, but Auburn wants to get its player to local radio outlets and another in the Atlanta area, where Uzomah played in high school.
The first question in one interview with Uzomah: “Is it ‘Ooh-zah-mah’ or ‘Ooh-zoe-mah?’” Answer: Ooh-zah-mah.
The final statement in said interview: “We’re here with C.J. ‘Ooh-zoe-mah.’”
In between: Several questions about Nick Marshall and yet more questions about how Auburn’s spread offense can improve.
“To me, it was a bit of a drag,” McElroy said. “Because it's room after room. You can’t hit everyone all at once, you’re hitting different questions at different times. I remember leaving here and taking a nap on the way home.”
Rule 5: Embrace the fans
The circus atmosphere of a media day is ramped up a notch for Auburn and Alabama in Hoover. The lobby of the Hyatt Regency on the day the Iron Bowl rivals speak is often laced with dozens of fans from 8 a.m. until the afternoon.
As Uzomah exited the main media ballroom onto radio row — the collection of stations conducting live radio shows in the Hyatt Regency lobby — he was greeted at the end of the escalator with chants of “War Eagle.”
In the middle of a TV interview, a fan walks by and says, “War Eagle.” Uzomah interrupts his own answer to respond in kind.
Uzomah is in the final minutes of being herded like cattle from interview to interview to autograph seekers back to interviews. Is this a privilege or a penance?
“I love it,” Uzomah said. “I’m having fun.”
HOOVER, Ala. — Will Muschamp opened his meeting with the media in Hoover with an 11-minute filibuster, acknowledging the business of his future employment but still putting off any real questions.
“There will be a lot of chatter about hot seat business,” Muschamp said, unprompted. “That's part of it. The way you combat that is having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we're going to do.”
The “hot seat” is the media cliche of the preseason — who is on it, who is off, what does a coach need to do to get off of it or get fired.
Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher
After a 4-8 season, Muschamp draws the hot seat straw in the SEC this year, joining names like Derek Dooley, Joker Phillips and Houston Nutt (twice).
“There was never any time in my mind that I didn't think I would be retained,” Muschamp said.
After home losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern and one of the worst offenses in the country, Muschamp isn’t defending record as much as he’s trying to instill hope.
The record includes a Sugar Bowl but also the worst Florida season since 0-10-1 in 1979. The hope is that the offense won’t be ranked around teams like Eastern Michigan, Memphis, UConn and Idaho.
For that, Muschamp added Duke’s Kurt Roper, his third offensive coordinator in four seasons. The move is expected to add more shotgun offense, more quick passes and more running opportunities for quarterback Jeff Driskel, recruited in the spread option under former coach Urban Meyer.
The hope is also that Florida will stay healthier. Driskel was lost for the season in September. The injuries continued with Driskel’s backup, Tyler Murphy, and a host of other players on offense.
By the end of the season, trainer Paul Silvestri visited Muschamp in the defensive coaching room at 10 p.m. one day game week. Silvestri was rarely in the football office at that time of night. He was this night to tell to coach that offensive lineman Tyler Moore injured his elbow in a scooter accident.
“I can't tell you exactly what I said, but it wasn't good,” Muschamp said. “That was at a point where, you know, I asked him, You got to be kidding? That was a point where, you know, it was just very frustrating.”
Was it the injuries? Was it the offense? Was it bad luck? Or was it Muschamp?
Florida may find out this season.
“I’ve mentioned it multiple times today, there is no pressure,” Driskel said. “Every coach is on the hot seat.”
HOOVER, Ala. — Invoking quotes from Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, SEC commissioner Mike Slive on Monday reiterated his goal to change the NCAA's legislative process granting more autonomy for the five power conferences.
Slive outlined the goals of the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 to have autonomy in decision-making within in the NCAA or establish a new division. Slive’s statements at SEC Media Day on Monday mirrored his statements earlier in the spring.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany have made similar such statements.
“We are not deaf to the din of discontent across collegiate athletics that has dominated the news,” Slive said.
“The educational and cultural significance of intercollegiate athletics is far too important for us not to seek positive solutions to existing challenges. This is why we have been actively engaged in building a bridge to provide a needed avenue of change for the NCAA with the primary objective of enhancing the support enjoyed by Division I student‑athletes while maintaining and preserving the collegiate model.”
Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher
Autonomy would allow the SEC and the other four power conferences more ability to offer full cost-of-attendance scholarships, expanded health care and scholarships beyond five years.
The NCAA board of directors is expected to vote on autonomy in August.
“As I have said before, if we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student‑athletes” Slive said.
College football has made plenty of news this summer, and some of it hasn’t involved attorneys or conference realignment.
The summer — officially — has recently begun, but it’s starting to feel like the season is just around the corner. Part of that is because we’re less than 50 days away from the first day of the season. And SEC media days, the unofficial kickoff to the preseason, begins next week.
Rosters are starting to settle into place with transfers in, transfers out and all the violations of team rules to bring about suspensions and dismissals.
If you’ve stepped away from the minutiae of college football news, that’s OK. We’ll help you get caught up. Here are the key developments since spring practice that could impact the 2014 season.
1. Oklahoma takes a chance on Dorial Green-Beckham
The dismissal of Dorial Green-Beckham from Missouri in April was perhaps the biggest personnel shakeup in college football in spring practice. That is, until he landed at Oklahoma. The Sooners may seek a waiver for Green-Beckham to play this season since he was dismissed from Missouri rather than leaving as a traditional transfer. That he was dismissed after he was named a suspect in a burglary incident could make a waiver unlikely. According to the police report, Green-Beckham pushed a woman down at least four stairs, but the alleged victim declined to prosecute. Whether he’s eligible in 2014 or 2015, Oklahoma adds a former No. 1 overall recruit who amassed 883 receiving yards with 12 touchdowns for the SEC East champions.
2. Jameis Winston experiences summer as a Heisman winner
Every summer news nugget is a little bigger and a little more ridiculous for underclassman Heisman winners. Just ask Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel and now Jameis Winston. The sophomore quarterback brought some of this on himself when he walked out of a grocery store without paying for crab legs, an alleged heist that launched a thousand memes. Other than that, Winston spent the summer with the Florida State baseball team, striking out 31 batters in 33.1 innings, and took out an $8-10 million “loss of value” insurance policy. The latter is notable because he is the first defending Heisman winner since Sam Bradford to purchase such a policy. Others have purchased “total permanent disability” policies.
3. Max Wittek did not end up at Texas
At one point, Texas looked like it would have former USC starting quarterback Max Wittek in its fall camp as a contender for the job in 2014. Those plans fell apart when Wittek did not graduate in spring and wouldn’t be eligible for the upcoming season. Instead, Wittek may walk on at Hawaii and be eligible in 2015. That leaves incumbent David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard at Texas’ quarterback position.
4. Washington regains a quarterback, loses a receiver
For most of spring practice, the assumption was that Cyler Miles would eventually become Washington’s starting quarterback this season. That came a step closer to becoming official when coach Chris Petersen lifted his three-month suspension. At the same time, wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow transferred to Ole Miss. Both players were mentioned in an alleged assault of Seahawks fans on the night of the Super Bowl. Miles was not charged, and Stringfellow pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors.
Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher
5. Jake Heaps joins uncertain QB situation in Miami
Solid (or better) quarterback play at Miami used to be a given. That hasn’t been the case for a few years, and certainly not this offseason. Projected starter Ryan Williams went down with a torn ACL in April, and although he told reporters he’s hopeful to return in time for the opener, that’s a quick turnaround for knee reconstruction. If Williams is unavailable, Miami’s quarterbacks are down to redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who struggled in the spring, two true freshmen and now Jake Heaps. Heaps was a highly regarded prospect out of high school but lost a starting job at BYU and then Kansas before transferring to Miami. Heaps has thrown 32 touchdowns and 27 interceptions in three seasons.
6. No more Joker Phillips at Florida
The revolving door that is Florida’s wide receiver coach position continued when Phillips resigned abruptly in early June. Phillips was photographed sitting with a recruit in a restaurant during a dead period in recruiting, according to Yahoo! Sports. He was replaced by graduate assistant and former Florida quarterback Chris Leak, the fourth receivers coach in four seasons. This also means the end to awkward photoshops.
7. Missouri loses an assistant
Schools lose assistants all the time, but the retirement of co-offensive line coach Bruce Walker was unique on a couple of fronts. First, Walker retired in July. Second, he was a part of one of the most stable coaching staffs in the country. Walker was one of six assistants who had been with Gary Pinkel at least since he started at Missouri in 2001.
8. Clemson spends $4.42 million on assistants
How much is a coaching staff worth? At Clemson, the value is nearing $4.5 million. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables and defensive ends coach Mario Hobby both earned raises, and the entire staff earned deals to extend them for the next two years. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris, a potential head coaching candidate, was the only assistant who did not get a new deal.
9. Eastern Michigan announced it will start losing on a new field
OK. So we made part of that up. But Eastern Michigan rarely wins and decided to upgrade its field with a new gray turf at Rynearson Stadium that will be nicknamed “the Factory.”
10. St. Petersburg Bowl gets new sponsor
Normally, bowl sponsors aren’t big news ... unless said sponsor makes weedeaters or slays taxes. Joining the pantheon of great bowl sponsors is the virtual currency Bitcoin, which will sponsor the St. Petersburg Bowl.
11. James Franklin ruffles feathers
The SEC is normally ground zero for coaches saying interesting things on the booster and fan fest circuit. Nice to know James Franklin took that with him from Vanderbilt to Penn State. Franklin said Maryland may as well be the Nittany Lions’ home state and other programs “don’t have a chance.” Maryland coach Randy Edsall responded by saying “talk is cheap.” Worth noting that Maryland and Penn State are now division rivals in the Big Ten and Franklin was once Maryland’s head coach-in-waiting.
12. Clint Trickett named West Virginia’s starting quarterback
Most starting quarterback announcements either occur at the end of spring or during preseason camp. There are a handful, though, that trickle out during the summer. West Virginia announced Clint Trickett as its starting quarterback for the opener against Alabama after he recovered from shoulder surgery. Trickett, the Florida State transfer, started at West Virginia during the second half of last season, including an improbable win over Oklahoma State.
13. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson cleared to play
The Utes quarterback will get a chance to finish off his career on a high note after he was cleared in late June to return to football. Doctors had been watching an injury to an intracranial artery, an ailment discovered after Wilson sustained a concussion Nov. 9. Utah started 4-2 last season, including an upset of Stanford before a hand injury derailed Wilson’s and Utah’s seasons.
14. Notre Dame gets DaVaris Daniels back
Notre Dame’s most experienced receiver was reinstated after academic concerns held him out of spring practice. Between Daniels’ return to the team and Everett Golson’s return from a year-long absence, the Irish have at least one formidable pass-catch duo down the field.
15. Lastly, a few of the notable dismissals, departures and transfers:
• Texas A&M’s struggling defense took a hit when the Aggies dismissed starting linebacker Darian Claiborne (89 tackles) and nose guard Isaiah Golden after they were charged with aggravated robbery in June.
• The Aggies’ quarterback situation also cleared out when Matt Joeckel elected to transfer to TCU. He’ll be eligible in 2014 as a graduate transfer and could compete for the starting job.
• Georgia dismissed projected starting safety Tray Matthews after he was one of four players charged with theft by deception after allegedly trying to cash scholarship checks twice. Matthews announced he intends to transfer to Auburn.
• Miami immediately dismissed linebacker Alexander Figueroa, a projected starter, and Jawand Blue after they were charged with sexual battery on a physically helpless victim on July 5.
• Baylor dismissed wide receiver Robbie Rhodes, one of the school’s major recruiting victories in 2013. Rhodes had been arrested in May on charges of marijuana possession and tampering with physical evidence. A second violation of team rules during the summer prompted his dismissal.
• Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson announced he’d transfer. Roberson had passed for 2,443 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 973 yards the last three seasons. Roberson was expected to share the job with Nate Sudfeld.
• After a move from part-time quarterback to full-time wide receiver, Kansas State’s Daniel Sams transferred to McNeese State, where he’ll be eligible immediately.
• UConn running back Lyle McCombs won’t return to the Huskies after new coach Bob Diaco announced he was no longer with the team. McCombs is the schools fourth-leading career rusher.
As Steve Sarkisian packed up his boxes in Seattle to take the USC job, the former Washington coach closed the door on another part of his life — his 30s.
Sarkisian attained one of the best positions in college football before his 40th birthday, but just barely. Sarkisian turned 40 three months after taking the USC job, taking him off our annual list of college football coaches under the age of 40.
Even without Sarkisian, this year’s list still features some notable names. Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, despite a rocky finish to last season, claims our top spot for the final time before he joins Sark in the 40-and-up club.
Who will be poised to be the top coach under 40 next season? Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech would be a good candidate after his stock rose after one season as a head coach. A number of assistant coaches are also worth watching this season and as their careers progress in the coming years.
*ages are as of Sept. 1, 2014.
1. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern head coach
Buzz: The 2013 season ended in a tailspin as the Wildcats lost seven in a row starting with a fourth-quarter collapse against Ohio State. That’s not going to take Fitzgerald off this list in his final year of eligibility before hitting the big 4-0. The 5-7 mark in 2013 was an aberration. Just a year earlier, Fitzgerald led Northwestern to a 10-3 season, a top-20 finish and the Wildcats’ first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl. With its recruiting limitations, Northwestern rarely will contend for the Big Ten title, but Fitz has the formula for reaching bowl games at Northwestern down to a science.
2. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech head coach
Buzz: Kingsbury’s first team may never have been as good as its 7-0 start suggested. Texas Tech lost five in a row to close the regular season before a 37-23 win over Pac-12 South champion Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Considering the revolving door at quarterback, Kingsbury had a solid debut as a head coach. As one of the youngest coaches in the FBS, Kingsbury brings the cool factor to Lubbock, but also one of the nation’s most productive offenses. Texas Tech led the nation in plays per game last season (87.3).
3. Willie Taggart, USF head coach
Buzz: Taggart’s record in his first season at USF was ugly at 2-10. Until further notice, Taggart should get the benefit of the doubt. He inherited a team short on talent, especially on offense. Still, USF found a way to beat Cincinnati in October and allowed 4.7 yards per play in the last four games. There's reason to believe he'll get USF turned around. Taggart also started 2-10 at Western Kentucky before building the Hilltoppers into a viable FBS program.
4. Matt Campbell, Toledo head coach
Buzz: In two seasons under Campbell, Toledo continues to be one of the MAC’s top programs and a regular fixture in those mid-week shootouts in November. Even though Toledo missed a bowl game last season, the Rockets finished 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the MAC. Toledo also has averaged better than six yards per play in four of five seasons with Campbell has offensive coordinator or head coach.
5. Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator
Buzz: With how much Smart’s name has been in the rumor mill, it may be tough to believe he’s still in the under-40 crowd. That’s what happens when you go from the playing field to a full-time gig for Nick Saban in six years. Smart has spent all but one season of the last decade working for Saban — the exception being one year as running backs coach at his alma mater Georgia. Saban gets his share of the credit for the defense, but he’s also made Smart the second-highest paid assistant in the country. That has to count for something.
6. Justin Fuente, Memphis head coach
Buzz: The record is not impressive at 7-17 in two seasons at Memphis, but it's a long way from where the Tigers were. Indeed, the Tigers have had a long climb from the 5-31 mark the three seasons before Fuente arrived. The Tigers are becoming more competitive, especially on defense. Memphis has lost six one-score games the last two seasons, including a 24-17 loss to Fiesta Bowl winner UCF.
7. Bryan Harsin, Boise State head coach
Buzz: Harsin became the third one-and-done head coach at Arkansas State, joining Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn with a short-lived tenure in Jonesboro. Programs are gobbling up Arkansas State coaches with good reason. Arkansas State earned a share of the Sun Belt title under Harsin to reach a third consecutive bowl game. Harsin returns to Boise State where the Broncos went 84-8 when he was an assistant under Chris Petersen.
8. Justin Wilcox, USC defensive coordinator
Buzz: Wilcox helped remake the Washington defense under Steve Sarkisian the last two seasons. The Huskies improved from 10th in the Pac-12 in yards per play the year before Wilcox arrived to tied for third last season. For the first time since he was at Boise State, Wilcox won’t be starting from scratch at a new job. USC returns eight defensive starters — surely a different situation than what Wilcox inherited at his last two stops at Washington and Tennessee.
9. Tom Herman, Ohio State offensive coordinator
Buzz: Even though Urban Meyer remains a spread option guru, his offensive coordinator merits attention. Herman has coached an offense that has gone 24-2 the last two seasons, despite an injury to Braxton Miller and a work-in-progress offensive line. Before that, Herman was offensive coordinator for the Iowa State team that upset Oklahoma State’s BCS championship game bid in 2011 and a Rice team that won 10 games. As a bonus, he’s a former Mensa member.
10. Scott Frost, Oregon offensive coordinator
Buzz: Frost is only a year into his job as offensive coordinator, but this post at Oregon has a pretty good track record for head coaches, including Jeff Tedford, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich. Scott doesn’t have as long a coaching resume as some of the names on this list, partly because he was in the NFL until 2003. He’s made up for it as an assistant coach in four BCS games.
11. Mike Norvell, Arizona State offensive coordinator
Buzz: Todd Graham is usually associated with the offensive side of the ball even though he has a defensive background. That’s because Graham has hired Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris to run his offense. Norvell has been at the position ever since Graham went to Pittsburgh.
12. Dave Aranda, Wisconsin defensive coordinator
Buzz: Aranda is finally getting the attention he deserves now that he’s in the Big Ten. Aranda installed a 3-4 defense at Wisconsin last season as the Badgers finished second in the league in rush defense and third in total defense. Before Wisconsin, Aranda led big play-happy defenses at Utah State and Hawaii.
13. Rhett Lashlee, Auburn offensive coordinator
Buzz: Gus Malzahn received plenty of credit for Auburn’s offenses in 2013 and 2010, but it would be tough to find anyone more steeped in Malzahn’s hurry-up no-huddle than Lashlee. The 30-year-old played for Malzahn at Springdale (Ark.) and worked with him at Arkansas, Arkansas State and now Auburn.
14. D.J. Durkin, Florida defensive coordinator
Buzz: Florida’s struggles might not cut into Durkin’s career goals. He’s a standout defensive coordinator and one of the Gators’ top recruiters. His resume also goes back to Bowling Green with Urban Meyer.
15. Lincoln Riley, East Carolina offensive coordinator
Buzz: Perhaps the lowest-profile name on this list, Riley may be a target for an offensive coordinator for a major program in short order. His four seasons have produced the top four passing seasons in school history. He started his career as Texas Tech’s wide receivers coach under Mike Leach, a job that has proven to put assistants on the fast track.
“Finally, the poo-bahs of major college football have seen the light. Smelled the money. They’ve broken from the past, from almost a century of polls and bowls, and embraced a national playoff.”
Those sentences appeared in Athlon Sports’ 1995 preseason annual as the conferences and the bowls began work on agreements for an updated postseason. The whiff of a college football playoff was in the air as Athlon contributor Steve Wieberg — who is now on the inaugural College Football Playoff selection committee — wrote about a hypothetical single-elimination tournament for the 1997 season.
We didn’t get the playoff then. We got the BCS.
After 15 years of confusion and hand-wringing over polls and computer rankings, the BCS has come to an end. The conferences, schools and bowls will join the rest of civilized sporting society and determine a champion through a playoff this season.
The name itself is designed to be a tribute to its simplicity: The College Football Playoff. From the same power structure that brought a Bowl Alliance (that didn’t include the Rose Bowl) and a Bowl Championship Series (that wasn’t a “series” at all) comes a title that says exactly what it is.
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock wants the process of selecting teams to be just as simple.
“The term we are using is ‘the best teams,’” Hancock says. “We are not getting into the nuance of the debate of ‘best’ and ‘most deserving.’ We think ‘best’ says it all.”
The name is simple. The goals and execution of the CFP are not. All the Playoff needs to accomplish is to be all things to all people. Yep, that’s it.
The Playoff needs to have the legitimacy of crowning a true, one and only, national champion for the first time in the history of the college football postseason. It needs to preserve the excitement on college campuses during the shortest regular season in major sports.
The Playoff, perhaps to the chagrin of some fans, also needs to preserve the traditional bowl system that has existed since 1902.
Most important, the Playoff is meant to restore teeth to college football’s presence during the New Year’s holiday. Beyond expanding the field of teams that can play for a national championship from two to four, the new format aims to reclaim the New Year’s holiday for college football.
Not that college football was ever absent from Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, but the title game the following week and BCS games throughout the week diluted the teams and matchups for what traditionally has been college football’s signature day.
That won’t be the case in the next three seasons, with Jan. 1 hosting the national semifinals this season and New Year’s Eve hosting the semifinals following the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
This is supposed to be a solution to a postseason that’s been unsatisfying for many fans even before the BCS era. Take the four best teams, have them play during a national holiday and have two of them meet for a national championship roughly a week later.
What could go wrong?
Here are some F.A.Q.’s about the new system and some straightforward answers (where they’re available).
What is the least I need to know about this Playoff?
Here’s How the Postseason Might Look With Our Rankings As a Template
Step 1: The selection committee ranks and assigns teams to the semifinals.
Let’s say the top four is: No. 1 Florida State (ACC champion), No. 2 Alabama (SEC champion), No. 3 Ohio State (Big Ten champion) and No. 4 Oklahoma (Big 12 champion):
Sugar Bowl semifinal:
No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
Rose Bowl semifinal:
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State
Step 2: The contract bowls fill their spots.
The Orange Bowl fulfills its contract with the ACC by selecting No. 21 Clemson, the best available team from the ACC, to replace Florida State, and No. 5 Auburn, the highest-ranked team remaining among the SEC, Big Ten and Notre Dame. The Orange Bowl is not necessarily obligated to select the highest-ranked remaining team from the ACC, however.
Step 3: The pool of teams for the six remaining bowl slots is determined.
The Pac-12 champion, contracted to play in the Rose Bowl in non-Playoff years, is guaranteed a slot in the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach since it is not part of the Playoff. In our rankings, that team is No. 6 Oregon. The committee also determines the highest-ranked team outside of the “Group of Five,” which is guaranteed a bid. In our rankings, that team is No. 40 Marshall. The final four spots — the at-large bids, if you will — go to the highest-ranked remaining teams: No. 7 UCLA, No. 8 Georgia, No. 9 South Carolina and No. 10 Baylor.
Step 4: The selection committee assigns the remaining six spots in the New Year’s Day bowls with the best remaining teams in the rankings, being mindful of geography and avoiding rematches or repeat trips to a bowl. The selection committee may assign bowls as follows:
Fiesta: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 9 South Carolina
Cotton: No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Baylor
Peach: No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 40 Marshall
Who hosts the championship game and semifinals?
The championship game will rotate among locations, starting with AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for 2014-15, University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., in 2015-16 and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., in 2016-17.
The answer for the semifinals is a little more complicated. Six bowl games will rotate between hosting semifinals and premier New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve bowl games. In 2014-15, the Sugar and Rose bowls will host semifinals on Jan. 1 while the Cotton (Jan. 1) and Orange, Peach and Fiesta bowls (Dec. 31) host other top games determined by the Playoff Selection Committee. In 2015-16, the Orange and Cotton bowls will host the semifinals before passing the baton to the Peach and Fiesta bowls in 2016-17. The College Football Playoff brass is calling the semifinals and other four premier bowls the “New Year’s Six.” Think of the non-Playoff bowls as the non-championship “BCS” games under a new name.
What will the selection committee do?
The selection committee will rank the top-25 teams in the country and assign the top four in the semifinals. After that, it will place the next group of at-large teams into the New Year’s Day bowls and identify the top teams from the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. In essence, the selection committee is picking the field for the championship (the Playoff) and the consolation prizes (the best non-Playoff bowls).
What criteria will the selection committee use to rank teams?
That’s not clear. In basketball, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has established benchmarks — top-50 wins, bad losses, strength of schedule and the RPI. The football selection committee has no precedent, so it’s not clear what metrics will be used to determine the “best” teams. The Playoff has retained a company called SportSource Analytics to provide statistical data to aid the committee in comparing teams. What that entails is not clear, but it will include opponents’ record, opponents’ opponents’ record and other unspecified data.
“The selection committee’s charge is to use common sense and to consider strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head, results against common opponents,” Hancock says. “Those are the four overarching standards.”
Hancock also says the committee will not dictate how leagues structure their conference schedules. The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 will play nine-game schedules in the Playoff era. The ACC will play eight games plus a five-team deal with Notre Dame. The SEC will play eight league games while requiring teams to play at least one game against a team from the other four major conferences. The Big 12 is the only league among the major conferences without a title game.
Why not include tools like college basketball’s RPI?
Remember how much you hated the BCS computers? The Playoff took note. “We intentionally did not create one single metric because we had that in the BCS,” Hancock says. “We created the selection committee because we wanted the human factor to be involved, for human judgment to be involved. Committee members will be able to say Team X lost in the second week of the season, but let’s remember that their left tackle didn’t play and now he’s back.”
How will the committee handle conflicts of interest?
The first selection committee will include five sitting athletic directors. At some point, a selection committee member likely will be in a position to vote for his or her own program into the semifinals. The Playoff established a policy that will recuse committee members if they or an immediate family member receives compensation from the school or has a professional relationship with the program. Recused committee members may not vote or be present during deliberations involving their schools.
What are the logistics of ranking teams?
The committee will meet in person in Dallas on Mondays and Tuesdays starting in late October. Each committee member will devise a top 25. Through a step-by-step process, the committee will whittle its pool of teams under consideration into groups of six and then groups of three until it arrives at a consensus top 25.
How will this change my weekly football routine?
Remember that Sunday night BCS rankings show? That in essence moves to Tuesdays, when the selection committee will release its top 25 on ESPN.
How is this process an improvement over the last one?
The rankings process appears to be more deliberate and rigorous than the BCS system, if only because the committee has three days to analyze Saturday’s games and two days to deliberate. No more AP voters on deadline or coaches (or athletic department staffers) filing top-25 ballots Saturday night. The committee members’ individual ballots and votes will not be made public.
What are the potential problems?
Releasing a weekly poll every week starting in late October is an admirable attempt at transparency. Selection committee chair Jeff Long also will appear on ESPN to explain the rankings. But transparency will come at price when, inevitably, a team continues to win yet drops in the rankings, perhaps out of a Playoff spot. Coaches and athletic directors will be asked to defend — or stump for — their seasons throughout November until the final rankings after the conference title games. The Playoff may soon learn why the basketball committee doesn’t tip its hand until Selection Sunday.
What kind of turnover will there be on the selection committee?
Who is on this selection committee?
The 13-person selection committee, picked by the FBS conference commissioners, is designed to be a cross section of luminaries from college athletics, higher education and government. The selection committee for 2014 will consist of:
• Jeff Long Arkansas athletic director and chair of the committee
• Barry Alvarez Wisconsin athletic director and former coach
• Mike Gould former superintendent at the Air Force Academy
• Pat Haden USC athletic director
• Tom Jernstedt former NCAA executive vice president
• Oliver Luck West Virginia athletic director
• Archie Manning former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints quarterback
• Tom Osborne former coach and athletic director at Nebraska
• Dan Radakovich Clemson athletic director
• Condoleezza Rice former Secretary of State and Stanford provost
• Mike Tranghese former Big East commissioner
• Steve Wieberg retired USA Today college football reporter
• Tyrone Willingham former coach at Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington
Term limits haven’t been set, but committee members generally will serve three seasons. Members of the first committee, though, will have variable terms to achieve a rotation for future years.
What does “assign” the Playoff teams mean?
Hancock says the Playoff will match the selection committee’s No. 1 vs. No. 4 team and the No. 2 vs. No. 3 team. At the same time, he says the No. 1 team will be protected. It seems those goals might not always coincide, right? What if LSU is a No. 4 seed in a potential semifinal at the Sugar Bowl? Or USC or UCLA at the Rose Bowl? Or Georgia in the Peach Bowl? Could the selection committee negate a regional advantage for the No. 1 seed by placing them into the backyard of the No. 4 seed? Or will the selection committee slyly shift a team up a seed line to give a No. 1 seed a more pronounced home-field advantage? We may find out.
Is there a limit to how many teams from a particular conference can go to the Playoff?
No. Conceivably, one conference could send four teams to the playoff, though that seems unlikely. No conference is guaranteed a bid in the semifinal, and no conference is barred. Although conference championships are mentioned as a factor for the selection committee, the Playoff doesn’t require a team to win its league or even its division to be selected for a spot in the semifinal.
What about those other big-time bowl games that aren’t part of the Playoff? Are there automatic bids to these bowl games?
Yes and no. There are no automatic berths to the Playoff for conference champions. However, the Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls (aka, the “contract bowls”) have their traditional conference tie-ins during years they are not hosting the semifinals. In years major conference champions aren’t in the Playoff, those teams will head to their traditional destinations: the Big Ten and Pac-12 to the Rose, the SEC and Big 12 to the Sugar and the ACC to the Orange. The only change is the Big 12’s contract with the Sugar rather than the Fiesta.
When a “contract bowl” loses a conference champion, the selection committee assigns the next highest-ranked team from that league to the bowl game. So, if Florida State wins the ACC and earns a bid to the Playoff this season, the Orange Bowl will take the next highest-ranked ACC team as an automatic bid.
The Playoff means that the traditional bowl pairings will occur on an inconsistent basis. Meetings of conference champions will be even more rare. When the Rose Bowl hosts a semifinal, for example, it will only have a matchup of Big Ten/Pac-12 champions if those teams happen to be in the Rose Bowl’s portion of the bracket. When the Rose Bowl isn’t hosting a semifinal, the game still will have a Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup, but a matchup of Big Ten/Pac-12 champions seems unlikely, as one or the other (or both) would likely be in the playoff.
The selection committee then will fill the remaining three New Year’s Six bowls — the Cotton, the Fiesta and the Peach — with the highest-ranked teams remaining once the semifinals and contract spots in the Rose, Orange and Sugar are filled.
There are other stipulations: The highest-ranked champion from the so-called “Group of Five” — the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt — is guaranteed a bid to one of these three bowls. The Orange Bowl’s second spot opposite the ACC team will be the highest-ranked remaining team from the Big Ten or SEC or Notre Dame.
When assigning these games, the selection committee will tend to favor geographic fit while attempting to avoid rematches or sending the same teams to the same bowl game.
How has the Rose Bowl managed to be stubborn in all of this?
The Rose Bowl is losing some its traditional role in the college football world but not all of it. The Rose Bowl will still be played at 5 p.m. Eastern on New Year’s Day, whether it is hosting a playoff or not. That means when the Rose Bowl hosts a semifinal, the semis will be on New Year’s Day. When the Rose Bowl does not host a Playoff game, the semifinals will be on New Year’s Eve.
What about Notre Dame?
Notre Dame is in the mix for the Orange Bowl spot opposite an ACC opponent. The Orange Bowl will select the highest-ranked team available among Notre Dame, a team from the Big Ten or a team from the SEC. The Orange Bowl is obligated to take three teams each from the Big Ten and SEC during the next 12 years.
What happens to the rest of the bowl games?
The rest of the bowl structure — the Capital One, the Holiday, the Outback and so on — will continue independent of the Playoff structure other than the provision that they won’t be played at the same time as a semifinal. So the Capital One Bowl can still feature an SEC/Big Ten matchup on New Year’s Day, just not at the same time as a Playoff game in the Sugar or Rose bowls.
What about the money?
The 10 conferences and Notre Dame will split an average of $470 million over the course of the rights deal with ESPN, according to a report from USA Today. The ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will split roughly 71.5 percent of the revenue after expenses, while the “Group of Five” will split 27 percent. Notre Dame receives less than one percent.
The Playoff contract between the conferences and the bowls lasts for 12 years, so at minimum this four-team playoff will last until 2024-25.
Where can I watch this thing?
The College Football Playoff will be aired on ESPN.
After last week's league-by-league look at quarterbacks, the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Team did the same examination of coaches through each of the five major conferences. We picked coaches on the hot seat for the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC and pinpointed the assistants you need to watch and the impact coordinators in each league.
Since 1996, college football teams have only been adding to national championship trophy cases.
If certain programs ever seem like they have a ceiling, that’s the fact to watch. Florida is the most recent team to win its first national title when the Gators won the 1996 title. Every other national champion since has only been adding to its trophy tally.
That’s not for lack of trying, though. Oregon, Oklahoma State, Missouri and more have been on the verge of picking up their first national titles during the final years of the BCS era.
No doubt, those programs hope the College Football Playoff era will bring them a long-awaited national championship.
These are the teams still seeking their national title, ranked by their likelihood of ending their drought in the coming years.
*For sake of consistency, we are counting only national championships selected by major services (AP, UPI, coaches' poll, etc.) since the first AP poll in 1936.
Record since 1936: 436-380-18 (.536)
Closest call: Lost to Auburn in the 2010 BCS Championship Game
Outlook: Oregon continues to be the top program in the country both without either a national title or a Heisman trophy. Could both change this season? The Ducks have finished each of the last four seasons in the top 10 and haven’t ranked lower than 11th since 2007. Oregon, the No. 6 team in our countdown, remains our favorite in the Pac-12, but last season the Ducks also failed to reach a BCS bowl for the first time since 2008. Second-year coach Mark Helfrich will look to show this team hasn’t missed its window.
2. South Carolina
Record since 1936: 417-401-26 (.509)
Closest call: Started 9-0 and ranked as high as No. 2 in 1984, finished 10-2
Outlook: The idea of South Carolina as a legitimate national title threat would have been foreign to anyone who watched the Gamecocks go 1-21 in 1998-99. Steve Spurrier has led South Carolina to four consecutive top-10 finishes. The Gamecocks have succeeded in recruiting major prospects (Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney) but not necessarily classes on par with the rest of the SEC. That could change in the class of 2015.
Record since 1936: 412-383-22 (.518)
Closest call: No. 4 in the final BCS standings in 2010 and 2011
Outlook: If only the Playoff came a few years earlier. Stanford finished the regular season ranked No. 4 in 2010 and 2011 with Andrew Luck at quarterback. That doesn’t necessarily mean those Stanford teams would be No. 4 under a theoretical selection committee, but it’s still an interesting note. With back-to-back Pac-12 titles and standout recruiting classes, Stanford shows little sign of slowing down as long as David Shaw is the coach.
Record since 1936: 396-419-17 (.486)
Closest call: No. 6 in the final BCS standings in 2013
Outlook: Baylor’s 9-0 start prompted thoughts of the Bears in the BCS championship game. Those hopes were dashed after Oklahoma State’s 49-17 win on Nov. 23. Baylor may never have been as good as that start suggested, losing 52-42 to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. But the Bears are built to contend in the Big 12 for years to come with the opening of McLane Stadium in 2015.
5. Oklahoma State
Record since 1936: 422-407-22 (.509)
Closest call: Reached No. 2 in the BCS standings in 2011 before a mid-November loss to Iowa State
Outlook: The Cowboys have more or less returned to the mean after flirting with the national championship game in 2011. The Cowboys have gone 12-6 in the Big 12 the last two seasons (they went 12-4 in 2009-10). Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors, so the Pokes may need a year or two to gear up for another conference title run.
Record since 1936: 439-363-14 (.544)
Closest call: A 12-1 season in 2006, the only loss by a field goal to Rutgers
Outlook: Louisville might not be a top-15 team early in its run in the ACC, especially in a division with Florida State and Clemson. Bobby Petrino has been here before, coaching Arkansas against Alabama and LSU. Granted, that didn’t yield Arkansas’ first national championship, either. But Petrino has finished in the top six three times at Louisville and Arkansas. He’ll have the backing at Louisville to push the Cardinals in contention.
Record since 1936: 428-379-27 (.529)
Closest call: Finished the 1962 season ranked No. 2 before a Rose Bowl loss
Outlook: Winning in the postseason hasn’t been a strong suit for Wisconsin since Barry Alvarez retired. The Badgers have lost six of their last seven bowl games. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Gary Andersen, though, was a strong hire who can keep the Badgers in contention in the Big Ten. Wisconsin and Nebraska may be the only realistic national title contenders out of the Big Ten West.
8. Arizona State
Record since 1936: 514-304-15 (.626)
Closest call: Finished the 1996 regular season ranked No. 2 before losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl; Went 12-0 and finished No. 2 in 1975.
Outlook: Arizona State is coming off a 10-win season and a Pac-12 South title and is showing signs of shaking its sleeping giant status. The Sun Devils haven’t finished in the AP top 15 since 1996, but there’s little reason why Arizona State couldn’t become a perennial contender in the Pac-12.
9. Ole Miss
Record since 1936: 487-343-20 (.585)
Closest call: Ranked No. 2 in the AP poll and finished 10-0-1 in 1960
Outlook: Whether Ole Miss can stack the recruiting classes it would need to in order to compete with Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M remains to be seen. The Rebels had a top-10 class in 2012 and top-15 in 2013. That’s a long way from the top SEC contenders, especially for a program that hasn’t finished in the AP top 10 since 1969.
Record since 1936: 455-382-24 (.542)
Closest call: Missouri has twice lost while ranked No. 1 before the final game of the regular season (1960 and 2007).
Outlook: Missouri came within a game of playing for the national title last season before the Tigers lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri has its formula down with consistently solid quarterback play and developing talent from their competition’s backyard, whether it’s in Texas or the Southeast. Missouri has been on the precipice several times, but let’s face it: This is not a charmed football program.
Thinking big isn’t always the best tactic.
Joe Novak learned that much from afar. He was an assistant at Indiana during the 1986 when he watched Northern Illinois, where he had worked for three years, leave the MAC with aspirations of joining big-time college football.
“I don’t know what they were thinking or where they were going to go,” Novak told Athlon Sports in a recent interview.
What the Huskies were trying to do was parlay a move to the Big West into a bid for the Big Eight or Big 12. What Northern Illinois got was six losing seasons in 10 years as an independent and Big West member only to return to where it started.
Northern Illinois’ returned to the league in 1997 with Novak as coach, trumpeting his return with the slogan, “Back in the MAC with Novak.” That’s just about all Northern Illinois had to sell at the time. The Huskies’ hopes of major conference membership were ill-advised, and in the aftermath of the experiment, NIU went 3-30 during Novak’s first three seasons.
The best MACtion, Novak learned, may be inaction at least in terms of changing leagues. Once the program recovered under Novak, Northern Illinois, instead, settled on being one of the flagship programs in the MAC.
July 1 marks another year of conference realignment moves. Maryland and Rutgers become official in the Big Ten, and the ACC adds Louisville. Conference USA adds two teams to take the place of the three that will join the year-old American Athletic Conference.
Once again, though, the MAC is sitting out the game of musical chairs.
That’s not to say the MAC is a total outlier. Temple left before last season after five years as a football-only member, and UMass will follow suit next season.
But the core of the MAC — 10 teams in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana — has remained more or less stable since the ‘70s. Marshall and UCF dabbled here, but neither seemed to be a geographical or philosophical fit.
As conference affiliations change, the MAC has thrived in its stability.
In the last two seasons, the league has produced a BCS participant (Northern Illinois), a No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick (Central Michigan) and another top-five pick (Buffalo). Ratings for the MAC’s featured games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays late in the season aren’t out-performing the Big Ten, but they can top second- or third-tier Saturday games in major conferences.
"The best thing for that league is to stay status quo."
-former Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak
“I’m thankful we’ve been able to stay together, and because of it our conference has moved up in stature,” said Jim Schaus, Ohio’s athletics director since 2008. “By staying where we were and because other conferences have seen other members moving up, those conferences may have stepped back a little bit.”
Tuesday and Wednesday night games have been a staple of the MAC for several years. Wild offensive showcases between MAC teams have become the league’s signature. The #MACtion meme shows there’s national interest in the conference, even if it’s a niche.
At the same time, the American, Conference USA and perhaps even the Mountain West can’t say the same.
“We talk about branding here a lot,” Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien said. “It’s led to the culture of the MAC brand. At the same time, despite the fact that the MAC is considered quote-unquote regional, it is a national conference.”
The Big Ten and Big 12 may be unrealistic goals — as Northern Illinois learned — but MAC teams have rarely been in the conversation for movement in the next tier of conferences. The shared recruiting base and similar budgets can keep MAC teams competitive, but it likely makes them less of a target in realignment.
The top program in the MAC lineup in terms of revenue is Miami (Ohio) at $28.7 million, ranking 79th, according to USA Today (outgoing affiliate member UMass actually bring sin more at $30 million). On the other end is Ball State at $21.3 million, ranking 112nd.
In other words, $7.4 million in revenue separate the top and bottom teams in the MAC. More than $100 million separates Texas and Iowa State in the Big 12, and $74 million separates Oregon and Washington State in the Pac-12.
“Part of the reason we’ve stayed together is the commonality of the members in this conference,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said.
MAC administrators also believe the new College Football Playoff may improve postseason opportunities for the league, specifically the one bowl guaranteed to the highest-ranked team in the “Group of Five” (the MAC, American, C-USA, Mountain West and Sun Belt).
Talk of autonomy among the five major conferences is sure to be a concern for the MAC and leagues of its ilk, but at least not outwardly for now.
“We are joined at the hip for the next decade,” Shaus said of the Group of Five and the power conferences.
The key for the MAC is to maintain its midweek presence.
The MAC’s contract with ESPN runs through 2016-17, but the two parties were expected to reopen talks a year ago. The $1 million deal is on the low end of broadcast contracts.
Even as more and more major programs and even the NFL have embraced the Thursday night primetime spot, the MAC is not concerned it will lose its foothold on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
"Despite the fact that the MAC is considered quote-unquote regional, it is a national conference.”
-Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien
“We’ve become their midweek franchise in November,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “We’ve embraced it, they’ve embraced it and I anticipate that continuing.”
Simply put, the tradeoff in terms of juggling player class schedules and the attendance hit of playing on a weeknight is not one leagues may be willing to embrace on a regular basis.
Central Michigan, for example, didn’t play a game between Oct. 19 and Nov. 6 to accommodate a Wednesday night game against Ball State. Ohio and Buffalo both played on three consecutive Tuesday nights in November.
“I absolutely would make that trade,” Tom Amstutz, Toledo’s coach from 2001-08, told Athlon. “Yes, you have to make adjustments and yes, you have to do things academically, but it was worth it. ... Whenever we were asked if we wanted to have a Tuesday night game, I always quickly said yes because I always though it would benefit our league, benefit our program and I knew our players wanted that opportunity.”
Between the familiarity of the lineup and the reliability of four or five MAC teams to be compelling in a single season, viewers on Tuesday or Wednesday nights know what to expect from a featured MAC matchup.
“The stability has allowed people to follow the MAC and know what they’re following,” said Ohio coach Frank Solich, the longest-tenured coach in the league.
As the college football landscape changes on a yearly basis, the MAC has found a way to turn stability into an asset.
Standing still in conference realignment, while the American, C-USA and Sun Belt have struggled to plant their flags, has been a gain for the MAC.
“The best thing for that league,” Novak said. “is to stay status quo.”
Texas A&M’s move to the SEC has yielded an upset of the No. 1 team in the country, a Heisman winner and a new identity for the Aggies.
In many ways, the Aggies exceeded expectations by becoming one of the nation’s “it” programs since moving into the SEC. A program that struggled to win at a high level in the Big 12 has reinvented itself as a member of the SEC.
But are we ready to declare A&M the big winner in the realignment rumble in the Lone Star State. Has Texas A&M left Texas behind as at least one columnist would suggest?
The final verdict may not arrive for some time, but it’s not to early to take stock of where Texas and Texas A&M stand since the dominoes fell in realignment.
In our scorecard, we looked at key games in football, men’s basketball and baseball as well as the most important off-field developments for the rival programs. Of course, a loss for Texas is a gain for Texas A&M and vice versa by our count.
Here’s how we see the scorecard shaking out so far.
Texas vs. Texas A&M: Realignment Scorecard
|Aug. 26, 2011|
The Longhorn Network is launched.
|Sept. 6, 2011|
SEC presidents and chancellors vote to invite Texas A&M to the SEC. The Aggies and Missouri officially join the SEC on July 1, 2012.
|Nov. 24, 2011||Texas defeats Texas A&M 27-25 in final meeting as Big 12 opponents. This is the final scheduled meeting in the series.|
|Feb. 1, 2012||Texas signs the No. 2 class in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. Texas A&M finishes 16th.|
|April 26-28, 2012||Texas A&M has four players selected in the NFL Draft, including No. 8 overall selection Ryan Tannehill. Texas has three players drafted, none in the first three rounds.|
|Nov. 10, 2012|
Texas A&M defeats No. 1 Alabama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa. Johnny Manziel passes for 253 yards and rushes for 92 to end the Crimson Tide’s 13-game winning streak.
|Dec. 1, 2012|
Kansas State defeats Texas 42-24 in the final game of the 2012 regular season. Texas finishes the regular season 8-4 and 5-4 in the Big 12. After winning more than 10 games in nine consecutive seasons, Texas will fail to win 10 games for the third consecutive season.
|Dec. 8, 2012||Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel becomes the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel owned a 323-point edge over Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in the voting.|
|Dec. 29, 2012||Texas uses two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 31-27 comeback win over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.|
|Jan. 4, 2013|
Texas A&M defeats Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl. Manziel passes for 287 yards, rushes for 229 and accounts for four total touchdowns.
|Feb. 6, 2013|
Texas A&M finishes ninth nationally in the 247Sports.com Composite Rankings on National Signing Day. Texas finishes 17th.
|March 13-20, 2013||Texas A&M basketball loses to Missouri 62-50 to finish the season 18-15 overall and 7-11 in the SEC. Texas loses to Houston 73-72 in the College Basketball Invitational to finish the season 16-18.||Draw|
|April 25-27, 2013||Texas A&M has five players selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, including No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel. Texas has three players selected, led by No. 15 overall pick Kenny Vaccaro.|
|May 1, 2013||Texas A&M announces $450 million renovation for Kyle Field, said to be the largest redevelopment plan in college athletics history. It is scheduled to be complete in 2015.|
|May 2, 2013||The SEC and ESPN announce launch of SEC Network for 2014.|
|Aug. 22, 2013||Two years after its launch, the Longhorn Network is still unavailable through major cable carriers.|
|Sept. 4, 2013||Texas loses to BYU and Ole Miss in back-to-back games, allowing 822 rushing yards in two games. The 1-2 Longhorns fire defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replace him with Greg Robinson.|
|Oct. 12, 2013||Texas upsets No. 12 Oklahoma 36-20. The Longhorns were a two-touchdown underdog. A defensive turnaround under Robinson puts Texas back into Big 12 contention until the last week of the season.|
|Nov. 30, 2013||Texas A&M completes 8-4 season and 4-4 season in the SEC with a 28-21 loss to Missouri. The Aggies finish the season ranked last in the SEC in total defense.|
|Dec. 7, 2013||Texas loses to Baylor 30-10 to be eliminated from Big 12 contention.|
|Dec. 12, 2013||Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, considered a potential candidate for NFL teams, agrees to six-year contract extension to stay in College Station.|
|Dec. 15, 2013|
Texas coach Mack Brown retires, but not after the possibility is raised he will stay an extra year.
|Dec. 30, 2013||Texas loses to Oregon 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl.|
|Dec. 31, 2013||Texas A&M defeats Duke 52-48 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, scoring 35 points in the second half for the comeback.|
|Jan. 6, 2014||Texas hires Louisville coach Charlie Strong to replace Mack Brown.|
|Jan. 8, 2014||Influential Texas booster Red McCombs is lukewarm on the Strong hire, saying the new Longhorns coach “would make a great position coach, maybe a coordinator.”|
|Feb. 4, 2014||Texas A&M’s signing class finishes fifth nationally and third in the SEC in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. Texas finishes 17th nationally and second in the Big 12.|
|Feb. 5, 2014||Strong says Texas won’t be a “gadget program” in response to Texas A&M’s “swagcopter” in recruiting and Sumlin’s status as “Coach Cool.”|
|March 3, 2014||The Longhorn Network gains distribution on Dish Network.|
|March 22-24, 2014||Texas basketball loses to Michigan 79-65 in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 after surprising for an 11-7 in the Big 12. Texas A&M loses to Illinois State 62-55 in the College Basketball Invitational semifinal, completing an 18-16 season and 8-10 record in the SEC.|
|May 8-10 2014|
Texas goes without an NFL Draft pick for the first time since 1937. Texas A&M has three offensive players — tackle Jake Matthews, wide receiver Mike Evans and Manziel — selected in the first round.
|May 28, 2014||Texas A&M receives a commitment from Allen (Texas) quarterback Kyler Murray, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports Composite rankings in the class of 2015.|
|May 30-June 7, 2014||Texas goes 2-1 against Texas A&M in the Rice regional to eliminate the Aggies from the baseball postseason. A week later, Texas defeats Houston 4-0 to clinch a berth in the College World Series. The Longhorns go 3-2 before elimination against eventual national champion Vanderbilt.|
|June 26, 2014||The SEC Network remains unavailable on major carriers.|
|And the winner (for now) is ... Texas A&M 20-13-1 by our count. The Longhorns still have bragging rights by picking up the last win in the series. Texas also made progress on the Longhorn Network and has a significant edge in men’s basketball and baseball. The Aggies, though, win on big events — a Heisman winner, an Alabama upset, three draft day and two signing day “wins” over Texas and the Kyle Field expansion give the Aggies a significant leg up.|
The prevailing nation, especially in certain segments of the country, is that the College Football Playoff will give the SEC yet another chance to flex its muscles.
The SEC may be the best-positioned league to send two (or more) teams to the Playoff, and the grind of the regular season will have that team best prepared to advance. Both may be true. Indeed, the SEC is not short on teams that could finish in the top four if things break right.
But the SEC also might not be alone. The Pac-12 has gained ground in recent seasons on the SEC with Oregon and Stanford holding their own on the national stage. With USC, UCLA and Washington ascending, could this be the season the Pac-12 takes over as the nation’s top conference?
We say not so fast. The SEC remains the to league in the land, but the Pac-12 will have the edge in quarterback play. That’s no small bit of information, but we’ll stick with the SEC for now.
The SEC’s run of seven consecutive national championships ended, but the league is well positioned for success in the College Football Playoff era. We’ve picked Florida State at No. 1 overall, and have only one SEC team projected for the semifinals (No. 2 Alabama), but Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina also are in our top 10. If the league doesn’t send two teams to the Playoff, expect the New Year’s Day bowls to be filled with SEC representatives. The quarterback play in the league will drop off with Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray gone, but the SEC is still loaded with elite talent on defense and innovative offensive coaching minds. If LSU and Florida can field credible offenses and Ole Miss continues its ascent, the SEC will have a deep bench of teams with top-10 potential.
Oregon and Stanford have captured the last five league titles and will continue to be in contention for Playoff spots, but other Pac-12 teams are on the doorstep of national relevance. UCLA won 10 games and finished a season ranked for the first time since 2005, and Washington has the foundation to start challenging for the crown in the North. USC and Washington hired new coaches, both of whom could be upgrades. This could be the nation’s top quarterback conference with Brett Hundley at UCLA, Marcus Mariota at Oregon, Taylor Kelly at Arizona State, Sean Mannion at Oregon State and Connor Halliday at Washington State.
3. Big Ten
Favorite: Ohio State
The Big Ten adds Maryland and Rutgers this season and ditches the Legends and Leaders divisions for the more conventional East/West designations. The power of the league appears to be in the East, where the conference’s defending division champions (Michigan State and Ohio State) and the league’s top quarterbacks (Braxton Miller and Christian Hackenberg) play. If Michigan can improve its consistency on offense, the East will be even more of a gauntlet. Wisconsin is the favorite in the West despite having only eight returning starters. Like Michigan, Nebraska is still fighting to regain its stature as a national power.
4. Big 12
The league enjoyed tremendous balance a year ago with three teams in conference title contention going into the final week of the season. After Oklahoma and Baylor, no other Big 12 team has the look of a top-10 squad in the preseason. Kansas State continues to overachieve, and now Bill Snyder knows who his quarterback will be to start the season. Oklahoma State has weathered personnel losses before, but Mike Gundy will be put to the test with a rebuilding defense. Texas, though, is the mystery team in the league in the first season under Charlie Strong.
Favorite: Florida State
With Jameis Winston and 12 other starters returning, Florida State has a chance to repeat as national champion. One thing is certain in the ACC: No team in a major conference is a more prohibitive favorite in its league than FSU. In the Atlantic, Clemson is rebuilding without Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, and newcomer Louisville enters the league with a new coach, Bobby Petrino, and new quarterback, Will Gardner. The Coastal is a mystery. Four teams — Duke, Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech — finished within a game of first place last season, and the same thing could happen again this year.
UCF’s Blake Bortles is gone to the NFL, and Louisville is gone to the ACC. To replace Louisville, the American adds East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa this season. The lineup changes in the Big East/American have all but ended its status as a major conference. Instead of fighting for an automatic BCS bid, teams like Cincinnati, East Carolina and UCF will compete with the champions from Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt for a single spot in the premier New Year’s bowl games. In a scheduling quirk, two of the top three teams in the league, Cincinnati and UCF, won’t face each other.
7. Mountain West
Favorite: Boise State
The Mountain West will be in a state of transition at the top. Bryan Harsin, a former Boise State assistant, will attempt to keep the Broncos rolling in the post-Chris Petersen era. Fresno State also moves on without quarterback Derek Carr. Several programs are on the rise, including Colorado State, Nevada and Wyoming, but the team to watch may be Utah State following the return of a healthy Chuckie Keeton at quarterback.
Favorite: Bowling Green
Bowling Green was the only MAC team in the top 30 nationally in total offense and total defense and will be the league favorite under first-year coach Dino Babers. Toledo, Northern Illinois and Ball State are in our top 80, but Ohio and Akron, led by veteran coaches Frank Solich and Terry Bowden, respectively, can’t be counted out.
9. Conference USA
Realignment has decimated Conference USA, but this year the league might get the last laugh if Marshall can snag a New Year’s Day bowl. The Thundering Herd run one of the fastest offenses in the country, return a fourth-year starter at quarterback in Rakeem Cato and face a paper-thin schedule. Marshall is ranked 40th in our countdown. No other C-USA program is in the top 80.
10. Sun Belt
Favorite: UL Lafayette
The Sun Belt welcomes back two teams from the defunct WAC (Idaho and New Mexico State) and invites two FCS powers (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern). As such, the Sun Belt has five of the last seven teams in our rankings. With upstart coach Mark Hudspeth and returning quarterback Terrance Broadway, UL Lafayette will be one of the few teams worth watching from a distance.
College basketball coaches have known for several months the rosters spots they’d have to refill. For many, NBA draft day only reinforced that some of the replacement players are true replacements in name only.
Creighton likely won’t have a player like Doug McDermott again. Michigan State and UCLA lost players with unique skill sets in Adreian Payne and Kyle Anderson.
The usual teams, though, will be in their usual position of reloading after the draft. Kansas and Duke lost players in the top three and will plug in more McDonald’s All-Americans.
Here’s how each team that lost a first-round draft pick Thursday plans to replace him.
1. SG Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers
3. C Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Leave it to Bill Self to reload after losing two of the top three picks in the NBA Draft. Wayne Selden, a five-star recruit in the Wiggins/Embiid class, was inconsistent for most of the season but flashed his potential with 20-point games against Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas. Selden could fill the scoring punch, but decorated freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre could take spots in the starting lineup.
2. SF Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
23. SG Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
Parker and Hood gave Duke a unique look with their versatility and provided more than 45 percent of the Blue Devils’ total scoring last season. With a true center (freshman Jahlil Okafor) and a new point guard (freshman Tyus Jones) will have a more standard lineup. Two veterans will be worth watching as much as the highly touted incoming freshmen. Rising senior Quinn Cook took his lumps at point guard last season, and junior wing Rasheed Sulaimon spent much of the season in the dog house.
4. PF Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Arizona will miss Gordon’s defensive ability, but the Wildcats have no shortage of experience to fill his minutes. Brandon Ashley is progressing from the broken foot that cost him the end of last season, but his return will be key. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson enjoyed a solid freshman year, capped with 14 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
6. PG Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Point guard depth was a problem last season after the dismissal of Stevie Clark, hastening Travis Ford’s need to add point guards in this year’s recruiting class. Ford added two. Jeff Newberry redshirted one season as a freshman at Ole Miss before going to junior college. The Cowboys also grabbed Tyree Griffin, a 5-10 point who was previously committed to UTEP.
7. PF Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
17. SF James Young, Boston Celtics
In a rare season for Kentucky, the Wildcats may have veterans to step up to replace their two leading scorers. That said, another McDonald’s All-American-laden freshman class will give John Calipari options off the bench. Kentucky’s frontcourt is going to be loaded even without Randle. Freshman Trey Lyles (6-10, 245) is another power forward to go with Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee while Karl-Anthony Towns will give Calipari another center to go with Dakari Johnson. Alex Poythress will give Kentucky a veteran at forward, but the Wildcats will have a number of intriguing combinations with point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting guard Devin Booker in the backcourt.
8. SG Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings
21. PF Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City
Zak Irvin averaged 15.3 minutes per game last season but managed to make 64 of 151 3-point shots (42.4 percent). A five-star recruit in Michigan’s 2013 class, Irvin is a good bet to emerge as a full-time contributor in 2014-15. Michigan hoped to have McGary back for his junior year before an impending NCAA-mandated suspension forced him to declare for the draft. Forward Mark Donnal redshirted last season due to UM's depth in the frontcourt, but that has quickly dried up. True freshmen may have to step into both frontcourt spots, including versatile small forward Kameron Chatman and 6-9 forward D.J. Wilson.
9. PF Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets
Indiana will miss Vonleh’s impact on the glass. He averaged nine rebounds per game while no one else averaged more than 4.4. Junior Hanner Mosquera-Perea has averaged fewer than seven minutes per game in his career. The 6-9, 225-pound junior could be a solid rebounder, but he needs to take a major leap to show why he was a top-50 prospect.
10. PG Elfrid Payton, Philadelphia 76ers (traded to the Orlando Magic)
Draft picks don’t often find their way to UL Lafayette — the last was in 2005 with second-rounder Orien Greene, who started his career at Florida. Hayward Register is a local product who is touted as a “pure scorer.”
11. SF Doug McDermott, Denver Nuggets (traded to Chicago Bulls)
First off, Creighton won’t be able to replace McDermott, the National Player of the Year and a three-time All-American. Second, the Bluejays also lose Ethan Wragge, Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat. Rebuilding is a nice way to put it. Zach Hanson, a 6-9, 245-pound forward from South Dakota, averaged only 5.1 minutes per game as a freshman last season. Greg McDermott will look to him to break out now that playing time is available. Hanson had a number of high-major scholarship offers out of high school, including Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa State and Gonzaga.
13. PG Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
22. SG Jordan Adams, Memphis Grizzlies
30. PF Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs
UCLA has gone from having one of the most unique point guards in the 6-9 Anderson to having no true point guard. LaVine’s surprising exit didn’t help (though LaVine was the only lottery pick of the bunch). Sophomore Bryce Alford and redshirt freshman Isaac Hamilton, who backed out of his letter of intent to UTEP, will split the role. The two combo guards could also take the spot of Adams, who was a late addition to the early entry pool. Five-star freshman forward Kevon Looney (6-9, 220) will replace Anderson’s size.
14. SF T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns
Warren is going to be near-impossible to replace after the high-volume scorer carried NC State into the NCAA Tournament late last season. Twin wings Caleb and Cody Martin are top-40 recruits who will play alongside freshman Cat Barber, a breakout candidate for 2014-15.
15. PF Adreian Payne, Atlanta Hawks
19. SG Gary Harris, Chicago Bulls (traded to Denver Nuggets)
Michigan State will have a pair of veteran guards will step in for Gary Harris in Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Both were named team captains. Together, they averaged 14.7 points per game and made 96 3-pointers. Payne’s skill set won’t be easily replicated. Center Gavin Schilling had offseason sports hernia surgery and Matt Costello was sideline with mono for part of last season.
18. PG Tyler Ennis, Phoenix Suns
Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins has compared incoming freshman Kaleb Joseph to Jonny Flynn as a “a new school point guard” and to Michael Carter-Williams as a player whose competitiveness sometimes gets the better of him. Sophomore Tyler Roberson might not be replacing the play of Jerami Grant, a potential first-rounder taken in the second, as much as he’s trying to step into the shoes of leading scorer C.J. Fair. Roberson played a total of 162 minutes last season, but he was a top-40 recruit out of high school.
24. PG Shabazz Napier, Charlotte Hornets (traded to Miami Heat)
Napier’s backcourt mate Ryan Boatright likely steps in as the Huskies’ offensive focal point. The handoff from the Kemba Walker era wasn’t that smooth after the last UConn national title, so this will be worth watching. Boatright will be joined in the backcourt by NC State transfer Rodney Purvis, a McDonald’s All-American who averaged 8.3 points per game as a freshman.
26. SG P.J. Hairston, Miami Heat (traded to Charlotte Hornets)
North Carolina doesn’t really have to replace Hairston, who was suspended and eventually dismissed last season. In his absence, Marcus Paige became one of the nation’s top point guards and North Carolina’s leader. Paige will need Nate Britt or incoming freshman Joel Berry to find a way to help at the two guard spot.
28. SG C.J. Wilcox, Los Angeles Clippers
Sophomore guard Darin Johnson steps into a more prominent role at shooting guard after averaging 5.9 points and 16.1 minutes per game. Johnson started the season strong, but his opportunities were limited in conference play. He scored more than 10 points just once after Jan. 2.
29. SF Josh Huestis, Oklahoma City Thunder
Reid Travis is not the same kind of player as Huestis, a standout defender who can hit the 3. Travis, a four-star power forward, will play closer to the rim and hit a jump shot. He’ll be an impact freshman on a team with three returning seniors.
Note to the uninitiated: Charles Woodson is not a good name to drop around Knoxville.
In 1997, the Michigan defensive back beat out Peyton Manning for the Heisman Trophy, one of the greatest Heisman heists if you ask anyone in SEC country.
Tennessee had Heisman runners up before (four of them total) and had been closer in the voting (Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung beat out Johnny Majors by 72 points in 1956). But Peyton is Peyton, and Tennessee fans will have trouble forgetting Wooden’s Heisman win.
The Volunteers haven’t produced a Heisman contender since Manning's bid in 1997. Since Yale’s Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy in 1935, no team has won more games without winning the Heisman than Tennessee.
Unless Butch Jones pulls a miracle in Year Two, the wait for a Heisman in Knoxville will stretch on. A handful of other schools, though, could have a chance to end their Heisman futility in the short term.
Post-Berwanger wins: 383 (ranks 23rd among teams without a Heisman)
Closest calls: LaMichael James (third in 2010, 10th in 2011), Dennis Dixon (seventh in 2007), Joey Harrington (fourth in 2001)
Hope for 2014: Marcus Mariota
The Ducks have come a long way from the team that put a billboard in New York advertising Joey Harrington for the Heisman. Their contenders stand on their own merits as Oregon has become a national title contender in the last decade. Both Mariota in 2013 and Dixon in 2007 suffered injuries that derailed their Heisman hopes. Otherwise, the palatial football facility in Eugene might have a Heisman in the trophy case. Mariota has all the name recognition and team around him to make another bid for the award in 2014.
2. Arizona State
Post-Berwanger wins: 516 (fourth)
Closest calls: Jake Plummer (third in 1996)
Hope for 2014: Taylor Kelly
Taylor Kelly may be one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, in part because of the shadow of Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley in his own league. That said, Kelly was the Pac-12’s second-team all-conference quarterback last season, ahead of Hundley. Kelly will have a chance to finish third on Arizona State’s all-time passing list, passing Plummer, but Kelly may have to defeat UCLA and Hundley head-to-head for the Pac-12 South to be a realistic Heisman contender.
Post-Berwanger wins: 458 (18th)
Closest calls: Chase Daniel (fourth in 2007), Paul Christman (third in 1939)
Hope for 2014: Maty Mauk
Missouri has some of the best conditions to win a Heisman in the current landscape: The Tigers run a spread offense, consistently produce above-average quarterback play and — as they proved last year — can contend in the SEC. Though he hasn’t started a full season, Mauk may provide the highlight reel to be a potential contender in 2014 and beyond.
4. Michigan State
Post-Berwanger wins: 479 (14th)
Closest calls: Lorenzo White (fourth in 1985 and 1987), Sherman Lewis (third in 1963)
Hope for 2014: Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford, Shilique Calhoun
A quarterback in Michigan State's system is not anyone’s idea of a Heisman contender — not even Kirk Cousins — so this may rest on the shoulders of Jeremy Langford for now. Only two running backs since 1999 have won the Heisman (Alabama’s Mark Ingram and USC's Reggie Bush), so even a workhorse like Langford might be a tough sell for voters enamored with productive quarterbacks.
5. Ole Miss
Post-Berwanger wins: 496 (ninth)
Closest calls: Eli Manning (third in 2003), Archie Manning (third in 1970, fourth in 1969), Jake Gibbs (third in 1960)
Hope for 2014: Bo Wallace
Like Missouri, Ole Miss has the spread offense and plenty of opportunities for Heisman moments against SEC opponents in their prime. Wallace has thrown 27 interceptions in two seasons, so that will need to change if he’s a realistic name to watch in 2014. If Hugh Freeze continues to recruit at his current level, Ole Miss will have another contender sooner or later.
6. Texas Tech
Post-Berwanger wins: 484 (13th)
Closest calls: Graham Harrell (fourth in 2008), Michael Crabtree (fifth in 2008)
Hope for 2014: Davis Webb
The “system quarterback” label doesn’t haunt Texas Tech quarterbacks quite like it used to. Meanwhile, the numbers at Texas Tech won’t be all that different than what Mike Leach produced. In Kliff Kingsbury’s first season at Texas Tech, Red Raiders quarterbacks topped 5,100 yards and 35 touchdowns. Davis Webb accounted for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns in that total, and he won’t share the job in 2014.
7. Kansas State
Post-Berwanger wins: 332 (57th)
Closest calls: Collin Klein (third in 2012), Darren Sproles (fifth in 2003), Michael Bishop (second in 1998)
Hope for 2014: Tyler Lockett, Jake Waters
Bishop may have been the best hope for Kansas State to win the Heisman when he led the Wildcats to an 11-0 start and No. 2 ranking heading into the Big 12 title game. The problem, though, was that Ricky Williams was on his way to a 2,000-yard season and the career rushing record at Texas that season. The Longhorns running back won in a rout. In 2014, Waters finished the season on a high note with 10 touchdown passes in the final four games. The best contender for postseason awards in Manhattan is Lockett, one of the Big 12’s top receivers and returnmen.
|Most Wins Without a Heisman Trophy Winner*|
|1. Tennessee (598)||6. Georgia Tech (514)||11. Washington (485)|
|2. Clemson (525)||7. West Virginia (500)||12. Virginia Tech (485)|
|3. Arkansas (517)||8. Southern Miss (498)||13. Texas Tech (484)|
|4. Arizona State (516)||9. Ole Miss (496)||14. Michigan State (479)|
|5. Fresno State (515)||10. Miami (Ohio) (490)||15. Utah (472)|
8. Mississippi State
Post-Berwanger wins: 387 (41st)
Closest call: None
Hope in 2014: Dak Prescott
Mississippi State has produced one legitimate Heisman contender in its history — and he garnered a 10th place finish 70 years ago. Dan Mullen has coached a Heisman winner (Tim Tebow) and a No. 1 overall draft pick (Alex Smith), and now he might have his top quarterback since he arrived in Starkville. Prescott passed for 1,943 yards and rushed for 829 last last season and could be one of the SEC’s breakout players.
Post-Berwanger wins: 485 (11th)
Closest call: Steve Emtman (fourth in 1991)
Hope in 2014: Cyler Miles, Shaq Thompson
Washington may end up as one of the better teams on this list, but the Huskies don’t have many established superstars, especially on offense. Miles may flourish in Chris Petersen’s system, but he’s never played a down and missed spring practice with a three-month suspension. Thompson may be an intriguing contender if he indeed plays on both sides of the ball this season.
Post-Berwanger wins: 443 (22nd)
Closest call: Jack Scarbath (second in 1952)
Hope for 2014: Stefon Diggs, C.J. Brown
A Terrapin winning the Heisman is a long shot for the time being, but Maryland is much closer to producing any kind of award-winner than it was two years ago. Diggs, a draft-eligible junior, is the best hope in the short term, even as a receiver. He’s a multi-threat athlete with 1,435 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns (nine receiver, two returns) in 18 career games.
11. Washington State
Post-Berwanger wins: 350 (54th)
Closest call: Ryan Leaf (third in 1997)
Hope in 2014: Connor Halliday
Washington State had a run of productive quarterbacks in 90s and early 2000s, with Leaf, Drew Bledsoe and Jason Gesser all finishing in the top 10 of the Heisman voting. Halliday may put up bigger numbers in Mike Leach’s offense, but he won’t be the top quarterback in his own division in the Pac-12.
Post-Berwanger wins: 280 (71st)
Closest calls: Byron Leftwich (sixth in 2002), Chad Pennington (fifth in 1999), Randy Moss (fourth in 1997)
Hope in 2014: Rakeem Cato
Marshall may never again produce three Heisman contenders in a five-year period as the Thundering Herd did under Bob Pruett. Cato, though, could be worth watching. If he puts up video game numbers and Marshall goes undefeated — possible against this Conference USA schedule — Cato could be a Heisman finalist.
13. Utah State
Post-Berwanger wins: 381 (43rd)
Closest call: None
Hope for 2014: Chuckie Keeton
Keeton’s return from ACL surgery will be one of the season’s major storylines. When healthy, Keeton is one of the most electrifying players in the nation. In 29 career games, he’s accounted for 70 total touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’ll be appointment viewing, but Utah State may have to challenge for that automatic “Group of Five” spot in the College Football Playoff contract bowls for Keeton to have a chance at the award.
Post-Berwanger wins: 517 (third)
Closest calls: Darren McFadden (runner up in 2006 and 2007)
Hope for 2014: Alex Collins
No one would suggest Arkansas can do what Auburn did last year by improving from winless in the SEC to winning the league, but the Razorbacks can be respectable in Bret Bielema’s second season. Collins is in good company, joining McFadden as the only freshman running backs to top 1,000 yards for the Hogs. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to build on those numbers in Bielema’s offense.
Post-Berwanger wins: 314 (63rd)
Closest call: Darnell Autry (seventh in 1996)
Hope for 2014: Venric Mark
Mark had most of his season wiped out by injury last season, playing a major role in Northwestern’s 5-7 collapse. In his last healthy season, Mark accounted for 13 touchdowns on offense and two on punt returns.
Five Teams That Temporarily Missed the Heisman Window
Clemson. As long as Chad Morris is the offensive coordinator, Clemson will have productive players on offense. This may be a transition season, however, with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins gone and Deshaun Watson a year away.
Louisville. Teddy Bridgewater leaves a void, but Bobby Petrino teams generally have standout quarterback play. With a move to the ACC, the level of competition won’t be the barrier it was in the Big East and Conference USA.
Arizona. Ka’Deem Carey finished first or second in the country in rushing in the last two seasons yet never finished higher than 10th in the Heisman voting. He’s gone from Arizona, and the Wildcats are rebuilding on offense.
West Virginia. Geno Smith had the Heisman locked up midway through the 2012 season. Unfortunately, he had to finish the rest of the season with a dreadful defense. Unless another Pat White or Steve Slaton is around campus, West Virginia may have to wait a while for another viable candidate.
Boise State. Kellen Moore finished no higher than fourth. Boise State will have trouble replicating those conditions again for another Heisman contender.
The foot injury to Joel Embiid has shuffled the deck atop the NBA Draft, setting up the potential for a new No. 1 overall pick. Will it be Duke’s Jabari Parker or Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins?
Lucky for us, we don’t have to weigh those options. Here, we’re just interested in the numbers. Whether the pick is Parker or Wiggins, both Duke or Kansas will have reason to brag.
Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self, though, won’t be the only ones ready to brag about the NBA Draft on the recruiting trail. Kentucky, as usual, is at the top of the list, and should continue its draft day dominance even with the Harrisons and others returning to school.
Here’s a look all the numbers and trends surrounding how colleges have performed in the last 10 NBA Drafts.
|Most NBA Draft Picks Since 2004|
|School||Picks (First round)||School||Picks (First round)|
|1. Kentucky||19 (13)||9. Arizona||11 (6)|
|2. North Carolina||17 (14)||T10. Memphis||10 (5)|
|3. Kansas||16 (10)||T10. Syracuse||10 (7)|
|T4. Connecticut||14 (11)||T12. Florida State||9 (3)|
|T4. Duke||14 (9)||T12. Ohio State||9 (7)|
|T6. Florida||13 (6)||T12. Washington||9 (6)|
|T6. UCLA||13 (7)||15. Georgia Tech||7 (5)|
|8. Texas||12 (8)|
History with the No. 1 Pick
• If Jabari Parker is the No. 1 overall draft pick, Duke will be the first school to produce four No. 1 overall picks. The Blue Devils are already the only team with three No. 1 picks — Art Heyman (1963), Elton Brand (1999) and Kyrie Irving (2011).
• If Andrew Wiggins is the No. 1 overall pick, Kansas will have its second No. 1 overall pick, joining Danny Manning in 1988.
“The University of Calipari”
• Kentucky’s spot atop the leader board is not a surprise, but the Wildcats’ 19 draft picks since 2004 is more impressive considering almost all of it has come in the last four drafts. John Calipari has produced 16 draft picks since 2010. The only program to produce more over the last decade is North Carolina (17).
• Throw in Calipari’s tenure at Memphis, and the Wildcats coach has accounted for 24 draft picks in the last 10 seasons, including 16 first-round picks, nine lottery picks and three No. 1 overall picks.
• The “University of Calipari” has produced seven more draft picks in the last 10 years than the next highest team. Calipari teams have produced seven more draft picks in the last 10 years than the current Mountain West lineup.
• For all the draft numbers surrounding Kentucky, maybe it’s surprising the Wildcats are fourth in lottery picks in the last 10 drafts behind North Carolina (10), Connecticut (nine) and Kansas (eight).
• Ohio State has the nation’s longest active streak in the draft, producing a pick in seven consecutive seasons. However, Ohio State’s draft streak likely ends this season. If that’s the case, Kentucky will have the longest draft streak, with a pick every year since 2008. Ohio State’s picks since 2007 are:
2013: Deshaun Thomas (58th overall pick)
2012: Jared Sullinger (21st)
2011: Jon Diebler (51st)
2010: Evan Turner (second)
2009: B.J. Mullens (24th)
2008: Kosta Koufos (23rd)
2007: Greg Oden (first), Mike Conley (fourth) and Daequon Cook (21st)
• Kansas has a streak of four consecutive drafts with a lottery pick, a streak that will continue with Wiggins and Embiid. The Jayhawks have had Ben McLemore (2013), Thomas Robinson (2012), Marcus and Markieff Morris (2011) and Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry (2010) all taken in the first 14 picks.
• How weird was the 1999 draft? The three longest draft droughts by major conference programs date back to 1999. That’s when Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and TCU all last had a player drafted. In all, seven teams in the six major conferences haven’t produced a draft pick in the last decade.
That said, that superlative isn’t fair to Creighton, which was A. in the Big East last season and B. Will have National Player of the Year Doug McDermott drafted. The longest draft droughts are as follows:
Nebraska: Venson Hamilton (1999, 50th overall)
Northwestern: Evan Eschmeyer (1999, 45th)
TCU: Lee Nailon (1999, 43rd)
Penn State: Calvin Booth (1999, 35th)
Auburn: Jamison Brewer (2001, 40th)
Seton Hall: Eddie Griffin (2001, seventh), Samuel Dalembert (2001, 26th)
Creighton: Kyle Korver (2003, 51st)
Overachievers and Underachievers
• This is astounding: Since Michigan State last produced a first-round draft pick, the Spartans have won three Big Ten regular season titles, won two Big Ten tournaments and reached two Final Fours. In the last decade, Michigan State has six draft picks in the last 10 years. In other words, Michigan State is basically Nevada when it comes to the NBA Draft.
• The same goes for Wisconsin. The Badgers have reached the NCAA Tournament every year since 1999, yet produced only three draft picks in the last 10 years.
• Louisville has had five draft picks in the last 10 years, same as Texas A&M, Providence and Iowa State.
• Florida is helping bring up the SEC’s second-round numbers (more on that later). The Gators have produced the most second-round picks in the last 10 drafts with seven.
• Florida State has nine total picks in the last 10 years, as many as Ohio State and Washington. The Seminoles produced one lottery pick (Al Thornton in 2007) but six second-rounders.
• Georgia Tech had seven picks since 2004. That’s more than Michigan State, Louisville and Pittsburgh. That’s also probably why Paul Hewitt coaches at George Mason now.
|Most Draft Picks since 2004*|
|Conference||Picks (First Round)||Conference||Picks (First Round)|
|1. ACC||89 (55)||7. American||33 (19)|
|2. SEC||71 (32)||8. Mountain West||17 (10)|
|3. Pac-12||63 (38)||9. West Coast||11 (5)|
|4. Big 12||53 (28)||T10. Atlantic 10||10 (6)|
|5. Big Ten||49 (25)||T10. Conference USA||10 (2)|
|6. Big East||39 (23)||12. Ohio Valley||5 (1)|
|*counting teams in their 2014-15 alignment|
• Will the new ACC be the best basketball conference? It’s tough to argue with 89 draft picks and 55 first-rounders among the teams in the 2014-15 lineup. No other league has more than 38 first-round picks.
In our tally, the ACC gained a net 16 draft picks in the last two years of expansion. Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse combined for 21 picks in the last 10 years while Big Ten-bound Maryland had five.
• The Big Ten has been arguably the strongest basketball league in recent seasons, but that hasn’t shown up on draft day. The full 14-team lineup including Maryland and Rutgers has produced fewer picks (49) than the 10-team Big 12 (53) and a startling 40 fewer than the ACC.
• A few reasons for the Big Ten’s limited draft numbers: Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers are essentially NBA Draft dead weight. Meanwhile, two of the league’s best programs in the last decade, Michigan State and Wisconsin, accounted for nine draft picks combined. In other words, the same amount Florida State produced. Ohio State is the only Big Ten program in the top 15 of schools producing draft picks in the last 10 seasons.
• The SEC’s spot at No. 2 among leagues with draft picks in the last 10 years is a bit deceiving. The SEC stocked up on second-round picks with 39. That’s five more than the ACC and 14 more than the Pac-12 or Big 12. The SEC is third among all leagues in first-round picks, trailing the ACC (55) and Pac-12 (32).
• For one of the nation’s top mid-major conferences, the Missouri Valley has not been a star on draft day. The league has produced one draft pick in the last 10 years, Bradley’s Patrick O’Bryant in the first round in 2006. That may change with Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early in this year’s draft, but the numbers remain startling considering that traditional one-bid leagues like the Ohio Valley, MAAC, Horizon and Big West have produced more.
• The first season for the reconfigured Big East was a sobering one, especially as the top coach for one of the league’s flagship programs — Buzz Williams at Marquette — left for an ACC bottom feeder. The current alignment also trails the major conferences in draft picks. The Big East’s 23 draft picks isn’t far off from the Big Ten’s 25, but the league has produced five lottery picks, six fewer than the current teams in the American.
• Speaking of the American, the league is being carried on draft day by two programs — Connecticut and Memphis have combined for 16 of the league’s 19 first-round draft picks in the last 10 years.
The final spot in the 2014-15 coaching carousel was filled Wednesday when Marist hired a new basketball coach.
With that bit of news in mind, let’s start taking a look at the next round of potential coaching changes. Yesterday, Athlon featured 13 coaches who are on the rise. These are the jobs they might fill.
Of course, every coach under pressure can buy time with a nice season.
Just think, at this point last season, every hot seat list started with Texas coach Rick Barnes. A year later, Barnes is still in Austin and his team is a top 10 contender.
But the coaches on this list have put themselves into a perform-or-pack-your-bags situation, starting perhaps as early as this season.
Oliver Purnell, DePaul
Purnell has had a unique career in college basketball, coaching at five spots without an NCAA Tournament win. Yet each of his first four jobs — Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson — were successful. The DePaul job may be the one program he can’t shepherd into the postseason. The Blue Demons are 9-57 in the Big East under his watch, a mark that didn’t improve even in the newer (and weaker) iteration of the league in 2013-14.
Anthony Grant, Alabama
The Crimson Tide have gone 46-38 in the SEC under Grant, but that’s an underwhelming winning record. Alabama has reached the NCAA Tournament only once in five seasons thanks to untimely non-conference losses and few big wins in the SEC. Grant has brought in some decorated recruits during his tenure, but they’ve been more likely to transfer (Devonta Pollard and Trevor Lacey) rather than become major contributors in Tuscaloosa. Grant had three consecutive 20-seasons before dropping to 13-19 last season.
Mark Turgeon, Maryland
If the Terrapins miss the 2015 NCAA Tournament, Maryland will match its longest NCAA drought — five seasons — in more than 40 years. Turgeon, so far, is on the hook for three of those. Turgeon’s 23-29 record in the ACC is of enough concern, but the Terps also have been beset by a handful of personnel losses. Two assistants, three of six signees from the last two years and four scholarship players in the last month have all departed. Moving into the Big Ten might not help.
Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M
The Aggies’ basketball tradition is limited with the exception of the two coaches who preceded Kennedy. Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon led Texas A&M to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Kennedy’s three teams have failed to win 20 games in a season while going 19-31 in conference play in the Big 12 and the SEC. After a signee told CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish that opponents used Kennedy’s early-onset Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis against him in recruiting, Kennedy said in September he remains symptom-free.
Lorenzo Romar, Washington
Romar is Washington’s most successful coach since Tippy Dye in the 1950s, but the Huskies haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament in three seasons. Granted, Washington won the Pac-12 regular season title in 2012, missing the NCAA Tourney anyway. The 18-18 mark in the league the last two seasons isn’t awful, but Washington may look like it’s standing still as Washington State and Oregon State both changed coaches before the season.
Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
The Cowboys’ version of the Big Three last season — Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash — yielded 21 wins, a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament and frustrations for most of the Big 12 season. Only Nash will return for 2014-15. Ford’s contract is an albatross, but eventually the middling results might force a change.
Dave Rice, UNLV
The Rice hire was a callback to the Jerry Tarkanian days, but the record (69.3 percent) is almost identical to that of the Lon Kruger era. The numbers aren’t bad as UNLV has reached the NCAA Tournament in two of three seasons under Rice. But the Rebels have recruited at too high a level to be a distant third in the Mountain West. UNLV hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2008.
Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech has had a winning record in ACC play once since 1995-96, so the bar isn’t exceptionally high. Gregory, 16-26 in the league, hasn’t had the talent predecessor Paul Hewitt did, but it’s time for the Yellow Jackets to start inching toward the .500 mark.
Mike Anderson, Arkansas
Maybe it’s too early to put Anderson on the hot seat — especially after Arkansas posted back-to-back winning records in the SEC for the first time since 1999. Anderson, though, has had teams capable of reaching the NCAA Tournament, but road woes (5-25 under Anderson) have sabotaged each of his three seasons. He’ll have enough returning to his roster to make another run this season.
Herb Sendek, Arizona State
The Sun Devils reached the NCAA Tournament last season, losing in the round of 64 to Texas. That should be a good omen for Sendek, but it’s also only his second NCAA appearance in eight seasons at Arizona State. With Jahii Carson gone, Arizona State could tumble down the Pac-12 standings. Arizona State allowed Sendek to rebuild for five seasons to get back after his first trip to the Tourney. Don’t bank on that kind of patience again.
Steve Lavin, St. John’s
Lavin was in the midst of a contract extension at St. John’s at the end of the season. Even so, the results have flattened since the Red Storm reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season. After returning from prostate cancer treatment in 2012 (he's now cancer-free), Lavin is 18-18 in the Big East in two seasons. The Red Storm have the roster to make a run at the Tourney in his fifth season. If not, Lavin may be in jeopardy.
Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Willard appeared to have Seton Hall on the right track after going 7-11 and 8-10 in the Big East in his first two seasons. The Pirates have since bottomed out to 9-27 in league play the last two years. Seton Hall hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2006.
Donnie Jones, UCF
Jones was hit with a show-cause and the program faced sanctions stemming from NCAA violations in 2012, but he remained at his post. Two seasons later, UCF is struggling to stay afloat in the American Athletic Conference, going 4-14 in its first season in the league.
This season’s coaching carousel was a strange one. Names like Bruce Pearl, Kelvin Sampson, Buzz Williams and Ernie Kent took jobs at Auburn, Houston, Virginia Tech and Washington State.
Jobs like that are usually reserved for coaches making their first moves into major conference. This year, though, they were for two coaches able to return to college coaching after NCAA issues, one looking for a change of scenery and the last one looking to get back into the game.
Still, coaches from the mid-major ranks moved up to major jobs, including Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss to Tennessee) and Danny Manning (Tulsa to Wake Forest).
Not all of our contenders for coaches on the rise are at mid-major programs and not all the names here are unknowns. Yet for all of the coaches on the list, the best may be yet to come.
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Granted, Utah is no mid-major like many of the other schools on this list, but Krystkowiak is about to become a well-known name. Utah is poised for a breakout season after the Utes have undergone a remarkable turnaround in the first three seasons under Krystkowiak. The Utes were ill-prepared to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 as a number of transfers left Krystkowiak short-handed for a 6-25 season in 2011-12. The Utes went 9-9 in the Pac-12 last season, though, to reach the NIT. With Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge returning, an NCAA bid is a legitimate possibility. If that occurs, Krystkowiak will have NCAA appearances at Montana and Utah plus two stints as an NBA assistant on his resume.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: NBA
Archie Miller, Dayton
A high-major program will come calling eventually. Miller has the bloodlines as Sean Miller’s brother and the son of one of Pennsylvania’s most successful basketball coaches. Archie also has worked for some big names in Thad Matta, Herb Sendek and, of course, Sean Miller. An Elite Eight run that included wins over Ohio State and Syracuse showed Archie’s potential. If he improves that 26-22 record in the Atlantic 10, he’ll be a can’t-miss coaching prospect.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: NC State
Michael White, Louisiana Tech
White had his chance at a major conference job before opting to stay at Louisiana Tech rather than taking the Tennessee job. Was that a wise decision for the 37-year-old. It might be. His stock is already high after leading Louisiana Tech to a 56-15 overall mark and two regular season conference titles in the last two seasons (in two conferences, no less). The son of the Duke athletic director, White has enough returning at Louisiana Tech to lead the Bulldogs to their first NCAA Tournament since 1991.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Ole Miss
Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Manning already earned his first big-time job after landing at Wake Forest, a Tournament regular from 1991-2005. In only his second seasons as a head coach, he improved Tulsa from 8-8 in Conference USA in his first season to 13-3 with an NCAA Tournament in his second. The former Kansas star player and assistant will be watched closely as he moves into a loaded ACC.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Kansas
Richard Pitino, Minnesota
The 32-year-old led Minnesota to an 8-10 record in the Big Ten, the same mark Tubby Smith had in his final season with the Gophers. Still, Minnesota has plenty of momentum going into Pitino’s second season. He also had an impressive first season as a head coach before landing at Minnesota, improving FIU from 5-11 in the Sun Belt to 11-9 in his only season there. In addition, working for Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan has been a fast track for assistants. The younger Pitino has done both.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Louisville
Andy Toole, Robert Morris
Toole was the youngest coach in the country when he was promoted from Mike Rice’s staff in 2010. Even now, he’s still a baby-faced 33-year-old. Toole has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament due to the Northeast Conference tournament, but the Colonials are 53-17 in the NEC with two league titles under his watch. Robert Morris also upset defeated Kentucky in the 2013 NIT. He’s never coached or played at a major program, but he’ll get looks soon enough.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Penn State
Steve Masiello, Manhattan
A 25-8 season and a hard-fought loss to Louisville and mentor Rick Pitino in the NCAA Tournament put Masiello on the fast track to a major-conference job. That is, until USF didn’t complete his hire when the Bulls learned the coach didn’t complete his degree at Kentucky. Masiello finished his coursework and headed back to Manhattan for a fourth season. After 2014 was certainly a good time to jump — the Jaspers lose the top three scorers from last season.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: St. John's
Pat Skerry, Towson
Every coach on this list has led a turnaround of some kind. None of them did what Skerry did in 2012-13. Towson went 1-31 in his first season and had its best in school history the next. The Tigers have gone 43-24 overall and 26-8 in the Colonial since that dismal first year (Towson also went 4-26 the year before Skerry arrived). Before Towson, Skerry climbed the assistant ranks at William & Mary, Charleston, Rhode Island, Providence and Pittsburgh.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Rhode Island
Monte Ross, Delaware
The Blue Hens won the Colonial regular season title and reached the NCAA Tournament since 1999 when Mike Brey led Delaware to back-to-back bids. The CAA has been decimated by conference realignment, but Ross deserves credit for a turn around from five wins in his first season in 2006-07 to 25 last year. Ross, a Philadelphia native, spent a decade as an assistant to Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph’s.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Saint Joseph’s
Tim Cluess, Iona
Cluess is 55 years old, not an age where coaches start taking their first major conference gig. It’s tough to argue with his record, though. In four seasons at Iona, Cluess has gone 92-55 overall and 55-18 in the MAAC with two NCAA Tournament appearances. His New York connections — he coached high school, junior college and Division II in the region — will be intriguing for someone.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Seton Hall
Greg Lansing, Indiana State
The former Steve Alford assistant has turned Indiana State into a reliable Missouri Valley program — though winning a league title will be tough as long as Gregg Marshall has Wichita State rolling. Indiana State won 22 games last season, the Sycamores’ best total since 2000-01. Another NCAA Tournament bid — Indiana State won the MVC tourney in 2011 — would help Lansing’s resume.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Iowa State
Mike Brennan, American
A John Thompson III assistant at Princeton and Georgetown, Brennan led American to a Patriot League tournament title and its first NCAA appearance in five seasons. After taking over for Jeff Jones, who took the Old Dominion job, Brennan took American from 10-20 to 20-13.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: George Washington
LeVelle Moton, North Carolina Central
Moton guided his alma mater to a seamless transition into Division I, including a 41-7 record in his first three seasons in the MEAC. Coaches from this conference don’t often move up, but Moton seems poised to follow the same track as Anthony Evans, who moved from Norfolk State to FIU before last season.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Charlotte
The Athlon Sports team returns to action with a look at all the quarterbacks around college football.
Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan make their picks for the top quarterbacks for each league, the top battles and the sleepers for major conferences.
They also take a quick look at the non-major conferences, and soccer player/Athlon intern Andie grills one of our hosts about his true feelings on the World Cup.
You can reach the podcast team at [email protected] or on Twitter at @AthlonSports @BradenGall @DavidFox615 and @AthlonSteven.
San Diego Padres legend and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died after a battle with salivary gland cancer. The Padres announced his death Monday. He was 54.
Gwynn was one of the greatest hitters in the modern era and the last to seriously challenge a .400 batting average when he hit .394 in a strike-shortened season in 1994.
Known for his welcoming personality as much as his prowess at the plate, Gwynn accumulated 3,141 hits, won eight National League batting titles, earned 15 All-Star nods and won four Gold Gloves from 1982-2001.
He was arguably the best pure hitter since Ted Williams, the last batter to hit .400. Fans and sports reporters shared some of the more ridiculous and wild numbers to put Gwynn’s achievements in perspective.
Tony Gwynn dies at the age of 54. Gwynn only struck out 434 times in his career, 2nd-fewest of any member of the 3,000-hit club (Paul Waner)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn hit .300 in 18 consecutive seasons from 1983 to 2000. Only Ty Cobb (23 straight) had a longer such streak.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 16, 2014
In Tony Gwynn's career, he had 1 3-strikeout game. There were 11 yesterday in the majors. 1 of those was a 4 K game, which Gwynn never did.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 16, 2014
Box score of only game (out of 2,440) where Tony Gwynn struck out 3x - the pitcher who did it? Bob Welch. http://t.co/DAico1vmrG— Josh Kelman (@JoshKelman) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn struck out 434 times over 9,288 career at-bats. That is not a misprint.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn hit .338 for his career. Every other hitter who finished with a batting average that high started his career in 1939 or earlier.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 16, 2014
Highest career BA for players active after WW2: 1) Ted Williams .344 2) #TonyGwynn .338 3) Musial .331 4) Boggs .328 5) Rod Carew .328— Eric Berman (@WIBC_EricBerman) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn career against Maddux, Glavine, Ryan, Smoltz, Eckersley, Pedro Martinez: 140 hits, 382 ABs, .36649 BA.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn (.302) is only player in our data to hit over .300 in 2-strike counts. Next best: .262 by Boggs: http://t.co/wIkfQ0tCmN— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) June 16, 2014
Since 1980, 26 players have had at least 10,000 plate appearances. Only four struck out <10% of their at-bats. Gwynn leads them all at 4.2%.— Jeff (BPredict) (@BPredict) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn’s season-high in home runs was 17. He hit .372 that particular year. He was 37.— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn didn't play baseball as a freshman at SDSU. He wanted to focus on basketball: https://t.co/Cls84TLRly Still holds assists records— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) June 16, 2014
By the time any college football game kicks off, one team has already executed a game plan. Behind every major college football team is another team of support staff making sure the players and coaches can focus solely on the game at hand. Athlon Sports followed Louisville’s equipment and training staff for the Dec. 5 game at Cincinnati for a behind-the-scenes look at the logistics of moving a football team from Point A to Point B.
Slideshow: Behind-the-scenes images as Louisville prepares to face Cincinnati
If Mike Kurowski hasn’t received the call yet, he knows to expect it soon. The call will come from his counterpart in equipment operations at Texas, where Charlie Strong became the head coach after the 2013 season.
Kurowski knows to expect that call, because that’s what Kurowski did when Louisville hired Strong. Kurowski, who has worked at Louisville since 2009, called the equipment manager at Florida for insight on how Strong, the former Gators defensive coordinator, would want to run his program, down to gameday wardrobe and snacks.
The job of the director of athletic equipment operations in its simplest terms is to make sure that each player has his helmet, pads and uniform for practice and gameday and that each coach has a working headset and the proper sideline attire.
This feature and more can be found in every regional edition of the 2014 Athlon Sports College Football Preview.
Kurowski and his staff — along with the trainers and director of football operations — are charged with the task of making sure a traveling football team and its coaching staff arrive at the stadium without any concerns aside from winning a football game.
Through repetition and game-planning, the travel process is down to a science, but Kurowski knows enough to plan for surprises.
When Texas calls Kurowski for what to expect from Strong, Kurowski will tell the Longhorns what Florida told him: Make sure to have plenty of Atomic Fireballs. Even then, after Kurowski did his homework on his new boss and his affinity for cinnamon candy, Strong threw a curve.
“The very first time we were out at practice, I said ‘What are all these little white pellets?’ and I finally saw him do it,” Kurowski says. “He sucks the fire out of it and throws them down. He doesn’t chew or anything.”
The responsibility of Kurowski’s staff and every member of Louisville’s support staff is to remember that no detail is too small, from the sideline candy to the uniforms to the pregame meal.
One floor up from Kurowski’s equipment office in the Schnellenberger Football Complex, Clifford Snow, the director of football operations, works through his meticulous checklist.
The team needs Kurowski and the equipment staff to set up the locker rooms. It also needs Snow to make sure the players have a place to sleep, food to eat, a space for the pregame walk-through and a room large enough to accommodate team meetings.
Snow’s preparation for the Cincinnati trip and nearly all of Louisville’s road trips for the season started in the spring when the American Athletic Conference announced its schedule. A road game to Cincinnati is easy, comparatively speaking. It’s one Snow has organized before, and the best part for him is that the team will travel by bus.
If Charlie Strong seems like the most particular or detail-oriented person in this chain, he’s not. It’s Snow.
Snow is the one with a six-page checklist for a 100-mile bus trip to face an opponent Louisville has visited every other year for nearly 50 seasons. The checklist accounts for every phone call, e-mail and fax Snow will send during the two weeks leading up to the game to confirm hotel and meal arrangements, bus reservations and a police escort for a travel party of nearly 200 people.
“Winning the game is the object. My object is to make it so nothing is going to distract from the purpose of winning the game,” says Snow, who joined Strong in the same role at Texas. “Everything is supposed to be seamless.”
The process of moving Louisville to Cincinnati for a Thursday night game begins immediately after practice Tuesday.
The equipment staff, consisting of two full-timers and seven student managers, has cleaned and sorted jerseys and placed them in trunks with cubbies for each player. Anything outside of the standard items — uniforms, helmets and pads — is the responsibility of the player to pack in a duffle bag. This includes extra contact lenses, mouthpieces, Breathe Right strips and knee braces.
When one defensive back arrives in Cincinnati, he’ll find out he won’t have a hand warmer waiting for him in the equipment truck. He didn’t return his after the previous game.
“When he asks for it, we’ll remind him he has to bring one back,” Kurowski tells his staff.
The next gear to pack is the sideline attire for the coaching staff — T-shirts, polos, hoodies and, most important, Strong’s mock turtlenecks. Again, the coach’s wardrobe habits are one of Kurowski’s primary concerns. Strong started on polos in his first season and moved to the cotton mock turtleneck in the second. That stuck, so when Kurowski needed a Dri-FIT mock turtleneck, he custom-ordered one.
"If everything goes smoothly, nobody notices anything."
And then comes the sweatshirt, and it’s always one from Strong’s first season at the school. The lettering is outdated from the standard issue sweatshirts the rest of the coaching staff receives, but the head coach is the one who wears exactly what he wants.
“Coaches can be just as superstitious as the players,” Kurowski says.
That said, the players don’t have much room to be superstitious under Strong’s watch. Every week, one team or another in college football wears a specialty uniform, a throwback or some new combination of jerseys and pants.
In this regard, the traditional look of Texas is perfect for Strong. At Louisville, the Cardinals wore all red at home and all white on the road.
“Any time I have an idea, (Strong) says, ‘Alabama doesn’t change, Penn State doesn’t change,’” Kurowski says.
Elsewhere, the staff prepares trunks filled with 55 cases of Gatorade, gum, towels, wristbands, extra pants and facemasks and, certainly not to be forgotten, the locker-room stereo. The training staff has its duties, too, packing trunks full of athletic tape, splints, IV materials, a defibrillator and exercise bikes. All of which is packed snugly into the Louisville team trailer before the equipment staff leaves at 10:30 a.m. sharp on Wednesday for the Thursday night kickoff.
“It’s real-life Tetris,” freshman student manager Drew Miniard says.
By the time the busload of equipment managers arrives at Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, it’s time to wait. The truck with the equipment is running an hour behind the bus.
When the visitors’ locker room opens, assistant equipment manager Ed Connell and student manager David Moser diagram who will sit where. Connell puts the 31 defensive players to the right, the 24 offensive players on the left and the five special teamers in the back. Star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater gets the prime real estate in a corner locker.
Connell sets up a makeshift equipment area in the corner of the locker room where players can grab towels, wristbands and hand warmers.
It’s the last game of the year and a short road trip, so Strong has brought everyone on the roster, including walk-ons and freshmen who are redshirting.
The Nippert locker room, as a result, is too small for Louisville this week. Connell had sized up the situation and texted Snow to remind the players who aren’t dressing for the game that they’ll need warm clothes and rain gear — they’ll be outside of the locker room all night.
By 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the trailer has arrived from Louisville, and the managers and trainers begin setup. Moser begins sorting through the magnetic nameplates for each player, matching them with jerseys. Senior manager Creighton Harley takes the audio equipment up to the coaches booth to set up the headsets. The underclassman student managers get the grunt work of buffing helmets, fresh with new decals for the Cincinnati game, and touching up scuffs with Wite-Out.
Meanwhile, the training staff is setting up the training room at the front of the locker room. Most important is the sign-in area for pre-game taping, where six rows of masking tape will show the waiting list for six trainers.
“They’re creatures of habit,” assistant athletic trainer Sam Zuege says. “Some of them have to get taped by the same trainer every day.”
By 3 p.m., everything that can be offloaded and set up the day before the game is done, and the equipment staff heads back to the team hotel for the walk-through.
At the hotel, Snow is working through his checklist: Two banquet rooms for team meetings (one for the full team and a second when they split into offense and defense), a banquet room for trainers, 125 guest rooms for the Wednesday night before the Thursday game and two buffet lines for players ready to feed the equivalent of 160 people.
“I tell my hotels, they’re going to eat two-and-a-half or three times the amount of a normal person,” Snow says. “Don’t quote me on what you think I’m going to eat. They’re going to eat three plates.”
If the team will be waiting around for a night game, Snow is also charged with making the movie arrangements, which must fit into time parameters (roughly two hours) and genre constraints (action, not sci-fi).
“If everything goes smoothly, nobody notices anything,” he says. “That’s a win for me.”
The weather on this Thursday in December is dreary. Temperature at kickoff Thursday night will be 39 degrees.
In the afternoon, as the equipment managers are setting up, the temperatures are dropping into the mid-40s. It’s cloudy and windy, but dry.
“I hope it stays just like this,” student manager Jake Turner says. It won’t.
The rain will be on its way by the afternoon with the potential to wreak havoc on the pieces of equipment Kurowski and his staff spend the most time checking, re-checking and checking again: the headsets from the coaching booth to the sideline.
“Once ESPN comes on and the game starts, you just cross your fingers and hope everything is ready,” Connell says. “You hope no one trips a fuse or crosses a frequency.”
The problem right now, though, is the rain. Kurowski would prefer snow, but it won’t be cold enough before kickoff.
“You try to be a step ahead all the time. But they’re right behind you on your heels.”
At Cincinnati, Kurowski is checking the weather report on his iPad: Rain it is. The primary concern is the headsets, covered only with towels. Without tarps readily available, Kurowski cuts open two equipment bags to drape over the headsets. Crisis averted.
Beyond the rain, the cold will be an issue, especially for a team with its share of Floridians.
Strong’s strict dress code includes an edict forbidding tights, even for cold night games. When a player attempted to take the field wearing tights during a game against Rutgers in 2010, Strong turned the player around to change. The ‘no tights’ rule is similar to other facets of Strong’s dress code: No helmet visors without a prescription and no sleeves on a single arm.
As for keeping warm, the trainers have brought a tub of Vaseline for players to put on their legs. When asked if that actually helps, Zuege shrugs.
“They think it keeps them warm,” he says. “I’m sure it insulates a little bit.”
They didn’t even have to find out for certain. Six hours before kickoff, Kurowski receives a text message from the big boss: Did he bring the forbidden tights? Strong had changed his mind on one of his uniform rules. Lucky for Kurowski, he brought a full complement of leg tights just in case.
“You try to be a step ahead all the time,” Kurowski says. “But they’re right behind you on your heels.”
The team is scheduled to arrive at 5:30 p.m. By 3 p.m., nearly every preparation for the Cardinals’ arrival is made.
With two-and-a-half hours to kill, the student trainers and managers sit in front of lockers on the training tables, lined up in a row with their laptops flipped open. The country music that filled the locker room during setup has been turned off, and the trainers are working on papers and PowerPoint presentations and studying for finals. Or trying to grab a quick nap, outstretched across folding chairs. This is the down time, before the kickoff brings new responsibilities.
Turner, the senior equipment manager, holds the poster board to send in plays from the sideline. Other managers warm up the quarterbacks and dry the footballs. The student trainers who aren’t on the field are in the locker room starting to tear down the training room they set up only 12 hours earlier.
Other than the in-game essentials, they’ll be packed up for the trip back to Louisville 45 minutes after kickoff.
Amy Riordan, a video assistant, will be busy changing memory cards in the six cameras set up around the field so coaches can review the game on the ride back.
Snow, with no more pregame meals to schedule or hotel reservations to double-check, has his own duties on the sideline. When Louisville scores the first touchdown less than three minutes into the game, Snow is reminding players on the bench to celebrate on the sideline and not on the field; he’s the “get-back” coach.
“In my position,” Snow says. “I worry about everything.”
Mainly, so his coaches and players don’t have to.
Georgia Tech’s record for the biggest rout in college football history — 222-0 over Cumberland College in 1916 — may be one of sports’ unbreakable records. Parity and sportsmanship dictate that teams will let up before hitting the century mark.
That's not for lack of trying. Seventy-point routs weren't uncommon in 2013. With a backup quarterback, Ohio State defeated Florida A&M 76-0. Georgia Tech did beat Elon by 70. Miami did the same to Savannah State, a team that lost by 84 to Oklahoma State a year earlier.
Even as the College Football Playoff has brought about practices to strengthen schedules — whether it’s the SEC’s requirement for teams to play at least one power conference team or nine-game conference schedules in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — a few patsies have found their way onto 2014 schedules.
Schools are opening up wallets to schedule these guarantee games, but schools perhaps should consider a cash reward for fans who sit through all 60 minutes.
Let’s keep a few things in mind as we run down the most shameful games of 2014:
1. We don’t care how or why the game was scheduled, even if the power team in question is in a bind because a better team backed out of a game.
2. These games aren’t shameful simply because the opponent is bad or from the lower division. Georgia State opens with Abilene Christian, a team that was in Division II just two seasons ago. We’ll let that one pass as the Panthers, winless as an FBS member, needs all the help it can get.
3. We’ll give a little bit of credit to a major team scheduling a in-state foe. Reaching across state lines, though, for an easy win is an easy way to end up on this list.
There are games that will be so obviously lopsided that they shouldn’t be on the schedule.
1. Western Carolina at Alabama (Nov. 22)
Nick Saban’s breaking of ranks with the SEC to push the league to a nine-game season may be commendable. But it’s unclear if that conference game would replace the annual warm up for Auburn. The Crimson Tide continue a tradition since 2009 of making sure it has an exhibition before the Iron Bowl by inviting Western Carolina to be walloped this season. Alabama knows exactly what it’s getting from the Catamounts, an opponent that is 14-76 since 2006. Of Western Carolina’s last four wins — spanning three seasons — three are over Division II Mars Hill. Moreover, Alabama has played Western Carolina twice under Saban, defeating the school from Cullowhee, N.C., by a combined score of 101-6.
2. Savannah State at BYU (Nov. 22)
Scheduling as an independent can be tough for BYU, especially late in the season. And Savannah State has established itself as will to take a beating to keep funds coming into the athletic program. In the last two seasons, Savannah State has lost to Troy (66-3), Miami (77-7), Oklahoma State (84-0) and Florida State (55-0 in a game with a running clock). The Tigers, 4-41 the last four seasons, found another willing partner in BYU.
3. Western Illinois at Wisconsin (Sept. 6)
Wisconsin lands on the list by scheduling the least of the directional Illinois schools. First, there’s MAC power Northern Illinois. Even Eastern Illinois has been the home of quarterbacks Tony Romo and new England Patriots draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo. Western Illinois, on the other hand, has been mediocre in the Missouri Valley for a decade. The Leathernecks are 9-25 in the last three years.
4. Nicholls State at Arkansas (Sept. 6)
Bret Bielema needs all the help he can get, especially if Auburn’s up-tempo offense in the first game of the season extends Bielema’s winless start in the SEC. Still, we can’t excuse an SEC team for scheduling Nicholls State, a team that is 6-28 in the last three years and has endured six consecutive losing seasons. Only Miami’s game against Savannah State saved Oregon’s hosting of Nicholls State last season from being the most shameful game of 2013.
5. Presbyterian at NC State (Sept. 20)
At No. 231 in the 2013 Sagarin Ratings, Presbyterian is the lowest-rated team a major conference program will face in 2014. NC State was winless in the ACC last season, but the Wolfpack already loaded up on two teams new to the FBS level in Georgia Southern and Old Dominion. In other words, if this game took place a year ago, NC State would be facing three FCS teams.
6. Presbyterian at Ole Miss (Sept. 20)
Again, Presbyterian is a 3-8 team in only its fourth season removed from Division II. Ole Miss shouldn’t be playing this game, but the Rebels have a non-conference schedule that includes league title contenders from the Mountain West (Boise State in Atlanta) and Sun Belt (Louisiana-Lafayette). That’s why NC State should be more embarrassed by scheduling the same opponent.
7. Eastern Kentucky at Florida (Sept. 22)
Will Muschamp said he doesn’t want his team playing FCS opponents. That's fine, even if it is amusing since his team lost to an FCS opponent (Georgia Southern) last season. That doesn’t change he has Eastern Kentucky on the schedule in 2014. The Colonels are better than most of the FCS teams on this list, but Florida gets docked for having two of the worst FBS programs already on the 2014 slate in Idaho and Eastern Michigan.
8. South Dakota at Oregon (Aug. 30)
At least Oregon found an FCS opponent from within a 2,000-mile radius to clobber this time around. Since facing Portland State in 2010, the Ducks have faced Nicholls State, Tennessee Tech and Missouri State in its annual September exhibition. Still, Oregon scheduled the lesser of two schools in South Dakota. The Coyotes are 4-18 under former Wyoming coach Joe Glenn.
9. Idaho State at Utah (Aug. 28)
If this game were against Boise State, we’d look forward to it. If it were against Idaho, it would an almost-excusable game against an FBS team. Instead, Utah draws Idaho State, a team that is 9-59 in the last six seasons. Idaho State allowed at least 40 points in every game last season with the exception of a 38-5 win over Division II Black Hills State.
10. Weber State at Arizona State (Aug. 28)
Weber State was an unlikely victim of the Bobby Petrino fallout at Arkansas when John L. Smith left his post in Ogden, Utah, for Fayetteville before coaching a game. The Wildcats have gone 4-18 since, including a 222-36 margin against four FBS opponents (Fresno State, BYU, Utah and Utah State).
11. VMI at Bowling Green (Sept. 6)
Bowling Green is a bowl regular and the favorite in the MAC in 2014. The Falcons can do better than scheduling a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1981.
12. Florida A&M at Miami (Sept. 6)
Miami will play two teams from Tallahassee. One team was the FBS champion. The other was ranked No. 227 in Sagarin.
13. Grambling State at Houston (Sept. 6)
The once-proud Grambling problem is dealing with a host of issues, culminating with a player walk-out in October. Only five teams were ranked lower in Sagarin last season.
14. Western Carolina at USF (Aug. 30)
This is the same lackluster FBS team Alabama faces in 2014. The difference between USF and Alabama is worth at least 13 spots in our shame rankings.
15. Elon at Duke (Aug. 30)
As long as David Cutcliffe puts competitive teams on the field at Duke, the less we’ll be able to look away from against against Elon, 5-18 the last two seasons.
The days and weeks following the end of college basketball season can be an unfriendly time for coaches.
There are draft early entries, regular transfers, graduate transfers, and, of course, the possibility that some coaches will be asked to look for employment elsewhere.
Turnover can happen at a rapid pace, leaving rosters — and benches — full of fresh faces. Those are usually the teams with the most to lose from year to year, and next season will be no exception. Earlier this week, we brought you a dozen teams that could be on the rise in 2014-15. This is the other side of that list.
College Basketball Teams in Decline in 2014-15
The Sun Devils got to the NCAA Tournament, likely saving Herb Sendek’s job, but the final weeks of the season were forgettable. Arizona State lost its last four games and six of its final eight. With Jahii Carson going to the draft after his sophomore season and three seniors gone, Arizona State returns only one player who averaged more than five points per game. The Sendek hot seat watch begins anew.
Give Baylor credit for regrouping after a 2-8 start in Big 12 play. The Bears won 12 of their final 15 before losing to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. A few key cogs — big man Isaiah Austin and veterans Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — are gone. Baylor still has a point guard, Kenny Chery, to run the show. The rest of Chery’s signing class, sophomores Allerik Freeman, Johnathan Motley and Ish Wainwright, will be under pressure to perform.
No more Sean Kilpatrick is bad enough, but Mick Cronin is starting over without his top three scorers — Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles. Cincinnati’s top returning scorer, forward Shaquille Thomas, averaged 6.8 points last season.
The Bluejays are down to one McDermott for the first time in four seasons. Consensus national player of the year Doug McDermott isn’t the only loss, though. The departures of Ethan Wragge, Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat means Creighton won’t come close to last season’s offensive numbers, even with a senior-laden team.
A guard-oriented team loses four guards, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Michael Dixon Jr. and Chris Crawford. There’s still talent here. Now it’s in the frontcourt, though, with Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols. Memphis will be a top team in the American Athletic Conference, but the Tigers need to find a point guard to contend for bigger prizes.
John Beilein will piece something together — he always does. Still, the Wolverines lose Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary to the draft and Jon Horford as a transfer to Florida. Michigan still has a point guard in Derrick Walton and a budding star in Caris LeVert, not to mention the possibility of adding West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. After reaching the title game and the Elite Eight in the last two seasons, Michigan may be due for a down year.
Frank Haith picked a good year to get out of Columbia. This year’s team is going to struggle, no matter the coach. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown left early for the NBA Draft, leaving new coach Kim Anderson with a young roster.
The Lobos have won the Mountain West tournament in each of the last three seasons and at least a share of two of the last three regular season titles. Second-year coach Craig Neal will be starting over after seniors Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams have departed and junior Alex Kirk went to the NBA Draft. The Lobos may have trouble reaching the Tournament unless one or two underclassmen can take the leap Bairstow did a year ago.
Maybe Oklahoma State needs a fresh start after all the dramatics of last season. Still, any team without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown will have to rebuild. Le’Bryan Nash is the member of the Cowboys’ big three remaining for 2014-15. It’s tough to see Oklahoma State improving from last season in the short term, and meanwhile, Travis Ford’s contract, could be a hinderance in the long term.
The departures are one thing with Mike Moser and Jason Calliste gone, but they’re of secondary concern in Eugene. Dana Altman is embroiled in a scandal related to a sexual assault investigation involving three of his players. All three, Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin, were dismissed in early May. Leading scorer James Young will be surrounded by newcomers.
The 25-0 start to 2013-14 is a distant memory as the Orange finished 3-6, including a round of 32 exit in the NCAA Tournament, a one-and-done in the ACC tournament and home losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech. Syracuse won’t be as good as it was at the start of last season and may not be as bad as it was late. Still, the middle ground between the two would qualify as a down year for the Orange. Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Baye Moussa-Keita are gone, and Jim Boeheim will open his third consecutive season with a freshman point guard.
The Volunteers probably won’t be a Sweet 16 team or a top-10 KenPom.com team again. Tennessee may have trouble getting to the NCAA Tournament or NIT in Donnie Tyndall’s first season. While the former Southern Miss coach is a solid hire, he’ll be starting essentially from scratch. He lost all but one starter and all of Cuonzo Martin’s signees. Tyndall filled the gaps with eight newcomers, a haul that includes graduate transfers from Florida Gulf Coast and IUPUI, two junior college transfers and two prep school recruits.
The final four teams in the Athlon Sports top 25 countdown were released this week, meaning we've seeded our projections for the first College Football playoff: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
This week, Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan talk about how we arrived at those matchups, how those games might be settled and other contenders for the the first Playoff.
Our hosts also discuss what changes they'd like to see before the Playoff has even begun and some predictions of what we'll see next.
As always, you can reach us on Twitter at @AthlonSports or by email at [email protected].
Somewhere in Iowa, a few ex-high school athletes have stories to share.
One tale might be about a 250-pound sophomore quarterback running over linebackers on a second-and-5 sneak.
Another might be about the time a 230-pound high school freshman returned volleys effortlessly for the varsity tennis team.
“It was a sight,” Denison (Iowa) athletic director Dave Wiebers said. “You see a kid that big and you think he’ll never get to anything. But they’ll lob it over the top and he’ll be there in one or two steps.”
Both stories are about the same high school athlete from Denison, and there are probably more about the same 250-pounder all-state pitcher, a center flashing post moves or a state title-winner in the shot put.
“I’ve read somewhere where he was claiming 1,400-1,600 (passing) yards,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t doubt that it happened, but I want to see the video.”
Specialization didn’t come for Brandon Scherff until the last possible moment in high school at Denison. Only when Scherff committed to go to Iowa as an offensive linemen did Scherff start playing tackle full time on the football field.
Five years later, Scherff is one of the top offensive tackles in the country as an Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American and likely a first round NFL draft pick.
It’s no fluke that Iowa would find its latest great lineman — a tradition that includes Robert Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff — first in the form of a high school quarterback/pitcher/center/tennis player. Molding Scherff into a star offensive tackle was on the radar from day one, even before Scherff moved to the line.
“Not many have the athletic ability that he has,” Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said. “He moves very well. You want to see guys who play with their feet. You want guys who play with their eyes. You can’t do anything if you don’t have good eyes.”
Wiebers, who coached Denison football and track, didn’t play Scherff at quarterback on a lark, though. He simply didn’t have anyone but the 250-pound sophomore to play the position at the time.
Scherff had a strong arm, but his real asset was picking up momentum in the run game in Denison’s veer offense.
“I threw the ball every once in a while,” Scherff said. “I tried to run quarterback sneaks on second and 5. Those were always nice.”
Still, Iowa essentially recruited Scherff as a lineman sight unseen.
Midway through Scherff’s junior year, Wiebers had a more traditional quarterback in Ricky Torres, who would go on to play basketball at the NAIA level. Scherff, who was on his way to becoming a 6-5, 295-pound high school senior, would move to tight end.
“You probably got to see more of his athletic ability from his tight end position,” Wiebers said. “In that transition, you could see what a good athlete he is in the trenches and catching the ball.”
For Scherff, the move from tight end to offensive tackle as a senior was more practical. He also gave up summer baseball to prepare for his new role in college.
“I didn’t want to come here not knowing what to do,” Scherff said.
He was still raw when he arrived at Iowa, but going up against All-America defensive end and eventual first-round draft pick Adrian Clayborn on the scout team as a freshman forced him to catch up in a hurry.
Scherff started at left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and moved to left tackle for each of the last two seasons.
He improved to a point where he had a legitimate dilemma on whether to go to the NFL Draft after his junior season. He elected to stay in school to improve fundamentals and technique.
For now, he’s “pure power,” Brian Ferentz said. Scherff is also only a year-and-a-half removed from a broken leg and dislocated ankle that cost him half of the 2012 season.
The return, though, gives Iowa a chance to win the Big Ten West division with Schreff blocking for returning starting quarterback Jake Rudock and grinding running back Mark Weisman.
“The biggest thing is, all those measurables, all those things where you’re testing, every one of those shows up when he plays,” Brian Ferentz said. “A lot of times there are guys have weight room strength, or guys who have football strength. He has everything. He’s an extremely functional football player.
“You could put a football player in a test tube, you’d want them to look like him.”
And now Schreff is a football player only. He’ll still play basketball with friends, and he’s taken up golf. But he’s not going to show up in a quarterback meeting anytime soon.
“I absolutely don’t miss quarterback,” Scherff said. “It’s kind of fun throwing the ball around, but I love hitting people and being physical.”
Images courtesy of Iowa Athletic Communications.
No program last season was more ascendant than UConn, even if the Huskies didn’t look the part until the final six games of the season.
The Huskies were banned from the NCAA Tournament in 2013 due to low APR scores. They came back to go 12-6 in the American, a solid if unspectacular performance by UConn standards.
Then came the Shabazz Show as Napier led UConn to one of the most unlikely national championships since the Tournament field expanded.
Following up that kind of rise will be tough, but there are a handful of candidates of teams that could turn a disappointing 2013-14 into a surprising 2014-15.
Here are our top 12 contenders for programs on the rise for the upcoming season.
College Basketball Teams on the Rise in 2014-15
Talent hasn’t been the issue for Mike Anderson’s teams at Arkansas. For whatever reason, the Razorbacks haven’t been able to put together an NCAA-worthy season. That may change this season as the Hogs return six of their top seven scorers including the inside-out duo of forward Bobby Portis and guard Michael Qualls. After struggling on the road in Anderson’s first two seasons, the Hogs started to prove they could win away from Fayetteville last season.
For the second consecutive season, Georgia was the team no bubble team in the SEC wanted to play. The Bulldogs went 12-7 in the league, but they lacked the non-conference resume to be a legitimate NCAA contender. Maybe that changes this season. After getting hit with untimely early entries to the NBA Draft, Mark Fox has his top five scorers returning.
Gonzaga had a typical Gonzaga season in 2013-14, 29 wins, a West Coast Conference title and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. The record, though, was somewhat hollow. Gonzaga defeated one top-50 team all year (BYU, twice). With a solid backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. plus the arrival of Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga will have top-10 potential.
The Illini won six of its last nine Big Ten games including the league tournament. Not a bad turnaround for a team that reeled off eight consecutive Big Ten losses at one point. After a lost year, John Groce has rebuilt his roster around returners Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu. He’ll add another round of transfers and a top-50 freshman forward, Leron Black, to the mix this season.
How could Kentucky be a team on the rise after reaching the national title game? Well, with nine McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster and now experience, Kentucky should have a more consistent season from beginning to end after last year’s freshman-laden team lost 11 games last season.
The Hurricanes lost nearly every key player from the team that won the 2012 ACC title. Help was on the way, even if it was delayed a year. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClendon (Texas) will be eligible. Don’t count out coach Jim Larranaga, who coaxed an 8-12 ACC season out of last season’s short-handed team.
One starter, Austin Hollins, is gone from the NIT champions. The Gophers still have Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu, a duo who helped Minnesota defeat Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa to get onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in the first place. The Big Ten doesn’t figure to be the gauntlet it has been in the last two seasons, so Richard Pitino’s team could take a significant step forward after going 9-11 in the league in his first season.
How can the Cornhuskers’ top last last season when Nebraska reached its first NCAA Tournament since 1998? With the way Nebraska finished, it’s easy to forget the Huskers were 9-9 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten on Jan. 23. With Terran Petteway returning and only one significant departure (guard Ray Gallegos), Tim Miles’ team is set to carry the momentum from last season into 2014-15.
Not much went right in Notre Dame’s first season in the ACC. The Irish played the entire conference schedule without Jerian Grant, who was averaging 19 points per game before he was an academic casualty. The normally stable Irish went 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the ACC, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. With Grant returning alongside senior Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame should top 20 wins in 2014-15.
The NCAA selection committee snubbed the Mustangs, but Larry Brown’s team figures to make the in-or-out decision easier this time around. SMU reached the NIT final last season with just two seniors on the roster. The returning cast alone would make SMU worth watching, but the Mustangs add freshman point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. The 6-5 point guard from Arlington could be an All-American and one of the top prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft.
After two subpar seasons, including an early loss to Houston in the 2013 CBI, Texas is in the midst of a resurgence under Rick Barnes that once seemed unlikely. The Longhorns return every key contributor from a team that went 24-11 and finished third in the Big 12. More important for Barnes’ long-term hopes, the Longhorns are pulling major in-state recruits again with the arrival of freshman center Myles Turner.
Larry Krystkowiak has led one of the most impressive turnarounds in the the country in the last three seasons. When he started at Utah in 2011-12, Krystkowiak took over a roster with only four returning players for the program’s first season in the Pac-12. After going 6-25 in his first season, Utah has improved to 21-12 in his third. With Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge leading a now-veteran team, Utah will push for a winning record in the Pac-12 and its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2009.