Articles By David Fox
Athlon Sports is proud to be the multimedia hub for college sports coverage: From our preseason annuals that begin the countdown to the season starting in June, to athlonsports.com everyday during the season and offseason, to the Athlon Sports monthly.
We’d like to be a part of your podcast rotation, too, during the season.
The Athlon Sports Cover 2 podcast will feature the editorial staff of host Braden Gall and a rotating cast of co-hosts David Fox, Mitch Light and Steven Lassan.
In our debut podcast, Gall and Fox talk about:
3:34 On what excites us most for the 2013 season (non-Manziel division).
6:19 A cool year for the hot seat
8:40 Why no one knows what to expect from Georgia-Clemson
13:51 Breaking down the rest of a big week 1 for the SEC, including TCU-LSU, Mississippi State-Oklahoma State
17:34 Talking week 1 undercards, including Northwestern-Cal, Ohio-Louisville and Boise State-Washington
22:04 Why Florida, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Louisville and Arkansas need to be on upset alert in week 1
The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com and our RSS feed. And coming soon to iTunes.
By Monday evening, a good portion of an offseason’s worth of predictions and debates may be out of date.
That’s part of the anticipation for the first weekend of the season, which will stretch from Thursday through Monday night. Plenty of games with plenty to learn, pretty much.
Here’s a quick guide to the games we watching closely and what lessons he hope to gain for each team.
1. Georgia at Clemson
Need to know: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
What we will learn about Georgia: A great deal about Todd Grantham’s defense. The results didn’t match the talent last season. The Bulldogs allowed 4.1 yards per carry last season, ranking 11th in the SEC. And that was with first-round draft picks Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree (granted, Ogletree was suspended the first four games). Missing oversized safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who is serving a one-game suspension, and returning only three starters will put stress on the Georgia defense against one country’s best quarterbacks.
What we will learn about Clemson: If the secondary is good enough for a top-10 team. The Tigers’ secondary is the weak link on the defense. Safety Travis Blanks is the only returning starter here, and he needs to have a breakout season as a sophomore. The lingering pass defense problem from 2012 can’t extend into the 2013 opener against Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
2. LSU vs. TCU in Arlington, Texas
Need to know: Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about LSU: Who is ready to take charge. Will the young defense be ready to play at normal LSU levels? Will Zach Mettenberger be able to take the next step under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron? TCU's Casey Pachall and Waymon James have proven they can put stress on a defense when healthy and available. And Mettenberger will be tested against a Gary Patterson defense that proved it could translate success from the Mountain West to the Big 12.
What we will learn about TCU: What’s up Patterson’s sleeve. Patterson’s not offering many clues for his plans against LSU. He hasn’t announced a starting quarterback between Pachall and Trevone Boykin, though Pachall appears to be the favorite. Patterson also snuck defensive end Devonte Fields, who was supposed to be suspended, onto the depth chart. TCU has been hit by player departures (projected starting linebacker Joel Hasley) and injuries on the offensive line, so perhaps Patterson is grabbing any advantage he can get.
3. North Carolina at South Carolina
Need to know: Thursday, 6 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about North Carolina: The line is a major question mark for North Carolina’s offense, which was one of the most consistent in the ACC last season. If the offensive line can anchor an ACC contender. Three starters are gone, including first-round draft pick, Jonathan Cooper. Left tackle James Hurst will have his hands full with Jadeveon Clowney, but the good news is he won’t face anyone better for the rest of the season.
What we will learn about South Carolina: Are the defensive players not named Jadeveon ready to win the SEC? South Carolina has some holes at linebacker and to a lesser extent in the secondary. South Carolina needs to prove it can handle North Carolina and quarterback Bryn Renner before facing Georgia and Aaron Murray in the second week of the season.
4. Boise State at Washington
Need to know: Saturday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1
What we will learn about Boise State: If Joe Southwick is ready to carry Boise State. The quarterback was much improved in the final games of last season, throwing nine touchdowns and no interceptions in the final four games last season. He was 26 of 38 for 264 yards with two TDs in the bowl game against Washington, but Southwick will need to be a road performer. Besides Washington, the Broncos face Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State on the road this season.
What we will learn about Washington: If more experience will turn the offense around. The Huskies repaired one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 during the 2012 offseason. They’ll need to upgrade the offense this season if they’re going to get over the seven-win hump. A banged-up offensive line didn’t help Keith Price at all last season. Now, Washington has a healthy line, skill position talent (especially if Mackey Award contender Austin Seferian-Jenkins plays) and up-tempo tweaks in the scheme.
5. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Need to know: Thursday, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Ole Miss: A bit about how this brutal start will go. Ole Miss has a ton of momentum after closing last season with a win over Mississippi State, a bowl victory and a star-studded signing class. But the Rebels have to play games, and the early part of the schedule includes four of the first five on the road. If the Rebels can’t defeat Vanderbilt, how confident will they be against Texas (Sept. 14) and Alabama (Sept. 28)?
What we will learn about Vanderbilt: Who is Austyn Carta-Samuels? Vanderbilt won nine games under Jordan Rodgers last season, and now the job is being handed to a Wyoming transfer. Carta-Samuels had a nice freshman season in Laramie, but that’s a long way from reaching a bowl out of the SEC. Carta-Samuels will be without his No. 2 receiver in Chris Boyd, who was indicted in connection to the campus rape case. Police accuse Boyd of advising another defendant in covering up the crime.
6. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State in Houston
Need to know: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
What we will learn about Mississippi State: If the Bulldogs are ready for the big-time. Mississippi State folded against the top competition in the SEC last season. Oklahoma State is in the crowd atop the Big 12, but Mississippi State can still make a statement in Houston. The Bulldogs have a standout defensive line that will go up against an OSU unit that’s missing starting left tackle Devin Davis, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
What we will learn about Oklahoma State: An intro to a new offense. On one hand, Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh have had the entire offseason to prepare for starting this season — a year ago, freshman Wes Lunt, who has since transferred, was named the starter in spring. That’s good news, but those veterans are working under new coordinator Mike Yurcich.
7. Virginia Tech vs. Alabama in Atlanta
Need to know: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Virginia Tech: Not much, really. The Crimson Tide embarrassed Michigan 41-14 to open last season. That’s a mark Virginia Tech may strain to avoid.
What we will learn about Alabama: How dominant this team could be. Frank Beamer has said Alabama is the best team Virginia Tech has faced during his tenure. If there’s a breakout offensive star — T.J. Yeldon or Amari Cooper — doing something big against Virginia Tech may be enough to put one or the other in the Heisman conversation along with AJ McCarron.
8. Florida State at Pittsburgh
Need to know: Monday, 8 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Florida State: What role Jameis Winston may play. The redshirt freshman quarterback could be one of the breakout stars for 2013, but there may be little reason for coach Jimbo Fisher to play that hand, at least not yet. The Seminoles should have one of the best defenses in the ACC plus plenty of running back depth so Winston doesn’t need to be a star in his first start.
What we will learn about Pittsburgh: The direction of the running back position. Pittsburgh has had a number of deficiencies in its final seasons in the Big East, but running back hasn’t been one of them from LeSean McCoy to Dion Lewis to Ray Graham. The baton could have been passed to decorated recruit Rushel Shell, but he elected to transfer. When he wanted to return, coach Paul Chryst didn’t take him back. Pitt also had injuries to the top two running backs, junior Isaac Bennett and freshman James Conner, during fall practice.
9. Ohio at Louisville
Need to know: Sunday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
What we will learn about Ohio: The Bobcats’ status as a MAC team to watch. Consistency has been the biggest trademark for Ohio in recent years. The Bobcats have won between eight and 10 games in each of the last four seasons. Frank Solich has been here since 2005. But a MAC title has been elusive as flashier teams with transient coaches have won the league. Ohio may have what it takes to win the league this season.
What we will learn about Louisville: If the defense is ready to go undefeated. Teddy Bridgewater and the offense will be fine, but Charlie Strong’s D had its lapses last season. The Cardinals allowed 524 total yards in a loss to Syracuse and struggled to find a pass rush at times last season. Ohio returns the backfield duo of Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship, who combined for 480 total yards against Penn State in the opener last season.
10. Rutgers at Fresno State
Need to know: Thursday, 10:30 p.m., ESPNU
What we will learn about Rutgers: How the defense will replace its stars. The Scarlet Knights lost Big East defensive player of the year Khaseem Greene, lockdown corner Logan Ryan and veterans Scott Vallone and Steve Beauharnais. That’s a lot for Rutgers to lose in one offseason, especially when the first game of 2013 is on the road against Fresno quarterback Derek Carr.
What we will learn about Fresno State: A bit about Fresno State’s Mountain West prospects. The Bulldogs hasn’t won an outright conference title since it’s been the same league with Boise State. The Bulldogs are expected to go toe-to-toe with the Broncos this season, possibly meeting in the first Mountain West title game. Defeating Rutgers at home in the opener would be a signal that Fresno is ready to take on Boise State and San Diego State.
The Big 12 coach rankings start with Bill Self.
That’s the easy part.
After that, ranking the Big 12 coaches is a chore. Three of the league’s most accomplished career coaches — Bob Huggins, Rick Barnes and Tubby Smith have more than 1,700 wins among them — are coming off of lackluster seasons. Smith was let go from his last job, and Barnes will be under pressure to turn things around at Texas in a hurry.
A decade ago, Scott Drew took on one of the toughest rebuilding projects in the country at Baylor, succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations but still kept the Bears wanting more.
Lon Kruger and Fred Hoiberg are two Big 12 coaches who have impressed. Kruger did at Oklahoma what he’s done everywhere — stay competitive, get into the NCAA Tournament and, well, that’s about it. Hoiberg hasn’t led Iowa State beyond the Round of 32 in the last two seasons, but that still better than anyone else in Ames in the last decade.
Indeed, after the top tier of Big 12 coaches, any of the others in the league could plausibly sit in the second or third group.
*A few things to note as we are ranking coaches: We are attempting to look at the whole package of gameday acumen, recruiting, player development, and regular-season and postseason success. We are also keeping in mind a coach’s career trajectory.
And now, on to the debate. Feel free to chime in at @AthlonSports on Twitter or Athlon Sports on Facebook.
Other conference coach rankings: ACC | American
1. Bill Self, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 300-59 overall (.836), 137-27 Big 12 (.835)
NCAA Tournament: 35-14, two Final Fours, one national championship
The names and faces outside of Lawrence keep changing, but Kansas hasn’t fallen from its perch in the Big 12. Self has won at least 30 games in four consecutive seasons and reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in six of the last seven seasons. Even when the Jayhawks looked vulnerable for 2013-14 after losing all five starters, they signed the presumptive No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Wiggins, and landed transfer Tarik Black from Memphis. The new faces, including a signing class that ranked only second to Kentucky, will present a challenge for Self. He’s had the luxury of developing players like Cole Aldrich and Thomas Robinson from role players to All-America-type stars. Perry Ellis fits that mold for KU, but he's one of the few players with experience in the Big 12.
2. Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Record at West Virginia: 133-75 overall (.635), 60-48 Big East/Big 12 (.556)
NCAA Tournament: 27-20, two Final Fours
West Virginia’s first season in the Big 12 truly was an aberration for Huggin. The 13-19 season was only the second losing season of his career and second losing conference season (the first for both being his first season at Akron in 1984-85). Perhaps Huggins had a mix that simply didn’t jell last season with Deniz Klicli trying to mesh with a handful of transfers and freshmen. Still, Huggins has made things work with wayward souls throughout his career, and he’ll try to do the same in 2013-14. The Mountaineers have regressed each season since reaching the 2010 Final Four, so there’s an element of concern here.
3. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
Record at Oklahoma: 35-28 overall (.556), 16-20 Big 12 (.444)
NCAA Tournament: 14-14, one Final Four
Oklahoma knew what it would get when it hired Kruger, and the well-traveled coach delivered. No coach is more reliable at taking over a tough situation and putting the program on the right track. Kruger went 11-7 in the Big 12 in his second season at OU and became the first coach to take five different teams to the NCAA Tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV were the others). Kruger has done his work with a minimal amount of flash — he’s never coached a consensus All-American, hasn’t won a regular-season conference title since 1998 and hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2008. But programs don’t hire Kruger expecting John Calipari.
4. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Record (all at Iowa State): 62-39 overall (.614), 26-26 in the Big 12 (.500)
NCAA Tournament: 2-2
Only Iowa State could have hired “The Mayor,” who spent more time in NBA front offices than on the coaches’ bench at any level. Hoiberg returned to Ames to make his alma mater competitive, going 23-13 in the Big 12 in the last two seasons. Iowa State needs to be creative to stay competitive, and that’s what it got in Hoiberg. He’s succeeded with Division I transfers in Royce White, Korie Lucious, Will Clyburn, Chris Babb and now DeAndre Kane. And Hoiberg has beeing among the best in applying advanced statistical analysis and scouting to his program. The Cyclones led the Big 12 in points per possession and effective field goal percentage last year.
5. Rick Barnes, Texas
Record at Texas: 358-155 overall (.698), 164-75 Big 12 (.686)
NCAA Tournament: 20-20, one Final Four
Before last season, Barnes had a remarkable streak of 17 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. Then the Longhorns bottomed out at 16-18 capped off with a loss to Houston in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. Most coaches with Barnes’ raw numbers would be permitted one bad season, but Barnes has had too many recent seasons in which the results haven’t matched the potential. The Longhorns have failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in five consecutive seasons despite having five first-round NBA Draft picks and a handful of other highly touted recruits during that span. With Texas’ in-state recruiting base (which Barnes is losing hold of) and ample resources, these are meager results in a conference with only one true powerhouse.
6. Bruce Weber, Kansas State
Record at Kansas State: 27-8 overall (.771), 14-4 Big 12 (.778)
NCAA Tournament: 11-9, one Final Four
One thing we can say about Weber: He can win quickly. In his first season at Kansas State, Weber took Frank Martin’s players and won the Wildcats’ first share of a conference title since 1977. In his second season at Illinois, Weber went 37-2 with a national championship game appearance with a team recruited by Bill Self. Weber’s results at Illinois, however, dwindled in his final five seasons, but he will get a second chance for longevity in Manhattan.
7. Scott Drew, Baylor
Record at Baylor: 180-138 overall (.566), 63-95 Big 12 (.399)
NCAA Tournament: 6-3
Drew not only brought Baylor back from the brink but also brought the Bears to their most successful era since the 1940s and early ‘50s with two Elite Eights in the last five seasons. At the same time, though, Baylor arguably should be even better. Look at the end of last season as an example: Baylor drilled Kansas by 23 points and then won the NIT, but the Bears had a roster that shouldn’t have been in the NIT in the first place. Baylor has had a top-25 signing class in each of the last five seasons, according to Rivals.com, but has reached the NCAA Tournament only twice during that span.
8. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
Record at Oklahoma State: 104-64 overall (.619), 44-40 (.524)
NCAA Tournament: 1-4
Ford has at least brought Oklahoma State back to relevance in the Big 12. With Marcus Smart returning to Oklahoma State, all eyes will be on Ford to lead the Cowboys to the next steps: Contending for the Big 12 title and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Ford has a potential top-10 team on his hands, and Oklahoma State is hungry for a winner. The Cowboys haven’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2005.
9. Tubby Smith, Texas Tech
Record at Texas Tech: First season
NCAA Tournament: 30-16, one Final Four, one national championship
Maybe we’d be more optimistic if Smith were at a job that played better to his strengths. A program with little recent success on an island out in Lubbock, Texas Tech, is in need of an infusion of energy. A fine coach Tubby Smith may be, but he’s not a personality that generates much enthusiasm. On the court, the results have dwindled since his early years at Kentucky. Smith never had a winning conference season in his last stint at Minnesota and hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2005 with the Wildcats.
10. Trent Johnson, TCU
Record at TCU: 11-21 overall (.344), 2-16 Big 12 (.111)
NCAA Tournament: 5-5
Johnson has quite the rebuilding job at TCU, but there are glimmers of hope. The Horned Frogs’ only Big 12 wins came against NCAA Tournament teams Kansas and Oklahoma, and TCU signed a top-100 center in Karviar Shepherd. Johnson pulled Nevada out of the depths of the WAC, but rebuilding in that conference is different than rebuilding in the Big 12.
Hope is plentiful during the college football offseason. Every practice is great. Every signing class brings promise. Most players are injury-free and improving.
Just as healthy and vibrant is offseason debate. Who’s No. 1? Who is the preseason conference favorite? Who is headed for a fall?
Athlon Sports is proud to be part of your offseason preparation with our national and regional preview annuals. We understand we’re not the only game in town.
Everyone has opinions, and we figured we would provide a quick snapshot of how things are shaking out in those top 25 rankings, months before the season starts.
A few picks lined up across the board — Alabama is a unanimous preseason No. 1 — but a handful of top-25 and conference champion predictions varied wildly.
Now that all publications are on newsstands, we wanted to see how Athlon compared to preseason rankings and picks for other major publications. We looked at rankings for Lindy's, The Sporting News (TSN), USA Today (USAT) and Phil Steele.
If you're the kind of person who buys every preseason magazine or just the ones that rank your favorite team the highest, here's your guide to the guides for 2013 college football.
2013 PRESEASON TOP 25 RANKINGS
|2. Ohio State||2||5||2||2||2||2||4|
|5. South Carolina||9||3||11||14||7||6||6|
|8. Notre Dame*||14||10||14||10||11||14||8|
|9. Texas A&M||5||7||7||13||6||7||3|
|11. Boise State||17||15||6||33||19||19||20|
|15. Florida State||13||18||17||3||12||11||13|
|16. Oklahoma State||11||6||19||8||14||13||--|
|22. Fresno State||33||--||22||22||--||--||--|
|23. Arizona State||37||--||--||27||--||--||--|
|25. Oregon State||31||23||--||29||25||25||--|
|30. Virginia Tech||38||--||--||12||--||--||25|
|31. Kansas State||36||--||24||39||--||--||--|
|32. Michigan State||20||--||--||23||--||--||15|
|33. Ole Miss||29||25||--||28||--||--||--|
|44. Northern Illinois||27||--||23||26||--||--||24|
*Notre Dame was ranked No. 8 in Athlon's preseason magazine but moved to No. 10 in an updated ranking following the departure of starting quarterback Everett Golson.
# Published a top 25 only.
%Derived from Phil Steele's Preseason Top 40.
2013 CONFERENCE PRESEASON PICKS
*Indicates conference title game winner
|ACC Atlantic||Clemson*||Clemson||Clemson||Clemson*||Florida State||Clemson*|
|ACC Coastal||Miami||Miami||Miami||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech||Miami|
|Big 12||Oklahoma St.||Oklahoma St.||Oklahoma St.||Texas||Texas||Oklahoma St.|
|Big Ten Leaders||Ohio State*||Ohio State||Ohio State||Ohio State*||Ohio State||Ohio State*|
|Big Ten Legends||Michigan||Michigan||Michigan||Nebraska||Nebraska||Michigan|
|C-USA East||Marshall||East Carolina||East Carolina||East Carolina||Marshall||East Carolina|
|MAC East||Bowling Green||Ohio||Bowling Green||Ohio||Bowling Green||Ohio|
|MAC West||Northern Ill.*||Northern Ill.||Northern Ill.||Northern Ill.*||Northern Ill.||Northern Ill.*|
|MW Mountain||Boise State*||Boise State||Boise State||Boise State*||Boise State||Boise State|
|MW West||Fresno State||Fresno State||Fresno State||Fresno State||Fresno State||Fresno State|
|Pac-12 South||Arizona State||UCLA||UCLA||UCLA||USC||UCLA|
|SEC East||Georgia||Georgia||South Carolina||Georgia||Georgia||Georgia|
|Sun Belt||UL Lafayette||ULM||Western Ky.||UL Lafayette||UL Lafayette||ULL/ULM (tie)|
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College Football 2013 Team Rankings: No. 1-125
The 2013 season is upon us, but there’s still plenty to dissect from recent seasons that may give us a hint of what’s to come after the first kickoff Thursday.
Returning starters, points per game, yards per play and recruiting rankings give us a slice of what’s going on in the college football landscape, but there are a few others numbers that deserve attention.
We’ve been through nearly the entire offseason, and a handful of numbers and trends have slipped through the cracks. Further indications of Alabama’s dominance, a potential weakness for Heisman contender Braxton Miller and signs of vulnerability for Louisville.
Every team has been dissected, every conference previewed, every bowl game projected, but there are still a few notes left in the Athlon notebook before the season gets started.
Alabama’s dominance everywhere
Over the last 10 seasons, only 21 teams have outscored home and road opponents each by an average of 20 points per game in a season. Only two programs have done it in back-to-back seasons in the last decade: Alabama in 2011-12 and Boise State in 2009-10. A third consecutive season of the feat would be unprecedented during that span.
Braxton Miller’s weakness
If Ohio State is going to make a run at the national title and Braxton Miller is going to contend for the Heisman, the quarterback will need to improve his sack numbers. Ohio State was sacked on 9.5 percent of drop backs, the ninth-highest rate in the country. Moreover, Miller was sacked 21 times in the last seven games despite never attempting more than 20 passes in a game. The offensive line improved as the season went along, and Miller is a mobile quarterback. Is this the case of a sophomore trying to do too much? Ohio State at least improved from a year earlier when the Buckeyes were sacked on 15.8 percent of drop backs.
Aaron Murray’s record chase
SEC coaches named Georgia’s Aaron Murray their first-team all-conference quarterback this week. Maybe the pick was due to uncertainty surrounding Johnny Manziel. Or maybe it was to acknowledge Murray’s chase for the record books. With Manziel’s record-breaking season and AJ McCarron’s chase for a third national title, Murray’s career achievements have been overlooked. If Murray keeps up his season averages as a senior, he’ll break SEC’s career records passing records held by four different quarterbacks: passing yards (Georgia’s David Greene), touchdowns (Florida’s Danny Wuerffel), attempts (Kentucky’s Jared Lorenzen) and completions (Florida’s Chris Leak).
Wide receiver is a forgotten position at Stanford
Most avid college football fans know of Stanford’s reliance on tight ends Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo and Coby Fleener in recent seasons, but the move away from receivers as only become more pronounced over the last four years. In 2009 (Andrew Luck’s first season as quarterback), Stanford completed 32.2 passes to non-quarterbacks, that number jumped to 44 percent in 2010, 57.2 percent in 2011 and then an astronomical 63.8 percent in 2012. With Ertz and Toilolo gone, that number could fall back to earth, otherwise new starting tight end Luke Kaumatule and running back Stepfan Taylor (97 career receptions) will be quite busy.
Boise State hits the road
In Athlon’s piece on the toughest road schedules, Boise State is mentioned for its toughest road schedule. The Broncos will face five teams that went to bowl games last season (Washington, Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State). If all five go to bowl games this season, as projected, it will be the first time in school history Boise State has faced five bowl teams on the road.
Auburn need Gus Malzahn in the worst way
The Tigers’ offense crumbled when Malzahn left for Arkansas State, but it’s more than just ranking 11th in the league in yards per play (5.3). In this era of up tempo offense, Auburn’s offense averaged the fewest plays per game in the country last season at 60.5, nearly four fewer than the next worst team (Central Michigan). Running a low amount of plays isn’t bad — Alabama doesn’t run its offense at a breakneck pace — but Auburn averaged 67.3 plays per game during Mazlahn’s stint as offensive coordinator.
Overrating Louisville’s rout of Florida in the Sugar Bowl may not be the only reason to be wary of the Cardinals’ high ranking in 2012. The Cardinals recovered 76.6 percent of their fumbles last season. A high fumble recovery rate is generally considered a product of luck. The Cardinals recovered 25 of all 36 fumbles (their own and their opponents’ fumbles) last season. On the other side of the spectrum, South Carolina recovered only 30.6 percent of its fumbles and did just fine last season.
Fewer yellow flags for Arizona State
Todd Graham’s biggest impact in his first season at Arizona State was a dramatic reduction in penalties. The Sun Devils lost 44.5 fewer yards per games to penalties in 2012 compared to 2011, going from last in the nation in penalties per game to a tie for 12th fewest. Arizona State averaged at least eight penalties per game in each of Dennis Erickson’s final three seasons. In Graham’s first, Arizona State averaged 4.3 flags per game. And as Erickson’s teams racked up penalties, the Sun Devils were dismal in close games.
Overrating Baylor’s defense
Baylor may get a bump in the preseason projections after its late-season surge with wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma State and UCLA, but don’t overrate the defense. Baylor 13 sacks and 46 tackles for a loss during the season, ranking ninth and 10th in the Big 12, respectively. With six sacks and 12 tackles for a loss against UCLA alone in the Holiday Bowl, Baylor moved to seventh in the Big 12 in sacks and eighth in tackles for a loss.
Miami settling for field goals
With Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson in the backfield and a standout offensive line, Miami has perhaps the ACC’s best offense outside of Clemson. But the Hurricanes settled way for way too many field goals in the red zone last season. In Miami’s 52 trips to the red zone, the Hurricanes settled for three points 34.6 percent of the time. That’s a high field goal rate for a good offense. Consider some of the other teams that got more than a third of their red zone scoring off field goals: Connecticut, USF, Virginia Tech, Boston College and LSU.
Spurrier has dropped the Fun ‘n’ Gun. You should, too.
For whatever reason, Steve Spurrier remains associated with a pass-happy offense. Every now and then, a pundit will mention that Spurrier would prefer to air it out. That’s just not the case anymore, and it’s pretty well-established the South Carolina coach isn’t interested in recreating what he ran at Florida. South Carolina ran the ball 60.5 percent of the time the last two seasons and 53.2 percent of the time during his tenure with the Gamecocks.
Washington’s futile return games
Washington has not had a touchdown in the return game since 2007 when Louis Rankin returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Washington State. The Huskies’ haven’t had a punt return for a touchdown since 2003.
Yesterday, Athlon looked at the most beneficial home schedules in college football for the 2013 season. We considered the best home schedules to be those that would be most helpful to a team’s goals by bringing the toughest opponents to the program’s home stadium.
This is the flip side.
These road schedules may hinder these 10 team’s goals for the season. These road schedules are so tough, fans must wonder what they’ve done to offend someone in the conference office.
But on top of these rigorous road conference schedules, many of the top 10 have thrown a non-conference road trip into the mix.
If these teams win a conference championship game, win a division or, for some, reach a bowl game, the season will be a major accomplishment. Though there are handful of teams from the Sun Belt and Conference USA and the like with grueling guarantee games on the road, we turned our eye primarily to he major conferences.
10 TOUGHEST ROAD SCHEDULES FOR 2013
Aug. 29 Vanderbilt
Sept. 14 Texas
Sept. 28 Alabama
Oct. 5 Auburn
Nov. 28 Mississippi State
Ole Miss’ only road wins last season were over Tulane and by three over the worst Arkansas team since 2005. Now, the Rebels start 2013 with three road games in the first four with one of those against the defending national champion. It will get better, though, we Ole Miss has six home games, including Texas A&M and LSU, before a final road trip to the Egg Bowl.
Sept. 14 Oregon
Sept. 21 Florida
Oct. 26 Alabama
Nov. 2 Missouri
Nov. 30 Kentucky
Tennessee has not won a road game since 2010. That losing streak in all likelihood will extend to 11 road losses in a row when the Volunteers face Athlon's No. 3 Oregon, No. 13 Florida and No. 1 Alabama in the first three road games in 2013. First-year coach Butch Jones will try to show progress in Tennessee’s first trip to Missouri in school history.
Oct. 12 Michigan State
Oct. 19 Michigan
Nov. 16 Wisconsin
Nov. 23 Ohio State
We had Indiana on a list of the best home schedules in 2013, so maybe those eight games in Bloomington make up for this slate of Big Ten road games. Indiana has lost 16 in a row in Ann Arbor, 10 in a row in Columbus and four in a row in East Lansing and Madison.
Sept. 14 South Carolina
Sept. 21 UMass
Oct. 26 Texas A&M
Nov. 9 Florida
Nov. 23 Tennessee
Vanderbilt has a history of heartbreak on the road against Florida and Tennessee, losing 26-21 in its last trip to Gainesville and in overtime in its last trip to Knoxville. Vanderbilt has improved in the last two seasons, but defeating powerhouses on the road has not been the Commodores’ specialty.
Sept. 28 Notre Dame
Oct. 19 Kansas
Nov. 7 Baylor
Nov. 23 Kansas State
Dec. 7 Oklahoma State
For a defense that struggled last season, Oklahoma gets to face two of the top six teams in the nation yards per play last season (Baylor and Oklahoma State). And for an offense with a new starting quarterback, the Sooners catch a Notre Dame team that held five teams to less than a touchdown last year. With the Texas game in Dallas, Oklahoma will face only one of Athlon’s top six Big 12 teams in Norman (TCU).
Aug. 31 Washington
Sept. 20 Fresno State
Oct. 12 Utah State
Oct. 25 BYU
Nov. 2 Colorado State
Nov. 23 San Diego State
Six road games, five against teams that went to bowl games last season. Athlon has projected the same five (all but Colorado State) to go to bowl games again in 2013. To put that in perspective: Boise State has played five true road games against bowl teams in the last three seasons combined. Boise State knew the schedule would get tougher in the Mountain West, but the Broncos added Washington and BYU on top of that.
Aug. 30 SMU
Oct. 5 Kansas
Oct. 19 West Virginia
Oct. 26 Oklahoma
Nov. 28 Texas
Welcome back to the Big 12, Kliff Kingsbury. Oklahoma and Texas do not appear to be in top form, but visiting both Norman and Austin in the same season won't be easy. Texas Tech is a combined 3-14 at Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12 era with only one of those wins coming since 1997. Throw in the Big 12’s longest road trip to West Virginia and another against a team used to dealing with pass-happy offenses (SMU), and this is a challenging road schedule.
Aug. 29 South Carolina
Sept. 21 Georgia Tech
Oct. 5 Virginia Tech
Nov. 2 NC State
Nov. 16 Pittsburgh
The bowl ban is over, but perhaps the road schedule is fair penance for the academic scandal for now. The Tar Heels face only one of the other three ACC Coastal division contenders in Chapel Hill (Miami on a Thursday in Oct. 17). North Carolina has a seven-game losing streak at Georgia Tech, a three-game losing streak at NC State and has defeated Virginia Tech in Blacksburg just once since the Hokies joined the ACC. Oh, and South Carolina opens on Thursday at South Carolina.
Sept. 14 Nebraska
Oct. 3 Utah
Oct. 19 Stanford
Oct. 26 Oregon
Nov. 9 Arizona
Nov. 30 USC
UCLA had a nice road record last season, but that included wins at Rice, Colorado, Cal and Washington State. Back-to-back games against against title contenders Stanford and Oregon is going to be the biggest barrier to UCLA’s Pac-12 title aspirations, but USC is just as bad. UCLA is 0-6 at the Los Angeles Coliseum since Pete Carroll era, losing by an average score of 40-9.
Sept. 28 Oregon
Oct. 12 UCLA
Oct. 26 Washington
Nov. 16 Colorado
Nov. 23 Stanford
Cal is the other Pac-12 team that catches both Oregon and Stanford on the road this season. At least Cal gets its two Big Ten opponents (Ohio State and Northwestern) in Berkeley.
For a conference cobbled together from remnants of the Big East and Conference USA plus one Atlantic 10 program, the American Athletic Conference naturally has a disparate collection of coaches.
In the Big East, Louisville’s Rick Pitino was in the mix with Hall of Famers Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun and overachievers like Jamie Dixon and Buzz Williams. In the American, he’s the clear No. 1 coach. His only peer in terms of career coaching achievement is SMU’s Larry Brown, who has coached one season in the college ranks since 1988.
Fran Dunphy and Mick Cronin are steadying influences who rebuilt programs but haven’t had deep runs into the postseason. Josh Pastner and Kevin Ollie are up-and-comers. Stan Heath and James Dickey had great seasons in the past, but results at their current stops have been mixed.
Like we said, the American Athletic Conference has a grab bag of coaching resumes.
*Athlon’s rankings of the coaches in each major conference begins continues with the American Athletic Conference. The rankings began yesterday with the ACC, and we will continue in the coming weeks with several conferences before we unveil our list of the top coaches in the country. *A few things to note as we are ranking coaches: We are attempting to look at the whole package of gameday acumen, recruiting, player development, and regular season and postseason success. We are also keeping in mind a coach’s career trajectory.
1. Rick Pitino, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 310-111 overall (.736), 137-67 Conference USA/Big East (.672)
NCAA Tournament: 48-16, seven Final Fours, two national championships
Pitino further added his name to the record book by becoming the first coach to win an NCAA title at two different schools. He’ll have a chance to add a third title to the mantle as the Cardinals enter 2013-14 as a top-three team. In the AAC, he has no peer has an Tournament coach. His 48 NCAA wins are 15 more than the other nine coaches in the league combined. His teams are generally among the best defensive squads in the country with their ability to force turnovers. Pitino also is an excellent in-game tactician. But the legendary coach also has softened his demeanor in recent years. Just ask Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.
2. Fran Dunphy, Temple
Record at Temple: 158-75 overall (.678), 80-32 Atlantic 10 (.714)
NCAA Tournament: 3-15
A staple of Philadelphia’s Big 5, Dunphy is as consistent as they come. In the last 24 seasons at Penn and Temple, Dunphy has finished outside of the top three of the conference standings only twice. While he has a reputation as a good defensive coach, he’ll adjust: His 2010 team, for example, was a slow-it-down team that excelled in defensive efficiency. With Khalif Wyatt the last two seasons and with Dionte Christmas early in his tenure, his teams have pushed the tempo (relatively speaking) and have been stronger on the offensive end. With a young group in a new league, Dunphy will have to find a new formula for 2013-14.
3. Larry Brown, SMU
Record at SMU: 15-17 overall (.469), 5-11 Conference USA (.312)
NCAA Tournament: 19-6, three Final Fours, one national championship
Here’s a dilemma: Where should Larry Brown rank as SMU’s coach? His past credentials are impeccable with a national title at Kansas and a Final Four at UCLA (both were in the 1980s), plus an NBA championship and NBA coach of the year with two different franchises. Coaching in college and coaching in the NBA require different skill sets. Moreover, coaching in college in 1988 requires a different skill set than in 2013. Can Brown be as good a program CEO as Fran Dunphy, who we have listed ahead of him? We don't know right now. Brown's debut season at SMU was unimpressive, but the Mustangs were building for their new conference. Brown has brought in a slew of transfers and a major recruit in Keith Frazier. With better personnel against tougher competition in the American Athletic Conference, Brown will have a better gauge of what his third stint as a college coach will bring.
4. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Record at Cincinnati: 135-100 overall (.574), 57-67 Big East (.460)
NCAA Tournament: 3-5
Cronin doesn’t have look of an intimidating coach, but the Cincinnati native successfully whipped his alma mater back in shape. In the last three seasons, Cincinnati went 32-22 in the Big East, reached the NCAA Tournament each year and upset No. 3 seed Florida State to reach the Sweet 16 in 2012. The recruiting connections Cronin has built into New York and New Jersey will be tested as the American Athletic Conference is geographically separated from the area.
5. Josh Pastner, Memphis
Record (all at Memphis): 106-34 overall (.757), 52-12 Conference USA (.813)
NCAA Tournament: 1-3
Pastner had the unenviable task of following John Calipari at a pressure situation at Memphis. By his fourth season, Pastner turned in his best year at Memphis, winning 31 games, going undefeated in Conference USA and defeating Saint Mary’s in the NCAA Tournament. Pastner’s record against ranked teams and major conference competition isn’t great, but he’s about to get a few more chances to show his mettle against teams like Louisville, UConn, Temple and Cincinnati. With Pastner's recruiting prowess, Memphis should have the talent to go toe-to-toe with this programs on a regular basis.
6. Kevin Ollie, Connecticut
Record (all at Connecticut): 20-10 overall (.667), 10-8 Big East (.556)
Ollie is helped by taking over at Connecticut when expectations aren’t sky high. Few coaches who follow a legend like Jim Calhoun receive that kind of patience. The NCAA Tournament ban was an obstacle, but it meant no one around UConn was expecting Calhoun-like results. The Huskies held their own, though, defeating two Final Four-bound teams in Syracuse and Louisville. With a talented backcourt and the postseason ban lifted, Ollie will be expected to get the Huskies back into the Tourney.
7. Stan Heath, USF
Record at USF: 85-110 overall (.436), 34-74 Big East (.315)
NCAA Tournament: 5-4
USF never was a good fit for the old Big East basketball lineup. The Bulls don’t have the resources or recruiting presence to go toe-to-toe with Syracuse, Louisville and Connecticut on a regular basis. Still, Heath was able to cobble together a squad that went 12-6 in the league without a double-digit scorer in 2012, and recruiting has improved. Otherwise, it’s been a rollercoaster ride. Heath is now more than a decade removed from taking Kent State to the Elite Eight.
8. Donnie Jones, UCF
Record at UCF: 63-34 overall (.649), 25-23 Conference USA (.452)
The former Marshall coach was dealt a setback early in his tenure at UCF when the Knights were hit with NCAA sanctions that cost the Knights' athletic director his job. UCF and its new AD saw enough out of Jones, though, to give him a contract extension. Jones has won 20 games in four consecutive seasons, going back to his final year with the Thundering Herd.
9. James Dickey, Houston
Record at Houston: 47-46 overall (.505), 18-30 Conference USA (.375)
NCAA Tournament: 2-2
Dickey was as surprise hire by Houston, but the ex-Texas Tech coach has started to pull the Cougars out of their funk. Houston has improved its win total each season under Dickey and defeated Texas last season in the CBI.
10. Eddie Jordan, Rutgers
Record: First season
After nine seasons as an NBA coach and four in the playoffs with the Washington Wizards, Jordan will try his hand at the college game. After Mike Rice was fired amid a player mistreatment controversy, Jordan’s demeanor will be watched as closely as wins and losses. After decades of irrelevance, Rutgers will hope the hire of a former player (he will end up finishing his degree) with pro experience will be the one that turns the program around.
News this week that season ticket sales at Vanderbilt were down shocked anyone who’s been paying attention to the college football landscape.
The Commodores are enjoying their best run in decades at a time when the SEC is on top. They’ve recruited their share of top-100 recruits. And their coaching staff will never be accused of lacking PR savvy.
Yet season ticket sales at Vanderbilt are down. One theory is the lack of marquee home games for the ‘Dores. In a league full of top-25 teams, Georgia is the Athlon preseason top 25 team coming to Nashville. The next best team a Vanderbilt season ticket holder will see is Ole Miss. And after that Missouri or Wake Forest.
A good home slate for wins, perhaps, but not sizzle.
These teams won’t have Vanderbilt’s problem.
As the season nears, we took a look at the best home schedules in college football for 2013. We considered a few key factors: most important, which home schedule will be most beneficial for a team to accomplish its goals. And as more big-time non-conference games move to neutral sites or replaced altogether by easy wins, we considered which season ticket holders will get the most bang for their buck.
10 BEST HOME SCHEDULES FOR 2013
Sept. 7 San Jose State
Sept. 21 Arizona State
Oct. 5 Washington
Oct. 19 UCLA
Nov. 7 Oregon
Nov. 23 Cal
Nov. 30 Notre Dame
Stanford won’t have very many easy wins in Palo Alto this season, but it’s sure to be an entertaining ride. A Thursday night game against Oregon will be wild, but Stanford brings in three other Athlon top-30 teams (Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame). Then throw in another bowl team (Washington), a rivalry game (Cal) and a mid-major darling (San Jose State). Stanford may have the best defense in the Pac-12, and it will need to be on display in front of the home crowd.
Aug. 29 North Carolina
Sept. 14 Vanderbilt
Oct. 5 Kentucky
Nov. 2 Mississippi State
Nov. 16 Florida
Nov. 23 Coastal Carolina
Nov. 30 Clemson
South Carolina finally gets the break its been looking for with its schedule. In the past four seasons, the Gamecocks have faced LSU at home, in 2012 a Bobby Petrino-led Arkansas team on the road in 2011 and Auburn and Alabama in 2010. Carolina gets Georgia on the road, but the other serious SEC East contender (Florida) and two toughest non-conference opponents (North Carolina and Clemson) visit Williams-Brice Stadium.
Aug. 29 Indiana State
Sept. 7 Navy
Sept. 14 Bowling Green
Sept. 21 Missouri
Oct. 5 Penn State
Nov. 2 Minnesota
Nov. 9 Illinois
Nov. 30 Purdue
Indiana is a trendy pick to move into bowl contention this season, and the schedule is a big reason. The Hoosiers have eight home games, and only three of those are against FBS teams that finished last season with winning records (Penn State, Navy and Bowling Green). If Indiana can get its defense in order, this could be an opportunity to pick up key wins.
Aug. 31 Central Michigan
Sept. 7 Notre Dame
Sept. 14 Akron
Oct. 5 Minnesota
Oct. 19 Indiana
Nov. 19 Nebraska
Nov. 30 Ohio State
Michigan season ticket holders will get their money’s worth with Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State visiting the Big House. The series with Notre Dame has been a back-and-forth affair, but the Wolverines have won six of the last seven in Ann Arbor. Ohio State, of course, is a different story.
Sept. 14 Lamar
Oct. 5 Kansas State
Oct. 19 TCU
Nov. 9 Kansas
Nov. 23 Baylor
Dec. 7 Oklahoma
Oklahoma State will face only one of Athlon’s top six Big 12 teams on the road, and the Cowboys have defeated that team, Texas, twice in a row in Austin. Oklahoma State gets Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas State and Baylor all in Stillwater.
Sept. 2 Florida State
Sept. 14 New Mexico
Sept. 28 Virginia
Oct. 19 Old Dominion
Nov. 9 Notre Dame
Nov. 16 North Carolina
Nov. 29 Miami
Pittsburgh’s first home schedule as an ACC program is a little reminiscent of the Panthers’ schedule as an independent — Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami. All three faced Pitt regularly in the ‘70s (Notre Dame has been on the schedule more or less continuously since the ‘60s.). Throw in ACC contender North Carolina, and Pitt could be upset central in the league.
Sept. 7 Texas
Sept. 21 Utah
Sept. 28 Middle Tennessee
Oct. 12 Georgia Tech
Oct. 26 Boise State
Nov. 16 Idaho State
One question when BYU went independent would be how the Cougars would get teams to visit Provo. BYU has only six home games, but the Cougars could do worse than having four of them against Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech and Boise State.
Sept. 5 Sacramento State
Sept. 14 Wisconsin
Sept. 28 USC
Oct. 12 Colorado
Oct. 19 Washington
Nov. 16 Oregon State
Nov. 30 Arizona
Arizona State has tough road trips against last season’s Pac-12 division winners in Stanford and UCLA plus a game against Notre Dame at Arlington. Facing its next toughest league opponents at home — USC, Washington and Oregon State — isn’t a bad trade. Arizona State won its last meeting at home against USC, has defeated Washington seven times in a row and is 18-4 all-time against Oregon State in Tempe. Catching Wisconsin at home early in the season probably isn’t a bad matchup either.
Sept. 7 Syracuse
Sept. 14 Western Michigan
Sept. 21 Maine
Oct. 5 Ohio State
Oct. 19 Minnesota
Nov. 15 Michigan
Nov. 23 Michigan State
If you’re an upset-hungry Northwestern team that has to face Ohio State and Michigan, may as well get both at home.
Aug. 31 BYU
Sept. 7 Oregon
Sept. 21 VMI
Oct. 5 Ball State
Oct. 19 Duke
Oct. 26 Georgia Tech
Nov. 2 Clemson
Nov. 30 Virginia Tech
Virginia might not be very good, but at least a season ticket holder will have a chance to see a few good teams come through Charlottesville, including two West Coast teams in ACC country. If the Cavaliers were a division contender, getting Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech at home would be a major advantage.
ACC expansion solidified the league and added to the depth of both the football and basketball lineups.
The basketball benches, though, is where ACC fans may notice the biggest upgrade. Both of the country’s 900-win coaches now work in the same conference, thanks to the addition of Syracuse and Jim Boeheim. In Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, the ACC also adds two of the nation’s most consistent coaches who have the reputation of doing more with less.
And those are just the three coaches who arrive in 2013-14. Next season, the league will add Louisville’s Rick Pitino.
The lineup of coaches in the ACC has rarely been stronger or deeper, especially considering that in the last two seasons the coaches at Florida State and Miami got the best of their Hall of Fame brethren.
Athlon’s rankings of the coaches in each major conference begins today with the ACC and will continue in the coming weeks before we unveil our list of the top coaches in the country.
*A few things to note as we are ranking coaches: We are attempting to look at the whole package of gameday acumen, recruiting, player development, and regular-season and postseason success. We are also keeping in mind a coach’s career trajectory.
RANKING THE ACC COACHES FOR 2013-14
1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Record at Duke: 884-238 overall (.788), 350-153 ACC (.696)
NCAA Tournament: 82-25, 11 Final Fours, four national championships
Since 2007, Duke has lost in the NCAA Tournament to an 11th-seeded VCU, seventh-seeded West Virginia and 15th-seeded Lehigh. In that span, Mike Krzyzewski still managed his fourth national title and four 30-win seasons. Krzyzewski has passed Bob Knight on the all-time wins list and now chases Pat Summitt’s 1,098 wins in NCAA basketball. With a preseason top-five team on his hands in 2013-14, Krzyzewski remains at the top of his game.
2. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Record (all at Syracuse): 920-314 (.746) overall, 362-191 (.655)
NCAA Tournament: 52-29, four Final Fours, one national championship
Last season was quite a year for Jim Boeheim. He crossed the 900-win mark (joining KrzyzewskI and Knight) and became the fourth coach to take a team to the Final Four in four different decades (joining Rick Pitino, Dean Smith and Krzyzewski). Now, one of the founding fathers of Big East basketball will try his hand at the ACC. In case you were wondering: Boeheim is 3-4 all-time against Duke and North Carolina.
3. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Record at North Carolina: 282-79 (.781) overall, 117-45 ACC (.722)
NCAA Tournament: 62-21, seven Final Fours, two national championships
Despite his stellar record, Roy Williams gets knocked for a few things: His teams crumble in the NCAA Tournament, and his teams don’t play defense. To those, we have two retorts. Williams has a better NCAA Tournament record at North Carolina (28-7) than he had at Kansas (34-14), a difference of nearly 10 percent and two national titles. And in 10 seasons under Williams, North Carolina has ranked in the top 25 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings eight times.
4. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Record (all at Pittsburgh): 262-86 overall (.753), 115-57 (.669) Big East
NCAA Tournament: 11-9
The 2011-12 season turned out to be a blip for Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh. The Panthers went 5-13 in the Big East and missed the NCAA Tournament for his worst season as Pitt’s head coach. The Panthers quickly rebounded in 2013-14. Overall, a few numbers to consider: Dixon has one more Big East win than Boeheim since Dixon became head coach in 2003-04. Dixon also had 16 more Big East wins than Jim Calhoun from 2003-04 through the UConn coach’s retirement last season. And lastly, Dixon had only three fewer Big East wins (92) than Louisville’s Rick Pitino (95) when both programs were in the league. The only thing that’s missing is postseason success: Dixon has reached the Elite Eight and won Big East Tournament only once each.
5. Jim Larranaga, Miami
Record at Miami: 49-20 overall (.710), 24-10 ACC (.706)
NCAA Tournament: 7-6, one Final Four
When Larranaga left George Mason for Miami, it seemed to be a cushy last job before he retired. Turns out Larranaga had a few more surprises. Seven years after taking George Mason to the Final Four, Larranaga won an ACC Tournament and regular-season title at Miami — the last ACC team other than Duke or North Carolina to do both in the same season was a David Thompson-led NC State team in 1974. Nearly as remarkable: Larranaga has had one losing conference season since 1993-94 while at Bowling Green.
6. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 219-143 overall (.605), 89-89 ACC (.500)
NCAA Tournament: 6-7
Hamilton knows something about degree of difficulty: He has won a share of the Big East regular-season title at Miami and an ACC Tournament title at Florida State. After losing seasons in ACC play in five of his first six years at FSU, Hamilton has gone 52-30 in the conference in the last four seasons. The defensive-minded Hamilton turned FSU into a factor in the ACC after more than a decade of irrelevance.
7. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Record at Notre Dame: 285-142 overall (.667), 136-79 Big East (.633)
NCAA Tournament: 6-11
Stability is the name of the game here as Notre Dame has won 20 games in each of the last seven seasons, reached in the NCAA Tournament in six of the last seven years and protected its homecourt. Still, Notre Dame has not reached the second weekend of the NCAA since Brey’s third season in 2003.
8. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 76-53 overall (.589), 32-34 ACC (.485)
NCAA Tournament: 3-3
Bennett’s preferred style of play isn’t the most exciting, but it is effective. He’s reversed the fortunes of Washington State and Virginia while making stars of Klay Thompson, Mike Smith and Joe Harris. The Cavaliers went 11-7 in the ACC last season, but this could be a breakout season for program that hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 1995.
9. Steve Donahue, Boston College
Record at Boston College: 46-52 (.469), 20-30 ACC (.400)
NCAA Tournament: 2-3
Donahue is building Boston College in a similar fashion as he did at Cornell — from the ground up. Donahue reached the NIT in his first season at BC, but he’s had one of the nation’s youngest rosters the last two years, and it’s shown. This season could be the turning point after BC went from 4-12 to 7-11 in the ACC a year ago. By his eighth season at Cornell, Donahue began a run where he led the Big Red to three consecutive Ivy League titles and the Sweet 16 in 2010.
10. Mark Turgeon, Maryland
Record at Maryland: 42-28 overall (.600), 14-20 ACC (.412)
NCAA Tournament: 5-5
Turgeon hasn’t completed his rebuild of Maryland, but hopes are high even without the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft in Alex Len in 2013-14. Turgeon took Texas A&M to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments but hasn’t finished higher than seventh in the ACC in two seasons at Maryland.
11. Mark Gottfried, NC State
Record at NC State: 48-24 overall (.667), 20-14 ACC (.588)
NCAA Tournament: 7-9
Gottfried raised expectations for a hungry NC State fanbase as the Wolfpack reached the Sweet 16 in 2012 and added a second standout recruiting class. The ACC media’s preseason favorite ended up 11-7 in the league in 2013, and the program lost the core of its team to transfers and the NBA Draft.
12. Brad Brownell, Clemson
Record at Clemson: 51-45 overall (.531), 22-28 ACC (.440)
NCAA Tournament record: 1-4
Clemson’s not an easy place to win big, but the Tigers’ win totals — overall and in conference — have decreased in three seasons under Brownell. Clemson went 5-13 in the league last season, and they don’t project to get much better. These are puzzling results or a coach who was a hot commodity for his work at UNC Wilmington and Wright State.
13. Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech
Record at Georgia Tech: 27-35 overall (.435), 10-24 ACC (.303)
NCAA Tournament: 1-2
Gregory has Georgia Tech on the upswing, but it’s a long way up from five or six conference wins to NCAA Tournament contention. A former Tom Izzo assistant, Gregory hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2009 at Dayton.
14. Jeff Bzdelik Wake Forest
Record at Wake Forest: 34-60 overall (.362), 10-39 ACC (.204)
NCAA Tournament: 0-1
Bzdelik isn’t a fan favorite at Wake Forest, but the veteran coach hung onto his job after going 6-12 in the ACC. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more conference wins than Bzdelik had his first two seasons combined. Four of those wins last season came over NCAA or NIT teams (Miami, NC State, Florida State and Virginia), but Bzdelik is seven seasons removed from his last winning season at Air Force.
15. James Johnson, Virginia Tech
Record (one season at Virginia Tech): 13-19 overall (.406), 4-14 ACC (.222)
Johnson’s tenure is off to a disastrous start after finishing last in the ACC and then getting hit with a second wave of player transfers and recruiting losses in his second offseason.
College football is all about the stories — the rivalries, the personal connections and the connection to history.
Alabama’s trip to Texas A&M, provided Johnny Manziel plays, is notable for the title implications and the rematch from the most exciting game from 2012.
But it’s also a game between programs that despite their shared history with Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings and Dennis Franchione, have played only five games all time. Alabama is making only its second trip to College Station after winning there in 1988.
That is the underlying backstory of that game, and it’s not the only game with an intriguing storyline attached.
Sure, every rivalry game or conference game has their own story. We tried to look a little beyond that in our list of 15 Backstory Games for 2013 — connections between the two programs, a history between the coaches or just recent news that could give the game an extra edge.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S TOP BACKSTORY GAMES FOR 2013
Aug. 29 North Carolina at South Carolina
The "What Could Have Been" Bowl
North Carolina has faced Steve Spurrier only once since he returned to the college game, but the Tar Heels have to wonder what may have been if things turned out differently. After he was fired by the Washington Redskins, Spurrier kept an eye on the North Carolina job, but the Heels elected to keep John Bunting for one more year. And during his feud with a Columbia, S.C, columnist last season, Spurrier casually mentioned waiting for the North Carolina job to open while he was looking to return to college football.
Aug. 31-Sept. 7 Georgia at Clemson, South Carolina at Georgia
Aaron Murray’s Last Chance
South Carolina fans may be quick to mention Aaron Murray is 0-3 against the Palmetto State (all South Carolina matchups). Murray will have a chance to remedy his 0-fer against the Palmetto State twice early in the season.
Aug. 31 Boise State at Washington
The "Haven’t We Met Before" Bowl
Bowl organizers say they try to avoid rematches, or in this case, a pre-match. Boise State defeated Washington 28-26 in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22 and now meet in the 2013 opener. And this isn’t the first time bowl games disregarded Washington’s schedule: Washington faced Nebraska three times between Sept. 18, 2010 and Sept. 17, 2011 thanks to a Holiday Bowl meeting in between a home-and-home series.
Aug. 31 LSU vs. TCU
The Suspension Bowl
TCU coach Gary Patterson was openly critical of the way LSU’s Les Miles handled the suspension of running back Jeremy Hill, who was allowed to play in the opener after a team vote. Miles has not committed to levying a suspension as part of Hill’s punishment after the running back violated probation by being charged with simple battery, but Patterson was not impressed. Patterson, it’s worth noting, suspended defensive end Devonte Fields for two games for a violation of team rules and kicked key players off the team last Februrary when they were arrested as part of a campus drug investigation. “My whole team would vote Devonte to be back on the team because they all want to win,” Patterson told reporters. “But that don’t teach life lessons.”
Sept. 7 Florida at Miami
Sunshine State Sayonara
Florida and Miami used to play each other every season, but it’s been an on-again, off-again series since 2000. The Gators and Hurricanes have met five times since the end of the 2000 season, including two bowl games. This will be the last game until the powers-that-be agree to a new series, and that appears unlikely. Will Muschamp will be the fifth Florida coach to face Miami since 2000 (Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, interim coach Charlie Strong and Urban Meyer). Al Golden will be the fourth coach to face Florida in that span (Butch Davis, Larry Coker and Randy Shannon).
Sept. 14 Maryland at Connecticut
The Edsall Bowl
Randy Edsall bolted town after leading UConn to the Fiesta Bowl, and the Huskies were not that understanding. Edsall later said he regretted leaving without meeting with his players, but we’re still curious what kind of reception the former coach gets at Rentschler Field. Maryland lost 24-21 to UConn last season in College Park.
Sept. 14 Ole Miss at Texas
The Most Rare Road Trip
Ole Miss hasn’t played in Austin since 1925 when the Longhorns won 25-0. Last season’s meeting in Oxford (a 66-31 Texas win) was the first regular season meeting since then.
Sept. 21 Michigan at Connecticut
Michigan Heads East
Michigan has played out West, in the Southeast and at Syracuse and Boston College in recent decades. All of those games were against established programs more or less. This trip to Connecticut may be Michigan’s most bizarre non-conference road trip since playing at Marquette in 1944 (Michigan won that game 14-0).
Oct. 5 Ole Miss at Auburn
The "How Far We’ve Come" Bowl
Joneboro, Ark., is the Cradle of SEC Coaches after the last two Arkansas State coaches stayed there one year before getting SEC jobs. More striking, Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn where high school head coaches less than a decade ago.
Oct. 5 Washington State at Cal
The Lubbock Bowl
Mike Leach has built himself quite a coaching tree, but he’s rarely faced any of his disciples on a regular basis. That changes with Sonny Dykes now in the Pac-12 at Cal. Leach and Dykes go back to Leach’s first major coaching job as offensive coordinator at Kentucky. Moreover, Dykes is the son of Leach’s predecessor at Texas Tech, Spike Dykes.
Oct. 10 Rutgers at Louisville
The "See Ya" Bowl
Louisville’s win over Rutgers last season determined the Big East championship in the final season for the league under that name. The same matchup might determine the American Athletic Conference, though neither team would be around to defend a potential league title as Louisville heads to the ACC and Rutgers leaves for the Big Ten. These two teams also delivered one of the most memorable moments in Big East football history when an undefeated Rutgers knocked off an undefeated Louisville on a Thursday night in November in 2006.
Oct. 19 Florida at Missouri
Gators Go North
Columbia, Mo., is the northern-most destination in the SEC, which makes it the furthest north Florida has traveled for a game since 1991. That’s not to be confused with the longest regular-season road trip Florida takes, which remains Arkansas in terms of mileage. The last time Florida played this far north was a 38-21 in 1991 to Syracuse.
Nov. 9 Boston College at New Mexico State
The Questionable Game of the Year
Minnesota visits New Mexico State on Sept. 7, and that’s not even the strangest game on New Mexico State’s schedule. Boston College visits Las Cruces, N.M., in early November for the where-did-this-game-come-from event of the year. Keep in mind, this is generally the time of year when SEC teams invite New Mexico State to campus for an easy win for Homecoming.
Nov. 16 San Jose State at Nevada
David Fales’ Return
San Jose State quarterback David Fales is an NFL draft prospect and perhaps the top QB playing outside of the major conferences, but he started his career at Nevada in 2009. He had a bit of trouble cracking the starting lineup with a junior named Colin Kaepernick already entrenched.
Nov. 30 Boston College at Syracuse
The Orange Envy Bowl
Steve Addazio’s big coaching break came in 1995 when Paul Pasqualoni hired him from the high school ranks to coach the offensive line at Syracuse. His son, Louie, started his career at Syracuse. Even at Temple, Addazio spoke glowingly about Syracuse. Boston College perhaps has reason to be thankful it hired Addazio more than a month before Doug Marrone left for the Buffalo Bills. Otherwise, would Addazio #BeADude for the ‘Cuse instead?
Two ACC teams will play in the highest-profile games of the first week when Clemson hosts Georgia and Virginia Tech faces Alabama in Atlanta. The deciding conference title, though, will wait until mid-October.
That’s when Clemson, Florida State and Miami will all begin key stretches that could determine their division title status.
Clemson and Florida State again will duke it out for the Atlantic division title, but Miami will have an idea of what it needs to do for the Coastal after contenders Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech begin their key runs in September.
Our series looking at critical stretches for every team continues today with a look at the two-, three- and four-game stretches that will make or break seasons in the ACC. We're taking a look at the key series of games that will determine a division title, ability to reach a bowl game or at least avoid embarrassment. We’ve already examined the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12.
*presented in Athlon’s ACC projected order of finish
Oct. 19 Florida State
Oct. 26 at Maryland
Nov. 2 at Virginia
Nov. 14 Georgia Tech
The key game for Clemson’s national relevance is the Georgia opener. Win that, and the Tigers won’t face another Athlon top-50 team until Florida State on Oct. 19. The ACC, though, won’t be decided until this stretch in late October and early November. Clemson-Florida State may end up determining the Atlantic, but Georgia Tech has won four of the last six games against Georgia Tech. This could be a difficult stretch for the Clemson offense as the Tigers play three teams (FSU, Maryland and Virginia) who ranked in the top four in the ACC in fewest yards allowed per play. The exception, Georgia Tech, changed defensive coordinators since last season.
Related: Clemson game-by-game picks
Oct. 19 at Clemson
Oct. 26 NC State
Nov. 2 Miami
Nov. 9 at Wake Forest
In a four-week span, Florida State draws its toughest conference games (Clemson and Miami) and two teams that have successfully spoiled FSU seasons in the past (NC State and Wake Forest). The Seminoles should have a standout secondary again, but the defensive backs will be tested against the top two passers in the ACC in Tajh Boyd and Stephen Morris. The ‘Noles have lost to either NC State or Wake in each of the last three seasons, but all of those have come on the road.
Related: Florida State game-by-game picks
Sept. 14 at Connecticut
Sept. 21 West Virginia (Baltimore)
Oct. 5 at Florida State
Oct. 12 Virginia
Oct. 19 at Wake Forest
Oct. 26 Clemson
Maryland appears to be ready for a turnaround season after going 6-18 under Randy Edsall. A healthy quarterback situation and a dynamic offensive playmaker in Stefon Diggs could make the Terrapins a bowl team. Before ACC play begins, however, a pair of games could be a referendum on the Edsall era when he faces his old team for the second team (UConn beat Maryland 24-21 in College Park last season) then a down West Virginia team that has won seven in a row in the series. Once ACC play begins, upsetting either Florida State or Clemson would be a major statement.
Nov. 2 North Carolina
Nov. 9 at Duke
Nov. 16 at Boston College
Nov. 23 East Carolina
Nov. 30 Maryland
Homecoming against North Carolina will be a key game for first-year coach Dave Doeren. The Tar Heels ended the Wolfpack’s five-game winning streak last season. Escape that, and NC State will be hoping for a 5-0 finish to season. By missing Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, NC State is set up for a good record.
Aug. 29 Presbyterian
Sept. 6 at Boston College
Sept. 14 ULM
Sept. 21 at Army
Starting with four wins in a row will be mandatory if the Demon Deacons are going to head to a bowl game. A road game against a conference opponent and a non-AQ team with a dynamic quarterback (ULM’s Kolton Browning) means it won’t be easy. Wake won’t play on a Saturday until the third week of the season.
Nov. 23 Pittsburgh
Nov. 30 Boston College
With Penn State and Northwestern on the non-conference schedule, Syracuse may have a tough time getting to a bowl game. Home games against its former Big East brethren could be key games for Scott Shafer’s early tenure.
Nov. 16 NC State
Nov. 23 at Maryland
Nov. 30 at Syracuse
Boston College has a brutal schedule in Steve Addazio’s first season -- at USC, Florida State, at Clemson, at North Carolina and Virginia Tech in a six-game span in September and October. If Addazio is going to instill toughness, it will be evident late in the season against second- and third-tier ACC teams NC State, Maryland, Syracuse. The game against the Orange, also under a first-year coach, could be a key game for momentum in the Northeast.
Oct. 17 at North Carolina
Oct. 26 Wake Forest
Nov. 2 at Florida State
Nov. 9 Virginia Tech
Miami will face the top two contenders in the Coastal (Virginia Tech and North Carolina) and its biggest rival (Florida State) all in a four-week span starting with the Thursday kickoff against Carolina. The FSU and Virginia Tech games will be most intriguing as Miami, a team with little depth behind the starting backfield of Duke Johnson and Stephen Morris, face the league’s top two defenses in back-to-back games late in the season.
Related: Miami game-by-game picks
Sept. 26 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 5 North Carolina
Virginia Tech’s opener against Alabama will be the Hokies’ most high-profile game, and Miami on Nov. 9 will play a key role in the Coastal. Still, Virginia Tech’s status as ACC contenders will be answered in this two-game stretch. The development of Logan Thomas may be the key to the season, but the Hokies’ defense will be tested against Georgia Tech’s option one week and North Carolina’s spread the next.
Related: Virginia Tech game-by-game picks
Sept. 21 North Carolina
Sept. 26 Virginia Tech
Oct. 5 at Miami
Oct. 12 at BYU
The Yellow Jackets will have an idea of where they stand in the division by the first week of October after facing North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami in consecutive weeks. Ted Roof’s Georgia Tech defense, shredded last season under Al Groh, will have an early test against the Tar Heels’ skill position talent. On a short week, Georgia Tech draws the Hokies on a Thursday night game. The Yellow Jackets have lost three in a row in a game that used to determine the Coastal division title. BYU is a rare non-conference road game in the middle of October, but it's a return trip from a year ago. The Cougars held Georgia Tech to a season-low 3.3 yards per carry last season.
Sept. 21 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 28 East Carolina
Oct. 5 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 17 Miami
North Carolina lost road games to Wake Forest, Louisville and Duke, three games decided by five points or less. If Carolina is going to challenge for the Coastal title, the Tar Heels will need good showings against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech away from Chapel Hill. Keep in mind: North Carolina defeated Virginia Tech and Miami in back-to-back games last season. This year, the Heels get a bye week between the two ACC Coastal contenders.
Oct. 12 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 19 Old Dominion
Oct. 26 at Navy
Nov. 2 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 9 Notre Dame
Last season, Pittsburgh lost to Youngstown State, beat Virginia Tech and nearly upset Notre Dame. This stretch has the most potential for chaos.
Oct. 26 Georgia Tech
Nov. 2 Clemson
Nov. 9 at North Carolina
Nov. 23 at Miami
Nov. 30 Virginia Tech
Mike London may have to salvage something out of this brutal five-game stretch to avoid hot seat talk going into 2014.
Sept. 21 Pittsburgh
Sept. 28 Troy
Oct. 12 Navy
Oct. 19 at Virginia
The Blue Devils will need to win at least three of these if they are to make consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history.
As Oregon and Stanford have taken over the post-Pete Carroll Pac-12, so have the Ducks’ and Cardinal’s divergent styles. Facing Oregon’s track meet offense and Stanford grinding, physical attack means headaches for coordinators and strength coaches alike.
Schools like Washington and UCLA must wonder what they’ve done wrong to deserve playing both Oregon and Stanford in back-to-back games. Those will be tough two-game stretches, and they're among the key games that will determine the Pac-12 race.
Our series looking at the critical stretches for each major conference continues with the Pac-12 and a look at the two-, three- and four-game stretches that will play a role in division titles, bowl appearances or just any kind of positive development. We’ve already examined the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC.
*presented in Athlon’s Pac-12 predicted order of finish
Oct. 12 at Washington
Oct. 19 Washington State
Oct. 26 UCLA
Nov. 7 at Stanford
Oregon will face bowl teams in back-to-back weeks only once all season when the Ducks face Arizona and Oregon State in the last two games. Three bowl teams in a five-week stretch, then, is the most taxing part of the Ducks’ season. An off week to break up a matchup against UCLA and Brett Hundley before facing the physical Cardinal offense on a Thursday works helps Oregon, but Stanford has the week off as well before the Thursday showdown.
Oct. 19 UCLA
Oct. 26 at Oregon State
Nov. 7 Oregon
Nov. 16 at USC
Stanford won’t play consecutive home games until the final two weeks of the season. This will be the toughest stretch against a pair of South Division contenders, plus Oregon. Stanford’s defense is up to the task, but the Cardinal will face a pair of dual-threat quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley) and two traditional pro-style attacks with elite receivers in USC and Oregon State.
Oct. 26 Stanford
Nov. 1 USC
Nov. 16 at Arizona State
Nov. 23 Washington
Nov. 29 at Oregon
Oregon State traditionally plays better late in the season, but that’s going to be awful tough in the final five games of the season. The Beavers face Athlon’s division winner picks on the road (Arizona State and Oregon). If the Beavers are going to reach a bowl game of note, they’ll need to pile up wins early in the season, which includes a span of four road trips in five games.
Oct. 5 at Stanford
Oct. 12 Oregon
Oct. 19 at Arizona State
How well Washington handles the Stanford game could determine the way the remainder of the season goes. The Huskies will face the league’s most physical team on the road and then must prepare for the track meet against Oregon. Arizona State on the road won’t be easy, either.
Oct. 12 at UCLA
Oct. 19 Oregon State
Oct. 26 at Washington
Nov. 2 Arizona
Sonny Dykes won’t get a great welcome as the Bears face Northwestern, Ohio State and Oregon in three of the first four games. A key sign of progress could be when the Bears take on the second-tier of Pac-12. No one would expect Cal to win all four, but one or two would be nice.
Nov. 16 at Arizona
Nov. 23 Utah
Nov. 29 at Washington
Expectations for Mike Leach have been tempered since everyone (including Athlon) tabbed Washington State for a quick turnaround last season. A bowl game may be too much to ask from a Wazzu team with an undermanned offensive line and defense, but Leach may need the final three games to build some kind of momentum into 2014.
Sept. 14 Wisconsin
Sept. 21 at Stanford
Sept. 28 USC
Oct. 5 Notre Dame (Texas)
Athlon likes Arizona State to win the Pac-12 South, but the Sun Devils may have trouble getting through the first five weeks of the season with a winning record. The most remarkable part of this stretch is that Arizona State won’t face an up-tempo team: In these four games, only Notre Dame averaged more than 70 plays per game last season, and the Irish ranked 75th nationally in that category at 71.2 plays per game.
Sept. 28 at Arizona State
Oct. 10 Arizona
Oct. 19 at Notre Dame
USC had its difficulties stopping spread teams last season (including a 39-36 loss to Arizona last season), and now the Trojans will face two spread teams back-to-back, one of which happens to be a South division contender. USC hasn’t lost in South Bend since 2001, but the Irish have finally turned things around vis a vis USC.
Oct. 19 at Stanford
Oct. 26 at Oregon
UCLA put itself on the right path last season, but the Bruins weren’t exactly ready for primetime by losing to Stanford twice and Baylor in the final three games. Here’s a chance to prove otherwise.
Nov. 9 UCLA
Nov. 16 Washington State
Nov. 23 Oregon
Nov. 30 at Arizona State
The Wildcats may struggle to reach a bowl game, and the struggling Arizona defense will wrap up its season against three of the top four teams in the Pac-12 in yards per play last season (Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State) and two Heisman-contending quarterbacks (Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota).
Aug. 29 Utah State
Sept. 7 Weber State
Sept. 14 Oregon State
Sept. 21 at BYU
Utah has won three in a row against BYU, but ended a 12-game winning streak over Utah State last season. Meanwhile, Utah is 7-11 in the Pac-12. The Utes need to establish themselves on two fronts at the start of 2013, both in state and and in the conference.
Sept. 1 Colorado State (Denver)
Sept. 7 Central Arkansas
It’s really tough to set the bar lower for Colorado than to hope the Buffaloes can defeat a middling Mountain West team and an FCS program, but Colorado did neither last season.
A handful of SEC teams know all too well how much the schedule plays a role in the success or failure of a season. Even before the SEC expanded to 14 teams, the draw between East and West divisions played an outsized role in determining the league title.
In a league where the talent base runs deeper and the pressure on coaches is higher, who a team plays and when can change the course of the season.
At the top of the league, Alabama benefits from an advantageous schedule in 2013, perhaps making up for 2010 when the Tide played a handful of opponents off bye weeks. In the East, Georgia finally gets the tougher schedule draw compared to South Carolina. And for the lower tier, the SEC schedule can be too brutal to generate momentum.
In our series looking at the critical stretches for major-conference teams, we examine the games in the SEC that will determine division titles, bowl games or simply a successful season. We’ve already examined the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten.
*presented in Athlon’s SEC projected order of finish
Aug. 31 at Clemson
Sept. 7 South Carolina
Conventional wisdom says we’ll know a lot about Georgia’s season after the first two weeks, but the last time Georgia started 0-2, the Bulldogs won 10 in a row to win the East in 2011. Meanwhile, South Carolina won the last two matchups and Georgia won the East anyway thanks to some fortunate scheduling. Still, if Georgia wins both games, the Bulldogs will be BCS title contenders. Lose both, and Georgia’s out of the discussion.
Related: Georgia game-by-game picks
Aug. 29 North Carolina
Sept. 7 at Georgia
Sept. 14 Vanderbilt
For whatever reason, South Carolina hasn’t been as sharp early in the season in recent years as its been late. Steve Spurrier has the upper hand against Georgia (three in a row) and Vanderbilt (four in a row), but they haven’t always been easy. The Gamecocks finally got a gift from the schedule-makers by avoiding Alabama and LSU, but they won’t be able to ease into the season. Perhaps a good reason for some gamesmanship on the part of Spurrier earlier this week?
Related: South Carolina game-by-game picks
Oct. 12 at LSU
Oct. 19 at Missouri
Nov. 2 Georgia (Jacksonville)
Nov. 9 Vanderbilt
Nov. 16 at South Carolina
Florida’s toughest stretch of opponents includes only one game in Gainesville, and it’s worth noting Vanderbilt lost by only five points its last trip to the Swamp. Road trips to South Carolina and LSU, teams that allowed the third- and fourth-fewest yards per carry in the SEC, will be barriers to an SEC East title. But it’s worth keeping an eye on Missouri. Florida’s trip to Columbia, Mo., will be a rare 1,000-mile road trip for the Gators (only Arkansas is a further destination from Gainesville).
Related: Florida game-by-game picks
Oct. 19 Georgia
Oct. 26 at Texas A&M
Nov. 9 at Florida
OK, Vanderbilt, you have our attention. Win one of these games, and you’ll be impossible to ignore. The Commodores’ defense will have their hands full against Georgia’s run-pass balance, A&M’s spread and Florida’s power run game.
Nov. 2 Missouri
Nov. 9 Auburn
Nov. 23 Vanderbilt
Nov. 30 at Kentucky
The Volunteers face Oregon, Florida and Alabama on the road before November, plus South Carolina and Georgia in Neyland. The final month of the season, however, is when Butch Jones should have a chance to show real progress, especially against a run of four teams that aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts.
Related: Tennessee game-by-game picks
Sept. 7 Toledo
Sept. 21 at Indiana
Sept. 28 Arkansas State
Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt
The Tigers aren’t about to compete for the SEC, but the early segment of the season against a MAC contender, a Big Ten upstart, the defending Sun Belt champions and Vanderbilt will be a key gauge of what a healthy Tigers team can do. Missouri is still settling a quarterback competition, so all eyes will be on James Franklin or Maty Mauk to hold onto the job.
Related: Missouri game-by-game picks
Aug. 31 Western Kentucky (Nashville)
Sept. 7 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 14 Louisville
Beat Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky, take care of Miami U and put a scare into Louisville, and everyone should be happy in Lexington.
Related: Kentucky game-by-game picks
Aug. 31 Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 14 at Texas A&M
What could we say about a critical stretch to determine Alabama’s schedule? Perhaps we should just say the SEC Championship Game and the BCS Championship Game instead of anything during the regular season. Alabama has an off week before its top two opponents (Texas A&M and LSU) and gets them nearly two months apart. The Crimson Tide draw Kentucky and Tennessee from the East. And the best individual player Alabama will see all season, Johnny Manziel, may be ineligible in Week 3. For Alabama, these schedule breaks just aren’t fair for the rest of the SEC.
Nov. 9 Mississippi State
Nov. 23 at LSU
Nov. 30 at Missouri
The Alabama matchup on Sept. 14 is the game of the year, but Johnny Manziel’s eligibility remains a question. Instead, let’s skip to the end of the season when the Aggies would have to face two more standout defensive lines (Mississippi State, LSU) in back-to-back weeks to end the season. No one is expecting much out of Mizzou, but strange things have happened to title contenders on the road in the final week of the regular season.
Related: Texas A&M game-by-game picks
Sept. 28 at Georgia
Oct. 5 Mississippi State
Oct. 12 Florida
Oct. 19 at Ole Miss
LSU’s games against Alabama and Texas A&M in November may be more important, but they won’t mean much if LSU struggles to get out of this four-game stretch. The LSU offense has its questions, but the new-look defense will get a workout in a contrast of styles against Georgia’s balanced attack, Mississippi State’s veteran backfield, Florida’s grinding run game and Ole Miss’ spread. So if you’re keeping track: That’s four returning starters at quarterback and three road games before the Tigers even get to AJ McCarron and (maybe) Johnny Manziel.
Related: LSU game-by-game picks
Aug. 29 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 7 Southeast Missouri State
Sept. 14 at Texas
Sept. 28 at Alabama
Oct. 5 at Auburn
No doubt, the start of Ole Miss’ schedule is brutal (the Rebels also catch Texas A&M and LSU in back-to-back weeks in mid-October). But out of this five-game stretch to start the season, Ole Miss wouldn’t shock anyone if it defeated Vanderbilt, Texas or Auburn. With a healthy Bo Wallace and shaky depth early in the year, maybe Ole Miss is lucky to catch these games earlier on the season.
Related: Ole Miss game-by-game picks
Nov. 2 at South Carolina
Nov. 9 at Texas A&M
Nov. 16 Alabama
Mississippi State proved it wasn’t quite ready to compete with the SEC’s best last season, losing to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU by a combined score of 103-37 in a three-week span. Here’s another crack at the national elite in November.
Aug. 31 Washington State
Sept. 7 Arkansas State
Sept. 14 Mississippi State
Close calls at home with West Coast teams (Utah State) and Sun Belt teams (ULM) forced Gene Chizik out of town. Gus Malzahn opens with Washington State's Mike Leach and then his former employer in the first two weeks of the season. But the biggest statement may have to wait for Mississippi State: Auburn hasn’t scored in an SEC game since Oct. 27 in the third quarter against Texas A&M.
Related: Auburn game-by-game picks
Nov. 2 Auburn
Nov. 9 at Ole Miss
Nov. 23 Mississippi State
Arkansas draws three Athlon top-15 teams (Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama) during one stretch this season. That’s a potential four-game losing streak or more heading into November (the Hogs go to Rutgers on Sept. 21). If Arkansas is going to salvage something in Bret Bielema’s first season, the Hogs will have to do it against the second-tier of the SEC West in November.
Related: Arkansas game-by-game picks
The new faces around the SEC illustrate a major problem that could develop in the league.
Kentucky brought in its historic haul of six top-10 prospects and five of the top-10 prospects in the 247Composite rankings. Florida was no slouch, adding two elite transfers and two five-star prospects of its own.
After the Wildcats and Gators, the rest of the SEC is reaching for scraps.
Tennessee, Missouri and LSU all signed key freshmen and transfers. The Volunteers are getting one of their best players back from injury. Even then, it may be tough for the rest of the league to keep up with the conference’s top two programs.
Our look at the transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury last season continues with the SEC. Earlier, we profiled the new faces in the ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten and the Pac-12.
Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
The Harrison twins are the foundation of Kentucky’s record recruiting haul. Point guard won’t be the issue for Kentucky it was last season with Andrew Harrison on board. He’ll be a good fit in John Calipari’s system with his ability to score in transition. The 6-5, 210-pound guard also has great size. Aaron Harrison is, naturally, an idea backcourt mate at shooting guard with his ability to hit jumpers.
Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
Transfer from Virginia Tech
With his versatility and 6-9, 205-pound frame, Finney-Smith comes to Florida in the mold of ex-Gator wing Corey Brewer. Expectations are already sky high for the sophomore who averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game as a rookie at Virginia Tech two seasons ago. The McDonald’s All-American signed with Seth Greenberg out of high school but elected to transfer after the Hokies’ coaching change.
Julius Randle, Kentucky
An intimidating power forward at 6-9 and 225 pounds, Randle will be a high-effort cog in the frontcourt. He’ll be a force with his ability to drive to the basket from any spot on the court. Randle was the No. 2 prospect in the country after Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins in the 247Composite rankings.
James Young, Kentucky
Another lefty in the Kentucky frontcourt along with Randle, Young is a versatile wing. He’ll be able to shoot from outside and get to the free throw line.
Kasey Hill, Florida
Point guard Scottie Wilbekin remains suspended for a violation of team rules. If he’s not available or if he remains in Billy Donovan’s doghouse, Hill is the only other point guard on the roster. Florida kept possessions low last season, but Hill’s speed may allow the Gators to push the pace.
Jordan Clarkson, Missouri
Transfer from Tulsa
Frank Haith has taken in a handful of transfers, but at least Clarkson will be available for two seasons. The 6-4, 193-pound guard averaged 14.2 points and 2.3 assists per game at Tulsa. He’ll be the top candidate to replace Phil Pressey at point guard.
Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee
Injured last season
Maymon and Jarnell Stokes were supposed to be bash brothers up front for Tennessee last season, but Maymon missed all of last year when he struggled to return from knee surgery. Maymon averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in 2011-12, but it may take a while before he’s ready to contribute at that level again.
Damontre Harris, Florida
Transfer from South Carolina
Harris is a rare intra-conference transfer, coming to the Gators from South Carolina. Along with Finney-Smith, Harris will lead a big, physical frontcourt. Harris averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds with 71 blocks in 2011-12, earning a spot on the league’s all-defensive team at South Carolina.
Jarell Martin, LSU
Alum Johnny Jones was welcomed back to LSU as a coach who would be able to recruit the local area. That happened with the signing of five-star power forward Martin from Baton Rouge (La.) Madison Prep Academy. The Tigers expect Martin to rebound both sides of the court and form a strong frontcourt duo with Johnny O’Bryant. The 6-9, 220-pound Martin could flourish in the pick-and-pop game.
Antonio Barton, Tennessee
Transfer from Memphis
Barton steps in to replace Trae Golden at point guard after the starter transferred to Georgia Tech. Per NCAA graduate transfer rules, Barton will be immediately eligible. Barton lost out on the starting point guard job at Memphis with the return of Joe Jackson, but he’ll be a welcome addition on the other side of the state. He averaged 5.6 points and 1.1 assists in 16.7 minutes per game with the Tigers last season.
Alandise Harris, Arkansas
Transfer from Houston
Harris averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in two seasons at Houston. The Hogs hope the 6-6, 230-pound forward from Little Rock will provide Arkansas with toughness in the frontcourt.
Eric McClellan, Vanderbilt
Transfer from Tulsa
The Commodores were put in a bind when their best player, Kedren Johnson, was suspended for the season. McClellan was expected to be a difference-maker after the combo guard averaged 8.5 minutes as a freshman at Tulsa, and more will be on his shoulders with Johnson out.
Johnathan Williams III and Wes Clark, Missouri
A 6-9 power forward out of Memphis, Williams was Missouri’s top recruit, but he’ll need to add to his 210-pound frame before he’s ready to contribute at a high level. The same could be said of 6-foot freshman guard Wes Clark, who weighs in at 170 pounds.
Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
Portis is a 6-10 McDonald’s All-American. He and the 6-9 Kingsley will lead a reformed Arkansas frontcourt after the departure of Marshawn Powell. Those are two big bodies for a team that ranked 12th in the SEC in defensive rebound percentage and 11th in offensive rebound percentage.
Other new faces to watch in the SEC:
Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, Kentucky
The Wildcats continue their embarrassingly good haul with two more five-star prospects who are the fifth- and sixth-ranked recruits on their own team.
Robert Hubbs, Tennessee
The five-star rookie is a big-time scoring prospect for a Volunteers team that already returns guard Jordan McRae.
Dwight Coleby and Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss
The two 6-9 forwards need to contribute immediately to replace the Rebels’ underrated frontcourt of Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner.
Eli Carter, Florida
Transfer from Rutgers
Another Rutgers transfer to land in Gainesville, Carter is awaiting a decision from the NCAA on his request to be eligible immediately.
Jacoby Davis and I.J. Ready, Mississippi State
The two newcomers will vie for Mississippi State’s point guard spot with returning starter Trivante Bloodman. Davis missed last season with a knee injury and redshirted.
Antwan Space, Texas A&M
Transfer from Florida State
The former Seminole will give the Aggies toughness and rebounding to go with Kourtney Roberson.
Sindarious Thornwell, South Carolina
A top-50 national recruit, Thornwell will be a key building block as South Carolina attempts to remake its roster after another round of transfers.
Tim Quarterman, LSU
The rookie can play point guard, shooting guard and the wing for the Tigers.
Every now and then, the college football schedule is a kingmaker. Or it turns conference title hopefuls into paupers.
In our series examining critical stretches across the country, we take a look at the Big Ten. Each team will have its string of make-or-break games for its season.
For Ohio State, it’s a pair of games in November. For Michigan, it’s the entire month. No one said this was fair.
*presented in Athlon’s Big Ten projected order of finish
Nov. 23 Indiana
Nov. 30 at Michigan
It’s a telling note about the Ohio State schedule that the Buckeyes won’t have a truly grueling stretch of three consecutive tough games and one of the toughest stretches for Ohio State involves Indiana. Michigan is the most important game on the schedule, followed by a potential Big Ten title game. Here’s why Indiana might be important: It could be a look-ahead game for a team resting on its laurels. And the Hoosiers may be one of the few teams before Michigan that can test a vulnerable Ohio State secondary: Indiana led the Big Ten in pass plays of 20 yards or longer with 47.
Related: Ohio State game-by-game picks
Sept. 14 at Arizona State
Sept. 21 Purdue
Sept. 28 Ohio State
Oct. 12 Northwestern
Gary Andersen will have UMass and Tennessee Tech to warm his team up for an important stretch early in the year. The Badgers visit a Pac-12 school for the second consecutive season, and this one is against Athlon’s pick to win the South Division. With two tough road trips, Andersen probably would prefer to have his QB situation settled by then. Wisconsin’s secondary also is a major concern, especially against a Sun Devils team that led the Pac-12 in yards per pass attempt. Ohio State and Northwestern return Heisman-contending quarterbacks.
Related: Wisconsin game-by-game picks
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 Purdue
Nov. 23 Nebraska
Nov. 30 at Wisconsin
Penn State faces Michigan and Ohio State in back-to-back games earlier in the season, albeit with an off week in between. We picked this late stretch because of the upset potential against a quick Minnesota defense on the road and two games against Big Ten contenders in the final two weeks. By this point of the season freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg should be settled in, but attrition also could be taking effect.
Related: Penn State game-by-game picks
Sept. 21 Missouri
Oct. 5 Penn State
Oct. 12 at Michigan State
Optimism is high for the Hoosiers, but their bowl hopes depend on a defense that was a mess last season. During this stretch they’ll face two teams that ranked in the 90s in total offense (Mizzou and Michigan State) and a rebuilding group at home (Penn State).
Sept. 14 Notre Dame
Sept. 21 at Wisconsin
Sept. 28 Northern Illinois
Oct. 12 Nebraska
The Boilermakers will look to salvage anything in a span of three consecutive games against teams that made BCS games last season, plus Nebraska.
Aug. 31 Southern Illinois
Sept. 7 Cincinnati
Sept. 14 Washington (Chicago)
Sept. 29 Miami (Ohio)
Anything worse than 2-2 in this stretch could put Tim Beckman on the hot seat awfully early in his first season.
Nov. 2 at Michigan State
Nov. 9 Nebraska
Nov. 16 at Northwestern
Nov. 23 at Iowa
Nov. 30 Ohio State
November will be the make-or-break month for Michigan with three road games and two rivalry games, all before a potential Big Ten title game. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will have his work cut out for him planning for this gauntlet. Michigan State isn’t a great offensive team, but the Spartans will try to shorten the game with physical play, then it’s Nebraska and its multifaceted run game, followed by Northwestern’s dynamic spread attack, another grinding team in Iowa and finally a potential Heisman contender in Braxton Miller.
Related: Michigan game-by-game picks
Nov. 2 Northwestern
Nov. 9 at Michigan
Nov. 16 Michigan State
Nov. 23 at Penn State
In the first six games, Nebraska plays only one bowl team from last season (UCLA). The November stretch will determine if the Cornhuskers return to the Big Ten championship game. The Huskers visit Ann Arbor and Happy Valley while Northwestern has been a thorn in the side of Bo Pelini since he arrived in the Big Ten. Northwestern won the last meeting in Lincoln 28-25.
Related: Nebraska game-by-game picks
Oct. 5 Ohio State
Oct. 12 at Wisconsin
Oct. 19 Minnesota
Oct. 26 at Iowa
Nov. 2 at Nebraska
Nov. 16 Michigan
Northwestern will need to take care of business against Minnesota and Iowa otherwise this stretch could get out of hand. This stretch includes a BCS team, an undefeated team and two New Year’s Day bowl team. The Wildcats have been good for an upset or two in recent seasons, but they also coughed up fourth quarter leads last year against Nebraska and Michigan.
Related: Northwestern game-by-game picks
Oct. 5 at Iowa
Oct. 12 Indiana
Oct. 19 Purdue
Oct. 26 Illinois
Michigan State gets a good draw in the schedule by avoiding Ohio State, Wisconsin an Penn State. Better take advantage in October before facing Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern.
Related: Michigan State game-by-game picks
Nov. 2 at Indiana
Nov. 9 Penn State
Nov. 23 Wisconsin
Nov. 30 at Michigan State
Minnesota went 1-3 in the final four games of the regular season. This stretch is just as difficult with no guaranteed win (Minnesota beat Illinois during that four-game stretch last season).
Aug. 31 Northern Illinois
Sept. 7 Missouri State
Sept. 15 at Iowa State
Sept. 21 Western Michigan
It took Northern Illinois playing in the Orange Bowl to remind people Iowa defeated the Huskies last season. NIU will be favored this year. Kirk Ferentz needs a good showing early to avoid the hot seat watch.
It’s a long season, but three or four games could change the whole thing.
The Big 12 looks to be crowded at the top: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Baylor all have legitimate reasons to believe they can win the league title.
In the first look at critical stretches for each major conference, we examined the most important set of games for each team in the league.
For the teams at the top, it means the stretches when they’ll face the other contenders. For the teams at the bottom, it’s where they’re looking for signs of progress.
*presented in Athlon’s projected order of finish.
Nov. 16 at Texas
Nov. 23 Baylor
Dec. 7 Oklahoma
The Cowboys have a beneficial stretch against the bottom three Big 12 teams (at Iowa State, at Texas Tech, Kansas) before the stretch that likely determines the Big 12 title. The Cowboys lost all three of these matchups last season and now faces all three in the final games of the season. The Cowboys’ defense was gashed in all three games, including giving up 600 yards and six yards per play against the Bears and Sooners. Oklahoma State was in shootouts against OU and Baylor, but Clint Chelf completed only a combined 49-of-88 passes with three interceptions. On the other side, Texas returning quarterback David Ash had one of his best games of the season against Oklahoma State.
Related: Oklahoma State game-by-game picks
Sept. 28 at Notre Dame
Oct. 5 TCU
Oct. 12 Texas (Dallas)
A critical stretch for Blake Bell and the Oklahoma offense. The Sooners’ offensive line is expected to be a strength, but facing Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix will be a key barometer for the Sooners after OU rushed for only 15 yards on 24 carries against the Irish last season. TCU has had attrition on its defense, but the Horned Frogs still allowed allowed a Big 12-low 4.9 yards per play. Texas is the great mystery. With linebacker Jordan Hicks back, the Longhorns can’t be as bad as the group that gave up 677 yards and 63 points to OU last season, can they?
Related: Oklahoma game-by-game picks
Sept. 7 at BYU
Sept. 14 Ole Miss
Sept. 21 Kansas State
Oct. 3 at Iowa State
Oct. 12 Oklahoma (Dallas)
The conventional wisdom may be that the season — and perhaps Mack Brown’s tenure — hangs on Kansas State and Oklahoma. Those are critical games with Kansas State winning five in a row over the Longhorns and Oklahoma winning the last two meetings by a combined score of 118-38. But things will be much more difficult: Going to BYU against the No. 2 run defense from 2012 and then facing an Ole Miss no-huddle spread in back-to-back weeks aren’t guaranteed wins.
Oct. 5 at Oklahoma
Oct. 12 Kansas
Oct. 19 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 26 Texas
TCU can thank the schedule-makers for that breather against Kansas in between Oklahoma road trips. That would be a trap game situation, if KU is good enough to pull of a trap game win. Not only does TCU face Athlon’s top three Big 12 teams in a span of four weeks, two of those games are on the road. Casey Pachall could end up the top quarterback in the Big 12, but his only games in the league were against Kansas in 2012 (a 20-6 win) and against Baylor in 2011 (a 50-48 loss in the opener).
Sept. 21 at Texas
Oct. 5 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 12 Baylor
Facing Texas and Oklahoma State on the road isn’t a great situation for a new starting quarterback, but all the pressure will be on the home team as Texas tries to get over its Bill Snyder problem and Oklahoma State goes for a conference title.
Nov. 7 Oklahoma
Nov. 16 Texas Tech (Arlington)
Nov. 23 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 30 at TCU
Dec. 7 Texas
With an untested quarterback in Bryce Petty, Baylor has to be happy with its backloaded schedule. This defining stretch begins with a Thursday game against Oklahoma that’s sure to have Waco at a fever pitch. The Bears have improved depth, especially on defense. That will be tested.
Oct. 5 at Kansas
Oct. 12 Iowa State
Oct. 19 at West Virginia
No one is projecting vintage Texas Tech despite the return of Kliff Kingsbury. Take care of business against the lower tier of the Big 12 early, and the Red Raiders should feel pretty good.
Related: Texas Tech game-by-game picks
Sept. 21 Maryland (Baltimore)
Sept. 28 Oklahoma State
Oct. 5 at Baylor
Oct. 19 Texas Tech
West Virginia has won seven in a row over Maryland, so a matchup against an improved Terrapins team could be an early referendum on the season. The Mountaineers’ home dates against Dana Holgorsen's former employers Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will at least be interesting television.
Sept. 14 Iowa
Sept. 26 at Tulsa
Oct. 3 Texas
Oct. 12 at Texas Tech
A limited cast of playmakers on offense and four returning starters on defense will be major concerns for the Cyclones. Facing an in-state rival and holding the line against the Conference USA favorite Tulsa will be key barometer games on Iowa State’s bowl hopes.
Sept. 7 South Dakota
Sept. 15 at Rice
Sept. 21 Louisiana Tech
If the Jayhawks are going to show any improvement, they’ll need to end the 11-game losing streak. KU opens with an FCS team, a Rice team that beat the Jayhawks 25-24 in Lawrence and a Louisiana Tech team with one returning starter on offense. Two wins would be nice.
The new faces that will dominate the discussion in the preseason in the Pac-12 may be the new coaches in Los Angeles. In a quiet coaching carousel, UCLA’s Steve Alford and USC’s Andy Enfield were two of the biggest movers.
But they might not be the biggest movers among new faces in the Pac-12.
Arizona will build off a 27-win season and a Sweet 16 appearance with two of the best freshmen in the league and one of the Pac-12’s most important transfers. Indeed, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell could put Arizona into Final Four contention.
Elsewhere, Oregon will once again look to a frontcourt transfer to remain among the top programs in the league. Arizona State hopes a guard transfer will get the Sun Devils over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament. And Washington will against pin its hopes on a freshman point guard.
Our look at the transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury last season continues with the Pac-12. Earlier, we’ve profiled the new faces in the ACC, American, Big 12, Big East and Big Ten.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The Pac-12’s most valuable freshman is getting used to the “most valuable” title. He was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game and MVP of USA Basketball’s U19 gold-medal winning teams. Gordon will play small forward, but the 6-foot-8, 210-pound product of Archbishop Mitty in San Jose could also play power forward. Gordon was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the 247Composite rankings.
Mike Moser, Oregon
Transfer from UNLV
Before last season, hardcore college basketball fans knew Arsalan Kazemi was a good player stuck on a bad team at Rice. His transfer to Oregon gave him additional prominence and helped transform Oregon’s season. Moser is not nearly as anonymous. At UNLV, he was a preseason All-American before getting caught in a numbers crunch in the Rebels’ frontcourt. Moser isn’t replacing Kazemi as much as he’s replacing wing E.J. Singler's versatility in Eugune, a tall order unto itself. Moser averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds in 2011-12 before dipping to 7.1 points and 6.1 in 2012-13.
T.J. McConnell, Arizona
Transfer from Duquesne
Point guard was an issue last season for the Wildcats with neither Mark Lyons nor Nick Johnson being a natural fit for the position. That changes with McConnell. He was the Atlantic 10 rookie of the year in 2010-11 and averaged 4.9 assists and a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio in two seasons with the Dukes before sitting out last season. McConnell also averaged better than 50 percent shooting from the field and 2.3 assists in two seasons.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Hollis-Jefferson is another McDonald’s All-American in Arizona’s recruiting haul. Like Gordon, the 6-7 forward is a versatile defender whose offensive game is developing. Hollis-Jefferson is the brother of former Temple forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson.
Jermaine Marshall, Arizona State
Transfer from Penn State
Shooting guard Evan Gordon unexpectedly transferred to Indiana, but Arizona State may have upgraded in a de facto trade with the Big Ten. Marshall arrives from Penn State to team with potential All-American Jahii Carson in the ASU backcourt. Marshall’s a good fit. He averaged 15.3 points per game but struggled from 3-point range (33.9 percent on 174 attempts).
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
The Huskies’ have had issues at point guard for a few years, but Williams-Goss brings a good package of size (6-4), passing and leadership on the floor. He’ll lead the Huskies' three-guard lineup. Washington seems to do better when its recruits fly under the radar. We’ll see if the trend continues with the four-star Williams-Goss.
Anthony Brown, Stanford
Returning from injury
Brown needed hip surgery in late November and missed all but five games last season. The Cardinal returns all five starters, but Brown’s return to the lineup will still be valuable. The fourth-year junior wing averaged 8.4 points per game as a freshman and sophomore.
Jabari Bird, Cal
Bird steps in to replace the Bears’ leading scorer last season, Allen Crabbe. Cal returns guard Justin Cobbs, but Bird could become a prolific scorer right off the bat. The 6-6, 190-pound guard from Richmond, Calif., is one of the top prospects Cal has signed in recent seasons.
Richard Amardi, Oregon
Junior college transfer
Amardi adds to a remade Ducks frontcourt that loses Arsalan Kazemi, E.J. Singler, Tony Woods and Carlos Emory. The 6-9 forward who originally signed with Iowa State will give the Ducks added athleticism up front.
Other new faces to watch:
Wanaah Bail, UCLA
Transfer from Texas Tech
UCLA’s all-namer has a handful of hurdles to clear before contributing in the Bruins’ frontcourt. He had knee surgery in June that will keep him out for four months, and he’s still seeking a waiver to play immediately after transferring form Texas Tech (even though he never played for the Red Raiders).
Pe’Shon Howard, USC
Transfer from Maryland
Howard is still seeking clearance to play this season after transferring West to care for an ill grandmother. Howard could start at point guard, where he averaged 3.6 assists per game for the Terps.
Joseph Young, Oregon
Transfer from Houston
The guard averaged 18 points per game at Houston, but he’s awaiting word on immediate eligibility in Eugene.
Brandan Kearney, Arizona State
Transfer from Michigan State
The small forward is a key defender who won’t be eligible until the second semester.
Ricky Kreklow, Cal
Returning from injury
The Missouri transfer played only nine games last season before a foot injury. He was a potential starter for his energy and defense.
Angus Brandt, Oregon State
Returning from injury
Brandt missed most of last season with a torn ACL. Before his injury, the 6-10 center was averaging 11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in four games.
Danny Lawhorn, Washington State
Junior college transfer
Lawhorn led junior colleges in assists last season and should become the Cougars’ point guard.
When the 2012 season started, no one would have picked Eric Fisher as any kind of star. He played offensive tackle, and he did it for a team that went 3-9 the previous season.
But the Central Michigan lineman clearly was special as he ended up the top pick in the NFL draft after a 7-6 season with the Chippewas.
With 125 teams in college football, elite players are bound to fall through the cracks. They end up in mid-December bowl games, if they land in the postseason at all.
Here’s our list of the top players who won’t spend time in the top 25 or even the also receiving votes category. While not all these teams mentioned are truly awful, many of them may limp their way into a bowl if they make it that far. And even if none end up the No. 1 pick in the Draft, these players will be worth watching on Saturdays.
OTs Tiny Richardson and Ja’Wuan James and LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Tennessee only won one SEC game last season despite these three frontline players, plus departed quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. That says something about the situation Butch Jones inherits (and the Volunteers’ defense). The key number on Richardson, an Athlon first-team All-American, and James: Tennessee allowed the fewest sacks per game in the SEC last season, despite the most pass attempts per game. Johnson led the league with 138 tackles. These three could start for any contender in the conference.
C Travis Swanson and DE Chris Smith, Arkansas
Swanson will be a Rimington contender, but he plays on an untested offensive line. He’ll give Bret Bielema a rock for the power run game he’ll want to run at least. Meanwhile, Arkansas quietly has the makings of a solid defensive line with three starters returning, led by Smith. The senior had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss last season, including six sacks in the final five games last year.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
The former No. 1 prospect is familiar to Missouri fans and recruitniks, but Green-Beckham didn’t look the part in 2012, especially early in the season. That said, he caught 14 passes for 242 yards with four touchdowns in November. His athleticism and 6-6, 220-pound frame still screams elite receiver. He should grow into that role this season, especially with more stability at quarterback and on the offensive line.
WR Paul Richardson, Colorado
On many other teams, this 6-1, 170-pound junior from Los Angeles would be a realistic Biletnikoff contender. But injuries and the mess of Colorado’s roster as overshadowed his career. Richardson returns after a knee injury kept him out of the 2012 season. He’s had few opportunities to match an 11-catch, 284-yard performance against Cal early in the 2011 season.
RB James Sims, Kansas
Sims was one the few — perhaps the only — positive developments for Kansas last season. As KU gave up on the passing game, Sims kept racking up yards. The senior tailback rushed for 1,013 yards in nine games, including six consecutive games over the 100-yard mark.
DLs Bud Dupree and Donte Rumph, Kentucky
The defensive line isn’t a bad place to build a team that can win SEC games. Trouble is, Kentucky may have little else. Dupree had 12.5 sacks shuffling from linebacker to end, but now moves to the line full time. Rumph is a big body at tackle at 6-5, 323. Together, they combined for 10.5 sacks. No other UK lineman had more than three.
LB James Morris, Iowa
Iowa has three standout linebackers — all seniors, all returning starters. Morris is the best of the bunch. Morris finished with 113 tackles last season, putting him on a long list of productive Hawkeyes linebackers.
WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland
Imagine what Diggs would do if he played for a good quarterback — or even one mediocre quarterback through the course of an entire season. Despite Maryland’s constant injury problems at quarterback, Diggs still caught 54 passes for 848 yards. And when he wasn’t the only threat in Maryland’s passing game, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, averaged 10.1 yards on punt returns and threw a touchdown pass.
CB Ricardo Allen, Purdue
Allen dealt with injuries last season, but when healthy, he’s one of the Big Ten’s best cover corners. Allen had six interceptions and three touchdowns in his first two seasons in 2010-11.
DT Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest
Whitlock was hampered by an ankle injury last season, but don’t forget how good he was as a freshman and a sophomore. Whitlock had 14 tackles for a loss in 2011 and 10.5 tackles for a loss in 2010.
RB Brendan Bigelow and WR Bryce Treggs, Cal
For whatever reason, Bigelow carried the ball only 44 times last season, despite averaging 9.8 yards per carry. The two seniors ahead of him are gone, and Sonny Dykes may be more apt to get one of his most explosive players the ball in creative ways. Treggs caught only 21 passes as a freshman, but he had better reasons to be buried in the game plan (Keenan Allen and subpar quarterback play).
DE Aaron Lynch, USF
Lynch was a rising star as a freshman at Notre Dame in 2011 when he led the Irish with 5.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hurries. He’ll restart his career with the Bulls, where he’ll be an All-AAC-caliber player on a solid front seven.
QB Brett Smith, Wyoming
Hopes are high Smith can help Wyoming turnaround a 4-8 record. He missed two games last season — losses to Cal Poly and Air Force, games decided by a combined three points. Smith had his ups and downs last season, but he still finished with 27 touchdowns to six interceptions. His 8.6 yards per pass attempt led the Mountain West.
QB Corey Robinson, Troy
Troy has fallen way behind other Sun Belt programs after winning at least a share of five consecutive league titles. Robinson still has a career completion rate of 63.8 percent as a three-year starter, topping the 3,000-yard mark each year.
K Cairo Santos, Tulane
How does a kicker on a 2-10 Tulane team win the Lou Groza Award? He makes 20 of 20 field goals, including two from 50-plus yards and 10 more from 40 or more yards.
The SEC leads college football in many things, but one of the strangest categories may be former head coach reclamation projects.
Not all assistants are cut out to be head coaches, but the five aforementioned programs clearly see strengths that didn’t translate into being program CEOs. Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida and LSU all hired previously fired head coaches to work on some of their biggest deficiencies.
That’s not a surprise, of course, even guys like Ellis Johnson and Joker Phillips were doing something right to be named head coaches in the first place.
The SEC isn’t alone, but it was the most prominent example of a league recycling former head coaching on its staffs. Here are 12 former head coaches hired as assistants for the 2013 season.
Former head coach at: Minnesota
Now: Florida State tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator
After all the changes on Florida State’s coaching staff, Brewster gives Jimbo Fisher a coach who has been around the block, most recently the wide receivers coach at Mississippi State. Brewster was a standout recruiter for Mack Brown at North Carolina and Texas and gives the coaching staff the bit of frenetic energy it needed to replace when James Coley left for Miami.
Former head coach at: Miami Dolphins, Indiana
Now: LSU offensive coordinator
Cameron returns to his first college head coaching job since he went 18-37 at Indiana from 1997-2001. LSU intended to hand the offense to another former head coach last season in Steve Kragthorpe before the ex-Louisville coach was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Greg Studrawa led the offense last season, but he has been returned to his former position of coaching the line. Cameron’s job now is to help develop Zach Mettenberger. Cameron has a strong reputation of working with quarterbacks, but LSU has struggled in this area since Matt Flynn led the Tigers to the BCS title in 2007.
Former head coach at: FIU
Now: Alabama offensive line coach
FIU made the puzzling decision to fire the best coach in its brief history, a coach who happened to have deep Miami ties. Alabama scooped him up quickly to coach the team’s greatest weakness on the offensive line. Before becoming a head coach, Cristobal coached tight ends and offensive line with great success at Rutgers (2001-03) and Miami (1998-2000). This may only be a quick stop for Cristobal before his next head coaching opportunity, but for now, he’s one of three former head coaches on Saban’s coaching and support staff — Bobby Williams (Michigan State) coaches tight ends and special teams, and Kevin Steele (Baylor) is the director of player personnel.
Former head coach at: Western Michigan
Now: Illinois wide receiver coach
Offense was rarely an issue during Cubit’s eight seasons at Western Michigan. With the Broncos, Cubit did a good job of developing young quarterbacks (Tim Hiller, Alex Carder) and playing them through their veteran years. At Illinois, Cubit inherits two veterans in Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O’Toole, who have started during the last two seasons.
Former head coach at: Arizona State, Idaho, San Francisco 49ers, Oregon State, Seattle Seahawks, Miami, Washington State, Wyoming
Now: Utah co-offensive coordinator
A true football lifer, Erickson can’t stay out of the game. After being fired at Arizona State, Erickson landed at Utah where he’ll make up half of one of the most interesting assistant coach pairings. The Utes’ other co-coordinator is Brian Johnson, who was born the same year as Erickson’s first Pac-10 coaching job in 1987 at Washington State. Utah has ranked 11th and 12th in yards per play since joining the Pac-12. Whether that’s personnel or youth on the coaching staff could be determined with Erickson on board.
Former head coach at: Colorado State
Now: Virginia offensive coordinator
Former head coach: NC State, Boston College
Now: Virginia associate head coach for offense/tight ends coach
Part of a coaching staff overhaul in Charlottesville, O’Brien and Fairchild will try to turn around an offense that ranked ninth in the ACC in yards per pass attempt and eighth in yards per carry. With the background of both — Fairchild was an NFL offensive coordinator before a 16-33 stint at Colorado State, O’Brien ran a balanced offense at NC State and Boston College — Virginia is going to run a traditional pro-style offense. Fairchild will have to settle on a quarterback after the competition between Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims dragged on through last season.
Former head coach at: Southern Miss
Now: Auburn defensive coordinator
Johnson’s first FBS coaching gig could not have been much worse as Southern Miss went 0-11 in his lone season in Hattiesburg. Before that debacle, though, Johnson’s defenses at South Carolina and Mississippi State ranked fifth or better in the SEC in four of five seasons. The 2011 Gamecocks defense ranked third in the country in total defense. In contrast: Auburn hasn’t ranked better than seventh in total defense in the SEC since 2007.
Former head coach at: New Mexico State, Kentucky
Now: SMU passing game coordinator
Do you think SMU wants to throw the ball around a bit in the American Athletic Conference? The Mustangs coaching staff now has the godfather of the Air Raid offense (Mumme) with one of the most successful run-and-shoot coaches (Jones). They’re not exactly the same, but they’re not all that different. As Mumme told CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman: “Air Raid is an attitude, not a playbook.” Worth noting: SMU was merely fourth in Conference USA in pass attempts in the last two seasons.
Former head coach at: Kentucky
Now: Florida wide receivers coach
Florida’s wide receivers coach position has been a revolving door in recent years, so the hope is that Phillips will bring stability. The Gators need it. Florida hasn’t produced a first-team All-SEC receiver in four seasons. Phillips played receiver at Kentucky and was a highly regarded offensive coordinator before his disastrous tenure as the Wildcats’ head coach. He’s also made an impact on the recruiting trail with is eccentric “#ComePlayWRfortheJoker” Twitter posts.
Former head coach at: Memphis
Now: Texas running backs coach
After a 3-21 stint at Memphis, Porter quietly returned to a comfort zone as a running backs coach. He worked with Marion Grice, Cameron Marshall and D.J. Foster at Arizona State last season, helping them become a prolific trio as runners and pass-catchers. He’ll do fine at Texas, but the Longhorns have more pressing issues than running back.
Former head coach at: Kansas State
Now: Rutgers offensive coordinator
Prince has coached two NFL starting quarterbacks in college (Virginia’s Matt Schaub and Kansas State’s Josh Freeman). Rutgers coach Kyle Flood is hoping for that tutelage to work on Gary Nova, who started last season with a steady hand before a late-season turnover binge. After three seasons in the NFL as an offensive assistant, Prince is back in the college ranks for the first time since coaching special teams at Virginia in 2009.
Former had coach at: Miami
Now: Arkansas linebackers coach
Shannon spent only five months as the linebackers coach at TCU before leaving to Arkansas. The Razorbacks can use all the help they can get on defense after regressing in each of the last three seasons. For a program with scant amounts of local talent and a head coach with little experience recruiting in the Southeast, the addition of Shannon and his deep Miami roots could be a major asset.
The NFL’s seventh season of Hard Knocks began yesterday with a second go-round inside training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The series brings all the drama of the NFL preseason with rookies making their way onto rosters, the tough decisions on who to keep and who to cut and players dealing with off-field issues.
The HBO program brings us closer to an NFL team each year, but we think the series would be a little more interesting if there were a college football version — the coaches have bigger personalities, the players are more raw on the field and less familiar with the business angle and professionalism off of it.
Behind-the-scenes access isn’t unheard of during the college football preseason. ESPN gets access from time to time; most major programs share videos through official web sites. But we want an unfiltered, warts-and-all look. Here are the teams we’d like to see:
1. Texas A&M
The Aggies would have been No. 1 before Johnny Manziel’s eligibility was thrown into question Sunday night. What a week ago looked like would be simply the Johnny Football Show now brings added NCAA drama. For better or worse, Hard Knocks: Texas A&M would present a look at the NCAA investigation process and the school’s response as they try to keep Manziel eligible for the Sept. 14 game against Alabama. Kevin Sumlin says he’s in the fact-finding stage, but it would be intriguing to see how he prepares Manziel’s backups for the opener. And for a dose of reality away from all-Manziel, all the time, let’s not forget that A&M players are grieving for the loss of teammate Polo Manukainiu after a car accident claimed his life last week.
What kinds of decisions does a coach make just before a critical season in his career? Lane Kiffin hass already closed regular season practices to the media, though that’s not a decision the average fan will find too intriguing. More than that, Kiffin is overseeing a rare quarterback competition at USC. The last one was four seasons ago when Matt Barkley quickly dispatched Aaron Corp early in the 2009 season. Perhaps more interesting than Kiffin picking between Max Wittek and Cody Kessler would be the reactions of one of the nation’s best receiving duos in Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor to each QB candidate. If the offensive side of the ball isn’t interesting enough, new coordinator Clancy Pendergast is installing a new 5-2 scheme. And finally, two words: Ed Orgeron.
Les Miles is a character, and that would be enough to carry any Hard Knocks season. But this preseason would be intriguing even if Miles were cut in the mold of deadpan coaches like Mark Dantonio or Kirk Ferentz. LSU’s trademark defense is full of new names and faces. The assumption is that the Tigers will pick up where they left off, but it’s going to be a young group. On offense, Miles recently reinstated his top running back (Jeremy Hill) following to legal issues and has a quarterback (Zach Mettenberger) who has a new coordinator and a spotty history on and off the field.
We’re not sure if “The Process” would be compelling television or a football version of “The Joy of Painting.” The most entertaining part may be watching players interact with a state and fan base basking in Roll Tide euphoria and then returning to a disapproving Nick Saban. And after that, Hard Knocks: Alabama would be a chance to get to know the Alabama coaching staff, which is shut down from media interviews once the season begins. Fans somewhere should have a reason to be excited to hire defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
5. Notre Dame
Hard Knocks: Notre Dame might lose a ratings battle with The Bachelor: Manti Te’o, but we’re still watching the Irish try to navigate their return to national prominence and how Notre Dame deals with the BCS Championship Game embarrassment. Brian Kelly has a quarterback battle on his hands between the veteran Tommy Rees (who the fans aren’t totally excited to see) and Malik Zaire (who the fans didn’t expect to see taking snaps until 2014 or 2015).
6. Ole Miss
Ole Miss is kind of Hardcore SEC Fan Central this season. The Rebels need their top-10 signing class to contribute immediately, both as starters and for depth. We know Robert Nkdemdiche through the recruiting process, but Hard Knocks: Ole Miss will give us the first look at the top freshman in the SEC, playing on the defense as his brother, Denzel, who is a star in his own right. Hugh Freeze has only be a college head coach for two seasons, but his homespun qualities have been a perfect fit in the SEC. He’s a positive guy, but he may have to prepare his team for a rough start to the season thanks to the Rebels’ brutal schedule. Moreover, Ole Miss is one of the rare college teams that still does two-a-day practices in preseason camp, though the Rebels don’t exactly go full speed for those sessions.
7. South Carolina
There’s Steve Spurrier wisecracking and Jadeveon Clowney flipping sleds with teammate Gerald Dixon. And Manziel isn’t the only big-time player dealing with fame and everyone wanting a piece of him: Spurrier closed practices and declared a moratorium on talking about “The Hit.” And beyond the Spurrier/Clowney dynamic, Carolina is trying to win an SEC championship and national championship with a quarterback who missed all of spring practice and portions of last season.
8. Washington State
Mike Leach hasn’t changed in his second season at Washington State — he says he’s working on a book on Geronimo — so that will bring ample entertainment. On the field Washington State went 3-9 last season and may have the same record in 2013. Leach won seven games in each of his first two seasons at Texas Tech and nine in his third, so he’s in uncharted territory in Pullman.
Few teams are under more pressure than Texas. The Big 12 is wide open, but there’s little consensus Texas, one of the most talented teams in the league, can win it. Four seasons removed from their last Big 12 title, the Longhorns have also lost ground to Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas A&M, never mind being firmly under the thumb of Oklahoma. How Brown coaches for his job and how Manny Diaz tries to repair one of the nation’s worst run defenses would be intriguing storylines.
James Franklin is cliff diving, and Herb Hand is Tweeting and angling for a spot on Chopped. But meanwhile the Commodores are in the midst of one of the best runs in school history. Although Vanderbilt swiftly dismissed the four players at the center of a campus sex crimes investigation, the program is growing accustomed to people paying attention to what’s going on in Nashville for a change.
A year after being the nation’s most competitive conference at the top, the Big Ten is counting on a handful of new faces to remain so in 2013-14.
Michigan State returns nearly intact, but most of the Big Ten wasn’t so lucky. Indiana is counting on freshmen and a transfer making his third Division I stop to replace NBA Draft lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. Michigan also will look to a pair of rookies to take spots vacated by the National Player of the Year and another first-round draft pick.
Wisconsin lost players in its frontcourt, but the Badgers’ biggest new face for 2013-14 is an old one in guard Josh Gasser, who will return from a torn ACL. And Illinois, who was one of the surprise teams of last season, will try to replace its Big Ten veterans with imports from the Missouri Valley Conference.
Turnover — or lack thereof for teams like Michigan State and Ohio State — could play a major role in the Big Ten title chance in 2013-14.
Our look at the transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury last season continues with the Big Ten. Earlier, we’ve profiled the new faces in the ACC, American, Big 12 and Big East.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Indiana lost Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and the bulk of a team that spent a good portion of last season ranked No. 1. The freshman Vonleh, though, means Indiana isn’t going to sink back to the bottom of the Big Ten. At 6-foot-9, he’s a natural power forward with impressive length — he has a 7-4 wingspan. Vonleh recently participated in the LeBron James Skills Academy and held his own despite being one of the youngest players there at age 17.
Josh Gasser, Wisconsin
Returning from injury
Wisconsin’s season looked like it would go south when Gasser, the projected starting point guard, sustained a season-ending knee injury in October. But this is Wisconsin, and consistency is the Badgers’ forte. Recovery from the ligament tears has been slow, but Gasser still expects to be ready for the start of the season. As a shooting guard for his first two seasons, Gasser still had a 1.95 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also picked up the first triple-double in Wisconsin history with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against Northwestern in 2010-11.
Derrick Walton, Michigan
Walton may be the captain of the All-Shoes-to-Fill team as he takes over at point guard for National Player of the Year Trey Burke. Walton was committed to Michigan for two years, so he had plenty of time to study Burke’s style of play. He has a few similarities with Burke — he and his predecessor both stand at 6-feet and have excellent court vision, but Walton comes to the program with higher expectations after reaching last season’s national title game.
Zak Irvin, Michigan
Irvin can play both shooting guard and small forward, but Michigan coach John Beilein may have to find ways to get him in the lineup. Glenn Robinson III plays the 3 and stretch 4, and Michigan has options at the two guard with Nik Staustaks, who was a sharpshooter last season, plus sophomore Caris LeVert.
Drew Crawford, Northwestern
Returning from injury
Crawford considered a transfer, and he would have been eligible immediately as a graduate student. Instead, he’ll return to Northwestern, where he missed all but 10 games last season with a shoulder injury. A season earlier in 2011-12, Crawford was a third-team All-Big Ten selection who averaged 16.1 points per game.
Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
Transfer from Drake
Illinois coach John Groce won’t shy away from putting a ton of responsibility on his backcourt. With Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson gone, that puts some of the onus on Rice, who transferred back home to Champaign from Drake. Former Illinois coach Bruce Weber overlooked Rice even though the guard was the state’s Mr. Basketball, but Rice returned when John Groce was hired. At Drake, Rice used the sleight to fuel him on the way to 15.4 points per game and 5.3 rebounds in two seasons at Drake. The 6-4, 240-pound junior could lead Illinois in scoring.
Tim Frazier, Penn State
Returning from injury
Frazier was a first-team All-Big Ten selection two seasons ago when he averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists, but he missed all of last season with a left Achilles injury. His return moves D.J. Newbill (16.3 ppg) to his more comfortable position at the two guard. That’s the good news. The bad news is Jermaine Marshall elected to transfer to Arizona State, leaving Penn State with one fewer Big Ten-caliber player in the starting lineup.
Evan Gordon, Indiana
Transfer from Arizona State
The brother of former Hoosiers one-and-done Eric Gordon, Evan Gordon has landed at Indiana after playing for Liberty and Arizona State. Gordon is looking to grab the starting off guard spot along rising sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell. What Gordon lacks in size (6-1, 187), he’ll make up for it in experience on a young Hoosiers team. Gordon has averaged 12.1 points per game in his three-season career.
Jon Ekey, Illinois
Transfer from Illinois State
Ekey, who started 75 games in three seasons at Illinois State, will be one of the top newcomers on an Illinois team full of them. Ekey led the Missouri Valley in blocks as a freshman (52), but the 6-7, 220-pound forward can also step out to knock down the 3-point shot. He hit 90 of 234 (38.5 percent) shots from 3-point range in his final two seasons in the Valley before becoming immediately eligible at Illinois as a graduate student.
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Transfer from Wisconsin
Uthoff hasn’t played in a game since his senior season at Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Jefferson in 2011 after redshirting his first season at Wisconsin and then sitting out a year at Iowa. Uthoff also became a lightning rod in the debate over NCAA transfer rules when he elected to pay his own way to play for Iowa after the Badgers restricted his transfer to play for the Hawkeyes. Finally able to play, Uthoff is a 6-9 versatile forward who can play inside and out.
Malik Smith, Minnesota
Transfer from FIU
Smith followed his coach, Richard Pitino, from FIU to Minnesota. The guard averaged 14.1 points per game at FIU, but he’ll have to fight his way through a crowded backcourt that includes Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins (no relation).
Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Transfer from Texas Tech
Petteway gives Nebraska versatility and a secondary scoring option the Cornhuskers lacked last season. A 6-6 wing, Petteway can rebound and play point guard, if needed, but Nebraska also signed New Zealand freshman Tai Webster to help at the point.
Other new faces to watch in 2013-14:
Marc Loving and Kameron Williams, Ohio State
Ohio State doesn’t struggle to bring in top recruits, but the Buckeyes are a veteran team with only two newcomers. The power forward Loving needs to develop a physical game while Williams may be a role player as an outside shooter.
Walter Pitchford and Lelee Smith, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers had trouble re-stocking a frontcourt that lost its top two players. At least Pitchford, an athletic forward who sat out last season after his transfer from Florida, will be eligible this season. Smith is a strong 6-8 forward who started his career at SMU before transferring to junior college. This pair will have make up a new-look Nebraska frontcourt.
Luke Fischer, Indiana
He won’t replace Zeller’s ability to run the floor, but Fischer could give the Hoosiers a true center to allow Vonleh to play power forward.
Bryson Scott, Purdue
Scott is a standout combo guard from Fort Wayne who should play his way into the rotation immediately.
Allen Roberts, Penn State
Transfer from Miami (Ohio)
Roberts averaged 12.3 points last season for the RedHawks and will be eligible in December.
The start of the college football season is less than a month away and the offseason didn’t contain any new realignment or any coach motorcycle/coed scandals (fingers crossed).
That doesn’t mean it was a quiet offseason, certainly not for the sports most visible player down in College Station.
The offseason is long and new falls through the cracks. Here’s everything you need to know to get caught up.
1. Johnny Manziel: The important stuff
Johnny Manziel’s offseason activities are well-established, and we’re still not sure if any of it really matters to the product on the field. If anything is going to jeopardize Manziel's season, it may be the news that broke Sunday evening. The NCAA is investigating if Manziel was paid for signing autographs and memorabilia during a trip to South Florida in January. If the NCAA finds a violation, Manziel could be ineligible for all or part of the 2013 season. Before that, the Texas A&M quarterback faced the media barrage at SEC Media Days where he was neither apologetic nor defiant about being a 20-year-old Heisman winner with (parental) money in his pocket. Also, ESPN’s Wright Thompson gave us the definitive profile of what it’s like within the Manziel family right now as the family and the player attempt to cope with the pressures of being a college football superstar. And for the one bit of Manziel news that actually entered the legal system, Manziel pleaded guilty for failing to identify himself to police following a dispute prior to the 2012 season when he was still anonymous enough to do such things.
2. Running backs on the move
As if Louisville didn’t need another edge over its American Athletic Conference opponents, the Cardinals added a former five-star running back and BCS Championship Game MVP. Bringing in Michael Dyer (right) isn’t without risk, though. He hasn’t played football since 2011 when he left Auburn amid a drug suspension. He was also dismissed by Arkansas State before landing at Arkansas Baptist College where he was mentored by former San Jose State coach Fitz Hill. ... In a less controversial move, West Virginia added former Houston running back Charles Sims, who will be eligible immediately. Sims gives Dana Holgorsen an intriguing new toy: Sims has accounted for 1,672 rushing yards, 948 receiving yards and 27 total touchdowns in 22 games. West Virginia also added Rushel Shell, one of Pittsburgh’s top signees before last season. Shell visited UCLA and asked about returning to Pittsburgh, but landed in Morgantown.
3. Quarterback transfers
There will be more quarterback transfers after training camp starts to determine starters and backups, but two already felt the squeeze. Connor Brewer left Texas for Arizona, and Wes Lunt left Oklahoma State for Illinois. The latter drew attention after Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy forbade his 2012 opening day starter from transferring to the SEC, Pac-12, Central Michigan or Southern Miss in addition to the Big 12. Both will be eligible in 2014.
4. The Eddie Vanderdoes saga ends
Notre Dame has had most of the summer to prepare for a 2013 season without starting quarterback Everett Golson, but he’s not the only key personnel departure. Freshman defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, expected to play a major role for the Irish this season, had a change of heart after signing to play in South Bend, but coach Brian Kelly attempted to block the lineman from leaving and playing immediately for UCLA. The NCAA appeals process favored Vanderdoes, and he’ll suit up for the Bruins.
5. Suspension season
Two of the top games in the first week of the season will be impacted by suspensions. TCU defensive end Devonte Fields (10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for a loss) is suspended for the first two games, knocking him out of the LSU game (and Southeastern Louisiana). ... Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons will be suspended in the opener against pass-happy Clemson. ... Florida suspended linebacker Antonio Morrison, a potential breakout player, for the first two games (Toledo, at Miami) even though charges for resisting arrest were dismissed for reasons evident on the police dashcam video. ... Ohio State suspended running back Carlos Hyde for at least the first three games (Buffalo, San Diego State, at Cal) for his role in an altercation in a Columbus night club, though he won’t face charges. Star cornerback Bradley Roby is also facing a suspension following misdemeanor battery charges.
6. Also around the police blotter
Potential starting Virginia Tech running back Michael Holmes was “permanently separated” from the university after he was found guilty of misdemeanor assault and battery. ... Four Vanderbilt players, none starters, were dismissed and banned from campus amid a sex crimes investigation. ... Texas A&M cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven were charged with misdemeanor assault and criminal mischief after an apartment altercation, but coach Kevin Sumlin has not announced any disciplinary action. ... LSU's top running back, Jeremy Hill, was reinstated thanks to a convenient team vote to bring him back despite his second arrest as a Tiger. ... Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a Mackey Award contender, pleaded guilty to a DUI in July, but he may not be suspended for the opener against Boise State.
7. Tragedy at Texas A&M, Utah
Three football communities were devastated when Texas A&M’s Polo Manukainiu, Utah’s Gaius Vaenuku and Euless (Texas) Trinity High’s Lolo Uhatafe were killed in a rollover crash in New Mexico. Manukainiu and Vaenuku were Trinity graduates. Two other passengers — Utah signee Salesi Uhatafe and his father — survived the crash. Manukainiu’s final Tweet before his death indicated he was driving back to Texas on “no sleep.”
8. Oregon gets NCAA closure, Miami does not
The most serious penalty Oregon faced as a result of the Willie Lyles scandal impacted the coach who’s gone to the NFL anyway. Chip Kelly (right) was slapped for a an 18-month show cause, making him unhirable in the college ranks during that time. Also making him unhirable: Coaching the Philadelphia Eagles. Oregon got off light despite paying $25,000 for Lyles’ quesitonable scouting services — no bowl ban and only the loss of one scholarship in each of the next three seasons. ... Miami hasn’t been quite as lucky. The Hurricanes are starting their third season with the cloud of NCAA sanctions over the program, self-imposing bowl bans the last two seasons in the wake of the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
9. And behind the scenes...
Gordon Gee stuck one foot too many in his mouth. The Ohio State president, who once joked he hoped Jim Tressel wouldn’t fire him, retired after comments about Notre Dame and Catholics. “The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week ... You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday,” Gee said during a meeting of Ohio State’s athletic council. ... Elsewhere, Colorado hired Rick George as its new athletic director. For a program needing a lift, the Buffaloes looked outside the box by hiring George, the president of business operations for the Texas Rangers. ... Florida State is also in the market for a new athletic director after Randy Spetman stepped down in June.
10. Active players join O'Bannon lawsuit
Six active players agreed to join former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit against the NCAA over the use of athletes' names and likenesses in video games. Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer, Arizona kicker Jake Smith, Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson, Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham, Minnesota tight end Moses Alipate and Minnesota wide receiver Victor Keise all joined O'Bannon's class action lawsuit. The NCAA also ended its contract with EA Sports effective after the NCAA Football 2014 video game, though the move effectively turned licensing to the Collegiate Licensing Company and individual schools and conferences for future video games.
11. The Summer of Stoops
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was one of the most vocal coaches during the offseason. He told The Sporting News he didn’t think players should be paid. He said the perception of SEC dominance is based on “propaganda.” He complained about Northern Illinois going to the BCS instead of Oklahoma. And just so we’re clear that he didn’t spend the entire summer as a cranky football coach, he tried to quietly participate in tornado cleanup in Moore, Okla. It took about 30 minutes before he was recognized.
12. And finally, FIU is the gift that keeps on giving
FIU, the school that hired Isiah Thomas to coach its basketball team, fired Mario Cristobal from coaching its football team and replaced him with one of the worst coaches in Illinois history, gave us the best press release of the offseason:
Early this morning, our football team had a workout and barbecue on Crandon Park Beach to conclude our summer conditioning program under the supervision of our strength and conditioning staff. Following the workout, some of our athletes went to rinse off at a designated public shower area and a few of them made a poor decision and changed their clothes in public. I want to apologize to the community and anyone who was at the beach this morning for this unfortunate incident. We are committed to helping our student athletes grow as gentlemen while preparing them for their careers. We are looking into this incident, and if appropriate, will take disciplinary action.
Head Football Coach
FIU also dismissed it starting running back for discharging a weapon on school property earlier that week.
The SEC rules the recruiting rankings, but three big-time Big Ten signees from the last two seasons could play major roles in how the league is decided.
Michigan and Ohio State are both plugging in five-star signees from the class of 2012 in redshirt freshman guard Kyle Kalis and sophomore defensive end Noah Spence. And although Penn State can’t go to to the postseason, freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg could determine the Big Ten race as the Nittany Lions face Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Those names aren’t the only ones who could determine the Big Ten title. We’ve picked six players from six Big Ten contenders who may be pivotal to league or division titles.
As a refresher, our criteria for pivotal players is:
1. He plays for a conference or division contender.
2. He is an unproven commodity in some way.
3. He plays at a position his team needs to perform in order to win a division or conference title.
We’ve looked at pivotal players for contenders in the ACC, the American, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, and finally we turn our eye to the Big Ten.
Zaire Anderson, LB, Nebraska
Nebraska played four games where the Cornhuskers allowed more than six yards per play, and lost all five (UCLA, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Georgia). Linebacker will be a major question as the Cornhuskers rebuild with only four returning starters on the defense. Anderson started at one point early last season before missing most of the year following knee surgery. While recovering, he gained 22 pounds without losing speed, and he’s drawn comparisons to another prominent junior college transfer linebacker, Lavonte David.
Riley Bullough, RB, Michigan State
Le’Veon Bell accounted for 78.6 percent of Michigan State’s rush attempts and 91.9 percent of the Spartans’ yards on the ground. Unless Michigan State is turning to the Air Raid, Mark Dantonio needs to find production at running back to replace Bell. If Bullough has a familiar name, it’s because his brother Max is a starting linebacker. There may be a familiar style of play from Riley, though on the opposite side of the ball. A former linebacker, Riley is a bruiser. The redshirt freshman Riley will be the lead back in a committee approach to the position.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
The transfer of Steven Bench left Penn State without experience at quarterback, so the assumption is that the Hackenberg era will begin immediately. While Penn State doesn’t exactly begin the season with a gauntlet, the Nittany Lions face Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J., and two teams that can score in UCF and Kent State. Hackenberg’s importance to the program is a long-term storyline, especially as sanctions will cut deeper in his upperclassman seasons. But how he performs early as a rookie will determine momentum for his first season in Happy Valley.
Darius Hillary, CB, Wisconsin
Don’t be too concerned with a backfield that loses Montee Ball and must decide on a quarterback. Wisconsin’s defensive backfield is a major concern. Three starters were gone last season, and two key players the Badgers expected to start won’t be on campus (Reggie Mitchell and Donnell Vercher). Hillary played in every game last season as a redshirt freshman, recording 23 tackles, mostly early in the season. Hillary and Peniel Jean are further on the spot to solidify the cornerback position in a secondary that includes one sure thing in safety Dezmen Southward.
Tony Jones, WR, Northwestern
Tony Jones has deep-threat capabilities, but he averaged only 11.6 yards per catch last season. Sure, much of this will be on starting quarterback Kain Colter’s ability to get the ball downfield as much as Jones’ play, but averaging better than six yards per pass will be critical if Northwestern is going to challenge for a Legends Division title.
Kyle Kalis, OG, Michigan
All three of the Wolverines’ starting interior offensive linemen are gone, so any could be pivotal to Michigan’s hopes of winning the Big Ten for the first time since 2004. We’ll point to right guard Kyle Kalis, who was a top-three guard in the class of 2012. Michigan tailbacks averaged only 72.8 rushing yards last season, but the Wolverines think they can turn that around with more consistency from Fitz Touissaint and the arrival of freshman Derrick Green. Kalis delivering on his immense talent could go along way to reestablishing the run at Michigan.
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
Urban Meyer went to great lengths to get Spence out of Pennsylvania during his first recruiting cycle, and now the defensive end should be ready to deliver. Spence has all-conference honors or more in his future, but it may need to happen now as the Buckeyes replenish their entire starting defensive line. He’s a pivotal player, but also one of the breakout candidates in the league.
The conventional thinking in the Big 12 may be that the team whose quarterback takes the reins will win the league.
Indeed, only one of the top six passers, Texas’ David Ash, in the Big 12 returns for 2013.
But in our exercise in picking the pivotal players to a Big 12 championship, we tended to look more toward the defensive side of the ball, and specifically the front seven. Part of that is intentional: It’s clear teams like Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State won’t have a chance at the conference title if their new starting quarterbacks don’t perform.
What may be overlooked, though, is that four of the top six teams in the Big 12 need a player in the front seven to adjust to a full-time job, return from an injury or simply clear academic hurdles to help their teams to a Big 12 title.
Our criteria for pivotal players:
1. He plays for a conference or division contender.
2. He is an unproven commodity in some way.
3. He plays at a position his team needs to perform in order to win a division or conference title.
We’ve looked at pivotal players for contenders in the ACC, the American and SEC, and now we turn our eye to the Big 12.
Joel Hasley, LB, TCU
It’s tough to imagine TCU going back-to-back seasons where linebacker is an issue, but the Horned Frogs enter another year where this is the primary concern. Hasley was second on the team with 79 tackles, but the guy ahead of him, Kenny Cain, is gone. With the stable of quality running backs in the Big 12 (plus LSU in the opener), it’s tough to see the Horned Frogs competing for a conference title if its linebackers struggle for a second consecutive season. Hasley is under pressure with converted safety Jonathan Anderson competing for his spot at middle linebacker. Despite linebackers being a weak link, TCU allowed 3.3 yards per carry last season, best in the Big 12.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
Texas waited and waited for Hicks to return after he went down in the third game of the season, but the outside linebacker never returned. The Longhorns run defense unravelled in Big 12 play, allowing 215 rushing yards per game in conference play. Hicks is back for 2013, and Mack Brown hopes his run defense will be back, too.
Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State
The easy answer for Kansas State’s pivotal player is either Daniel Sams or Jake Waters replacing quarterback Collin Klein. Nearly as critical is rolling with the changes in the front seven. All four starting defensive linemen are gone, including ends Meshak Williams and Adam Davis (who combined for 16.5 sacks). Mueller showed flashes as a pass rusher, but the junior has never been a full-time player.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Around this time last season, no one projected much out of Nick Florence, and he passed for a school-record 4,309 yards. Petty has far less experience than Florence did when he took over as the starter last season, but Petty also has the running back duo of Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin in tow. Petty, a junior with 14 career pass attempts, will have time to grow into his role before the Bears’ critical stretch in November and December.
Quincy Russell, DT, Oklahoma
For most pivotal players in this series, performance and health are the most pressing concerns. For Russell, it’s if he’ll be around to make an impact. The junior college transfer is still waiting to be cleared academically. Whether or not he’s available, defensive line is Oklahoma’s most pressing question other than quarterback. At 6-4, 315 pounds, Russell is one of the biggest bodies on the offensive line, especially considering his linemate at tackle is converted defensive end Chuka Ndulue.
Jeremy Smith, RB, Oklahoma State
The potential stability at quarterback — provided Clint Chelf starts all season — will be a change for the Cowboys. But we’re watching the change at running back where Joseph Randle hands the baton to Jeremy Smith. Oklahoma State has had a 1,200-yard running back for six consecutive seasons. Smith has averaged 6.2 yards per carry during his career, but he’s deal with nagging injuries through his career. His durability could determine if Oklahoma State has the balanced offense it craves.
One thing is pretty clear about the new Big East: Projecting the league is going to be difficult.
Georgetown and Marquette tied for the Big East title in the old conference, but both teams lose key players. Villanova, which defeated Georgetown and Marquette late last season, brings back most of its key players. Creighton won the Missouri Valley and has most of its roster intact, including the top player in the league.
And those are just the top teams. The league pecking order could be determined by a hodgepodge of newcomers — five-star freshmen, junior college players, transfers from teams as different as UCLA and Rice.
Our look at the transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury last season continues with a look at the Big East after we’ve profiled the ACC, American and Big 12.
Josh Smith, Georgetown
Transfer from UCLA
At UCLA, Smith’s weight was a more pressing issue than his play on the court. Smith averaged 10.9 points per game and 6.3 rebounds as a freshman in 2010-11, but his playing time dwindled to 13.5 minutes per game before he left the Bruins early last season. Smith routinely weighed more than 300 pounds at UCLA. He’ll be eligible in December with hopes that a move East will give him a fresh start.
Jameel McKay, Marquette
Junior college transfer
Buzz Williams, a JUCO product himself, has a soft spot for junior college transfers. McKay is yet another to follow Williams to Marquette. He’s a 6-8, 205-pound forward who will bolster Marquette’s frontcourt, which is expected to be the strength of the team in 2013-14. A high-energy player, McKay was a two-time first-team All-American at Indiana Hills Community College after playing high school ball in Milwaukee.
Duane Wilson, Marquette
Wilson could take over the point guard spot and give Marquette a scoring punch there. He can knock down 3s, hit free throws and get to the rim. Like McKay, Wilson is a hometown product from Milwaukee.
Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s
St. John’s returns better than 90 percent of its scoring, but Jordan will have plenty of opportunities to play minutes immediately. D’Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene IV played point guard last season, but Jordan may be the best option there. Provided he’s not suspended as he was at the end of last season, Harrison is better suited for shooting guard.
Carson Desrosiers, Providence
Transfer from Wake Forest
Ed Cooley laid the groundwork for reviving Providence on the recruiting trail, but transfers will also play a role if the Friars are going to make an NCAA Tournament run in 2013-14. Desrosiers is a seven-foot, 235-pound transfer who started 38 games in two seasons at Wake Forest. He’s a standout shot blocker (1.8 per game), but he can also step outside and make 15-footers.
Jaren Sina, Seton Hall
Landing Sina, a former commitment for Northwestern and Alabama, was something of a coup for the Pirates. Problems at point guard sunk Seton Hall a year ago, and the hope is that Sina can eventually stabilize the position.
Brandon Austin, Providence
Austin is yet another high-profile freshman Cooley has signed, joining Kris Dunn (who will be his starting point guard) and Ricky Ledo (who left for the draft after never playing for the Friars). Austin is a versatile guard who could be one of PC’s top scorers.
Dylan Ennis, Villanova
Transfer from Rice
The brother of Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis, Dylan will back up budding star point guard Ryan Arcidacono, but he has the versatility to contribute at three different spots. Ennis averaged 8.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists as a freshman at Rice in 2011-12.
Matt Stainbrook, Xavier
Transfer from Western Michigan
Stainbrook will give Xavier a key body in the frontcourt after shedding more than 50 pounds during his redshirt season. He suffered a knee injury in February, but he’s still expected to be major contributor. The 6-foot-10 center averaged 10.1 points and 6.6 rebounds in two seasons at Western Michigan.
Sterling Gibbs, Seton Hall
Transfer from Texas
Gibbs averaged only 7.5 minutes per game at Texas but transferred back home to New Jersey after only one season in Austin. The brother of former Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs could join Sina in solidifying Seton Hall’s point guard spot.
Other new faces to watch:
God’sgift Achiuwa, St. John’s
The all-name teamer redshirted last season but averaged 9.4 points per game and 5.8 rebounds in 18 starts in 2011-12.
Elijah Brown, Butler
The son of former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown is capable of playing both guard spots and the wing.
Tyler Harris, Providence
Transfer from NC State
Harris was caught in a crunch for playing time at NC State, but Providence believes he can contribute quality minutes. He’s a 6-9 forward who can shoot like a guard.
Jalen Reynolds, Xavier
Ineligible last season
Reynolds was tabbed as a hidden gem after winning a one-on-one battle with Mitch McGary, but the forward was ineligible last season.
Reggie Coleman, Georgetown
The top-100 freshman small forward should boost the Hoyas from 3-point range.