Articles By David Fox
Since 1996, college football teams have only been adding to national championship trophy cases.
If certain programs ever seem like they have a ceiling, that’s the fact to watch. Florida is the most recent team to win its first national title when the Gators won the 1996 title. Every other national champion since has only been adding to its trophy tally.
That’s not for lack of trying, though. Oregon, Oklahoma State, Missouri and more have been on the verge of picking up their first national titles during the final years of the BCS era.
No doubt, those programs hope the College Football Playoff era will bring them a long-awaited national championship.
These are the teams still seeking their national title, ranked by their likelihood of ending their drought in the coming years.
*For sake of consistency, we are counting only national championships selected by major services (AP, UPI, coaches' poll, etc.) since the first AP poll in 1936.
Record since 1936: 436-380-18 (.536)
Closest call: Lost to Auburn in the 2010 BCS Championship Game
Outlook: Oregon continues to be the top program in the country both without either a national title or a Heisman trophy. Could both change this season? The Ducks have finished each of the last four seasons in the top 10 and haven’t ranked lower than 11th since 2007. Oregon, the No. 6 team in our countdown, remains our favorite in the Pac-12, but last season the Ducks also failed to reach a BCS bowl for the first time since 2008. Second-year coach Mark Helfrich will look to show this team hasn’t missed its window.
2. South Carolina
Record since 1936: 417-401-26 (.509)
Closest call: Started 9-0 and ranked as high as No. 2 in 1984, finished 10-2
Outlook: The idea of South Carolina as a legitimate national title threat would have been foreign to anyone who watched the Gamecocks go 1-21 in 1998-99. Steve Spurrier has led South Carolina to four consecutive top-10 finishes. The Gamecocks have succeeded in recruiting major prospects (Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney) but not necessarily classes on par with the rest of the SEC. That could change in the class of 2015.
Record since 1936: 412-383-22 (.518)
Closest call: No. 4 in the final BCS standings in 2010 and 2011
Outlook: If only the Playoff came a few years earlier. Stanford finished the regular season ranked No. 4 in 2010 and 2011 with Andrew Luck at quarterback. That doesn’t necessarily mean those Stanford teams would be No. 4 under a theoretical selection committee, but it’s still an interesting note. With back-to-back Pac-12 titles and standout recruiting classes, Stanford shows little sign of slowing down as long as David Shaw is the coach.
Record since 1936: 396-419-17 (.486)
Closest call: No. 6 in the final BCS standings in 2013
Outlook: Baylor’s 9-0 start prompted thoughts of the Bears in the BCS championship game. Those hopes were dashed after Oklahoma State’s 49-17 win on Nov. 23. Baylor may never have been as good as that start suggested, losing 52-42 to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. But the Bears are built to contend in the Big 12 for years to come with the opening of McLane Stadium in 2015.
5. Oklahoma State
Record since 1936: 422-407-22 (.509)
Closest call: Reached No. 2 in the BCS standings in 2011 before a mid-November loss to Iowa State
Outlook: The Cowboys have more or less returned to the mean after flirting with the national championship game in 2011. The Cowboys have gone 12-6 in the Big 12 the last two seasons (they went 12-4 in 2009-10). Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors, so the Pokes may need a year or two to gear up for another conference title run.
Record since 1936: 439-363-14 (.544)
Closest call: A 12-1 season in 2006, the only loss by a field goal to Rutgers
Outlook: Louisville might not be a top-15 team early in its run in the ACC, especially in a division with Florida State and Clemson. Bobby Petrino has been here before, coaching Arkansas against Alabama and LSU. Granted, that didn’t yield Arkansas’ first national championship, either. But Petrino has finished in the top six three times at Louisville and Arkansas. He’ll have the backing at Louisville to push the Cardinals in contention.
Record since 1936: 428-379-27 (.529)
Closest call: Finished the 1962 season ranked No. 2 before a Rose Bowl loss
Outlook: Winning in the postseason hasn’t been a strong suit for Wisconsin since Barry Alvarez retired. The Badgers have lost six of their last seven bowl games. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Gary Andersen, though, was a strong hire who can keep the Badgers in contention in the Big Ten. Wisconsin and Nebraska may be the only realistic national title contenders out of the Big Ten West.
8. Arizona State
Record since 1936: 514-304-15 (.626)
Closest call: Finished the 1996 regular season ranked No. 2 before losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl; Went 12-0 and finished No. 2 in 1975.
Outlook: Arizona State is coming off a 10-win season and a Pac-12 South title and is showing signs of shaking its sleeping giant status. The Sun Devils haven’t finished in the AP top 15 since 1996, but there’s little reason why Arizona State couldn’t become a perennial contender in the Pac-12.
9. Ole Miss
Record since 1936: 487-343-20 (.585)
Closest call: Ranked No. 2 in the AP poll and finished 10-0-1 in 1960
Outlook: Whether Ole Miss can stack the recruiting classes it would need to in order to compete with Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M remains to be seen. The Rebels had a top-10 class in 2012 and top-15 in 2013. That’s a long way from the top SEC contenders, especially for a program that hasn’t finished in the AP top 10 since 1969.
Record since 1936: 455-382-24 (.542)
Closest call: Missouri has twice lost while ranked No. 1 before the final game of the regular season (1960 and 2007).
Outlook: Missouri came within a game of playing for the national title last season before the Tigers lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri has its formula down with consistently solid quarterback play and developing talent from their competition’s backyard, whether it’s in Texas or the Southeast. Missouri has been on the precipice several times, but let’s face it: This is not a charmed football program.
Thinking big isn’t always the best tactic.
Joe Novak learned that much from afar. He was an assistant at Indiana during the 1986 when he watched Northern Illinois, where he had worked for three years, leave the MAC with aspirations of joining big-time college football.
“I don’t know what they were thinking or where they were going to go,” Novak told Athlon Sports in a recent interview.
What the Huskies were trying to do was parlay a move to the Big West into a bid for the Big Eight or Big 12. What Northern Illinois got was six losing seasons in 10 years as an independent and Big West member only to return to where it started.
Northern Illinois’ returned to the league in 1997 with Novak as coach, trumpeting his return with the slogan, “Back in the MAC with Novak.” That’s just about all Northern Illinois had to sell at the time. The Huskies’ hopes of major conference membership were ill-advised, and in the aftermath of the experiment, NIU went 3-30 during Novak’s first three seasons.
The best MACtion, Novak learned, may be inaction at least in terms of changing leagues. Once the program recovered under Novak, Northern Illinois, instead, settled on being one of the flagship programs in the MAC.
July 1 marks another year of conference realignment moves. Maryland and Rutgers become official in the Big Ten, and the ACC adds Louisville. Conference USA adds two teams to take the place of the three that will join the year-old American Athletic Conference.
Once again, though, the MAC is sitting out the game of musical chairs.
That’s not to say the MAC is a total outlier. Temple left before last season after five years as a football-only member, and UMass will follow suit next season.
But the core of the MAC — 10 teams in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana — has remained more or less stable since the ‘70s. Marshall and UCF dabbled here, but neither seemed to be a geographical or philosophical fit.
As conference affiliations change, the MAC has thrived in its stability.
In the last two seasons, the league has produced a BCS participant (Northern Illinois), a No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick (Central Michigan) and another top-five pick (Buffalo). Ratings for the MAC’s featured games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays late in the season aren’t out-performing the Big Ten, but they can top second- or third-tier Saturday games in major conferences.
"The best thing for that league is to stay status quo."
-former Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak
“I’m thankful we’ve been able to stay together, and because of it our conference has moved up in stature,” said Jim Schaus, Ohio’s athletics director since 2008. “By staying where we were and because other conferences have seen other members moving up, those conferences may have stepped back a little bit.”
Tuesday and Wednesday night games have been a staple of the MAC for several years. Wild offensive showcases between MAC teams have become the league’s signature. The #MACtion meme shows there’s national interest in the conference, even if it’s a niche.
At the same time, the American, Conference USA and perhaps even the Mountain West can’t say the same.
“We talk about branding here a lot,” Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien said. “It’s led to the culture of the MAC brand. At the same time, despite the fact that the MAC is considered quote-unquote regional, it is a national conference.”
The Big Ten and Big 12 may be unrealistic goals — as Northern Illinois learned — but MAC teams have rarely been in the conversation for movement in the next tier of conferences. The shared recruiting base and similar budgets can keep MAC teams competitive, but it likely makes them less of a target in realignment.
The top program in the MAC lineup in terms of revenue is Miami (Ohio) at $28.7 million, ranking 79th, according to USA Today (outgoing affiliate member UMass actually bring sin more at $30 million). On the other end is Ball State at $21.3 million, ranking 112nd.
In other words, $7.4 million in revenue separate the top and bottom teams in the MAC. More than $100 million separates Texas and Iowa State in the Big 12, and $74 million separates Oregon and Washington State in the Pac-12.
“Part of the reason we’ve stayed together is the commonality of the members in this conference,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said.
MAC administrators also believe the new College Football Playoff may improve postseason opportunities for the league, specifically the one bowl guaranteed to the highest-ranked team in the “Group of Five” (the MAC, American, C-USA, Mountain West and Sun Belt).
Talk of autonomy among the five major conferences is sure to be a concern for the MAC and leagues of its ilk, but at least not outwardly for now.
“We are joined at the hip for the next decade,” Shaus said of the Group of Five and the power conferences.
The key for the MAC is to maintain its midweek presence.
The MAC’s contract with ESPN runs through 2016-17, but the two parties were expected to reopen talks a year ago. The $1 million deal is on the low end of broadcast contracts.
Even as more and more major programs and even the NFL have embraced the Thursday night primetime spot, the MAC is not concerned it will lose its foothold on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
"Despite the fact that the MAC is considered quote-unquote regional, it is a national conference.”
-Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien
“We’ve become their midweek franchise in November,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “We’ve embraced it, they’ve embraced it and I anticipate that continuing.”
Simply put, the tradeoff in terms of juggling player class schedules and the attendance hit of playing on a weeknight is not one leagues may be willing to embrace on a regular basis.
Central Michigan, for example, didn’t play a game between Oct. 19 and Nov. 6 to accommodate a Wednesday night game against Ball State. Ohio and Buffalo both played on three consecutive Tuesday nights in November.
“I absolutely would make that trade,” Tom Amstutz, Toledo’s coach from 2001-08, told Athlon. “Yes, you have to make adjustments and yes, you have to do things academically, but it was worth it. ... Whenever we were asked if we wanted to have a Tuesday night game, I always quickly said yes because I always though it would benefit our league, benefit our program and I knew our players wanted that opportunity.”
Between the familiarity of the lineup and the reliability of four or five MAC teams to be compelling in a single season, viewers on Tuesday or Wednesday nights know what to expect from a featured MAC matchup.
“The stability has allowed people to follow the MAC and know what they’re following,” said Ohio coach Frank Solich, the longest-tenured coach in the league.
As the college football landscape changes on a yearly basis, the MAC has found a way to turn stability into an asset.
Standing still in conference realignment, while the American, C-USA and Sun Belt have struggled to plant their flags, has been a gain for the MAC.
“The best thing for that league,” Novak said. “is to stay status quo.”
Texas A&M’s move to the SEC has yielded an upset of the No. 1 team in the country, a Heisman winner and a new identity for the Aggies.
In many ways, the Aggies exceeded expectations by becoming one of the nation’s “it” programs since moving into the SEC. A program that struggled to win at a high level in the Big 12 has reinvented itself as a member of the SEC.
But are we ready to declare A&M the big winner in the realignment rumble in the Lone Star State. Has Texas A&M left Texas behind as at least one columnist would suggest?
The final verdict may not arrive for some time, but it’s not to early to take stock of where Texas and Texas A&M stand since the dominoes fell in realignment.
In our scorecard, we looked at key games in football, men’s basketball and baseball as well as the most important off-field developments for the rival programs. Of course, a loss for Texas is a gain for Texas A&M and vice versa by our count.
Here’s how we see the scorecard shaking out so far.
Texas vs. Texas A&M: Realignment Scorecard
|Aug. 26, 2011|
The Longhorn Network is launched.
|Sept. 6, 2011|
SEC presidents and chancellors vote to invite Texas A&M to the SEC. The Aggies and Missouri officially join the SEC on July 1, 2012.
|Nov. 24, 2011||Texas defeats Texas A&M 27-25 in final meeting as Big 12 opponents. This is the final scheduled meeting in the series.|
|Feb. 1, 2012||Texas signs the No. 2 class in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. Texas A&M finishes 16th.|
|April 26-28, 2012||Texas A&M has four players selected in the NFL Draft, including No. 8 overall selection Ryan Tannehill. Texas has three players drafted, none in the first three rounds.|
|Nov. 10, 2012|
Texas A&M defeats No. 1 Alabama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa. Johnny Manziel passes for 253 yards and rushes for 92 to end the Crimson Tide’s 13-game winning streak.
|Dec. 1, 2012|
Kansas State defeats Texas 42-24 in the final game of the 2012 regular season. Texas finishes the regular season 8-4 and 5-4 in the Big 12. After winning more than 10 games in nine consecutive seasons, Texas will fail to win 10 games for the third consecutive season.
|Dec. 8, 2012||Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel becomes the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel owned a 323-point edge over Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in the voting.|
|Dec. 29, 2012||Texas uses two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 31-27 comeback win over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.|
|Jan. 4, 2013|
Texas A&M defeats Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl. Manziel passes for 287 yards, rushes for 229 and accounts for four total touchdowns.
|Feb. 6, 2013|
Texas A&M finishes ninth nationally in the 247Sports.com Composite Rankings on National Signing Day. Texas finishes 17th.
|March 13-20, 2013||Texas A&M basketball loses to Missouri 62-50 to finish the season 18-15 overall and 7-11 in the SEC. Texas loses to Houston 73-72 in the College Basketball Invitational to finish the season 16-18.||Draw|
|April 25-27, 2013||Texas A&M has five players selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, including No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel. Texas has three players selected, led by No. 15 overall pick Kenny Vaccaro.|
|May 1, 2013||Texas A&M announces $450 million renovation for Kyle Field, said to be the largest redevelopment plan in college athletics history. It is scheduled to be complete in 2015.|
|May 2, 2013||The SEC and ESPN announce launch of SEC Network for 2014.|
|Aug. 22, 2013||Two years after its launch, the Longhorn Network is still unavailable through major cable carriers.|
|Sept. 4, 2013||Texas loses to BYU and Ole Miss in back-to-back games, allowing 822 rushing yards in two games. The 1-2 Longhorns fire defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replace him with Greg Robinson.|
|Oct. 12, 2013||Texas upsets No. 12 Oklahoma 36-20. The Longhorns were a two-touchdown underdog. A defensive turnaround under Robinson puts Texas back into Big 12 contention until the last week of the season.|
|Nov. 30, 2013||Texas A&M completes 8-4 season and 4-4 season in the SEC with a 28-21 loss to Missouri. The Aggies finish the season ranked last in the SEC in total defense.|
|Dec. 7, 2013||Texas loses to Baylor 30-10 to be eliminated from Big 12 contention.|
|Dec. 12, 2013||Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, considered a potential candidate for NFL teams, agrees to six-year contract extension to stay in College Station.|
|Dec. 15, 2013|
Texas coach Mack Brown retires, but not after the possibility is raised he will stay an extra year.
|Dec. 30, 2013||Texas loses to Oregon 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl.|
|Dec. 31, 2013||Texas A&M defeats Duke 52-48 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, scoring 35 points in the second half for the comeback.|
|Jan. 6, 2014||Texas hires Louisville coach Charlie Strong to replace Mack Brown.|
|Jan. 8, 2014||Influential Texas booster Red McCombs is lukewarm on the Strong hire, saying the new Longhorns coach “would make a great position coach, maybe a coordinator.”|
|Feb. 4, 2014||Texas A&M’s signing class finishes fifth nationally and third in the SEC in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. Texas finishes 17th nationally and second in the Big 12.|
|Feb. 5, 2014||Strong says Texas won’t be a “gadget program” in response to Texas A&M’s “swagcopter” in recruiting and Sumlin’s status as “Coach Cool.”|
|March 3, 2014||The Longhorn Network gains distribution on Dish Network.|
|March 22-24, 2014||Texas basketball loses to Michigan 79-65 in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 after surprising for an 11-7 in the Big 12. Texas A&M loses to Illinois State 62-55 in the College Basketball Invitational semifinal, completing an 18-16 season and 8-10 record in the SEC.|
|May 8-10 2014|
Texas goes without an NFL Draft pick for the first time since 1937. Texas A&M has three offensive players — tackle Jake Matthews, wide receiver Mike Evans and Manziel — selected in the first round.
|May 28, 2014||Texas A&M receives a commitment from Allen (Texas) quarterback Kyler Murray, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports Composite rankings in the class of 2015.|
|May 30-June 7, 2014||Texas goes 2-1 against Texas A&M in the Rice regional to eliminate the Aggies from the baseball postseason. A week later, Texas defeats Houston 4-0 to clinch a berth in the College World Series. The Longhorns go 3-2 before elimination against eventual national champion Vanderbilt.|
|June 26, 2014||The SEC Network remains unavailable on major carriers.|
|And the winner (for now) is ... Texas A&M 20-13-1 by our count. The Longhorns still have bragging rights by picking up the last win in the series. Texas also made progress on the Longhorn Network and has a significant edge in men’s basketball and baseball. The Aggies, though, win on big events — a Heisman winner, an Alabama upset, three draft day and two signing day “wins” over Texas and the Kyle Field expansion give the Aggies a significant leg up.|
The prevailing nation, especially in certain segments of the country, is that the College Football Playoff will give the SEC yet another chance to flex its muscles.
The SEC may be the best-positioned league to send two (or more) teams to the Playoff, and the grind of the regular season will have that team best prepared to advance. Both may be true. Indeed, the SEC is not short on teams that could finish in the top four if things break right.
But the SEC also might not be alone. The Pac-12 has gained ground in recent seasons on the SEC with Oregon and Stanford holding their own on the national stage. With USC, UCLA and Washington ascending, could this be the season the Pac-12 takes over as the nation’s top conference?
We say not so fast. The SEC remains the to league in the land, but the Pac-12 will have the edge in quarterback play. That’s no small bit of information, but we’ll stick with the SEC for now.
The SEC’s run of seven consecutive national championships ended, but the league is well positioned for success in the College Football Playoff era. We’ve picked Florida State at No. 1 overall, and have only one SEC team projected for the semifinals (No. 2 Alabama), but Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina also are in our top 10. If the league doesn’t send two teams to the Playoff, expect the New Year’s Day bowls to be filled with SEC representatives. The quarterback play in the league will drop off with Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray gone, but the SEC is still loaded with elite talent on defense and innovative offensive coaching minds. If LSU and Florida can field credible offenses and Ole Miss continues its ascent, the SEC will have a deep bench of teams with top-10 potential.
Oregon and Stanford have captured the last five league titles and will continue to be in contention for Playoff spots, but other Pac-12 teams are on the doorstep of national relevance. UCLA won 10 games and finished a season ranked for the first time since 2005, and Washington has the foundation to start challenging for the crown in the North. USC and Washington hired new coaches, both of whom could be upgrades. This could be the nation’s top quarterback conference with Brett Hundley at UCLA, Marcus Mariota at Oregon, Taylor Kelly at Arizona State, Sean Mannion at Oregon State and Connor Halliday at Washington State.
3. Big Ten
Favorite: Ohio State
The Big Ten adds Maryland and Rutgers this season and ditches the Legends and Leaders divisions for the more conventional East/West designations. The power of the league appears to be in the East, where the conference’s defending division champions (Michigan State and Ohio State) and the league’s top quarterbacks (Braxton Miller and Christian Hackenberg) play. If Michigan can improve its consistency on offense, the East will be even more of a gauntlet. Wisconsin is the favorite in the West despite having only eight returning starters. Like Michigan, Nebraska is still fighting to regain its stature as a national power.
4. Big 12
The league enjoyed tremendous balance a year ago with three teams in conference title contention going into the final week of the season. After Oklahoma and Baylor, no other Big 12 team has the look of a top-10 squad in the preseason. Kansas State continues to overachieve, and now Bill Snyder knows who his quarterback will be to start the season. Oklahoma State has weathered personnel losses before, but Mike Gundy will be put to the test with a rebuilding defense. Texas, though, is the mystery team in the league in the first season under Charlie Strong.
Favorite: Florida State
With Jameis Winston and 12 other starters returning, Florida State has a chance to repeat as national champion. One thing is certain in the ACC: No team in a major conference is a more prohibitive favorite in its league than FSU. In the Atlantic, Clemson is rebuilding without Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, and newcomer Louisville enters the league with a new coach, Bobby Petrino, and new quarterback, Will Gardner. The Coastal is a mystery. Four teams — Duke, Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech — finished within a game of first place last season, and the same thing could happen again this year.
UCF’s Blake Bortles is gone to the NFL, and Louisville is gone to the ACC. To replace Louisville, the American adds East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa this season. The lineup changes in the Big East/American have all but ended its status as a major conference. Instead of fighting for an automatic BCS bid, teams like Cincinnati, East Carolina and UCF will compete with the champions from Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt for a single spot in the premier New Year’s bowl games. In a scheduling quirk, two of the top three teams in the league, Cincinnati and UCF, won’t face each other.
7. Mountain West
Favorite: Boise State
The Mountain West will be in a state of transition at the top. Bryan Harsin, a former Boise State assistant, will attempt to keep the Broncos rolling in the post-Chris Petersen era. Fresno State also moves on without quarterback Derek Carr. Several programs are on the rise, including Colorado State, Nevada and Wyoming, but the team to watch may be Utah State following the return of a healthy Chuckie Keeton at quarterback.
Favorite: Bowling Green
Bowling Green was the only MAC team in the top 30 nationally in total offense and total defense and will be the league favorite under first-year coach Dino Babers. Toledo, Northern Illinois and Ball State are in our top 80, but Ohio and Akron, led by veteran coaches Frank Solich and Terry Bowden, respectively, can’t be counted out.
9. Conference USA
Realignment has decimated Conference USA, but this year the league might get the last laugh if Marshall can snag a New Year’s Day bowl. The Thundering Herd run one of the fastest offenses in the country, return a fourth-year starter at quarterback in Rakeem Cato and face a paper-thin schedule. Marshall is ranked 40th in our countdown. No other C-USA program is in the top 80.
10. Sun Belt
Favorite: UL Lafayette
The Sun Belt welcomes back two teams from the defunct WAC (Idaho and New Mexico State) and invites two FCS powers (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern). As such, the Sun Belt has five of the last seven teams in our rankings. With upstart coach Mark Hudspeth and returning quarterback Terrance Broadway, UL Lafayette will be one of the few teams worth watching from a distance.
College basketball coaches have known for several months the rosters spots they’d have to refill. For many, NBA draft day only reinforced that some of the replacement players are true replacements in name only.
Creighton likely won’t have a player like Doug McDermott again. Michigan State and UCLA lost players with unique skill sets in Adreian Payne and Kyle Anderson.
The usual teams, though, will be in their usual position of reloading after the draft. Kansas and Duke lost players in the top three and will plug in more McDonald’s All-Americans.
Here’s how each team that lost a first-round draft pick Thursday plans to replace him.
1. SG Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers
3. C Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Leave it to Bill Self to reload after losing two of the top three picks in the NBA Draft. Wayne Selden, a five-star recruit in the Wiggins/Embiid class, was inconsistent for most of the season but flashed his potential with 20-point games against Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas. Selden could fill the scoring punch, but decorated freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre could take spots in the starting lineup.
2. SF Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
23. SG Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
Parker and Hood gave Duke a unique look with their versatility and provided more than 45 percent of the Blue Devils’ total scoring last season. With a true center (freshman Jahlil Okafor) and a new point guard (freshman Tyus Jones) will have a more standard lineup. Two veterans will be worth watching as much as the highly touted incoming freshmen. Rising senior Quinn Cook took his lumps at point guard last season, and junior wing Rasheed Sulaimon spent much of the season in the dog house.
4. PF Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Arizona will miss Gordon’s defensive ability, but the Wildcats have no shortage of experience to fill his minutes. Brandon Ashley is progressing from the broken foot that cost him the end of last season, but his return will be key. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson enjoyed a solid freshman year, capped with 14 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
6. PG Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Point guard depth was a problem last season after the dismissal of Stevie Clark, hastening Travis Ford’s need to add point guards in this year’s recruiting class. Ford added two. Jeff Newberry redshirted one season as a freshman at Ole Miss before going to junior college. The Cowboys also grabbed Tyree Griffin, a 5-10 point who was previously committed to UTEP.
7. PF Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
17. SF James Young, Boston Celtics
In a rare season for Kentucky, the Wildcats may have veterans to step up to replace their two leading scorers. That said, another McDonald’s All-American-laden freshman class will give John Calipari options off the bench. Kentucky’s frontcourt is going to be loaded even without Randle. Freshman Trey Lyles (6-10, 245) is another power forward to go with Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee while Karl-Anthony Towns will give Calipari another center to go with Dakari Johnson. Alex Poythress will give Kentucky a veteran at forward, but the Wildcats will have a number of intriguing combinations with point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting guard Devin Booker in the backcourt.
8. SG Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings
21. PF Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City
Zak Irvin averaged 15.3 minutes per game last season but managed to make 64 of 151 3-point shots (42.4 percent). A five-star recruit in Michigan’s 2013 class, Irvin is a good bet to emerge as a full-time contributor in 2014-15. Michigan hoped to have McGary back for his junior year before an impending NCAA-mandated suspension forced him to declare for the draft. Forward Mark Donnal redshirted last season due to UM's depth in the frontcourt, but that has quickly dried up. True freshmen may have to step into both frontcourt spots, including versatile small forward Kameron Chatman and 6-9 forward D.J. Wilson.
9. PF Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets
Indiana will miss Vonleh’s impact on the glass. He averaged nine rebounds per game while no one else averaged more than 4.4. Junior Hanner Mosquera-Perea has averaged fewer than seven minutes per game in his career. The 6-9, 225-pound junior could be a solid rebounder, but he needs to take a major leap to show why he was a top-50 prospect.
10. PG Elfrid Payton, Philadelphia 76ers (traded to the Orlando Magic)
Draft picks don’t often find their way to UL Lafayette — the last was in 2005 with second-rounder Orien Greene, who started his career at Florida. Hayward Register is a local product who is touted as a “pure scorer.”
11. SF Doug McDermott, Denver Nuggets (traded to Chicago Bulls)
First off, Creighton won’t be able to replace McDermott, the National Player of the Year and a three-time All-American. Second, the Bluejays also lose Ethan Wragge, Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat. Rebuilding is a nice way to put it. Zach Hanson, a 6-9, 245-pound forward from South Dakota, averaged only 5.1 minutes per game as a freshman last season. Greg McDermott will look to him to break out now that playing time is available. Hanson had a number of high-major scholarship offers out of high school, including Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa State and Gonzaga.
13. PG Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
22. SG Jordan Adams, Memphis Grizzlies
30. PF Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs
UCLA has gone from having one of the most unique point guards in the 6-9 Anderson to having no true point guard. LaVine’s surprising exit didn’t help (though LaVine was the only lottery pick of the bunch). Sophomore Bryce Alford and redshirt freshman Isaac Hamilton, who backed out of his letter of intent to UTEP, will split the role. The two combo guards could also take the spot of Adams, who was a late addition to the early entry pool. Five-star freshman forward Kevon Looney (6-9, 220) will replace Anderson’s size.
14. SF T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns
Warren is going to be near-impossible to replace after the high-volume scorer carried NC State into the NCAA Tournament late last season. Twin wings Caleb and Cody Martin are top-40 recruits who will play alongside freshman Cat Barber, a breakout candidate for 2014-15.
15. PF Adreian Payne, Atlanta Hawks
19. SG Gary Harris, Chicago Bulls (traded to Denver Nuggets)
Michigan State will have a pair of veteran guards will step in for Gary Harris in Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Both were named team captains. Together, they averaged 14.7 points per game and made 96 3-pointers. Payne’s skill set won’t be easily replicated. Center Gavin Schilling had offseason sports hernia surgery and Matt Costello was sideline with mono for part of last season.
18. PG Tyler Ennis, Phoenix Suns
Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins has compared incoming freshman Kaleb Joseph to Jonny Flynn as a “a new school point guard” and to Michael Carter-Williams as a player whose competitiveness sometimes gets the better of him. Sophomore Tyler Roberson might not be replacing the play of Jerami Grant, a potential first-rounder taken in the second, as much as he’s trying to step into the shoes of leading scorer C.J. Fair. Roberson played a total of 162 minutes last season, but he was a top-40 recruit out of high school.
24. PG Shabazz Napier, Charlotte Hornets (traded to Miami Heat)
Napier’s backcourt mate Ryan Boatright likely steps in as the Huskies’ offensive focal point. The handoff from the Kemba Walker era wasn’t that smooth after the last UConn national title, so this will be worth watching. Boatright will be joined in the backcourt by NC State transfer Rodney Purvis, a McDonald’s All-American who averaged 8.3 points per game as a freshman.
26. SG P.J. Hairston, Miami Heat (traded to Charlotte Hornets)
North Carolina doesn’t really have to replace Hairston, who was suspended and eventually dismissed last season. In his absence, Marcus Paige became one of the nation’s top point guards and North Carolina’s leader. Paige will need Nate Britt or incoming freshman Joel Berry to find a way to help at the two guard spot.
28. SG C.J. Wilcox, Los Angeles Clippers
Sophomore guard Darin Johnson steps into a more prominent role at shooting guard after averaging 5.9 points and 16.1 minutes per game. Johnson started the season strong, but his opportunities were limited in conference play. He scored more than 10 points just once after Jan. 2.
29. SF Josh Huestis, Oklahoma City Thunder
Reid Travis is not the same kind of player as Huestis, a standout defender who can hit the 3. Travis, a four-star power forward, will play closer to the rim and hit a jump shot. He’ll be an impact freshman on a team with three returning seniors.
Note to the uninitiated: Charles Woodson is not a good name to drop around Knoxville.
In 1997, the Michigan defensive back beat out Peyton Manning for the Heisman Trophy, one of the greatest Heisman heists if you ask anyone in SEC country.
Tennessee had Heisman runners up before (four of them total) and had been closer in the voting (Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung beat out Johnny Majors by 72 points in 1956). But Peyton is Peyton, and Tennessee fans will have trouble forgetting Wooden’s Heisman win.
The Volunteers haven’t produced a Heisman contender since Manning's bid in 1997. Since Yale’s Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy in 1935, no team has won more games without winning the Heisman than Tennessee.
Unless Butch Jones pulls a miracle in Year Two, the wait for a Heisman in Knoxville will stretch on. A handful of other schools, though, could have a chance to end their Heisman futility in the short term.
Post-Berwanger wins: 383 (ranks 23rd among teams without a Heisman)
Closest calls: LaMichael James (third in 2010, 10th in 2011), Dennis Dixon (seventh in 2007), Joey Harrington (fourth in 2001)
Hope for 2014: Marcus Mariota
The Ducks have come a long way from the team that put a billboard in New York advertising Joey Harrington for the Heisman. Their contenders stand on their own merits as Oregon has become a national title contender in the last decade. Both Mariota in 2013 and Dixon in 2007 suffered injuries that derailed their Heisman hopes. Otherwise, the palatial football facility in Eugene might have a Heisman in the trophy case. Mariota has all the name recognition and team around him to make another bid for the award in 2014.
2. Arizona State
Post-Berwanger wins: 516 (fourth)
Closest calls: Jake Plummer (third in 1996)
Hope for 2014: Taylor Kelly
Taylor Kelly may be one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, in part because of the shadow of Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley in his own league. That said, Kelly was the Pac-12’s second-team all-conference quarterback last season, ahead of Hundley. Kelly will have a chance to finish third on Arizona State’s all-time passing list, passing Plummer, but Kelly may have to defeat UCLA and Hundley head-to-head for the Pac-12 South to be a realistic Heisman contender.
Post-Berwanger wins: 458 (18th)
Closest calls: Chase Daniel (fourth in 2007), Paul Christman (third in 1939)
Hope for 2014: Maty Mauk
Missouri has some of the best conditions to win a Heisman in the current landscape: The Tigers run a spread offense, consistently produce above-average quarterback play and — as they proved last year — can contend in the SEC. Though he hasn’t started a full season, Mauk may provide the highlight reel to be a potential contender in 2014 and beyond.
4. Michigan State
Post-Berwanger wins: 479 (14th)
Closest calls: Lorenzo White (fourth in 1985 and 1987), Sherman Lewis (third in 1963)
Hope for 2014: Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford, Shilique Calhoun
A quarterback in Michigan State's system is not anyone’s idea of a Heisman contender — not even Kirk Cousins — so this may rest on the shoulders of Jeremy Langford for now. Only two running backs since 1999 have won the Heisman (Alabama’s Mark Ingram and USC's Reggie Bush), so even a workhorse like Langford might be a tough sell for voters enamored with productive quarterbacks.
5. Ole Miss
Post-Berwanger wins: 496 (ninth)
Closest calls: Eli Manning (third in 2003), Archie Manning (third in 1970, fourth in 1969), Jake Gibbs (third in 1960)
Hope for 2014: Bo Wallace
Like Missouri, Ole Miss has the spread offense and plenty of opportunities for Heisman moments against SEC opponents in their prime. Wallace has thrown 27 interceptions in two seasons, so that will need to change if he’s a realistic name to watch in 2014. If Hugh Freeze continues to recruit at his current level, Ole Miss will have another contender sooner or later.
6. Texas Tech
Post-Berwanger wins: 484 (13th)
Closest calls: Graham Harrell (fourth in 2008), Michael Crabtree (fifth in 2008)
Hope for 2014: Davis Webb
The “system quarterback” label doesn’t haunt Texas Tech quarterbacks quite like it used to. Meanwhile, the numbers at Texas Tech won’t be all that different than what Mike Leach produced. In Kliff Kingsbury’s first season at Texas Tech, Red Raiders quarterbacks topped 5,100 yards and 35 touchdowns. Davis Webb accounted for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns in that total, and he won’t share the job in 2014.
7. Kansas State
Post-Berwanger wins: 332 (57th)
Closest calls: Collin Klein (third in 2012), Darren Sproles (fifth in 2003), Michael Bishop (second in 1998)
Hope for 2014: Tyler Lockett, Jake Waters
Bishop may have been the best hope for Kansas State to win the Heisman when he led the Wildcats to an 11-0 start and No. 2 ranking heading into the Big 12 title game. The problem, though, was that Ricky Williams was on his way to a 2,000-yard season and the career rushing record at Texas that season. The Longhorns running back won in a rout. In 2014, Waters finished the season on a high note with 10 touchdown passes in the final four games. The best contender for postseason awards in Manhattan is Lockett, one of the Big 12’s top receivers and returnmen.
|Most Wins Without a Heisman Trophy Winner*|
|1. Tennessee (598)||6. Georgia Tech (514)||11. Washington (485)|
|2. Clemson (525)||7. West Virginia (500)||12. Virginia Tech (485)|
|3. Arkansas (517)||8. Southern Miss (498)||13. Texas Tech (484)|
|4. Arizona State (516)||9. Ole Miss (496)||14. Michigan State (479)|
|5. Fresno State (515)||10. Miami (Ohio) (490)||15. Utah (472)|
8. Mississippi State
Post-Berwanger wins: 387 (41st)
Closest call: None
Hope in 2014: Dak Prescott
Mississippi State has produced one legitimate Heisman contender in its history — and he garnered a 10th place finish 70 years ago. Dan Mullen has coached a Heisman winner (Tim Tebow) and a No. 1 overall draft pick (Alex Smith), and now he might have his top quarterback since he arrived in Starkville. Prescott passed for 1,943 yards and rushed for 829 last last season and could be one of the SEC’s breakout players.
Post-Berwanger wins: 485 (11th)
Closest call: Steve Emtman (fourth in 1991)
Hope in 2014: Cyler Miles, Shaq Thompson
Washington may end up as one of the better teams on this list, but the Huskies don’t have many established superstars, especially on offense. Miles may flourish in Chris Petersen’s system, but he’s never played a down and missed spring practice with a three-month suspension. Thompson may be an intriguing contender if he indeed plays on both sides of the ball this season.
Post-Berwanger wins: 443 (22nd)
Closest call: Jack Scarbath (second in 1952)
Hope for 2014: Stefon Diggs, C.J. Brown
A Terrapin winning the Heisman is a long shot for the time being, but Maryland is much closer to producing any kind of award-winner than it was two years ago. Diggs, a draft-eligible junior, is the best hope in the short term, even as a receiver. He’s a multi-threat athlete with 1,435 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns (nine receiver, two returns) in 18 career games.
11. Washington State
Post-Berwanger wins: 350 (54th)
Closest call: Ryan Leaf (third in 1997)
Hope in 2014: Connor Halliday
Washington State had a run of productive quarterbacks in 90s and early 2000s, with Leaf, Drew Bledsoe and Jason Gesser all finishing in the top 10 of the Heisman voting. Halliday may put up bigger numbers in Mike Leach’s offense, but he won’t be the top quarterback in his own division in the Pac-12.
Post-Berwanger wins: 280 (71st)
Closest calls: Byron Leftwich (sixth in 2002), Chad Pennington (fifth in 1999), Randy Moss (fourth in 1997)
Hope in 2014: Rakeem Cato
Marshall may never again produce three Heisman contenders in a five-year period as the Thundering Herd did under Bob Pruett. Cato, though, could be worth watching. If he puts up video game numbers and Marshall goes undefeated — possible against this Conference USA schedule — Cato could be a Heisman finalist.
13. Utah State
Post-Berwanger wins: 381 (43rd)
Closest call: None
Hope for 2014: Chuckie Keeton
Keeton’s return from ACL surgery will be one of the season’s major storylines. When healthy, Keeton is one of the most electrifying players in the nation. In 29 career games, he’s accounted for 70 total touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’ll be appointment viewing, but Utah State may have to challenge for that automatic “Group of Five” spot in the College Football Playoff contract bowls for Keeton to have a chance at the award.
Post-Berwanger wins: 517 (third)
Closest calls: Darren McFadden (runner up in 2006 and 2007)
Hope for 2014: Alex Collins
No one would suggest Arkansas can do what Auburn did last year by improving from winless in the SEC to winning the league, but the Razorbacks can be respectable in Bret Bielema’s second season. Collins is in good company, joining McFadden as the only freshman running backs to top 1,000 yards for the Hogs. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to build on those numbers in Bielema’s offense.
Post-Berwanger wins: 314 (63rd)
Closest call: Darnell Autry (seventh in 1996)
Hope for 2014: Venric Mark
Mark had most of his season wiped out by injury last season, playing a major role in Northwestern’s 5-7 collapse. In his last healthy season, Mark accounted for 13 touchdowns on offense and two on punt returns.
Five Teams That Temporarily Missed the Heisman Window
Clemson. As long as Chad Morris is the offensive coordinator, Clemson will have productive players on offense. This may be a transition season, however, with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins gone and Deshaun Watson a year away.
Louisville. Teddy Bridgewater leaves a void, but Bobby Petrino teams generally have standout quarterback play. With a move to the ACC, the level of competition won’t be the barrier it was in the Big East and Conference USA.
Arizona. Ka’Deem Carey finished first or second in the country in rushing in the last two seasons yet never finished higher than 10th in the Heisman voting. He’s gone from Arizona, and the Wildcats are rebuilding on offense.
West Virginia. Geno Smith had the Heisman locked up midway through the 2012 season. Unfortunately, he had to finish the rest of the season with a dreadful defense. Unless another Pat White or Steve Slaton is around campus, West Virginia may have to wait a while for another viable candidate.
Boise State. Kellen Moore finished no higher than fourth. Boise State will have trouble replicating those conditions again for another Heisman contender.
The foot injury to Joel Embiid has shuffled the deck atop the NBA Draft, setting up the potential for a new No. 1 overall pick. Will it be Duke’s Jabari Parker or Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins?
Lucky for us, we don’t have to weigh those options. Here, we’re just interested in the numbers. Whether the pick is Parker or Wiggins, both Duke or Kansas will have reason to brag.
Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self, though, won’t be the only ones ready to brag about the NBA Draft on the recruiting trail. Kentucky, as usual, is at the top of the list, and should continue its draft day dominance even with the Harrisons and others returning to school.
Here’s a look all the numbers and trends surrounding how colleges have performed in the last 10 NBA Drafts.
|Most NBA Draft Picks Since 2004|
|School||Picks (First round)||School||Picks (First round)|
|1. Kentucky||19 (13)||9. Arizona||11 (6)|
|2. North Carolina||17 (14)||T10. Memphis||10 (5)|
|3. Kansas||16 (10)||T10. Syracuse||10 (7)|
|T4. Connecticut||14 (11)||T12. Florida State||9 (3)|
|T4. Duke||14 (9)||T12. Ohio State||9 (7)|
|T6. Florida||13 (6)||T12. Washington||9 (6)|
|T6. UCLA||13 (7)||15. Georgia Tech||7 (5)|
|8. Texas||12 (8)|
History with the No. 1 Pick
• If Jabari Parker is the No. 1 overall draft pick, Duke will be the first school to produce four No. 1 overall picks. The Blue Devils are already the only team with three No. 1 picks — Art Heyman (1963), Elton Brand (1999) and Kyrie Irving (2011).
• If Andrew Wiggins is the No. 1 overall pick, Kansas will have its second No. 1 overall pick, joining Danny Manning in 1988.
“The University of Calipari”
• Kentucky’s spot atop the leader board is not a surprise, but the Wildcats’ 19 draft picks since 2004 is more impressive considering almost all of it has come in the last four drafts. John Calipari has produced 16 draft picks since 2010. The only program to produce more over the last decade is North Carolina (17).
• Throw in Calipari’s tenure at Memphis, and the Wildcats coach has accounted for 24 draft picks in the last 10 seasons, including 16 first-round picks, nine lottery picks and three No. 1 overall picks.
• The “University of Calipari” has produced seven more draft picks in the last 10 years than the next highest team. Calipari teams have produced seven more draft picks in the last 10 years than the current Mountain West lineup.
• For all the draft numbers surrounding Kentucky, maybe it’s surprising the Wildcats are fourth in lottery picks in the last 10 drafts behind North Carolina (10), Connecticut (nine) and Kansas (eight).
• Ohio State has the nation’s longest active streak in the draft, producing a pick in seven consecutive seasons. However, Ohio State’s draft streak likely ends this season. If that’s the case, Kentucky will have the longest draft streak, with a pick every year since 2008. Ohio State’s picks since 2007 are:
2013: Deshaun Thomas (58th overall pick)
2012: Jared Sullinger (21st)
2011: Jon Diebler (51st)
2010: Evan Turner (second)
2009: B.J. Mullens (24th)
2008: Kosta Koufos (23rd)
2007: Greg Oden (first), Mike Conley (fourth) and Daequon Cook (21st)
• Kansas has a streak of four consecutive drafts with a lottery pick, a streak that will continue with Wiggins and Embiid. The Jayhawks have had Ben McLemore (2013), Thomas Robinson (2012), Marcus and Markieff Morris (2011) and Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry (2010) all taken in the first 14 picks.
• How weird was the 1999 draft? The three longest draft droughts by major conference programs date back to 1999. That’s when Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and TCU all last had a player drafted. In all, seven teams in the six major conferences haven’t produced a draft pick in the last decade.
That said, that superlative isn’t fair to Creighton, which was A. in the Big East last season and B. Will have National Player of the Year Doug McDermott drafted. The longest draft droughts are as follows:
Nebraska: Venson Hamilton (1999, 50th overall)
Northwestern: Evan Eschmeyer (1999, 45th)
TCU: Lee Nailon (1999, 43rd)
Penn State: Calvin Booth (1999, 35th)
Auburn: Jamison Brewer (2001, 40th)
Seton Hall: Eddie Griffin (2001, seventh), Samuel Dalembert (2001, 26th)
Creighton: Kyle Korver (2003, 51st)
Overachievers and Underachievers
• This is astounding: Since Michigan State last produced a first-round draft pick, the Spartans have won three Big Ten regular season titles, won two Big Ten tournaments and reached two Final Fours. In the last decade, Michigan State has six draft picks in the last 10 years. In other words, Michigan State is basically Nevada when it comes to the NBA Draft.
• The same goes for Wisconsin. The Badgers have reached the NCAA Tournament every year since 1999, yet produced only three draft picks in the last 10 years.
• Louisville has had five draft picks in the last 10 years, same as Texas A&M, Providence and Iowa State.
• Florida is helping bring up the SEC’s second-round numbers (more on that later). The Gators have produced the most second-round picks in the last 10 drafts with seven.
• Florida State has nine total picks in the last 10 years, as many as Ohio State and Washington. The Seminoles produced one lottery pick (Al Thornton in 2007) but six second-rounders.
• Georgia Tech had seven picks since 2004. That’s more than Michigan State, Louisville and Pittsburgh. That’s also probably why Paul Hewitt coaches at George Mason now.
|Most Draft Picks since 2004*|
|Conference||Picks (First Round)||Conference||Picks (First Round)|
|1. ACC||89 (55)||7. American||33 (19)|
|2. SEC||71 (32)||8. Mountain West||17 (10)|
|3. Pac-12||63 (38)||9. West Coast||11 (5)|
|4. Big 12||53 (28)||T10. Atlantic 10||10 (6)|
|5. Big Ten||49 (25)||T10. Conference USA||10 (2)|
|6. Big East||39 (23)||12. Ohio Valley||5 (1)|
|*counting teams in their 2014-15 alignment|
• Will the new ACC be the best basketball conference? It’s tough to argue with 89 draft picks and 55 first-rounders among the teams in the 2014-15 lineup. No other league has more than 38 first-round picks.
In our tally, the ACC gained a net 16 draft picks in the last two years of expansion. Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse combined for 21 picks in the last 10 years while Big Ten-bound Maryland had five.
• The Big Ten has been arguably the strongest basketball league in recent seasons, but that hasn’t shown up on draft day. The full 14-team lineup including Maryland and Rutgers has produced fewer picks (49) than the 10-team Big 12 (53) and a startling 40 fewer than the ACC.
• A few reasons for the Big Ten’s limited draft numbers: Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers are essentially NBA Draft dead weight. Meanwhile, two of the league’s best programs in the last decade, Michigan State and Wisconsin, accounted for nine draft picks combined. In other words, the same amount Florida State produced. Ohio State is the only Big Ten program in the top 15 of schools producing draft picks in the last 10 seasons.
• The SEC’s spot at No. 2 among leagues with draft picks in the last 10 years is a bit deceiving. The SEC stocked up on second-round picks with 39. That’s five more than the ACC and 14 more than the Pac-12 or Big 12. The SEC is third among all leagues in first-round picks, trailing the ACC (55) and Pac-12 (32).
• For one of the nation’s top mid-major conferences, the Missouri Valley has not been a star on draft day. The league has produced one draft pick in the last 10 years, Bradley’s Patrick O’Bryant in the first round in 2006. That may change with Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early in this year’s draft, but the numbers remain startling considering that traditional one-bid leagues like the Ohio Valley, MAAC, Horizon and Big West have produced more.
• The first season for the reconfigured Big East was a sobering one, especially as the top coach for one of the league’s flagship programs — Buzz Williams at Marquette — left for an ACC bottom feeder. The current alignment also trails the major conferences in draft picks. The Big East’s 23 draft picks isn’t far off from the Big Ten’s 25, but the league has produced five lottery picks, six fewer than the current teams in the American.
• Speaking of the American, the league is being carried on draft day by two programs — Connecticut and Memphis have combined for 16 of the league’s 19 first-round draft picks in the last 10 years.
The final spot in the 2014-15 coaching carousel was filled Wednesday when Marist hired a new basketball coach.
With that bit of news in mind, let’s start taking a look at the next round of potential coaching changes. Yesterday, Athlon featured 13 coaches who are on the rise. These are the jobs they might fill.
Of course, every coach under pressure can buy time with a nice season.
Just think, at this point last season, every hot seat list started with Texas coach Rick Barnes. A year later, Barnes is still in Austin and his team is a top 10 contender.
But the coaches on this list have put themselves into a perform-or-pack-your-bags situation, starting perhaps as early as this season.
Oliver Purnell, DePaul
Purnell has had a unique career in college basketball, coaching at five spots without an NCAA Tournament win. Yet each of his first four jobs — Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson — were successful. The DePaul job may be the one program he can’t shepherd into the postseason. The Blue Demons are 9-57 in the Big East under his watch, a mark that didn’t improve even in the newer (and weaker) iteration of the league in 2013-14.
Anthony Grant, Alabama
The Crimson Tide have gone 46-38 in the SEC under Grant, but that’s an underwhelming winning record. Alabama has reached the NCAA Tournament only once in five seasons thanks to untimely non-conference losses and few big wins in the SEC. Grant has brought in some decorated recruits during his tenure, but they’ve been more likely to transfer (Devonta Pollard and Trevor Lacey) rather than become major contributors in Tuscaloosa. Grant had three consecutive 20-seasons before dropping to 13-19 last season.
Mark Turgeon, Maryland
If the Terrapins miss the 2015 NCAA Tournament, Maryland will match its longest NCAA drought — five seasons — in more than 40 years. Turgeon, so far, is on the hook for three of those. Turgeon’s 23-29 record in the ACC is of enough concern, but the Terps also have been beset by a handful of personnel losses. Two assistants, three of six signees from the last two years and four scholarship players in the last month have all departed. Moving into the Big Ten might not help.
Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M
The Aggies’ basketball tradition is limited with the exception of the two coaches who preceded Kennedy. Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon led Texas A&M to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Kennedy’s three teams have failed to win 20 games in a season while going 19-31 in conference play in the Big 12 and the SEC. After a signee told CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish that opponents used Kennedy’s early-onset Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis against him in recruiting, Kennedy said in September he remains symptom-free.
Lorenzo Romar, Washington
Romar is Washington’s most successful coach since Tippy Dye in the 1950s, but the Huskies haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament in three seasons. Granted, Washington won the Pac-12 regular season title in 2012, missing the NCAA Tourney anyway. The 18-18 mark in the league the last two seasons isn’t awful, but Washington may look like it’s standing still as Washington State and Oregon State both changed coaches before the season.
Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
The Cowboys’ version of the Big Three last season — Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash — yielded 21 wins, a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament and frustrations for most of the Big 12 season. Only Nash will return for 2014-15. Ford’s contract is an albatross, but eventually the middling results might force a change.
Dave Rice, UNLV
The Rice hire was a callback to the Jerry Tarkanian days, but the record (69.3 percent) is almost identical to that of the Lon Kruger era. The numbers aren’t bad as UNLV has reached the NCAA Tournament in two of three seasons under Rice. But the Rebels have recruited at too high a level to be a distant third in the Mountain West. UNLV hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2008.
Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech has had a winning record in ACC play once since 1995-96, so the bar isn’t exceptionally high. Gregory, 16-26 in the league, hasn’t had the talent predecessor Paul Hewitt did, but it’s time for the Yellow Jackets to start inching toward the .500 mark.
Mike Anderson, Arkansas
Maybe it’s too early to put Anderson on the hot seat — especially after Arkansas posted back-to-back winning records in the SEC for the first time since 1999. Anderson, though, has had teams capable of reaching the NCAA Tournament, but road woes (5-25 under Anderson) have sabotaged each of his three seasons. He’ll have enough returning to his roster to make another run this season.
Herb Sendek, Arizona State
The Sun Devils reached the NCAA Tournament last season, losing in the round of 64 to Texas. That should be a good omen for Sendek, but it’s also only his second NCAA appearance in eight seasons at Arizona State. With Jahii Carson gone, Arizona State could tumble down the Pac-12 standings. Arizona State allowed Sendek to rebuild for five seasons to get back after his first trip to the Tourney. Don’t bank on that kind of patience again.
Steve Lavin, St. John’s
Lavin was in the midst of a contract extension at St. John’s at the end of the season. Even so, the results have flattened since the Red Storm reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season. After returning from prostate cancer treatment in 2012 (he's now cancer-free), Lavin is 18-18 in the Big East in two seasons. The Red Storm have the roster to make a run at the Tourney in his fifth season. If not, Lavin may be in jeopardy.
Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Willard appeared to have Seton Hall on the right track after going 7-11 and 8-10 in the Big East in his first two seasons. The Pirates have since bottomed out to 9-27 in league play the last two years. Seton Hall hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2006.
Donnie Jones, UCF
Jones was hit with a show-cause and the program faced sanctions stemming from NCAA violations in 2012, but he remained at his post. Two seasons later, UCF is struggling to stay afloat in the American Athletic Conference, going 4-14 in its first season in the league.
This season’s coaching carousel was a strange one. Names like Bruce Pearl, Kelvin Sampson, Buzz Williams and Ernie Kent took jobs at Auburn, Houston, Virginia Tech and Washington State.
Jobs like that are usually reserved for coaches making their first moves into major conference. This year, though, they were for two coaches able to return to college coaching after NCAA issues, one looking for a change of scenery and the last one looking to get back into the game.
Still, coaches from the mid-major ranks moved up to major jobs, including Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss to Tennessee) and Danny Manning (Tulsa to Wake Forest).
Not all of our contenders for coaches on the rise are at mid-major programs and not all the names here are unknowns. Yet for all of the coaches on the list, the best may be yet to come.
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Granted, Utah is no mid-major like many of the other schools on this list, but Krystkowiak is about to become a well-known name. Utah is poised for a breakout season after the Utes have undergone a remarkable turnaround in the first three seasons under Krystkowiak. The Utes were ill-prepared to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 as a number of transfers left Krystkowiak short-handed for a 6-25 season in 2011-12. The Utes went 9-9 in the Pac-12 last season, though, to reach the NIT. With Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge returning, an NCAA bid is a legitimate possibility. If that occurs, Krystkowiak will have NCAA appearances at Montana and Utah plus two stints as an NBA assistant on his resume.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: NBA
Archie Miller, Dayton
A high-major program will come calling eventually. Miller has the bloodlines as Sean Miller’s brother and the son of one of Pennsylvania’s most successful basketball coaches. Archie also has worked for some big names in Thad Matta, Herb Sendek and, of course, Sean Miller. An Elite Eight run that included wins over Ohio State and Syracuse showed Archie’s potential. If he improves that 26-22 record in the Atlantic 10, he’ll be a can’t-miss coaching prospect.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: NC State
Michael White, Louisiana Tech
White had his chance at a major conference job before opting to stay at Louisiana Tech rather than taking the Tennessee job. Was that a wise decision for the 37-year-old. It might be. His stock is already high after leading Louisiana Tech to a 56-15 overall mark and two regular season conference titles in the last two seasons (in two conferences, no less). The son of the Duke athletic director, White has enough returning at Louisiana Tech to lead the Bulldogs to their first NCAA Tournament since 1991.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Ole Miss
Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Manning already earned his first big-time job after landing at Wake Forest, a Tournament regular from 1991-2005. In only his second seasons as a head coach, he improved Tulsa from 8-8 in Conference USA in his first season to 13-3 with an NCAA Tournament in his second. The former Kansas star player and assistant will be watched closely as he moves into a loaded ACC.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Kansas
Richard Pitino, Minnesota
The 32-year-old led Minnesota to an 8-10 record in the Big Ten, the same mark Tubby Smith had in his final season with the Gophers. Still, Minnesota has plenty of momentum going into Pitino’s second season. He also had an impressive first season as a head coach before landing at Minnesota, improving FIU from 5-11 in the Sun Belt to 11-9 in his only season there. In addition, working for Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan has been a fast track for assistants. The younger Pitino has done both.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Louisville
Andy Toole, Robert Morris
Toole was the youngest coach in the country when he was promoted from Mike Rice’s staff in 2010. Even now, he’s still a baby-faced 33-year-old. Toole has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament due to the Northeast Conference tournament, but the Colonials are 53-17 in the NEC with two league titles under his watch. Robert Morris also upset defeated Kentucky in the 2013 NIT. He’s never coached or played at a major program, but he’ll get looks soon enough.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Penn State
Steve Masiello, Manhattan
A 25-8 season and a hard-fought loss to Louisville and mentor Rick Pitino in the NCAA Tournament put Masiello on the fast track to a major-conference job. That is, until USF didn’t complete his hire when the Bulls learned the coach didn’t complete his degree at Kentucky. Masiello finished his coursework and headed back to Manhattan for a fourth season. After 2014 was certainly a good time to jump — the Jaspers lose the top three scorers from last season.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: St. John's
Pat Skerry, Towson
Every coach on this list has led a turnaround of some kind. None of them did what Skerry did in 2012-13. Towson went 1-31 in his first season and had its best in school history the next. The Tigers have gone 43-24 overall and 26-8 in the Colonial since that dismal first year (Towson also went 4-26 the year before Skerry arrived). Before Towson, Skerry climbed the assistant ranks at William & Mary, Charleston, Rhode Island, Providence and Pittsburgh.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Rhode Island
Monte Ross, Delaware
The Blue Hens won the Colonial regular season title and reached the NCAA Tournament since 1999 when Mike Brey led Delaware to back-to-back bids. The CAA has been decimated by conference realignment, but Ross deserves credit for a turn around from five wins in his first season in 2006-07 to 25 last year. Ross, a Philadelphia native, spent a decade as an assistant to Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph’s.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Saint Joseph’s
Tim Cluess, Iona
Cluess is 55 years old, not an age where coaches start taking their first major conference gig. It’s tough to argue with his record, though. In four seasons at Iona, Cluess has gone 92-55 overall and 55-18 in the MAAC with two NCAA Tournament appearances. His New York connections — he coached high school, junior college and Division II in the region — will be intriguing for someone.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Seton Hall
Greg Lansing, Indiana State
The former Steve Alford assistant has turned Indiana State into a reliable Missouri Valley program — though winning a league title will be tough as long as Gregg Marshall has Wichita State rolling. Indiana State won 22 games last season, the Sycamores’ best total since 2000-01. Another NCAA Tournament bid — Indiana State won the MVC tourney in 2011 — would help Lansing’s resume.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Iowa State
Mike Brennan, American
A John Thompson III assistant at Princeton and Georgetown, Brennan led American to a Patriot League tournament title and its first NCAA appearance in five seasons. After taking over for Jeff Jones, who took the Old Dominion job, Brennan took American from 10-20 to 20-13.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: George Washington
LeVelle Moton, North Carolina Central
Moton guided his alma mater to a seamless transition into Division I, including a 41-7 record in his first three seasons in the MEAC. Coaches from this conference don’t often move up, but Moton seems poised to follow the same track as Anthony Evans, who moved from Norfolk State to FIU before last season.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Charlotte
The Athlon Sports team returns to action with a look at all the quarterbacks around college football.
Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan make their picks for the top quarterbacks for each league, the top battles and the sleepers for major conferences.
They also take a quick look at the non-major conferences, and soccer player/Athlon intern Andie grills one of our hosts about his true feelings on the World Cup.
You can reach the podcast team at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @AthlonSports @BradenGall @DavidFox615 and @AthlonSteven.
San Diego Padres legend and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died after a battle with salivary gland cancer. The Padres announced his death Monday. He was 54.
Gwynn was one of the greatest hitters in the modern era and the last to seriously challenge a .400 batting average when he hit .394 in a strike-shortened season in 1994.
Known for his welcoming personality as much as his prowess at the plate, Gwynn accumulated 3,141 hits, won eight National League batting titles, earned 15 All-Star nods and won four Gold Gloves from 1982-2001.
He was arguably the best pure hitter since Ted Williams, the last batter to hit .400. Fans and sports reporters shared some of the more ridiculous and wild numbers to put Gwynn’s achievements in perspective.
Tony Gwynn dies at the age of 54. Gwynn only struck out 434 times in his career, 2nd-fewest of any member of the 3,000-hit club (Paul Waner)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn hit .300 in 18 consecutive seasons from 1983 to 2000. Only Ty Cobb (23 straight) had a longer such streak.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 16, 2014
In Tony Gwynn's career, he had 1 3-strikeout game. There were 11 yesterday in the majors. 1 of those was a 4 K game, which Gwynn never did.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 16, 2014
Box score of only game (out of 2,440) where Tony Gwynn struck out 3x - the pitcher who did it? Bob Welch. http://t.co/DAico1vmrG— Josh Kelman (@JoshKelman) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn struck out 434 times over 9,288 career at-bats. That is not a misprint.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn hit .338 for his career. Every other hitter who finished with a batting average that high started his career in 1939 or earlier.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 16, 2014
Highest career BA for players active after WW2: 1) Ted Williams .344 2) #TonyGwynn .338 3) Musial .331 4) Boggs .328 5) Rod Carew .328— Eric Berman (@WIBC_EricBerman) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn career against Maddux, Glavine, Ryan, Smoltz, Eckersley, Pedro Martinez: 140 hits, 382 ABs, .36649 BA.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn (.302) is only player in our data to hit over .300 in 2-strike counts. Next best: .262 by Boggs: http://t.co/wIkfQ0tCmN— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) June 16, 2014
Since 1980, 26 players have had at least 10,000 plate appearances. Only four struck out <10% of their at-bats. Gwynn leads them all at 4.2%.— Jeff (BPredict) (@BPredict) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn’s season-high in home runs was 17. He hit .372 that particular year. He was 37.— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn didn't play baseball as a freshman at SDSU. He wanted to focus on basketball: https://t.co/Cls84TLRly Still holds assists records— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) June 16, 2014
By the time any college football game kicks off, one team has already executed a game plan. Behind every major college football team is another team of support staff making sure the players and coaches can focus solely on the game at hand. Athlon Sports followed Louisville’s equipment and training staff for the Dec. 5 game at Cincinnati for a behind-the-scenes look at the logistics of moving a football team from Point A to Point B.
Slideshow: Behind-the-scenes images as Louisville prepares to face Cincinnati
If Mike Kurowski hasn’t received the call yet, he knows to expect it soon. The call will come from his counterpart in equipment operations at Texas, where Charlie Strong became the head coach after the 2013 season.
Kurowski knows to expect that call, because that’s what Kurowski did when Louisville hired Strong. Kurowski, who has worked at Louisville since 2009, called the equipment manager at Florida for insight on how Strong, the former Gators defensive coordinator, would want to run his program, down to gameday wardrobe and snacks.
The job of the director of athletic equipment operations in its simplest terms is to make sure that each player has his helmet, pads and uniform for practice and gameday and that each coach has a working headset and the proper sideline attire.
This feature and more can be found in every regional edition of the 2014 Athlon Sports College Football Preview.
Kurowski and his staff — along with the trainers and director of football operations — are charged with the task of making sure a traveling football team and its coaching staff arrive at the stadium without any concerns aside from winning a football game.
Through repetition and game-planning, the travel process is down to a science, but Kurowski knows enough to plan for surprises.
When Texas calls Kurowski for what to expect from Strong, Kurowski will tell the Longhorns what Florida told him: Make sure to have plenty of Atomic Fireballs. Even then, after Kurowski did his homework on his new boss and his affinity for cinnamon candy, Strong threw a curve.
“The very first time we were out at practice, I said ‘What are all these little white pellets?’ and I finally saw him do it,” Kurowski says. “He sucks the fire out of it and throws them down. He doesn’t chew or anything.”
The responsibility of Kurowski’s staff and every member of Louisville’s support staff is to remember that no detail is too small, from the sideline candy to the uniforms to the pregame meal.
One floor up from Kurowski’s equipment office in the Schnellenberger Football Complex, Clifford Snow, the director of football operations, works through his meticulous checklist.
The team needs Kurowski and the equipment staff to set up the locker rooms. It also needs Snow to make sure the players have a place to sleep, food to eat, a space for the pregame walk-through and a room large enough to accommodate team meetings.
Snow’s preparation for the Cincinnati trip and nearly all of Louisville’s road trips for the season started in the spring when the American Athletic Conference announced its schedule. A road game to Cincinnati is easy, comparatively speaking. It’s one Snow has organized before, and the best part for him is that the team will travel by bus.
If Charlie Strong seems like the most particular or detail-oriented person in this chain, he’s not. It’s Snow.
Snow is the one with a six-page checklist for a 100-mile bus trip to face an opponent Louisville has visited every other year for nearly 50 seasons. The checklist accounts for every phone call, e-mail and fax Snow will send during the two weeks leading up to the game to confirm hotel and meal arrangements, bus reservations and a police escort for a travel party of nearly 200 people.
“Winning the game is the object. My object is to make it so nothing is going to distract from the purpose of winning the game,” says Snow, who joined Strong in the same role at Texas. “Everything is supposed to be seamless.”
The process of moving Louisville to Cincinnati for a Thursday night game begins immediately after practice Tuesday.
The equipment staff, consisting of two full-timers and seven student managers, has cleaned and sorted jerseys and placed them in trunks with cubbies for each player. Anything outside of the standard items — uniforms, helmets and pads — is the responsibility of the player to pack in a duffle bag. This includes extra contact lenses, mouthpieces, Breathe Right strips and knee braces.
When one defensive back arrives in Cincinnati, he’ll find out he won’t have a hand warmer waiting for him in the equipment truck. He didn’t return his after the previous game.
“When he asks for it, we’ll remind him he has to bring one back,” Kurowski tells his staff.
The next gear to pack is the sideline attire for the coaching staff — T-shirts, polos, hoodies and, most important, Strong’s mock turtlenecks. Again, the coach’s wardrobe habits are one of Kurowski’s primary concerns. Strong started on polos in his first season and moved to the cotton mock turtleneck in the second. That stuck, so when Kurowski needed a Dri-FIT mock turtleneck, he custom-ordered one.
"If everything goes smoothly, nobody notices anything."
And then comes the sweatshirt, and it’s always one from Strong’s first season at the school. The lettering is outdated from the standard issue sweatshirts the rest of the coaching staff receives, but the head coach is the one who wears exactly what he wants.
“Coaches can be just as superstitious as the players,” Kurowski says.
That said, the players don’t have much room to be superstitious under Strong’s watch. Every week, one team or another in college football wears a specialty uniform, a throwback or some new combination of jerseys and pants.
In this regard, the traditional look of Texas is perfect for Strong. At Louisville, the Cardinals wore all red at home and all white on the road.
“Any time I have an idea, (Strong) says, ‘Alabama doesn’t change, Penn State doesn’t change,’” Kurowski says.
Elsewhere, the staff prepares trunks filled with 55 cases of Gatorade, gum, towels, wristbands, extra pants and facemasks and, certainly not to be forgotten, the locker-room stereo. The training staff has its duties, too, packing trunks full of athletic tape, splints, IV materials, a defibrillator and exercise bikes. All of which is packed snugly into the Louisville team trailer before the equipment staff leaves at 10:30 a.m. sharp on Wednesday for the Thursday night kickoff.
“It’s real-life Tetris,” freshman student manager Drew Miniard says.
By the time the busload of equipment managers arrives at Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, it’s time to wait. The truck with the equipment is running an hour behind the bus.
When the visitors’ locker room opens, assistant equipment manager Ed Connell and student manager David Moser diagram who will sit where. Connell puts the 31 defensive players to the right, the 24 offensive players on the left and the five special teamers in the back. Star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater gets the prime real estate in a corner locker.
Connell sets up a makeshift equipment area in the corner of the locker room where players can grab towels, wristbands and hand warmers.
It’s the last game of the year and a short road trip, so Strong has brought everyone on the roster, including walk-ons and freshmen who are redshirting.
The Nippert locker room, as a result, is too small for Louisville this week. Connell had sized up the situation and texted Snow to remind the players who aren’t dressing for the game that they’ll need warm clothes and rain gear — they’ll be outside of the locker room all night.
By 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the trailer has arrived from Louisville, and the managers and trainers begin setup. Moser begins sorting through the magnetic nameplates for each player, matching them with jerseys. Senior manager Creighton Harley takes the audio equipment up to the coaches booth to set up the headsets. The underclassman student managers get the grunt work of buffing helmets, fresh with new decals for the Cincinnati game, and touching up scuffs with Wite-Out.
Meanwhile, the training staff is setting up the training room at the front of the locker room. Most important is the sign-in area for pre-game taping, where six rows of masking tape will show the waiting list for six trainers.
“They’re creatures of habit,” assistant athletic trainer Sam Zuege says. “Some of them have to get taped by the same trainer every day.”
By 3 p.m., everything that can be offloaded and set up the day before the game is done, and the equipment staff heads back to the team hotel for the walk-through.
At the hotel, Snow is working through his checklist: Two banquet rooms for team meetings (one for the full team and a second when they split into offense and defense), a banquet room for trainers, 125 guest rooms for the Wednesday night before the Thursday game and two buffet lines for players ready to feed the equivalent of 160 people.
“I tell my hotels, they’re going to eat two-and-a-half or three times the amount of a normal person,” Snow says. “Don’t quote me on what you think I’m going to eat. They’re going to eat three plates.”
If the team will be waiting around for a night game, Snow is also charged with making the movie arrangements, which must fit into time parameters (roughly two hours) and genre constraints (action, not sci-fi).
“If everything goes smoothly, nobody notices anything,” he says. “That’s a win for me.”
The weather on this Thursday in December is dreary. Temperature at kickoff Thursday night will be 39 degrees.
In the afternoon, as the equipment managers are setting up, the temperatures are dropping into the mid-40s. It’s cloudy and windy, but dry.
“I hope it stays just like this,” student manager Jake Turner says. It won’t.
The rain will be on its way by the afternoon with the potential to wreak havoc on the pieces of equipment Kurowski and his staff spend the most time checking, re-checking and checking again: the headsets from the coaching booth to the sideline.
“Once ESPN comes on and the game starts, you just cross your fingers and hope everything is ready,” Connell says. “You hope no one trips a fuse or crosses a frequency.”
The problem right now, though, is the rain. Kurowski would prefer snow, but it won’t be cold enough before kickoff.
“You try to be a step ahead all the time. But they’re right behind you on your heels.”
At Cincinnati, Kurowski is checking the weather report on his iPad: Rain it is. The primary concern is the headsets, covered only with towels. Without tarps readily available, Kurowski cuts open two equipment bags to drape over the headsets. Crisis averted.
Beyond the rain, the cold will be an issue, especially for a team with its share of Floridians.
Strong’s strict dress code includes an edict forbidding tights, even for cold night games. When a player attempted to take the field wearing tights during a game against Rutgers in 2010, Strong turned the player around to change. The ‘no tights’ rule is similar to other facets of Strong’s dress code: No helmet visors without a prescription and no sleeves on a single arm.
As for keeping warm, the trainers have brought a tub of Vaseline for players to put on their legs. When asked if that actually helps, Zuege shrugs.
“They think it keeps them warm,” he says. “I’m sure it insulates a little bit.”
They didn’t even have to find out for certain. Six hours before kickoff, Kurowski receives a text message from the big boss: Did he bring the forbidden tights? Strong had changed his mind on one of his uniform rules. Lucky for Kurowski, he brought a full complement of leg tights just in case.
“You try to be a step ahead all the time,” Kurowski says. “But they’re right behind you on your heels.”
The team is scheduled to arrive at 5:30 p.m. By 3 p.m., nearly every preparation for the Cardinals’ arrival is made.
With two-and-a-half hours to kill, the student trainers and managers sit in front of lockers on the training tables, lined up in a row with their laptops flipped open. The country music that filled the locker room during setup has been turned off, and the trainers are working on papers and PowerPoint presentations and studying for finals. Or trying to grab a quick nap, outstretched across folding chairs. This is the down time, before the kickoff brings new responsibilities.
Turner, the senior equipment manager, holds the poster board to send in plays from the sideline. Other managers warm up the quarterbacks and dry the footballs. The student trainers who aren’t on the field are in the locker room starting to tear down the training room they set up only 12 hours earlier.
Other than the in-game essentials, they’ll be packed up for the trip back to Louisville 45 minutes after kickoff.
Amy Riordan, a video assistant, will be busy changing memory cards in the six cameras set up around the field so coaches can review the game on the ride back.
Snow, with no more pregame meals to schedule or hotel reservations to double-check, has his own duties on the sideline. When Louisville scores the first touchdown less than three minutes into the game, Snow is reminding players on the bench to celebrate on the sideline and not on the field; he’s the “get-back” coach.
“In my position,” Snow says. “I worry about everything.”
Mainly, so his coaches and players don’t have to.
Georgia Tech’s record for the biggest rout in college football history — 222-0 over Cumberland College in 1916 — may be one of sports’ unbreakable records. Parity and sportsmanship dictate that teams will let up before hitting the century mark.
That's not for lack of trying. Seventy-point routs weren't uncommon in 2013. With a backup quarterback, Ohio State defeated Florida A&M 76-0. Georgia Tech did beat Elon by 70. Miami did the same to Savannah State, a team that lost by 84 to Oklahoma State a year earlier.
Even as the College Football Playoff has brought about practices to strengthen schedules — whether it’s the SEC’s requirement for teams to play at least one power conference team or nine-game conference schedules in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — a few patsies have found their way onto 2014 schedules.
Schools are opening up wallets to schedule these guarantee games, but schools perhaps should consider a cash reward for fans who sit through all 60 minutes.
Let’s keep a few things in mind as we run down the most shameful games of 2014:
1. We don’t care how or why the game was scheduled, even if the power team in question is in a bind because a better team backed out of a game.
2. These games aren’t shameful simply because the opponent is bad or from the lower division. Georgia State opens with Abilene Christian, a team that was in Division II just two seasons ago. We’ll let that one pass as the Panthers, winless as an FBS member, needs all the help it can get.
3. We’ll give a little bit of credit to a major team scheduling a in-state foe. Reaching across state lines, though, for an easy win is an easy way to end up on this list.
There are games that will be so obviously lopsided that they shouldn’t be on the schedule.
1. Western Carolina at Alabama (Nov. 22)
Nick Saban’s breaking of ranks with the SEC to push the league to a nine-game season may be commendable. But it’s unclear if that conference game would replace the annual warm up for Auburn. The Crimson Tide continue a tradition since 2009 of making sure it has an exhibition before the Iron Bowl by inviting Western Carolina to be walloped this season. Alabama knows exactly what it’s getting from the Catamounts, an opponent that is 14-76 since 2006. Of Western Carolina’s last four wins — spanning three seasons — three are over Division II Mars Hill. Moreover, Alabama has played Western Carolina twice under Saban, defeating the school from Cullowhee, N.C., by a combined score of 101-6.
2. Savannah State at BYU (Nov. 22)
Scheduling as an independent can be tough for BYU, especially late in the season. And Savannah State has established itself as will to take a beating to keep funds coming into the athletic program. In the last two seasons, Savannah State has lost to Troy (66-3), Miami (77-7), Oklahoma State (84-0) and Florida State (55-0 in a game with a running clock). The Tigers, 4-41 the last four seasons, found another willing partner in BYU.
3. Western Illinois at Wisconsin (Sept. 6)
Wisconsin lands on the list by scheduling the least of the directional Illinois schools. First, there’s MAC power Northern Illinois. Even Eastern Illinois has been the home of quarterbacks Tony Romo and new England Patriots draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo. Western Illinois, on the other hand, has been mediocre in the Missouri Valley for a decade. The Leathernecks are 9-25 in the last three years.
4. Nicholls State at Arkansas (Sept. 6)
Bret Bielema needs all the help he can get, especially if Auburn’s up-tempo offense in the first game of the season extends Bielema’s winless start in the SEC. Still, we can’t excuse an SEC team for scheduling Nicholls State, a team that is 6-28 in the last three years and has endured six consecutive losing seasons. Only Miami’s game against Savannah State saved Oregon’s hosting of Nicholls State last season from being the most shameful game of 2013.
5. Presbyterian at NC State (Sept. 20)
At No. 231 in the 2013 Sagarin Ratings, Presbyterian is the lowest-rated team a major conference program will face in 2014. NC State was winless in the ACC last season, but the Wolfpack already loaded up on two teams new to the FBS level in Georgia Southern and Old Dominion. In other words, if this game took place a year ago, NC State would be facing three FCS teams.
6. Presbyterian at Ole Miss (Sept. 20)
Again, Presbyterian is a 3-8 team in only its fourth season removed from Division II. Ole Miss shouldn’t be playing this game, but the Rebels have a non-conference schedule that includes league title contenders from the Mountain West (Boise State in Atlanta) and Sun Belt (Louisiana-Lafayette). That’s why NC State should be more embarrassed by scheduling the same opponent.
7. Eastern Kentucky at Florida (Sept. 22)
Will Muschamp said he doesn’t want his team playing FCS opponents. That's fine, even if it is amusing since his team lost to an FCS opponent (Georgia Southern) last season. That doesn’t change he has Eastern Kentucky on the schedule in 2014. The Colonels are better than most of the FCS teams on this list, but Florida gets docked for having two of the worst FBS programs already on the 2014 slate in Idaho and Eastern Michigan.
8. South Dakota at Oregon (Aug. 30)
At least Oregon found an FCS opponent from within a 2,000-mile radius to clobber this time around. Since facing Portland State in 2010, the Ducks have faced Nicholls State, Tennessee Tech and Missouri State in its annual September exhibition. Still, Oregon scheduled the lesser of two schools in South Dakota. The Coyotes are 4-18 under former Wyoming coach Joe Glenn.
9. Idaho State at Utah (Aug. 28)
If this game were against Boise State, we’d look forward to it. If it were against Idaho, it would an almost-excusable game against an FBS team. Instead, Utah draws Idaho State, a team that is 9-59 in the last six seasons. Idaho State allowed at least 40 points in every game last season with the exception of a 38-5 win over Division II Black Hills State.
10. Weber State at Arizona State (Aug. 28)
Weber State was an unlikely victim of the Bobby Petrino fallout at Arkansas when John L. Smith left his post in Ogden, Utah, for Fayetteville before coaching a game. The Wildcats have gone 4-18 since, including a 222-36 margin against four FBS opponents (Fresno State, BYU, Utah and Utah State).
11. VMI at Bowling Green (Sept. 6)
Bowling Green is a bowl regular and the favorite in the MAC in 2014. The Falcons can do better than scheduling a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1981.
12. Florida A&M at Miami (Sept. 6)
Miami will play two teams from Tallahassee. One team was the FBS champion. The other was ranked No. 227 in Sagarin.
13. Grambling State at Houston (Sept. 6)
The once-proud Grambling problem is dealing with a host of issues, culminating with a player walk-out in October. Only five teams were ranked lower in Sagarin last season.
14. Western Carolina at USF (Aug. 30)
This is the same lackluster FBS team Alabama faces in 2014. The difference between USF and Alabama is worth at least 13 spots in our shame rankings.
15. Elon at Duke (Aug. 30)
As long as David Cutcliffe puts competitive teams on the field at Duke, the less we’ll be able to look away from against against Elon, 5-18 the last two seasons.
The days and weeks following the end of college basketball season can be an unfriendly time for coaches.
There are draft early entries, regular transfers, graduate transfers, and, of course, the possibility that some coaches will be asked to look for employment elsewhere.
Turnover can happen at a rapid pace, leaving rosters — and benches — full of fresh faces. Those are usually the teams with the most to lose from year to year, and next season will be no exception. Earlier this week, we brought you a dozen teams that could be on the rise in 2014-15. This is the other side of that list.
College Basketball Teams in Decline in 2014-15
The Sun Devils got to the NCAA Tournament, likely saving Herb Sendek’s job, but the final weeks of the season were forgettable. Arizona State lost its last four games and six of its final eight. With Jahii Carson going to the draft after his sophomore season and three seniors gone, Arizona State returns only one player who averaged more than five points per game. The Sendek hot seat watch begins anew.
Give Baylor credit for regrouping after a 2-8 start in Big 12 play. The Bears won 12 of their final 15 before losing to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. A few key cogs — big man Isaiah Austin and veterans Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — are gone. Baylor still has a point guard, Kenny Chery, to run the show. The rest of Chery’s signing class, sophomores Allerik Freeman, Johnathan Motley and Ish Wainwright, will be under pressure to perform.
No more Sean Kilpatrick is bad enough, but Mick Cronin is starting over without his top three scorers — Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles. Cincinnati’s top returning scorer, forward Shaquille Thomas, averaged 6.8 points last season.
The Bluejays are down to one McDermott for the first time in four seasons. Consensus national player of the year Doug McDermott isn’t the only loss, though. The departures of Ethan Wragge, Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat means Creighton won’t come close to last season’s offensive numbers, even with a senior-laden team.
A guard-oriented team loses four guards, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Michael Dixon Jr. and Chris Crawford. There’s still talent here. Now it’s in the frontcourt, though, with Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols. Memphis will be a top team in the American Athletic Conference, but the Tigers need to find a point guard to contend for bigger prizes.
John Beilein will piece something together — he always does. Still, the Wolverines lose Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary to the draft and Jon Horford as a transfer to Florida. Michigan still has a point guard in Derrick Walton and a budding star in Caris LeVert, not to mention the possibility of adding West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. After reaching the title game and the Elite Eight in the last two seasons, Michigan may be due for a down year.
Frank Haith picked a good year to get out of Columbia. This year’s team is going to struggle, no matter the coach. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown left early for the NBA Draft, leaving new coach Kim Anderson with a young roster.
The Lobos have won the Mountain West tournament in each of the last three seasons and at least a share of two of the last three regular season titles. Second-year coach Craig Neal will be starting over after seniors Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams have departed and junior Alex Kirk went to the NBA Draft. The Lobos may have trouble reaching the Tournament unless one or two underclassmen can take the leap Bairstow did a year ago.
Maybe Oklahoma State needs a fresh start after all the dramatics of last season. Still, any team without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown will have to rebuild. Le’Bryan Nash is the member of the Cowboys’ big three remaining for 2014-15. It’s tough to see Oklahoma State improving from last season in the short term, and meanwhile, Travis Ford’s contract, could be a hinderance in the long term.
The departures are one thing with Mike Moser and Jason Calliste gone, but they’re of secondary concern in Eugene. Dana Altman is embroiled in a scandal related to a sexual assault investigation involving three of his players. All three, Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin, were dismissed in early May. Leading scorer James Young will be surrounded by newcomers.
The 25-0 start to 2013-14 is a distant memory as the Orange finished 3-6, including a round of 32 exit in the NCAA Tournament, a one-and-done in the ACC tournament and home losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech. Syracuse won’t be as good as it was at the start of last season and may not be as bad as it was late. Still, the middle ground between the two would qualify as a down year for the Orange. Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Baye Moussa-Keita are gone, and Jim Boeheim will open his third consecutive season with a freshman point guard.
The Volunteers probably won’t be a Sweet 16 team or a top-10 KenPom.com team again. Tennessee may have trouble getting to the NCAA Tournament or NIT in Donnie Tyndall’s first season. While the former Southern Miss coach is a solid hire, he’ll be starting essentially from scratch. He lost all but one starter and all of Cuonzo Martin’s signees. Tyndall filled the gaps with eight newcomers, a haul that includes graduate transfers from Florida Gulf Coast and IUPUI, two junior college transfers and two prep school recruits.
The final four teams in the Athlon Sports top 25 countdown were released this week, meaning we've seeded our projections for the first College Football playoff: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
This week, Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan talk about how we arrived at those matchups, how those games might be settled and other contenders for the the first Playoff.
Our hosts also discuss what changes they'd like to see before the Playoff has even begun and some predictions of what we'll see next.
As always, you can reach us on Twitter at @AthlonSports or by email at email@example.com.
Somewhere in Iowa, a few ex-high school athletes have stories to share.
One tale might be about a 250-pound sophomore quarterback running over linebackers on a second-and-5 sneak.
Another might be about the time a 230-pound high school freshman returned volleys effortlessly for the varsity tennis team.
“It was a sight,” Denison (Iowa) athletic director Dave Wiebers said. “You see a kid that big and you think he’ll never get to anything. But they’ll lob it over the top and he’ll be there in one or two steps.”
Both stories are about the same high school athlete from Denison, and there are probably more about the same 250-pounder all-state pitcher, a center flashing post moves or a state title-winner in the shot put.
“I’ve read somewhere where he was claiming 1,400-1,600 (passing) yards,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t doubt that it happened, but I want to see the video.”
“You could put a football player in a test tube, you’d want them to look like him.”
-Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz.
Five years later, Scherff is one of the top offensive tackles in the country as an Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American and likely a first round NFL draft pick.
It’s no fluke that Iowa would find its latest great lineman — a tradition that includes Robert Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff — first in the form of a high school quarterback/pitcher/center/tennis player. Molding Scherff into a star offensive tackle was on the radar from day one, even before Scherff moved to the line.
“Not many have the athletic ability that he has,” Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said. “He moves very well. You want to see guys who play with their feet. You want guys who play with their eyes. You can’t do anything if you don’t have good eyes.”
Wiebers, who coached Denison football and track, didn’t play Scherff at quarterback on a lark, though. He simply didn’t have anyone but the 250-pound sophomore to play the position at the time.
Scherff had a strong arm, but his real asset was picking up momentum in the run game in Denison’s veer offense.
“I threw the ball every once in a while,” Scherff said. “I tried to run quarterback sneaks on second and 5. Those were always nice.”
Still, Iowa essentially recruited Scherff as a lineman sight unseen.
Midway through Scherff’s junior year, Wiebers had a more traditional quarterback in Ricky Torres, who would go on to play basketball at the NAIA level. Scherff, who was on his way to becoming a 6-5, 295-pound high school senior, would move to tight end.
“You probably got to see more of his athletic ability from his tight end position,” Wiebers said. “In that transition, you could see what a good athlete he is in the trenches and catching the ball.”
For Scherff, the move from tight end to offensive tackle as a senior was more practical. He also gave up summer baseball to prepare for his new role in college.
“I didn’t want to come here not knowing what to do,” Scherff said.
He was still raw when he arrived at Iowa, but going up against All-America defensive end and eventual first-round draft pick Adrian Clayborn on the scout team as a freshman forced him to catch up in a hurry.
Scherff started at left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and moved to left tackle for each of the last two seasons.
He improved to a point where he had a legitimate dilemma on whether to go to the NFL Draft after his junior season. He elected to stay in school to improve fundamentals and technique.
For now, he’s “pure power,” Brian Ferentz said. Scherff is also only a year-and-a-half removed from a broken leg and dislocated ankle that cost him half of the 2012 season.
The return, though, gives Iowa a chance to win the Big Ten West division with Schreff blocking for returning starting quarterback Jake Rudock and grinding running back Mark Weisman.
“The biggest thing is, all those measurables, all those things where you’re testing, every one of those shows up when he plays,” Brian Ferentz said. “A lot of times there are guys have weight room strength, or guys who have football strength. He has everything. He’s an extremely functional football player.
“You could put a football player in a test tube, you’d want them to look like him.”
And now Schreff is a football player only. He’ll still play basketball with friends, and he’s taken up golf. But he’s not going to show up in a quarterback meeting anytime soon.
“I absolutely don’t miss quarterback,” Scherff said. “It’s kind of fun throwing the ball around, but I love hitting people and being physical.”
Images courtesy of Iowa Athletic Communications.
No program last season was more ascendant than UConn, even if the Huskies didn’t look the part until the final six games of the season.
The Huskies were banned from the NCAA Tournament in 2013 due to low APR scores. They came back to go 12-6 in the American, a solid if unspectacular performance by UConn standards.
Then came the Shabazz Show as Napier led UConn to one of the most unlikely national championships since the Tournament field expanded.
Following up that kind of rise will be tough, but there are a handful of candidates of teams that could turn a disappointing 2013-14 into a surprising 2014-15.
Here are our top 12 contenders for programs on the rise for the upcoming season.
College Basketball Teams on the Rise in 2014-15
Talent hasn’t been the issue for Mike Anderson’s teams at Arkansas. For whatever reason, the Razorbacks haven’t been able to put together an NCAA-worthy season. That may change this season as the Hogs return six of their top seven scorers including the inside-out duo of forward Bobby Portis and guard Michael Qualls. After struggling on the road in Anderson’s first two seasons, the Hogs started to prove they could win away from Fayetteville last season.
For the second consecutive season, Georgia was the team no bubble team in the SEC wanted to play. The Bulldogs went 12-7 in the league, but they lacked the non-conference resume to be a legitimate NCAA contender. Maybe that changes this season. After getting hit with untimely early entries to the NBA Draft, Mark Fox has his top five scorers returning.
Gonzaga had a typical Gonzaga season in 2013-14, 29 wins, a West Coast Conference title and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. The record, though, was somewhat hollow. Gonzaga defeated one top-50 team all year (BYU, twice). With a solid backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. plus the arrival of Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga will have top-10 potential.
The Illini won six of its last nine Big Ten games including the league tournament. Not a bad turnaround for a team that reeled off eight consecutive Big Ten losses at one point. After a lost year, John Groce has rebuilt his roster around returners Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu. He’ll add another round of transfers and a top-50 freshman forward, Leron Black, to the mix this season.
How could Kentucky be a team on the rise after reaching the national title game? Well, with nine McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster and now experience, Kentucky should have a more consistent season from beginning to end after last year’s freshman-laden team lost 11 games last season.
The Hurricanes lost nearly every key player from the team that won the 2012 ACC title. Help was on the way, even if it was delayed a year. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClendon (Texas) will be eligible. Don’t count out coach Jim Larranaga, who coaxed an 8-12 ACC season out of last season’s short-handed team.
One starter, Austin Hollins, is gone from the NIT champions. The Gophers still have Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu, a duo who helped Minnesota defeat Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa to get onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in the first place. The Big Ten doesn’t figure to be the gauntlet it has been in the last two seasons, so Richard Pitino’s team could take a significant step forward after going 9-11 in the league in his first season.
How can the Cornhuskers’ top last last season when Nebraska reached its first NCAA Tournament since 1998? With the way Nebraska finished, it’s easy to forget the Huskers were 9-9 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten on Jan. 23. With Terran Petteway returning and only one significant departure (guard Ray Gallegos), Tim Miles’ team is set to carry the momentum from last season into 2014-15.
Not much went right in Notre Dame’s first season in the ACC. The Irish played the entire conference schedule without Jerian Grant, who was averaging 19 points per game before he was an academic casualty. The normally stable Irish went 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the ACC, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. With Grant returning alongside senior Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame should top 20 wins in 2014-15.
The NCAA selection committee snubbed the Mustangs, but Larry Brown’s team figures to make the in-or-out decision easier this time around. SMU reached the NIT final last season with just two seniors on the roster. The returning cast alone would make SMU worth watching, but the Mustangs add freshman point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. The 6-5 point guard from Arlington could be an All-American and one of the top prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft.
After two subpar seasons, including an early loss to Houston in the 2013 CBI, Texas is in the midst of a resurgence under Rick Barnes that once seemed unlikely. The Longhorns return every key contributor from a team that went 24-11 and finished third in the Big 12. More important for Barnes’ long-term hopes, the Longhorns are pulling major in-state recruits again with the arrival of freshman center Myles Turner.
Larry Krystkowiak has led one of the most impressive turnarounds in the the country in the last three seasons. When he started at Utah in 2011-12, Krystkowiak took over a roster with only four returning players for the program’s first season in the Pac-12. After going 6-25 in his first season, Utah has improved to 21-12 in his third. With Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge leading a now-veteran team, Utah will push for a winning record in the Pac-12 and its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2009.
The coaching carousel is funny sometimes. Last season brought a few major job openings — chief among them, UCLA — but few big names moving to new jobs.
This season seems to be the opposite. The names involved in the coaching carousel arguably are bigger than the jobs they filled.
Buzz Williams’ name had surfaced in coaching searches before, but Virginia Tech, a program that has made the NCAA Tournament once since 1996, ended up being his landing place. Bruce Pearl, once one of the top coaches in the SEC before his NCAA-hastened departure, starts over at one of the toughest jobs in the league. And Kelvin Sampson, who led Oklahoma to the Final Four, landed at Houston.
Another big name could have been in the carousel as three-time Final Four coach Ben Howland was on the job hunt, but he’ll likely have to wait for next season after pulling out of the Oregon State search.
Since the coaching carousel has essentially ended, now is a good time to review the new coaches for 2014-15.
The Elite Eight Hires for 2014-15
1. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Williams was so desperate to get away from Marquette, a school without a president and an athletic director, that he grabbed the first halfway decent major conference job. That job turned out to be Virginia Tech. Positions at Tennessee and Missouri would open after Williams landed in Blacksburg, so the hire has to be seen as a coup for the Hokies. What Virginia Tech gets is a coach who reached the NCAA Tournament in five of six seasons at Marquette and reached the Sweet 16 or better three times. He’ll be unconventional, something Virginia Tech will need to be competitive in the ACC. At Marquette, Williams built a program that could go toe-to-toe with Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh — all teams he’ll face in the ACC.
2. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
If Pearl can’t revive Auburn basketball, or at least interest in Auburn basketball, it’s worth asking if anyone can. Auburn is taking a bit of a risk in hiring Pearl, who was fired at Tennessee after he lied to NCAA investigators about hosting then-high school junior Aaron Craft at the coach’s home during an unofficial visit. Pearl is still under a show-cause penalty that prohibits him from any contact with recruits until August. The potential payoff is worth it, though. Pearl went to the NCAA Tournament every season at Tennessee, including a 31-5 season in 2007-08. His biggest task will be to fill seats in Auburn’s new basketball arena.
3. Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee
Tyndall arrives at Tennessee with arguably a better track record than Cuonzo Martin did three years ago. Tyndall led Morehead State two a pair of NCAA Tournaments, including a 2011 upset of Louisville behind the play of Kenneth Faried. He picked up where Larry Eustachy left off at Southern Miss, taking the Eagles to a pair of NIT appearances. Tyndall is a former LSU and Middle Tennessee assistant, so he’s familiar with some of the terrain in Knoxville.
4. Kelvin Sampson, Houston
Auburn wasn’t the only school to hire a coach with a checkered NCAA past to revive the program. Sampson’s five-year show cause stemming from impermissible calls to recruits while the coach at Oklahoma and Indiana expired just in time for Houston to make this move. The Cougars are getting a coach who took OU to the Final Four in 2002 and spent his exile from college basketball as an NBA assistant. Even better, the calls that cost him his job at Indiana are now OK by NCAA rules. Houston desperately needs any kind of credibility it can get. The Cougars are 0-4 in the NCAA Tournament since the Phi Slama Jama days.
5. Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Manning, the 1988 National Player of the Year and No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick, has two seasons of head coaching experience, but his second season at Tulsa yielded Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. It’s going to be tough for Wake Forest to be one of the top programs in the ACC, but hiring Manning, a 47-year-old with plenty of name recognition, is the kind of risk the Demon Deacons need to take.
6. Cuonzo Martin, Cal
Even after a Sweet 16 appearance and Tennessee’s first NCAA bid in three years, Martin knew his days were numbered in Knoxville. Martin tried for Marquette before ending up at Cal, replacing the retired Mike Montgomery. This may be a risky hire for the Bears as Martin hasn’t coached anywhere west of Missouri State. Martin’s teams, though, have improved progressively each season at both Missouri State and Tennessee.
7. Saul Phillips, Ohio
Phillips, a former Tim Miles assistant at North Dakota State, led the Bison to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009 and first NCAA win in 2014. Far from a one-year NCAA Tournament wonder, North Dakota State twice won Summit League regular-season titles and went 24-10 two years ago.
8. Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State
Reached the NCAA Tournament in three of the last five seasons at Montana, including a pair of Big Sky regular season titles. Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in a major conference with only two winning teams in the last 25 years. Montana, though, has a knack for turning out successful coaches, including Larry Krystkowiak (now at Utah), Blaine Taylor, Stew Morrill, Mike Montgomery and Jud Heathcote.
5 Notable First-Time Coaches
Orlando Antigua, USF
Manhattan’s Steve Masiello would have been a fine hire, but Plan B could be just as interesting. USF is the latest program to roll the dice with a John Calipari assistant, all of which have been lauded as great recruiters.
Jason Gardner, IUPUI
The former Arizona star and Indiana Mr. Basketball will be 34 when the season starts. A former assistant at Loyola-Chicago and Memphis, Gardner replaces Todd Howard struggled to fill the shoes left by Ron Hunter, who left for Georgia State.
Kevin Keatts, UNC Wilmington
UNC Wilmington has struggled to find its way since Brad Brownell left in 2006, but this could be a big-time hire. The Seahawks mined the Rick Pitino coaching tree for Louisville’s top recruiter.
Chris Jans, Bowling Green
Bowling Green hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968. Unlike his predecessors, Jans, a former Wichita State assistant, has the benefit of more resources thanks to a $20 million donation from Bill Frack.
Steve Wojciehowski, Marquette
Marquette is a big job for a first-time head coach, even though the last two coaches (Buzz Williams and Tom Crean) had a grand total of one year as a head coach before taking over. Wojo is as experienced as any assistant, serving under Mike Krzyzewski since 1999-2000.
4 Most Questionable Hires
Jim Christian, Boston College
Christian is a good MAC coach. Boston College is not in the MAC. His last job at a tough spot in a major conference was an 18-44 stint in the Mountain West at TCU.
Kim Anderson, Missouri
He won a national title last season — in Division II. Not many coaches make the leap from Division II to a major Division I program at age 59, but he is a former Missouri assistant.
Dan D’Antoni, Marshall
Mike D’Antoni’s brother hasn’t coached in college since 1971 at Marshall and hasn’t been a head coach other than in high school. Dan D’Antoni been in the NBA for nearly a decade, albeit on his brother’s staff.
Michael Curry, FAU
FAU loves coaches who have had bigger jobs (Mike Jarvis, Matt Doherty), so at least Curry fits a profile. He spent one season as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, but this is his first college gig as an assistant or otherwise.
3 “Boomerangs” (i.e. coaches who returned to a level lower than their last job)
Frank Haith, Tulsa
Given heavy personnel losses at Missouri, Haith probably made a wise move to get out before the Tigers could fire him. Haith lands in the American Athletic Conference at Tulsa, a program that made the NCAA Tournament eight times from 1994-2003.
Ernie Kent, Washington State
Kent’s Oregon teams were streaky in his 13 seasons, going both 29-8 and 8-23 in his final four year in Eugene. Wazzu, one of the toughest places to win in the Pac-12, will gladly take the happy medium.
Doc Sadler, Southern Miss
Sadler sat out a year before returning to the Conference USA level. Sadler was 48-18 as the coach at UTEP from 2004-06, and now he takes over a Southern Miss program that is one of the better jobs in C-USA thanks to the last two coaches.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Maybe the best situation for Lane Kiffin is for his players to talk for him.
First off, Alabama’s players are saying nice things about the new Crimson Tide offensive coordinator. That’s a good place to start. Center Ryan Kelly said the reputation that preceded the former USC and Tennessee head coach to Tuscaloosa was one of an “offensive mastermind.”
Secondly, Kiffin didn't have anything to say during the spring, which isn't bad for a man with his track record. Kiffin was quiet by rule by Nick Saban’s longstanding edict that his assistants will not meet with the media. In theory, the off-field foibles that clouded Kiffin’s time as a head coach will be kept to a minimum in the controlled atmosphere of Saban’s program.
Granted, Kelly, a junior and a returning starter, probably knows better than to admit that he knows anything else of Kiffin’s background — that Kiffin needled Urban Meyer while the coach at Tennessee or a stepped into a series of mini-controversies at USC.
"It’s going to be different. ... It’s going to be a lot more flexible with the passing game and getting the running backs involved."
-Alabama wide receiver Christion Jones
Nope, Kelly only speaks to optimism for what Kiffin can do on the field.
“Now that he’s been here for one spring, I’m looking forward to the fall with him,” Kelly said.
So there’s excitement at Alabama for Kiffin, who was one of the more compelling hires of the offseason. The move pairs Saban, who has a firm grip over the program, with an offensive coordinator with a rebellious streak that couldn't be fully contained by the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee or USC.
Those traits were enough to raise the eyebrows of Alabama athletic director Bill Battle, who told the Anniston (Ala.) Star his initial reaction to Saban seeking out Kiffin “wasn’t very positive.” Battle eventually warmed to the idea after speaking to USC athletic director Pat Haden and former Tennessee senior associate AD David Blackburn, who is now the AD at UT Chattanooga.
Besides, Saban needed an offensive coordinator with experience calling plays in a pro-style offense. Those coaches at the college level aren’t as plentiful as they once were.
“We tried to keep some of the things we’re doing and allow Lane to do the things he wants to do,” Saban said. “We’ve bought into that and he’s doing really, really well. I think he’s a great asset to our staff in terms of knowledge and experience.”
Saban and players said some of the changes have been subtle, but the receivers, at least, seemed to embrace the new approach as much as anyone.
That's with good reason.
Under Kiffin in 2011, USC receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee both had 1,000 yards and at least 10 touchdowns. In 2012, Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to the Biletnikoff.
Even though, Alabama’s projected starting quarterback, Jacob Coker, isn’t yet on campus, receivers are expecting a more dynamic passing game under Kiffin.
“It’s going to be different,” wide receiver Christion Jones said. “It’s usually Alabama, run game, run game, run game, pass here or there. It’s going to be a lot more flexible with the passing game and getting the running backs involved. It’s flexible enough where everyone can get a touch.”
That won’t be all that’s tweaked. Even though Kiffin brings the pro-style background Saban likes, he also brings hurry-up elements to the table.
“Coach Kiffin likes a lot motion and wants us to get up to the ball, not an Oregon-type offense,” Kelly said. “Late last year we were snapping the ball with six, five, four seconds left on the play clock. (Now it’s) Not so much of the no-huddle, but something to get our procedures up running ... to make the offense more effective.”
More than that, Saban said Kiffin can be a sounding board.
The Alabama coach has never been wary of hiring former head coaches to his staff. Bobby Williams (Michigan State), Kevin Steele (Baylor) and Mario Cristobal (FIU) all ran their own programs before arriving at Alabama.
None, though, was at a powerhouse program like Alabama. Between his time as an assistant and head coach Kiffin spent 10 seasons at USC, six years of which when the Trojans were the dominant program of the early part of the decade.
“It’s been great for me too to have a guy who’s had some of the issues and problems we have,” Saban said. “I really feel good about his addition to our staff.”
The SEC-Big 12 Challenge doesn’t have the long-standing status of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but at least in 2014, the event could match in marquee games.
We had a hard time picking between Texas-Kentucky and Florida-Kansas as the top game in the event. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. This will be an excellent double header featuring potentially four top-10 teams early in the season. Both are can’t-miss games.
Those are the key matchups, but the some of the others offer compelling reasons to watch in December. Here are all of them, ranked.
1. Texas at Kentucky (Dec. 5)
Expect a battle of big men with freshman Myles Turner joining Cameron Ridley at Texas to face Kentucky’s massive front line that includes Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Trey Lyles and Karl Towns. The Longhorns can make an early statement as a top 10 team that returns everyone from last year’s squad.
2. Florida at Kansas (Dec. 5)
Both teams have heavy personnel losses but plenty of reasons to believe they can contend in 2014-15. Florida had two McDonald’s All-Americans waiting their turn in Kasey Hill and Chris Walker plus a handful of transfers. Kansas expects Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden to take over while adding elite freshman forward Cliff Alexander.
3. Arkansas at Iowa State (Dec. 4)
Is Arkansas ready to turn the corner to become an NCAA Tournament team? Mike Anderson has his top three scorers back from a team that finally learned how to win on the road. This will be a tough one against a preseason top 25 team.
4. LSU at West Virginia (Dec. 4)
Shouldn’t we expect more out of both programs? LSU lost Johnny O’Bryant to the draft but has highly touted recruits Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin who are now veterans. West Virginia will return high-scoring point guard Juwan Staten, but fellow guard Eron Harris left via transfer.
5. Kansas State at Tennessee (Dec. 6)
New Volunteers coach Donnie Tyndall has to figure out how to fill his roster before worrying about Kansas State, which will be led by the sophomore backcourt of Marcus Foster and Jevon Thomas.
6. Baylor at Vanderbilt (Dec. 4)
Expectations won’t be high for Baylor next season as the Bears lose Cory Jefferson, Brady Heslip and Isaiah Austin. Vanderbilt is just treading water in the middle of the SEC.
7. Missouri at Oklahoma (Dec. 5)
Missouri is starting from scratch with a coach new to Division I (Kim Anderson) and a a roster without its top three scorers. Oklahoma will be as solid as you’d come to expect from a Lon Kruger team.
8. Oklahoma State at South Carolina (Dec. 6)
The big three for Oklahoma State is down to Le’Bryan Nash. This could be a chance for an early season statement for a Gamecocks team led by exciting sophomore guard Sindarius Thornwell.
9. Auburn at Texas Tech (Dec. 3)
If anything, this will be an interesting coaching matchup between Bruce Pearl and Tubby Smith.
10. TCU at Ole Miss (Dec. 4)
Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers were Ole Miss’ only double-figure scorers last season. Only Summers returns.
Never mind that the games won’t occur for another seven months. Three of the teams involved in the ACC-Big Ten challenge aren’t even officially in their new leagues.
If, in some way, Virginia and Maryland played a basketball game today, they would meet in an ACC league game. By December, it’s a non-conference showcase. Louisville officially joins the ACC on July 1. Same for Rutgers and Maryland in the Big Ten.
Either way, we can start looking forward to the key games, particularly the marquee game in the 2014 edition of the challenge between Duke and Wisconsin. The Blue Devils take their star-studded freshman class into Madison to face a team that returns all but one key player from a Final Four team.
That won’t be the only key matchup. Here are all of them ranked.
1. Duke at Wisconsin (Dec. 3)
This may be the top non-conference game of the year as both will be in the preseason top five. All eyes will be on potential All-America freshman Jahlil Okafor, a superstar prospect and a traditional center for Duke, and NCAA Tournament standout Frank Kaminsky, who is not a a traditional center for the Badgers.
2. Ohio State at Louisville (Dec. 2)
Two traditional powers must replace invaluable seniors — Aaron Craft for Ohio State and Russ Smith for Louisville. The Buckeyes’ Shannon Scott and the Cardinals’ Chris Jones step into the spotlight, but at least Jones can feed the ball to center Montrezl Harrell.
3. Syracuse at Michigan (Dec. 2)
These won’t be the teams you saw for most of last season. Syracuse and Michigan were decimated by NBA Draft early entries, perhaps more than Jim Boeheim and John Beilein expected.
4. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Dec. 3)
The Spartans are rebuilding around Branden Dawson while Notre Dame looks to put a losing season in the rearview mirror. The Irish get Jerian Grant back after he missed most of last season to an academic issue.
5. Iowa at North Carolina (Dec. 2)
The Tar Heels will be one of the top teams in the ACC in the preseason while the Hawkeyes may take a step back without Roy Devyn Marble. This could be a mismatch at this stage of the season.
6. Pittsburgh at Indiana (Dec. 2)
Neither team will show up in many preseason top 25 countdowns after Pitt enters 2014-15 without Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna and Indiana heads into the year without Noah Vonleh and Will Sheehey. Both teams are relying on veteran point guards (Cameron Wright and Yogi Ferrell) to shepherd these squads early in the year.
7. Nebraska at Florida State (Dec. 1)
Perhaps Nebraska deserved a better matchup than Florida State after reaching the rare NCAA Tournament last season. The Seminoles, though, could be a tough out in Tallahassee even without Ian Miller and Okaro White.
8. Minnesota at Wake Forest (Dec. 2)
Richard Pitino takes the NIT champions on an interesting road trip against a junior-laden Wake Forest team under first-year coach Danny Manning.
9. Virginia at Maryland (Dec. 2)
Yes, that’s a meeting between two charter ACC members in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Virginia will be on the fringe of the top 10 after winning the league while Maryland is facing questions with four recent transfers, including point guard Seth Allen.
10. Illinois at Miami (Dec. 2)
Thanks to a handful of newcomers, Illinois and Miami are both looking to rebound after they missed the NCAA Tournament last season. The Illini add two transfers (Ahmad Starks from Oregon State and Aaron Cosby from Seton Hall) while the Hurricanes get Angel Rodriguez eligible from Kansas State.
11. NC State at Purdue (Dec. 2)
The Wolfpack faces an early road trip, adding Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey stepping into the shoes of T.J. Warren in a backcourt with Anthony Barber. Purdue is still in rebuilding mode after going 5-13 in the Big Ten last season.
12. Georgia Tech at Northwestern (Dec. 3)
A former ACC assistant is coaching the Big Ten team (Chris Collins), and a former Big Ten assistant (Brian Gregory) is coaching the ACC team. It will be a long time before either takes on their former employers (Michigan State and Duke) in the conference challenge.
13. Virginia Tech at Penn State (Dec. 3)
Virginia Tech has Buzz Williams. Penn State has D.J. Newbill. That’s a little interesting.
14. Rutgers at Clemson (Dec. 1)
Maryland draws Virginia while fellow newcomer draws a Clemson team without K.J. McDaniels.
Larry Johnson says he hasn’t inadvertently introduced himself as “Larry Johnson from Penn State” since he landed at Ohio State on Jan. 14. That said, he’s still adjusting to referring to Michigan as the pejorative “team up north.”
But if Johnson caught himself, in passing, uttering Penn State as part of his title, could anyone blame him?
Before January, Penn State had been the only collegiate employer Johnson had known. For nearly 20 years, Johnson introduced himself as a Penn State assistant to recruits and high school coaches up and down the mid-Atlantic and through Pennsylvania.
“I try hard not to do that,” Johnson said while on the road recruiting for Ohio State in Connecticut in recent weeks. “It’s easy to do, but I’ve been pretty good.”
In the last month, Johnson has patrolled the same recruiting area he ruled at Penn State, now in scarlet and gray. His departure from Penn State to Ohio State in January could emerge as one of the most important assistant coach moves through the entire college football calendar.
"If you know about the East you know about Larry Johnson."
-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer
“If you know about the East you know about Larry Johnson,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
Johnson won’t be alone in aggressively recruiting Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, the Northeast and Washington, D.C., for Big Ten territories.
New Penn State coach James Franklin, who offered Johnson spot on his first staff, has vowed to own not just Pennsylvania in recruiting, but Maryland and New Jersey as well. His staff has already picked up four top-100 commitments from the region for 2015.
Meanwhile, new Big Ten member Maryland has been able to protect its home turf since 2012 with the return of Mike Locksley, now offensive coordinator. After landing the top two prospects in the state of Maryland, Locksley was 247Sports’ top recruiter in the Big Ten in 2014, followed by four Ohio State assistants.
And in 2012, 247Sports named Johnson and Locksley two of the top 10 recruiters in the Big Ten for that year’s recruiting cycle, quite the feat considering Penn State at that time had just begun its NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Maryland was coming off a 2-10 season.
Despite all the accolades and expectations for Locksley and the new Penn State staff, few have been more effective recruiting this region of the country than Johnson was at Penn State.
He was Rivals.com’s national recruiter of the year for the 2005-06 cycle. His haul that year included NaVorro Bowman from Suitland, Md., Aaron Maybin from Ellicot City, Md., and Jared Odrick from Lebanon, Pa. All three were first-round picks. A year earlier, Johnson helped Penn State land national No. 1 recruit Derrick Williams from Greenbelt, Md.
In a 2011 ranking, Rivals named Johnson the No. 5 recruiter of the previous decade.
He was the only coach in the top five never to land a head coaching gig, which leads us to why he’s at Ohio State rather than Penn State. (In the end, the track record of elite recruiters-turned-head coaches is checkered. Three of the four recruiters listed ahead of him were fired from their head coaching jobs in less than five years — Larry Porter at Memphis, Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss and Tim Brewster at Minnesota. The fourth, Jimbo Fisher, just won the national title.)
Johnson twice interviewed for the head coaching position at Penn State, once to replace Joe Paterno and again to replace Bill O’Brien. Ironically, O’Brien opened the door for Johnson to defect to the border rival. O’Brien hired Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel to coach linebackers with the Texans, opening a spot on the Meyer’s staff for a line coach and ace recruiter.
Johnson checked both boxes.
“Larry just fits right in where everyone on the staff is hard-working recruiter,” 247Sports Director of Recruiting Steve Wiltfong said. “Where he was at, there were times where he was on a coaching staff where not everyone was excited about recruiting as he was.”
That sets up two traditional Big Ten powers (Ohio State and Penn State) and one star recruiter (Locksley) competing for prospects in the talent-rich area of Maryland, D.C., North Carolina, Pennsylvania and the Northeast. And two of these coaches have good reason to recruit with an edge — Johnson was twice passed up for the Penn State job, Franklin was once Maryland’s coach-in-waiting before a new athletic director reversed course.
Ohio State rarely dipped into these areas in recent years, but Johnson gives Meyer instant credibility to cast his recruiting net East.
“Everyone is recruiting those states,” Johnson said. “There are outstanding players here. The area is saturated with good coaches. The ACC is there, the Big Ten is there. That’s a good sign because it means you’re on the right guy.”
Near the end of his Penn State tenure, Johnson was on the right recruits, but the instability in Happy Valley meant he had trouble landing all of them. Now, he’ll have a chance to coach them at Ohio State.
For the Nittany Lions, he recruited linemen Noah Spence, Joey Bosa and Tommy Schutt. All picked Ohio State. Schutt had been a Penn State commitment before switching to Ohio State. Spence was a five-star prospect from Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt who opted for the Buckeyes.
Even though he’s on the same field with players who spurned Penn State years ago, Johnson said there’s no hard feelings.
“I never really get upset at things like that,” Johnson said. “They have a right to change their minds. It’s got to be a fit for them. Your chance to be successful is where you’re a good fit.”
Besides, Johnson’s job — other than reeling in top recruits — is to prepare a line that will be the anchor of the defense. Spence and Bosa at end and Michael Bennett at tackle combined for 39 tackles for a loss last season.
With a secondary that struggled last season and a linebacker group that will miss Ryan Shazier, the line has to set the tone, and Johnson intends to do that with an active eight-man rotation.
To do that, Johnson kept his players in constant movement in spring practice. Meyer said his linemen were as active as any group he’s had.
“The way he runs his drills, non-stop movement, some drills are long, some drills are short,” Bennett said. “It gets you ready for hurry up, going back and forth from sidelines. You’ve done it again, again and again. Your body is ready for it.”
The movement may be normal for Johnson, but it was a change of pace at Ohio State during the spring.
In other words, what was old hat for Johnson is new again.
“At the end of the day, sometimes you have to move forward,” Johnson said. “I will never forget where I started. I will never do that.”
His present, though, may be far more interesting.
The 2014 NFL Draft first round took a few twists and turns but ended up where many projected it to be (with Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater in the first round) and with the same big winner from a college perspective (the SEC).
Jadeveon Clowney, subject of the dissection that comes with any high draft pick, was the No. 1 overall pick, the same spot he seemed destined for after his sophomore season.
Clowney was the SEC’s fourth No. 1 overall pick since 2007, and the first non-quarterback during that run (Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and JaMarcus Russell were the others).
As usual, he was just the start for the league, as the SEC had double-digit first-round picks again. The final pick of the first round, however, signaled one of the major winners with Teddy Bridgewater representing the third first-round pick from the newest team in the ACC.
11. First-round picks from the SEC
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Draft Day is the SEC’s day. The league produced 11 first-round picks. That’s three more than any other league, and that’s counting Louisville in the ACC’s tally. If Louisville’s first-round delegation is counted for the American, it’s a different story:
SEC West by itself produced more first-round picks (8) than any other conference.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) May 9, 2014
64. First-round picks from SEC schools since 2009
The SEC has more than double the first-round picks of any conference in the last five drafts, using the 2014 alignments. That’s more than the next two leagues, the ACC and Big Ten, combined. The major conferences shake out like this since 2009:
26 Big Ten
25 Big 12
0. Top 10 picks from Alabama
Alabama had to wait until C.J. Mosley went to the Ravens at No. 17 to celebrate, the longest wait for Nick Saban since 2008. Without a top 10 pick in 2014, Alabama from 2009-13 merely tied USC from 1993-97 for five consecutive years with a top 10 pick.
1. No. 1 overall pick for Steve Spurrier
Spurrier has won a Heisman Trophy, coached a Heisman winner, won a national championships and revived three college football programs. One thing he never did until Thursday was coach a No. 1 overall draft pick. Perhaps unexpectedly, Spurrier’s top three draft picks are all defensive linemen: Clowney, Florida’s Gerard Warren (No. 3 in 2001) and Florida’s Kevin Carter (No. 6 in 1995)
3. First-round picks from Louisville
Two notes from Louisville: First, the Cardinals had no draft picks a year ago. Second, two players were selected before quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and the Minnesota Vikings had to trade back into the first round to get him. The former wasn’t too much of a surprise since few Cardinals were draft eligible after 2012. The latter, though, was a little more of a shocker for anyone who watched the season. Still, three first-round picks tied Texas A&M for most first-round draft picks. Maybe Louisville will find a way to thrive in the ACC.
3. First-round picks from Texas A&M
At one point, Texas A&M realistically could have had three consecutive picks in the top 10 when offensive tackle Jake Matthews went sixth to the Falcons and wide receiver Mike Evans went seventh to the Buccaneers. Quarterback Johnny Manziel didn’t go to Cleveland with the eighth pick, but he ended up there anyway at No. 22. That gave the Aggies’ offense three first-round picks, the most of any team in the SEC.
4. Players who tied or became their school’s highest draft pick in the first five selections
South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney matched 1980 Heisman winner George Rogers as a No. 1 overall pick. Jacksonville made No. 3 pick Blake Bortles UCF’s second first-round pick after fellow quarterback Daunte Culpepper went 11th overall in 1999. Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins went third overall to Buffalo, one spot higher than defensive end Gaines Adams in 2007 and running back Banks McFadden in 1940. Khalil Mack, the fifth overall pick, wasn’t just Buffalo’s highest pick in school history. He was the Bulls’ first pick in the first or second rounds.
2. Top-five picks from the MAC
MACtion, indeed. Mack joined Central Michigan offensive tackle, the No. 1 overall pick last year, as top-five picks from the MAC in the last two drafts. Quite impressive, especially since Central Michigan and Buffalo aren’t flagship programs for the league.
8. First-round picks from Florida high schools, most from any state
And the most surprising part is that only two of them played in state. Oviedo quarterback Blake Bortles stayed local with UCF, and Glades Central wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin went to Florida State. The others went to college out of state: Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (South Fort Myers), Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack (Fort Pierce Westwood), Louisville safety Calvin Pryor (Port St. Joe), Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier (Plantation), Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Orlando Dr. Phillips) and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (Miami Northwestern).
6. Consecutive years without a top 10 pick for the Big Ten
The last top 10 pick to play in the Big Ten was No. 1 overall pick Jake Long from Michigan in 2008. The forthcoming Big Ten alignment has produced two top 10 picks since then — Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in 2010 and Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey — but that’s still a troubling number from a maligned major conference.
We’ve reached the end of our preseason rankings debate with the Pac-12. Oregon and Stanford have ruled this league for four years, but we have a handful of reasons to wonder if that reign can continue.
Washington has a new coach and a new quarterback and may be poised to continue the progress made under Steve Sarkisian. Sark may have a contender of his own at USC, but we discuss how depth — or UCLA — may hinder the Trojans’ Pac-12 title hopes.
But Oregon and Stanford continues to be the favorites as the Athlon staff again debated between the Ducks and Cardinal to win the North and perhaps the Pac-12. We discuss where we leaning on today’s Cover 2.
We also continued a new, not-so-subtle pitch for you to get involved at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, you can reach our hosts at @BradenGall, @DavidFox615 and @AthlonSteven on Twitter or at email@example.com.
The second part of our SEC rankings and preseason preview continues with the West Division, home of four of the last five national champions. The SEC West was the toughest division for Athlon Sports to pick this season, especially in the middle.
The power resides in the state of Alabama, but the team with more reason for optimism may be under debate. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are both in good position, one of the rare times both Egg Bowl rivals go into a season with high hopes.
The X-factor may be LSU, a team that has been a lock for 10 wins in recent years. The Tigers are replacing some key cogs on defense and will be young at skill positions on offense.
We also introduced a new, not-so-subtle pitch for you to get involved at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, you can reach our hosts at @BradenGall, @DavidFox615 and @AthlonSteven on Twitter or at email@example.com.