Articles By Patrick Snow

Path: /college-basketball/duke-louisville-west-virginia-and-kentucky-lead-roundtable
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The calendar has turned to February, so college basketball teams are currently fighting for seeding or just to get in the NCAA Tournament. Missouri had a huge comeback win over Kansas in this weekend’s best game, while Duke suffered its second home loss in 15 days. Our editors answer three questions covering the best and worst from the college hoops week.

1. Who had the most damaging loss last weekend?

Nathan Rush: Duke's 78–74 overtime loss to Miami won't hurt the Blue Devils' NCAA Tournament seeding but it did further expose Coach K's team as both physically and mentally fragile. The Blue Devils were outscored 38–26 in the paint and missed all six of their free throws in overtime against the Hurricanes, who earned their first ever win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Obviously frustrated after the game, Krzyzewski questioned his team's desire, saying that Duke's four national championships “were not won without energy, without hunger, with no complacency, with people really wanting it. … Those should be givens.” With this year's Dukies, however, those are not givens.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): Xavier let a great opportunity to pick up a quality win on the road slip away, losing a 10-point lead in the final eight minutes en route to a 72–68 loss to Memphis at FedExForum. The Musketeers climbed into the top 10 in early December after opening the season with eight straight wins but have been rather mediocre over the past two months. They are 7–8 since the infamous fight vs. Cincinnati, with only one of those wins (vs. Saint Joseph’s) coming against a top-80 RPI team. Xavier is currently ranked No. 53 in the RPI and will be included in most mock NCAA Tournament brackets this week, but Chris Mack’s club is flirting with disaster.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I thought Stanford's 56-43 home loss to Arizona was very damaging for its NCAA Tournament resume. The Cardinal have now lost four of their last five games after starting the season 15–3. Johnny Dawkins’ club had played well at Maples Pavilion until Saturday, when it shot 25.4 percent from the field on the way to a season-low 43 points. As it currently stands, the Pac-12 looks to have only two teams in Cal and Washington (and this is debatable) that will make the tourney field. Stanford is battling with the likes of Oregon, Arizona and Colorado to try and get a third league team into March Madness. The Cardinal severely hurt their chances with the home loss to the Wildcats, and they will need a strong run down the stretch to make the NCAA field.

2. Pick a team that was not in last week's top 25 that you think could possibly make a run to the Final Four.

Patrick Snow: Obviously the odds are long that a currently unranked team would advance to the Final Four, but I could see the West Virginia Mountaineers making a UConn-like run from the middle of the Big East pack to New Orleans. WVU has not played well lately, but coach Bob Huggins has a ton of NCAA Tournament experience. Additionally, he has two senior go-to guys in guard Truck Bryant and imposing post Kevin Jones. If that veteran duo can get some help from players like junior forward Deniz Kilicli (scored a career-high 22 points in Sunday’s win over Providence) or freshman guard Jabarie Hinds (has scored in double-digits in 10 of 24 games), then West Virginia is the type of grind-it-out club that could make a surprising run in March.

Nathan Rush: The Louisville Cardinals are a talented, battle-tested squad led by one of the best coaches in NCAA Tournament history. Rick Pitino has been to the Final Four five times with a record three different schools (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville), cutting down the nets after winning it all with Kentucky in 1996. This year's Cardinals club is capable of getting hot at the right time and making a run to the Final Four. The U of L has a streaky-hot point guard in Peyton Siva, an imposing 6'11" force down low in Gorgui Dieng and plenty of firepower on the wings with Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith and Chris Smith. As always, the team Pitino brings to the Big Dance will be dangerous.

Mitch Light: Temple is undervalued nationally. The Owls improved to 17–5 overall and 6–2 in the A-10 with a 73–56 win at Rhode Island on Saturday. They have wins over Wichita State, Villanova, Maryland and Duke in non-conference action and have emerged as the team to beat in what has become a deep A-10. Fran Dunphy’s club is led by a trio of veteran guards in Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez who played a key role in last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Temple doesn’t get a lot of scoring from its front line but has some big bodies who play well defensively and get after it on the glass. With the right matchups, Temple is capable of winning several games — maybe even four — in the NCAAs.

3. Who is your National Coach of the Year at this point?

Mitch Light: Mike Brey has to be in the discussion. The veteran Notre Dame coach lost his best player, forward Tim Abromaitis, to a season-ending knee injury in mid-November. It took a while for the Irish to learn how to play with a re-tooled lineup, but Brey has been pushing all of the right buttons of late. Notre Dame has won four straight Big East games, highlighted by wins over Syracuse (undefeated at the time), at UConn and at home vs. Marquette, and is remarkably looking like a solid NCAA Tournament team.

Patrick Snow: I would have to go with Larry Eustachy at Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles are 20–3 and sitting on top of the Conference USA standings. USM lost its top three scorers off last year’s team in Gary Flowers (18.8 ppg), R.L. Horton (12.4 ppg) and D.J. Newbill (9.2 ppg), but Eustachy’s bunch has been surprisingly effective. The Golden Eagles have only lost at Denver in November, against undefeated Murray State in double-overtime and at Memphis. There are no stars on this USM team, but five players average between 13.3 and 9.7 points per game. The Golden Eagles were not picked to compete for the C-USA crown, but they are now the favorite to win the league with their balanced attack and solid rebounding.

Nathan Rush: Kentucky's John Calipari is ranked No. 1 in the nation, has a 23–1 record and is one defensive stop away — on a last-second shot at Indiana — from being undefeated. Coach Cal has assembled the finest collection of talent in the nation, with five-star freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teaque joining sophomore studs Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb to form a nearly unstoppable talent base. Calipari hand-picked the country's best team on the recruiting trail and is coaching them up to their potential on the court. He's the best in the business right now, and deserves to be acknowledged as such.
 

Teaser:
<p> Duke, Louisville, West Virginia and Kentucky Lead This Weekend's Roundtable</p>
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2012 - 15:35
Path: /nfl/giants-or-patriots-our-super-bowl-selections
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It’s almost here. The New England Patriots and New York Giants will meet in another Super Bowl on Sunday, and the two stalwart franchises seem very evenly-matched. Both squads have old-school coaches in Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, and each will have his team well-prepared for a game that will probably be decided by a couple of key plays. The G-men won a very memorable Super Bowl XLII over the Pats in February 2008, and Eli Manning’s crew also won a dramatic 24-20 decision in New England earlier this season. Not many Patriots are left from that 2007 team, but core guys like Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Matt Light and Logan Mankins would love to get revenge for ruining their perfect season four years ago. America’s most-watched event will kick off Sunday evening, and hopefully it will be as dramatic as the fourth quarters of the previous Patriots-Giants matchups.

Which team wins Super Bowl XLVI?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I have to go with the Patriots for one reason: Bill Belichick. While many around football put an asterisk by New England’s three Super Bowl wins because of videotaping opponent’s practices, Belichick is still a master schemer and personnel man. He has set up a system of “team” with the Patriots, and they are always prepared to play in all three phases of the game. Heck, Belichick’s system is so good that he took a quarterback who never started a game in college — Matt Cassel — and won 11 games with no time to prep the inexperienced signal caller. I just see the Hoodie coming up with a game plan to slow down the momentum of Eli Manning and the Giants’ wideouts. The 49ers hit Manning several times two weeks ago, and the Patriots defense (which finished 10 spots ahead of the Giants in scoring defense this season) has been playing well lately. The Giants’ defense is also playing well but could barely cover tight end Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship. I see Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski having huge games in New England’s short passing attack, which will keep Tom Brady from having much pressure. There is also the intangible factor of the Patriots always seeming to benefit from a blown call or opponent’s mistake, so I’ll take them to get revenge on the Giants. Patriots 24 Giants 20

Rob Doster
Given the lingering sting of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants denied the Patriots a shot at unbeaten immortality on the strength of a miracle catch, it seems unthinkable that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will squander this opportunity. Throw in the fact that the Giants have been doing a surprising amount of unseemly woofing while the Patriots have quietly gone about their business, and conditions are favorable for a reckoning for the G-men and a revival of the Patriots dynasty starting at 6:30 pm ET on Sunday. “I’m going to work as hard as I can these next two weeks to be prepared and to hopefully go out there and play my best game, hopefully the best game I’ve ever played,” Brady said after the AFC Championship Game. “That’s what I expect to do. I know that’s what my teammates expect of me.” And it’s what I expect, too. Patriots 27 Giants 21

Mark Ross
Call me a purist, or perhaps somewhat out of touch with the present game, but I tend to side with the team that can play defense. Granted, neither the Giants nor Patriots were all that strong this season, at least statistically speaking, as the G-Men finished the regular season 27th in total defense and the Pats ranked next-to-last. In fact, I believe this Super Bowl matchup features the two worst defenses (again, statistically speaking) in the game's 46-year history. However, while I am expecting a fair amount of points to be scored, I still believe that defense will have a say in who wins. To that end, I believe more in the G-Men than the Patriots when it comes to their respective defensive units.

Although I am not convinced that the Giants' pass rushers are in Tom Brady's head, I do think they will spend a fair amount of time in the Patriots' backfield and, just like they did in Super Bowl XLII four years ago, will bring enough pressure and either sack/hit No. 12 enough to disrupt the Pats' offense. I'm also concerned about how effective Rob Gronkowski will be dealing with his ankle injury. Playing hurt is noble, but if Gronk is not his usual self, then that's one huge weapon (Gronk has caught 20 of Brady's 45 touchdown passes this season) missing from the Patriots' arsenal. On the other side, I think Eli Manning and his receivers will be able to take advantage of the Pats' porous pass defense, especially downfield, but I'm also looking for Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to get a fair amount of touches with the goal of trying to wear down New England's defensive line. If the Giants can get to Brady and take care of the ball on offense, I think they will pull away in the fourth quarter and earn their second Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in four years. Giants 34, Patriots 24

Nathan Rush
The Giants will beat the Patriots, a top-heavy team whose flaws will be exposed on Sunday. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the best in the business today — and maybe all time. But the Giants have the deeper, more talented team peeking at the right time. This year's Patriots squad is overly dependent on Brady and the offense. And heading into Super Bowl XLVI, Brady's blindside bodyguard (left tackle Matt Light) and top target (tight end Rob Gronkowski) have missed practice and likely will be substantially less than 100 percent at kickoff. Defensively, there's only so much scheming Belichick can do with his patchwork secondary; at the end of the day, the Pats don't have the talent to run with the G-Men. It was a fortuitous season for the Patriots — who have only defeated one team with a winning record (Ravens in AFC title game) this year — but it will end in defeat in Indianapolis. The Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense will harass Brady all night, while Eli Manning stretches the New England secondary until it snaps to give up big plays to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and/or Mario Manningham. Eli will win his second Super Bowl in Peyton's (old) house against his brother's (and now his own) biggest rival. Couldn't script a better ending to the 2011 season. Giants 24, Patriots 20
 

Teaser:
<p> Giants or Patriots: Our Super Bowl Selections</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 13:08
Path: /nfl/eli-manning-or-tom-brady-tough-quarterback-choice
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There has been a major trend in sports media over the last 10-15 years to give quarterbacks singular credit for team success. The signal caller that is probably the most debated in this fashion is Tom Brady of the Patriots. Some people believe he is an all-time great, while others believe that New England’s three Super Bowl titles were much more due to Bill Belichick’s scheming and a nasty defense than QB play. New York quarterback Eli Manning has always been in the shadow of his all-universe older brother, but that seemed to change a little when the Giants beat the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The G-Men and Pats will meet again this Sunday, and many around football are wondering which team actually has the edge at the media’s “hero” position.

Which quarterback would you want in this Super Bowl?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I think this question breaks down two different ways. As far as just quarterback play, I would take Eli Manning. His numbers on third down and in the fourth quarter this season have been staggering. Manning’s play was clutch in Green Bay and San Francisco as the Giants earned another Super Bowl trip the hard way. As far as the team around the quarterback, coaching and good playoff fortune, I’d take Tom Brady. The Patriots’ point guard has Bill Belichick and staff on his side, which usually means the best-prepared team in the NFL. The New England defense ranked 15th in points allowed this season, while the Giants ranked 25th. I think Brady has better components around him, who pulled out an AFC title win over the Ravens when their QB had zero touchdown passes, two interceptions and a passer rating of 57.5. This Super Bowl should be another close game in the 20s with one or two key plays determining the outcome. While I like Manning’s game better, recent history says Brady and the Patriots are much more likely to be the benefactor of an opponent’s mistake, a blown call or a fortunate big play.

Mark Ross
I have no problems siding with Eli here, although I'm probably in the minority. Everyone knows about Tom Brady's playoff results (16-5, three Super Bowl rings), but his counterpart on Sunday is no slouch when it comes to the postseason. The younger Manning is 7-3 in the postseason and his completion percentage (59.8), touchdown-interception ratio (16-8) and passer rating (87.5) all compare favorably to Brady's playoff numbers. What's more, Eli comes into Sunday playing his best football of the season. Going back to the regular-season finale against Dallas, Manning has completed 100 of 156 passes (64 percent) for 1,269 yards (317.3 per game) and 11 touchdowns with just one interception in his past four games. Remember, this is a New England team that had the second-to-worst pass defense (294 yards per game) in the regular season. Besides, the game's in Indianapolis, so you have to take a Manning, right?

Rob Doster
Let's see — if I had one postseason game to win, what quarterback would I want leading my team? How about the winningest postseason quarterback in history? Tom Brady is 16–5 as a starting quarterback in the NFL playoffs, tying him with Joe Montana for most postseason wins but a few ticks ahead of him in postseason winning percentage (.762 to .696). Brady is 3–1 in Super Bowls, and the one loss in Super Bowl XLII was a fluke. Yep, I said it. Eli's been excellent, but remember: His seven career postseason wins have been compressed into two bursts — the 4–0 run culminating in the aforementioned fluke, and this year's 3–0. In other words, in six of Eli's eight seasons in the league, his teams either failed to make the playoffs (2004, 2009, 2010) or were one and done when they did (2005, 2006, 2008). Eli's the flavor of the moment, but I'll stick with the greatest postseason quarterback of this generation.

Nathan Rush
I'd take today's Tom Brady over a healthy Peyton Manning in his prime. But this year, Eli Manning is playing better than Peyton ever did in the playoffs. So this is a legitimate debate as far as I'm concerned — especially because I think Elite Eli will beat Tom Terrific (again) on Super Sunday. Eli has thrown for 923 yards, eight TDs and one INT for a 103.1 passer rating in victories over the Falcons, Packers and 49ers. But Brady has three Super Bowl rings and has established himself as this generation's Joe Montana. I'm going with Brady, no doubt; but Eli is closing fast.
 

Teaser:
<p> Eli Manning or Tom Brady: Tough Quarterback Choice</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 14:12
Path: /college-football/arkansas-and-nebraska-among-signing-day-struggles
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-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

We all know recruiting rankings are very subjective, but it is also true that every fan base would like a highly-ranked class. A star-studded haul is no guarantee of future success, but the odds increase greatly with the more talent your team inks on National Signing Day. Here is a look at some teams that finished with a whimper at the end of the long recruiting process. These teams may end up with good classes, but they barely scratched or completely missed the AC100 and/or a top 25 class ranking.

1. Arkansas
The Hogs could have crept into the top 25 of most ranking services if they could have landed the top prospect in the nation, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Instead, the country’s top-rated pass catcher stayed in-state with the Missouri Tigers. Bobby Petrino’s signing class is still fairly solid, but Arkansas fans would have liked to have finished better after an 11-win season and a Cotton Bowl victory. The Hogs will rank in the bottom half of America’s toughest conference, looking up at division rivals Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Arkansas did get some good news with the last-minute flip of Louisiana linebacker Otha Peters, but the lack of star power stands out in the rough and tough SEC.

2. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers also have a fairly solid class, but it was definitely a disappointment to miss on five-star offensive lineman Andrus Peat. The top tackle, whose brother Todd plays for the Huskers, opted for Stanford over NU. Bo Pelini could have also used some secondary help with Devian Shelton, who also went to the Pac-12 with USC. We should recognize that Nebraska did not always have top-rated recruiting classes when Tom Osborne’s clubs were dominating in the ‘90s, but this class will be on the cusp of the top 25 while Legends rival Michigan will be in the top 10. The Huskers did fairly well but signing a Peat or Shelton would have helped greatly.

3. Michigan State
There was just not much recruiting buzz around Lansing this year despite an 11-win season and Big Ten Legends Division crown. The Spartans got a couple of the state’s top prospects in receiver Aaron Burbridge and pass rusher Jamal Lyles, but they saw the hated Wolverines winning most of the in-state battles. Despite the quality season and holding on to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, this MSU class is not anywhere near the top 25 of the team rankings. That fact especially hurts when Michigan will be in the top 10 and seems to have much more momentum around the program.

4. Cal
No team’s recruiting effort was affected more by a coaching defection than the Bears. Tosh Lupoi, the defensive line coach and ace recruiter, severely damaged the Cal’s class with his move to Washington in January. At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, three highly-rated prospects —safety Shaq Thompson (whose brother Syd'Quan starred at Cal), defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy and receiver Jordan Payton — committed to the Bears. However, that trio as well as top defensive end Arik Armstead, who had once had Cal as his leader, all signed elsewhere in the Pac-12. Those changes are especially painful in light of Bay Area and Big Game rival Stanford vaulting into the top 10 classes with an amazing close on National Signing Day.

5. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys failed to capitalize on the school’s best season ever, a 12-1 campaign that resulted in a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford. OSU will rank in the bottom half of the conference, and that’s even with Missouri and Texas A&M moving on to the SEC. Mike Gundy’s staff tried to flip top Texas safety LaDarrell McNeil to no avail and also struggled within the Sooner State. Much like the Spartans above, the Cowboys might not crack the top 30 classes while their rivals, Oklahoma and Texas, will be in the top 10.
 

Teaser:
<p> Arkansas and Nebraska Among Signing Day Struggles</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 19:08
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-rematch-giants-versus-patriots
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The underdog New York Giants surprised the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, a memorable 17-14 decision to complete the 2007 season. Four years later, the two stalwart franchises will meet for NFL supremacy once again. This Sunday’s game will be the fifth time that two NFL clubs have battled in a second Super Bowl — while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys are the only two franchises to meet more than twice in the big game. Here’s an historical look at previous Super Bowl rematches:

1.     Super Bowl X — Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 10 (January 1976)
        Super Bowl XIII — Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31 (Jan. 1979)
        Super Bowl XXX — Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 17 (Jan. 1996)

The first two games were classic confrontations as the Steelers and Cowboys battled to become of the decade. Pittsburgh won its second straight Super Bowl to finish the 1975 season, as a nasty defense carried the way against Dallas. Three years later, the rematch was one of the best Super Bowls in history. MVP Terry Bradshaw threw for four scores, and the Steelers held off a late Cowboys’ rally to win 35-31. Despite the great game, perhaps its most famous play was the dropped pass by wide open Dallas tight end Jackie Smith in the end zone. The two popular franchises met again 17 years later, as the Cowboys finally defeated the Steelers in football’s ultimate game. Cornerback Larry Brown won the MVP with his two interceptions, and Dallas won its third championship in four seasons.

2.     Super Bowl VII — Miami 14, Washington 7 (Jan. 1973)
        Super Bowl XVII — Washington 27, Miami 17 (Jan. 1983)

The undefeated 1972 Dolphins finished their perfect season by beating the Redskins in Super Bowl VII. Miami’s ferocious defense led the way, as safety Jake Scott won the MVP with his two interceptions. The ground game of Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick was very formidable in carrying the Dolphins to their first title. The Redskins would return the favor a decade later with their own physical running game. Bruising runner John Riggins won the MVP with a then Super Bowl-record 166 yards on the ground as Washington won its first NFL title since 1942.

3.     Super Bowl XVI — San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21 (Jan. 1982)
        Super Bowl XXIII — San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16 (Jan. 1989)

The legendary Bill Walsh carried the 49ers to their first Super Bowl victory to cap off the 1981 season, beating a gritty Bengals bunch 26-21. San Francisco built a 20-0 lead at halftime, but Cincinnati quarterback Jim Anderson rallied his club with two touchdown passes and another score on the ground in the second half. Ray Wersching's four field goals were huge for the Niners, while Joe Montana won the MVP with 157 yards passing. Seven years later, San Francisco would defeat Cincy again to win its third Super Bowl of the decade. MVP Jerry Rice had 11 catches for a Super Bowl-record 215 yards, but it was John Taylor’s touchdown catch with less than a minute to go that sealed the win.

4.     Super Bowl XXVII — Dallas 52, Buffalo 17 (Jan. 1993)
        Super Bowl XXVIII — Dallas 30, Buffalo 13 (Jan. 1994)

The only back-to-back rematch in Super Bowl history happened after the 1993 season, with Dallas blowing out Buffalo for a second-straight year. These were the third and fourth of the Bills’ four-straight title games, but they unfortunately ran into Jimmy Johnson’s juggernaut after losing closer games in Super Bowls XXV and XXVI. The Cowboys were led by the trio of Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, plus an athletic defense. Buffalo played a better game in the rematch, holding a 13-6 lead at halftime. However the Cowboys responded with 24 unanswered points in the second half to win going away.

5.     Super Bowl XLII — New York Giants 17, New England 14 (February 2008)
        Super Bowl XLVI — ??? (Feb. 2012)

Most pundits thought the unbeaten Patriots would easily beat wild card Giants and join the ’72 Dolphins with a perfect season. Instead, Eli Manning would toss two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the G-men to the crown. The New York defense sacked Tom Brady five times in the victory, and that ability to pressure the quarterback will be a key in this year’s title game. The Giants beat the Pats, 24-20, earlier this season, so New England will enter the Super Bowl especially motivated. Not many Patriots playing Sunday were on the ’07 team, but the core of Brady, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Matt Light and Logan Mankins would love to get revenge for ruining their perfect season four years ago. Hopefully, Sunday’s game will be as dramatic as the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII.
 

Teaser:
<p> Super Bowl Rematch: Giants versus Patriots</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 16:20
Path: /college-basketball/notre-dame-and-iowa-state-wins-among-weekends-best
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Which team had the best weekend, as far as improving its NCAA profile?

Nathan Rush: Notre Dame’s 50–48 victory at Connecticut on Saturday was another impressive win for the Fighting Irish’s NCAA Tournament résumé. Coach Mike Brey’s club also boasts wins over then-No. 1 Syracuse, Pittsburgh and at Louisville in double-overtime. ND hopes those triumphs overshadow its lopsided losses to Missouri (87–58), at Gonzaga (73–53) and at Cincinnati (71–55). There is still work to be done down the stretch in Big East play, but Notre Dame’s chances improved with this weekend’s win at UConn.

Mitch Light: Iowa State played its way into most mock brackets this week with a 72–64 win over Kansas in Ames. It was the first top-50 RPI win of the season for the Cyclones, who are 15–6 overall and 5–3 in the Big 12. Fred Hoiberg’s club has some wins that look good on paper — vs. Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma State at home and at Texas A&M — but of that group, only Texas at No. 59, is in the top 100 of the RPI. Iowa State still has plenty of work to do, but it’s always nice to have a win over a top-10 team in your back pocket on Selection Sunday.

Mark Ross: Notre Dame has posted quality wins the past two weekends. Last Saturday, the Fighting Irish welcomed No. 1 Syracuse to South Bend and handed the previously undefeated Orange their first loss of the season and paired that by defeating UConn, 50–48, on the road this past Sunday. Mike Brey’s team has won its last three Big East games to put them near the top of the crowded conference standings. Notre Dame struggled with injuries and inconsistency early on, but seems to have found its identity and is starting to put together a respectable NCAA Tournament résumé. The Irish’s next opportunity to make a statement comes on Saturday when they host Marquette, one of the teams they currently trail in the Big East standings.

Name a mid-major team that you are most confident can win at least one game in the NCAA Tournament. And pick a true mid-major — not a team like Gonzaga, Memphis for Xavier.

Mitch Light: I’ll take Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders missed an opportunity for a huge résumé-building win last weekend — dropping an 84–77 decision at Vanderbilt — but this is a team that is built for success in March. Kermit Davis’ club boasts one of the best big men in the mid-major ranks in Iowa State transfer LaRon Dendy (14.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg), and the Raiders feature a solid guard rotation led by Marcos Knight, Bruce Massey and Raymond Cintron. This team can score, but its forte is on the defensive end of the court. The Blue Raiders are allowing an average of 60.3 points per game and opponents are shooting 38.4 percent from the field. Middle Tennessee’s at-large hopes aren’t great, but I fully expect this team to win the Sun Belt Tournament title and emerge as a popular upset pick in the NCAAs.

Nathan Rush: Murray State has raced out to a 21–0 record, including an impressive win at Memphis in December. No team from a big six BCS conference wants to draw the Racers in the first round of the NCAA Tourney. First-year coach Steve Prohm’s team is capable of making a mini-run in March. The pride of the OVC has a reliable veteran backcourt duo of junior Isaiah Canaan (18.7 ppg, 3.8 apg) and senior Donte Poole (14.7 ppg), and a solid post presence with 6’7" senior Ivan Aska (12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) — a trio that shoots a combined 84.5 percent from the free throw line.

Mark Ross: I’m going to take Long Beach State, who you could argue is one of the West Coast’s top teams. The 49ers are 16–6 overall and a perfect 9–0 in the Big West. This is a veteran team that hasn’t shied away from playing top-notch competition and has had its fair share of success in those games. Long Beach State defeated then-No. 9 Pitt on the road in its second game of the season and followed that up by taking San Diego State to overtime on the Aztecs’ home court before losing by four. The 49ers played Kansas and North Carolina in back-to-back games on the road in the first part of December and held their own, losing to Kansas by eight and to the Tar Heels by six. The 49ers have also played Louisville and Kansas State, and have a late December neutral court win over Xavier on their résumé, which currently finds them ranked in the top 40 of the RPI. The 49ers need to stay focused on their immediate goal, which is to win the automatic bid out of the Big West, but should they come up short this is certainly a team worthy of at-large consideration. An NCAA Tournament bid would be the program’s first since 2007, and this is the type of team no one wants to face in March.

Which player impressed you the most over the past weekend?

Mitch Light: We’ve been waiting for Terrence Jones to break out, and that’s exactly what happened Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge. Kentucky’s sophomore forward, a preseason first-team All-American by many media outlets, scored 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds as Kentucky cruised to an easy win over LSU. Jones averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 boards as a freshman, but is down to 12.4 and 6.5 as a sophomore. He has been overshadowed by the newest wave of elite UK freshmen — most notably Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — but Jones is still a very important part of this team and a guy who will have to play well for the Wildcats to win a national championship.

Nathan Rush: Arizona lost a heartbreaker to Washington, 69–67, on Saturday night, but Solomon Hill did all he could to lead the Wildcats to victory. The underrated junior from Los Angeles scored 28 points — going 9-of-10 from the field, 8-of-9 from the free throw line and 2-of-2 from 3-point range, including a game-tying trifecta with 6.9 seconds remaining. The 6’6", 226-pound Hill also added 11 rebounds and committed only one turnover in a game-high 37 minutes. But the effort wasn’t enough and, for the third time in five games, Zona lost a contest by two points or less.

Mark Ross: Ten minutes into Saturday’s Marquette vs. Villanova game, the Golden Eagles were down 28–10 to a Wildcats team that had just 10 wins the entire season. Halfway through the first half, Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette’s senior guard and leading scorer, had managed just one made three throw. In the 30 minutes of action that followed, Johnson-Odom poured in 25 points, along with six rebounds, five assists and two steals, as Marquette outscored Villanova, 72–50, and escaped the Wildcats’ home floor with a hard-fought 82–78 win. Even though Marquette is well on its way to an NCAA Tournament bid, the Golden Eagles could ill afford a slip up against a reeling Villanova team whose only hope to make it to March Madness probably lies with winning the Big East Tournament.
 

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame and Iowa State Wins Among Weekend's Best in College Basketball</p>
Post date: Monday, January 30, 2012 - 16:10
Path: /college-basketball/florida-state-over-duke-syracuse-and-uconn-losses-highlight-wild-weekend
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It was a wild weekend around college basketball, with several upsets and plenty of last drama. Some of the most notable results were Florida State winning at Duke, Syracuse tasting its first defeat, Baylor losing at home to Missouri, Tennessee beating UConn, Mississippi State’s comeback at Vanderbilt and Wisconsin winning on the road at Illinois. Our editors answer three questions covering the best and worst from the college hoops week.

1. Name a team that really needs to get its act together over the next few weeks?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): Northwestern has the talent to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. But the Wildcats, currently 12–7 overall and 2–5 in the Big Ten, don’t have an NCAA Tournament resume. The Cats broke through with a big win at home vs. Michigan State on Jan. 14, but followed up with a 20-point loss at Wisconsin and a 23-point loss at Minnesota. Northwestern was alarmingly uncompetitive on Sunday against the Gophers, falling behind 11–0 and 21–4. The Cats begin a stretch with three out of four at home this weekend when Purdue visits Evanston. It’s about time for this team to play like it belongs in the NCAA Tournament.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I want to see what Texas can get done over the next month. The Longhorns did lose a ton — Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph and Gary Brown — from last year’s team, but Rick Barnes’ club still has enough talent to get to the NCAA Tournament. However, a 12–7 record and a tough Big 12 slate has Texas looking at missing March Madness for the first time since 1997-98, Tom Penders’ last season in Austin. The heralded freshman class of Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Jonathan Holmes and Julien Lewis will need to grow up quickly and help veterans J’Covan Brown and Clint Chapman end a current three-game losing streak. The Horns are 2-4 in league play and still have two games against Baylor, plus rematches with the teams that gave them those four Big 12 defeats — Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State. Texas will need to go above .500 in its 12 remaining games and win in the league tournament to avoid playing in the NIT in March.

Mark Ross: How about an entire conference, as in the Pac-12. The Pac-12 is currently No. 7 in the RPI rankings, behind the Mountain West, A-10 and Missouri Valley. The Pac-12's current leader is Cal, which is tied with Oregon atop the standings at 6–2, and beat the Ducks in Eugene a few weeks ago. Cal is currently No. 37 in the RPI, followed by Oregon at No. 56. The other 10 teams are ranked 61st and below. One Pac-12 team will get into the NCAA Tournament because of the automatic bid, but unless someone starts making some real noise, this “Big Six” conference may be ‘One and Done’ come Selection Sunday.

2. Which team had the best win over the weekend?

Patrick Snow: There are several good candidates — Notre Dame taking down undefeated Syracuse, Tennessee beating UConn, Wisconsin winning at Illinois — after an exciting weekend, but I have to go with Florida State winning at Duke. The Seminoles were impressive the previous Saturday in beating North Carolina as Deividas Dulkys got red-hot from beyond the arc and the Tar Heels seemed to give up down the stretch. However the victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium, which broke Duke’s 45-game home winning streak, shows that Leonard Hamilton’s team is for real. The Noles are not quite as good defensively as last season’s Sweet 16 club, but they are scoring more points this year — especially during the current four-game winning streak. FSU is in great shape at tied for first in ACC play, and the Seminoles have the look of being a dangerous March team once again.

Mitch Light: Mississippi State made a nice statement with a comeback win at Vanderbilt Saturday night. The Bulldogs had lost their two previous road games in the SEC, but found a way to rally from 11 down at the half to beat Vanderbilt — a team that had won eight in a row — at Memorial Gym. State opened the second half on a 20–2 run, thanks in large part to some tremendous shooting from long range. The Bulldogs hit 10-of-11 from beyond the arc in the final 25 minutes (second half, plus overtime), with sophomore guard Jalen Steele (four threes in the second half) responsible for much of the damage. Mississippi State has a ton of talent. If Rick Stansbury’s club has its head on straight — which isn’t always the case — there is no reason they can’t be a factor in the SEC title chase.

Mark Ross: How can it not be Florida State? Beating North Carolina at home is one thing, even if it was by a convincing 33 points. Beating Duke on the road in Cameroon Indoor Stadium is something entirely different. But that's the rare double-double Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles pulled off thanks to Michael Snaer's game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer on Saturday. The Seminoles have seemingly found their defensive identity, as they held the Blue Devils to under 40 percent shooting and ended their 45-game home winning streak in Durham. In name, this may be the same team that lost to Harvard and Princeton earlier in the season, but on the court it looks a lot like the team that made it all the way to the Sweet 16 last year.

3. Which team had the most damaging loss over the weekend?

Mark Ross: Not to pile on the Pac-12, but given the conference's across-the-board weakness this season, the last thing Cal needed to do was to lose to Washington State. Yes, Cal is still tied for first in the league standings and this was on the road in Pullman, but this is a Washington State team that has lost to Utah, Pepperdine and UC Riverside — all of which are ranked 175th or lower in the RPI, this season. In a year like this, Cal can't afford too many bad losses, even if they are in conference road games.

Mitch Light: There’s no need to panic in Charlottesville, but I was disappointed that Virginia let a Virginia Tech team that had been 0–4 in the ACC steal a win at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavs had been 2–1 in the league with the only loss coming by three points at Duke. This was simply a game that Virginia had to win if it wanted remain relevant in the ACC race over the next six weeks.

Patrick Snow: I thought UConn’s loss at Tennessee was a bad sign for the reigning national champions. The Vols have played better since freshman big man Jarnell Stokes became eligible, but Cuonzo Martin’s crew is still a team with a losing record. The 14–5 Huskies should easily make the NCAA Tournament, but the non-conference defeat was their fourth loss in six games. Jim Calhoun’s bunch has the talent to make another magical March run, but the loss in Knoxville pointed out some damaging deficiencies. Center Alex Oriakhi has regressed since last season, and freshman big man Andre Drummond has been very inconsistent. UConn has solid guards in stud scorer Jeremy Lamb and point Shabazz Napier, but there has not been much depth with freshman Ryan Boatright out of the lineup as the NCAA investigates his eligibility. Consequently, the Huskies have not been able to play their usual aggressive defense on the perimeter for fear of fouls. Obviously UConn showed us last season that a high league finish is not a prerequisite to win it all. The Huskies have the individual players to do it again, but their latest loss showed some weaknesses that must be corrected quickly.
 

Teaser:
<p> Florida State ends Duke's 45-game home winning streak while Syracuse and UConn lose.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 17:55
Path: /college-football/gunner-kiel-indiana-lsu-notre-dame-indecision
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By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

It happens every year during college football’s recruiting season. Top gridiron prospects “verbally commit” to one school, and then change their mind (multiple times in some cases) before attending another school. The infamous “verbal commitment” label that the recruiting services use has sadly become a joke for many kids. They “commit” to one program to hopefully hold a roster spot, and then are still pursued by other coaches and often are swayed to another school at the last minute. We saw a very high-profile example of this trend earlier this week when one of the top quarterback recruits in the AC100, Gunner Kiel of Columbus, Ind., reneged on his promise to attend LSU and changed to Notre Dame at the 11th hour. Of course, his LSU decision came after reneging on his commitment to Indiana back in the fall. The number of these de-commitments goes up each year, as a sadly increasing number of recruits and college coaches show that their word means little to nothing.

So who or what is to blame for all of the recruiting confusion: youthful indecision, egotistical or gullible players, bad parents and/or advisers who put their self-interest above the kid’s, shady football coaches, insistence of ravenous fans and recruiting websites to put a label on prospects or just a lack of character across society? Obviously each case is separate and should be analyzed that way. Kiel’s story will be more publicized because he is a signal caller and it involves major programs, but he is far from alone.

Most football recruits sign a letter-of-intent on National Signing Day (February 1 this year) which officially binds them to that school. Before that, it’s all just a verbal promise. In the case of Kiel and the growing number of top football prospects who graduate high school early and then enroll in college in January, their “official” decision is made when they attend the first class. Kiel was supposed to enroll at LSU this week but then switched to going to classes at Notre Dame. Many have said his mother in Indiana did not want him go far from home, which is understandable. But then why the LSU “commitment”? If the parents had that much influence over the decision, they should keep their son from basically lying (very publically) once again. In the end, LSU fans will probably think that Kiel was scared of their depth chart or SEC defenses, while Irish fans will think his indecision is just a factor of age and no big deal. That’s how these things work.

We do have to remember these are 18-year-old kids, and they have very persuasive and powerful adults — whether it’s parents, coaches from other schools, advisers, etc. — in their ear constantly. That’s not a fun or healthy reality for many of us. We want to trust people and think that their word has meaning, but the world of recruiting seems to take us in a different and sad direction. Many fans direct anger and internet vitriol towards recruits who spurn their school, as they make the argument that you’re an adult at 18 and can make independent decisions. And while the recruits aren’t totally innocent, it’s hard to get too angry at them when you see the example being set by many adults.

There was an uncomfortable story this week in the AJC regarding Alabama coach Nick Saban and running back recruit Justin Taylor from North Atlanta. While recruits often change their commitments, some prominent coaches like Saban are infamous for oversigning recruits (which the SEC has tried to address with new rules), forcing non-contributing upperclassmen out of their scholarships for medical reasons or not honoring their earlier offers. Saban reportedly told Taylor, who had been committed to the Tide since last February, that he could not sign him this year. So Taylor will just attend another school, right? Nope. Apparently Saban had convinced Taylor to not sign elsewhere, to stay at home in Georgia and that Bama would help him find a job. That’s a scary amount influence to have over a player who does not fit into your plans.

Saban is not the only coach with that type of reputation. It has been reported often that new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will tell prospects almost anything (and the Buckeyes have shockingly spiked in the recruiting rankings since he took over). We all know about the recent scandals at USC, Ohio State, Penn State and North Carolina, and they all show that positively influencing and educating new students is a long way down the priority list for way too many of the adults involved.

Will it ever stop? Probably not. There is just so much money at stake for coaches and big-time recruits that character is going to take a back seat. Kids like Kiel and Vanderbilt’s Patton Robinette need to quit “committing” so early, when they are obviously not sure about what they want. The last-minute changes by these players harms their reputation, and that can be a painful thing to deal with in the internet/college football world. Here’s to hoping that recruits and coaches will find a way in the future to be more honest throughout the entire process. However, for that last thought, I probably need to be committed.
 

Teaser:
<p> Heralded quarterback prospect switched commitments from Indiana to LSU to Notre Dame.</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 07:20
Path: /nfl/nfl-playoffs-giants-49ers-ravens-and-patriots-advance
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By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)

It seems like a very counterintuitive question on the surface: Do you want a bye week in the NFL Playoffs? Logically, of course you do. Being a No. 1 or 2 seed means having a top record, one less game to play to advance to the Super Bowl and getting to start the playoffs at home. In fact, the home team won the first seven games of this postseason. Then there was the eighth game, where the suddenly-hot New York Giants went into Lambeau Field and beat up the top-seeded, yet lethargic, 15-1 Packers. The G-Men look like they could continue a trend in professional sports where getting hot late supersedes a top finish in the regular season.

A statistical look at who plays for the title in recent years shows that home field or bye weeks seem less important than arriving to the postseason playing well. In five of the last six Super Bowls, at least one participant played during the wild card round of the playoffs. Four of the last six champions — the ’05 Steelers, ’06 Colts, ’07 Giants and ’10 Packers — had to win four games to take the title, and three of those were wild cards. Over that six-year span, the 2009 Super Bowl between the Saints and Colts was the increasingly rare occurrence where two No. 1 seeds meet.

The same trend has happened across the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. Over the last 15 World Series, 10 of the 30 participants have been wild card teams with five (’97 Marlins, ’02 Angels, ’03 Marlins, ’04 Red Sox and ’11 Cardinals) winning the crown. There have been four No. 1 seeds make the NBA Finals in the last eight years (16 teams), with three — the ’08 Celtics and the ’09 &’10 Lakers — hanging the championship banner. In the NHL, two No. 1 seeds have made the Stanley Cup Finals over the last six seasons with only the ’08 Red Wings winning it all.

Despite recent results, there is no way that you do not want your team to draw a top position in the postseason. Are professional clubs supposed to turn it off in the middle of the season and try to rally late? Of course not. Tom Brady and the top-seeded Patriots won their first postseason game since the 2007 season with the benefit of drawing a glorified scrimmage against Tim Tebow and the Broncos. The Ravens have not lost at home this season, and they needed all the good fortune in Baltimore to escape against the Texans. However John Harbaugh’s club went 4-4 in road games this year, with all four losses to non-playoff teams. Consequently, the home-field advantage should send New England to another Super Bowl.

The 49ers definitely scored a major victory by winning the regular-season tiebreaker over the Saints and drawing the No. 2 seed. It’s hard to see Jim Harbaugh’s club pulling out the same dramatic win in New Orleans that it did at home. While New York is a very dangerous team, San Francisco stands a much better chance with the Candlestick crowd than it would on the east coast.

Will Eli Manning and the G-men continue the positive postseason trend for lower seeds? It’s highly possible with their current momentum, but I’ll still take the home field any year.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Giants, 49ers, Ravens and Patriots advance in the NFL Playoffs.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 06:13
Path: /college-football/mora-weis-and-davie-among-offseasons-most-interesting-hires
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The coaching carousel in college football has been as crazy as ever this offseason. It started with former Notre Dame boss Bob Davie going to New Mexico, and now has progressed to where Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach are in the Pac-12 and Urban Meyer is feeling healthy enough to lead Ohio State. Speaking of leaving Gainesville, Charlie Weis takes over at Kansas and will be on his third job in three years since leaving South Bend. The Arizona State search was very strange before landing on Todd Graham, who barely had time to text his former Pittsburgh players before heading to Tempe. Gus Malzahn will actually take a pay cut in going from Auburn offensive coordinator to Arkansas State head coach, and add new UCLA boss Jim Mora to the list of coaches heading back to the sidelines after some television time. Many of the new hires seemed to come out of left field, leaving fan bases stressed. However, sometimes we see stranger hires end up working well in the wild world of college football.

Most curious coaching hire of the offseason?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
I think UCLA’s decision to hire Jim Mora is one of the most curious coaching moves from this offseason. Mora has no collegiate head coaching experience, but has a solid NFL background, including stops with five different teams (head coach with the Seahawks and Falcons). His only experience as a college coach came in 1984, when he served as a graduate assistant at Washington. Although some have called this hire a huge mistake, I think it’s worth the risk for the Bruins. Mora is putting together a solid coaching staff, which includes ace recruiter Adrian Klemm and former Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. He has yet to name a defensive staff, but considering his background, Mora will play a large role in calling the shots on that side of the ball. Only time will tell if Mora is a good fit in college. However, with the options on the table, Mora is worth the risk - especially if he continues to assemble a solid coaching staff.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
Well, Gus Malzahn’s decision to take over at Arkansas State was a curious decision on his part, but it was a great move by the school. From the school’s point of view, I’d say New Mexico’s hiring of Bob Davie is very questionable. Davie has been out of coaching for more than a decade and, more important, he wasn’t very successful during his five years as the boss at Notre Dame. His overall record of 35–25 doesn’t look too bad, but keep in mind that he took over a program that had averaged 9.6 wins in the previous nine seasons under Lou Holtz. Davie went 7–6 in his first season (1997) and went on to have a losing record two times in his final three years with the Irish. I don’t understand why the powers at be at New Mexico believe that a coach who could not succeed at Notre Dame — a school with a ton of built-in advantages — can win consistently with the Lobos. And again, the man has been out of coaching for more than 10 years. This one doesn’t make sense.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
Curious is an interesting word to describe a coaching hire. Charlie Weis at Kansas isn't as much curious as is it underwhelming and questionable. But by far the biggest head-scratcher in this year's coaching carousel was UCLA's hiring of Jim Mora. He has energy, personality and will be a great spokesman for the university. Isn't that what Rick Neuheisel was — except he played quarterback at UCLA and had more than a decade of head coaching experience at the highest levels of college football. What makes anyone believe that Mora, a man with one year of college coaching experience as a graduate assistant 27 years ago, will be able to achieve where Neuheisel failed? Clearly the Bruins athletic department needs to commit to football once and for all if it ever expects to compete with their Trojan brethren from across town, but seeing Mora’s name atop the headlines this weekend was curious to say the least.

Nathan Rush
Charlie Weis to Kansas, huh? Was anyone in Lawrence cheering "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!" after that hire? The big man is a proven NFL offensive coordinator, but has struggled at the college level, as both a head coach and coordinator. Weis went 35–27 over five years at Notre Dame, carrying 19–6 record over his first two seasons with "Tyrone Willingham's players" and a 16–21 mark over his last three seasons once he was comfortably settled into his rut at South Bend. In his one season as the playcaller at Florida, Weis' Gators struggled as the nation's 72nd scoring offense, 75th rushing attack and 87th passing game. Weis has failed to find success, and the end zone, at two of the country's premier football institutions. Now KU expects him to reverse that trend at a basketball school playing in a dying football conference. Too bad Jimmy Clausen doesn't have any eligibility left.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I thought the UCLA decision to go with Jim Mora was curious. It seemed like the Bruins were trying to duplicate the Pete Carroll hire at USC instead of signing a current college coach who would be more equipped to succeed with some limitations on the football program. Mora may do well, but I do not see UCLA’s struggles as the same situation that USC was in after a bad Paul Hackett tenure. The strangest situation in the offseason had to be Gus Malzahn’s decision to leave a higher-paying gig as the Auburn OC to go to Arkansas State, but that should work out well for the Red Wolves.
 

Teaser:
<p> Mora, Weis and Davie among offseason's most interesting hires.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 17:17
Path: /college-football/new-orleans-bowl-preview-san-diego-state-vs-ul-lafayette
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by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)

New Orleans Bowl
Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. San Diego State (8-4)

Date: Dec., 17 at 9 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.

Both teams ended this season with an 8-4 record, with Louisiana-Lafayette claiming third in the Sun Belt and San Diego State finishing fourth in the Mountain West. The Big Easy crowd will see plenty of points in what should be a Saturday night thriller — the Ragin’ Cajuns averaged over 32 points per game this season while the Aztecs scored over 29 points per contest. Both clubs were led by head coaches in their first year at their respective schools. Long-time New Mexico head coach Rocky Long joined Brady Hoke at SDSU as defensive coordinator in 2009 after leaving Albuquerque. When Hoke took the Michigan job, Long was promoted to lead the Aztecs. Mark Hudspeth took over in Lafayette this season after two years as a position coach at Mississippi State under Dan Mullen. Prior to MSU, Hudspeth was a very successful head coach at Division II North Alabama for seven seasons.

The New Orleans Bowl will be the first postseason contest for Louisiana-Lafayette as an FBS member, and it will be only the third bowl game at any level in school history. San Diego State got its first postseason win since 1969 in last year’s 35-14 Poinsettia Bowl victory over Navy. The Aztecs will only be making their third postseason appearance over the last 20 seasons, so back-to-back bowl wins would be very significant to the growth of the SDSU program.

San Diego State had seven players named first-team All-Mountain West, including two-time, all-league tailback Ronnie Hillman. The elusive runner totaled 1,656 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground this season. Five Ragin’ Cajuns were tabbed first-team All-Sun Belt, with tight end Ladarius Green receiving that honor for the second consecutive season. He is the NCAA's active career leader in touchdowns by a tight end.

WHEN SAN DIEGO STATE HAS THE BALL

It all starts with the aforementioned Hillman. The best San Diego State runner since Marshall Faulk ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing, Hillman is averaging 138 yards per game. He topped the 100-yard rushing mark nine times this season, while going over 140 yards in seven of those games. The sophomore sensation is actually eligible for next April’s NFL draft (three years removed from high school) so this could his last SDSU game.

Quarterback Ryan Lindley had an inconsistent season, having to break in new targets after the departures of receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson from last season’s potent offense. Colin Lockett led the Aztecs with 52 catches for 885 yards, but the top red zone target is All-MWC tight end Gavin Escobar (seven TDs). The SDSU offensive line did an excellent job in pass protection, as well as paving the way for Hillman.

All-Sun Belt linebacker and leading tackler Lance Kelly will lead a Louisiana-Lafayette defense that ranked 72nd in the nation. Obviously, the Ragin’ Cajuns' top priority will be to stop Hillman from running wild. Louisiana-Lafayette will attempt to get some pressure on Lindley with all-league defensive lineman Bernard Smith, who led the team with 13 tackles for loss and six and a half sacks.

WHEN LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE HAS THE BALL

Quarterback Blaine Gautier is the key player on the Ragin’ Cajuns efficient attack, which ranked 65th in total offense but 32nd in scoring. The junior signal caller tossed 20 touchdowns against five interceptions this season, while also adding 434 yards on the ground. Running back Alonzo Harris led the team with 638 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gautier has a pair of first team All-Sun Belt weapons in receiver Javone Lawson and tight end Ladarius Green. Lawson had 54 catches for 899 yards and six scores. Green struggled with injuries early in the season, but he had 32 receptions for 308 yards and four touchdowns in his last four games. SDSU will definitely need to know where No. 89 is at all times.

Senior linebacker Miles Burris led the Aztecs with a staggering 19 tackles for loss (eighth in the country) and eight sacks this season. SDSU had 27 takeaways this year and is led by two All-MWC defensive backs, Larry Parker (seven interceptions) and Leon McFadden

Special Teams

Both teams have excellent punters and do not get much in the return game. The advantage here falls to Louisiana-Lafayette based on field-goal kicking. The Ragin’ Cajuns kicker and punter, Brett Baer, was 16-of-18 on field goal attempts this year with five makes of 40-plus yards. He also averaged 40.5 yards on 75 punts, including stopping 24 inside the 20-yard line.

San Diego State punter Brian Stahovich, a two-time All-MWC selection, averaged a solid 43.4 yards on 57 attempts. He had 16 punts over 50 yards and put 17 of them inside the 20-yard line.

Aztecs kicker Abelardo Perez struggled this season, only converting five of his 13 field-goal tries.

Prediction

San Diego State seems to have the talent advantage in this one, but Louisiana-Lafayette will play well in its home state. Mark Hudspeth is a rising star in the coaching profession, and his staff has had three weeks to scheme for Ronnie Hillman and the Aztecs’ defensive pressure.

SDSU is one of the best teams in the country in turnover margin, and that could make the difference in the New Orleans Bowl. Look for an exciting Saturday night in the Big Easy, and for Hillman to star in a close Aztecs’ victory.

San Diego State 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 27

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the 2011 New Orleans Bowl: San Diego State vs. UL Lafayette.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 06:18
Path: /college-football/boise-state-kellen-moore-finale-highlight-early-bowl-matchups
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Bowl season is upon us, and there are several quality storylines in the early matchups. Some college football stars to look for in the pre-Christmas slate are Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, San Diego State tailback Ronnie Hillman, Utah State runner Robert Turbin, Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Ladarius Green and TCU linebacker Tank Carder. The Horned Frogs won the Mountain West, and they will take on WAC champion Louisiana Tech in an interesting Poinsettia Bowl matchup. Boise State’s Moore will lead one of the more accomplished senior classes in college football history into Las Vegas to tangle with Arizona State in what could be Dennis Erickson’s last collegiate game. Additionally, C-USA champion Southern Miss will meet Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl before Larry Fedora leaves Hattiesburg to take over at North Carolina.

Pre-Xmas Bowl you are most excited to see?

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
I will go with the Las Vegas Bowl — and not just for the glitzy panoramic shots and plethora of talent in Sin City. Arizona State and Boise State will square off in the Dirk Koetter Bowl for the only the second time in history, with ASU winning the only previous meeting 56-7 back in 1996. The most intriguing storyline isn't what league Boise State will be in next fall or Todd Graham coaching the Sun Devils in 2012; instead, it should be one of the most celebrated senior classes to ever go through any university. Seventeen of the starting 24 will be playing in their final college game, including the NCAA's all-time winningest quarterback Kellen Moore and Boise State single-season receiving touchdown record holder Tyler Shoemaker. Throw in safety George Iloka, tailback Doug Martin, defensive linemen Billy Winn and Shea McClellin and linebacker Byron Hout, and you will be watching the final game for a class that has gone 49-3 thus far. This group needs to be appreciated one more time as they attempt to get to 50 wins.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
I’m actually looking forward to the Poinsettia Bowl because I believe Louisiana Tech, a 10.5-point underdog, has a legitimate chance to beat TCU. Tech is one of the more undervalued teams in the nation. The Bulldogs went 8–4 overall and won their final seven games, including a 27–7 win at Ole Miss and a 24–20 victory at Nevada. They lost by two points at Southern Miss (11–2), by one point to Houston (12–1) and by six, in overtime, at Mississippi State. Sonny Dykes’ team will need a big game from tailback Lennon Creer, a one-time Tennessee Vol who has rushed for 80 yards or more five times this season. When healthy — he missed the final two games with an Achilles injury — Creer is a true difference-maker. TCU is obviously a very good team — the Horned Frogs won at Boise State — but this team isn’t quite as stout on defense in 2011. The Frogs have given up 28 points or more four times, including 50 to Baylor and 40 to SMU (in overtime). Louisiana Tech should be able to score some points; it will be up to the Bulldog defense to keep TCU’s offense in the 20s.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I will take the Saturday night party at the New Orleans Bowl when Louisiana-Lafayette meets San Diego State. Both programs have nice momentum right now, and there are two stars in particular that fans should check out. The Aztecs are led by running back Ronnie Hillman, who totaled 1,656 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground this season. The elusive sophomore (although he is NFL draft-eligible for being three years removed from high school) topped the 100-yard mark nine times this season, going over 140 yards seven times. Ragin’ Cajuns tight end Ladarius Green struggled with injuries early in the season, but he had 32 receptions for 308 yards and four touchdowns in his last four games. He is also the NCAA active career leader in touchdowns by a tight end. Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth is a rising star and led the Ragin’ Cajuns to their first postseason appearance since becoming an FBS member in his first season at the school. San Diego State seems to have a slight talent advantage, but Louisiana-Lafayette should play well in its home state.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
I’m intrigued by a couple of the pre-Christmas matchups, but probably the most by the Las Vegas Bowl. Arizona State enters this game with little momentum, after losing its last four regular season games and coach Dennis Erickson was canned following the finale. Erickson will coach in the bowl game, but can the Sun Devils send him out a winner? Boise State just missed out on a trip to a BCS game and this is another opportunity for it to earn a victory against a team from one of the AQ conferences. Although the Sun Devils struggled at the end of the regular season, their passing attack could give the Broncos trouble. Boise State struggled to stop TCU’s receivers and has been dealing with injuries in the secondary most of this year. If Arizona State is motivated, the offense should be able to move the ball through the air. However, can its defense slow down the Broncos? How about Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore taking on Sun Devils’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict? Assuming Arizona State shows up ready to play, this has the potential to be one of the most entertaining games of bowl season.
 

Teaser:
<p> Boise State, Kellen Moore finale Highlight Early Bowl Matchups</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 17:43
Path: /college-football/snyder-miles-and-hoke-lead-coach-year-candidates
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There were many great coaching jobs around college football this season, and the Coach of the Year selection is always a tough decision. Les Miles of LSU was the only coach in the country to go undefeated, and he did it against a tough schedule. Kansas State’s Bill Snyder and Michigan’s Brady Hoke led their respective teams from 7-6 records in 2010 to 10-2 this season. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney led the Tigers to the ACC crown, while Virginia’s Mike London did a tremendous job in getting the Cavaliers to 8-4. Baylor’s Art Briles deserves recognition for the Bears’ 9-win campaign, while Stanford’s David Shaw surprised many by leading the Cardinal to 11 wins. Hugh Freeze won the Sun Belt crown at Arkansas State, while Gary Patterson’s TCU club won the Mountain West after massive personnel losses and the league’s addition of Boise State.

Who is your national Coach of the Year?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
My national Coach of the Year is Kansas State's Bill Snyder. I have to admit I was down on the Wildcats in the preseason. I did not think they would be able to finish much higher than sixth or seventh in the Big 12. However, Kansas State and Snyder proved me wrong, winning 10 games and nearly reaching a BCS bowl. Quarterback Collin Klein was one of the nation's most underrated players this year, and the defense showed solid improvement from an awful 2010 performance. The Wildcats recorded solid victories over Baylor, Missouri, Miami, Texas A&M and Texas, while losing by a touchdown to Oklahoma State. Snyder has done a good job of getting contributions from a few key JUCOs (namely cornerback Nigel Malone) and transfer Arthur Brown, and he's doing this with a roster that is under the NCAA limit in scholarships. On paper, Kansas State shouldn't be able to go 10-2. But that's a credit to Snyder and how good of a coaching job he did with this team in 2011.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
Bill Snyder worked a minor miracle at Kansas State, but I’m going with Brady Hoke at Michigan. The former boss at Ball State and San Diego State guided the Wolverines to a 10–2 overall record and a 6–2 mark in the Legends Division of the Big Ten. On the surface, a three-game improvement in the win column (both overall and in the league) is impressive, but when you dive into the numbers you really get an indication of how much better Michigan was in 2011. A year ago, Michigan lost its five games by an average of 20.8 points, with the closest loss coming by 10 points (on two occasions). In ’11, Michigan lost two games, by 14 points at Michigan State and by eight points at Iowa. Last year, the Wolverines were outgained by an average of 1.4 yards per game in Big Ten play. In ’11, they were statistically dominant in the league, outgaining their opponents by average of 130.7 yards per game. That is a staggering improvement in one season. The biggest gains were made on defense. In ’10, Michigan gave up an average of 471.9 yards in eight Big Ten games. This past fall, that number plummeted to 300.0 yards. Statistics alone reveal that Hoke did a great job in his first year on the job. What they don’t show is what he did off the field, as far as improving morale around the program and among the fan base. Michigan is on its way to returning to elite status in college football, and Hoke deserves a much of the credit.

Nathan Rush
Wear your white hat especially high and savor the sweet taste of fescue football field, LSU's Les Miles is this season's obvious choice for Coach of the Year. The Mad Hatter cannot be stopped. Not only did he load up Baton Rouge's football factory with five-star future first-rounders, but he took his Bayou Bengals on a national tour to show off their dominance against BCS bowl-caliber opponents — handing Oregon a billion-dollar beatdown at Jerry's House to start the year, burning all the couches in West Virginia and washing away the Crimson Tide's title hopes (at least SEC title hopes) in the Game of the Century showdown in T-Town. No team can match the Tigers' resume; their "other" wins include Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and Auburn. LSU is 13–0 and the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation. Les is more.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
This is one of the toughest awards to vote for in all of 2011. And the question for Coach of the Year is always: Did you accomplish what you were supposed to (Les Miles, Nick Saban, Chip Kelly, David Shaw) or did you wildly overachieve in the face of adversity with lesser talent? I lean towards the latter — which leaves me with Kansas State's Bill Snyder, Virginia's Mike London, Michigan's Brady Hoke and UL Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth. London and Snyder accomplished the most with the least against the toughest odds. But Snyder had the better record in the better conference with his only losses coming to the state of Oklahoma. His style is unique and, at times, incredibly unorthodox, but it is incredibly effective. He has the nation's No. 3 scorer in Collin Klein and posted wins at Miami, Texas and Texas Tech, with home victories over Baylor, Missouri and Texas A&M. London did an excellent job and has the Wahoos back, but Snyder gets my vote.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
Many coaches around college football had terrific seasons, and my choice for Coach of the Year would be LSU’s Les Miles. The Tigers smacked around the Pac-12 and Big East champions, while also laying the wood to 10-win teams in Georgia and Arkansas. The Tigers’ only close game this year was on the road at then-No. 1 Alabama, and of course LSU won that one as well. Bill Snyder did a tremendous job at Kansas State, but the 10-win season was pretty understandable with the lack of defense in the Big 12. I think Mike London at Virginia deserves a ton of credit for elevating the Cavaliers’ program. Also many of us thought Stanford would drop off (even with Andrew Luck) with the departures of Jim Harbaugh and two key assistants, and that was not the case. In the end, however, it has to be Miles. His defense, special teams and physical running game crushed the competition this season.
 

Teaser:
<p> Snyder, Miles and Hoke lead Coach of the Year Candidates</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 16:08
Path: /college-football/bcs-got-it-right-alabama-over-oklahoma-state
Body:

The BCS Championship Game always brings much debate and consternation when its two participants are selected. Even though the BCS has allowed the college football world to see title games that were not contractually possible before 1998, fans and media seem to feel a need to scream and protest throughout the process. This season is no different, with LSU finishing as the only team in the country with a perfect record. The Tigers’ opponent in the title game will be Alabama, who narrowly beat out Oklahoma State. The Tide lost to LSU in overtime earlier this season, while the Cowboys lost in double-overtime a few weeks ago to Iowa State. Most around college football consider Alabama a better team than Oklahoma State, but many of those people did not want to see the Tide get a rematch with LSU.

Did the BCS Championship Game get the right matchup?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
The BCS absolutely got it right. It accomplished its one goal — match up the two best teams in the nation. Though many fans and media do not want to admit it, LSU and Alabama stand above the rest of college football this season. You won’t find many football people — outside of Oklahoma, or those fueled by anti-SEC sentiment — that think Oklahoma State is a better team than Alabama. The Tide defense is the best in the nation, while OSU’s unit ranks 107th in total defense. For critics of the Tide offense, it ranked 16th in the nation in scoring and was only held down by LSU’s top defense. Other than that game, Bama scored 31 points or less twice — against top-20 defenses in Penn State (27 pts) and Mississippi State (24). Oky State was held to 31 or less twice — to bad defenses in Texas A&M and Iowa State. The reality is that the Cowboys had their shot and choked against unranked Iowa State in a game that OSU led by 17 points in the second half. The BCS Championship Game is simply a matchup of the country’s two best teams and if they happen to be from the same league, so be it.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
I do think the BCS got it right. I am not a huge proponent of the system, but I believe LSU and Alabama are the two best teams in the nation. Oklahoma State, obviously, has a very good team and has a solid argument that it, not Alabama, should be playing LSU in the Louisiana Superdome. But after watching both teams throughout the season, I simply believe Alabama is better. The Tide's defense is the best in the nation — by far, at least statistically — and the running game, led by Trent Richardson, is devastating. I do realize that Oklahoma State does have more quality wins, but Alabama also beat some very good teams and did not lose to a mediocre one like O-State did. As a fan of the sport, I would love to see what the Cowboys could do against LSU, but the system isn't set up to give us the matchup we want to see — it's set up to pit the two best teams in the nation.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
Yes it did. I understand the argument for Oklahoma State in the BCS title game, but I have to disagree and have no disagreement about having a rematch. If LSU is clearly the No. 1 team in the nation, an Alabama team that lost by a field goal in overtime can’t be far behind. As I’ve been saying for most of the year, if the Tigers are No. 1, then the Crimson Tide has to be 1b. Top-to-bottom, the SEC isn’t as strong as it has been in some years. However, Texas and Texas Tech were also down in the Big 12 this year, so the conference strength wasn’t one-sided either way. For anyone that wants to complain about the BCS, this is not where the anger should be directed. The biggest complaint should be about Virginia Tech landing in the Sugar Bowl over Kansas State and Boise State.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
In a totally subjective situation, it is hard not to view Alabama and LSU as the best two teams in the nation. So in that sense, the BCS standings got it right — which is just as much a function of everyone else in the nation as it is the Crimson Tide. The door was open for an undefeated Oklahoma State, Boise State or Stanford to play for the national title and they all lost. Now, I personally do not think you should be allowed to play for the national title if you can't even win your own division, so I would have rather seen another team get a shot at LSU — considering Alabama already got its opportunity and failed. I believe Oklahoma State's resume is significantly better than Alabama's. The Pokes beat eight bowl teams and four BCS top 25 teams (including three of the top 14) while Alabama beat five bowl teams and only three with winning records, including only one top-20 BCS win. I will pick Alabama to win and if they top LSU in the rematch, I would vote for a split national title (unless, of course, they somehow miraculously got to play the rubber match on a neutral site in some cornfield in middle America). It is unfortunate that teams like USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and others don't get a chance to face what we think are the best two teams in the nation.
 

Teaser:
<p> BCS Got It Right with Alabama over Oklahoma State</p>
Post date: Monday, December 5, 2011 - 16:26
Path: /college-football/ucla-coaching-candidates-who%E2%80%99s-leader
Body:

UCLA has a proud tradition in football, but the last two decades have been very mediocre outside of three or four special seasons. The Bruins’ last Rose Bowl win? That would be a victory over Iowa at the end of the 1985 season. UCLA has been to two Rose Bowls since then but lost both to Wisconsin, concluding the 1993 and 1998 seasons. With Rick Neuhesiel leaving, the Bruins need to hit a home run hire. The widely-speculated frontrunner for the job was Boise State’s Chris Petersen, but there are reports he will stay in Idaho. If that is the case, the search becomes wide open. Houston coach Kevin Sumlin’s name comes up in every coaching search, but he may be receive more lucrative offers from Texas A&M and Arizona State. Other names that have been mentioned are former Oregon boss Mike Bellotti and former Raiders coach Tom Cable. Two other bowl-bound head coaches with Pac-12 ties are Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes and Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart. UCLA has traditionally not paid top dollar for coaches, but that may need to change with this hire to rejuvenate the fan base.

Who is your favorite to UCLA’s next coach?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
Boise State’s Chris Petersen should be the obvious top candidate with amazing run with the Broncos, but I do not see him taking the UCLA job. Ditto for Kevin Sumlin, who will probably get more money from other schools. I think three names that would be great fits in Westwood are Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes, Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart and Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. All three have coached in the Pac-12 and are offensive coaches, something the Bruins need badly. Despite Dykes and Taggart having head coaching experience, I think Chryst is a rising star that would be an excellent hire for UCLA. His offenses at Wisconsin and Oregon State have been stellar, and I believe he would be a great fit in the Bruins’ price range and academic culture.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
This is a very important hire for UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero. USC will have scholarship reductions for the next couple of seasons, and the Bruins have only one season of more than eight wins since 1999. The new Pac-12 television contract will add more funds into the Bruins’ search, and it seems like UCLA is ready to make a run at all of the big names available. Even though there are reports that he will not be a candidate, Boise State’s Chris Petersen has to be target No. 1. He is a California native and has an impressive 71-6 record with the Broncos. However, I can’t see him leaving for UCLA. Houston’s Kevin Sumlin should be target No. 2, but it seems Texas A&M or Arizona State is a more likely destination. Where does that leave UCLA? I’d take a look at SMU’s June Jones, former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and Wyoming’s Dave Christensen. None of those names have the flash of a Petersen or Sumlin, but would be a good hire. Out of those three coaches, Jones would be the one I would target. He’s got a flashy offense and has resurrected two programs: SMU and Hawaii.

Nathan Rush
Manny Diaz is wrapping up his first season as the defensive coordinator at Texas, so he may not be in any hurry to move on — and he may have filled Will Muschamp's shoes as the unofficial "coach in waiting... for Mack Brown to retire." If not, UCLA would be a great fit for Diaz. The 37-year-old does not have ties to the West Coast; he is the son and namesake of the former Miami mayor, attended Florida State and coached at NC State, Middle Tennessee and under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State before arriving in Austin. But Diaz's personality and aggressive defensive style will fit in anywhere. Plus, the southern California talent pool is ripe for recruiting, USC has scholarship sanctions and the Pac-12 South is winnable — after all, the Bruins won the division (by default) this year. The great thing about Diaz and UCLA is that the two could grow together. The Bruins have long been in the shadow of the Trojans. But UCLA has the potential to be a "destination"-type of gig. The right coach could go to the Rose Bowl on a consistent basis and possibly contend for BCS national titles at UCLA. Diaz would be that coach.

Mark Ross
I'm going a little outside of the box here, but I'm going to say Jack Del Rio, who was relieved of his duties as the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coach earlier this week. I know that Del Rio is a USC graduate, so it may seem like borderline-blasphemy to even suggest him, but hear me out. UCLA's biggest competition is USC. USC's head coach is Lane Kiffin, who is a big personality, dare I say, slightly arrogant? What better way for UCLA to get back into the game, if you will, then to hire a similar big personality, which is what Del Rio brings. Better still, the two would represent the yin and yang of football, with Kiffin being offense and Del Rio, an All-American linebacker in college and All-Pro in the NFL, who went on to make his name as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator before becoming the Jaguars' head coach, all about the defense. Sure Del Rio has zero experience as a coach in the college ranks, meaning he's never had to recruit a day in his life. But remember, UCLA and USC are in Los Angeles, which is home to Hollywood, the land of big egos, I mean, personalities. So shouldn't the crosstown rivals both have head coaches that fit that mold?
 

Teaser:
<p> UCLA Coaching Candidates: Who’s the Leader?</p>
Post date: Saturday, December 3, 2011 - 16:18
Path: /college-football/can-oklahoma-state-pass-alabama-bcs
Body:

The BCS Championship Game is looking more and more like it will be a rematch between SEC West foes LSU and Alabama. With the top two college football teams in the nation coming from the same division of the same conference, the Tigers will play against Georgia for the SEC crown this weekend while the Tide wait at home. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State will host its Bedlam rival Oklahoma as the Cowboys try to finish 11-1 and win a Big 12 title. OSU is ranked third in the BCS on the strength of being third in computer average; as the Cowboys are fifth in both the Harris and Coaches Polls. The interesting angle to an Oklahoma State win over the Sooners is whether any media members would try to manipulate the current system — presumably to try and block a rematch — and move Mike Gundy’s club up three spots over idle Alabama. With OSU’s strength in the computer rankings and a possible massive jump in the two human polls, it would make the race for BCS spot No. 2 very interesting.

If OSU wins, will voters put the Cowboys ahead of unanimous No. 2 Alabama?

Nathan Rush
There may be some manipulation by the pollsters to avoid an LSU-Alabama rematch in the BCS national title game. And Oklahoma State would be the obvious candidate to benefit from that type of politicking. The truth is, the Pokes already blew their chance with a 37–31 double-overtime loss at Iowa State two weeks ago. An impressive Bedlam win over a banged-up Oklahoma squad would make a statement, for sure. But the die has already been cast — and it's a Crimson Tide. I'd like to see O-State and LSU play, nearly as much as I'm looking forward to seeing a Tide-Tigers rematch. But with the BCS system currently in place, Mike Gundy's men will be left on the outside looking in. Even if the Cowboys beat the Sooners, they will remain ranked behind No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama — and rightfully so.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
Some voters will move Oklahoma State up in the polls if the Pokes beat Oklahoma, but not enough for it to matter. Keep in mind that O-State is fifth — not third — in both the Harris and Coaches polls. This means that a significant number of voters in both polls would have to give Oklahoma State a big bump, assuming it beats Oklahoma. Obviously, a convincing win would help, but I just can't envision a scenario in which enough voters will be that impressed with the Cowboys to give them enough of a bump in the human polls to overtake the Crimson Tide.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I hope voters will not feel a need to make some sort of political statement and change the way they have ranked the teams for the previous month. If so, those voters would be more damaging or fraudulent than any system that they incessantly criticize. If you truly believed Oklahoma State was better than Alabama, then putting the Cowboys No. 2 would be fine. However, that scenario would make much more sense if OSU was No. 3 in the Harris and Coaches Polls, instead of the current No. 5 slot it has in both of those rankings. It’s hard to find many people — outside of Stillwater or those fueled by anti-SEC bias — that think Oklahoma State should be ahead of Alabama. The BCS Championship Game is simply a matchup of the country’s two best teams and if they happen to be from the same league, so be it. Despite a desire for controversy among some media members, I believe most of them will ultimately not try to manipulate the system or their vote.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
I think the only way Oklahoma State can pass Alabama in the polls is a blowout win over Oklahoma. The Cowboys probably have to win by 30 points and the performance would have to leave no doubt they are clearly the No. 2 team. It’s not going to be easy, but there’s always a chance considering how this season has played out. How much of a chance? Slim. The Cowboys have a large gap to close in the BCS standings, which makes it nearly impossible. Had Oklahoma State lost earlier in the year, it’s possible that could have helped it move into the No. 2 spot after the LSU-Alabama Round I in early November. However, losing in mid-November is difficult to overcome in the national title picture. Oklahoma State has had a great season, but I would be shocked if it finds its way into the national title game. All signs point to an Alabama-LSU rematch on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
If the Cowboys look impressive and handle the Sooners with relative ease, there will be plenty of votes for the Pokes at No. 2. And my gut instinct is that most of those that place the Pokes above Alabama will be doing so strictly because they do not want to see a rematch — not because they actually believe that Oklahoma State is the better team. Which, in my opinion, is the wrong thing to do — just like if you voted Florida above Michigan in 2006 strictly due to the rematch factor. If a voter truly believes the Cowboys (or Gators in 2006) are the better team, they have an obligation to vote them higher. The truth of the matter is Oklahoma State actually has the better resume. The Cowboys have more BCS top 25 wins, a tougher schedule and would deserve a chance to play for the national title. However, if you asked me after all the dust has settled, who is the better team: Alabama or Oklahoma State? I am taking the Tide all day - even if a rematch doesn't jive with my inner sports philosophies.
 

Teaser:
<p> Can Oklahoma State Pass Alabama in the BCS?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 15:00
Path: /college-football/illinois-coaching-candidates-who%E2%80%99s-leader
Body:

The rollercoaster tenure of Ron Zook has ended after seven seasons at Illinois, and athletic director Mike Thomas is conducting a search that has a wide array of candidates. Houston coach Kevin Sumlin’s name seems to come up in every coaching search, and he did play (Purdue) and has been an assistant coach (Minnesota and Purdue) in the Big Ten. When Thomas was the athletic director at Cincinnati, he hired current Bearcats boss Butch Jones. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi are two popular names in the Illini search, although neither has head coaching experience. Former Illinois player Kirby Wilson, currently the running backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, will also get a strong look. Big Ten Leaders opponents Ohio State (Urban Meyer) and Penn State will have new coaches, and the Illini will need a solid hire to try and compete in a tough division.

Who is your favorite to be Illinois’ next coach?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
This is really a wide-open coaching search, and I’m not sure there is a clear favorite. Illinois’ first call should be to Houston’s Kevin Sumlin. He has Big Ten experience, playing at Purdue and later coaching at Minnesota. Sumlin may be more interested in Kansas or Arizona State, but it’s at least worth a phone call. If Sumlin turns down an offer, my next calls would be to Eastern Michigan’s Ron English or Arkansas State’s Hugh Freeze. English has Big Ten coaching experience, coaching at Michigan under Lloyd Carr. While English’s 8-28 record may not seem impressive, Eastern Michigan might be one of the most difficult jobs in college football. After going 2-22 through the first two seasons, the Eagles finished 6-6 this year, which was only their second season of at least six victories since 1988. Freeze has been a winner at each of his stops, including a 9-2 record at Arkansas State and a share of the Sun Belt title this season.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
Houston's Kevin Sumlin will be on every short list for every opening in college football. And rightly so, he is a quality option with a winning track record. However, if I was Illinois AD Mike Thomas, I am going after Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. The UW graduate is the architect of the best Badgers offenses in the history of the program and has been mentioned for bigger jobs at places like Texas. He has remained at Wisconsin for a reason: He is waiting for the right job at the right time. Illinois has rebuilt its facilities over the last decade, has loads quality talent returning in 2012 and Chryst has intimate knowledge of the midwestern recruiting territory. Anytime you follow a Ron Zook coaching tenure you are bound to find the ingredients for success minus quality leadership and intelligent game-planning — which Chryst brings with him in droves from Madison.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
My choice at Illinois would Hugh Freeze from Arkansas State. I realize Kevin Sumlin from Houston might have more experience as a head coach and has some ties to the Big Ten — he played at Purdue — but I believe Freeze is destined to be a great head coach at the major conference level. With one game remaining in his first season at Arkansas State, Freeze has an overall record of 9–2 and a perfect 7–0 mark in the Sun Belt. The Red Wolves’ only two losses came in September, at Illinois (33–15) and at Virginia Tech (26–7). Last year, ASU went 4–8 overall and 4–4 in league play — due to a defense that was among the worst in the nation. With Freeze as the offensive coordinator in 2010 — his first season on staff — Arkansas State improved from 328.8 yards and 22.7 points per game in ’09 to 403.4 yards and 30.0 points in ’10 — and this occurred despite the loss of a four-year starter at quarterback and a three-time 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield. Freeze also has previous success as a head coach. He was 20–5 in his two-year stint as the coach at Lambuth College, an NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn. Freeze might not be a household name in the Midwest, but the buy would be a big hit at Illinois.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I think it comes down to Cincinnati’s Butch Jones or Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, and Jones would have to be the slight leader because of his head coaching experience and past working relationship with Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas. After an injury-filled 2010 season, Jones looked to have the Bearcats set for a Big East title this season until losing star quarterback Zach Collaros against West Virginia. Thomas hired Jones at Cincinnati, and the new Illinois boss knows exactly what he would be getting in the current Bearcats’ boss. I think Chryst would be an excellent hire as well, and he will be a head coach somewhere soon. Kevin Sumlin of Houston seems like he may go to the spread/pass-happy world of the Big 12 or Pac-12, so I’ll take Jones as Illinois’ leader.

Nathan Rush
Follow my logic: Illinois football... Dick Butkus... Beer and Brats... Da Bears... Mike Ditka... Mustaches... Dave Wannstedt. That's the answer. The Fighting Illini need Wannstedt, a proven coach with a power 'stache and physical brand of old-school, Midwestern football. Wannstedt is an outside-the-box hire who may not get the base excited; but the 59-year-old would be a perfect fit in the Big Ten and especially at Illinois, a middling program that won't be able to land one of the top coaches on the open market. Wannstedt is only one year removed from coaching at Pittsburgh, where he went 42–31 over six seasons. He is a respected defensive mind whose offensive weapon of choice is an elite workhorse running back (a la LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis), which happens to be the Illini's only recent recruiting strength (see: Mendenhall, Rashard; Leshoure, Mikel). Wannstedt has an impressive NFL resume — as a Super Bowl-winning assistant in Dallas and a Coach of the Year in Chicago — as well as recent college head-coaching experience. More than anything, I just want Dave Wannstedt back on the sideline, leading a college football team. Illinois should be that team.
 

Teaser:
<p> There are a wide array of&nbsp;Illinois Coaching Candidates.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 14:48
Path: /college-football/derek-dooley-hot-seat-tennessee
Body:

The Tennessee football program will be watching bowl season from home, and Vols fans are already contemplating if head coach Derek Dooley can lead them back to prominence. Tennessee is historically a top ten football program, but that has been nowhere near the case for the last four years. Phil Fulmer had an amazing run from 1992-2004 before letting the program slip severely, missing the postseason in both 2005 and 2008. Enter the scorched-earth policy of Lane Kiffin, who cost the program massive personnel losses between running off players and recruiting others who were not fits in an academic or proper-behavior setting. Consequently, Derek Dooley inherited low scholarship numbers and was asked to clean things up from Kiffin’s recruiting “style”. Dooley seems to be everything that Tennessee wants as a leader, but the results on the field have been horrible. The Vols have dealt with extensive youth and injuries — including losing quarterback Tyler Bray and top receiver Justin Hunter for major parts of this season — over the last two years, but that does not explain his 11-14 Rocky Top record to many fans and college football observers.

Is Dooley already in trouble in Knoxville?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I think Dooley is in trouble, although I do not expect Tennessee to make a move this offseason and deal with the attrition of four coaches in five seasons. Dooley is a very likeable leader who does things the right way, but there are no indications that things will improve on The Hill. The Vols were young this season and did suffer key injuries, but those are reasons why you don’t compete with the SEC elite — not excuses for going 5-7 and playing lethargic, uninspired ball against Kentucky with your season on the line. There are some scary stats from Dooley’s second campaign — 117th in the country in rushing, 70th nationally in rushing defense, dead last in SEC games in scoring, rushing yards per carry (2.3) and rushing yards per game (63.5) — but the fact the Vols program seems much closer to Vanderbilt and Kentucky than it does to Alabama, LSU, Georgia, etc. is disconcerting on Rocky Top. This is not the first time in Tennessee’s storied history that it has faced the obstacles of youth and injuries, but it is the first time in a century (1910-11) that the Vols have had two consecutive losing seasons. Dooley is the type of coach you want to back, and he does compete in America’s toughest league. Maybe he can win eight or nine games next season and surprise us all, but there is no current reason to believe that will happen.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
I believe it’s fair to say that Derek Dooley will be on the hot seat in 2012, his third season in Knoxville. He didn’t inherit an ideal situation at Tennessee, but he has done nothing in his two seasons to prove that he is the long term answer for the Vols. In five years as a head coach (three at Louisiana Tech and two at UT), Dooley has a 16–24 record in conference play. In his two seasons at Tennessee, he is 4¬–12 in the SEC, with two wins over Vanderbilt and one win over Ole Miss and Kentucky. That simply isn’t good enough. His 2011 team was hit hard by injuries, losing star wideout Justin Hunter to a torn ACL in Week 3 and quarterback Tyler Bray to a broken thumb for five games. That can explain some of this team’s struggles, but there is no reason that Tennessee should have had so much difficulty running the ball. The Vols ranked 117th in the nation in rushing, averaging a paltry 90.1 yards per game. That is inexcusable.

It’s always dangerous to throw out a number of wins required for a coach to keep his job, but Dooley will probably need to win at least eight games in 2012. Regardless, though, his team needs to look like it has improved — something that can’t be said for each of the last two seasons.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
I think it’s too early to judge Dooley at Tennessee. Yes, back-to-back losing seasons are a disappointment and Saturday’s loss to Kentucky isn’t sitting well in Knoxville, but the cupboard wasn’t exactly full when he took the job. Had quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Justin Hunter stayed healthy for the full year, it’s likely the Volunteers could have gotten to at least 6-6 or pulled off an upset to get to 7-5. One alarming trend developing for Tennessee is the losses in SEC play over the last two years. Out of the seven defeats in conference games this season, four of those were by more than 10 points. The schedule has been brutal the last two years, with South Carolina improving, along with catching SEC West games against LSU and Arkansas in 2011. If the Volunteers go 6-6 or 5-7 next year, then it’s time to put Dooley on the hot seat. However, Tennessee is recruiting well and there’s a lot of young talent that should help this team get back into a bowl game next year.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
In theory, every single coach in America is on the "hot seat." It is a vague term that represents a portion of every fan base that is unhappy with the current performance of its head coach. At times, that portion of the fan base is more passionate and more justified. No matter the verbiage used, Derek Dooley will be facing THE make or break season in Knoxville next fall. He has unquestionably had terrible luck: Losing the team's top three players for the better part of the season, the tumultuous way in which he landed the gig and the lack of talent when he got to campus have all been a part of the 14 losses Tennessee has experienced over the last two seasons. That said, the offensive line was young and talented entering this season and showed very little growth and development — try last in the SEC in rushing and 117th nationally. And there was a clear divide within the locker room between the veterans and the younger players and it cost them a bowl game. The team chemistry issues in particular give pause, as uniting a locker room is one aspect of coaching that can be not only controlled, but maximized by a strong, positive leader. If this team is healthy and develops on offense, Tennessee should be poised for eight wins (and Dooley will have proven he belongs). But if the Vols play like they did against Kentucky ever again, his time on Rocky Top will come to an abrupt end.
 

Teaser:
<p> Derek Dooley may be on the Hot Seat at Tennessee.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 16:22
Path: /college-football/dan-mullen-leads-candidates-penn-state
Body:

The search for the next Penn State head coach took an interesting turn over the weekend with the news that current Miami coach and former PSU player Al Golden signed a new four-year contract extension that stretches to February 2020. So where will the Nittany Lions turn now as they try to move away from the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal and the subsequent firing of Joe Paterno? Many around college football believe that Penn State will stay away from candidates with Paterno ties, but that may not be the case in the end. Interim coach Tom Bradley will get consideration, as will several coaches with PSU or state of Pennsylvania connections such as Rutgers’ Greg Schiano, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin. Other top candidates will include Virginia’s Mike London, Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. The Big Ten’s Leaders division has had a year of scandals, and next season will look much different with new leadership at Ohio State (Urban Meyer), Penn State and Illinois.

Who is your favorite to be Penn State's next coach?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
Until Al Golden signed his extension at Miami, I thought he had to be candidate No. 1. Now it appears to be a wide-open race. Interim coach Tom Bradley seems to have a decent shot of keeping the full-time gig, but I think the one to watch is Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen. Although he’s raised the bar in Starkville, how much higher can he take the program in a brutal SEC West? Mullen may seem like a strange fit at first, but he is a Pennsylvania native and went to college in the state at Ursinus. If Penn State is willing to pay, Mullen would be a great hire. Outside of Mullen, not many names are jumping out as frontrunners for the job. The Nittany Lions would also be wise to take a look at Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, who I think is one of the most underrated coaches in college football.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
Since the contracts coaches and universities sign aren't really worth paper they are printed on, I would not be entirely shocked to see Al Golden coaching in Happy Valley next season. However, after some of that tricky "coach speak" with a reporter last week, all signs point to the Penn State alum staying in Coral Gables. And Greg Schiano recently told Sirius XM Radio that the only job he is interested in is Rutgers. That leaves Tom Bradley, Dan Mullen, Mike London, Kevin Sumlin, Kirk Ferentz and others as possible choices. Mullen appears to be the most ready and with deep ties to the Keystone State, would be a perfect fit in the region. He also removes himself from the brutal SEC West battleground and gets the opportunity to duke it out with mentor Urban Meyer every season in the Leaders Division. It may be too early to predict, but I will go with the Drexel Hill, Pa., native and Ursinus (Pa.) College grad to be coaching in State College next fall.

Nathan Rush
There is no clear-cut "favorite" for the next Penn State coach, in terms of an obvious hire who will certainly take the job — like Urban Meyer to Ohio State, for example. There are several good coaches with ties to Linebacker U., the question is whether any will take the job following the Jerry Sandusky scandal and subsequent Joe Paterno firing? Miami coach Al Golden would be my top choice; but the former Penn State tight end just signed a four-year contract extension at the U. The best realistic candidate is Rutgers' Greg Schiano, a former Penn State assistant who has long been rumored to be JoePa's successor. Schiano has lost some luster of late and is no longer the red-hot national candidate he once was; but he is a proven commodity whose recruiting ties in New Jersey would be a natural fit at PSU. A flashier hire would be Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, who was born in Pennsylvania and would have a better chance to contend for a BCS bowl in the Big Ten than the SEC West. If the Nittany Lions take a few public rejections, they may fall back on a safety-net option like Connecticut's Paul Pasqualoni, a former Penn State linebacker who would certainly say "yes" if asked to be PSU's next coach. Oddly enough, Pasqualoni's long facial features and white hair resemble those of Sandusky a little too much for him to be the next head coach; but he'd be a perfect top assistant for a less-proven, younger hire. A longshot to keep in mind would be Delaware's K.C. Keeler, a Keystone State native who has led the Blue Hens to three FCS national title games since 2002.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I think it comes down to Dan Mullen or Mike London, with a slight edge to Mullen. Besides playing college ball in Pennsylvania and his father graduating from Penn State, Mullen has quickly changed the program at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs won nine games in his second year, including destroying Michigan in the Gator Bowl. MSU has six losses this season, but five of those were to teams in the Top 15 in the nation. Mullen was an assistant for very successful teams at Florida and Utah, and he would be a great fit in Happy Valley if Penn State will pay the freight to get him to leave Starkville. London’s name is also one to keep in mind, as he has engineered eight wins at Virginia this season. He won a FCS national title at Richmond and would be a solid choice for PSU as well.
 

Teaser:
<p> Dan Mullen leads the head coaching candidates at Penn State.</p>
Post date: Monday, November 28, 2011 - 16:09
Path: /college-football/clemson-gets-edge-over-south-carolina
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Clemson versus South Carolina is one of the more underrated and hate-filled rivalries in college football. The Gamecocks and Tigers have been playing since 1896, and Clemson the all-time series 65-39-4. The Tigers won 10 of the 12 matchups from 1997 to 2008, but Steve Spurrier’s crew has rebounded to win the last two games in the series. Both teams enter Saturday’s battle ranked in the Top 20 with 9-2 records. Clemson started 8-0, but the Tigers have lost two of their last three. However, Dabo Swinney’s bunch should get standout receiver Sammy Watkins back from injury this weekend. South Carolina has struggled to score points since losing All-America running back Marcus Lattimore to a knee injury.

Who wins the battle of the Palmetto State?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Clemson has been trending in the wrong direction over the last few weeks, but I think it will knock off South Carolina on Saturday. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has struggled with turnovers recently, throwing two interceptions in each of his last three games. However, the Tigers will get some help for their passing game, as receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to return from a shoulder injury this week. With Watkins back in the mix, the Tigers will be able to stretch the field with his speed. While getting Watkins back will help, Clemson has to do a better job of pass protection, especially against an active South Carolina defensive line. The Gamecocks have struggled to generate offense without running back Marcus Lattimore, but have to find a way to control the clock and keep the Tigers’ passing attack on the sideline. Whichever team is able to get its style of play going will win this game. Clemson’s best chance to get a victory rests with jumping on the Gamecocks and pulling ahead early. Even though the Tigers have struggled recently, I think they will find a way to win on Saturday.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Sammy Watkins says he will be 100% at kickoff and that may be all that matters. The Tigers have turned the ball over entirely too much lately, and South Carolina has played great defense of late. But with nothing on the line for either team in terms of conference championships, pure hatred should fuel this rivalry. Clemson should right the ship on offense with Watkins in the game and will outlast a South Carolina team that has struggled to score points.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
While there is concern for South Carolina’s lack of offense, I think the Gamecocks find a way to win at home in this heated rivalry game. Running back Brandon Wilds has topped 100 yards in three of the last four USC games, and quarterback Connor Shaw has showed a solid ability to run the ball as well. I see South Carolina keeping the ball on the ground and away from the Clemson offense. The Tigers will get a boost from the return of freshman wideout Sammy Watkins, but South Carolina will be the toughest defense that Tajh Boyd and company have seen this year. The atmosphere at Williams-Brice Stadium will be electric, and I’ll take South Carolina to win by three.
 

Teaser:
<p> Clemson and South Carolina will be play for instate bragging rights and a 10-win season.</p>
Post date: Friday, November 25, 2011 - 16:50
Path: /college-football/alabama-auburn-edges-ohio-state-michigan-intensity
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The Wolverines versus the Buckeyes. The Iron Bowl. We will witness two of college football’s greatest rivalries this weekend when Alabama plays at Auburn and Ohio State travels to Michigan. Many pundits and fans argue which of these two games is the most intense and best rivalry in the sport. The Michigan-Ohio State game really flourished during the tenures of Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes, especially with the latter’s hatred for the Wolverines. Big Ten supremacy has often been on the line for the last 40+ years when the OSU and Michigan meet. Alabama and Auburn started in 1893 but went on hiatus from 1908-1947 because of disagreements between the two schools. Once it resumed, the Iron Bowl quickly became known as the most important day of the year in the Yellowhammer State. The Tigers and Tide always play one of the hardest-hitting games of the college football season, and the winner of the last two Iron Bowls has gone on to win the national title.

More intense: Ohio State-Michigan or Alabama-Auburn?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I think it has to be the Iron Bowl. You have to make a decision at an early age in the state of Alabama, “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.” Both games have had national significance, Hall of Fame coaches, great players and Heisman winners, but what separates the Auburn-Alabama rivalry is that the fans live in the same state. I don’t want to say the Michigan-Ohio State is overhyped, but their fans do not have as much of the constant hate or frustration that builds up from having to see their rival’s fans on a daily basis. If you have spent any time in the state of Alabama, you know the feeling between the two fan bases. Michigan-Ohio State and Auburn-Alabama are obviously both great rivalries that we all watch intently on Saturday, but I’ll take the Iron Bowl as the most intense.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
You really can’t go wrong with this answer, but I’m going to say Alabama-Auburn. The past few seasons, there has been more on the line between these two teams. The Tigers and Crimson Tide are the last two national champions, so the stakes have been raised in the recent meetings. There’s nothing wrong with the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. I enjoy watching both every year. However, it recently seems there has been less intensity or at least interest nationally, especially with the Wolverines struggling under Rich Rodriguez. With Urban Meyer taking over in Columbus, and Brady Hoke pushing Michigan back into Big Ten title contention, I have no doubt this rivalry will increase in intensity over the next few years.

Nathan Rush
Last year, Auburn-Alabama was the de facto national championship game. But in terms of pure, intense "rivalry" it does not get any better than Michigan-Ohio State, which dates back to 1897 and has decided multiple national champions and Heisman Trophy winners — with Desmond Howard's Heisman pose against the Buckeyes punctuating his 1991 campaign and becoming one of the more iconic moments in college football history. There is too much tradition and pride. The Wolverines and Buckeyes have combined to claim 18 national championships and 10 Heisman Trophy winners. U-M and OSU have the history, highlighted by Bo vs. Woody, as well as recent relevance, with a combined two national titles and three Heisman winners in the 15 seasons prior to 2011. Last season's unbelievable comeback by the Tigers, who trailed the Crimson Tide 24–7 at the half before riding Cam Newton to a 28–27 win in Tuscaloosa, was one for the ages. But Michigan-Ohio State is the more intense rivalry.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
Fan is short for fanatic. Not rational or logical or reasonable. Every fan base in the nation has a portion of insanely passionate, blinded-by-love rooters who wear only one pair of colored glasses. That percentage just happens to be higher in the state of Alabama than anywhere else. So while the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry might have had more national appeal over time, has historically drawn a bigger TV rating and has been a more important game within the landscape of deciding a conference winner, nothing can compare to the fervor and vitriol swirling around the Iron Bowl. In what other rivalry does a man commit a misdemeanor by trying to kill a bunch of trees and then call the most listened to radio station in the state to brag about it?
 

Teaser:
<p> Alabama-Auburn tops Ohio State-Michigan in intensity.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 17:03
Path: /college-football/lsu-has-tough-road-bcs-title-game
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The LSU Tigers clearly have the best resume in college football and of course are ranked No. 1. But after watching top team after top team fall over the last month, you have to wonder if Les Miles’ bunch can finish the season with a perfect record and head to the BCS Championship Game. It seems like most of the college football world is already assuming the Tigers will cruise to the national title game, but they face the No. 3 (Arkansas) and — potentially in the SEC Championship Game — the No. 13 (Georgia) teams in the BCS rankings over the next two Saturdays. After watching college football get an O-face (Oklahoma State, Oregon, Ohio State and Oklahoma all lost) last weekend, another upset seems very possible.

Does LSU beat both Arkansas and Georgia?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
My first thought was that LSU will not beat both Arkansas and Georgia. But after thinking it over — and taking another look at the Tigers’ stats — I changed my mind. LSU is simply playing at such a high level right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Amazingly, the Tigers have allowed 11 points or less in all seven of their SEC games to date. I realize that this league isn’t loaded with top-flight offenses, but that is still an incredible accomplishment. Arkansas, with one of the nation’s top passing attacks, will test the LSU defense, but the Hogs have yet to prove that they can be as formidable on the road. Georgia is playing well, but keep in mind that the seven SEC teams the Dawgs have defeated have a combined record of 12–39 in league play. LSU is too good to stub its toe before the BCS title game.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
First up, the Arkansas Razorbacks. While I do think that they have the formula to challenge an LSU defense — incredibly deep receiving corps, mad genius designing plays and a capable quarterback who can get the ball down the field — I am not sure I have seen anything from the Hogs to suggest that they are not the exact same team that didn't belong on the field with Alabama. Especially since they would have to go into Baton Rouge and beat the Tigers with the entire college football world focused on Death Valley. Thus, your LSU Tigers are SEC West champs and have the unenviable task of facing one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Georgia Bulldogs, if they can topple rival Georgia Tech, will have won 10 straight games since losing to two teams ranked in the Top 12 of the BCS. Quick, who is the No. 2 rushing defense in the nation? Nope, it's not LSU, it is Georgia. Quick, who leads the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss? Not LSU or Alabama, but Georgia. The Dawgs have the best quarterback in the league and will get a slight home-field advantage in the Georgia Dome. So if UGA beats Tech, I will be the first to stand up and call for the upset in the SEC title game. If they stumble against the Jackets, I will say that the Bayou Bengals will be taking the short trip south to the Superdome in early January.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
It will be difficult to get past both Arkansas and Georgia on successive Saturdays, but I think LSU does it. There’s just something about this bunch of Bengal Tigers — besides being talented and well-coached — that seems to have them destined for a BCS Championship Game berth. The Razorbacks present a big concern with their passing game, especially after West Virginia threw for a ton of yards against LSU. However, the Mountaineers only scored 21 points in that game. Oregon had to score a touchdown with 13 seconds to go just to cut it to 40-27 against the Tigers. Every other team on the LSU schedule has scored 11 or fewer points against a defense that ranks No. 2 in the country. I think the top threat to LSU’s perfection is the team with the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense, Alabama, and the country’s two best teams seem to be on a collision course for a rematch in January.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
Considering the chaos that college football provided last weekend, nothing would surprise me over the next two weeks. I’ve gone back and forth on this question. No one is invincible this year and LSU could certainly lose to Arkansas or Georgia. Out of those two games, I think the Bulldogs are the bigger obstacle to an undefeated season. The defense is capable of shutting down the Tigers’ rushing attack, while Aaron Murray and Isaiah Crowell would be a challenge for LSU’s defense. Despite the upset possibilities in the SEC title game or against Arkansas, I’m going to guess the Tigers will find a way to win both games and play for the national title with a 13-0 record.
 

Teaser:
<p> LSU has a tough road to the BCS Title Game, with Arkansas and potentially Georgia still on the schedule.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 14:52
Path: /college-football/urban-meyer-ohio-state-done-deal
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Multiple reports surfaced last week that former Florida coach Urban Meyer had agreed in principle to take over at Ohio State after the regular season concludes. The current college football commentator, who left the Gators last year after citing health and family reasons, has denied the reports and said that he and the Buckeyes’ administration have not talked. Is Meyer to be believed? Many around the game think not, and that he is already working on a potential OSU coaching staff. The controversial coach is an Ohio native, and he has been the favorite to be the next permanent Buckeyes’ boss since Jim Tressel resigned amid a cheating and coverup scandal. The NCAA punishment should come soon for Ohio State, and then heavy speculation has Meyer moving to Columbus shortly thereafter.

Is Urban Meyer the next coach at Ohio State?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
I would be very shocked if Urban Meyer is not coaching at Ohio State in 2012. All signs seem to point to Meyer taking the job and it makes sense from both sides. The only holdup could be any sanctions the NCAA hands down to Ohio State. If the Buckeyes are slapped with significant scholarship reductions and a bowl ban, the two-time national championship coach may not take the job. Meyer grew up in Ohio and coached in Columbus from 1986-87, so there’s plenty of familiarity on both sides. Also, the Buckeyes should be able to spend big-time bucks on building a staff, which will help reduce some of the workload on Meyer. Although he has denied it, barring a last-minute change of heart or significant NCAA sanctions, Meyer will be the next head coach at Ohio State.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
Barring a last minute change of mind or heavier NCAA sanctions than expected, all signs point to Urban Meyer taking over at Ohio State. I certainly believe the multiple reports more than Meyer’s denials. From recruiting to the way he left Florida, the truth and Urban Meyer do not always seem to agree. After a year off, it makes sense that Meyer would return to another big-time job. Although he was successful at the highest level of college football, the SEC meat-grinder wore Meyer down physically and mentally. Now recharged, he should be successful back in his home state. As for the Buckeyes, it’s a chance to get a coach with a big name who can win games quickly — a factor that seems to be the only goal of the Ohio State administration. As for Florida players and fans, I imagine they will feel a little betrayed to watch Meyer take over the program that the Gators crushed in the 2006 BCS Championship Game.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
In the modern era of social media and message boards, very little can be kept secret in the arena of sports. So trying to conceal that Urban Meyer has potentially accepted the Ohio State job would be like, well, trying to cover-up the digital fingerprint of a state university email chain. It cannot be done. Multiple unnamed sources have confirmed to a variety of outlets that early in December (say, perhaps shortly after a late November conference call with the NCAA?), Meyer will formally accept the OSU head coaching position. His official denials carry about as much weight as Nick Saban's "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" refutation. It appears that he is building his staff already and that it won't be long before the Ohio native is the boss of the best job in the Big Ten. This is a huge coup for Buckeyes fans, but a word of caution, as there is some level of uncertainty to hiring the prodigal son. He did just walk away from arguably the second-best job in the nation after only six years of coaching. But I suppose Buck-Nuts everywhere would take three division titles, a Heisman Trophy and two BCS national championships if it meant he were to retire in 2018, right?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
I do believe Urban Meyer will be the head coach of the Buckeyes in 2012. While he may enjoy broadcasting and he may have wanted to take a longer break from coaching, this opportunity will be too good to pass up. He is an Ohio native who has dreamed of coaching at Ohio State. Even with potential NCAA sanctions looming, this is still one of the very top jobs in all of coaching. At this stage of his career, he simply cannot say no to the Buckeyes.
 

Teaser:
<p> Many reports are claiming Urban Meyer will be the next coach at Ohio State.</p>
Post date: Monday, November 21, 2011 - 16:34
Path: /college-football/ole-miss-needs-home-run-hire-next-coach
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After winning nine games in each of Houston Nutt’s first two seasons in Oxford, the Ole Miss program has been in a complete freefall. The Rebels went 4-8 last year, and the 2011 season has actually been worse. Ole Miss has now lost 12 consecutive SEC games and looks to be headed for a 2-10 campaign. The last time the Rebels finished a year with two wins was 1946, a year before the legendary John Vaught took over in Oxford. Nutt was fired on November 7 after a 30-13 loss at Kentucky, which was followed by an embarrassing defeat to Louisiana Tech, at home, 27-7. Having hit rock bottom, the only conversation in The Grove these days concerns the next coach. With the SEC as tough as ever, Ole Miss cannot miss on this hire and cement itself in the cellar of the league.

Who is your favorite to be the next coach at Ole Miss?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
This is an extremely important hire for Ole Miss. With Mississippi State getting better under Dan Mullen, plus the addition of Texas A&M to the SEC West, the Rebels need to make some progress in 2012 and 2013. I think a proven coach will be sought and that leads me to a couple of names: former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, Southern Miss’ Larry Fedora, Arkansas State’s Hugh Freeze and UL Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth. Rodriguez would be an interesting fit in the SEC and would be my first choice if I was making the hire. However, I don’t think he will get the job. I think it’s much more likely that Freeze or Fedora is the next head coach in Oxford. Between those two, I will take Freeze. He has already coached at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron and would be a hit on the recruiting trail, as well as with the boosters. In one season at Arkansas State, Freeze has the Red Wolves in position to win the Sun Belt title and was a successful coach at Lambuth. It’s going to take a year or two to make the Rebels into a consistent bowl team, but Freeze is the right man for the job.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
It’s a shame that this question comes right after Southern Miss lost to UAB, but I still believe USM’s Larry Fedora is the hire for Ole Miss. He is in his fourth year in Hattiesburg, and the Golden Eagles will finish 10-2 this season and play for the Conference USA title. Fedora is a bright offensive mind and was an offensive coordinator in the SEC (Florida) and Big 12 (Oklahoma State) before becoming a head coach. He also has extensive ties to Texas prep football, which will serve as a major asset in recruiting. I do think Rich Rodriguez or Mike Leach would fit in Oxford because they can be successful without having to win the major recruiting battles against the superpowers in the SEC. However with Archie Manning co-chairing the search, I don’t expect much ‘drama’ with this hire. Hugh Freeze and Mark Hudspeth are intriguing candidates as well, but Larry Fedora is the best fit for Ole Miss.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
I would hire Hugh Freeze, the current head coach at Arkansas State. He has done a terrific job in two seasons in Jonesboro, first as the offensive coordinator (2010) and now as the man in charge. The Red Wolves are 8–2 overall and a perfect 6–0 in the Sun Belt Conference. This is a significant improvement from the last season of the Steve Roberts era, when ASU went 4–8 overall and 4–4 in the league. Freeze was also successful in a previous stint as a head coach, going 20–5 in two seasons at Lambuth College, an NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn. Freeze, best known as Michael Oher’s high school coach in Memphis, has experience at Ole Miss, having served on Ed Orgeron’s staff from 2006-07. He might not be the flashiest name, but Freeze has all the qualities that Ole Miss should be looking for — success as a head coach, ties to the program and a familiarity with the school’s primary recruiting area.

Nathan Rush
Tell that swashbuckling former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach to grow a Colonel Reb mustache, mix a Hot Toddy and head down to The Grove, because he's my first choice to coach Ole Miss following the firing of Houston Nutt. In 10 seasons as the coach of the Red Raiders, Leach posted an 84–43 overall record, 47–33 mark in the Big 12 and was invited to a bowl game every year he coached in Lubbock. Leach's wide open spread passing attack also worked at Kentucky and Oklahoma, where he was offensive coordinator before being hired by Texas Tech in 2000. Leach would be a controversial hire, but one that would bring immediate excitement to a program that has grown stagnant. Oxford is a great college town and Ole Miss' facilities are better than most fans realize; the right coach should be able to take the Rebels to a bowl every season. I've decided Leach is that coach; now I'm going to The Library.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
Who I would hire if I was the new Ole Miss athletic director and who I think will land the job are two totally different questions. I would call Guz Malzahn first, Mike Leach second and Rich Rodriguez third. Those unique offensive schemes are perfect for leveling the playing field against the bigger, more powerful athletic departments of the SEC West. But, for a variety of reasons, I do not see any of those names coaching in Oxford next fall. Larry Fedora of Southern Miss, Mark Hudspeth of UL Lafayette and Hugh Freeze of Arkansas State are the most likely candidates to make the final cut. Fair or not, Freeze is entirely to closely tied to Ed Orgeron for me to offer him the job, but I think he will win the day and land the Ole Miss gig over rising stars Fedora and Hudspeth.
 

Teaser:
<p> Ole Miss Needs a Home Run Hire as Next Coach.</p>
Post date: Saturday, November 19, 2011 - 16:12
Path: /college-football/alabama-tops-oregon-and-oklahoma-best-1-loss-team
Body:

As Oregon was finishing off Stanford last Saturday night, many members in the college football media wanted to debate the nation’s next best team after LSU and Oklahoma State. The Ducks were impressive in that win over the Cardinal, but it’s the same squad that was dismantled by LSU. Alabama lost in overtime to the Bengal Tigers, and the Tide has the best defense in the nation. But some are now saying that LaMichael James and Oregon may have surpassed the Tide. Oklahoma is still in the conversation, but the home loss to a very mediocre Texas Tech club seems to clearly put the Sooners behind Alabama and Oregon. Arkansas is up there as well, but the Hogs were destroyed by the Tide for their only loss. Some in ACC country may even argue that Clemson and Virginia Tech deserve consideration.

Who is the best 1-loss team in the nation?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch
Alabama is the best one-loss team in the nation. In fact, the Crimson Tide might be the best team in the nation, period, but it's kind of hard to make that argument since they lost at home to LSU. Alabama gets the nod over teams like Oklahoma and Oregon because of its defense, which is the best in the nation — and it’s not even close. Nick Saban’s club is allowing an average of 181.4 yards per game and 3.15 yards per play. Next on the list, in both categories, is LSU at 253.2 yards per game and 4.01 yards per play. Those are astounding gaps between No. 1 and No. 2 in the national rankings for both categories. And it’s not like Alabama is weak on the offensive side of the ball. The Tide rank 35th in the nation in total offense (434.2 ypg) and 25th in scoring offense (34.5 ppg). They boast arguably the top running back in the nation in junior Trent Richardson, and the offensive line is among the best in college football, as well. Other than the kicking game, which was an issue in the loss to LSU, Alabama is a team with very few weaknesses.

Nathan Rush
Any team whose only loss is to LSU deserves mention as the best one-loss team in the nation. That list consists of Oregon (40–27 loss at Cowboys Stadium in the season-opener on Sept. 3), Alabama (9–6 loss in overtime in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5) and soon-to-be Oklahoma State (pending a loss in the BCS national title game in New Orleans on Jan. 9). Aside from my man Mike Gundy's currently-undefeated Cowboys — who, in all seriousness, I do think could defeat even a full-strength Oklahoma squad and will give the Bayou Bengals a serious battle for the BCS crystal — Chip Kelly's Ducks and Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are in a league of their own compared to their one-loss peers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Stanford, Boise State and Southern Miss. But when debating West Coast highlighter vs. Deep South houndstooth, the choice is clear. Oregon is a much better squad than it was in the opener; but Alabama remains arguably the most complete team — roster and coaching staff combined — in the country. If there were a college football playoff, the Tide would be the pre-tourney Vegas favorite. Bama is by far the best one-loss team in the nation.

A.J. JacobsonDuckSportsAuthority.com (@AJ_Jacobson
The 2011 Oregon Ducks opened the season very young, but it still took a -3 turnover margin and the best team in college football — the LSU Tigers — to hand Chip Kelly’s group their only loss. Oregon’s latest 23-point win on the road against Stanford is clear indication of this team’s trajectory. The Ducks are third in the nation in scoring offense, fifth in rushing and eighth in total offense. Since losing to LSU, Oregon has won nine straight games and every one of them has been by at least 15 points. The Ducks should continue their current dominance against USC this weekend and should be considered to best 1-loss team.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
Since I still think that Alabama is the best team in the nation, I would have to say the Crimson Tide. But there are a lot of other teams I would not want to play right now. Oklahoma might be the second-best team in the nation, but cannot stay healthy. Oregon is on a roll offensively. Virginia Tech is rounding into one of the more complete teams in the nation behind the development of Logan Thomas. Two teams I would not want to play in my conference title game (talking to you Michigan State and LSU) is the Georgia Bulldogs or the Wisconsin Badgers — both of whom are wildly underrated in the polls. Clemson, Boise State, Stanford and Arkansas are on a lower tier in my opinion but are all tough outs as well. All of that said, I would not pick any of them to beat Alabama.

Josh McCuistion SoonerScoop.com (@JLMcCuistion)
Oklahoma's case is simple, it's collection of quality wins particularly away from Norman with road trips to Kansas State and Florida State and the annual battle in Dallas with Texas is something no one-loss team can match. Add in a potential win over Oklahoma State and they've also got the second best single-game win of the year by anyone.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I understand the argument that Oregon has improved from the start of the season, but I don’t think the Ducks would score 20 points against Alabama. That’s the scoring range of the UO offense the last two times the Ducks played SEC defenses — also their last two losses — and Alabama’s group is even better. The Tide did lose in overtime to LSU, but Oregon was never in it against the Bengal Tigers. Chip Kelly’s crew added a meaningless touchdown with 13 seconds to go just to cut it to a 40-27 loss in the opener. Too many college football media members seem to thrive on creating controversy instead of analyzing what’s happening on the field. There is no controversy here — Alabama is the best 1-loss team in the country.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
I think the best one-loss team in college football is Alabama. There’s a lot to like about this team, but the defense is simply the best in college football. The Crimson Tide have allowed no opponent to score more than 14 points in a game this year and rank first nationally in rush, total, scoring and pass defense. While the offense isn’t flashy, it’s certainly effective. Trent Richardson is one of the top running backs (if not the best) in the nation. He has rushed for 100 yards in every conference game except two this year (LSU and Tennessee), while posting 18 touchdowns and catching 25 passes for 318 yards. Alabama could have easily beaten LSU two weeks ago and taken the top spot in the polls. I’m not sure the Crimson Tide will get a shot to play for the national title, but if LSU is No. 1, then Alabama has to be No. 1-B.

Teaser:
<p> Alabama tops Oregon and Oklahoma as nation's best 1-loss team.</p>
Post date: Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 14:13

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