Articles By Steven Lassan
UCLA coach Jim Mora has agreed to a contract extension, which will keep the second-year coach with the Bruins until 2019.
The extension came largely as a response to Mora’s name being mentioned with the opening at Washington. The Huskies are looking for a coach after Steve Sarkisian left for USC.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Mora will receive a two-year extension, increased pay for his assistant coaches and improved facilities.
Improving the facilities is a crucial element for UCLA moving forward, as the Bruins have been criticized in the past for lagging behind the rest of the Pac-12 in this area.
Mora is 18-8 in two years, including a Pac-12 South title last season.
Mora received an extension, assured of better pay for assistants and improved infrastructure for program #UCLA— chris foster (@cfosterlatimes) December 3, 2013
The SEC Championship features plenty of intrigue this year, as Missouri and Auburn are set to meet for one of the more surprising matchups in this game in recent memory.
Auburn pulled off a huge upset over Alabama last Saturday, and with an Ohio State loss to Michigan State, the Tigers would play for the national title – provided Auburn wins on Saturday night.
Missouri entered the season with several question marks, including hot seat questions about coach Gary Pinkel. Injuries and an adjustment period hampered the Tigers in their first year of the SEC last season, which prompted Missouri’s first losing record since a 5-6 mark in 2004.
With Auburn and Missouri ranked in the top-five of the BCS standings and a win away from potentially playing for the national championship, who should be the SEC coach of the year? Is it Auburn’s Gus Malzahn or Missouri’s Gary Pinkel?
Gus Malzahn or Gary Pinkel: Who is the SEC Coach of the Year?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’d vote Gary Pinkel over Gus Malzahn, but it’s a close call. Malzahn inherited a roster that underachieved last season but still had plenty of talent. Under Gene Chizik, Auburn recruited three top-15 classes, including two top-10 classes in 2010-11. Talent certainly isn’t an issue at Auburn, but talent development and coaching were an issue under Chizik. One underrated aspect of Malzahn's coaching job this year: Molding Nick Marshall from a defensive back at Georgia and a junior college passer to a starting quarterback at Auburn. Pinkel’s 5-7 mark last year had a lot to do with injuries, particularly at quarterback with James Franklin and on the offensive and defensive lines. Prior to last year’s 5-7 record, Missouri won at least 10 games in three out of the five seasons and finished in the final Associated Press poll three times. Most expected Missouri to show improvement this year – just not to 11-1 and in position to compete for a national title. Both coaches have done a tremendous job this year, but I would give Pinkel a slight edge over Malzahn for the coach of the year award. Of course, if Auburn wins on Saturday night and plays for the national championship, Malzahn would probably be a little more deserving.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
That is a simple question with a simple answer and no one will know it until the two Tigers meet in Atlanta. The winner of the SEC title game should be the SEC Coach of the Year and will get heavy national consideration. Gus Malzahn's team had a worse record last season (3-9, 0-8) than Mizzou (5-7, 2-6) but Auburn had a dramatically better overall roster in terms of recruiting talent. The Tigers of Auburn were in the top 10 in recruiting nationally under Gene Chizik. The average Athlon Sports recruiting ranking for Auburn between 2010-12 is 8.0 nationally (7th, 5th, 12th) while Mizzou's average national ranking is 35.3 (26th, 47th, 33rd). That said, Malzahn was in his first season as a head coach in the SEC with a first-year quarterback, while Gary Pinkel has benefit of long-term stability in Columbia and the learning experience of last season. The bottom line is both coaches have done a fantastic job this season and the winner of Saturday's SEC Championship Game is the deserving SEC Coach of the Year.
Can we call it a tie? Both Malzahn and Pinkel are worthy of not only winning SEC Coach of the Year, but they have to be among the leading contenders for any and all national honors too. But if I have to pick one, I am going to take Malzahn because Auburn's worst-to-first turnaround has been more impressive to me than Missouri's, which is not to slight what Pinkel and his team have accomplished one bit. While it can be argued that Malzahn's Tigers have gotten their share of breaks, especially in the last two weeks, than Pinkel's Tigers, let's not forget where Auburn was at this point a season ago.
Auburn was wrapping up a disastrous 3-9 season that saw the Tigers go 0-8 in the SEC. They were outscored by nearly 24 points per game in conference play and were ranked near the bottom of FBS teams in total, scoring and passing offense. With Malzahn at the helm, the 2013 Auburn Tigers have been one of the nation's most potent offensive teams, especially on the ground. And after taming the likes of Alabama, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Georgia, Auburn is headed to Atlanta to play for the SEC title on Saturday with a realistic shot at a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Even with all of the excitement and optimism surrounding Malzahn's hire exactly a year ago, I don't think even the most die-hard Auburn fan could have predicted this degree of success in his first season on The Plains.
Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
It’s a close call, but I’ll give the nod to Gus Malzahn. Both coaches did a great job, far exceeding expectations to reach the SEC championship game. Gary Pinkel helped Missouri win seven games in the SEC when much of the offseason discussion was focused on his job security. Pinkel also helped Missouri’s offense stay together despite the mid-season injury to starting quarterback James Franklin. Pinkel did a terrific job. But Malzahn wins out because he won the West. To do that, Auburn had to beat No. 1 Alabama. The Crimson Tide beat Auburn 49-0 last season. One year later, Auburn was pulling off a tremendous upset to win the SEC West. Malzahn made the great decision to bring in Nick Marshall to play quarterback, which helped build Auburn’s unstoppable running attack on offense. The Tigers are clearly a better team than they were at the beginning of the season. That’s thanks to Malzahn, who deserves to be named the SEC’s Coach of the Year.
After a five-year run as Washington’s head coach, Steve Sarkisian is headed home, as the 39-year-old coach is Pat Haden’s pick to lead USC back to national prominence.
Sarkisian was a logical choice to be USC’s next coach. The California native served as an assistant under Pete Carroll and coached for the last five seasons in the Pac-12 at Washington.
Did USC make the right hire? Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives before grading Sarkisian’s hire.
Positives for USC in hiring Steve Sarkisian
In the press release announcing Sarkisian’s hire, Pat Haden indicated Sarkisian “understands the heritage and tradition of USC.” Sarkisian is off the Pete Carroll coaching tree, spending 2001-03 and 2005-08 as an assistant with the Trojans. It doesn’t guarantee success, but Sarkisian – a California native – understands what it takes and the culture needed to win at USC.
Taking Washington from 0-12 to 8-4
Washington is one of the top 25-30 jobs in college football, but Sarkisian inherited a mess. In five years prior to his arrival in Seattle, the Huskies compiled a 12-47 mark, including a horrendous 0-12 record in 2008. Sarkisian brought a five-game improvement to Seattle in 2009 and has led the Huskies to four consecutive winning years. While 7-6 may not seem like much of an improvement, Washington has made small gains each year, and Sarkisian had a winning record over the last four seasons in Pac-12 games. Again, the overall record isn’t particularly overwhelming, but it’s clear Sarkisian is leaving Washington in better shape than how he inherited the program in 2009. Sarkisian also went 4-1 at Washington against rival Washington State. A similar record at USC against UCLA and Notre Dame would certainly help add support in Sarkisian’s corner.
Winning and style points aren’t related, but Sarkisian’s background on offense should work well in the Pac-12 and at USC. There’s no shortage of skill players and quarterbacks on the recruiting trail, and Sarkisian should help draw some of that talent to USC. At Washington, Sarkisian’s offenses posted finishes of sixth (twice), seventh, tenth and second in total offense (conference-only games). There’s room to grow in those numbers, but Sarkisian started to put all of the pieces together in 2013, including the emergence of one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps and running backs in Bishop Sankey.
Recruiting to USC shouldn’t be a problem for any coach. But if there was any doubt about Sarkisian’s recruiting ability, one look at the rankings should change those opinions. According to 247Sports, Washington has four consecutive top-25 recruiting classes, including the No. 18 overall haul in 2013. Now with the USC brand and an excellent staff in tow, Sarkisian is only going to reel in more talent to Los Angeles. And Sarkisian should be able to develop that talent better than Kiffin did in his tenure.
Negatives for USC in hiring Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian isn’t the “big-name hire”
Good coaches can come from anywhere and a variety of coaching positions. However, USC is one of college football’s premier jobs, and it seems like the Trojans didn’t have a lengthy list of interested candidates. Did USC inquire about Vanderbilt’s James Franklin? It seems Pat Haden at least asked about Boise State’s Chris Petersen, but he wanted to remain with the Broncos. Sarkisian is a good coach and should do well at USC. However, with a 34-29 record at Washington, Sarkisian will need to win over some fans and boosters. An elite coaching job like USC should be able to attract plenty of interest among candidates. Did the Trojans want to move quick and Sarkisian was the only coach willing to jump now? Or was the list of interested candidates shorter than most expected? It’s an interesting storyline to watch as the rest of college football’s coaching carousel takes place this offseason.
Lack of a breakthrough season at Washington
There’s no question Washington improved under Sarkisian’s watch. But the Huskies never finished above third place in the Pac-12’s North Division. Considering where the program was prior to Sarkisian’s arrival, it’s no surprise it took a few years to get Washington in a position to challenge for a top-three finish in the North Division. Stanford’s recent rise also hurt Washington’s ability to climb in the Pac-12. However, the Huskies never closed the gap on Oregon and lost by at least 17 points in each of Sarkisian’s five meetings against the Ducks. In 2013, Washington’s four losses came against UCLA (10 points), Oregon (21 points), Arizona State (29 points) and Stanford (three points). The resources are in place for Washington to win Pac-12 titles. Why was Sarkisian unable to shrink the gap between the Huskies and the rest of the top teams in the conference?
Who will comprise USC’s staff?
Ed Orgeron did an admirable job as USC’s interim coach, but he won’t return to the staff for 2014. Sarkisian had an outstanding staff at Washington, which included defensive line coach and top-notch recruiter in Tosh Lupoi. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon are also held in high regard in coaching circles. Can Sarkisian bring some of his Washington staff to Los Angeles? Will Wilcox take over for Sarkisian? Will Sarkisian keep Tee Martin on staff? Considering USC’s willingness to pay, Sarkisian should be able to surround himself with an outstanding staff – perhaps one of the best in the nation.
Final Analysis and Grade
Sarkisian is a good fit and solid, safe hire for USC. Considering his time under Pete Carroll, Sarkisian knows what it takes to win in Los Angeles. And while Sarkisian is friends with former coach Lane Kiffin, all signs point to the 39-year-old coach as a better leader and program builder.
But can Sarkisian go from a good coach at Washington to a great one for the Trojans? Coaching at USC has more advantages than Washington, so it should be easier to recruit elite talent. Sarkisian shouldn’t have to face much of an adjustment period, as he isn’t far removed from coaching as an assistant at USC and has spent the last five years at Washington.
While this is a solid hire, it does seem a little underwhelming. USC – one of the top-five jobs in college football – hired a coach with a 34-29 overall record at Washington.
Again, Sarkisian should win plenty of games at USC. But it’s a little surprising the Trojans didn’t land a splashy name like Vanderbilt’s James Franklin.
Grading USC’s Hire of Steve Sarkisian: B-
Just one week remains for college football’s regular season, and the bowl picture is starting to come into focus.
Week 14 brought significant changes to the BCS, as Ohio State has now replaced Alabama as our projected opponent for Florida State for the national title. While the SEC is out of the national championship in this week’s projections, an Ohio State loss to Michigan State would create a spot for Auburn, Missouri or Alabama.
In addition to the BCS bowl matchups, there is some intrigue about which teams might get left out of the postseason.
The Pac-12 has nine bowl-eligible teams but only seven tie-ins. Could Oregon State or Washington State spend the bowl season at home?
San Jose State’s upset bid of Fresno State creates seven bowl-eligible teams in the Mountain West, but the conference has only six tie-ins. Will the Spartans, San Diego State or UNLV spend the bowl season at home? Or can the Mountain West find a way to get all seven teams in a bowl game?
One other conference to watch over the next week is the ACC. With 11 bowl-eligible teams, the ACC is searching for a home for a few extra spots. Syracuse’s win over Boston College added the Orange to the postseason mix, while Pittsburgh is also fighting for a spot at 6-6.
With bowl announcements expected throughout the week, Athlon Sports will update these projections with the latest information to provide the best outlook on where teams will spend the postseason.
College Football's Post-Week 14 Bowl Projections for 2013
|New Mexico||Dec. 21||Pac-12 vs. MWC||San Diego State vs. Arizona|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 21||MAC vs. MWC||Ball State vs. Colorado State|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 21||Pac-12 vs. MWC||Fresno State vs. USC|
|New Orleans||Dec. 21||Sun Belt vs. CUSA||UL Lafayette vs. Tulane|
|Beef 'O' Brady's||Dec. 23||American vs. CUSA||Western Kentucky* vs. MTSU|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||MWC vs. CUSA||UNLV vs. Rice|
|Little Caesars Pizza||Dec. 26||MAC vs. Big Ten||Toledo vs. Pittsburgh*|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 26||Army vs. MWC||Utah State vs. Buffalo*|
|Military||Dec. 27||CUSA vs. ACC||E. Carolina vs. Maryland|
|Texas||Dec. 27||Big 12 vs. Big Ten||Texas Tech vs. Minnesota|
|Fight Hunger||Dec. 27||BYU vs. Pac-12||BYU vs. Washington|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 28||American vs. Big 12||Cincinnati vs. Notre Dame*|
|Belk||Dec. 28||American vs. ACC||Houston vs. North Carolina|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 28||American vs. ACC||Louisville vs. Miami|
|Buffalo Wild Wings||Dec. 28||Big 12 vs. Big Ten||Texas vs. Nebraska|
|Armed Forces||Dec. 30||MWC vs. Navy||Navy vs. Boise State|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC vs. SEC||Georgia Tech vs. Ole Miss|
|Alamo||Dec. 30||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Oklahoma vs. Oregon|
|Holiday||Dec. 30||Pac-12 vs. Big 12||Arizona State vs. Kansas State|
|AdvoCare V100||Dec. 31||ACC vs. SEC||Boston College vs. Oregon State*|
|Sun||Dec. 31||Pac-12 vs. ACC||UCLA vs. Virginia Tech|
|Liberty||Dec. 31||SEC vs. CUSA||Vanderbilt vs. Marshall|
|Chick-fil-A||Dec. 31||SEC vs. ACC||Texas A&M vs. Duke|
|Gator||Jan. 1||SEC vs. Big Ten||Georgia vs. Michigan|
|Heart of Dallas||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs. CUSA||North Texas vs. Washington State*|
|Outback||Jan. 1||SEC vs. Big Ten||Missouri vs. Iowa|
|Capital One||Jan. 1||SEC vs. Big Ten||Wisconsin vs. South Carolina|
|Rose||Jan. 1||BCS vs. BCS||Stanford vs. Michigan State|
|Fiesta||Jan. 1||BCS vs. BCS||Northern Illinois vs. Oklahoma State|
|Sugar||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Auburn vs. UCF|
|Cotton||Jan. 3||SEC vs. Big 12||LSU vs. Baylor|
|Orange||Jan. 3||BCS vs. BCS||Clemson vs. Alabama|
|BBVA Compass||Jan. 4||SEC vs. American||Mississippi State vs. Rutgers|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 5||MAC vs. Sun Belt||Bowling Green vs. Arkansas State|
|National Title||Jan. 6||BCS vs. BCS||Ohio State vs. Florida State|
* Indicates conference is not expected to fill its alloted bowl slots, leaving an at-large spot available.
Bold indicates team has accepted bid to bowl.
Related College Football Content
ACC Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
Big 12 Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
Big Ten Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
Pac-12 Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
SEC Week 14 Power Rankings and Awards
Stats to Know from Week 14
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe has decided to resign, ending a successful 13-year tenure in Winston-Salem.
Grobe’s final record with the Demon Deacons is 77-82. During his 13 years in Winston-Salem, Grobe led Wake Forest to one conference championship and five bowl appearances.
Grobe is tied for the most wins in Wake Forest school history.
Wake Forest is one of the toughest BCS jobs in the nation, but there should be quality candidates interested in this position.
One name to keep in mind is Ball State coach Pete Lembo. The former Elon coach is 25-12 in three seasons with Ball State.
With Steve Sarkisian leaving for USC, Washington’s search for a new head coach is already underway. The Huskies went 34-29 under Sarkisian’s watch, including an 8-4 mark in 2013.
Washington is a program that’s capable of winning Pac-12 titles, and a renovated Husky Stadium certainly doesn’t hurt the appeal of the coaching job.
Sarkisian isn’t leaving the cupboard bare, and the Huskies should have a core capable of winning eight games once again in 2014.
Washington should have no shortage of interested candidates. Here’s a look at 10 possible replacements for Steve Sarkisian.
10 Candidates to Replace Steve Sarkisian at Washington
Beau Baldwin, head coach, Eastern Washington
Baldwin is a longshot, but the 41-year-old coach has a track record of success at Eastern Washington and will get a chance to move up the coaching ladder in coming seasons. Baldwin played at Central Washington, coached there as an assistant in 1994-2002 and spent one year as the head coach in 2007 (10-3). Baldwin is 54-21 in six seasons as Eastern Washington’s head coach, including a 2010 FCS Championship. In seven years as a head coach, Baldwin does not have a losing record and has been to the playoffs in four of those seasons.
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
In two years with Fresno State, DeRuyter is an impressive 19-5, with a win over Boise State in 2013 and a chance to win a conference title against Utah State on Dec. 7. Prior to taking the top spot at Fresno State, DeRuyter went 1-0 as an interim coach at Texas A&M and served as an assistant at Air Force, Nevada, Ohio and Navy. DeRuyter wouldn’t be a “name hire,” but the California native is ready for a chance to run a BCS program.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
If Franklin wasn’t interested in USC, it’s unlikely he would take the Washington job. However, as one of the rising stars among head coaches, Franklin has to be mentioned for BCS job openings. The 41-year-old coach is 23-15 in three seasons at Vanderbilt – arguably the toughest job in the SEC. The Commodores have played in back-to-back bowls and will be invited to a third this year. Franklin has guided the program to an 11-13 mark in the SEC and finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll last season. The third-year coach has also increased Vanderbilt’s profile on the recruiting trail, improving from a No. 56 national rank in 2011 to No. 26 in 2013. Franklin also has one year of NFL experience and spent one season in the Pac-12 at Washington State (1998).
Jim McElwain, head coach, Colorado State
McElwain just finished his second year as Colorado State’s coach, guiding the Rams to an 11-14 mark in that span. The Rams have made significant improvement from 2012 to 2013 and should play in a bowl this year. Before taking over at Colorado State, McElwain was Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 2008-11 and spent time in the NFL with the Raiders. McElwain also has experience from stops at Louisville, Michigan State and Fresno State. While the overall record at Colorado State will raise some eyebrows, McElwain clearly has the Rams on the right track and would be a good fit anywhere on the West Coast.
Jim Mora, head coach, UCLA
Mora already has a good job at UCLA. However, Mora played at Washington and has said before this (Washington) is his dream job. In two seasons with the Bruins, Mora is 18-8. UCLA won the Pac-12 South in 2012 and finished second in the division in 2013. Mora also coached with the Seahawks from 2007-09, but his one-year tenure as head coach resulted in a disappointing 5-11 mark. Mora has surrounded himself with a good staff at UCLA, which has helped to reel in back-to-back top-20 recruiting classes. Washington has excellent facilities, and a renovated Husky Stadium has added to the appeal for this job.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is considered one of college football’s top assistants and is due for a shot to run a program. Even though Morris is an excellent offensive coordinator, but he has no collegiate head coaching experience. Under his direction, Clemson averaged 518.3 yards per game in ACC contests this year. Morris' background on offense would fit in well with the Pac-12, especially with the talent that is already accumulated in Seattle for next season.
Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator, Alabama
Nussmeier is a rising star in the assistant ranks and is a name familiar to many around Seattle. The Oregon native played at Idaho and coached for three years at Washington under Steve Sarkisian. Nussmeier has spent the last two years coordinating Alabama’s offense, which ranks second in SEC games in 2013 in yards per game (491.4) and first in yards per play (7.4). Nussmeier does not have head coaching experience.
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State
Petersen’s name always comes up in connection with BCS jobs openings, but the California native has been reluctant to leave Boise State. In his eight years with the Broncos, Petersen compiled a 92-12 record, including seven years of at least 10 wins. Boise State finished 8-4 in 2013, but injuries and youth played a large role in the final record. Prior to taking the top job at Boise State, Petersen worked as an assistant at Pittsburgh, UC Davis and Oregon. Petersen reportedly pulled his name out of the mix at USC, but perhaps he would be willing to listen at Washington, especially since it would keep him in the Pacific Northwest. And coaching at Washington is a lower-profile media market than coaching at USC.
Gary Pinkel, head coach, Missouri
Pinkel is a longshot to be in the mix, but it’s worth noting his mentor is former Washington coach Don James, and he worked as an assistant in Seattle from 1979-90. Pinkel has been successful at two coaching stops, recording a 73-37-3 mark at Toledo and a 101-62 record at Missouri. The Tigers are 11-1 this season and in the mix for a BCS bowl pending the outcome of the SEC Championship. Coaching in the SEC is the pinnacle for any college football coach. However, Missouri could be the No. 5 job in the East Division, which makes winning consistently against Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee a difficult task.
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Washington
Wilcox could follow Steve Sarkisian to USC, but the 37-year-old coach should be in the mix to take the top spot at Washington. Wilcox does not have head coach experience, but the Oregon native has worked as a successful defensive coordinator at three different programs (Boise State, Washington and Tennessee). Wilcox would ease the transition from Sarkisian, but does Washington want to hire a proven head coach?
USC’s coaching search is over. According to Realdawg.com, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is leaving Seattle for Los Angeles.
Sarkisian went 34-29 in five seasons with the Huskies, including an 8-4 mark in 2013.
Sarkisian worked at USC under Pete Carroll from 2005-08.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman is just 6-18 in his first two seasons, but athletic director Mike Thomas has indicated he will return for 2014.
Beckman’s debut in 2012 was a disaster, which resulted in a 2-10 record and a winless mark in Big Ten play.
Illinois made small progress in 2013, recording a 4-8 overall mark and a 1-7 record in conference games.
Hiring Bill Cubit as the team’s offensive coordinator was a huge step in the right direction for Beckman, and the offense will gain a potential standout at quarterback in Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt in 2014.
While the offense should be in good shape next year, Illinois has to address its defense, which finished 2013 ranked 11th in the Big Ten (allowed 6.7 yards per play and 481.5 yards per game).
Illinois’ 2014 schedule is challenging, including non-conference games against Washington and Western Kentucky, while featuring road trips in Big Ten play against Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
I just finished an interview with #Illini AD Mike Thomas. He told me Tim Beckman will return as coach next season.— Matt Wettersten (@WCIA3Matt) December 2, 2013
(STORY UPDATE: USC Picks Steve Sarkisian as its Next Head Coach)
USC finished its regular season with a 35-14 defeat to UCLA, which moved the Trojans’ record to 9-4 overall. USC isn’t sure which bowl game it will play in, but there’s an even bigger question in Los Angeles: Who will be the next head coach?
After Lane Kiffin was fired, USC was a team in disarray and just getting to a bowl game would have been a good outcome for the Trojans. However, interim coach Ed Orgeron guided USC to a 6-2 record over the final eight games, allowing the former Ole Miss head coach to throw his name into the discussion for the top spot.
While Orgeron brought USC back into the mix for a spot among the top-25 teams and secured an upset win over Stanford, it’s unlikely he will keep the full-time job for 2014.
USC is one of the top jobs in college football. The resources, money and tradition are there to win big. But the next head coach for the Trojans will inherit some problems. USC’s roster is shorthanded with scholarships due to sanctions, and receiver Marquise Lee is expected to declare for the NFL Draft.
However, USC can still recruit among the best in the nation, and this roster has enough talent to be in the Pac-12 South title discussion in 2014.
Top Candidates to be USC’s Next Head Coach
Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos
Del Rio would be a curious hire, but UCLA followed a similar path by picking Jim Mora, which has worked out well for the Bruins. USC has reportedly already interviewed Del Rio, and as a former USC player and California native, he would be a good fit for the Trojans. Del Rio worked as Jacksonville’s head coach from 2003-11 and has served as Denver’s interim coach with John Fox sidelined in 2013. If USC decides to hire Del Rio, his biggest move could be finding a way to keep Orgeron in Los Angeles as his top recruiter and assistant coach.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Two of the top priorities for USC’s next head coach will be to energize the fan base, as well as recruit head-to-head with Pac-12 foes UCLA, Oregon and the top programs in college football. Doesn’t that sound like something Franklin would excel at? The 41-year-old coach is 23-15 in three seasons at Vanderbilt – arguably the toughest job in the SEC. The Commodores have played in back-to-back bowls and will be invited to a third this year. Franklin has guided the program to an 11-13 mark in the SEC and finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll last season. The third-year coach has also increased Vanderbilt’s profile on the recruiting trail, improving from a No. 56 national rank in 2011 to No. 26 in 2013. Franklin also has one year of NFL experience and spent one season in the Pac-12 at Washington State (1998).
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State
Petersen’s name always comes up in connection with BCS job openings, but the California native has been reluctant to leave Boise State. In his eight years with the Broncos, Petersen has compiled a 92-12 record, including seven years of at least 10 wins. Boise State finished 8-4 in 2013, but injuries and youth played a large role in the final record. Prior to taking the top job at Boise State, Petersen worked as an assistant at Pittsburgh, UC Davis and Oregon. Although Petersen would be a good fit at USC, reports have indicated he is no longer a candidate. And if Petersen does pass on the opening at USC, will he ever leave Boise State?
Steve Sarkisian, head coach, Washington
Sarkisian is one of the frontrunners to be USC’s next head coach, and he reportedly already interviewed with athletic director Pat Haden. The California native is 34-29 in five seasons with Washington, which includes an 8-4 record in 2013. And with a win in a bowl game, the Huskies would top eight victories for the first time since recording 11 wins in 2000. Sarkisian coached at USC under Pete Carroll from 2005-08 and is regarded as an excellent recruiter, reeling in four consecutive top-25 classes at Washington. (UPDATE: USC Picks Steve Sarkisian as its Next Head Coach)
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
DeRuyter is a California native and attended St. John Bosco High School, which is less than 30 minutes away from the Los Angeles Coliseum. In two years with Fresno State, DeRuyter is an impressive 19-5, with a win over Boise State in 2013 and a chance to win a conference title against Utah State on Dec. 7. Prior to taking the top spot at Fresno State, DeRuyter went 1-0 as an interim coach at Texas A&M and served as an assistant at Air Force, Nevada, Ohio and Navy. DeRuyter wouldn’t be a “name hire,” but the California native is ready for a chance to run a BCS program.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is considered one of college football’s top assistants and is due for a shot to run a program – perhaps as early as this offseason. Even though Morris is an excellent offensive coordinator, he has no collegiate head coaching experience, and it’s unlikely USC would hire an unproven commodity as its next coach. Clemson averaged 40.2 points a game in 2013.
Ed Orgeron, interim coach, USC
Orgeron had a nice run as USC’s interim coach, recording a 6-2 mark over the final eight games. However, Orgeron seems best suited as a top assistant and would only be considered a candidate for the top spot should coaches like James Franklin or Steve Sarkisian drop out of the running. Keeping Orgeron on the next staff could be awkward for the new coach, but the former Ole Miss coach is a good recruiter and could help ease the transition for the players.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Much like Chad Morris, Roman is due for a chance to run his own program. The New Jersey native has interviewed for college head coaching jobs in recent years but has remained a coordinator. Most of Roman’s experience has been in the NFL, starting with the Panthers in 1995, continuing with the Texans in 2002, the Ravens in 2006 and the 49ers in 2011. Roman worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2009-10. Roman will be a head coach, but it’s unlikely USC will hire an assistant with no experience at the top spot.
Lovie Smith, former Chicago Bears coach
Smith had a successful nine-year run as Chicago’s head coach, recording a 81-63 mark and a Super Bowl appearance in the 2006 season. The Texas native last coached in college in 1995 and spent 2013 out of football. Smith reportedly interviewed for the USC opening, but he later denied any interest in the position. Even though Smith seems like he would be a good fit on the college level, all signs point to a return to the NFL at some point.
Nebraska’s regular season ended in disappointing fashion, as the Cornhuskers were dominated in a 38-17 loss to Iowa.
The loss certainly isn’t sitting well in Lincoln, and coach Bo Pelini only added to the drama by commenting “if they want to fire me, go ahead,” when asked about his job status for 2014.
But athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement of support for Pelini on Saturday, which should ensure the embattled coach returns for a seventh season.
Even though Eichorst’s statement seems to indicate Pelini will be back for 2014, is that the right decision for Nebraska?
Is Nebraska making the right decision to keep Bo Pelini for 2014?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
If Nebraska wins its bowl game, the Cornhuskers will have claimed at least nine victories in each of Pelini’s six seasons. But is that good enough at Nebraska? Championships and BCS bowls are expected in Lincoln, and Pelini has fallen short. Nebraska has lost its last three bowl appearances and barely cracked the top 25 in the final Associated Press poll in each of the last two years. However, I do think it’s fair to wonder if the job expectations are too high at Nebraska. The college football landscape has changed dramatically since the 1990s, and the Cornhuskers aren’t going to reel in top-10 recruiting classes on a consistent basis. Winning nine games a year isn’t bad, but there’s also plenty of room for Pelini to improve. The West Division of the new Big Ten alignment should be easier than the East, which should allow Nebraska to make a run at the division title in 2014. And even though the Cornhuskers didn’t win the division in 2013, recording eight wins with a rebuilt defense and two backup quarterbacks isn’t awful. I think both parties would benefit from a split, but Pelini’s record at Nebraska should allow him one more season to get the program back into championship contention.
Coach Tom Osborne, former head coach of Nebraska and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I think Shawn made the right decision. You don't get rid of a coach after an 8-4 season, and five straight 9 or 10 win seasons and three division championships. I am looking forward to seeing them improve and have a good year next season.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
From a numbers standpoint, Pelini has probably done enough to stay. The Cornhuskers will be in position for another nine-win season if they can win what’s probably a New Year’s Day bowl game despite injuries to his entrenched starting quarterback and more. From an administrative standpoint, Nebraska is probably making a calculated move to keep Pelini for at least another year rather than wade into a coaching carousel with USC and possibly Texas. Nebraska, despite its history, can’t compete with those two schools for top coaching candidates. But I’m sure Nebraska knows what it’s in for next season. During his postgame diatribe after the Iowa loss, Pelini complained that talk about his job affected his team this season. We can argue how much of a role Pelini could play in keeping that pressure away from his team, but it’s not going to stop in 2014. If anything, the talk about Pelini’s job is going to be worse. And his behavior Saturday — spouting off in his press conference and coming within inches if smacking an official with his hat — only amplifies the discussion. Besides, should we really believe this team is going to get any better? Nebraska’s probably making the right move to set up the coaching search, but it’s going to come at the cost of a sideshow of a season in 2014.
Fiery temper, sideline antics and numerous foot-in-the-mouth instances aside, Pelini should get credit for doing one other thing he has consistently done since taking over at Nebraska in 2008, which is win. If the Cornhuskers claim victory in their bowl game, it will mean Pelini's teams have won at least nine games in all six of his seasons at the helm. I know he hasn't won a conference title yet, but he does have at least a share of four division titles and has led his team to the championship game in two different conferences. He's 33 games above .500 as a head coach, has won more than 70 percent of his conference games and finished lower than a tie for second in his division only once. Nebraska has won five* national championships in its rich history, but it's not like the bottom has exactly dropped out in Lincoln. Are there things that Pelini needs to "fix?" Obviously, but that doesn't mean the Cornhuskers' program is "broken" either. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst apparently thinks Pelini has done enough to keep his job, which in the end is all that really matters.
*Editor's Note: When this was originally published, the number of national championships won by Nebraska was incorrectly stated as four. We regret the error.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
It's time for an amicable divorce between Nebraska and Bo Pelini. That doesn't mean that Bo Pelini is a bad coach or that he failed in Lincoln — in fact, he did things his predecessor could not. But both parties appear to be better off going their separate ways. On the positive, Pelini won three division titles and appeared in three conference championship games. And not having the most productive player in program history under center for the entire Big Ten season (Taylor Martinez) must be taken into consideration. On the negative, he has lost four games in all six seasons during his time at Nebraska and his specialty, the defense, has had major struggles over the last few seasons. Pelini hasn't helped himself either, with the way he handles the media or his players in public. There appears to be some sort of behind the scenes disconnect between the coach and the program and that usually never results in success.
After an underachieving 4-8 record in 2013, Florida coach Will Muschamp isn’t waiting long to make changes to his coaching staff.
On Sunday, Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis.
The firings were expected, as Florida had one of the SEC’s worst offenses in 2013.
The Gators averaged just 312.5 yards per game in eight conference contests and did not score more than 20 points in a SEC game since a 30-point effort against Arkansas on Oct. 5.
There should be no shortage of interested candidates, but Muschamp is on the hot seat and another underachieving record in 2014 could spell the end of his tenure in Gainesville.
Even though Florida should be able to attract capable candidates, some coaches could shy away from the job due to the uncertainty about Muschamp’s long-term future.
After a second consecutive losing season, Wyoming fired coach Dave Christensen on Sunday.
Christensen recorded a 27-35 mark during his five seasons at Wyoming, including an 8-5 record in 2011.
Christensen guided Wyoming to two bowl games, but the Cowboys were just 9-15 over the last two years.
Considering Christensen’s experience and background on offense, the veteran assistant could be a name to watch for coordinator openings at Florida and Iowa State.
The ACC went 1-3 against its SEC rivals, but Florida State’s win over Florida puts the Seminoles in position to play for the national championship with a victory in the ACC title game next Saturday.
Duke’s surprising season continued with a 27-25 victory over North Carolina, which sends the Blue Devils to Charlotte for the ACC Championship next week. This is the first time Duke will play in the ACC title game.
Virginia and NC State finished 2013 winless in ACC play, while Syracuse scored a touchdown in the final seconds to beat Boston College and earn bowl eligibility in Scott Shafer’s first season.
Clemson lost to South Carolina for the fifth consecutive season, but the Tigers are still in good shape to play in a BCS bowl.
ACC Week 14 Awards and Recap
Offensive Player of the Week: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Florida’s secondary was the best defensive backfield Florida State faced in 2013, but the Seminoles had no trouble moving the ball through the air. Benjamin was the top performer in Florida State’s 37-7 victory, catching nine passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Benjamin’s 212 yards were a career high, while his three touchdown receptions marked the second consecutive game of more than one score. The sophomore also averaged 23.6 yards per reception against the Gators.
Defensive Player of the Week: Jeremiah Attaochu, DE, Georgia Tech
Attaochu earns defensive player of the week honors in a losing effort, but the senior turned in one of his best performances of the season against rival Georgia. Attaochu dominated the line of scrimmage, recording eight tackles (four for a loss) and four sacks. The senior also broke up one pass. The Bulldogs still averaged six yards per play and rallied to win 41-34 in overtime, but Attaochu was nearly unblockable for Georgia’s offensive line on Saturday night.
Team of the Week: Duke
A historic season for Duke continued on Saturday, as the Blue Devils defeated rival North Carolina 27-25 to claim its first Coastal Division championship. Despite having a better record than its in-state rival, Duke was an underdog for Saturday’s matchup in Chapel Hill. But the Blue Devils made timely plays to seal the victory, including two by DeVon Edwards. With Duke trailing 15-10 late in the first half, Edwards took a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, and the freshman intercepted a pass with less than a minute to go to clinch the Coastal Division. The Blue Devils’ offense averaged 5.6 yards per play, with quarterback Anthony Boone completing 23 of 34 throws for 274 yards and two scores. With the victory over North Carolina, Duke earned its 10th victory of the season, which is the first time in school history it reached the double-digit plateau. The Blue Devils also finished the regular season with an unbeaten record on the road (5-0) and extended their winning streak to eight games.
Coordinator of the Week: George McDonald, Syracuse
McDonald has experienced his share of ups and downs in his first year as Syracuse’s play-caller. However, Saturday’s win over Boston College was arguably the best game McDonald called in ACC play. The Orange recorded a season-high 480 yards against the Eagles, averaging 5.1 yards per play on 94 attempts. Syracuse’s run-first offense found success against Boston College (210 yards), but quarterback Terrel Hunt provided much-needed balance by throwing for 270. With the Orange trailing 31-27 late in the fourth quarter, McDonald’s play-calling was at its best on the final drive. Syracuse never reached third down on the eight-play drive, with Hunt finding Josh Parris on a well-designed play for an eight-yard touchdown with six seconds left.
Freshman of the Week: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Even though Florida entered Saturday’s game with a disappointing 4-7 record, its defense was still one of the best in the SEC. While the Gators’ defense managed to hold Florida State’s offense under 40 points for the first time this season, it wasn’t enough to threaten the Seminoles’ unbeaten record. Winston was intercepted on his fifth pass, but the freshman rallied with a strong effort, finishing 19 of 31 for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Winston’s 327 yards was the most since throwing for 444 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-14 win over Clemson. And the 61.3 completion mark in Saturday’s game was Winston’s 10th over 60 percent this season. If Winston has another strong performance against Duke in next week’s ACC Championship, the freshman should be a heavy favorite to win the Heisman on Dec. 14.
ACC Post-Week 14 Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Record||This Week||Last Week|
|1||12-0, 8-0||W, Florida 37-7||Duke|
|2||10-2, 7-1||L, South Carolina 31-17||Regular season finished|
|3||10-2, 6-2||W, North Carolina 27-25||Florida State|
|4||8-4, 5-3||W, Virginia 16-6||Regular season finished|
|5||9-3, 5-3||W, Pittsburgh 41-31||Regular season finished|
|6||7-5, 5-3||L, Georgia 41-34||Regular season finished|
|7||6-6, 4-4||L, Duke 27-25||Regular season finished|
|8||7-5, 4-4||L, Syracuse 34-31||Regular season finished|
|9||6-6, 3-5||L, Miami 41-31||Regular season finished|
|10||6-6, 4-4||W, Boston College 34-31||Regular season finished|
|11||7-5, 3-5||W, NC State 41-21||Regular season finished|
|12||4-8, 2-6||L, Vanderbilt 23-21||Regular season finished|
|13||3-8, 0-8||L, Maryland 41-21||Regular season finished|
|14||2-10, 0-8||L, Virginia Tech 16-6||Regular season finished|
Sometimes, a top-five matchup doesn’t live up to the hype. But in Auburn-Alabama’s case on Saturday, the Iron Bowl lived up to its top-five billing, with the Tigers stunning the Crimson Tide on a last-second missed field goal return for a touchdown.
After Alabama was awarded one second on the clock on review, Adam Griffith attempted a 56-yard field goal (his first of the night). However, Griffith’s kick was off line, which allowed Auburn’s Chris Davis to catch the attempt and return 109 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The field goal return for a touchdown sends Auburn to the SEC Championship and ends – at least for now – Alabama’s national title hopes.
Is this play one of the best in college football history? Considering everything that was on the line and in a huge rivalry, it certainly ranks among the top plays in recent memory:
Michigan-Ohio State is one of college football’s top rivalries, so it’s no surprise there were a few scuffles between the two teams on Saturday.
However, things got a little ugly in the first half, as punches were thrown in a confrontation between the Wolverines and Buckeyes on Saturday.
Three players – Ohio State’s Dontre Wilson and Marcus Hall, along with Michigan’s Royce Jenkins-Stone – were ejected, with Hall saluting the crowd with a double bird as he left the field.
Below is a video of the fight, followed by Hall’s salute to the Big House:
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was expected to be in high demand this offseason, as the Alabama native was mentioned for potential openings at USC or in the NFL.
But Sumlin’s name can be eliminated for any job openings, as the school announced a new six-year contract on Saturday for the second-year coach.
In two years in College Station, Sumlin has guided the Aggies to a 19-5 record, with a Cotton Bowl victory last season.
Sumlin may lose quarterback Johnny Manziel to the NFL this offseason, but Texas A&M has recruited well and played a handful of freshmen on both sides of the ball in 2013.
Athletic director Eric Hyman released this statement to announce Sumlin’s new contract:
“Coach Sumlin has demonstrated why he is considered among the nation’s elite football coaches. His coaching and recruiting abilities are only secondary to his integrity, class and passion for his student-athletes and this University,” Hyman said. “Texas A&M is making a sincere commitment to Kevin. We are fortunate that he is committed to remain an Aggie for a long time to come, and we are excited about what the future has in store.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is squarely on the hot seat after Saturday’s loss to Iowa. But Pelini’s job doesn’t appear to be in any danger, as athletic director Shawn Eichorst offered his support for the embattled coach on Saturday.
Eichorst has been silent this year in regards to Pelini’s job status. But his statement on Saturday should put to rest Pelini’s job status – at least until the bowl game is over.
Below is Eichorst's statement that was released on Saturday morning:
“My approach has always been to not comment publicly about our coaches until their full seasons are complete, as I strongly believe it is unfair and counter to best practices. However, given the volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach, I want to reaffirm what I have said many times since I have arrived at the University of Nebraska — that I positively respect, appreciate and support our football student-athletes, coaches and staff, as we do everyone in the Husker family. We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future.”
The annual meeting between South Carolina and Clemson for bragging rights in the Palmetto State always has plenty of intrigue, but there’s a little more at stake in 2013 when these two teams take the field.
For the first time in this rivalry’s history, both programs are ranked as top-10 teams in the Associated Press poll. This year’s meeting is also the third consecutive matchup where South Carolina and Clemson both rank as top-25 teams.
Over the last three years, these two programs have been among the most successful teams in college football. Clemson is 31-7 during that span and has one ACC Championship. South Carolina is 31-6 over the last three years, and if Missouri loses to Texas A&M on Saturday night, the Gamecocks will head to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship next weekend.
Recent history has favored South Carolina in this series. The Gamecocks have won the last four games over Clemson, including a 27-17 matchup in Death Valley last year.
Clemson’s last win in this series came in 2008, while its last victory at South Carolina occurred in 2007.
South Carolina has won each of the last four games in this series by at least 10 points.
Clemson at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: South Carolina – 5
Clemson’s Key to Victory: Protect QB Tajh Boyd
Clemson leads the ACC in total offense, averaging 518.3 yards per game in conference-only action. The Tigers rank third in the ACC with an average 6.3 yards per play and have scored at least 30 points eight times this season. All of those numbers sound great on paper, but Clemson has been unable to replicate those totals against South Carolina in recent years. In the last four meetings against the Gamecocks, the Tigers have not scored more than 17 points. A big problem for Clemson has been pass protection. In last year’s meeting, South Carolina sacked quarterback Tajh Boyd six times and held the signal-caller to just 183 yards passing on 11 completions. In two starts against the Gamecocks, Boyd has completed just 41.5 percent of his passes. However, considering Boyd has been sacked 11 times in the last two meetings, the senior has to have more help. The Tigers have allowed 27 sacks in 11 games this year, and with South Carolina’s defensive line one of the best in the SEC, the offensive line has to have their best performance of the season.
South Carolina’s Key to Victory: Establish the run with Mike Davis
If South Carolina is able to establish its ground game against Clemson, the Gamecocks will be able to control the tempo and pace of the game. Running back Mike Davis did not play in last week’s game against Coastal Carolina, but the sophomore is expected to be in the lineup on Saturday night. Davis is one of the SEC’s top running backs, recording 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns on 179 attempts. He is also a valuable weapon out of the backfield, catching 30 passes for 332 yards. Davis isn’t the only runner for South Carolina, as Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds are capable options, while quarterback Connor Shaw is averaging 10 carries a game. Clemson has been slightly susceptible to the run this season, allowing an average of 3.8 yards per carry on 445 attempts. The Tigers allowed the last three opponents to reach the 100-yard mark, including 248 to Georgia Tech. However, Clemson held Boston College to 94 yards, and Florida State averaged 3.2 yards per carry on 38 attempts on Oct. 19. South Carolina’s offense can match the Tigers in a shootout, but Steve Spurrier wouldn’t mind if the Gamecocks control the clock and keep Tajh Boyd on the sidelines.
Key Player: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd is arguably one of the top-10 players in Clemson’s history. In his three seasons under center, the Tigers are 31-7 with an ACC Championship, along with a BCS bowl appearance against West Virginia. While Boyd has been one of Clemson’s best players in school history, there’s one thing missing: A win over South Carolina. The senior hasn’t played particularly well against the Gamecocks, but he needs more help from his supporting cast. Boyd doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards on Saturday night, but the senior has to have a standout performance for Clemson to win against their in-state rivals.
Balance and pass protection are crucial for Clemson’s offense on Saturday night. The Tigers need to open running lanes for running back Roderick McDowell, and Boyd has to connect with receiver Sammy Watkins on a few big passing plays. If Clemson goes pass heavy or has no run threat, South Carolina's defensive line will be able to control the line of scrimmage. The Gamecocks allowed only nine passing scores in the SEC, while holding opponents to 58.5 passes completed. Although Clemson has struggled in this series over the last four years, the Tigers are in good shape to challenge South Carolina. But even with an explosive offense and a determination to end the four-game losing streak, Clemson falls short on Saturday night. The Gamecocks control the clock, and quarterback Connor Shaw does just enough to earn South Carolina’s fifth win in a row over its in-state rival.
Prediction: South Carolina 30, Clemson 24
Florida-Florida State is usually one of the most-anticipated matchups in the Sunshine State each year. But the luster and interest has clearly eroded away from this season’s meeting.
Florida State needs two wins to play for the national championship, while Florida is in the midst of the school’s worst season since a 0-10-1 record in 1979.
The Seminoles have one of the deepest rosters in the nation, led by Heisman Trophy frontrunner in quarterback Jameis Winston, as well as a defense that continues to get better with each snap. Florida State has scored 40 points in every game this year, and the defense has allowed just 125 points in 11 contests.
Injuries have played a role in Florida’s struggles this year, as the Gators have lost a handful of players – including quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, running back Matt Jones and linebacker Antonio Morrison – to season-ending injuries. Although injuries are to blame, Will Muschamp and the coaching staff deserves criticism for the poor performance of this team. Florida recruits as well as any team in the nation, and even with some critical injuries, losing to a FCS team should never happen in Gainesville.
The Seminoles are a heavy favorite, and the outcome of this year’s meeting isn’t really in question. However, an in-state rivalry always brings out the best in the underdog, and the Gators would like nothing more than to spoil Florida State’s national championship hopes.
Florida State has won two out of the last three meetings against Florida. However, the Gators won 37-26 over the Seminoles in Tallahassee last season.
Florida has won seven out of the last nine meetings against Florida State.
Florida State at Florida
Kickoff: Noon ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State –27
Florida’s Key to Victory: Establish the run and control the clock
Florida’s quarterback situation is up in the air for Saturday’s game. Tyler Murphy stepped into the starting lineup after Jeff Driskel was lost for the season against Tennessee. Murphy threw for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns in his nine appearances this year, while third-stringer Skyler Mornhinweg has made two starts in a row while Murphy sat out with an injured shoulder. Mornhinweg has thrown for 229 yards on 24 completions this year but averaged only 8.7 yards per completion in last week’s loss to Georgia Southern. Time of possession can be an overrated statistic in college football. However, Florida leads the SEC by averaging 34:16 in time of possession each week. Controlling the clock and limiting the possessions of Florida State’s offense would seem to be the only hope the Gators have of winning. Running back Kelvin Taylor has been a bright spot for this offense, rushing for 483 yards on 105 attempts. The Seminoles struggled at times to stop the run earlier this year, but this unit has not allowed a team to rush for more than 150 yards in each of the last four games. And Florida State has not allowed a rushing touchdown since a 49-17 victory over NC State on Oct. 26. It’s not an easy assignment against an aggressive defense, but the Gators have to plan for a run-heavy approach on Saturday.
Florida State’s Key to Victory: Win the turnover battle
It’s a simple key to the game, but it matters more when playing on the road against a wounded underdog. Florida doesn’t have the horses to hang with Florida State in this matchup, and the Seminoles can't give the Gators any opportunity to hang around. The Gators’ offense has not scored more than 20 points in each of their last six games and is averaging just 4.7 yards per play. The only way for Florida to win this game is if Florida State commits a few turnovers, which allows the Gators to convert those into easy points. If the Seminoles have a clean performance with few mistakes, the outcome won’t be in question by the fourth quarter.
Key Player: Skyler Mornhinweg, QB, Florida
There’s a huge gap in terms of production from the two starting quarterbacks on Saturday. For Florida State, Jameis Winston is the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy and has thrown for 3,163 yards and 32 touchdowns in 11 starts. Mornhinweg started the season as Florida’s No. 3 quarterback and has thrown for 229 yards in two starts. The freshman has a difficult assignment this Saturday against Florida State’s defense, which leads the nation in interceptions. Even though the Gators need production from Mornhinweg, the freshman can’t force any throws or make any mistakes. Florida’s margin for error is small, and a bad performance from Mornhinweg will only make the Gators’ upset hopes even smaller.
With nothing to lose, Florida should empty the playbook, use any trick plays it has in the bag and use everything it has to pull off the upset. However, that’s easier said than done. The edge in talent is clearly on the Florida State sideline, and the Seminoles appear to be on a mission to get to Pasadena. While rivalry games often bring out the best in an underdog, Florida doesn’t have the firepower to stick around for all four quarters. The Gators’ best hope at an upset is to shorten the game with a strong rushing attack, which would limit the possessions for Florida State’s offense. Florida hangs around for a half, but the Seminoles pull away in the third quarter.
Prediction: Florida State 45, Florida 10
Missouri and Texas A&M are old Big 12 rivals, but these two teams are set to meet in a critical SEC contest on Saturday night.
Texas A&M’s loss to LSU was a huge setback to the Aggies’ BCS bowl hopes, but a win over Missouri would put Kevin Sumlin’s team back in contention for one of college football’s premier postseason destinations.
Missouri has been one of the most-improved teams in the nation this year. Coach Gary Pinkel was on the hot seat after a 5-7 mark last season, but the Tigers have rebounded with a 10-1 record and are one win away from playing for the SEC Championship.
These two teams have met 13 times, with one appearance as SEC opponents. Texas A&M holds an 8-5 series edge over the Tigers. Missouri’s last victory against the Aggies occurred in 2011. The last three meetings in this series were in College Station, and the Tigers won the last matchup in Columbia (2007).
Texas A&M at Missouri
Kickoff: 7:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Missouri -4.5
Missouri’s Key to Victory: Contain Johnny Manziel
Despite LSU’s success last week, stopping Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is no easy task. The Tigers held Manziel to 224 passing yards and limited the sophomore to just 54 yards on the ground. Manziel has made significant progress as a passer this season, as the sophomore is completing 69.1 percent of his throws and has tossed 32 touchdowns (up from 26 last year). Manziel torched Missouri’s defense for 372 passing yards and three scores last season, while recording 67 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Can the Tigers replicate LSU’s gameplan and contain Manziel? Missouri has the defensive line to match what LSU has been able to do over the last two years, but the secondary isn’t quite on the same level. And after a subpar performance last week, Manziel and Texas A&M will be motivated to rebound. Missouri’s secondary has allowed only eight passing scores in SEC play this year, but Georgia’s Aaron Murray and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw produced solid outings against this defense. Keeping Manziel in the pocket and limiting the big plays – especially to receiver Mike Evans – will be one of the keys for coordinator Dave Steckel.
Texas A&M’s Key to Victory: Stop Missouri’s rushing attack
Stopping the run has been a season-long issue for Texas A&M. The Aggies allowed 324 rushing yards in last week’s loss to LSU, and two other opponents topped the 300-yard mark against this defense in 2013. The season totals don’t paint a better picture for coach Kevin Sumlin, as Texas A&M is last in the SEC against the run, allowing an average of 5.3 yards per carry. The Aggies have some youth and inexperience in the front seven, so this unit is in transition in 2013. However, until Texas A&M can get stops, opposing teams will continue to exploit the front seven. Missouri averages 238 rushing yards per game, with three players recording over 500 yards this year. Henry Josey leads the team with 855 yards, but Russell Hansbrough (6.3 ypc) and Marcus Murphy (7.0 ypc) will contribute. Even though Texas A&M’s offense is among the best in the nation, winning on Saturday night will be a challenge if the defense fails to slow down Missouri’s ground attack. If the Tigers hit their season average on the ground, Missouri will be headed to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship next week.
Key Player: Missouri CB E.J. Gaines
Gaines and fellow cornerback Randy Ponder likely won’t matchup against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans for the full game, but the Aggies have plenty of other weapons that allow Manziel to spread the ball around. Gaines is an underrated defender in the SEC, as the senior had 34 starts under his belt and has seven career interceptions. Even if Missouri’s defensive line succeeds in keeping Manziel in the pocket, the sophomore is capable of picking apart the Tigers’ secondary. Gaines and the rest of the defensive backfield may give up a few big plays, but this group has to limit the damage – and force a turnover or two.
What a difference a year makes. Coming into 2013, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was on the hot seat, and there were plenty of doubters about whether or not this program was ready to compete for a SEC title. A year later, the Tigers are just one win away from a trip to Atlanta. Texas A&M won 59-29 over Missouri last season, but this is a much-improved team. The Tigers use their ground attack to control the clock, while the defense makes just enough timely plays to clinch the SEC East title.
Prediction: Missouri 34, Texas A&M 31
LSU was a huge favorite for Saturday’s game against Arkansas, but the Tigers needed a late fourth-quarter score to beat the Razorbacks.
Trailing 27-21 late in the fourth quarter, receiver Jarvis Landry caught a 32-yard pass from quarterback Zach Mettenberger, which set up a 37-yard field goal by kicker Colby Delahoussaye.
Landry’s 32-yard catch was crucial to getting the field goal, but the junior’s ridiculous grab might be one of the best of the year:
The SEC West title is on the line this Saturday when Alabama and Auburn meet in the 78th Iron Bowl. While the immediate prize for the winner on Saturday is a trip to Atlanta, this game also has major national title implications.
Alabama is in the driver’s seat to finish No. 1 in the BCS standings with wins over Auburn and the SEC East champion. The Tigers need a lot of help to get into the national championship, but a win over Alabama would position Auburn ahead of any other one-loss team if losses knock Ohio State or Florida State out of the top three spots.
How high have the stakes been in this rivalry in recent years? The winner of the last four Iron Bowls went on to win the national championship. The Crimson Tide has won three out of the last four BCS titles, with Auburn’s championship coming in 2010.
While Alabama has been the standard in college football over the last six seasons, Auburn has only one year (2010) of more than nine victories in that span. Behind first-year coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers are one of the most-improved teams in the nation. Former coach Gene Chizik recruited plenty of talent to Auburn, but Malzahn and his staff have done a better job of developing and maximizing the talent on the roster in 2013.
Alabama has claimed wins in four out of the last five meetings with Auburn. The Crimson Tide has won two in a row at Auburn, including a 42-14 victory in 2011. Alabama has dominated the Tigers over the last two years, winning the two meetings by a combined score of 91-14.
Auburn’s last victory over Alabama came in 2010, as Cam Newton guided the Tigers to a 28-27 win in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama owns a 42-34-1 series edge over Auburn.
Alabama at Auburn
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -10.5
Three Things to Watch
Auburn QB Nick Marshall
In his first season as Auburn’s starting quarterback, Marshall hasn’t necessarily been the most prolific passer in the SEC, but he’s been the perfect fit to run Gus Malzahn’s offense. Marshall has not attempted more than 25 passes in five out of the last six games. The junior has tossed only five interceptions on 185 attempts and is completing 58.4 percent of his throws. While Marshall has proven he can deliver through the air with the game on the line (Mississippi State and Georgia), the junior is at his best when he can use his mobility. Marshall has rushed for 823 yards (6.7 ypc) on 123 attempts this season. The junior has executed Malzahn’s spread attack nearly to perfection this year, and his speed and mobility will be a challenge for Alabama’s defense. Under Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart, mobile quarterbacks have provided the most headaches for the Crimson Tide. Earlier this season, Johnny Manziel led a Texas A&M offense that averaged 8.9 yards per play against Alabama’s defense. Can Auburn use a similar approach on Saturday? Marshall isn’t as dynamic as Manziel, but the junior is averaging 6.7 yards per carry this season.
Alabama’s run defense
As mentioned in the previous section, Marshall’s ability to execute Auburn’s spread offense and zone read plays are critical to the Tigers’ upset hopes. But perhaps an even bigger obstacle is Alabama’s run defense. The Crimson Tide rank fourth nationally against the run, limiting opponents to just three yards a carry. Alabama has held its last three opponents to 93 or less rushing yards, while Tennessee (28 attempts) is the last team to gain 100 rushing yards against Nick Saban’s defense. Establishing the run sets the table for Auburn’s offense. In the last two meetings against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers have rushed for only 170 yards and no touchdowns on 67 attempts. Not only is Marshall crucial to the outcome of this game, but Tre Mason also needs a big performance. Mason is averaging 104.8 yards per game this year and has four 100-yard performances out of his last five games. Alabama will likely stack the line of scrimmage and force Marshall to throw to win. If the Crimson Tide continues to stuff the run like they have all season, Auburn’s offense will have a tough time maintaining drives on Saturday afternoon.
Auburn’s defense vs. Alabama’s offense
Alabama’s offense doesn’t get the national recognition that its defense does, but the Crimson Tide average 7.3 yards per play and rank second in SEC by averaging 490.9 yards per game. Auburn’s defense has made strides under new coordinator Ellis Johnson, but the Tigers rank 13th in the SEC against the pass, eighth against the run and six SEC opponents have scored at least 20 points this year. Alabama’s offense is one of the nation’s most-balanced attacks in the nation, averaging 233.3 yards per game through the air and 211.5 a contest on the ground. Quarterback AJ McCarron rarely throws interceptions (five in 2013), and the senior is completing 68.6 percent of his throws. Auburn’s secondary has allowed 10 passing plays of 40 yards or more, which ranks last in the SEC. Considering the Tigers have allowed their last two opponents to complete at least 64 percent of their passes, getting pressure on McCarron is critical to stopping Alabama’s offense. But a pass rush isn’t going to be enough, as Auburn has to match the Crimson Tide’s physical approach in the trenches. Alabama’s running backs – led by T.J. Yeldon – are arguably the best group in the nation. If Yeldon and backup Kenyan Drake get on track, McCarron’s play-action passes to receivers Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones will provide big plays for the Crimson Tide’s offense.
Key Player: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
We devoted an entire section of this game preview to Marshall, and the junior is getting another mention in the key player tag. It’s not easy to pin the hopes of winning on one player, but Marshall is the x-factor. If the junior is able to have success on Auburn’s designed runs, the Tigers can keep Alabama’s defense off balance. However, if the Tigers’ rushing attack is contained, Marshall will have to throw 30-40 times to win. Although Marshall has made plays in the passing game all year, Auburn would clearly prefer not to have the junior quarterback throw more than 20-25 times on Saturday.
With both teams ranked in the top five of the BCS standings, this season’s meeting is arguably one of the biggest in this rivalry’s history. There’s no shortage of storylines and national implications, as the winner of this game is headed to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship. Not only is the SEC West title on the line, the Crimson Tide needs to win to stay atop the BCS standings. Auburn’s 2013 season is no fluke. The Tigers are a much-improved team and will give Alabama’s defense all it can handle. However, the Crimson Tide makes the necessary adjustments at halftime, which contains the Tigers’ offense in the second half. Home field advantage helps Auburn trade punches with Alabama through the first three quarters. But Alabama finds a way to pull away in the fourth quarter, sending the Crimson Tide to Atlanta for the fourth time in six seasons.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 20
Catching up on the news from around the nation....
Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)
College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Wednesday, November 27th
It seems every coach celebrates a win by dancing in the locker room these days. Lost Lettermen ranked the best dancing moves from head coaches.
Voting is open to honor the best college player in South Carolina this year. And 13 players have also been announced as finalists for the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame.
Washington State athletic director Bill Moos hasn't forgotten about the nasty e-mails he received.
Duke athletic director Kevin White is pushing for the ACC to have its own television channel by 2016.
Iowa and Iowa State have announced an extension to their annual rivalry.
LSU could be losing another group of underclassmen to the NFL Draft this offseason.
The staff at Nunes Magician previews Syracuse's game against Boston College. Can the Orange stop Andre Williams?
A good wrapup of California coach Sonny Dykes' postseason press conference.
Running back David Fluellen's career at Toledo is likely finished due to a leg injury.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray suffered a torn ACL against Kentucky, but the senior tried to play through the injury.
Big changes appear to be coming for Florida's coaching staff this offseason.
Oklahoma running back Damien Williams has been dismissed from the team.
Notre Dame offensive lineman Nick Martin will miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury.
Bad news for SMU's bowl hopes: Quarterback Garrett Gilbert is out against Houston due to a knee injury.
UCLA offensive lineman Simon Goines is out for the rest of the season due to a leg injury.
Week 14 is the final full week of college football regular season action. Next week’s slate is an abbreviated one, focused on the conference championships and a handful of other games.
There’s no shortage of intrigue around the nation this Saturday, as the Heisman hangs in the balance, and it’s rivalry week.
Florida State-Florida, South Carolina-Clemson, Alabama-Auburn and Michigan-Ohio State are just a few of the top rivalries on tap this weekend.
Athlon’s editors are back with another edition of the upset picks, and there are plenty of teams on alert this week.
The favorites can't win every game each week, so it's no surprise one of the most popular discussion points every Saturday is upset picks. Each week on AthlonSports.com, the editors will give an upset pick for the upcoming week of action.
College Football Week 14 Upset Predictions
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): NC State (+2.5) over Maryland
On paper, I think it’s a light week for upset possibilities. But then again, this is rivalry week and anything can happen. NC State’s first season under new coach Dave Doeren has been a disappointment, but the future in Raleigh looks bright, especially with Jacoby Brissett eligible to start at quarterback in 2014. Even though the Wolfpack has lost six of their seven ACC games by 10 points or more, I think they knock off Maryland on Saturday. This is Maryland’s final ACC game, as a move to the Big Ten is in order next season. The Terrapins are dealing with a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball and rank 11th in the ACC in total offense. It was no surprise Maryland's defense struggled to stop Boston College's Andre Williams last week, but the Wolfpack can test the Terrapins again with the run, as Shadrach Thornton is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has two 100-yard efforts in ACC play. NC State’s offense found a spark late in the fourth quarter against East Carolina, and I think the Wolfpack carry that into this week’s game to send the Terrapins back to College Park with a loss in their final ACC game.
Mark Ross: East Carolina (+3) over Marshall
The Conference USA East Division crown is on the line in Huntington, West Va., Friday afternoon when Marshall (8-3) hosts East Carolina (9-2). The two are tied at 6-1 in conference play and boast not only the conference's top two offenses, but two of the most productive in the entire nation. The Thundering Herd is eighth in scoring nationally at 43.3 points per game while the Pirates are 11th at 41.5. That doesn't mean either doesn't play defense however, as ECU and Marshall are second and third, respectively, in C-USA in yards allowed. The Pirates' two losses this season are by five points to Virginia Tech and a three-point overtime setback to Tulane on the road. The Herd's three defeats have come by a total of 13 points, the biggest being a 29-21 three-overtime loss in Blacksburg, Va., to the aforementioned Hokies. What tips the scales in ECU's favor, however, is that the Pirates have gone 2-0 in their home state, having beaten both North Carolina and NC State on the road. It's been a season to remember for the Tar Heel State's unheralded football programs with Duke grabbing most of the headlines, but I also think ECU's impressive 2013 campaign will continue with a 10th win and a C-USA East Division title on Friday.
Stephen Schindler (@SteveSchindler): Clemson (+5) over South Carolina
Tajh Boyd is perhaps the most accomplished quarterback in Clemson history. The only thing that eludes him is a win over in-state rival South Carolina, as he's 0-3 against the Gamecocks. Boyd sits just a single win behind Rodney Williams, the program's all-time winningest quarterback. Unfortunately for Boyd, he's been caught in the wake of the machine that is Steve Spurrier. The Ole Ball Coach has owned the Tigers as of late, registering four straight wins in The Battle of the Palmetto State. However, Spurrier hasn't been nearly as dominant in this rivalry as many believe, owning just a 5-3 record against Clemson in his eight years in Columbia. Despite the disappointing results for Dabo Swinney, this is the most talented team Clemson has put together in recent memory. Despite playing in the ACC, Clemson has played two top teams in Georgia (while they were healthy) and Florida State. South Carolina, on the other hand, has played an extremely weak schedule, albeit an SEC schedule. Because the Tigers' rushing attack will be nearly non-existent, the offensive line must give Boyd time to get the ball to his playmakers downfield. A major problem that Clemson must fix is all the turnover issues that have been so devastating in these games. During their four-game losing streak, Clemson lost the turnover battle with nine giveaways and only three takeaways. I think a mature Boyd, knowing what this game means to his legacy, will be able to buy himself the necessary time and make smart decisions with the football.
National respect, BCS bowls and the Coastal Division title are all up for grabs in the ACC this Saturday.
With four games against the SEC, the ACC has a chance to earn some national respect, especially if Clemson can go on the road and beat South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won four in a row in this series, but the Tigers’ explosive offense will be tough to contain.
Florida State looks to add to Florida’s miserable season with a win in the Swamp, while moving one step closer to the national championship.
Georgia Tech won’t have to face Aaron Murray, but the Bulldogs still have plenty of talent on the roster. The Yellow Jackets have not defeated their in-state rivals since 2008.
Duke travels to Chapel Hill in need of a victory to clinch a spot in the ACC Championship. With a win over their in-state rival, the Blue Devils will claim the Coastal Division title. However, if Duke stumbles, Virginia Tech has a chance to claim the division crown with a victory against Virginia.
ACC Week 14 Game Power Rankings
1. Clemson (+5) at South Carolina (7:00 ET, ESPN2)
The Iron Bowl is stealing the headlines — and rightfully so — but the annual battle for bragging rights in the Palmetto State should be just as intense. For the first time ever, these two teams will meet with both schools ranked in the top 10. Clemson, at 10–1, is on the fringe of the national title chase, but the Tigers can put themselves in position to earn an at-large invite to a BCS bowl with a win over South Carolina. The Gamecocks will no doubt be focused on winning this game, but they will also have an eye on the scoreboard. If Missouri loses at home to Texas A&M — in a game that kicks off 45 minutes later — South Carolina will represent the East in the SEC title game. Diving into the matchup in Columbia, you might be surprised to learn that South Carolina has been the more efficient team on offense on a per-play basis (6.6 for the Gamecocks to 6.3 for the Tigers) and Clemson has been better on defense (5.1 to 5.4). The schedules haven’t been the same — South Carolina’s has been more difficult — but these stats seem to contradict the national perception of both teams.
2. Duke (+5) at North Carolina (Noon ET, ESPN2)
Excitement over a Duke-North Carolina game is usually reserved for the hardwood, but this season’s game has major implications on the ACC and national level. The Tar Heels have won five in a row and can spoil the Blue Devils’ Coastal Division title hopes with a victory. Not only is Duke a win away from playing in the conference championship, it needs a victory to set a school record for most wins in a season. North Carolina’s offense has been on a tear over the last five games, averaging 44 points per contest in that span. Quarterback play is crucial for both teams on Saturday, as Marquise Williams stepped into the starting lineup for an injured Bryn Renner, and North Carolina’s offense hasn’t missed a beat. Duke’s Anthony Boone struggled in wins over Virginia Tech and NC State but rebounded with a strong performance against Wake Forest last week (24 of 29, 256 yards, three touchdowns). The Blue Devils won 33-30 in Durham last season, but the Tar Heels have claimed eight out of the last nine meetings. Duke’s last win in Chapel Hill came in 2003.
3. Georgia (+3) at Georgia Tech (3:30 ET, ABC)
For the first time since December 2009, someone other than Aaron Murray will be starting at quarterback for Georgia. Murray, one of the top quarterbacks in SEC history, is sidelined with a torn ACL suffered in Georgia’s win over Kentucky last Saturday. In steps Hutson Mason, a junior who has thrown a combined 82 passes in his three seasons. Mason’s task will be simple this week: Don’t make many mistakes and hand the ball off to Todd Gurley on a frequent basis. Todd Grantham has had his struggles as the defensive coordinator at Georgia, but his defenses have done a solid job against Georgia Tech’s option attack in his three seasons. Georgia has won all three by an average score of 38–20.
4. Florida State (+27) at Florida (Noon ET, ESPN)
The annual meeting for bragging rights in the Sunshine State is usually one of the most-anticipated matchups of rivalry week. However, the 2013 matchup has a feeling of two teams headed in opposite directions. Florida State is two wins away from playing for the national championship, while Florida is having its worst season since a 0-10-1 record in 1979. The Gators enter Saturday’s contest on a six-game losing streak, including a 26-20 defeat to FCS opponent Georgia Southern last week. Injuries have hampered Florida’s season, and quarterback Tyler Murphy is questionable to play with a shoulder problem. Backup Skyler Mornhinweg has struggled in his two starts and faces a Florida State defense that leads the nation with 23 interceptions. Florida ranks second in the SEC in total defense, but the Seminoles average 7.9 yards per play and have scored at least 40 points in every game this year.
5. Miami (-2.5) at Pittsburgh (Friday, 3:30 ET, ABC)
Miami and Pittsburgh are former Big East rivals, but these two teams meet for the first time as ACC foes on Friday. The Hurricanes own a sizeable 22-9-1 series edge over the Panthers and claimed a 31-3 win over the Panthers in 2010. Miami still has an outside shot at playing for the ACC Championship, but Al Golden’s team needs a lot to go its way. The Panthers are trying to improve their bowl position, as well as win more than six games for the first time since 2010. Miami’s defense snapped a three-game streak of allowing 40 points or more by holding Virginia to 26 points last week. But the Hurricanes are shorthanded at cornerback due to injuries and have generated only 11 sacks in ACC games. Pittsburgh has struggled to protect quarterback Tom Savage, but the receiving tandem of Tyler Boyd and Devin Street has combined for 78 catches (eight touchdowns) this season. Miami’s offense ranks second in the ACC by averaging 6.8 yards per play, but turnovers (21) and inconsistent play have hindered this group’s production. Both teams are struggling to establish the run in recent weeks, which puts even more pressure on Savage and Miami quarterback Stephen Morris to produce.
6. Boston College (-2) at Syracuse (3:30 ET, RSN)
Syracuse needs one win to become bowl eligible, but the Orange has a tough assignment to earn win No. 6 on Saturday. Led by senior running back Andre Williams, Boston College has a four-game winning streak. Williams has 2,073 yards on 320 carries this season and has at least 263 yards in each of his last three games. Syracuse ranks sixth in ACC-only games against the run, allowing 149.7 yards per game. But a deeper look into the numbers shows the Orange has been vulnerable on the ground, as Georgia Tech gashed Syracuse for 394 yards and Florida State rushed for 225 yards on 19 attempts. Williams could find running room limited against the middle of the Orange’s defense, which is anchored by senior tackle Jay Bromley. Syracuse’s offense plans to have a similar blueprint of attack, relying on Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley to anchor a rushing game that averages 210.9 yards per game. Both teams should have no trouble establishing the run, so this game could be decided by whichever quarterback – Chase Rettig, Boston College or Terrel Hunt, Syracuse – is more efficient and makes plays with the game on the line.
7. Virginia Tech (-13) at Virginia (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
The Commonwealth Cup and bragging rights in the state of Virginia are on the line when the Hokies and Cavaliers meet on Saturday. While Virginia Tech has to be focused on winning this game, the Hokies have to keep an eye on the scoreboard, as a North Carolina win over Duke would send Frank Beamer’s team to the ACC Championship. While there are reasons to be excited in Blacksburg, Virginia is looking for answers after a 2-9 start. The Cavaliers have lost eight consecutive games, with a struggling offense (4.4 yards per play) the primary culprit. Virginia Tech’s offense has faced its share of struggles on offense, but quarterback Logan Thomas has been solid in the Hokies' last two games. Thomas doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards each week, especially with a defense that holds conference opponents under 300 yards per game (268.2), has generated 34 sacks and forced 24 turnovers. If Virginia can force a couple of turnovers, the Cavaliers will have a chance to snap a nine-game losing streak to their in-state rivals. But if Virginia Tech controls the turnover margin, its defense is capable of pitching a shutout against Virginia.
8. Maryland (-2.5) at NC State (12:30 ET, ACC Network)
Saturday’s road trip to Raleigh will be the final game for Maryland as an ACC member. The Terrapins are off to the Big Ten next season, but there’s more at stake than just another conference game. Maryland is on the bowl bubble in the ACC, and a win over NC State would help the Terrapins land in the postseason. The Wolfpack is still searching for their first conference win, and first-year coach Dave Doeren hopes to snap a seven-game losing streak to build momentum for spring practice. NC State’s offense showed some signs of life in the fourth quarter against East Carolina, but the Wolfpack is averaging only 16.3 points in ACC games this season. Maryland’s offense has been hit hard by injuries at receiver, while turnovers (18) have also slowed this unit’s production. The Terrapins have lost three out of the last four against NC State, with their last win in Raleigh coming in 2007.
9. Wake Forest (+14) at Vanderbilt (12:21 ET, SEC TV)
Vanderbilt returns home after its thrilling win in Knoxville with a chance to win eight games in the regular season for the second straight season — something that hasn’t been done since 1927-28. Here’s an interesting stat: Vanderbilt has averaged 289.4 yards in its last five games, but the Commodores are 4–1 during that stretch with wins over Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. Wake Forest has shown sings of life in the last month — they lost by three at Miami and by seven to Duke — but the Deacons have lost four straight and will miss a bowl game for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Vanderbilt has won two straight over Wake by a combined score of 96–28.
ACC Week 14 Pivotal Players
Anthony Boone, QB, Duke
Boone didn’t play particularly well in a recent three-game stretch, tossing seven picks to no touchdowns. But the junior had a solid performance against Wake Forest, completing 24 of 29 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Boone will be matched against a North Carolina secondary allowing 210.6 yards per game, and this unit has held four out of its last five opponents to 204 passing yards or less. Duke’s defense has showed improvement after last season, but the Blue Devils will have trouble containing North Carolina’s offense. There should be no shortage of points scored in this game, and with the Tar Heels catching fire over the last few games, Boone may need a huge day through the air to keep up with North Carolina.
Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
No team has held Boston College running back Andre Williams under 263 yards in his last three games. Will Syracuse have more success than New Mexico State, NC State and Maryland? Statistically, the Orange has been relatively solid against the run (149.7 ypg). However, the Orange has been gashed at times, including 225 yards to Florida State and 394 to Georgia Tech. Bromley is one of the ACC’s best defensive tackles and needs to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage for Syracuse to slow down Williams.
Anthony Chickillo, DE, Miami
Protecting quarterback Tom Savage has been a huge problem for Pittsburgh this year. The Panthers have allowed an ACC-worst 40 sacks in 11 games. Chickillo is Miami’s best defensive end and has generated 43 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2013. If Savage has time to throw, he will have chances to take advantage of an injured Hurricane secondary. With concerns in the defensive backfield, ends Chickillo and Shayon Green need to get pressure on Savage and not allow the senior to hit on big plays downfield to receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd.
Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
The Seminoles are heavy favorites over their in-state rival but playing in the Swamp in a rivalry game is never an easy assignment. Florida State receiver Rashad Greene has been the go-to target for quarterback Jameis Winston, catching 57 passes for 889 yards and nine scores. Florida has arguably the best secondary the Seminoles will play all year, which includes standouts Loucheiz Purifoy and Vernon Hargreaves III. If Florida State wants to score 40 points for the 12th consecutive game, Greene and fellow receivers Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin need to win one-on-one battles against the Florida defensive backs on Saturday.
Brandon Thomas/Isaiah Battle, OT, Clemson
In last year’s loss to South Carolina, Clemson allowed four sacks and seven tackles for a loss. End Jadeveon Clowney had his way with the Tigers’ line, and even though the junior is having a disappointing season, he's capable of dominating the line of scrimmage once again. Thomas and Battle are expected to start at tackle, and this pair will be challenged to stop Clowney and senior Chaz Sutton. For Clemson to stop South Carolina’s four game winning-streak in this series, Thomas and Battle have to keep the Gamecocks’ ends away from quarterback Tajh Boyd.
ACC Week 14 Predictions
|Games||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Miami (-2.5) at Pittsburgh||Pitt 24-21||Miami 34-30||Miami 31-27||Miami 27-24|
|Duke (+5) at North Carolina||Duke 35-28||UNC 38-31||UNC 34-31||UNC 34-24|
|Florida State (NL) at Florida||FSU 63-7||FSU 52-13||FSU 45-10||FSU 34-0|
|Wake Forest (+14) at Vanderbilt||Vandy 21-14||Vandy 38-28||Vandy 34-13||Vandy 28-13|
|Maryland (-2.5) at NC State||Maryland 28-17||NC State 27-25||NC State 27-24||Maryland 17-14|
|Georgia (-3) at Georgia Tech||Ga. Tech 35-21||Georgia 34-31||Georgia 34-27||Georgia 34-27|
|Boston College (-2) at Syracuse||BC 28-21||BC 31-27||BC 27-24||BC 27-20|
|Virginia Tech (-13) at Virginia||Va. Tech 27-17||Va. Tech 24-10||Va. Tech 34-10||Va. Tech 30-7|
|Clemson (+5) at South Carolina||So. Carolina 31-21||So. Carolina 38-34||So. Carolina 30-24||Clemson 30-20|