Articles By Steven Lassan
College football’s regular season is over and the postseason is set. 35 bowl games take place, starting on Dec. 21 and stretching until the national championship on Jan. 6. Which bowls should you tune into?
Athlon ranks and previews all of the matchups from the must-see to the ones you can avoid.
Ranking the 35 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-Miss
1. BCS Championship – Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1) – Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
This is it. The final national championship before the playoff era (for better or worse) is an unlikely, but intriguing matchup. Florida State has been the most dominant team in the nation this year, but Auburn is red hot, riding a nine-game winning streak to Pasadena. Can the Seminoles stop the Tigers’ ground game? Florida State’s first-team defense has yet to allow a rushing score in 2013 and only one team has rushed for more than 150 yards over the last seven games. Quarterback Jameis Winston – the likely Heisman winner – and the Florida State receiving corps is a tough matchup for Auburn’s secondary. With both teams averaging over 40 points a game, the BCS Championship shouldn’t be short on offensive fireworks. Can the SEC close out the BCS era with an eighth consecutive national title? Or will Florida State end the SEC’s run of dominance?
2. Orange – Clemson (10-2) vs. Ohio State (12-1) – Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
Clemson and Ohio State have only one previous meeting – a rather infamous Gator Bowl matchup in 1978. The Buckeyes are 24-1 under Urban Meyer, while the Tigers have won 31 games over the last three years – the most in a three-year span in program history. This bowl features one of the best quarterback duels of the postseason, with Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd combining for 70 touchdowns in 2013. With a berth in the Orange Bowl, the Buckeyes have played in all five BCS games since 1998.
3. Rose – Michigan State (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2) – Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
Most of the BCS bowls seem to favor offense and high-scoring games, but defense should win out in Pasadena on Jan. 1. Michigan State and Stanford rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense and have combined for 71 sacks in 2013. With both teams among the nation’s elite on defense, which offense can make the most plays? Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is coming off a strong performance in the Pac-12 title game, throwing for 277 yards and one touchdown. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook tossed only five picks in 344 attempts this year.
4. Cotton – Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Missouri (11-2) – Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
With the Cotton and Orange Bowls on the same night, Jan. 3 is shaping up to be one of the better days of the bowl season. Oklahoma State and Missouri are former Big 12 foes, with the Cowboys winning four out of the last five against the Tigers. Both teams have talented pieces on defense, but this should be a high-scoring matchup. One of the bowl season’s intriguing one-on-one player matchups should be Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham taking on Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. Even though both teams fell short of reaching the BCS, the Cotton Bowl is a nice consolation prize.
5. Capital One – Wisconsin (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Much like the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Capital One Bowl always has one of the must-see matchups of the postseason. The SEC has won four out of the last five meetings against the Big Ten in this game, but Wisconsin should have a good chance to end that run on Jan. 1. Led by the one-two punch of Melvin Gordon and James White, the Badgers average 283 rushing yards per game. South Carolina’s defensive line is among the best in the nation, which will challenge the Badgers in the trenches. End Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles are future NFL standouts, and both players have to win the battle at the point of attack to slow down Gordon and White. South Carolina also features a standout running back (Mike Davis), but quarterback Connor Shaw is one of the nation’s most underrated players, throwing only one interception on 259 attempts in 2013.
6. Sugar – Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2) – Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
On paper, this is a great matchup between two of the top programs of the BCS era. But realistically, Oklahoma isn’t the best matchup for Alabama. The last time Alabama played in the Sugar Bowl, it was upset 31-17 by Utah. Considering the Crimson Tide was a heavy favorite to win the title in the preseason, there has to be some disappointment to be in New Orleans – instead of Pasadena. Oklahoma’s offensive strength is on the ground (235.8 ypg), but Alabama is holding opponents to 108.3 yards per game. The Sooners probably can’t line up and run over the Crimson Tide’s defense, so it’s important for Bob Stoops to get consistent production in the passing game, whether it’s Blake Bell or Trevor Knight under center.
7. Alamo – Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4) – Dec. 30 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Even though the combined final record for both teams is 18-6, it’s fair to say 2013 was a slight disappointment for Oregon and Texas. The Ducks had national title aspirations, but losses to Stanford and Arizona prevented an opportunity to play in a BCS game. The Longhorns rallied from a slow start to get back into Big 12 title contention. However, Texas fell short against Baylor and Oklahoma State, dropping Mack Brown’s team to 8-4. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered a knee injury late in the season and didn’t seem to be 100 percent in the final weeks. With a month to heal, Mariota should be closer to full strength, which should help the Ducks’ offense regain their early 2013 form. This Brown’s final game on the Longhorns’ sideline, so there's some extra motivation for Texas on Dec. 30. With Mariota already announcing his intention to return in 2014, Oregon can use this game as a springboard for a run at a Pac-12 title next season.
8. Fiesta – Baylor (11-1) vs. UCF (11-1) – Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Not only is this matchup the first between Baylor and UCF, but it’s also the first BCS appearance for both schools. The month off should help the Bears’ offense, with receiver Tevin Reese (wrist) and running back Lache Seastrunk (groin) nursing late-season injuries. Baylor averaged 61.2 points a game through the first nine weeks but was held to just 29.3 per game average over the final three contests. Eight of UCF’s games were decided by seven points or less, but the Knights have the firepower to hang around in this game. Quarterback Blake Bortles is efficient (seven picks) and averages 273.3 passing yards per game. Running back Storm Johnson leads the American Athletic Conference with an average of 84.6 rushing yards per game.
9. Russell Athletic – Miami (9-3) vs. Louisville (11-1) – Dec. 28 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Next season, Miami and Louisville will be ACC foes. But for now, the Cardinals-Hurricanes matchup is just an intriguing bowl game, as there is some familiarity between these two programs and players. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was committed to Miami during his recruiting process, and the Cardinals pluck a lot of prospects from the state of Florida. Coach Al Golden has Miami on the right track, and a win over Louisville would give the Hurricanes double-digit victories for the first time since 2003. With Bridgewater projected to be one of the top-five picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, this could be the final college game for the junior quarterback.
10. Las Vegas – Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4) – Dec. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Derek Carr vs. USC’s defense is one of the must-see matchups from the pre-Christmas bowls. Fresno State’s senior signal-caller threw for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns this year, with receiver Davante Adams (122 catches) the primary target. The Trojans’ defense is the toughest matchup that Fresno State will see this year, especially in the trenches. USC’s defense generated 34 sacks this season and held four out of the last seven opponents to 17 points or less. The Trojans also lead the Pac-12 in pass defense and have intercepted 16 passes this year. Fresno State’s rush defense will be tested against a USC offense that averages 174.2 yards per game on the ground. While the Trojans aren’t short on talent, they will be led by an interim coach (Clay Helton) for this game. Will the motivation be there for USC?
11. Fight Hunger – BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4) – Dec. 27 at 9:30 p.m. ET
The Fight Hunger Bowl should be one of the better pre-New Year’s Day matchups this season. Washington finally got over the 7-6 mark with a solid 8-4 record in 2013, but instead of building on this year's success in 2014, coach Steve Sarkisian left for USC. The Huskies were able to pull Chris Petersen away from Boise State, which is easily one of the top hires of the BCS era. Regardless of the coaching situation, Washington will be a tough opponent for BYU. The Huskies ranked second in the Pac-12 in total offense (514.3 ypg), and running back Bishop Sankey is expected to be a postseason All-American (147.9 ypg). The Cougars went 2-4 against BCS competition this season, but Bronco Mendenhall’s defense ranks 21st nationally in points allowed (21.3), while quarterback Taysom Hill is a dangerous dual-threat option. BYU has been vulnerable in the secondary, and it’s critical for linebacker Kyle Van Noy to get pressure on Washington quarterback Keith Price.
12. Outback – Iowa (8-4) vs. LSU (9-3) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
These two programs have met only once – a 30-25 thriller in the Capital One Bowl – but there are plenty of similarities between Iowa and LSU for this year’s matchup. With quarterback Zach Mettenberger sidelined with a knee injury, the Tigers should plan on a run-heavy approach on offense. LSU has one of the deepest backfields in the nation, with Jeremy Hill leading the way (1,185 yards, 14 TDs). Freshman Anthony Jennings is expected to replace Mettenberger under center on Jan 1. Iowa averages 4.4 yards per rush on offense, led by Mark Weisman (938 yards, 7 TDs). But quarterback Jake Rudock was solid in his first year as the starter (18 TDs, 60.2%). With Jennings making his first start, Iowa has to stop the run and force LSU’s young quarterback to win the game.
13. Chick-fil-A – Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Duke (10-3) – Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is the final college football game of 2013, and as always, this game is the perfect way to ring in the New Year. The Aggies – led by sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel – make their first appearance in this bowl. This is also Duke’s first appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and the Blue Devils are looking for their first postseason win since 1961. Both teams should be able to move the ball with ease, as Texas A&M’s defense allowed 460.3 yards per game. The Blue Devils gave up 408.5 yards per contest this year, but this unit made some big plays and good adjustments in the second half of games. The month to prepare should allow the Aggies some time to get their younger players on defense valuable reps to help defend against the Blue Devils' solid offense. A win over Texas A&M would cap an impressive season for Duke, which featured the first Coastal Division title in school history, along with the program’s first double-digit win total.
14. Sun – Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3) – Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
Something has to give when the Hokies and Bruins meet in El Paso. Virginia Tech’s defense is allowing just 17.4 points a game, while UCLA averages 36.5 points per contest. The Hokies’ defensive line (37 sacks) will be a handful for a young Bruins’ offensive line, but quarterback Brett Hundley has thrown for only one interception in his last five games. Virginia Tech’s offense has been inconsistent and won’t have much margin for error against a UCLA defense that boasts two of the nation’s top pass rushers in linebackers Anthony Barr and Myles Jack.
15. Holiday – Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5) – Dec. 30 at 10:15 p.m. ET
The Holiday Bowl is known for its high-scoring affairs and offensive shootouts, so it’s no surprise Arizona State and Texas Tech will meet in San Diego. The Sun Devils were handled by Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship, but Todd Graham’s team has an opportunity to win 11 games for the first time since 1996. First-year coach Kliff Kingsbury guided Texas Tech to a 7-0 start. But a difficult schedule in the second half of the season dropped the Red Raiders to five consecutive losses to end the year. Arizona State running back Marion Grice missed the last two games of the year with a leg injury, and if healthy, he should find plenty of running room against a Texas Tech defense allowing 194.5 rush yards per game.
16. Belk – Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6) – Dec. 28 at 3:20 p.m. ET
Cincinnati returns to Charlotte to defend its Belk Bowl title after its third consecutive season with at least nine wins. The Bearcats beat Duke 48-34 in this bowl last year. North Carolina started 1-5 but rallied with a 5-1 finish to get bowl eligible. Both teams average over 30 points a game so this year’s Belk Bowl could exceed last season’s 82 points scored. Even though the Tar Heels lost quarterback Bryn Renner to a season-ending shoulder injury in November, the offense hasn’t missed a beat. Sophomore Marquise Williams accounted for 10 scores over the final three games, and his dual-threat ability will challenge a Cincinnati defense that has allowed only two opponents to score more than 30 points in 2013.
17. Poinsettia – Utah State (8-5) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1) - Dec. 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET
From the BCS to the Poinsettia Bowl. That’s the story of the postseason for Northern Illinois. The Huskies were easily handled by Bowling Green in the MAC Championship, which dropped Rod Carey’s team to the Poinsettia Bowl. Quarterback Jordan Lynch recorded 4,557 yards and 45 overall scores this season. The senior is one of the top players in college football, but he will be tested by a Utah State defense that held opponents to just 17.3 points a game. First-year coach Matt Wells did an outstanding job guiding the Aggies to a Mountain West division title, especially after losing quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a knee injury. With Utah State limited on offense, it needs a big effort from its defense and rushing attack to hold off Lynch.
18. Hawaii – Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (6-6) – Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
For a team (Boise State) with an interim coach, and the other team (Oregon State) with a 6-6 record, a trip to Hawaii isn’t the worst way to spend time around Christmas. The Beavers lost their final five games, including a 69-27 drubbing at the hands of Washington. Boise State will be led by interim coach Bob Gregory after Chris Petersen left for Washington. The Broncos are rebuilding, yet finished 8-4 and needed one more win to play for the Mountain West title. Quarterback Joe Southwick suffered a broken ankle against Nevada and played in the regular season finale against New Mexico. Southwick could be ready to reclaim his starting job in time for this game. The Broncos’ defense has been steady this year, but the secondary will be tested by the Beavers’ passing attack, which features receiver Brandin Cooks (120 catches).
19. Gator – Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4) – Jan. 1 at Noon ET
Do not adjust your vision. Yes, this is a rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl, which resulted in a Georgia 45-31 victory. With two backup quarterbacks likely to start this game, points could be at a premium in this year’s matchup. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez has not played since late October, leaving freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. and former walk-on Ron Kellogg III to handle the starting quarterback duties. Georgia lost Aaron Murray to a torn ACL in late November, but backup Hutson Mason started and played well against Georgia Tech. While there’s uncertainty at quarterback, there’s no question about the running backs in this game. Todd Gurley (Georgia) and Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) are two of the best in the nation.
20. Buffalo Wild Wings – Michigan (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5) – Dec. 28 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Considering both teams return a chunk of their roster for 2014, this bowl game could be a springboard to bigger and better things next season. Michigan’s offense struggled this year, largely due to an inability to establish the run and protect quarterback Devin Gardner. But the junior finished the regular season on a high note by throwing for 451 yards and four touchdowns against Ohio State. With just 10 returning starters, Kansas State was in rebuild mode this year. And it showed early on, as the Wildcats started 2-4 but rebounded to win five out of their final six games. This is the first meeting between these two programs.
21. AdvoCare V100 – Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5) – Dec. 31 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Get your stopwatches ready: With two teams that like to lean on the run, this could be one of the fastest games of the bowl season. Or better yet: How many passes will be thrown in this game? The AdvoCare V100 Bowl features the nation’s leading rushers in Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (156 ypg) and Boston College’s Andre Williams (175.2 ypg), and both players should expect a heavy workload on Dec. 31. Williams was banged up at the end of the regular season but is expected to be at full strength for this game. Carey rushed for at least 100 yards in every contest this year. With two teams dedicated to the run, this game could be decided on which quarterback is able to make the most plays (B.J. Denker, Arizona or Chase Rettig, Boston College).
22. Music City – Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Ole Miss (7-5) – Dec. 30 at 3:15 p.m. ET
Despite being separated by less than 400 miles, this the first meeting between these two programs since 1971. Georgia Tech is just 1-4 in bowl games under coach Paul Johnson, but the Yellow Jackets have finished in the final Associated Press poll in four out of the last five years. Stopping the Georgia Tech option is no easy assignment. Ole Miss ranked ninth in the SEC against the run but allowed 26 rushing scores this season. The Rebels have an edge in talent in the trenches, but freshman Robert Nkemdiche and senior Cameron Whigham have be able to maintain gap responsibility instead of trying to rush the backfield on every snap. The Yellow Jackets’ defense made progress under new coordinator Ted Roof this season, but the secondary finished 13th in the ACC against the pass. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace struggled in its last two games (4 INTs), but the junior has one of the nation’s most-talented trio of receivers at his disposal.
23. BBVA Compass – Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. Houston (8-4) – Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
It seems one team is shafted every year in the bowl process. And this season, that team is clearly Vanderbilt. The Commodores finished 4-4 in the SEC and is picked behind two 3-5 teams in Ole Miss and Mississippi State. While there may be a sense of disappointment for Vanderbilt, this is a favorable matchup for James Franklin’s team. Houston lost three of its final four games – albeit against solid competition – and offensive coordinator Doug Meachem left for TCU in early December. Houston quarterback John O’Korn had a solid freshman season (2,889 yards, 26 TDs), but the Commodores finished fifth in the SEC against the pass.
24. Military – Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5) – Dec. 27 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Despite their states bordering one another, Marshall and Maryland have never met. And while some mid-tier bowl games won’t draw much interest among fanbases, this one should have some intrigue. The Terrapins are back in the postseason after a two-year absence, and the Thundering Herd posted its best win total (nine) since winning 11 games in 2002. Maryland was hit hard by injuries on both sides of the ball this year, but its defense held opponents to just 366.9 yards per game. Behind quarterback Rakeem Cato and receiver Tommy Shuler, Marshall’s offense is dynamic (43 ppg). However, the Thundering Herd’s defense is suspect, allowing 184.9 rushing yards per game in nine C-USA contests. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown played well against Virginia Tech and NC State, and he will have opportunities to make plays against Marshall’s defense.
25. Liberty – Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6) – Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. ET
Expect plenty of cowbells in Memphis on Dec. 31, as Mississippi State fans should overwhelm the Liberty Bowl with less than a three-hour drive from Starkville. This is Rice’s first appearance in the Liberty Bowl, and a victory over the Bulldogs would give the Owls their first 11-win season in school history. Mississippi State has the edge in talent and size in the trenches, but the Bulldogs will be tested by a Rice rushing offense that averages 240.2 yards per game. Running back Charles Ross has 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, but quarterback Taylor McHargue is also a dangerous runner (466 yards) in addition to his arm (17 TDs, 2,261 yards). Mississippi State’s quarterback situation for this game is uncertain. Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott were injured late in the year, but Prescott came off the bench and rallied the Bulldogs to a victory over Ole Miss in the regular season finale. Russell won't play in this game, which means Prescott and true freshman Damian Williams will get the nod under center.
26. Little Caesars Pizza – Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (10-3) – Dec. 26 at 6 p.m. ET
After three consecutive trips to Birmingham for the BBVA Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh has to be ecstatic for the post-Christmas trip to Detroit. But the Panthers have a tough matchup on their hands, as Bowling Green has its first double-digit win season since 2003 and knocked off Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. Points could be at a premium in Ford Field. Bowling Green is allowing only 14.8 points a game, while Pittsburgh boasts ACC Defensive Player of the Year in tackle Aaron Donald.
27. New Mexico – Washington State (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6) – Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. ET
The bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque with a striking contrast in styles. Washington State made significant progress in Mike Leach’s second season, improving its win total by three games after a 3-9 record last year. The Cougars love to throw the ball, leading the nation with 698 pass attempts. Quarterback Connor Halliday has tossed 28 touchdowns but also has 21 picks. Colorado State also improved its win total by three games this year, but the Rams didn’t do it through the air. Running back Kapri Bibbs emerged midway through the season and finished with 1,572 yards and 28 scores on 254 attempts. Which style will win out on Dec. 21?
28. Pinstripe Bowl – Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4) – Dec. 28 at Noon ET
The Pinstripe Bowl should have a good crowd for this one, as Notre Dame will travel well to New York City, and the Scarlet Knights are about an hour away from Yankee Stadium. After playing in the national title last season, the Pinstripe Bowl has to be a disappointment for the Fighting Irish, but this team lost quarterback Everett Golson in the preseason, and injuries on defense prevented this unit from matching last year’s success. Rutgers needed a win over South Florida on the final weekend just to get bowl eligible. Turnovers and consistency on offense were huge concerns for the Scarlet Knights this year, but quarterback Chas Dodd threw for 179 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in the win over the Bulls. The time off to prepare for the bowl should help Rutgers’ running back Paul James return to 100 percent, who never seemed to be at full strength after suffering a leg injury against Arkansas in late September.
29. GoDaddy – Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Ball State (10-2) - Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. ET
For the third consecutive season (and three different coaches), Arkansas State makes its postseason home in Mobile. The Red Wolves are 1-1 in this bowl, beating Kent State last year and losing to Northern Illinois in 2012. Ball State was overshadowed by Northern Illinois in the MAC, but the Cardinals averaged 486.3 yards per game in 2013 and held opponents to 24.8 points per contest. Ball State coach Pete Lembo could be in the mix for openings at Wake Forest and Connecticut. Will he coach the Cardinals in this game?
30. New Orleans – Tulane (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) – Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. ET
Bragging rights in the state of Louisiana are on the line for this game, as less than 150 miles separate Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won the last two New Orleans Bowls, while this is the Green Wave’s first appearance in a bowl since 2002. Tulane has made significant improvement under second-year coach Curtis Johnson, improving from 2-10 last year to 7-5 in 2013. The Green Wave failed to score more than 17 points in four out of their last five games, but the defense was one of the best in Conference USA, limiting opponents to 353.1 yards per game. Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway suffered an arm injury in the Nov. 30 loss to ULM but is expected to play in this game. Despite the close proximity between the two schools, this is just the second meeting between Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette since 2001.
31. Texas – Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4) – Dec. 27 at 6 p.m. ET
Minnesota is back in the Texas Bowl for the second consecutive season. The Golden Gophers were one of the Big Ten’s best stories in 2013, rallying around interim coach Tracy Claeys while Jerry Kill took time away from the team to deal with medical concerns. Syracuse squeaks into the postseason after a last-second win against Boston College. The Orange dealt with transition to a new conference, as well as a new quarterback, yet still made it into a bowl in Scott Shafer’s first season. Both teams have enjoyed success on the ground this year, with Syracuse averaging 194.3 yards per game and Minnesota rushing for 200.9 per contest.
32. Heart of Dallas – UNLV (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4) – Jan. 1 at Noon ET
Yes, there are too many bowls, but it’s also good to see 35 postseason games when they create matchups like this one. UNLV is back in a bowl for the first time since 2000, while North Texas returns to a postseason game after a 12-year drought. The Mean Green’s run defense held opponents to only 125.1 yards per game this season, but that number should be tested by UNLV running back Tim Cornett (1,251 yards, 15 TDs). North Texas isn’t particularly flashy on offense, with quarterback Derek Thompson completing 63.9 percent of his throws but tossing 13 picks. Running back Brandin Byrd is the Mean Green’s standout performer on offense, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. UNLV led the Mountain West in pass defense, but it left a lot to be desired against the run (222.6 ypg).
33. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s – East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5) – Dec. 23 at 2 p.m. ET
It’s hard to find many reasons to get excited about this bowl, especially since it’s clear these two teams are headed in opposite directions. East Carolina has a solid resume in 2013, beating North Carolina 55-31 in Chapel Hill and falling to Virginia Tech by just five points. The Pirates should score plenty of points behind quarterback Shane Carden (32 TDs, 3,866 yards). Ohio limps into the postseason by losing three of its final four games. However, quarterback Tyler Tettleton threw for 2,623 yards this season and will test an East Carolina defense ranked 90th nationally against the pass.
34. Famous Idaho Potato – Buffalo (8-4) vs. SDSU (7-5) – Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. ET
This bowl has produced some high-scoring affairs in its 16-year history, but defense could be this season’s theme. Buffalo’s defense is led by linebacker Khalil Mack, who forced 16 fumbles in his career and was named the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Mack isn’t the only standout on Jeff Quinn’s team, as Branden Oliver gashed opposing defenses for 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns this year. San Diego State lived on the edge in 2013, winning six games by seven points or less. The Aztecs’ offense is guided by running back Adam Muema (1,015 yards), while walk-on Quinn Kaehler stabilized the passing attack after he replaced Adam Dingwell as the starter.
35. Armed Forces – MTSU (8-4) vs. Navy (7-4) – Dec. 30 at 11:45 a.m. ET
This is the first meeting between the Blue Raiders and Midshipmen. Navy still has one game remaining, a showdown with rival Army next Saturday. MTSU finished its regular season by winning five in a row, including a 51-49 victory over C-USA East champ Marshall. Stopping the run is always critical when playing Navy, and MTSU ranked eighth in Conference USA in rush defense, allowing 185.8 yards per game. But the Blue Raiders should benefit from the extra bowl practices to develop a plan to stop Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher isn’t leaving Tallahassee anytime soon. Fisher has agreed to a new contract with the Seminoles, raising his salary to $4.1 million a year.
The length of Fisher’s contract is speculated to be five to seven years. Although Fisher wasn’t likely to leave Florida State for another job, his name has popped up in connection with a potential opening at Texas. However, this deal should end any speculation about Fisher’s future with Florida State.
Fisher’s updated salary should rank among the top 10 coaches in the nation.
Prior to the ACC Championship, Fisher was 43-10 in four years with the Seminoles.
Report: Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher agrees to contract extension - http://t.co/yx8FopXfxn— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) December 8, 2013
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn won’t be pursuing any other jobs this offseason, as the Tigers’ first-year coach agreed to a new six-year contract prior to the SEC Championship. Malzahn will make $3.85 million in 2014 and will receive a $250,000 raise in each of the following years.
Malzahn guided Auburn to a 12-1 regular season record, which includes a SEC Championship victory over Missouri.
Malzahn was a key reason in Auburn’s turnaround this year, as the Tigers improved their win total by nine games from 2012.
'Let's get this done': Gus Malzahn's late-night request to Jay Jacobs leads to contract extension with Auburn http://t.co/ezFOby37vD— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAEricksonAU) December 7, 2013
Northern Illinois’ BCS bowl hopes ended with a loss to Bowling Green on Friday night, but the Huskies’ offense provided one of the highlights for Week 15, as receiver Juwan Brescacin made a one-handed touchdown catch on a pass from quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Check out Brescacin’s catch in the first quarter of Friday night’s MAC title game:
The inaugural Mountain West title game is the nightcap to Championship Saturday, with Utah State traveling to Fresno State for the first meeting between these two schools since 2011.
Much has changed since the last meeting between these two programs. Both teams have different head coaches (Matt Wells, Utah State and Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State) and are back in the same conference after the Aggies joined the Mountain West prior to the 2013 season.
Fresno State was considered a heavy favorite to win the West Division in the preseason, but Utah State’s berth in the championship game is a bit of a surprise, especially after the Aggies lost quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a season-ending knee injury against BYU. Utah State also had a little help from San Diego State, who knocked off Boise State late in the year to give the Aggies the edge in the division battle.
Fresno State holds a 16-10-1 series edge over Utah State. The Bulldogs have won five in a row over the Aggies. Utah State’s last win over the Bulldogs was in 2006, and its last victory in Fresno occurred in 1980.
Utah State at Fresno State
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Fresno State -3.5
Fresno State’s Key to Victory: Control the offensive tempo
Although Utah State freshman quarterback Darell Garretson has played well in limited action, the Aggies don’t want to turn this game into a shootout. On the other hand, Fresno State leads the Mountain West with an average of 47.3 points a game. The Bulldogs have scored 70 touchdowns this year, largely on the right arm of quarterback Derek Carr. The senior has tossed 45 touchdowns to only five picks on 552 pass attempts. Fresno State also has a deep receiving corps, led by Davante Adams (113 receptions) and Josh Harper (79 grabs). Harper is questionable for Saturday’s game due to a groin injury. Utah State leads the Mountain West in pass defense, holding opponents to just 217.5 yards per game and only seven passing touchdowns in eight conference contests. The Aggies have played their best against some of the top competition in the conference, as they held San Jose State’s David Fales to no touchdown passes and 314 yards earlier this year. Fresno State’s offensive gameplan should be simple: Control the tempo and force the Aggies out of their comfort zone. Utah State has recorded 29 sacks this year, so protecting Carr and hitting Adams, Harper and Isaiah Burse on quick passes will be critical. If the Bulldogs get ahead early, it could spell trouble for Utah State.
Utah State’s Key to Victory: Establish the run
It’s not a secret Fresno State would prefer to jump out to an early lead and force Utah State to play from behind on offense. But the Aggies need to play their game and to their strengths, which is establishing the run and solid defense. In Mountain West games, Fresno State ranks fifth in the conference against the run, allowing 157.3 yards per game. Utah State’s line features four senior starters, while running back Joey DeMartino has recorded four 100-yard efforts in five games. If DeMartino and Robert Marshall find running room, it will allow the Aggies to keep Fresno State’s offense on the sideline and limit the possessions for Carr. Also, keeping the down and distance in manageable situations for quarterback Darell Garretson will be crucial for Utah State’s hopes of winning.
Key Player: Darell Garretson, QB, Utah State
Garretson was slated to redshirt this season, but the freshman was forced into action after Chuckie Keeton suffered a knee injury against BYU. As expected with a true freshman, Garretson has experienced his share of ups and downs. However, he has played relatively well, throwing for 1,127 yards and nine touchdowns, while completing 63 percent of his passes. Fresno State ranks 10th in the Mountain West against the pass, with opposing quarterbacks completing 63.4 percent of their throws. The Bulldogs have played with big leads in some games, so the pass defense numbers are slightly skewed. Garretson doesn't have to win this game with his arm, but he needs to be efficient and eliminate any mistakes.
Fresno State’s offense has been on fire this season, with only two teams holding the Bulldogs under 40 points. Utah State’s defense ranks as the best in the Mountain West, and the front seven and secondary will present a challenge for Derek Carr and his receivers. The Aggies need to control the clock with their rushing attack and ease quarterback Darell Garretson into the game. Utah State will give Fresno State a battle, but the Bulldogs are at home and hungry to bounce back after losing to San Jose State last Friday.
Prediction: Fresno State 34, Utah State 27
Big 12 title implications are potentially on the line when Baylor and Texas meet on Saturday afternoon. If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma earlier in the day, this game won’t factor in into the conference championship discussion, but the Bears still need a win to keep their BCS bowl hopes alive.
In addition to the potential Big 12 title implications, this is the final game at Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium. The Bears have won nine straight at home and can set a school record of 10 in a row with a victory over Texas. Baylor is set to move into a new stadium in 2014, which is set on the edge of the Brazos River. The new stadium will seat 45,000.
Texas has dealt with several obstacles this season, including injuries and ongoing coaching rumors about the status of Mack Brown. The Longhorns started 1-2 but rebounded by winning six in a row. Texas lost 38-13 to Oklahoma State for its only Big 12 loss.
Baylor started 9-0 and was in the conversation for the national title until a 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State. The Bears rebounded from the loss against the Cowboys by defeating TCU 41-38 last Saturday.
Texas owns a decided 74-24-4 series edge against Baylor. The Longhorns won last season’s meeting 56-50, but the Bears won two in a row from 2010-11.
Texas at Baylor
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Baylor – 15
Texas’ Key to Victory: Establish the run
The Longhorns rank third in the Big 12 in rushing offense, averaging 200.7 yards per game. Depth in the backfield has been depleted due to an injury to Johnathan Gray, but Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are a capable one-two punch. Brown is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry on 163 attempts this season. However, the junior leads the team with nine rushing scores, while Bergeron has 342 yards this year. Texas is averaging only 223.4 passing yards per game in Big 12 games and isn’t built to win a shootout against Baylor. The Longhorns’ best hope at victory is a ground-based approach on offense, which eats up the clock and keeps Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and running back Lache Seastrunk on the sidelines.
Baylor’s Key to Victory: Protect quarterback Bryce Petty
It sounds simple, but Baylor’s victory hopes could reside on its offensive line. The Bears have allowed five sacks over the last two games and have posted two of their lowest offensive outputs of the season with left tackle Spencer Drango out. The offensive line will be tested once again, especially since Texas recorded nine sacks against Texas Tech. The Longhorns moved defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat around the line of scrimmage against the Red Raiders, allowing the senior to record seven tackles and three sacks. Protecting Petty and opening rushing lanes for Lache Seastrunk will be critical against a Texas defense that has allowed less than 110 rushing yards in two out of their last three games.
Key Player: Case McCoy, QB, Texas
Texas faces an uphill battle at victory if this game turns into a shootout. However, it’s unlikely the Longhorns can simply rely on their rushing attack to win. McCoy has thrown for 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions this year, while completing 60.1 percent of his throws. The senior has not topped 300 passing yards in a game this season and has tossed at least one interception in five out of the last six contests. Expect Texas to lean on Brown and Bergeron to control the clock, but McCoy has to make plays in the passing game when called upon. And turnovers will be critical, especially since the Longhorns cannot afford to give Baylor a short field or any easy scores.
With this game the final one in Floyd Casey Stadium and a chance to add another loss to Texas’ resume, Baylor should have plenty of motivation – even if Oklahoma State wins earlier in the day. The Longhorns will have success playing keep away and will move the ball on the ground. However, Baylor simply has too much firepower, and quarterback Bryce Petty guides a big second half to close out the Bears’ time at Floyd Casey Stadium with a victory.
Prediction: Baylor 41, Texas 31
Washington lost coach Steve Sarkisian to USC on Monday, but the Huskies upgraded with the hire of Boise State’s Chris Petersen. And it’s not a cliché, but Washington truly hit a home run by pulling Petersen to Seattle.
Many programs have tried and failed to lure Petersen away from Boise State during his eight years with the Broncos. But this time, the opportunity to stay in the Pacific Northwest, along with a new challenge at a solid program like Washington was too much for Petersen to pass on.
Every college football head coach hire will have its question marks, but on the surface, there are few negatives for Washington. Petersen has been ultra-successful at Boise State and is no stranger to life and what it takes to win in the Pacific Northwest.
Before we give our final grade on Petersen, let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for this hire.
Positives for Washington’s Hire of Chris Petersen
Stellar track record
Petersen’s record at Boise State is a stellar 92-12. During his eight-year tenure with the Broncos, Petersen lost more than two games in only two seasons and won four consecutive bowl appearances from 2009-12. Boise State also finished in the final top 10 of the Associated Press poll four times under Petersen’s watch. It’s easier to maintain success at the non-BCS level, and the Pac-12 is going to be an increased challenge for Petersen. However, he’s winning at an elite level and guided the program to new heights. It’s not often a coach with a 92-12 record is available for hire, but Washington is the right fit for Petersen.
Offensive background and the right fit
Petersen played quarterback during his collegiate days, and prior to working as the Broncos’ head coach, he worked as an offensive assistant at UC Davis, Pittsburgh, Portland State, Oregon and Boise State. Petersen wasn’t calling the plays as head coach, but the Broncos had some of the nation’s most-prolific offenses under his watch. That style should translate well in the Pac-12, especially in a division that features Washington State and Oregon. This job also seems like the right fit for Petersen. It’s no secret the pressure at Boise State is considerably less than it is at USC. Outside of Oregon, this is the job that makes the most sense for Petersen: Pacific Northwest location, and even though Seattle is a big city, there’s considerably less pressure to coach at Washington than in Los Angeles.
Staff and facilities at Washington
Steve Sarkisian had an excellent staff at Washington, which included defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox – a former Boise State assistant under Petersen – and line coach and heralded recruiter Tosh Lupoi. The Huskies should be able to pay big for a new crop of assistants, and the upgraded Husky Stadium can only add to the appeal of playing in Seattle. Petersen pushed for facility upgrades and increased pay for his assistants at Boise State, and the California native should have no trouble filling both of those demands at a program like Washington.
Negatives for Washington’s Hire of Chris Petersen
Former Boise State coaches
As we mentioned above, every hire is different and will have its own set of question marks. However, is it the program that makes the coach or the coach that makes the program? That’s what Washington is about to find out. Dirk Koetter (Arizona State) and Dan Hawkins (Colorado) were hired away from Boise State to Pac-12 programs and neither hire panned out. Petersen was on staff during the Koetter and Hawkins tenures, so it’s easy to wonder if he was the true brains behind the operation. However, considering Koetter and Hawkins were both canned at their next jobs, there has to be a little doubt about how Petersen will do away from Boise State.
Recruiting in the Pac-12
With a good facilities, location and potential, Washington should be able to reel in consistent top-25 classes. At Boise State, Petersen and his staff did a good job of landing diamond-in-the-rough recruits and developed those players into all-conference talent. But recruiting to Boise State and Washington are different tasks. According to Rivals.com, from 2009-13, Petersen never recruited a top-50 class at Boise State. Can he go toe-to-toe in the Pac-12 for elite talent? This is where Petersen needs to do everything he can to keep Lupoi, as well as bring in assistants that are familiar with coaching in the Pac-12 and can recruit at a high level.
In a coaching change, it’s rare for a program to lose a coach and find an immediate upgrade. But that’s the scenario Washington has found itself in. Sarkisian was a good coach and helped to resurrect the program after the failed Tyrone Willingham tenure. However, Petersen is an upgrade and is one of the top hires for a BCS program in recent years. The California native has been one of the nation’s top-10 coaches during his tenure at Boise State, and there’s no reason to expect much to change at a program like Washington. Petersen will have to adapt to recruiting at a higher level and a new set of opponents, but he will have more resources at his disposal. Washington claimed a share of the 1991 national title, so the program is capable of winning at a high level. With a renovated Husky Stadium and good facilities, this is the type of hire that can help Washington close the gap on Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North.
Grading Washington's Hire of Chris Petersen: A+
Washington lost coach Steve Sarkisian to USC earlier this week, but the Huskies moved quickly in finding his replacement.
Boise State coach Chris Petersen has been hired by Washington to replace Sarkisian, ending an eight-year run with the Broncos.
During his tenure with Boise State, Petersen went 92-12 and won 57 conference games. The Broncos also played in two BCS bowls under Petersen’s watch.
Have confirmed ESPN's reports that Chris Petersen is leaving Boise State for Washington. Our evolving story: http://t.co/J68YHj3zlp— Brian Murphy (@murphsturph) December 6, 2013
Willie Meggs, the state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, announced on Thursday Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will not face charges in regards to a sexual assault investigation.
Winston was never charged in response to the investigation, and the case has been closed according to Meggs.
Winston is the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy and has guided Florida State to a 12-0 record with a berth in the ACC Championship this Saturday.
Meggs: no charges against Jameis Winston.— Ira Schoffel/TDO.com (@IraSchoffel) December 5, 2013
"We do not believe after we examined all the evidence, we came to decision it was not a case we could bring forward," Meggs said— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 5, 2013
Willie Meggs said accuser's recollection of events have "moved around a little bit" including some "memory lapse."— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) December 5, 2013
The documents http://t.co/F9m2NcSupB— Stewart Moore (@StewartMoore) December 5, 2013
Meggs said athletes do not receive special treatment in Tallahassee— Brendan Sonnone (@osfsu) December 5, 2013
The ACC Championship isn’t the marquee game on Saturday, but there’s plenty of intrigue, as Duke (a surprise contender) meets Florida State (the No. 1 team in the nation).
With a win over the Blue Devils, the Seminoles – barring a huge change in the polls on Sunday – would clinch a spot in the national championship. Florida State has been the most dominant team in the nation this season, with an average margin of victory at 42.7 points per game.
Duke was predicted by most to finish at the bottom of the ACC Coastal this year, but the Blue Devils used an eight-game winning streak to claim their first division title. Duke’s 10-win season is the first in program history, while the Blue Devils posted wins at Virginia Tech and North Carolina in route to the Coastal Division title.
David Cutcliffe has brought steady improvement over his six-year tenure in Durham. Duke has won 16 games over the last two seasons, which is the most in a two-year period for the program since winning 16 under Wallace Wade in 1940-41.
This is the first meeting between Florida State and Duke in the ACC Championship. The Seminoles won the conference title 21-15 over Georgia Tech last season and is trying to become the first back-to-back winner of the ACC Championship since Virginia Tech in 2007-08.
In the overall series, Florida State is 18-0 against Duke. The Seminoles won 48-7 in Tallahassee last season and only one matchup between these two teams has been decided by 20 points or less.
Duke vs. Florida State
Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -29
Three Things to Watch
Florida State's receivers vs. Duke's secondary
Behind freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, Florida State’s offense is on a record-setting pace this year. The Seminoles have already scored the most points in team history (644), average 7.8 yards per play and recorded at least 40 points in 11 out of the 12 games this season. Winston is the catalyst for the Seminoles’ offense, but the freshman is surrounded by one of the nation’s top supporting casts. Florida State is the only BCS team with three 800-yard receivers, and tight end Nick O’Leary has 509 yards on 30 receptions this year. Rashad Greene leads the team with 61 catches, but Kelvin Benjamin (12 touchdown catches) and Kenny Shaw (17.8 ypc) are key pieces in the passing game. Duke’s secondary features two senior starters at cornerback, including first-team All-ACC member Ross Cockrell. But there’s youth at safety, with one sophomore (Jeremy Cash) and two freshmen (Deondre Singleton and DeVon Edwards) composing the starting trio. In conference games, Duke has limited opponents to 250 yards per contest and has intercepted 13 passes. However, the Blue Devils have played only two FBS teams (North Carolina and Miami) that rank in the top 50 nationally in passing offense. Although the numbers suggest the Blue Devils’ secondary could present some problems for the Seminoles, this is their toughest challenge of the season. With Florida State’s deep group of receivers and weapons out of the backfield, Duke’s senior tandem at cornerback and young talent at safety will be tested.
Duke's rushing attack
When a team is nearly a 30-point underdog, a perfect game is absolutely necessary to pull off the upset. On Saturday night, Duke has to win the turnover battle and find a way to shorten the game. The Blue Devils have six players with at least 45 carries this year, including quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette. Jela Duncan leads the team with 546 yards, while Josh Snead is averaging 6.4 yards per carry (83 attempts). Duncan, Snead, Shaquille Powell and Juwan Thompson will see their share of carries on Saturday night, but the wildcard is Connette. The junior has been a critical piece of Duke’s offense in short-yardage situations and has scored 13 rushing touchdowns this year. After struggling against Boston College, Florida State’s run defense has been rock solid the rest of the year. The Seminoles have allowed just one team to record over 150 rushing yards in the last eight games. And all four of the rushing touchdowns allowed by Florida State have been with the backups in the game and the outcome no longer in doubt. Duke has a veteran offensive line (165 starts among the starting five). Can this group block one of the best defensive fronts in college football to help control the clock for the Blue Devils?
Turnover battle and special teams
As we mentioned above, Duke is a heavy underdog and needs a perfect effort to win on Saturday night. Controlling the clock and limiting Florida State’s possessions is one way the Blue Devils can slow down the Seminoles. But the turnover battle could play a huge role in the outcome. The Seminoles have lost only 14 turnovers this year, while the Blue Devils have lost 20. In terms of turnover margin, Florida State is a +17, and Duke is +3. If the Blue Devils have any hope of scoring the upset, they have to force a couple of turnovers and play a mistake-free game. Special teams will also be critical for Duke’s upset hopes. Punter Will Monday earned third-team All-ACC honors this season, and kicker Ross Martin connected on 11 of 15 field goals – including 2 of 3 from 50 yards or more. The Blue Devils also have a dangerous option on returns, as Jamison Crowder averages 15 yards per punt return, and DeVon Edwards averages 32.7 yards per kickoff return. Duke has to win in these two areas to keep this one close on Saturday night.
Key Player: Kenny Anunike, DE, Duke
Anunike is the elder statesman of Duke’s defense, as he started his career in Durham in 2009 and has played in 52 games. The senior leads the Blue Devils with six sacks this year and has recorded 13.5 tackles for a loss. Duke’s 4-2-5 alignment helps with adding extra athleticism and speed on the field, which should help in defending Florida State’s offense. However, the Blue Devils have a tough assignment in trying to stop a team averaging 53.7 points a game. What will be Duke’s plan of attack on defense? Will the Blue Devils bring extra pressure? Or will Duke be content to let the Seminoles drive the field and try to slow down this offense in the red zone? Either way, it’s critical Anunike gets pressure on Winston, as the Blue Devils need to put Florida State in long-distance situations. However, consider this: Winston is 16 of 18 for 317 yards and four touchdowns in third down opportunities with 10 or more yards to gain.
This is a true David versus Goliath scenario in the ACC Championship. Duke is riding high after an eight-game winning streak and the first 10-win season in school history. But Florida State is simply the better team and poised to return to the national title game for the first time since 200. If the Blue Devils can establish the run and create a couple of turnovers, Cutcliffe’s team can keep this game close at halftime. However, the Seminoles have too much firepower on offense, and the defense has not allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points since Sept. 28.
Cutcliffe clearly has Duke on the right track, but Florida State is the best team in college football.
ACC Championship Predictions
|Athlon Editor||Championship Prediction||Season Record|
|David Fox||Florida State 42-24||88-24|
|Braden Gall||Florida State 42-20||87-25|
|Steven Lassan||Florida State 45-17||86-26|
|Mitch Light||Florida State 44-17||87-25|
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger suffered a torn ACL in Friday’s win over Arkansas, and the senior will miss the remainder of the 2013 season.
Mettenberger showed significant improvement in his second year as LSU’s starting quarterback, throwing for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2013. The senior thrived under the tutelage of coordinator Cam Cameron, who helped Mettenberger improve his completion percentage by six points.
With Mettenberger sidelined, true freshman Anthony Jennings will assume the top spot on the depth chart.
Jennings is 6 of 10 for 99 yards and one touchdown this season, while rushing for 49 yards and one score on eight attempts.
Zach Mettenberger has reportedly torn his ACL and will miss the Tigers' bowl game http://t.co/SDlAs2pzQ5— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) December 4, 2013
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: