Articles By Steven Lassan
Making an impact as a college football true freshman isn’t an easy task. Although recruiting rankings and ratings matter to some degree, it’s all an inexact science. Until a player gets to campus and learns the schemes and spends time in a weight room, it’s just a guess on who the top players will be from a recruiting class.
With the 2013 regular season in the books, we can take a look at the top freshmen from this season. There’s no question this list of players could look a lot different three years from now. Some freshmen start from the first day of camp, while others work their way into the lineup through the first few games.
It’s tough to rank or grade freshmen just based on stats. You have to look at playing time, production, talent and impact on the team to get an accurate representation.
With the criteria in mind, here’s a look at Athlon’s top 25 freshmen for 2013. It’s a deep crop of talent this season, led by Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman is clearly the No. 1 player on this list, but Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller also had outstanding seasons.
College Football's Top 25 Freshmen from 2013
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Winston’s debut easily ranks among the best seasons by a freshman during the BCS era. The redshirt freshman opened his career by completing 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh and never looked back. Winston torched Clemson for 444 yards and three scores and threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-7 victory over rival Florida. Winston ended the year with 3,820 passing yards and 38 touchdowns, while completing 67.9 percent of his throws. The Alabama native threw just 10 picks on 349 attempts. And after a stellar debut, the hardware came in bunches for Winston. He was picked as the ACC’s Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year. And as expected, Winston claimed the Heisman in a landslide victory. With a chance to win a national championship on Jan. 6, Winston can only add to what has been one of the most-impressive seasons by a quarterback (regardless of year of eligibility) in recent years.
2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
There wasn’t much good news coming out of Gainesville this season, but Hargreaves III was one of the few bright spots for coach Will Muschamp. Hargreaves wrestled his way into the starting lineup by the third game of the year and started the next 10 contests. The Florida native recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions and broke up 11 passes. Hargreaves tied for the SEC lead with 14 passes defended and was a first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press.
3. Kendall Fuller/Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller ranked as the No. 4 defensive back in the nation in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100, and with an older brother (Kyle) currently playing, and two older brothers that played for Virginia Tech, there was plenty of pressure on the true freshman’s shoulders to perform. Fuller had no trouble living up to the hype, earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and second-team All-ACC honors. The true freshman stuffed the stat sheet, recording 56 tackles, six interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Fuller also defended 16 passes and forced one fumble. Facyson could stand on his own in the top 25, but we will group him with Fuller. Facyson played in 11 games, recording 25 tackles and five interceptions. He also defended 12 passes.
4. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
It’s not easy starting as a true freshman on any offensive line for any FBS team. But it’s even more challenging starting as a true freshman on the offensive line in the SEC. That was the assignment for Tunsil this year, but he easily passed his first test with flying colors. Tunsil entered the starting lineup against Texas and finished the season with nine starts at left tackle. The Florida native was a second-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press. With another offseason to work in the weight room, Tunsil is set to contend for All-America honors in 2014.
5. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Jameis Winston’s season set the bar high for opposing quarterbacks, but Hackenberg quietly had a solid freshman campaign. The Virginia native started all 12 games for coach Bill O’Brien, throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns. Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes and finished 2013 on a high note, completing 21 of 30 throws for 339 yards and four touchdowns against Wisconsin. The freshman’s 2,955 yards ranked as the third-most passing yardage in a single season in Penn State history.
6. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Jack’s position is listed as linebacker, but the true freshman was an all-purpose threat by the end of 2013. Jack started 11 games on defense, recording 70 tackles (five for a loss), one interception, 10 pass breakups and one blocked kick. While those numbers alone are good enough to be a top-10 player on this list, Jack became one of UCLA’s top offensive weapons late in the season. The Washington native recorded 267 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, including 120 yards on six attempts against Arizona. With Anthony Barr off to the NFL, Jack is expected to see a more prominent role on UCLA’s defense in 2014.
7. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
It’s no secret Arkansas’ coach Bret Bielema loves to run the football. With Collins leading the way, the Razorbacks should have no trouble establishing a run-first, physical approach on offense. In 12 games this year, Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns. The Florida native was picked as the SEC Freshman of the Year and was the first freshman in SEC history to start his career with three straight 100-yard rushing performances. He also caught 11 passes for 63 yards.
8. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Bosa began 2013 as a backup to Adolphus Washington, but the freshman became a significant contributor and a starter by the end of the year. The true freshman finished with 39 tackles (12.5 for a loss), 6.5 sacks and one pass breakup. Bosa came up big at the end of the year, recording 3.5 tackles for a loss over Ohio State’s final two games. With Bosa, Noah Spence and Washington returning in 2014, the Buckeyes should have one of the nation’s top defensive lines.
9. A’Shawn Robinson, DE, Alabama
Robinson made only two starts, but that’s a bit of a misnomer, as the true freshman rotated into the game for a healthy amount of snaps each week. Defensive linemen in a 3-4 defense usually aren’t asked to make a bunch of plays behind the line of scrimmage, but Robinson did just that this year, recording 36 stops (seven for a loss) and 5.5 sacks. With Ed Stinson departing, Robinson could be the new anchor for Alabama’s line in 2014.
10. Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State
Ramsey was the first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders. But due to an injury to Tyler Hunter, Ramsey moved to safety in the fourth game of the season. The Tennessee native started all 13 games and finished with 41 tackles, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. Ramsey’s ability to move around in the secondary is valuable asset for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and the 6-foot-1 safety is only going to get better with another offseason to work with Florida State’s coaching staff. In addition to his size, Ramsey’s athleticism and ball skills should make him one of the top safeties in the nation by the start of 2014.
11. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
The Spartans’ offensive line was one of the most-improved units in the Big Ten this year, and Conklin was a key cog in this group’s emergence. After a redshirt season in 2012, Conklin earned the starting spot at right tackle for the opener. But after four games, the Michigan native was moved to the left side, where he started the final nine contests of 2013.
12. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Smith ranked as the No. 1 linebacker in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and became the first freshman at Notre Dame to start at linebacker since 1995. Smith lived up to his recruiting hype this year, finishing third on the team with 61 tackles (6.5 for a loss), one interception and one forced fumble.
13. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Boyd teamed with senior Devin Street to form one of the ACC’s top receiving duos this season. The freshman grabbed 77 passes for 1,001 yards and seven scores. Boyd’s best game came against Duke, as he caught eight passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
14. Su’a Cravens, S, USC
Cravens ranked as the No. 1 safety in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and didn’t disappoint in his debut at USC. He started 12 of the Trojans’ 13 regular-season contests and finished with 51 tackles, one forced fumble and four interceptions. Cravens earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
15. Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State
Jones seemed to get better with each snap, and the Mississippi native is set for a monster 2014 season. In 12 games this year, Jones finished with 31 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.
16. Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss
Nkemdiche missed three games with a hamstring injury, but he still finished with 34 tackles (two for a loss) and one forced fumble. At 6-foot-5 and 294 pounds, Nkemdiche has the size and strength to play on the outside or on the interior. If he played in all 12 contests, it’s likely Nkemdiche would have ranked higher on this list. But there’s no question he has immense talent and is a future star on Ole Miss’ defense.
17. Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
Gillam was simply everywhere for Colorado’s defense in 2013. In 12 games, he recorded 119 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and six pass breakups. Gillam also recorded one interception and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
18. John O’Korn, QB, Houston
In his first start, O’Korn threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns against Rice. And after his performance, combined with David Piland’s retirement, O’Korn never relinquished the starting spot. The Florida native finished his true freshman campaign with 2,889 yards and 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
19. Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA
Jim Mora is accumulating some impressive young talent in Los Angeles, as Vanderdoes and Myles Jack are set to anchor the Bruins’ defense for the next two years. Vanderdoes finished 2013 with 38 tackles and one forced fumble and showcased his athleticism with a touchdown run and an 18-yard catch.
20. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Treadwell was picked as the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, and he led all Ole Miss receivers with 67 receptions and tied for the team lead with five receiving scores.
21. Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU
Hawkins was overshadowed by Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil, but the redshirt freshman finished with 11 starts at right tackle in 2013.
22. Alex Kozan, OG, Auburn
Kozan was a key reason why Auburn leads the nation with an average of 335.7 rushing yards per game. The redshirt freshman started all 13 games in 2013.
23. Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss
Conner was another freshman from Hugh Freeze’s top-10 recruiting class to make an impact in 2013. He finished the regular season with 59 tackles (four for a loss), one sack and five pass breakups.
24. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
Floyd finished 2013 as Georgia’s No. 1 sack producer, recording 6.5 in 12 contests. He also picked up 47 tackles and two forced fumbles.
25. Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
Coley was one of the ACC’s top all-around threats, finishing with 30 catches for 559 yards and seven touchdowns, rushing for 80 yards and a score and 618 yards on returns.
After a 34-7 loss to Navy on Saturday, Rich Ellerson’s tenure at Army is over. Ellerson was fired on Sunday, ending his five-year tenure at West Point with a 20-41 mark.
Army went 12-13 in Ellerson’s first two years, including a 7-6 mark in 2010.
However, the Black Knights did not win more than three games in each of the last three years.
Prior to coming to Army, Ellerson went 56-34 at Cal Poly.
Army is not an easy job, and the next coach will have quite a challenge to get this program into a bowl game every season. Another challenge for the next coach: Beat Navy. The Black Knights have lost 12 in a row to the Midshipmen.
Spoke with Rich Ellerson. Said on his firing,"I lost to our rival 5 timesl. C’mon. It’s just arithmetic. I know the business I’m in."— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) December 16, 2013
Ellerson: I knew this was hard & I knew it was. I have no regrets none at all. I couldnt be prouder of guys who have chose to follow us here— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) December 16, 2013
Ellerson: "I’d like to be guy that got it done. I’m proud of the work we did here & I think whoever who ends up in this job has a chance."— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) December 16, 2013
Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas is over. In 16 seasons in Austin, Brown recorded a 158-47 mark, including a national championship in 2005 and nine consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins from 2001-09.
Texas is widely considered one of the best head coach jobs – if not No. 1 – in the nation. The Longhorns have all of the resources to win at a high level every season, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a plethora of talented recruits in your background.
The Longhorn Network and the obligations associated with Texas’ television channel could be a bit overwhelming to some coaches. However, with the resources available in Austin, Texas can afford to hire as many people as necessary in the support staff for the head coach.
While Texas is arguably the No. 1 job in the nation, there’s not an easy or obvious fit to replace Brown.
Considering where this job ranks nationally and the uncertainty about interested candidates, this should be one of the more intriguing coaching searches in recent memory.
Candidates to Replace Mack Brown at Texas
Jimbo Fisher, head coach, Florida State
Under Fisher’s direction, Florida State has emerged as a national title contender once again. The Seminoles were 30-22 in the four seasons prior to Fisher’s arrival, but the West Virginia native has brought steady improvement to Tallahassee, guiding Florida State to a 44-10 mark over the last four years. The Seminoles are 25-2 over the last two seasons and will play Auburn for the national title on Jan. 6. Florida State and Fisher have agreed to a new deal, and it seems unlikely he would leave with the Seminoles set to play for the national title. Fisher is regarded as an excellent talent evaluator and guided the program through the loss of six assistant coaches this year to an appearance in the national title. If nothing else, Fisher can use the Texas job as leverage to get an upgraded deal, assistant pay or any additional resources he needs in Tallahassee.
Pat Fitzgerald, head coach, Northwestern
As a former Northwestern player, it’s difficult to see Fitzgerald leaving Evanston. But if he was looking to leave, Texas may be the only job that tempts the 39-year-old coach. The Wildcats are 55-46 under Fitzgerald’s watch and had a streak of five consecutive bowl appearances from 2008-12. Northwestern – much like Vanderbilt or Duke – is a tough place to consistently win at a top 10-15 level. Again, it’s unlikely Fitzgerald will ever leave Northwestern, but he would be a home-run hire for Texas.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Franklin is one of the rising stars among college football coaches, and it’s a surprise the 41-year-old coach hasn’t been courted by more top jobs over the last two seasons. In three years with Vanderbilt, Franklin has a 23-15 record and one bowl victory. The 23 wins accumulated under Franklin are the best in a three-year stint by a Vanderbilt coach since Dan McGugin had from 1927-29. Not only is Franklin an excellent X’s and O’s coach, he is a dynamic recruiter and a coach that can bring much-needed energy to a fanbase.
Al Golden, head coach, Miami
Miami is a top-25 job, but the Hurricanes simply lack the resources of a place like Texas. Even though Golden seems content at Miami and guided the program through the Nevin Shapiro scandal, the New Jersey native would at least have to listen if Texas calls. Golden helped to resurrect Temple’s football program, recording a 27-34 mark in five seasons with the Owls. Temple played in one bowl game and earned back-to-back winning records with Golden leading the way. In three years at Miami, Golden is 22-14 and has a 10-6 mark in ACC play over the last two seasons.
Mike Gundy, head coach, Oklahoma State
Gundy played quarterback at Oklahoma State and has spent most of his coaching career in Stillwater, so it wouldn't be easy for him to leave for another job in the Big 12. In nine years as the Cowboys’ head coach, Gundy has a 77-37 record, including a 45-30 mark in conference play. Oklahoma State is 5-2 in bowl games under Gundy and finished No. 3 in the nation in 2011. Although Gundy’s ties to Oklahoma State are strong, he nearly left for Tennessee last offseason. The Oklahoma native already has good recruiting connections in Texas, and there would be more resources at his disposal with the Longhorns. Considering what Gundy has done in his seven-year mark with the Cowboys, along with his experience in recruiting Texas, it’s easy to see why he should be a target at Texas.
Bill O’Brien, head coach, Penn State
O’Brien inherited a difficult situation at Penn State. The program was hit by NCAA sanctions due to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and there was plenty of uncertainty about which players might transfer to another program due to the postseason ban. In two years, O’Brien is 15-9 and Penn State has back-to-back winning records under his watch. O’Brien also has NFL experience, spending 2007-11 as an assistant with the Patriots. The Nittany Lions are getting some relief from the scholarship sanctions, but the bowl ban for the next two years is still in place. O’Brien interviewed with the Browns last season, and his name will likely come up in coaching searches over the next few years.
Gary Patterson, head coach, TCU
Much like the other coaches on this list, Patterson seems unlikely to leave TCU. The Kansas native guided the Horned Frogs on a winding conference journey, starting in the WAC in 2000, continuing with Conference USA from 2001-04, the Mountain West from 2005-11 and the Big 12 in 2012. Transiting from a non-BCS league to a BCS conference is no easy task, but TCU is 11-14 over the last two years and recorded a 7-6 mark in 2012 without its starting quarterback for most of the season. Patterson is known as one of the best defensive coaches in the nation and certainly knows how to recruit the state of Texas. Patterson has a pretty good gig at TCU. But if he wants to upgrade, it’s not easy to turn down the No. 1 program in the nation – and he won’t have to go too far to do it.
Rich Rodriguez, head coach, Arizona
Rodriguez is a good darkhorse candidate for Texas. After a failed three-year stint at Michigan, Rodriguez is 15-10 with two bowl appearances at Arizona. And while the 15-22 record at Michigan is tough to overlook, Rodriguez went 60-26 at West Virginia and was on the doorstep of playing for the national title in 2007. Rodriguez does not have any experience coaching in Texas, but even with a mediocre tenure at Michigan, his overall record is 135-94-2.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama
Since Texas can’t get Nick Saban, would they settle for a Saban clone? Smart has worked under Saban for eight years, starting in 2004 at LSU and continuing in the NFL with the Dolphins. Smart followed Saban to Alabama in 2007 and has served as the defensive coordinator since 2008. The Crimson Tide’s defense has ranked No. 1 in the SEC in total defense every season since 2008, and this unit led the nation in fewest points allowed in 2011-12. Smart does not have any head coach experience, and most of his background has been in the SEC. The former Georgia defensive back is ready to run his own program, but Texas likely wants a proven commodity to replace Mack Brown.
Les Miles, head coach, LSU
Raise your hand if you would watch Les Miles every day on the Longhorn Network. Yep, that’s what we thought. Miles has one of college football’s top-10 jobs at LSU and is 94-24 in nine years in Baton Rouge. In order to coach at Texas, you have to be good at dealing with boosters and able to put up with the requirements of the Longhorn Network. Both sound like strengths of Miles, but again, it’s unlikely he leaves for Austin.
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor
Briles received a contract extension until 2023 this season and seems content to stay at Baylor. However, if there was a perfect candidate to take over in Austin, Briles might be it. The 58-year-old coach has spent his entire career in Texas and turned Baylor from a Big 12 doormat into a Big 12 title contender.
Larry Fedora, head coach, North Carolina
Fedora is a Texas native – College Station to be exact. The 51-year-old coach has stops as an assistant at Baylor, Air Force, MTSU, Florida and Oklahoma State. Fedora has been a head coach for six seasons, recording a 48-29 overall mark. It’s a safe bet Fedora would be interested if offered an opportunity to interview. However, is six combined seasons at Southern Miss and North Carolina enough to interest Texas?
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette
With a victory over Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl, Hudspeth will have nine wins in each of his first three seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette. Hudspeth is clearly a rising star, but Texas is probably looking for someone with more experience as a head coach.
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
DeRuyter is 20-5 in two seasons at Fresno State and went 1-0 as Texas A&M’s interim coach in 2011. The California native is due for a promotion to run a BCS program, but he is unlikely to be in the mix at Texas.
Hugh Freeze, head coach, Ole Miss
Freeze’s contract was upgraded this offseason by Ole Miss. Would that be enough to stop him from leaving? In two years with the Rebels, Freeze is 14-11 and went 10-2 for Arkansas State in 2011. Freeze’s record at Ole Miss isn’t particularly overwhelming, but he inherited a team that went 6-18 in the two seasons prior to his arrival. The Rebels reeled in a top-10 recruiting class this year and after back-to-back seven-win seasons, the program is on the right track.
Jerry Gray, defensive coordinator, Tennessee Titans
Gray is a former Texas player and worked on Mack Brown’s staff in 2011. However, despite his ties to the university, Gray is an extreme longshot candidate for the position. The Titans rank No. 9 in the NFL in total defense, but Gray has never worked as a head coach on the college or pro level.
Jim Harbaugh, head coach, San Francisco 49ers
Harbaugh was one of the top coaches in college football before leaving to take the top spot with the 49ers. In four years with Stanford, he recorded a 29-21 mark and won the Orange Bowl in 2010. Harbaugh is 33-11 in three seasons with the 49ers and led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance last year. While Harbaugh’s name has been mentioned for this job, it’s unlikely he would leave the NFL after just three seasons. However, after he wins a Super Bowl, who knows what could happened?
Gus Malzahn, head coach, Auburn
Much like Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Malzahn has agreed to a raise and an extension this offseason. And with Auburn set to play in the national championship on Jan. 6, don’t expect Malzahn to leave the Plains anytime soon.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
It’s only a matter of time before Morris gets a chance to be a head coach in a BCS conference. The Texas native was a successful high school coach prior to taking over at Tulsa as an offensive coordinator in 2010. After one season with the Golden Hurricane, Morris was hired by Dabo Swinney to coordinate Clemson’s offense. Over the last three years, the Tigers have ranked first or second in the ACC in total offense.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi was in the mix to be the coach at Connecticut, but he turned down an opportunity to lead the Huskies for another year at Michigan State. Narduzzi does not have head coaching experience, which would seem to be a major drawback for Texas. However, there’s no denying Narduzzi is one of the best defensive coordinators in college football.
Mike Tomlin, head coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tomlin’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Mack Brown. Keep dreaming. Even after a down year with the Steelers, Tomlin isn’t leaving Pittsburgh.
Amid rumors of a potential change at Texas, Nick Saban has signed an extension to remain at Alabama. According to various reports, Saban will receive an extension to around $7 million a season.
If Texas made a change from Mack Brown, Saban was expected to be the No. 1 target for new athletic director Steve Patterson. However, if there was any doubt Saban would remain at Alabama, that was removed on Friday night.
Brown’s status with Texas remains unchanged, and this extension should end the speculation that Saban would be a target for the Longhorns.
Nick Saban says he never any intentions of going to Texas (via ESPN's Chris Low) » pic.twitter.com/R0bRxjKjYE— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 14, 2013
According to the Longhorn Network, Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas is over. Brown will step down as the Longhorns’ head coach, which opens arguably the No. 1 job in college football.
Brown went 158-47 in 16 years as Texas’ head coach, including a national championship over USC in 2005.
While the Longhorns won 158 games under Brown’s direction, the program slipped in recent years. Texas went 5-7 in 2010 and recorded a 25-13 mark over the next three years.
Texas is a high-profile job with a lot of booster responsibilities. Needless to say, the search to replace Brown will intriguing, especially since there is no easy replacement candidate.
Mack Brown has informed the team and recruits of his resignation He will coach the bowl game.— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) December 15, 2013
Cincinnati beat Duke in last year’s Belk Bowl, and the Bearcats are set to make a return trip to Charlotte on Dec. 28 to take on North Carolina.
And Cincinnati plans to take on the Tar Heels with a new variation on its helmets:
UConn has announced Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco as its new head coach. Diaco replaces interim coach T.J. Weist, who took over after Paul Pasqualoni was fired early in the season.
Diaco won the Broyles Award (the nation’s best assistant coach) in 2012 and worked at Notre Dame from 2010-13.
Prior to coming to Notre Dame, Diaco made stops as an assistant at Cincinnati, Virginia and Central Michigan.
Diaco should be a good hire for UConn, but the first-time head coach needs to find a fix for the Huskies' offense. UConn has struggled on offense in recent years, so Diaco's offensive coordinator hire will be crucial.
College football’s 2013 regular season – with the exception of the Army-Navy game – is in the books.
The 2013 season featured plenty of intrigue and surprises, and Florida State and Auburn are set to cap the BCS era with the national championship matchup on Jan. 6 in Pasadena.
With the season for all BCS programs completed, it’s time to honor the top players around the nation.
As usual, it’s no easy assignment assembling three All-America teams. There are plenty of standout performers that won’t make the cut, but we tried to blend talent, production and consistency to form the top three teams.
2013 Season Reviews and All-Conference Teams: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | National Awards
College Football's 2013 Postseason All-America Team
|First-Team Offense||Second-Team Offense||Third-Team Offense|
|QB Jameis Winston, FSU||QB Bryce Petty, Baylor||QB Derek Carr, Fresno State|
|RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona||RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State||RB Bishop Sankey, Washington|
|RB Andre Williams, Boston College||RB Tre Mason, Auburn||RB Tyler Gaffney, Stanford|
|WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State||WR Allen Robinson, Penn State||WR Davante Adams, Fresno State|
|WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt||WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson||WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor|
|TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech||TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina||TE Nick O'Leary, Florida State|
|C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon||C Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma||C Reese Dismukes, Auburn|
|G David Yankey, Stanford||G Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA||G Anthony Steen, Alabama|
|G Cyril Richardson, Baylor||G Gabe Jackson, Miss. State||G Tre Jackson, Florida State|
|T Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama||T Cameron Erving, Florida State||T Taylor Lewan, Michigan|
|T Jake Matthews, Texas A&M||T Jack Mewhort, Ohio State||T Brandon Scherff, Iowa|
|AP Myles Jack, UCLA||AP Antonio Andrews, WKU||AP De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon|
|First-Team Defense||Second-Team Defense||Third-Team Defense|
|DE Vic Beasley, Clemson||DE Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State||DE Leonard Williams, USC|
|DE Michael Sam, Missouri||DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas||DE Marcus Smith, Louisville|
|DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh||DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina||DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota|
|DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU||DT Will Sutton, Arizona State||DT Derrick Hopkins, Va. Tech|
|LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama||LB Trent Murphy, Stanford||LB Kyle Van Noy, BYU|
|LB Anthony Barr, UCLA||LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo||LB Shayne Skov, Stanford|
|LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State||LB Chris Borland, Wisconsin||LB Telvin Smith, FSU|
|CB Lamarcus Joyner, FSU||CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon||CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State|
|CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State||CB Jason Verrett, TCU||CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State|
|S Deone Bucannon, Wash. State||S Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss||S Jimmie Ward, NIU|
|S Ed Reynolds, Stanford||S Calvin Pryor, Louisville||S Kurtis Drummond, Mich. State|
|First-Team Specialists||Second-Team Specialists||Third-Team Specialists|
|K Roberto Aguayo, FSU||K Marvin Kloss, USF||K Anthony Fera, Texas|
|P Tom Hornsey, Memphis||P Mike Sadler, Michigan State||P Pat O'Donnell, Miami|
|KR Ty Montgomery, Stanford||KR Christion Jones, Alabama||KR DeVon Edwards, Duke|
|PR Ryan Switzer, UNC||PR Nelson Agholor, USC||PR Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma|
With the exception of Saturday’s Army-Navy game, college football’s regular season is in the books. Only 36 games separate college football fans until the long offseason, but with another week until the bowl season starts, it’s time to take a look back at 2013 and some of the highlights of the year.
From the opener between North Carolina-South Carolina to the finale between Utah State and Fresno State, the 2013 season provided plenty of highlights, big performances and disappointments.
College Football’s 2013 National Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Winston quickly went from a talented, inexperienced quarterback in September to arguably the best in the nation by December. The redshirt freshman completed at least 60 percent of his passes in 10 out of 12 games against BCS competition and threw at least one touchdown pass in every contest. Winston finished the regular season with 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns, while rushing for 193 yards and four scores. He also completed 67.9 percent of his throws, averaged 293.8 passing yards per game and led the nation with a 190.1 passer rating. The Alabama native set FBS freshmen records with 38 touchdown passes and 3,820 passing yards.
2. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
3. Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald dominated the line of scrimmage and opposing offensive lines during his four years in Pittsburgh, but he was at his best during his senior year. Donald recorded 54 tackles – no easy feat for a defensive tackle – 10 sacks and 26.5 tackles for a loss. He also recorded 16 quarterback hurries, forced four fumbles and blocked one kick. Donald finished his career in the Steel City with 64 tackles for a loss and 28.5 sacks. He was picked as a finalist for the Bednarik, Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski Awards, and was the ACC media’s pick as ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
2. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
3. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
4. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
5. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: David Cutcliffe, Duke
Cutcliffe guided Duke to its first ACC Coastal title and the program’s first season of double-digit victories. To illustrate how far along Cutcliffe has improved Duke as a program, from 2000-07 the Blue Devils won just 13 games. Under Cutcliffe’s direction (2008-13), the Blue Devils have won 31 contests, including 16 in the last two seasons. And this isn’t a one-year wonder: Duke has enough returning talent to be in the Coastal Division mix again in 2014.
2. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
3. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
4. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
5. Art Briles, Baylor
Coordinator of the Year: Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
For the third consecutive season, Narduzzi coordinated a Michigan State defense that ranked among the top six nationally in fewest yards allowed per game. The Spartans ranked fourth nationally in total defense last season and improved upon that total in 2013, finishing No. 1 overall by limiting opponents to just 248.2 yards per contest. Michigan State also led the nation in rush defense, finished fourth nationally in fewest points allowed per game and second in pass efficiency defense. Narduzzi’s defense allowed only three opponents to score more than 20 points in a game this year, while no opposing team managed to reach the 30-point mark for the second season in a row. Narduzzi’s work as a defensive coordinator has made him a hot commodity for open head coach vacancies.
2. Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Florida State
3. Phil Bennett, defensive coordinator, Baylor
4. Philip Montgomery, offensive coordinator, Baylor
5. Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Best Coach Hire for 2013: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn brought immediate improvement to Auburn in his first season as the head coach. The Tigers went 3-9 last year and failed to win a SEC game. But under Malzahn’s watch, Auburn quickly rebounded. The Tigers finished 12-1 – with a huge victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl – and claimed the SEC Championship. Thanks to a Michigan State victory over Ohio State, Auburn is headed to Pasadena to play Florida State for the national championship on Dec. 6. In two years as a head coach, Malzahn is 21-4 at the collegiate level.
2. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
3. Steve Addazio, Boston College
4. Matt Wells, Utah State
5. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
Biggest Surprise: Missouri
Even though Gary Pinkel’s team lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship, let’s give the nod here to Missouri. Sure, Auburn’s rise to the national championship was a huge shocker, but Missouri’s 11-2 season was an even bigger surprise. After a 5-7 mark last year, Missouri was picked to finish lower than Auburn in Athlon’s 125 power rankings for 2013, and there was plenty of talk about the future of coach Gary Pinkel if the Tigers had another losing mark. But Missouri rebounded with a SEC East title and claimed its fourth season of at least 10 victories over the last seven years. The Tigers will have some holes to fill on the roster in 2014, but Pinkel’s team should remain in the mix for a finish in the top half of the SEC East.
5. Boston College
Biggest Disappointment: Florida
Coming into 2013, Florida was expected to have a hard time matching its 11-2 mark from 2012. However, no one expected what transpired in Gainesville this year. The Gators had their worst season since 1979, recording a 4-8 final record and a seven-game losing streak to close out the year. Florida won only two SEC games – Tennessee and Arkansas – and was routed by Florida State in the season finale. The offense was the primary culprit of the 4-8 record, and coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis were canned after the loss to the Seminoles. Will Muschamp plans to hire a coach to run an up-tempo attack in 2014, but this team has significant personnel concerns on offense, particularly at quarterback and in the receiving corps.
Top Freshman in 2013: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
3. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
4. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
5. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
6. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Best All-Around in 2013: Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA
By the end of 2013, Jack was not only one of UCLA’s best defenders, but the freshman also emerged as one of the Bruins’ top offensive weapons. In 12 contests, Jack recorded 70 tackles (five for a loss), one interception, one blocked kick and 10 pass breakups. On the offensive side, Jack rushed 37 times for 267 yards and seven scores. He averaged a whopping 7.2 yards per carry and had a 66-yard touchdown run against Arizona. Jack will be one of the Pac-12’s top returning players in 2014 – but will he play more on offense or stick to defense? With Anthony Barr headed to the NFL, Jack should be one of the top pass rushers in the Pac-12 and a preseason All-American.
2. Antonio Andrews, RB, Western Kentucky
3. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
4. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
5. Albert Wilson, WR, Georgia State
Most-Improved Player: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Mettenberger’s season ended prematurely due to a knee injury suffered against Arkansas, but the senior made considerable progress in 2013. Under new coordinator Cam Cameron, Mettenberger had a solid year, throwing for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also improved his completion percentage to 64.9 percent – a six-point increase from 2011. Mettenberger tossed only eight picks and threw 20 completions of 30 yards or more. By comparison, Mettenberger had only 17 passing plays of 30 or more yards in 2012. The senior also averaged three more yards per completion in 2013 than he did in 2012.
Three Coaches on the Rise
1. Pete Lembo, Ball State
Lembo could be in the mix for open jobs this offseason. In three years with Ball State, he is 25-12 and has guided the Cardinals to back-to-back bowl appearances.
2. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette
It’s only a matter of time before a BCS job hires Hudspeth away from the Ragin’ Cajuns. In three years with Louisiana-Lafayette, Hudspeth is 26-12 with three bowl trips.
3. Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Johnson is just 9-15 overall, but the Green Wave improved their win total by five games from 2012 to 2013. Tulane is also set to play in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21, which is its first bowl appearance since 2002.
Five Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2014
1. Will Muschamp, Florida
2. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
3. Tim Beckman, Illinois
4. Mike London, Virginia
5. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Five Players to Watch in 2014
1. Dontre Wilson, RB, Ohio State
2. Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
3. Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
4. Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State
5. P.J. Walker, QB, Temple
Three Programs on the Rise for 2014
2. North Carolina
3. Ole Miss
Best Play: Auburn's Chris Davis returns missed field goal to beat Alabama
Best Catch: UCF's J.J. Worton against Temple
Best Coaching Soundbyte: Les Miles after beating Florida
Best Coaching Rant: Iowa State's Paul Rhoads after losing to Texas
Best Trick Play: Fresno State's fumblerooski against New Mexico
Worst Officiating Moment: Arizona State-Wisconsin clock fiasco
Boise State’s coaching search has ended with a familiar name taking over for Chris Petersen. After one season at Arkansas State, Bryan Harsin has been hired by Boise State as its next head coach.
Harsin went 7-5 in his only season with the Red Wolves. However, he is a native of Boise and played as a quarterback with the Broncos from 1995-99.
Harsin also served on Boise State’s staff from 2001-10.
With Harsin’s departure, Arkansas State will have its fifth coach in five years in 2014.
Overall, 2013 was a pretty good year for the ACC. Florida State went 13-0 and is set to play Auburn for the national championship. Clemson went 10-2 – its only losses to Florida State and South Carolina – and the Tigers will play in their second BCS game in three years.
There was a drop in the final rankings from Florida State and Clemson, but Duke finished 10-3 and claimed its first Coastal Division title. Behind the Blue Devils in the Coastal were Virginia Tech (8-4), Miami (9-3) and Georgia Tech (7-5).
Florida State and Clemson clearly dominated the Atlantic Division, but Syracuse, Boston College and Maryland all finished with at least a .500 record.
The ACC expanded to 14 teams with the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and the conference has 11 teams set to play in a bowl game this year.
The bowl season is still to come, but Athlon Sports wraps up the 2013 regular season with a few awards and all-conference honors.
ACC 2013 Season Awards
Coach of the Year: David Cutcliffe, Duke
Between Cutcliffe, Boston College’s Steve Addazio and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, the ACC has a good crop of candidates for coach of the year. Despite the seasons by Fisher and Addazio, it’s hard to pick against Cutcliffe for this award. Cutcliffe guided Duke to its first ACC Coastal title and the program’s first season of double-digit victories. To illustrate how far along Cutcliffe has improved Duke as a program, from 2000-07 the Blue Devils won just 13 games. Under Cutcliffe’s direction (2008-13), the Blue Devils have won 31 contests, including 16 in the last two seasons. And this isn’t a one-year wonder: Duke has enough returning talent to be in the Coastal Division mix again in 2014.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Boston College running back Andre Williams and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd deserve consideration here, but Winston is the clear frontrunner for this award. The redshirt freshman quickly went from a talented, inexperienced quarterback in September to arguably the best in the nation by December. In the season opener against Pittsburgh, Winston threw for 356 yards and four touchdowns and only got better with each snap. Against Clemson, he threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns and completed 21 of 29 passes for 325 yards and one score against Miami. Winston completed at least 60 percent of his passes in 10 out of 12 games against BCS competition and threw at least one touchdown pass in every contest.
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald dominated the line of scrimmage and opposing offensive lines during his four years in Pittsburgh, but he was at his best during his senior year. Donald recorded 54 tackles – no easy feat for a defensive tackle – 10 sacks and 26.5 tackles for a loss. He also recorded 16 quarterback hurries, forced four fumbles and blocked one kick. Donald finished his career in the Steel City with 64 tackles for a loss and 28.5 sacks. He was picked as a finalist for the Bednarik, Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski Awards, and was the ACC media’s pick as ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Newcomer of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
As we mentioned under the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, Winston is already one of – if not the best – quarterback in the nation. The redshirt freshman finished the regular season with 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns, while rushing for 193 yards and four scores. Winston completed 67.9 percent of his throws, averaged 293.8 passing yards per game and led the nation with a 190.1 passer rating. The Alabama native set FBS freshmen records with 38 touchdown passes and 3,820 passing yards.
Biggest Disappointments of 2013: Virginia and NC State
No one was necessarily expecting big things from either NC State or Virginia this year, but a combined 0-16 mark in conference play is a big disappointment. The Wolfpack was picked to finish third in the Atlantic Division by the ACC media in July, while the Cavaliers were pegged sixth in the Coastal. Neither team was particularly competitive in ACC games, as NC State’s closest conference loss was by eight points to North Carolina, while only one of Virginia’s defeats were by less than 10 points. Despite the disappointing 2013 season, there is hope for both programs. The Cavaliers have a solid recruiting class on the way, and the Wolfpack will gain the services of transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett for 2014.
Biggest Surprises of 2013: Duke and Boston College
We normally award just one team here, but it’s hard to ignore the accomplishments of Duke and Boston College in 2013. We highlighted the Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe’s coach of the year selection, and 2013 will be recorded as one of the best seasons in Duke football history. Boston College won only two games last year but finished 7-5 this season behind first-year coach Steve Addazio. The Eagles leaned on a veteran core of players to return to the postseason, including senior running back Andre Williams (2,102 yards) and quarterback Chase Rettig (17 TDs, 6 INTs). Both of these programs have experienced their share of struggles in recent years, but it’s clear Duke and Boston College are pointed in the right direction going into 2014.
Athlon's 2013 All-ACC Team
|First-Team Offense||Second-Team Offense|
|QB Jameis Winston, Florida State||QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson|
|RB Duke Johnson, Miami||RB Devonta Freeman, Florida State|
|RB Andre Williams, Boston College||RB Kevin Parks, Virginia|
|WR Rashad Greene, Florida State||WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State|
|WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson||WR Allen Hurns, Miami|
|TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina||TE Nick O'Leary, Florida State|
|C Bryan Stork, Florida State||C Macky MacPherson, Syracuse|
|G Tre Jackson, Florida State||G Brandon Linder, Miami|
|G Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech||G Laken Tomlinson, Duke|
|T Cameron Erving, FSU||T Matt Patchan, Boston College|
|T James Hurst, North Carolina||T Brandon Thomas, Clemson|
|AP Jamison Crowder, Duke||AP Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh|
|First-Team Defense||Second-Team Defense|
|DE Vic Beasley, Clemson||DE Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech|
|DE Kareem Martin, North Carolina||DE Kasim Edebali, Boston College|
|DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh||DT Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech|
|DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State||DT Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest|
|LB Christian Jones, Florida State||LB Kelby Brown, Duke|
|LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College||LB Denzel Perryman, Miami|
|LB Telvin Smith, Florida State||LB Jack Tyler, Virginia Tech|
|CB Ross Cockrell, Duke||CB Bashaud Breeland, Clemson|
|CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State||CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech|
|S Jeremy Cash, Duke||S Tre Boston, North Carolina|
|S Anthony Harris, Virginia||S Terrence Brooks, Florida State|
|First-Team Specialists||Second-Team Specialists|
|K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State||K Nate Freese, Boston College|
|P Pat O'Donnell, Miami||P Tommy Hibbard, North Carolina|
|KR DeVon Edwards, Duke||KR Stacy Coley, Miami|
|PR Ryan Switzer, North Carolina||PR Jamison Crowder, Duke|
College football’s most prestigious award will be handed out on Saturday night, and six players will head to New York for the ceremony: Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, Northern Illinois’ quarterback Jordan Lynch, Boston College running back Andre Williams, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Auburn running back Tre Mason.
Winston is considered a heavy favorite to win on Saturday night, and the redshirt freshman is expected to become the third Florida State player to claim the Heisman Trophy.
Mason has made a strong case late in the season, while Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch totaled 45 touchdowns in 13 games this year.
Williams leads the nation by averaging 175.2 rushing yards per game.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is the defending Heisman winner, and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron threw just 13 interceptions over his three seasons as the Crimson Tide’s starter.
Heisman finalists: Jameis Winston - FSU Jordan Lynch - NIU Johnny Manziel - TAMU Tre Mason - AUB A.J. McCarron - ALA Andre Williams - BC— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 9, 2013
Wake Forest moved quickly in replacing Jim Grobe, choosing Bowling Green’s Dave Clawson to be its next head coach.
Grobe tied the school record with 77 victories during his Wake Forest tenure, which included an 11-3 record with an ACC Championship in 2006.
Clawson is a good hire for Wake Forest, as he has a 90-80 career record in three head coaching stops. Clawson went 29-29 in five years at Fordham, 29-20 in four years at Richmond and 32-31 in five seasons at Bowling Green.
Wake Forest isn’t an easy job, but Clawson already has experience winning at difficult programs, and his rebuilding effort at Bowling Green should serve him well in Winston-Salem.
The Pac-12 is a conference on the rise, and the league was strengthened during this year’s coaching carousel. Washington hired Chris Petersen away from Boise State to replace Steve Sarkisian, who left to take over at USC.
Boise State had success in the years prior to Petersen taking over, but the California native guided the program to new heights, including two BCS bowl victories. Petersen’s final record at Boise State was 92-12.
Sarkisian didn’t inherit much to work with when he arrived in Washington in 2009. The Huskies made a five-game improvement in the win column in his first season and won at least seven games in each of the next four years.
With more resources and an expected top-notch coaching staff at his disposal at USC, Sarkisian is expected to return the Trojans to national championship contention.
Both programs seem to have found a good fit. Is Sarkisian or Petersen the better hire this offseason?
Washington or USC: Which Program Made the Better Coach Hire?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Steve Sarkisian is a good fit at USC, but Washington made the better hire. Boise State’s Chris Petersen is arguably one of the nation’s top 15-20 coaches and guided the Broncos to a 92-12 record. Boise State also went 5-2 in bowl games under his watch and finished six times in the final Associated Press poll from 2006-12. Winning in a BCS league on a week-to-week basis is certainly going to be a bigger challenge than in the Mountain West, and Petersen has to prove he can win outside of Boise State, unlike previous coaches (Dan Hawkins and Dirk Koetter) that left for Pac-12 jobs. However, Petersen is regarded as one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the nation and will have more resources at his disposal in Washington. Sarkisian will win a lot of games at USC, but I think the Huskies upgraded when they hired Petersen away from Boise State.
I think both schools made solid hires, but I believe Washington hit the proverbial "home run" in luring Petersen away from Boise State. Don't get me wrong, I have no issues whatsoever with USC picking Steve Sarkisian as Lane Kiffin's replacement, but I have been anxious to see what Petersen could do at a "major" program for several years. This is a guy who up until this season had won at least 10 games every season with the Broncos. Included in his eight-year run was five conference titles and two BCS bowl victories. Now Petersen, a California native who played at UC Davis, gets to stay "home" in the Pacific Northwest and apply his winning formula at Washington, a school with significantly more resources and national brand recognition than Boise State, even with the Broncos' recent run of success.
USC is one of the top coaching jobs in college football, but instead of going for the "home run," athletic director Pat Haden decided to tap into the Trojans' most recent glory days by hiring Sarkisian, a former assistant coach under Pete Carroll. This actually put Washington AD Scott Woodward in the tougher position of filling his vacancy, and give him credit for finally saying the right things to convince Petersen to leave Boise. Of the course the biggest question regarding the Huskies' new head man is will the winning follow him from the famed "Smurf Turf" to Seattle? Only time will tell, but Washington fans have no reason to not be excited about the future of their football program.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Let’s start by saying both will do well. I’d argue both Washington and USC upgraded their coaching situations. Go ahead and point to the the last two Boise State coaches who flamed out at major jobs, both at current Pac-12 schools. Dirk Koetter took over a program that had stagnated at Arizona State and still had nice seasons. Dan Hawkins took over a mess of a program at Colorado. Petersen, though, has a program ready to return to national prominence. That’s partly due to the facilities upgrades and the work Sarkisian did when he took over a program in disarray. Skeptics wonder if Petersen will be able to recruit at the level Washington needs to in order to beat Oregon and Stanford. I have enough faith in Petersen as an administrator to augment his abilities with his staff. After all, this is a guy who needed to replace Justin Wilcox, Bryan Harsin, Brent Pease and others over the years. He’ll do fine at Washington.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Can I wait until I see the entire make up of coaching staffs to make that decision? On the surface, Chris Petersen feels like the better hire. However, if Steve Sarkisian can lure Justin Wilcox, Tosh Lupoi and Peter Sirmon to join him in Los Angeles, than I would switch my vote. Petersen is more of a proven commodity who has obviously won at a higher level. But he has struggled the last two seasons (relatively speaking) as the Broncos stepped up in competition by joining the Mountain West. And his 2013 campaign was the worst of his head coaching tenure at Boise. Coach Sark knows the USC landscape and understands what the expectation levels will be at Heritage Hall. Both teams made quality hires given their circumstances, but for now, Washington has done something that many have failed to do in luring Petersen away from Boise State. Trojans fans likely think they "under hired" while Huskies believe they actually upgraded.
College football’s regular season is over, and the chase for the national championship is down to Florida State and Auburn.
The Seminoles returned only 10 starters this year and had to replace six assistants, but coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited and developed talent as well as any team in the nation.
Florida State scored at least 40 points in 12 of its games this season and only one matchup was decided by 20 points or less.
This is the Seminoles’ first appearance in the BCS Championship since 2000. Florida State is 1-2 in national title appearances in the BCS era, but the Seminoles are 3-0 under Fisher in bowl appearances.
Standing in the way of Florida State’s first national title since 2000 is Auburn. The Tigers represent the SEC – the home of the last seven national champions. Can the Seminoles knock off Auburn and end the SEC’s run?
Here are five reasons why Florida State is the team to beat on Jan. 6. in Pasadena.
5 Reasons Why Florida State Will Beat Auburn for the National Championship
1. Florida State’s passing game will have its way against Auburn’s secondary
The strength of Auburn’s defense is its line, which has generated 28 sacks this year. End Dee Ford leads the way with 8.5 sacks, and talented freshman Carl Lawson has four. Florida State’s offensive line is anchored by tackle Cameron Erving, who was picked as the ACC’s top lineman in 2013. Provided the Seminoles protect quarterback Jameis Winston, he should have plenty of opportunities to make plays against Auburn’s secondary. The Tigers rank last in the SEC against the pass, allowing 259.3 yards per game. Auburn also ranks 63rd nationally in pass efficiency defense and has allowed 27 passing plays of at least 30 yards in 2013. Florida State has one of the deepest receiving corps in college football, with three receivers over 900 yards. Tight end Nick O’Leary is also a difficult matchup for opposing defenses, as the junior has 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven scores. Auburn has allowed two teams to throw for more than 400 yards this season: Georgia and Texas A&M. Considering Florida State’s offense has been more productive than the Bulldogs and the Aggies this year, it should be able to move the ball easily against the Tigers.
Related Content: 5 Reasons Why Auburn Will Beat Florida State for the National Title
2. The Seminoles have the pieces to stop Auburn’s rushing attack
If Florida State wants to win, it has to stop the run. Auburn’s bread and butter on offense is its ground game, which features a dynamic quarterback in Nick Marshall, as well as running back Tre Mason. Over the last five games, Mason is averaging 173.6 rushing yards per game. Marshall isn’t a polished passer but has made strides in the second half of the season. One of the junior’s biggest assets is his ability to handle the necessary reads and fakes in this offense. In order to stop Auburn’s ground attack, Florida State needs to be strong at the point of attack. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is one of the best in the nation, while the linebacking corps is athletic and fast. The Seminoles have to be disciplined and keep a close watch on the fakes and reads Auburn will use. Florida State held opponents to just 116.5 rushing yards per game this year, while the first-team defense has yet to allow a rushing score. The Seminoles don’t necessarily have to get constant penetration in the backfield, but they have to be able to maintain gaps and block responsibility against Auburn’s offense. And with excellent cornerbacks, Florida State can cheat an extra safety or two into the box to stop the Tigers’ ground game.
3. Florida State is more than Jameis Winston
Even though Florida State’s offense averages 322 passing yards a game, quarterback Jameis Winston isn’t the sole reason for the Seminoles’ success. The backfield goes three-deep in terms of talent. Devonta Freeman is a tough runner between the tackles, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and leads Florida State’s running backs with 19 catches. Karlos Williams switched from safety this season and is averaging 8.2 yards per carry. James Wilder Jr. is another weapon for Jimbo Fisher, averaging 6.9 per carry and has the size and talent to be a punishing option in the fourth quarter. On the other side of the ball, Florida State ranks second nationally with 34 forced turnovers. Roberto Aguayo might be the nation’s best kicker, converting 19 of 20 attempts this year. While Winston is certainly deserving of the Heisman, don’t lose sight the Seminoles are the nation’s most-complete team.
4. Florida State was college football’s most dominant team in 2013
Auburn has the edge in strength of schedule, but Florida State was clearly college football’s most dominant team this year. The Seminoles’ margin of victory was 42.3 points a game, and Jimbo Fisher’s team easily dispatched four ranked opponents by a combined score of 200-35. Sure, the SEC is the best conference. And Florida State’s ability to win close games is uncertain without a game decided by less than 14 points. However, the Seminoles took care of business by simply dominating their competition.
5. Auburn’s luck will run out at some point
It’s unfair to call Auburn a lucky team. But let’s be honest: Ricardo Louis’ catch against Georgia and Chris Davis’ field goal return to beat Alabama aren’t every day plays. While the Tigers deserve credit for beating Alabama, Texas A&M, Missouri, Ole Miss and Georgia, let’s also not overlook the seven-point win to a 6-6 Washington State team and a last-minute touchdown pass to beat 6-6 Mississippi State. The SEC is still the best conference in college football, but it’s also not as strong as it has been. Florida – a traditional SEC East power – finished 4-8. Georgia was hit hard by injuries and finished with an 8-4 mark. Again, Auburn is very good and deserves to play for the national championship. However, despite playing in a weaker conference, Florida State is the better team. While Auburn has a penchant for making plays at the right time, the Seminoles have dominated and that will show in Pasadena on Jan. 6.
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|