Articles By Steven Lassan
With National Signing Day in the books, coaches have a clear view of their roster for the upcoming season. Although most recruits won’t arrive on campus until the summer, the coaching staff now has a better idea of what the depth chart might look like for the next year.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini finished his sixth season in Lincoln with a solid 9-4 mark, and the Cornhuskers enter spring practice with momentum after beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl.
Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his six years at Nebraska. However, the expectations in Lincoln are to win a Big Ten championship, and Pelini and his staff hopes the 2014 signing class is another step in claiming a conference title.
Where Nebraska’s 2014 Signing Class Came From
The Cornhuskers signed a total of 24 prospects in the 2014 signing class and will bring on 18 players as walk-on recruits.
While some programs can live off in-state recruiting to fill out a class, Nebraska has to go outside of the state borders.
The Cornhuskers inked prospects from 13 states, including four from Texas, three from Florida and two from Missouri.
Here’s the full breakdown of Nebraska’s recruiting class:
|Texas - 4||Nevada - 1|
|Florida - 3||Wisconsin - 1|
|Nebraska - 3||Kansas - 1|
|Louisiana - 3||Virginia - 1|
|Missouri - 2||Alabama - 1|
|Illinois - 2|
|Mississippi - 1|
|Georgia - 1|
Of note: 22 of the 24 prospects signed came from the high school ranks, with only two junior college recruits.
Areas of Focus
|Defensive Backs - 5||Running Backs - 2|
|Wide Receivers - 4||Tight End - 1|
|Offensive Line - 4||Kicker - 1|
|Defensive Line - 4||Linebacker - 1|
|Quarterbacks - 2|
With Nebraska set to lose guards Spencer Long and Andrew Rodriguez, center Cole Pensick and tackles Brent Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles, the offensive line was one of this team’s biggest needs in 2014. Ideally, the Cornhuskers will be able to redshirt their four recruits on the line. However, signing four players will help keep the numbers at a stable level for Pelini. Illinois native Tanner Farmer is the highest rated lineman of the bunch, ranking No. 251 nationally in 247Sports Composite rankings. Nevada’s Nick Gates ranks No. 293 in the same evaluation, while D.J. Foster ranks No. 474 nationally.
As we mentioned above, the signing class in 2014 isn’t necessarily about answering the needs for the upcoming year. Instead, a recruiting class is often the answer for the next two or three seasons. But in Nebraska’s case, with cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, along with safety Andrew Green departing, more depth was needed right away in the secondary. Five defensive backs were signed, including junior college recruit Byerson Cockrell. The other four defensive backs inked by Pelini were all three-star recruits, including Nebraska native Luke Gifford (No. 867 in 247Sports Composite).
Four receivers signed in the 2014 signing class, which is clearly a need with Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell set to expire their eligibility at the end of this season.
Another area of focus was the defensive line, as a total of four prospects are slated to join that unit. Junior college recruit Joe Keels and freshman Peyton Newell are two names to watch this preseason.
Byerson Cockrell, DB (East Mississippi Community College)
Recorded 33 tackles and three interceptions at East Mississippi Community College last season.
Zack Darlington, QB (Apopka High School)
Missed most of senior year due to injury. Rated as the No. 440 national recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite rankings.
Joe Keels, DE (Highland Community College)
Rated as the No. 43 junior college recruit by ESPN.
Potential Impact Recruits for 2014
Zack Darlington, QB
Tommy Armstrong should have the inside track to win the starting job, but redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton and Darlington will have a chance to make their case for the No. 1 spot this preseason.
Tanner Farmer, OL
At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Farmer has the necessary size to play as a true freshman. Even if Farmer doesn’t start, he could be a valuable piece of the two-deep on the offensive line.
Nick Gates, OL
Another potential future stalwart on the offensive line will likely factor into the two-deep.
Joe Keels, DE/Byerson Cockrell, DB
When you bring in junior college recruits, you don’t bring them in to sit on the bench. Expect Keels and Cockrell to find a place on the depth chart this year.
Drew Brown, K
Should battle to replace Pat Smith at kicker.
After finishing inside of the top 30 in the team recruiting standings from 2011-13, Nebraska slipped to No. 35 nationally in the 247Sports rankings. The slight drop comes after finishing No. 17 nationally in 2013. Is it a reason to panic? Not at all. As all college football fans know, recruiting rankings are an inexact science. The Cornhuskers wisely added players on the offensive and defensive lines, while offering spots to receivers who can help with depth in 2014 or an even bigger role in 2015. Most of Nebraska’s starting lineup next year is in good shape, so there may be only a few players from the 2014 signing class making an immediate impact.
On paper, this appears to be a solid all-around class by Nebraska. The Cornhuskers finished No. 6 in the Big Ten and signed 22 three-star recruits. There’s always room to improve, but Pelini and the staff added a group that will help Nebraska compete for the Big Ten West Division title in 2014.
National Signing Day is essentially Christmas morning for college football coaches. The first Wednesday in February officially marks the addition of 20-30 new players for each roster, which is the result of nearly a year of work on the recruiting trail. And of course, coaching staffs are relieved just to get the class on campus and not have to worry anymore about a player changing his mind at the last minute or wondering if the parents will agree to sign the letter of intent.
Recruiting evaluations and rankings are an inexact science. Some five-star players won’t pan out into All-Americans, while a handful of two or three-star recruits will develop into some of the top players in the nation.
But while there are misses in recruiting evaluations, some of the star ratings do turn out to be accurate. And with that in mind, it’s time to take a look at which players could make an impact in their first season on campus.
It’s never easy to predict which freshmen could make an early impact in 2014. However, here’s a quick look at 10 players that can make a splash on the gridiron next season, along with a handful of names to watch this preseason.
10 True Freshmen Likely to Make an Impact in 2014
Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M
After two prolific seasons in College Station, Johnny Manziel decided to leave for the NFL. Manziel leaves big shoes to fill, but the Aggies seem to have three capable options waiting to battle for the starting spot. Sophomore Kenny Hill and senior Matt Joeckel have an edge in experience, but Allen’s talent and upside will be tough to keep off the field. The Arizona native was the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 247 Composite rankings, finishing his high school career with 8,201 yards and 86 touchdowns. Allen doesn’t have Manziel’s mobility, but the 6-foot-3 freshman has a quick release and is one of the most accurate passers in the 2014 signing class. Enrolling in time to participate in spring practice will help Allen’s development, and he is expected to push Hill and Joeckel for the starting job.
Tony Brown/Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
We will cheat just a bit in this space and list two players instead of one. Although Alabama finished No. 2 in the SEC in pass defense, the Crimson Tide need immediate help in the secondary. Deion Belue and John Fulton expired their eligibility, and the cornerback play wasn’t quite up to Alabama’s usual standards last year. Even though it’s tough for true freshmen to make an impact at cornerback in the SEC, Brown and Humphrey should help right away. In the final 247Sports Composite rankings, Brown ranked as the No. 9 recruit, while Humphrey was No. 12. Both players have the athleticism and talent to make an immediate contribution in the secondary. And it’s likely Brown and Humphrey will find their way onto several future All-SEC lists.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Running back is arguably the easiest position to play as a true freshman in college, and Cook is just one of a handful of incoming recruits that will likely make a significant impact on the 2014 season from this position. Cook is the No. 13 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is regarded as a five-star prospect by Rivals. Playing time in the Florida State backfield is available right away, as James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman left early for the NFL. Karlos Williams converted from safety to running back during the 2013 season and is expected to open the year as the No. 1 option. However, Cook should see plenty of action. The Miami native has excellent speed and elusiveness and has the size (5-foot-11, 196 pounds) to be more than a specialty player for the Seminoles. Expect Jimbo Fisher to get Cook involved early and often in 2014.
Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU
With Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry off to the NFL, the wide receiver position is a glaring need for LSU. Travin Dural is the team’s top returning statistical option at the position, catching only seven passes for 145 yards last year. Dural and Avery Peterson provide a solid foundation for new quarterback Anthony Jennings, but Dupre is a big catch on the recruiting trail. The New Orleans native turned down an opportunity to play at Florida State and committed to the in-state Tigers. Dupre was the No. 17 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and averaged 17.9 yards per catch as a high school senior. Expect Dupre to be prominently featured in LSU’s passing attack next year.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
As the No. 1 rated recruit in 247Sports Composite ranking, it should be no surprise Fournette makes an appearance on this list. The New Orleans native committed to LSU in early January and is already slated for a big role in the backfield in 2014. The Tigers lost Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue to the NFL Draft, leaving Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard as the top returning rushers. Magee and Hilliard are capable options, but Fournette is a special talent. At 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds, Fournette has the size to be an every-down back, while also possessing good speed to break big plays on the ground. Look for Fournette to emerge as LSU’s No. 1 back (and a potential All-SEC player) in 2014.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Even though Texas A&M has to replace Johnny Manziel, the defense is an even bigger concern for Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies allowed 6.4 yards per play in 2013 and finished last in the SEC by giving up 32.2 points a game. Youth and injuries played a role in the defensive struggles, but more talent and difference-makers are needed. That’s where Garrett comes into play. The 6-foot-4 defensive end registered 20.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a high school senior. Most scouting reports believe Garrett has room to improve as a pass rusher, but he has excellent athleticism and has the upside to grow into a dominant defensive end. Garrett is the type of player Sumlin needs to turn Texas A&M’s defense into a strength.
Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
Not only is McMillan poised to claim a spot on the all-name team next season, the Georgia native is likely to be one of the top impact recruits in the nation. Ohio State had an uncharacteristic year on defense last year, finishing seventh in the conference in yards allowed per game and 11th against the pass. Urban Meyer wasn’t going to stand pat after 2013, and changes started on the coaching staff, with Larry Johnson Sr. joining from Penn State and Chris Ash coming from Arkansas to share the defensive coordinator title with Luke Fickell. The back seven of the defense will receive the most attention this preseason, especially after cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier left early for the NFL. McMillan is the No. 22 recruit in the 247Sports Composite ranking and is a five-star prospect by ESPN. The Georgia native is physically ready to play and can anchor the middle of the linebacking corps if he wins the starting job this preseason.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
With quarterback Trevor Knight coming off a strong performance in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma is a team on the rise for the 2014 season. Can the Sooners build on that momentum and claim a spot in the playoffs? Much will depend on Knight’s development, but Oklahoma also needs a go-to back to emerge. Enter Mixon. Brennan Clay and Roy Finch have expired their eligibility, leaving talented, but inexperienced options in Keith Ford and Alex Ross as the top two running backs. Mixon was rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, while 247Sports Composite rankings placed the California native No. 21 nationally. Mixon checks in at a sturdy 6-foot-1, 209 pounds and is regarded as one of the top all-around backs in the 2014 signing class. If Mixon is as good as advertised, he might be the final piece in Oklahoma’s run to a Big 12 title next year.
Cameron Robinson, OT, Alabama
Offensive linemen can significantly benefit from a redshirt year to develop in the weight room, but Robinson may not have that luxury. Alabama loses two starters from last year’s line, including standout left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. Robinson is the No. 4 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is considered the top offensive line prospect in the 2014 signing class. The Louisiana native is a mammoth 6-foot-7 tackle prospect that has all of the tools to start for three years at tackle in Tuscaloosa. Although Robinson is eventually the answer to one of Alabama’s tackle spots, with Austin Shepherd returning after starting 13 games last year, and standout junior college recruit Dominick Jackson also on the way to Tuscaloosa, Robinson can ease his way into the starting lineup.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Replacing Tajh Boyd’s production will be no easy assignment for Clemson. That task is made even more challenging with the departures of receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. But the news in Death Valley wasn’t all bad so far this offseason, as offensive coordinator Chad Morris didn’t leave to be a head coach, and the receiving corps is still in good shape with Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Mike Williams returning for next season. Watson enrolled early to compete with Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly this spring, and there’s a good chance the true freshman will win the No. 1 job. Watson accounted for 17,134 yards in his high school career and was the No. 41 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Georgia native is also a dual-threat option, and if he quickly picks up the offense this spring, Watson could have a huge freshman campaign under Morris’ direction.
Five More Names Likely to Make an Impact
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Evans is from Auburn, Ala., yet decided to sign with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-3 linebacker is a good fit as an edge rusher for the Alabama defense.
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee
Hurd is one of the top recruits in Butch Jones’ monster 36-man class. The Tennessee native is listed as a five-star prospect by 247Sports.
Ermon Lane, WR, Florida State
Lane is one of two elite receiver prospects to sign with Florida State. The Homestead native could be one of Jameis Winston’s top targets in 2014.
Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State
Rudolph is the second of Florida State’s instant impact recruits at receiver. The West Palm Beach native is regarded for his excellent hands and speed.
Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
The missing piece in Stanford’s offense last year? A tight end. Schultz should solve that problem in 2014.
Other Names to Know for 2014
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
LSU is loaded with talent in the secondary. Cornerbacks Jalen Mills, Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White anchor one of the top pass defenses in the nation next year, but safety Craig Loston must be replaced. Adams will likely find his way onto the field in some capacity in 2014.
Drew Barker, QB, Kentucky
Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith are back in the mix in 2014, but Barker will be tough to keep off the field. He ranked the No. 6 pro quarterback by 247Sports.
Saeed Blacknall, WR, Penn State
Blacknall was a late pickup in the recruiting process for James Franklin, and he could be one of Penn State’s key additions. With Allen Robinson off to the NFL, Blacknall will have an opportunity to earn immediate playing time.
Andrew Brown, DT/Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
Coming off a 2-10 season, it’s rare to see a program land a five-star recruit. However, the Cavaliers landed two five-star prospects, and Brown and Blanding should be on the field right away this year.
K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor
Cannon could be Baylor’s answer to replacing Tevin Reese’s speed and big-play ability next season.
Lorenzo Carter, DL, Georgia
Even though the Bulldogs return nearly everyone on defense, Carter – the No. 18 prospect in the 247Composite rankings – will be tough to keep off the field for new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky
Elam is one of the key recruits for Mark Stoops’ second class in Lexington. He should play right away on Kentucky’s defensive line, especially with Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble departing at tackle.
Will Grier, QB, Florida
Tyler Murphy transferred to Boston College, but Jeff Driskel is returning from a leg injury that forced him to miss most of 2013. Driskel is Florida’s likely starter, but Grier will provide competition.
Da’Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama
Nick Saban reeled in another elite recruiting class, which includes one of the top defensive line hauls in the nation. Hand is the No. 5 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and should find his way into the rotation next year.
Brandon Harris, QB, LSU
It’s never easy to start as a true freshman in the SEC. But if Anthony Jennings struggles in his first year as LSU’s starting quarterback, will the Tigers let Harris play?
Drake Harris, WR, Michigan
Although Michigan’s offensive line is the team’s biggest concern this spring, the Wolverines also need to develop more weapons for quarterback Devin Gardner. Harris may provide a boost to the receiving corps right away.
Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
Even with Khris Francis, T.J. Logan and Romar Morris already in place at running back, North Carolina will have to find a way to get Hood on the field.
Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC
The No. 7 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings was a Signing Day pickup for Steve Sarkisian. Jackson could play on offense or defense.
Jeff Jones, RB, Minnesota
The Golden Gophers held off a challenge from other BCS programs to land Jones in the 2014 signing class. Jones should team with David Cobb to give Minnesota an effective one-two punch.
Laurence Jones, S, Alabama
Landon Collins is set at one safety spot for Nick Saban, but who will replace the contributions from Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix?
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
Stephen Morris has expired his eligibility at Miami, leaving Kaaya, senior Ryan Williams, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and sophomore Gray Crow competing for the No. 1 job.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State
It’s rare for Iowa State to sign a top-100 recruit, so getting Lazard to Ames is a big deal for Paul Rhoads. The Cyclones return Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs, but Lazard will be tough to keep off the field.
Damien Mama, OL, USC
The Trojans need bodies on the offensive line with two starters leaving. Mama will play for new coach Steve Sarkisian in 2014 and will take a two-year Mormon mission after his freshman season.
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
As his nickname would indicate, Noil is fast, athletic and a potential game-changer for Texas A&M’s offense. The Aggies have one of the SEC’s top receiving corps, but Noil will have a place on the field in 2014.
Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan
Wolverines appear to be set at cornerback with Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess, but Peppers will find a role in Greg Mattison's defense.
Damian Prince, OT, Maryland
The Terrapins have to upgrade their talent to compete in their new Big Ten home, and Prince – a five-star tackle – should help the offense in 2014.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
With Clint Chelf departing, the Cowboys will turn to J.W. Walsh and Rudolph to battle for the starting job this spring.
Foster Sawyer/Grayson Muehlstein, QB, TCU
Casey Pachall is gone, and Trevone Boykin will likely play in an athlete role on offense in 2014. Sawyer or Muehlstein have an opportunity to win the starting job.
David Sharpe, OT, Florida
The Gators need immediate help on the offensive line. Sharpe was selected to the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Arrion Springs, CB, Oregon
Could Springs help fill the void left by Terrance Mitchell’s early departure to the NFL?
Dylan Summer-Gardner, S, Boise State
Summer-Gardner ranks as the No. 87 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is the prize of Bryan Harsin’s first recruiting class at Boise State.
Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
The Gators got a huge contribution from one true freshman at cornerback last season (Vernon Hargreaves III). Could Tabor make the same type of impact?
Rod Taylor, OL, Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze and his staff wasted no time getting top recruit Laremy Tunsil into the mix last year. With that in mind, Taylor could be in the mix for playing time this fall.
Racean Thomas, RB, Auburn
Tre Mason emerged as one of the top running backs in the nation but chose to leave Auburn for the NFL. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are back, but there’s room for Thomas to find a role in 2014.
Casey Tucker, OT, Stanford
Another standout offensive lineman heads to Stanford. Tucker was the No. 82 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Tyler Whiley, WR, Arizona State
Whiley was listed by some recruiting services as a cornerback recruit, but he appears ticketed for a spot at receiver in 2014.
Dexter Wideman, DT, South Carolina
Wideman flipped from Florida State to South Carolina on Signing Day. His commitment is huge for a defense that has to replace standout tackle Kelcy Quarles.
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
Someone has to replace Ka’Deem Carey. Is this Fresno native the next star running back under Rich Rodriguez?
Joseph Yearby, RB, Miami
Duke Johnson is expected to miss spring practice recovering from a leg injury suffered in the loss to Florida State. The junior should be at full strength for the season opener, but Yearby gives Miami a good fallback option if Johnson needs a lighter workload early in the year.
File Away for 2015
Keller Chryst, QB, Stanford
Kevin Hogan still has two more years of eligibility remaining, but Chryst will be a name to watch in 2015 or 2016 as Stanford’s quarterback of the future.
David Cornwell, QB, Alabama
It’s not out of the question Cornwell wins the starting job this offseason, but with Jacob Coker transferring in from Florida State, it’s hard to envision the true freshman starting in Week 1.
J.J. Cosentino, QB, Florida State
When it comes to quarterbacks, there’s not a better evaluator of talent than Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. 2014 could be Jameis Winston’s last season in Tallahassee, and with a redshirt year ahead, Cosentino could be in the mix to start in 2015.
Morgan Mahalak, QB, Oregon
If Marcus Mariota leaves for the NFL after 2014, Mahalak will be in the mix to take over as Oregon’s starter in 2015. A redshirt year makes sense for the California native with Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues returning as backups next year.
Sean White, QB, Auburn
Is White the replacement for Nick Marshall in 2015?
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
With Todd Gurley returning and Keith Marshall back from a torn ACL, playing time could be limited for Michel in 2014. However, Gurley isn’t expected to stick in Athens for his senior year, which leaves Michel in position to take the top spot in the Georgia backfield in 2015.
Jacob Park, QB, Georgia
Hutson Mason should be set as Georgia’s starter in 2014. Park seems destined for a redshirt and an opportunity to compete for the starting nod in 2015.
Arizona has announced a small tweak to its football uniforms for 2014. The Wildcats used a gradient look on their numbers last season but will switch to a solid color in 2014.
The gradient numbers are an interesting look for jerseys, but the solid color is easier to identify.
Here’s a look at the updated jerseys for 2014:
New jerseys, helmets and color schemes are the latest craze in college football, and several new designs will likely be unveiled throughout the long offseason.
Indiana unveiled six helmet designs last season, but that may not be all that’s coming in the way of new headgear for the Hoosiers.
According to this picture posted by receiver Cody Latimer (entering the NFL Draft in 2014), Indiana has a more potential designs in the works, including a red matte helmet with a black stripe down the center.
The first Wednesday in February is essentially Christmas for every college football head coach. After months of hard work on the recruiting trail, coaches will hit the offices bright and early on Wednesday for National Signing Day to welcome a new class full of freshmen and maybe a few junior college transfers to chase a national championship. With a new crop of players joining the program on National Signing Day, each coach now has a good idea about how their roster looks for the upcoming season and beyond. While National Signing Day is an important moment in building a national title contender, it also signifies the official start of next year’s recruiting class.
With most college football teams signing around 25 prospects on Wednesday, there’s over 3,000 players coming to the FBS ranks next season. And it’s no surprise there are some rather entertaining names among the new group of college players. Athlon combed through the recruits for the 2014 signing class by using the databases at Rivals, Scout and ESPN and rounded up the best (and most interesting) names joining an FBS roster next season.
Note: Positions of players can very from recruiting service. Players in this article were listed by position according to Scout.
2014 College Football Recruiting All-Name Team
Raymond Crochet (Salmen) Slidell, Louisiana
Prince Dukes (Curtis) Staten Island, New York
Bear Fenimore (Westwood) Austin, Texas
Ramroth Finnegan (Whetstone) Columbus, Ohio
Chase Forrest (Mater Dei) Santa Ana, California
Hunter Fralick (Spanish Springs High School) Sparks, Nevada
Baron Gajkowski (Lone Peak) Highland, Utah
Justice Hansen (Santa Fe) Edmond, Oklahoma
Rip Kirk (South Panola) Batesville, Mississippi
Chipper Lucero (Alta) Sandy, Utah
Grayson Muehlstein (Decatur) Decatur, Texas
Rafe Peavey (Bolivar) Bolivar, Missouri
Nicodem Pierre (Coral Reef Senior High School) Miami, Florida
Gunner Roach (UMS Wright Preparatory) Mobile, Alabama
Roosevelt Appleton (Hightower) Sugar Land, Texas
Wadzaire Blanc (Lake Nona) Orlando, Florida
Squally Canada (Milpitas) Milpitas, California
Juan Day (North Little Rock) North Little Rock, Arkansas
Taiwan Deal (Dematha Catholic) Hyattsville, Maryland
Raekwon James (John Curtis Christian) River Ridge, Louisiana
Tommy Mister (St. Rita) Chicago, Illinois
Orange Mooney (Hutchinson C.C.) Hutchinson, Kansas
Devine Redding (Glenville) Cleveland, Ohio
Superiorr Reid (Mount San Jacinto) San Jacinto, California
Tomaria Stringfellow (Sam Houston) San Antonio, Texas
Forrest Town (Zachary) Zachary, Louisiana
Jay’Metric Tucker (Hudson Valley) Troy, New York
Solomon Vault (Gaithersburg) Gaithersburg, Maryland
Chip Wannamaker (Bamberg Ehrhardt) Bamberg, South Carolina
Papi White (Seminole) Seminole, Oklahoma
Ish Witter (Alonso) Tampa, Florida
Traevohn Wrench (Gardner Edgerton) Gardner, Kansas
Geronimo Allison (Iowa Western) Council Bluffs, Iowa
Kd Cannon (Mt. Pleasant) Mount Pleasant, Texas
Freddy Canteen (Eastern
Christian Academy) Elkton, Maryland
Marceles Clash (Muir) Pasadena, California
Bingo Morton (Langston Hughes) Fairburn, Georgia
Picasso Nelson (Oak Grove Attendance Center) Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Devante “Speedy” Noil (Edna Karr) New Orleans, Louisiana
Wisdom Offor (American Senior) Hialeah, Florida
Michiah Quick (Central High East Campus) Fresno, California
Hunter Sharp (Antelope Valley) Lancaster, California
Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield) Springfield, Ohio
Ryan Watercutter (Bishop Swenger) Fort Wayne, Indiana
T.V. Williams (McKinney) McKinney, Texas
Freedom Akinmoladun (Grandview Senior) Grandview, Missouri
Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte Christian) Charlotte, North Carolina
Evan Butts (The Episcopal Academy) Merion, Pennsylvania
Marvin Fanfan (ASA) Brooklyn, New York
Stoney Hawkins (Centennial) Frisco, Texas
Austin Rukthavornsakul (McQueen) Reno, Nevada
Cannon Smith (Hammond School) Columbia, South Carolina
Moral Stephens (Taylor County) Perry, Florida
Beau Benzschawel (Grafton) Grafton, Wisconsin
Will Clapp (Brother Martin) New Orleans, Louisiana
Tanner Farmer (Highland) Highland, Illinois
Hunter Knight (Providence Christian) Dothan, Alabama
Damien Mama (St. John Bosco) Bellflower, California
Justin Muehlheausler (St. John Vianney) Kirkwood, Missouri
Hunter Ponder (Mansfield) Mansfield, Texas
Messiah Rice (Orangeburg Wilkinson) Orangeburg, South Carolina
Thor Riemer (Osceola) Osceola, Wisconsin
Hunter Steel (Chartiers Valley) Bridgeville, Pennsylvania
Tennessee Su’esu’e (East) Salt Lake City, Utah
Bentley Spain (Providence) Charlotte, North Carolina
Z Stephenson (Bloomington High School North) Bloomington, Indiana
Bearooz Yacoobi (Dearborn) Dearborn, Michigan
Poncho Barnwell (Nassau) Garden City, New York
Demarcus Christmas (Manatee) Bradenton, Florida
Lion King Conway (Southfield) Southfield, Michigan
Fritz Desir (Gulf Coast) Naples, Florida
Poona Ford (Hilton Head) Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge) Woodbridge, Virginia
Hercules Mata’afa (Lahainaluna) Lahaina, Hawaii
Godspower Ogide (Bishop Kearney) Rochester, New York
Naquez Pringle (Carver’s Bay) Georgetown, South Carolina
Gasetoto Schuster (Polytechnic) Long Beach, California
Breeland Speaks (Callaway Senior) Jackson, Mississippi
Dexter Wideman (Saluda) Saluda, South Carolina
St. Pierre Anilus (Georgia Military) Milledgeville, Georgia
Cash Barden (College of the Canyons) Santa Clarita, California
Coult Culler (Emsley A. Laney) Wilmington, North Carolina
Colton Jumper (The Hun School) Princeton, New Jersey
Thor Katoa (Pine View Middle) St. George, Utah
Greer Martini (Woodberry Forest) Woodberry Forrest, Virginia
Boadie Matts (Sandalwood) Jacksonville, Florida
Raekwon McMillan (Liberty County) Hinesville, Georgia
Justice Rawlins (Monessen SHS) Monessen, Pennsylvania
Serge Trezy (Eastern Arizona) Thatcher, Arizona
Olajuwon Tucker (Junipero Serra) Gardena, California
Budda Baker (Bellevue) Bellevue, Washington
Jukobie Boatwright (Emanuel County Institute) Twin City, Georgia
Zykiesis Cannon (Carolina) Greenville, South Carolina
Mookie Carlile (Stephenville) Stephenville, Texas
Justice Davila (Timber Creek) Sicklerville, New Jersey
Dominique Fenstermacher (Mountain Pointe) Phoenix, Arizona
A.J. Greathouse (Hamilton) Chandler, Arizona
Breckin Gunter (Box Elder) Brigham City, Utah
Sky Manu (Bingham) South Jordan, Utah
Juju Smith (Polytechnic) Long Beach, California
Finus Stribling (Independence) Thompson’s Station, Tennessee
Wonderful Terry (Garden City) Garden City, Kansas
Deshaun Thrower (Muskegon) Muskegon, Michigan
Bright Ugwoegbu (Seven Lakes) Katy, Texas
Vlassios Pizanias (Hubbard) Hubbard, Ohio
After an extended search, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood has finally hired his offensive and defensive coordinator for the 2014 season.
Joe Rossi held the title of interim defensive coordinator after Dave Cohen was fired, and Flood has decided to keep Rossi on the staff as the full-time coordinator.
On the offensive side of the ball, Rutgers will welcome a familiar face back the college football sidelines. Former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has been hired as the Scarlet Knights’ offensive coordinator. Friedgen has been out of football since he was fired at Maryland after the 2010 season. However, prior to his exit in College Park, Friedgen was regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the ACC. He should significantly upgrade Rutgers’ offense next year.
The hires of Friedgen and Rossi are crucial for Rutgers. With a move to the Big Ten on tap for 2014, the competition is only going to get tougher for the Scarlet Knights, and Flood is on the hot seat after a 6-7 record in 2013.
With Cody Kessler entrenched as the starter, and Max Browne expected to push for playing time this spring, Max Wittek was the odd man out in the USC quarterback derby. And with limited playing time likely on tap for 2014, Wittek has decided to transfer from USC.
Since he will graduate from USC, Wittek will be eligible to play immediately in 2014.
In two years with the Trojans, Wittek completed 50 of 95 passes for 600 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions.
After Matt Barkley suffered a season-ending injury against UCLA, Wittek started the final two games in 2012, including a 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Even though Wittek struggled in his two seasons at USC, he was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and was a top-100 recruit by Rivals.
Considering Wittek has upside and immediate eligibility, several FBS are expected to be interested in the California native this spring.
College football’s BCS era ended with Florida State’s victory over Auburn on Jan. 6 in the national championship. With the playoff era set to start next season, lets look back at the BCS era and some of the coaching tenures that were a time to forget for certain fanbases.
Determining the worst coaching tenures for any period is no easy task. Each program has its own set of hurdles to overcome, and all coaches aren’t on equal footing when they take over a job.
In forming Athlon’s list of the top 25 worst coaching tenures of the BCS era, we placed an emphasis on what shape the program is before the coach arrived, how it fared during his tenure, and the short-term effect after his departure. Programs like Eastern Michigan or New Mexico State have traditionally been a difficult place to establish a winning tradition, so it’s hard to punish coaches from both schools (or similar circumstances), even if their record is uninspiring. On the other side, programs like Southern Miss or East Carolina have a track record of success recently. Which makes the 0-12 by Ellis Johnson and 3-20 by John Thompson among the worst tenures of the BCS era (since 1998).
College Football’s Worst 25 Tenures of the BCS Era
1. Mike Locksley, New Mexico
Record: 2-26 (2009-11)
Locksley was regarded as one of the nation’s top assistant coaches and recruiters when he left Illinois to join New Mexico in 2009. The Washington, D.C. native was able to attract some talent to Albuquerque, but it didn’t translate into results on the field. Locksley’s tenure at New Mexico lasted only three years, with his final season ending after the fourth game. Locksley won just two Mountain West games during his tenure and was suspended for one game due to an altercation with an assistant coach.
2. Larry Porter, Memphis
Record: 3-21 (2010-11)
Porter’s tenure is another example of why programs should be reluctant to hire ace recruiters with no head coaching experience. The former Memphis running back was hired as the Tigers’ head coach in 2010 and lasted only two years. Porter didn’t inherit a disaster at Memphis, as Tommy West went 15-23 over his final three years and played in a bowl game in 2008. Porter’s teams were largely uncompetitive, and his three wins came against MTSU (6-7 in 2010), Austin Peay (a FCS opponent) and Tulane (2-11 in 2011). After Porter’s unsuccessful tenure, Memphis got it right by hiring Justin Fuente, who went 4-8 in his first season with the Tigers.
3. Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
Record: 0-12 (2012)
There aren’t many one-year stints as a college football head coach. But it was clear to Southern Miss after just one season that Johnson wasn’t the right fit for the program. The Golden Eagles turned in arguably their worst season in school history, finishing with an 0-12 mark, with the offense ranking 110th nationally in scoring and the defense finishing 113th in points allowed. Southern Miss was replacing a handful of key contributors from its 2011 squad, but the Golden Eagles still had enough talent in the program to compete for a bowl bid. Johnson is an excellent defensive coordinator, but Southern Miss clearly made the right call to pull the plug after one season.
4. John Thompson, East Carolina
Record: 3-20 (2003-04)
After Steve Logan was fired in 2002, the Pirates made a big mistake by hiring Thompson. In the two years prior to Thompson’s arrival, East Carolina went 10-14. And in two seasons under Thompson, the Pirates slumped to 3-20. However, the program rebounded under Skip Holtz in 2005, winning five games and then seven in ‘06. Thompson is another case of a good coordinator that was not ready to be a head coach. And his record looks even worse when you consider two of his victories came against Army with the other one being Tulane.
5. Rob Ianello, Akron
Record: 2-22 (2010-11)
Prior to taking over at Akron, Ianello had no coordinator experience and was coming off a four-year stint on Charlie Weis’ staff at Notre Dame. The results were disastrous for the Zips. Ianello won just one game in each of his two years in Akron and went winless in MAC play in 2011. The Zips beat Buffalo in 2010 – a Bulls team that went 2-10 – and VMI in ‘11 under Ianello’s watch. Although Ianello’s tenure was a failure, the school deserves poor marks for firing him on the way to his mother’s funeral.
6. Greg Robinson, Syracuse
Record: 10-37 (2005-08)
Although Paul Pasqualoni has struggled at Connecticut, he went 26-23 over his last four seasons at Syracuse from 2001-04. While Robinson wasn’t inheriting a roster full of talent, he wasn’t getting a bare cupboard either. The Orange went from being a consistent bowl team to one that struggled just to get a couple of wins a year under Robinson’s watch. The Orange never won more than one Big East game in a single year under Robinson, and he recorded the program’s only double-digit losing seasons.
7. Todd Dodge, North Texas
Record: 6-37 (2007-10)
You have to credit North Texas for at least thinking outside of the box with Dodge’s hire. After being a successful high school coach in Texas, Dodge was supposed to turn North Texas back into a Sun Belt power. Instead, the Mean Green nosedived into being one of the worst teams in the nation. North Texas went 6-37 under Dodge’s watch and never won more than one conference game from 2007-10. Considering where North Texas is on college football’s food chain, a hire like Dodge is worth the risk. However, the Mean Green are still trying to dig out from his tenure, as Dan McCarney is just 9-15 over the last two years.
8. Turner Gill, Kansas
Record: 5-19 (2010-11)
Surprising. That’s the one word that comes to mind when mentioning Gill’s tenure at Kansas. Although his record at Buffalo – not an easy place to win – wasn’t overly impressive (20-30), he did lead the Bulls to a bowl game and a MAC Championship in 2008. Gill inherited a Kansas team that went 5-7 in Mark Mangino’s last season (2009), but the Jayhawks regressed in 2010-11. Kansas won just one Big 12 game under Gill’s watch – a 52-45 victory over Colorado – and finished 2011 on a 10-game losing streak. Considering the high expectations surrounding his arrival, Gill might be one of the most disappointing hires of the BCS era.
9. Carl Franks, Duke
Record: 7-45 (1999-2003)
It’s not easy to maintain success at Duke. But it’s also hard to ignore a 7-45 record over five years. Franks came to Durham from Florida, as he served as an assistant with Steve Spurrier from 1990-98 in Gainesville. Franks also had experience at Duke, as he played for the Blue Devils and later coached there from 1987-89. The high point of Franks’ tenure was a 3-8 mark in 1999, but that record was followed up by back-to-back 0-11 seasons. The Blue Devils never won an ACC game in Franks’ final full three years at Duke.
10. Ted Roof, Duke
Record: 6-45 (2003-07)
As mentioned with Carl Franks, winning at Duke is no easy task. However, the Blue Devils can be much more competitive than they were under Franks and Roof. After taking over for Franks in 2003, Roof guided Duke to a 2-3 finish, including a 30-22 win over rival North Carolina. However, the momentum was short-lived, as the Blue Devils won only four games over the next four years. Duke also went winless in ACC play from 2005-07 under Roof’s guidance.
11. Jon Embree, Colorado
Record: 4-21 (2011-12)
Even though Embree was a Colorado alum, he was a questionable hire from the start. The former Buffaloes’ tight end had no coordinator or head coach experience and was serving as a tight ends’ coach for the Redskins prior to his arrival in Boulder in 2011. Embree didn’t inherit the best situation following Dan Hawkins, but Colorado showed little improvement under his watch. The Buffaloes went 3-11 in Embree’s first year and managed to win two out of their final three games. However, Colorado was arguably one of the worst teams of the BCS era in 2012, losing to Colorado State and Sacramento State to start the year and was demolished by Fresno State 69-14 in Week 3. Embree played a lot of young players and dealt with some injuries to key personnel, but the Buffaloes struggled mightily and his 1-11 season is the worst in Colorado history.
12. Kevin Steele, Baylor
Record: 9-36 (1999-2002)
Steele is a highly regarded defensive assistant but had a dismal stint as a head coach at Baylor. The South Carolina native was hired at Baylor in 1999, after spending four years as an assistant with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Prior to his arrival in Waco, Steele had no head coaching experience – and it clearly showed. The Bears had three consecutive losing seasons before Steele’s debut, but Baylor backtracked under his watch. The Bears went 1-10 in 1999 and then 8-26 in the next three years. Steele’s biggest blunder came against UNLV in 1999, as he chose to run a play instead of kneeling down with 12 seconds left. Baylor fumbled on that play, and the turnover was returned by UNLV for a touchdown, giving the Rebels a 27-24 victory.
13. Bobby Wallace, Temple
Record: 19-71 (1998-2004)
After leading North Alabama to three Division II championships from 1993-95, Wallace appeared to be the right coach to make Temple competitive in the Big East. He managed to make some progress, as the Owls won four games for three consecutive years. Although four victories may not seem like much, Temple had not won more than three games in a season since 1990. However, Wallace didn’t make enough progress under his watch, and the Owls were dismissed from the Big East after the 2004 season. Temple was forced to play 2005 as an Independent and posted a dreadful 0-11 record. The highlight of Wallace’s tenure? A 28-24 win over then-Big East memberVirginia Tech in Blacksburg in 1998.
14. Vic Koenning, Wyoming
Record: 5-29 (2000-02)
When Koenning was promoted to replace Dana Dimel, Wyoming had put together seven consecutive years of six or more wins, including a 10-2 mark in 1996. However, Koenning was unable to continue that momentum, and the Cowboys fell into the bottom of the Mountain West. Under Koenning’s watch, Wyoming went 5-29, which included only one win in conference play and two others against FCS opponents. Koenning is a solid defensive coordinator but was overmatched as a head coach.
15. Terry Shea, Rutgers
Record: 11-44 (1996-2000)
Shea’s tenure started just outside of the BCS era, but his three years in the required timeframe were a struggle. Rutgers went 2-20 in his first two seasons and recorded a 9-24 mark over the final three years. Shea did manage to go 5-6 in 1998 but was blown out by Temple in 1999 and 2000 and went a combined 4-18 from 1999-2000. The cupboard wasn’t full for Shea when he arrived at Rutgers, as Doug Graber didn’t fare better than .500 in his final three seasons. However, Shea did little to build on the mild success Graber had in 1991 (6-5) and ‘92 (7-4).
16. Stan Parrish, Ball State
Record: 6-19 (2008-10)
If this was a list of all-time worst coaching tenures, Parrish’s 2-30-1 record at Kansas State from 1986-88 would rank near the top. While Parrish’s tenure at Ball State was bad, it wasn’t quite as bad as his previous stop at Kansas State. The Cardinals went 6-19 under his watch, which was a clear backtrack from the progress made under Brady Hoke (19-7 in 2007-08). The Cardinals also lost two games to FCS opponents under Parrish.
17. Todd Berry, Army
Record: 5-35 (2000-03)
Considering how difficult it has been to win at Army, it’s unfair to punish Berry too much in these rankings. However, his tenure in West Point was largely uncompetitive. Berry was hired to resurrect a program that had five losing seasons over the last six years, but he struggled mightily in his tenure, winning just one game in his debut season and posting a 1-11 mark in 2002. Berry was dismissed after an 0-6 start in 2003. Army is not an easy place to maintain success, but Berry’s decision to run a pro-style offense proved to be too difficult of a transition for a program that was acclimated to option attacks.
18. Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Record: 15-21 (2010-12)
Tennessee was caught in a bad spot when the Seahawks hired Pete Carroll away from USC, which prompted Lane Kiffin to bolt Knoxville for Los Angeles. Kiffin’s mid-January move didn’t leave the Volunteers much time to find a new coach before Signing Day. Dooley came to Tennessee from Louisiana Tech after a 17-20 record in three years with the Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech did make small gains under Dooley, which included a bowl game in 2008. However, he failed to bring much improvement to Knoxville, as the Volunteers went 15-21 under his watch and went 4-19 in SEC play. Considering the coaching turnover in Knoxville from Phil Fulmer to Kiffin to Dooley in just three years, Tennessee had to go through a lot of transition in a short time. However, Dooley winning just one SEC game in two years is simply unacceptable at a program that has all of the resources and tradition necessary to compete for SEC East titles.
19. Paul Wulff, Washington State
Record: 9-40 (2008-11)
At the time of his hire, Wulff seemed to be a good fit at Washington State. He was a former player with the Cougars and spent eight years at Eastern Washington, accumulating a 53-40 record. Wulff also took EWU to three playoff appearances. After a successful run under Mike Price, Washington State declined under Bill Doba, posting three losing seasons in five years. Wulff wasn’t inheriting a full cupboard, but the program wasn’t in terrible shape either. The Cougars were dreadful in Wulff’s first year, beating only Portland State and an 0-12 Washington team. Things didn’t get much better in year two, as Washington State went 1-11 and failed to win a Pac-12 game. The Cougars were more competitive in Wulff’s third season and won four games in 2011. However, that wasn’t enough for Wulff to return for 2012. Wulff’s tenure at Washington State ended with a dismal 4-32 record in Pac-12 play.
20. John L. Smith, Arkansas
Record: 4-8 (2012)
It’s unfair to pin all of Arkansas’ struggles in 2012 on Smith. The Razorbacks were left in a bad spot after Bobby Petrino was fired in April, and it’s no easy task finding a head coach in May for the upcoming season. No matter what coach was on the sidelines in Fayetteville last year, the transition from Petrino was going to cost Arkansas a couple of games. But after winning 21 games from 2010-11, the Razorbacks were one of college football’s biggest disappointments in 2012, and Smith has to shoulder a chunk of the blame. Arkansas’ 2012 season began to unravel in Week 2 after an overtime loss to ULM, and the Razorbacks were pummeled by Alabama 52-0 the following Saturday. Arkansas won three out of four games in the middle of the season, but it wasn’t enough. Considering the talent on that team, Arkansas’ 2012 campaign will be one of the most disappointing in school history.
21. Jim Hofner, Buffalo
Record: 8-49 (2001-05)
Hofner came to Buffalo in 2001, which was shortly after the Bulls moved from the FCS to the FBS ranks. While the transition to the FBS wasn’t expected to be easy, Buffalo was largely uncompetitive under Hofner’s watch. The Bulls went 8-49 in his tenure and never won more than three games in a season. Buffalo had back-to-back 1-11 seasons from 2002-03, and Hofner finished his tenure with a dismal 1-10 mark. One of the few highlights of the Hofner era was a 36-6 win over Central Michigan in Brian Kelly’s first season.
22. Chuck Long, San Diego State
Record: 9-27 (2006-08)
Despite having a location in a fertile recruiting area, San Diego State has struggled to maintain success. After the failed Tom “Air” Craft era, the Aztecs made a splash by hiring Long from Oklahoma. Although Long was regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in the nation, San Diego State didn’t show much progress under his watch. The Aztecs went 3-9 in 2006, 4-8 in ‘07 and slipped to 2-10 in ‘08. The program also lost twice to FCS opponent Cal Poly under Long’s direction.
23. Tom Holmoe, California
Record: 9-31 (1998-2001)
Holmoe inherited a California team that was coming off a 6-6 mark in Steve Mariucci’s one and only season in Berkeley. The Golden Bears went 8-14 in Holmoe’s first two years but faded over the final three seasons. California went 4-7 in 1999 and then recorded a 4-18 mark over the final two years of Holmoe’s tenure. The Golden Bears failed to win a Pac-10 game in 2001 and their 1-10 overall mark is the worst in school history. California also ran into NCAA trouble after Holmoe’s tenure, as the program was forced to forfeit four wins from 1999 and was banned from postseason play in 2002 due to the use of ineligible players. Holmoe failed to beat Stanford once during his tenure, and the program quickly rebounded once Jeff Tedford was hired, winning seven games in 2002.
24. Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss
Record: 10-25 (2005-07)
Orgeron did a good job of assembling talent in Oxford, as his recruiting class in 2006 was ranked No. 15 nationally by Athlon Sports. But a good portion of the highlights from Orgeron’s tenure were on the recruiting trail. Ole Miss won only three SEC games from 2005-08 and never made a bowl appearance under Orgeron. Three of Orgeron’s wins came against Memphis and three more came against FCS opponents. In 2008, one year after Orgeron was fired, Houston Nutt went 9-4 and led the Rebels to a win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Orgeron was hired due to his recruiting ties, but he had no head coaching experience prior to his arrival in Oxford.
25. Walt Harris, Stanford
Record: 6-17 (2005-06)
After a respectable 52-44 mark in eight years with Pittsburgh from 1997-2004, Harris decided to leave the Steel City for the Farm. The veteran coach had a tough assignment taking over the program after Buddy Teevens went 10-23 in three years, but Stanford went 5-6 in Harris’ first year. However, things fell apart for Harris in his second season, as the Cardinal went 1-11 in 2006. Stanford’s offense struggled after quarterback Trent Edwards was lost for the year, but the Cardinal was largely uncompetitive all season. Harris caught a bad break with Edwards’ injury, but the program was headed in the wrong direction, and dismissing him after two years proved to be the right move.
Other Bad Tenures of the BCS Era
|Years at School||Record|
|Dean Pees, Kent State||1998-03||17-51|
|Mike DeBord, Central Michigan||2000-03||12-34|
|Buddy Teeves, Stanford||2002-04||10-23|
|Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville||2007-09||15-21|
|Gary Nord, UTEP||2000-03||14-34|
|Keith Burns, Tulsa||2000-02||7-28|
|Jeff Woodruff, EMU||2000-03||9-34|
|Brian Knorr, Ohio||2001-04||11-35|
|Jeff Genyk, EMU||2004-08||16-42|
|Tom Cable, Idaho||2000-03||11-35|
|Nick Holt, Idaho||2004-05||5-18|
|Brent Guy, Utah State||2005-08||9-38|
|Tyrone Willingham, Washington||2005-08||11-37|
|Mike Haywood, Pittsburgh||2010||0-0|
|Rich Rodriguez, Michigan||2008-10||15-22|
Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson recently announced his intention to transfer, and after considering a couple of schools, he has found a new home at Big Ten newcomer Rutgers.
Due to NCAA transfer rules, Nelson must sit out 2014 and will be eligible to play in 2015.
In two years at Minnesota, Nelson threw for 2,179 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also rushed for 548 yards and six scores.
Nelson’s transfer to Rutgers comes at a good time for the Scarlet Knights. Gary Nova is likely to start in 2014, but he will expire his eligibility at the end of the season, leaving Nelson with a path to the starting spot.
College football’s 2014 season is still several months away, and spring practice won’t begin for many teams until March. However, it’s never too early to look ahead. With the official list of early entries into the draft finalized, a clear picture is starting to form on how the teams will stack up in 2014.
Texas A&M is just one school replacing key players, as quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans declared for the NFL Draft. Manziel’s replacement could be senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill or true freshman Kyle Allen.
Louisville is another team looking to fill a huge void under center. Teddy Bridgewater is expected to be one of the first players off the board in the 2014 NFL Draft, leaving big shoes to fill for the Cardinals. Sophomore Will Gardner is expected to replace Bridgewater, and he will have the luxury of throwing to standout receiver DeVante Parker in 2014.
In addition to Will Gardner and the quarterbacks at Texas A&M, we tried to identify 10 players under the spotlight replacing some of the biggest names in college football next year. This isn’t a complete list of replacements for the top players or departing All-Americans, but these players are just a small sample of names to watch next year.
10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football in 2014
Kyle Allen/Kenny Hill/Matt Joeckel, QB, Texas A&M
Replacing a starting quarterback in college football is a difficult assignment for any team. But try replacing a Heisman winner that accounted for 9,989 yards and 93 touchdowns in two seasons. That’s the task facing Kyle Allen, Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel in College Station next season, as Johnny Manziel chose to leave for the NFL after two years. Hill ranked as the No. 24 quarterback in the 2013 signing class by Athlon Sports. He played in four games as a true freshman, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown. Hill also rushed for 37 yards. Joeckel has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, owning 49 career pass attempts. He started the season opener against Rice due to a one-half suspension for Manziel. While Hill and Joeckel own an edge in experience, Allen is the name to watch. The Arizona native ranks as the No. 10 overall prospect in the 2014 signing class by 247Sports and will enroll in time to compete in spring practice. Regardless of who wins the starting job, the supporting cast should be among the best in the SEC. If Allen quickly picks up the offense in spring practice, his talent will win out over the experience of Joeckel and Hill.
Ben Braden/Erik Magnuson, OT, Michigan
Michigan’s offense finished 2013 ranked a disappointing 10th in the Big Ten by averaging 373.5 yards per game. In order for the Wolverines to contend with Ohio State and Michigan State in the East Division in 2014, the offensive line has to improve. But that’s easier said than done, especially as the unit’s most consistent and best lineman have expired their eligibility (Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield). Lewan was a second-team Associated Press All-American and started 48 games in his career. The interior of the line was a huge problem in 2013 but losing Lewan and Schofield is an even bigger concern for new coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Filling Lewan’s place on the line could be Braden or Magnuson. Braden played in two games in 2013, while Magnuson made seven starts at guard. Considering all of the problems on the interior in 2013, Michigan’s problems aren’t limited to just one position. However, if Braden or Magnuson can’t anchor the left side of the line, the Wolverines’ offense will be stuck in neutral once again in 2014.
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Since 2010, three Alabama linebackers have been selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, and departing senior C.J. Mosley is likely to increase that total in 2014. Is Foster next in the line of standout Crimson Tide linebackers? He was the No. 7 overall player in the 2013 signing class and played sparingly as a true freshman, recording 12 tackles in nine appearances. Foster was listed as the backup to Trey DePriest in the middle, but he will be tough to keep off the field next season. And at 6-foot-1, 244 pounds, Foster is already one of the Crimson Tide’s most physical defenders. Expect Foster to be a household name in the SEC next year.
Will Gardner, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater leaves big shoes to fill in the Louisville offense after throwing for 9,817 yards and 72 touchdowns over the last three seasons. But the Cardinals won’t slip too much on offense in their first season in the ACC. New coach Bobby Petrino is one of the top offensive minds in the conference, and receiver DeVante Parker decided to return for his final season at Louisville instead of entering the NFL Draft. Gardner is slated to replace Bridgewater this spring as the No. 1 quarterback. The Georgia native was a three-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and redshirted in his first season on campus after tearing his ACL. Gardner didn’t see a ton of action in 2013, completing only 8 of 12 passes for 112 yards and two scores. He did not record a pass attempt in the final five games of the season. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Gardner has the physical tools a coach wants in a quarterback. With Parker returning at receiver and Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown back at running back, Gardner won’t have to win games on his own next year.
Joshua Garnett, OG, Stanford
A staple of Stanford’s success over the last four seasons has been the offensive line. The Cardinal has owned one of the nation’s top groups during that span, but this unit has to be remodeled for 2014. Four starters are gone, including standout guard David Yankey and tackle Cameron Fleming. While offensive lines usually take a few games to jell, the Cardinal won’t be short on talent in the trenches. Left tackle Andrus Peat should be in the mix for All-America honors next year, while Garnett, Connor McFadden, Kyle Murphy, Johnny Caspers and Graham Shuler will battle to round out the starting five. Garnett was a key reserve in 2013 and made one start against Washington State. The Washington native was a four-star prospect by 247Sports in the 2012 signing class and played in all 14 games as a true freshman. Yankey will be missed, but Garnett is a future star on Stanford’s offensive line.
Nile Lawrence-Stample, DT, Florida State
Florida State doesn’t lose much talent off its national championship team, but the Seminoles have a glaring concern at defensive tackle. Timmy Jernigan left early for the NFL after a standout junior campaign, leaving the defense with a group of talented, but largely inexperienced options. In addition to Jernigan, Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel also depart from the interior. Lawrence-Stample is the team’s top returning defensive tackle after starting six games and recording 15 tackles. The Florida native has played in 21 career contests and was rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports in the 2011 signing class. Lawrence-Stample doesn’t need to be Jernigan, but he also needs to have a bigger role in the defense next year. His 305-pound frame will be critical to stopping the run at the point of attack. Helping Lawrence-Stample on the interior will be Keith Bryant, Justin Hanks, Derek Mitchell and Desmond Hollin. There’s talent here, but how quickly will this group develop?
Darryl Render, DT, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald closed out an outstanding career in the Steel City by winning the Bronko Nagurski, Lombardi, Bednarik and Outland trophies, along with garnering several first-team All-American honors in 2013. Donald’s production and attention he required from opposing offensive lines will be tough for Render to replace in 2014. However, Render has flashed plenty of ability over the last two seasons and should be a key cog in Pittsburgh’s line next year. As a true freshman in 2012, he made one start and recorded six tackles. Render was more active around the line of scrimmage as a sophomore, playing in all 13 games and registering 25 stops. With Donald and nose tackle Tyrone Ezell both out of eligibility, the interior of Pittsburgh’s line will have a different look next year. Render showed improvement as the 2013 season progressed, and all signs point to another year of growth in 2014.
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
The Spartans are losing a couple of key pieces from their Big Ten Championship defense, starting in the trenches with tackles Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds and continuing into the back seven with linebacker Max Bullough and in the secondary with Dennard and Isaiah Lewis. We could focus on any of those areas, but let’s put the spotlight on Waynes. Dennard was one of the nation’s top defensive backs over the last few seasons and a true shut down corner. Waynes started all 14 games for Michigan State in 2014 and finished the year with 50 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups. With Dennard out of eligibility, Waynes will become the No. 1 cornerback for the Spartans. Is he up to the task of matching up against the top receiver against opposing offenses?
Myles Willis, RB, Boston College
Boston College was one of the biggest surprises in the ACC last season, finishing 7-6 under new coach Steve Addazio. The Eagles should be back in the mix for a bowl next year, but Addazio has some work to do on offense. Quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams and receiver Alex Amidon all must be replaced. Williams led the nation with an average of 167.5 rushing yards per game. That type of production will be hard to replace, but Willis showed he is a capable replacement from a limited stint last season. The Georgia native rushed 60 times for 346 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. He was also a weapon on kick returns, taking one of his 30 attempts back for a touchdown. When Andre Williams missed time due to a shoulder injury at Syracuse, Willis rushed 17 times for 70 yards. Boston College should have a solid offensive line next year, and with a new quarterback taking over, the ground attack should be the focus of the offense. Willis is only 5-foot-9 and 187 pounds, so he isn’t likely to handle 250 or more carries. However, he should be a key cog in the Eagles’ offense next year.
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Clemson’s passing game will look significantly different in 2014. Quarterback Tajh Boyd expired his eligibility, and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant left early for the NFL. But the news isn’t all bad for the Tigers. Coordinator Chad Morris didn’t leave for a head coaching gig, and the staff should feel confident in Boyd’s potential replacements (Deshaun Watson, Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly). With Watkins and Bryant leaving, Williams needs to step up and emerge as one of the top targets for the new quarterback. As a true freshman in 2013, Williams caught 20 passes for 316 yards and three scores. His best performance came against Citadel, catching three passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Williams won’t be the only receiver returning for Clemson, as Adam Humphries and Charone Peake round out a talented trio of options. However, at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds with plenty of upside, the Tigers are counting on Williams to be a breakout receiver in 2014.
South Florida is coming off a 2-10 season, but the program has momentum. The Bulls are set to reel in one of the American Athletic Conference’s top recruiting classes and there’s a solid cast of returning talent for next season.
And to help this team turn the page for next season, South Florida has unveiled two new chrome designs for its helmets.
The first features a matte green with a large USF logo, while the other helmet is a gold chrome design similar to what Baylor wore this season.
Overall, this is a solid concept for South Florida and should only help second-year coach Willie Taggart raise the profile of his program this offseason:
First piece of armor for for the revolution.. GO BULLS!! 2014 here we come!!! pic.twitter.com/FXnvU4mxPV— Eric Mathies (@CoachMathies) January 25, 2014
Alabama is set to land one of the nation’s top signing classes in early February, but Nick Saban’s most important recruit of 2014 isn’t a freshman. Instead, that honor falls to Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker, who announced he will officially transfer to Alabama after completing his degree in Tallahassee.
Coker will graduate from Florida State in May and is immediately eligible to play in 2014.
Who is Jacob Coker?
Coker has spent the last three years at Florida State, serving as a backup to Jameis Winston and EJ Manuel. After redshirting his freshman season, Coker completed 3 of 5 passes for 45 yards and one touchdown in mop-up duty in 2012. As a result of Florida State’s dominant performance and big leads in the second half in 2013, Coker’s playing time increased. He completed 18 of 36 passes for 250 yards and one pick.
A knee injury suffered against Wake Forest prevented him from playing in the final five games of 2013. However, in a small sample size, Coker is averaging 14 yards per pass attempt and has completed 55 percent of his throws.
Coker wasn’t an elite prospect coming out of high school, ranking as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.
However, he was not an easy prospect to evaluate out of St. Paul’s Episcopal (Mobile, Ala.). Coker played in a wing-T offense until his senior season and finished his career by throwing for 1,508 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011.
Coker has good mobility for a quarterback that is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. During his senior year at St. Paul’s Episcopal, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry, while averaging 21.9 points per game as a member of the basketball team.
Obviously, it’s hard to evaluate a quarterback with zero career starts. However, there’s a lot to like about Coker.
At 6-foot-5, he has the size and arm strength coaches want in their quarterback. Coker also has good mobility and learned under a quarterback guru in Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Also, Coker gave Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston a battle for the starting job in preseason practices.
Alabama’s Quarterback Battle
With Coker officially added to the roster, Alabama has six quarterbacks slated to battle for the top spot in spring practice.
Blake Sims has the most experience of any quarterback in Tuscaloosa, but all signs point to someone different starting in the opener against West Virginia.
There’s also a wildcard factor to keep in mind. Alabama has a new offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin, and it’s expected he will make a few tweaks to the offense.
Here’s a look at the quarterbacks and where they ranked in high school:
|Year of Eligibility||Games Played at Alabama||Passes Thrown at Alabama||Recruiting Rank|
|Jacob Coker||JR||0 (11 at FSU)||0 (41 at FSU)|
Graduate Transfer Quarterbacks and Success
While there’s no shortage of hype surrounding Coker, there’s also no guarantee this will work out for Alabama.
In the recent history of graduate transfer quarterbacks, there are some success stories, but also a lot of duds.
|Comp.||Att.||Comp. %||Yards||TDs||INTs||Rush Yds||Rush TD||W/L Record|
|Drew Allen, Syracuse||68||122||55.7||666||2||9||0||0||7-6 (2013)|
|Chazz Anderson, Buffalo||230||406||56.6||2,454||11||9||309||7||3-9 (2011)|
|Taylor Bennett, La. Tech||66||167||39.5||873||2||6||55||0||8-5 (2008)|
|Allan Bridgford, USM||112||207||54.1||1,133||6||11||-81||0||1-11 (2013)|
|Dayne Crist, Kansas||103||216||47.7||1,313||4||9||-66||0||1-11 (2012)|
|Kirby Freeman, Baylor||6||13||46.2||49||1||2||0||0||4-8 (2008)|
|Garrett Gilbert, SMU||268||506||52.9||2,932||15||15||346||8||7-6 (2012)|
|Nick Hirschman, Akron||3||8||53.3||162||3||0||-23||1||5-7 (2013)|
|Jacob Karam, Memphis||3||7||42.9||22||0||0||-16||0||3-9 (2013)|
|Ryan Katz, SDSU||99||163||60.7||1,348||13||4||287||4||9-4 (2012)|
|Adam Kennedy, Ark. St||218||315||69.2||2,363||11||6||524||4||8-5 (2013)|
|Jeremiah Masoli, Ole Miss||167||296||56.4||2,039||14||13||544||6||4-8 (2010)|
|Ben Mauk, Cincinnati||235||386||60.9||3,121||31||9||376||3||10-3 (2007)|
|Brandon Mitchell, NC State||86||151||57.0||1,011||7||6||274||2||3-9 (2013)|
|Danny O'Brien, Wisconsin||52||86||60.5||523||3||1||-82||0||8-6 (2012)|
|Greg Paulus, Syracuse||193||285||67.7||2,024||13||14||-12||1||4-8 (2009)|
|Sean Schroeder, Hawaii||175||344||50.9||1,878||11||12||-169||1||3-9 (2012)|
|Jameill Showers, UTEP||107||188||56.9||1,263||11||4||195||4||2-10 (2013)|
|Clint Trickett, W. Virginia||123||233||52.8||1,605||7||7||-29||1||4-8 (2013)|
|Jordan Webb, Colorado||144||265||54.3||1,434||8||8||-135||2||1-11 (2012)|
|Russell Wilson, Wisconsin||225||309||72.8||3,175||33||4||338||6||11-3 (2011)|
Alabama is loaded for another run at the national championship. With one of the nation’s top backfields and receiving corps returning, all that’s missing on offense is a quarterback. And of course, a left tackle must be found to replace Cyrus Kouandjio.
If Coker is as good as advertised, then the Crimson Tide is landing their biggest (and most important recruit) for 2014. Alabama is picked as the No. 2 team in Athlon’s very early top 25 for next season and is a slight favorite to win the SEC West over Auburn.
However, there’s also the possibility this move could backfire for Nick Saban. With six quarterbacks on the roster, one or two could transfer after fall practice. And if Coker struggles, Alabama would be losing potential replacements.
This is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Crimson Tide. Coker has the talent to succeed in this offense. And it’s not like Coker is being asked to win games all on his own. After all, Alabama has one of the nation’s top defenses and supporting casts on offense. With two years of eligibility remaining, Coker is a better acquisition than a one-year graduate transfer.
There’s a lot of pressure on Coker’s shoulders to perform (and perform well right away), especially with Alabama in the thick of the SEC and national championship discussion for 2014. Despite the immense pressure on Coker’s right arm, all signs point to this being a potential move that plays a significant role in shaping the SEC and national championship picture.
College football’s Heisman Trophy won’t be awarded until next December, but it’s never too early to think about the frontrunners for next season.
Bovada has released its early odds for 2014, and there’s a familiar face at the top. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the favorite to repeat, with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota a 7/2 favorite.
Quarterbacks own five out of the top seven spots in the early odds. Running backs T.J. Yeldon (Alabama) and Todd Gurley (Georgia) are the only skill players in the top seven.
Also of interest: No wide receivers make the early odds for 2014.
Here’s the early list of favorites to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy from Bovada:
|Jameis Winston (QB Florida State)||2/1|
|Marcus Mariota (QB Oregon)||7/2|
|Braxton Miller (QB Ohio State)||4/1|
|T.J. Yeldon (RB Alabama)||5/1|
|Bryce Petty (QB Baylor)||6/1|
|Brett Hundley (QB UCLA)||12/1|
|Todd Gurley (RB Georgia)||12/1|
|Mike Davis (RB South Carolina)||15/1|
|Melvin Gordon (RB Wisconsin)||16/1|
|Everett Golson (Notre Dame)||25/1|
|Trevor Knight (QB Oklahoma)||25/1|
|Duke Johnson (RB Miami)||33/1|
|Karlos Williams (RB Florida State)||33/1|
|Matt Johnson (QB Bowling Green)||66/1|
|Rakeem Cato (QB Marshall)||66/1|
With Jameis Winston entrenched as Florida State’s quarterback next season, playing time was going to be limited for Jacob Coker, and the sophomore has decided to transfer from Tallahassee to Alabama. With Coker set to graduate in May, he can transfer to another team and start in 2014.
Coker was Florida State’s backup quarterback for the first half of the season, throwing for 250 yards on 18 completions. However, he suffered a knee injury and was forced to miss the final six games.
As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Coker completed 3 of 5 passes for 45 yards.
Coker was only a three-star prospect coming out of high school. However, the Alabama native has all of the physical tools necessary to become a starting quarterback for a BCS team.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and a strong arm, Coker is expected to be highly sought after this spring.
The Crimson Tide need a replacement for AJ McCarron, and Coker would be a good fit for their offense.
With Coker transferring to Alabama, he joins a crowded depth chart at quarterback. Blake Sims has the most experience of any passer on the team, but Alec Morris, Parker McLeod, Cooper Bateman and incoming freshman David Cornwell will compete for the job this preseason.
Northwestern running back Venric Mark was expected to be one of the Big Ten’s top running backs in 2013, but an ankle injury sidelined him for most of the season.
But the Wildcats received some good news for 2014 this week, as Mark was granted a fifth-year of eligibility, and the Texas native will return to Northwestern next year.
Mark rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 20 passes for 104 yards in 2012.
He was also a huge factor on special teams in 2012, averaging 18.7 yards per punt return and taking two back for scores.
Considering Mark is listed at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, he isn’t a player that can handle 300 carries. However, having the senior back in the lineup is a huge plus for Northwestern’s offense. Mark should be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors in 2014.
After a conference season to forget, Northwestern gets great news for '14 - Venric Mark granted an extra year http://t.co/DmDLOrh0r9— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) January 22, 2014
This just in: #Northwestern RB Venric Mark granted fifth year of eligibility. Great news.— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) January 21, 2014
After a whopping 31 changes last year, college football’s head coach carousel was relatively quiet this offseason.
The 2013-14 cycle featured just 20 teams making a switch at head coach. But the offseason wasn’t short on drama, as two of college football’s premier jobs opened (USC and Texas), while there was movement in early January at Penn State, UAB and Vanderbilt.
All 20 schools hiring a coach graded out well in this year’s report card. There were no D’s or F’s awarded, and eight schools will be bringing home a letter grade of A.
Penn State and Washington were the two biggest winners of the coaching cycle. The Nittany Lions hired James Franklin away from Vanderbilt, while the Huskies managed to lure Chris Petersen from Boise State. Franklin and Petersen should win plenty of games at their new home.
Louisville made one of the most intriguing moves of the offseason by hiring Bobby Petrino to replace Charlie Strong. Petrino is no stranger to Louisville, but he certainly comes with some baggage.
At the bottom of the rankings, Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm ranks as the No. 20 coach in the hires, but he should be a good fit in Bowling Green.
In most coaching cycles, there will be a handful of teams that simply make a bad hire. But in 2014, all schools appear to have met their needs and hired a quality coach.
Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2014
1. James Franklin, Penn State
Previous Job: Head coach at Vanderbilt
Career Record: 24-15 (3 years)
Bill O’Brien only stayed at Penn State for two seasons, but he stabilized and kept the program from collapsing after NCAA sanctions limited scholarships and included a four-year bowl ban. Fast forward to 2014 and the Nittany Lions are slowly digging out of the NCAA sanctions, and the program made the offseason’s top hire by pulling Franklin away from Vanderbilt. Penn State is one of the top 15-20 jobs in college football, and with Franklin leading the way, this program is poised to return to national prominence. In three years at Vanderbilt – the SEC’s toughest job – Franklin guided the Commodores to a 24-15 mark, including back-to-back nine-win seasons. Under Franklin’s watch, Vanderbilt finished ranked in the final Associated Press poll in both 2012 and '13 and went 9-7 in SEC play during that span. The nine victories in SEC play since 2012 are the best two-year conference record for the Commodores since 1934-35. In addition to his success on the field, Franklin is regarded as an outstanding recruiter and motivator. Franklin grew up in Pennsylvania and played his college ball at East Stroudsburg, so coming to Penn State is essentially a homecoming for the 41-year-old coach. Some will dismiss Franklin’s record as not enough for a job like Penn State. However, let’s also consider how difficult it is to win at Vanderbilt. Franklin is bringing a top-notch staff to Happy Valley, including offensive line coach Herb Hand and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Expect Franklin to win – and win big – at Penn State.
Final Grade: A+
2. Chris Petersen, Washington
Previous Job: Head coach at Boise State
Career Record: 92-12 (8 years)
Petersen’s name popped up for various openings at BCS programs over the last seven years, but he stayed at Boise State for eight years, recording an impressive 92-12 mark with two BCS bowl victories. Despite turning down overtures from BCS programs in previous seasons, 2014 was just the right time for Petersen to leave Boise State. Petersen is a California native, but he has spent most of his coaching tenure in the Pacific Northwest. Petersen worked as an assistant at Portland State from 1993-94, Oregon from 1995-2000 and at Boise State from 2001-05. After Dan Hawkins left for Colorado, Petersen was promoted to head coach in 2006. The Broncos won at least 10 games in seven of Petersen’s eight seasons and had four top-10 finishes in the Associated Press poll. Matching 92 victories in eight years will be difficult at Washington, but Petersen is a good fit for Seattle. Former coach Steve Sarkisian rebuilt a program that bottomed out after an 0-12 mark in 2008. But now it’s up to Petersen to elevate Washington back into Pac-12 title contention. With a new stadium and good facilities, everything is in place for the Huskies to win big.
Final Grade: A+
3. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
Previous Job: Head coach at North Dakota State
Career Record: 104-32 (11 years)
Considering North Dakota State’s recent success, it was no surprise Bohl was hired by a FBS program. But it comes as a surprise he ends up at Wyoming and not a BCS team. Regardless of location or team, Wyoming made one of the top hires of the 2013-14 coaching carousel. Bohl was hired as North Dakota State’s coach in 2003 and had only one losing season during his 11-year stint in Fargo. The Bison moved to the FCS level in 2004 and won 35 games in their first four seasons after making the transition. After an 9-13 stint from 2008-09, North Dakota State has emerged as the top program in the FCS ranks. The Bison are 43-2 over their last three years and won three consecutive FCS titles. Prior to taking over at North Dakota State, Bohl worked as an assistant under Tom Osborne and Frank Solich at Nebraska, while also making stops at Duke, Rice, Wisconsin and Tulsa. Bohl isn’t flashy, and he prefers a strong defense and rushing attack to the wide-open spread offenses taking over college football. But make no mistake, he knows how to win and built North Dakota State into a powerhouse on the FCS level. There’s a lot of work to be done at Wyoming and rebuilding won’t be easy. However, Bohl is clearly capable of leading the Cowboys back into Mountain West title contention.
Final Grade: A+
4. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator at Stanford
Career Record: First Season
In terms of fit, there’s not a better one in this coaching cycle than Mason and Vanderbilt. Mason spent the last four years at Stanford, including the last three as the defensive coordinator. Under Mason’s direction, the Cardinal never allowed an average of more than 22 points per game from 2011-13 and allowed less than five yards per play in 2012-13. Prior to his stint at Stanford, Mason worked for three years with the Vikings (2007-09) and served as an assistant at a handful of stops, including Ohio, New Mexico State, St. Mary’s, Utah, Bucknell, Idaho State, Weber State and San Diego Mesa College. Despite his connections on the West Coast, Mason recruited Florida for Stanford, and his experience at an academic institution will be a huge plus as he attempts to replicate Franklin’s success. There’s very little to dislike about this hire for Vanderbilt. Mason is one of the top coordinators in college football and is well-liked by his players. He also is a good recruiter and developed some of the Pac-12’s top defensive players during his stint in Palo Alto. The only knock on Mason is a lack of head coaching experience, especially as he jumps into the SEC. Also, Franklin was persistent about facility and program upgrades. Can Mason continue to push Vanderbilt for more improvements to keep this program trending in the right direction?
Final Grade: A
5. Dino Babers, Bowling Green
Previous Job: Head coach at Eastern Illinois
Career Record: 19-7 (2 years)
With a wealth of experience and a background on offense, Babers should feel right at home in the MAC next season. After spending nearly 30 years as an assistant, Babers earned his first head coaching gig at Eastern Illinois in 2012. The Panthers went 7-5 in Babers’ first season and 12-2 in 2013, losing to Towson in the FCS playoffs. Prior to Babers tenure, Eastern Illinois won just four games in two seasons. Babers inherited quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo – a likely pick in the 2014 NFL Draft – but he transformed the Illinois native into the 2013 Walter Payton Award winner. Before he was a head coach at Eastern Illinois, Babers worked as an assistant under Art Briles at Baylor for three seasons and made stops at UCLA, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, Arizona, San Diego State, Purdue, Northern Arizona and UNLV. Babers has clearly paid his dues as an assistant and transformed Eastern Illinois into a playoff team in back-to-back seasons. Yes, there’s some risk hiring someone who has only two years of head coaching experience, but Babers’ offense-first approach should work for a Bowling Green team that returns quarterback Matt Johnson and running back Travis Greene in 2014.
Final Grade: A
6. Charlie Strong, Texas
Previous Job: Head coach at Louisville
Career Record: 37-16 (4 years)
Mack Brown set the bar high for Texas after a run of nine seasons with at least 10 wins from 2001-09. But the Longhorns regressed at the end of his tenure, finishing the last four years with an 18-17 record in Big 12 play. Strong isn’t the politician that Brown was, but a different approach is what Texas needs. In four years at Louisville, Strong went 37-15 and won 23 games over the last two seasons. The Cardinals played in four straight bowl games under Strong’s watch and finished in the top 15 of the final Associated Press poll in both 2012 and '13. Strong also transformed Louisville’s defense, as the Cardinals never finished outside of the top 25 nationally in yards allowed per game. As evidenced by the numbers above, there are no doubts about Strong’s coaching ability. He’s an excellent motivator and is a strong X’s and O’s coach. But his decision to leave Louisville – a year after turning down Tennessee – is a surprise. Despite all of the perks and built-in advantages of coaching in Texas, Strong doesn’t seem like the best fit in Austin. For a coach that isn’t crazy about media obligations, he will face extra scrutiny with the Longhorn Network – something that could eat into his time to coach each week. It may not be the best possible fit, but Strong is going to bring immediate improvement to Texas in 2014.
Final Grade: A-
7. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Previous Job: Head coach at Bowling Green
Career Record: 90-80 (14 years)
Clawson inherits one of the toughest jobs in the ACC, but the New York native is a proven winner at three previous stops. From 1999-2003 at Fordham, he recorded a 29-29 mark over five seasons, which included 26 wins over the final three years. Clawson went 3-8 in his first season at Richmond but rebounded to win 26 games over the final three seasons. The Spiders also finished in the top 10 of the final FCS poll twice. Clawson experienced immediate success at Bowling Green, guiding the Falcons to a 7-6 record in 2009. The program took a step back in 2010, bottoming out to 2-10 overall. But Clawson’s team wasn’t down for long, as he improved Bowling Green’s win total by three games from 2010 to '11, and the Falcons made back-to-back bowls in 2012-13. He also has experience from time as an offense coordinator at Tennessee (2008) and Villanova (1996-98). Jim Grobe took Wake Forest to new heights in 2006, but the Demon Deacons were unable to sustain that success for long. Clawson has a tough job ahead in the coming seasons, but he has a track record of success and has won at three different programs. Considering Clawson has excelled at getting the most out of his roster at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, that coaching style should work at a place like Wake Forest where recruiting five- or four-star players is tough.
Final Grade: A-
8. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Previous Job: Head coach at Western Kentucky
Career Record: 83-30 (9 years)
Mention the name Bobby Petrino to any college football fan and you are likely to get a variety of reactions. Sure, there’s baggage. Petrino left Louisville after signing a 10-year contract in 2006, had a disastrous one-year stint with the Falcons and was fired after lying to Arkansas’ athletic director Jeff Long in '12. After the end of his tenure in Fayetteville, it’s surprising Petrino has rebounded this quickly into a BCS job. He spent 2013 at Western Kentucky, guiding the Hilltoppers to an 8-4 mark. Petrino’s career record is 83-30 and he has only one season of fewer than eight wins in his nine seasons in college. There’s no question what you are getting with Petrino. The Montana native is going to win a lot of games and is one of the top offensive minds in college football. But you also inherit the baggage, and the concern he’s always looking to jump to another job. However, if there’s anyone that could hire Petrino away from Western Kentucky, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich is one of the few. Jurich, widely respected as one of the top athletic directors in college football, likely knows Petrino better than anyone. And with a $10 million buyout, Petrino isn’t going anywhere. With a move to the ACC on tap, this is an important hire for Louisville. Bringing back Petrino probably isn’t the most popular move for this program, but Jurich is choosing familiarity and a proven winner. In a tougher league, the Cardinals need to be competitive right away and the baggage is worth the risk.
Final Grade: B+
9. Steve Sarkisian, USC
Previous Job: Head coach at Washington
Career Record: 34-29 (5 years)
After five years at Washington, Sarkisian returns to his old stomping grounds, taking over at one of college football’s premier jobs. Sarkisian’s overall record at Washington was only 34-29, but the Huskies made considerable progress under his watch. Prior to Sarkisian’s arrival in 2009, Washington won just 11 games in the four previous seasons. The Huskies won at least five Pac-12 contests in four out of Sarkisian’s five years in Seattle, with a 4-5 mark in his first season. Washington didn’t win big, but there was clear progress. And with Oregon and Stanford among the nation’s elite, it wasn’t easy for the Huskies to make any progress in the Pac-12 North. At USC, Sarkisian isn’t inheriting a rebuilding project and this is arguably one of the top five jobs in college football. The heavy NCAA sanctions this program was handed as a result of the Reggie Bush investigation are nearly over. Everything appears to be set for the Trojans to return to national prominence. While Sarkisian may not have been the splashy hire some USC fans expected, he’s a California native with previous experience at USC. He’s also a good offensive coach and has recruited four consecutive top-25 classes at Washington. Armed with a top-notch staff, Sarkisian is capable of winning big at USC.
Final Grade: B
10. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Previous Job: Head coach at Arkansas State
Career Record: 7-5 (1 year)
It’s hard to call a coach a perfect fit for any job, but Harsin is truly a perfect match for Boise State. Harsin grew up in Boise, played with the Broncos from 1995-99 and later served as an assistant at the school from 2001-10. As Boise State’s offensive coordinator from 2006-10, he directed an attack that averaged at least 400 yards in every season. Harsin was hired at Texas in 2011 and called the plays for the Longhorns for two seasons. He spent one year as the head coach at Arkansas State, helping the Red Wolves to a 7-5 overall record with an appearance in the GoDaddy Bowl. Harsin’s team lost to Auburn, Memphis and Missouri in non-conference play but lost by just three points to Western Kentucky and 23-7 to Sun Belt champ Louisiana-Lafayette. Replacing Chris Petersen is a tough assignment, but Harsin seems to be the perfect fit. Harsin’s one-year stint at Arkansas State will help with his takeover at Boise State, especially as he inherits a team capable of winning the Mountain West in 2014.
Final Grade: B
11. Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
Previous Job: Head coach at Sam Houston State
Career Record: 176-67-1 (21 years)
Georgia Southern is set to transition from the FCS ranks to the FBS level in 2014. The Eagles are losing a good coach in Jeff Monken, but Fritz is a proven winner at three different stops. After serving as an assistant at Coffeyville College and Sam Houston State from 1987-92, Fritz landed his first head coach gig at Blinn College in 1993. In four seasons, Fritz guided Blinn College to a 39-5-1 record. He coached at Central Missouri from 1997-2009 and accumulated a 97-47 mark. Fritz was hired at Sam Houston State in 2010 and guided the Bearkats to a 6-5 record in his first season, followed by three consecutive playoff appearances. Sam Houston State went 14-1 in 2011 and won 20 games from 2012-13. Fritz will have an interesting decision to make in terms of scheme. The Eagles ran the option under Monken, while Fritz used a spread at Sam Houston State. Transitioning to a different scheme will take time, but with Fritz’s strong track record, he should have Georgia Southern competitive right away in the Sun Belt.
Final Grade: B
12. Bob Diaco, Connecticut
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator at Notre Dame
Career Record: First Season
Every head coach hire is important for a program, but this one carries even bigger importance for Connecticut. With Louisville and Rutgers departing the American Athletic Conference, the Huskies have a chance to move up the ladder in the conference pecking order. Diaco has never been a head coach, but he has worked as an assistant on the college level since 1996. The New Jersey native played at Iowa and served as a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes under Hayden Fry from 1996-97. After stops at Western Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Western Michigan, Diaco had a three-year stint at Virginia and joined Brian Kelly’s staff at Cincinnati in 2009. Diaco followed Kelly to Notre Dame and spent the last four years as the Fighting Irish’s defensive coordinator. Only once during Diaco’s tenure did Notre Dame rank outside of the top 35 nationally in total defense. Diaco earned the Broyles Award in 2012, which is awarded to the top assistant in college football. It seems like a broken record this year, but this seems like a solid hire. Diaco’s staff was slightly underwhelming and the lack of had coaching experience is a concern. But after going the veteran route with its last hire, Connecticut went with a coach that’s young and energetic. Diaco has a lot to prove, but he should get the Huskies back into bowl games.
Final Grade: B
13. Charlie Partridge, FAU
Previous Job: Defensive line coach at Arkansas
Career Record: First Season
Normally, we would frown on programs hiring a defensive line coach as a head coach, but this move seems like it will work for FAU. Partridge grew up less than an hour outside of Boca Raton, Fla., and is regarded for his connections on on the high school level in the Sunshine State. This is Partridge’s first chance to be a head coach, but he has stops as an assistant at Eastern Illinois, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Arkansas. Partridge appears to be going for a CEO approach in his first year, retaining coordinators Jovan Dewitt and Brian Wright from a team that went 6-6 despite the coaching turmoil that surrounded this team last season. The resume on Partridge is pretty thin. He doesn’t have head coach experience and has never been a coordinator. Experience in either position is generally an easier gauge for future success, but Partridge is a good hire for a program that is capable of winning a lot of games in Conference USA. If Partridge continues to bring in talent, the Owls will be one of C-USA’s top programs.
Final Grade: B-
14. Jeff Monken, Army
Previous Job: Head coach at Georgia Southern
Career Record: 38-16 (4 years)
Army has a rich history on the gridiron, but success has eluded this program in recent seasons. The Black Knights have only one winning season since 1997 and have not won more than four games since 2010. Rich Ellerson seemed like the perfect fit in West Point, but he was fired after a 20-41 record. Has Army developed into a job that’s just too tough to sustain success? Or has the program just missed on its last four head coaches? Monken comes to West Point with a background specializing in the option offense. He was an assistant under Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern from 1997-01, at Navy from 2002-07 and at Georgia Tech from 2008-09. Monken was hired as Georgia Southern’s head coach prior to the 2010 season and he guided the Eagles to 38 wins over the last four years. Georgia Southern is transitioning to the FBS level, so the program was ineligible to compete for a playoff spot in 2013. However, the Eagles defeated Florida 26-20 in their regular season finale. Monken doesn’t have a ton of head coaching experience and most of it came at a program (GSU) that has consistently been one of the most successful in the FCS ranks. Can he rebuild an Army program that has struggled to compete with Navy and Air Force? If he can, Monken’s background running the option and as an assistant at Navy should help Army turn the corner from bottom-feeder into a consistent bowl team.
Final Grade: B-
15. Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Notre Dame
Career Record: 74-7 (6 years)
From 1994-2005, Miami (Ohio) was one of the premier programs in the MAC. The RedHawks did not post a losing record during that stretch, won 13 games and the MAC title in 2003, made two bowl appearances and claimed the East Division title in 2004. But this program has fallen on hard times recently, winning just eight games over its last three years. Martin needs time to rebuild this program, but he appears to be the right coach for the job. He spent six years as the head coach at Grand Valley State after Brian Kelly left for Central Michigan. Martin amassed a 74-7 mark in six seasons, including a Division II title in 2005. In 2010, he reunited with Kelly, serving as the defensive backs coach for one season before moving to offensive coordinator in 2012. Instead of maintaining a program as Martin did at Grand Valley State, he will have a significant rebuilding project on his hands over the next few seasons.
Final Grade: B-
16. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at North Carolina
Career Record: First Season
Arkansas State is no stranger to change, as Anderson will be the program’s fifth coach in five seasons. The athletic department deserves credit for finding and hiring successful coaches, but constant turnover is never a good idea. That cycle should stop in 2014, as Anderson has a $3 million buyout for the next two years. Arkansas State is one of the top programs in the remodeled Sun Belt, and Anderson’s arrival should keep this program in the mix for the conference title in 2014. Much like the last three coaches (Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin), Anderson has an extensive background on offense. He spent the last two years as North Carolina’s offensive coordinator and worked under Larry Fedora at Southern Miss from 2008-11. Prior to his stint in Hattiesburg, Anderson served as the offensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette in 2007, co-offensive coordinator at MTSU from 2002-04 and an assistant at New Mexico from 1999-01. The only knock on Anderson’s resume is a lack of head coaching experience.
Final Grade: B-
17. Mark Whipple, UMass
Previous Job: Quarterback coach with the Cleveland Browns (2012)
Career Record: 121-59 (16 years)
In order for UMass to be competitive on the FBS level in the future, it dipped into its past to replace Charley Molnar. Whipple returns to the sidelines in Amherst after a 10-year absence and is tasked with taking the Minutemen – a team in just its third season on the FBS level – to bowl and MAC title contention. Whipple was out of coaching in 2013, but there’s a lot to like about this hire. He was 49-26 in a six-year stint on the UMass sidelines from 1998-2003. Whipple guided the Minutemen to three FCS playoff appearances, including a national title in 1998. Prior to UMass, Whipple was a head coach at Brown (1994-97) and New Haven (1988-93). In 16 years as a head coach, Whipple has only two losing seasons. After leaving UMass in 2003, Whipple worked as a NFL assistant with the Steelers, Eagles and Browns, with a stint as Miami’s offensive coordinator from 2009-10. Although Whipple hasn’t been a head coach since 2003 and much has changed at UMass since, this is a solid hire for a program that has to get competitive in a hurry. Whipple’s background on offense will be a huge boost for a team that averaged only 281.6 yards per game last year. The Minutemen need time to recruit on the FBS level, but Whipple should help this team immediately be more competitive within the MAC in 2014.
Final Grade: B-
18. Bill Clark, UAB
Previous Job: Head coach at Jacksonville State
Career Record: 11-4 (1 year)
Garrick McGee’s resignation came as a surprise to most, but UAB quickly replaced the departed coach with someone who is quite familiar with football in the state of Alabama. Most of Clark’s experience as a coach has been on the high school level. The Alabama native started as an assistant at Piedmont High School in 1990 and stayed in that role until taking a similar position with Tuscaloosa High School in '92. Clark stayed on that path with stops as an assistant at three more high schools: Coffee County (Georgia), Dothan and Prattville. He was hired as South Alabama’s defensive coordinator in 2008 and served in that capacity until a one-year stint at Jacksonville State. Under Clark’s direction, South Alabama’s defense ranked No. 2 in the Sun Belt in fewest yards allowed per game in 2012. Clark’s first (and only) season as a collegiate head coach was a success, as Jacksonville State improved its win total by five games from 2012 to '13. Clark’s resume has a few holes. He doesn’t have any FBS head coaching experience and just one year at Jacksonville State isn’t enough to gauge his ability to lead a program for the long haul. But there are reasons to like this hire. Clark certainly has a few connections in the state from his days as a high school coach, and the Gamecocks made clear improvement under his watch. UAB is not an easy job. But Clark is a good hire for a program that should be able to win in Conference USA.
Final Grade: C+
19. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Previous Job: Head coach at Drake
Career Record: 139-46 (17 years)
Eastern Michigan is one of the – if not the No. 1 – toughest jobs for a head coach in college football. Success has been tough to find recently, as the Eagles have just one season above .500 since 1991. This program has played in only one bowl game (1987) and its last winning conference record occurred in 1995. Needless to say, Creighton won’t have it easy. But this is an intriguing, outside-the-box hire for Eastern Michigan. The California native has been a successful head coach at three different stops (Ottawa University, Wabash and Drake) and has never had a losing season. Creighton’s 139-46 career record is even more impressive when you consider his work at the previous three schools was done with non-scholarship players. Success will be tough for Creighton in 2014, and he needs time to recruit, but this hire looks like a solid fit for Eastern Michigan.
Final Grade: C+
20. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky
Career Record: First Season
By no means is this a bad hire for Western Kentucky. While Brohm ranks at the bottom of our new coach rankings for 2014, it’s more of a reflection on the depth of hires this offseason. Brohm has been a collegiate assistant since 2003 but this will be his first chance to be a head coach. He worked for five seasons as an assistant at Louisville from 2003-08 before spending time at FAU, Illinois and UAB. In Brohm’s one season in Birmingham, the Blazers finished fifth in Conference USA in total offense. After one year in Birmingham, Brohm joined Bobby Petrino’s staff at Western Kentucky and served as an assistant head coach. A lack of head coaching experience is always a concern, but this is a solid fit and hire for the Hilltoppers. Brohm grew up in Kentucky and has worked as an assistant at two other C-USA programs. One factor that should ease Brohm’s transition to head coach is a veteran staff, which includes former UAB coach Neil Callaway, defensive coordinator Nick Holt and secondary coach Mike Cassity.
Final Grade: C+
Last year, photos of a gray Kentucky jersey and helmet circulated on the internet. But the Wildcats didn’t wear the gray uniforms in 2013.
Could that change in 2014?
The all-gray uniforms returned to the internet this week, with freshman quarterback Drew Barker modeling the new look.
Overall, this isn’t a bad look for Kentucky.
All grey everything? pic.twitter.com/tvEEBSiz8U— The SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo) January 20, 2014
The deadline for college football players to enter the 2014 NFL Draft has passed, and the official tally stands at 98 underclassmen declaring early for the next level.
The list of early entrants also includes four players that have already graduated and are leaving with eligibility remaining, including Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard, Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford and USC safety Dion Bailey.
Here’s the full list of the 98 underclassmen leaving for the NFL, along with four other players that have already graduated and set to move onto the next level.
|Davante Adams||WR||Fresno State|
|Jace Amaro||TE||Texas Tech|
|George Atkinson||RB||Notre Dame|
|Odell Beckham||WR||Louisiana State|
|Kelvin Benjamin||WR||Florida State|
|Kapri Bibbs||RB||Colorado State|
|Alfred Blue||RB||Louisiana State|
|Russell Bodine||C||North Carolina|
|Blake Bortles||QB||Central Florida|
|Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||DB||Alabama|
|Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina|
|Brandin Cooks||WR||Oregon State|
|Scott Crichton||DE||Oregon State|
|Isaiah Crowell||RB||Alabama State|
|Jonathan Dowling||DB||Western Kentucky|
|Eric Ebron||TE||North Carolina|
|Bruce Ellington||WR||South Carolina|
|Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M|
|Ego Ferguson||DT||Louisiana State|
|Austin Franklin||WR||New Mexico State|
|Devonta Freeman||RB||Florida State|
|Carlos Gray||DT||North Carolina State|
|Xavier Grimble||TE||Southern California|
|Victor Hampton||DB||South Carolina|
|Jeremy Hill||RB||Louisiana State|
|Nic Jacobs||TE||McNeese State|
|Timmy Jernigan||DT||Florida State|
|Anthony Johnson||DT||Louisiana State|
|Jamel Johnson||WR||Alabama State|
|Storm Johnson||RB||Central Florida|
|Jarvis Landry||WR||Louisiana State|
|Demarcus Lawrence||DE||Boise State|
|Marqise Lee||WR||Southern California|
|A.C. Leonard||TE||Tennessee State|
|Albert Louis-Jean||DB||Boston College|
|Aaron Lynch||DE||South Florida|
|Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M|
|Marcus Martin||C||Southern California|
|Adam Muema||RB||San Diego State|
|Troy Niklas||TE||Notre Dame|
|Louis Nix||DT||Notre Dame|
|Kelcy Quarles||DT||South Carolina|
|Allen Robinson||WR||Penn State|
|Bradley Roby||DB||Ohio State|
|Ryan Shazier||LB||Ohio State|
|Willie Snead||WR||Ball State|
|Josh Stewart||WR||Oklahoma State|
|Stephon Tuitt||DE||Notre Dame|
|Trai Turner||G||Louisiana State|
|George Uko||DE||Southern California|
|Pierre Warren||DB||Jacksonville State|
|James Wilder||RB||Florida State|
|Dion Bailey||DB||Southern California|
|Carl Bradford||DE||Arizona State|
With the college football season completed, the next few weeks are all about recruiting. And there’s not a better coach in the nation at it than Alabama’s Nick Saban.
Last weekend, Saban hosted incoming recruits and their parents at his home. And thankfully, someone captured video of the coach dancing to the Electric Slide.
The clip isn’t very long, but it’s worth your time to watch Saban making a few moves on the dance floor.
College football’s 2014 season won’t start until August, but it’s never too early to take a look at what’s ahead.
Florida State edged Auburn for the national championship in early January, and both teams will be in the mix for a playoff spot next year. But the Seminoles and Tigers will be pushed by Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State.
College football’s new four-team playoff format adds another dimension to an already drama-filled regular season. With a selection committee and new bowl contracts, the postseason is going to look quite different next year.
In December, Athlon Sports released an early top 25 for 2014. But as expected, early entries to the NFL Draft and coaching hires changed the outlook of that top 25 ranking.
With coaching hires and the early entries to the draft declared, let’s revisit the top 25 teams for 2014.
(Rankings updated on Jan. 20)
College Football’s Very Early Top 25 for 2014
1. Florida State
The Seminoles have a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but this team is equipped to repeat in 2014. Quarterback Jameis Winston returns after winning the Heisman last year and should only get better with another offseason to work under coach Jimbo Fisher. Winston’s supporting cast is solid, as Karlos Williams and Dalvin Cook are set to replace Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. at running back, and receiver Rashad Greene turned down the NFL for his senior year. Center Bryan Stork will be missed, but Austin Barron is an experienced backup and four other starters return to the offensive line. The defense loses linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback/safety Lamarcus Joyner. But none of those losses are as big as Timmy Jernigan, who declared early for the NFL Draft. Replacing Jernigan will be a talented, but young group of tackles. Jeremy Pruitt was outstanding in his only year as the defensive coordinator at Florida State. Can Fisher make the right hire once again?
Related Content: Early ACC Predictions for 2014
A two-game losing streak to end the season should provide plenty of motivation for Nick Saban in 2014. And Saban has already taken steps to prevent another repeat of 2013, as he made a few changes to his coaching staff, including hiring Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator and returning Kevin Steele to a position coach. Kiffin’s top priority in spring practice will be to develop a new starting quarterback. The race to replace AJ McCarron is wide open, with Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and incoming freshman David Cornwell each having an opportunity to win the job. And regardless of who wins the job in the spring, the job may not be settled into the fall, especially if Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker transfers to Alabama. Until a quarterback is found, the offense can lean on the one-two punch of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry on the ground. Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart will once again develop one of the SEC’s top defenses. But this unit will have concerns to address, starting with replacing linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The Crimson Tide also needs to develop more depth and talent at cornerback.
Alabama has a slight edge over Auburn for the top spot in the SEC West in our pre-spring predictions. But the gap between the Tigers and Crimson Tide is slim. Auburn’s run to the national title included a few fortunate bounces, but this team was no fluke in 2013. Gus Malzahn’s offense returns nearly intact next season, and Nick Marshall could be the preseason first-team all-conference quarterback in the SEC. With Marshall working with Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee for a full offseason, he should show improvement as a passer, which is critical with Auburn returning a talented group of receivers. Running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson are huge losses on offense. Defensively, the Tigers have a few issues to address. End Dee Ford departs after recording 10.5 sacks. Safety Ryan Smith, defensive tackle Nosa Eguae, cornerback Chris Davis and linebacker Jake Holland are other key departures on defense. Can Auburn quickly reload on that side of the ball? Ford and Eguae are huge losses on the line, but Elijah Daniel, Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson are three talented sophomores ready for a bigger role in 2014.
Related Content: Early SEC Predictions for 2014
The Ducks were a big winner from the NFL Draft’s early entry deadline. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu all decided to return in 2014. With Mariota returning, plus a home game against Stanford next year, Oregon gets the nod as the favorite in the North Division. Mariota will have one of the nation’s top supporting casts at his side next year, as all five offensive line starters from the Alamo Bowl are back, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner return at running back, and the receiving corps is headlined by Bralon Addison, Keanon Lowe and tight end Johnny Mundt. While the offense will have no trouble scoring points, there will be a transition period on defense. Don Pellum was promoted to coordinator after Nick Aliotti retired. This will be Pellum’s first chance to call plays, and the Ducks have to replace three key defensive tackles, cornerback Terrance Mitchell and both starting safeties. In addition to Stanford visiting Eugene, Oregon won’t have to play USC or Arizona State from the South Division in crossover play.
When projecting for 2014, we have to be careful to not put too much stock in bowl games. Oklahoma defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which certainly raised expectations for this team for next year. But the Sooners’ spot in this poll is more than just a reaction on beating the Crimson Tide. In what was essentially a rebuilding year, Oklahoma won 11 games and finished the regular season by defeating Kansas State and Oklahoma State on the road. The Sooners also have a favorable slate next year, as Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State come to Norman. Bob Stoops’ defense returns nearly everyone, but cornerback Aaron Colvin will be tough to replace. But the key to how high Oklahoma climbs in the rankings next season is quarterback Trevor Knight. He struggled in his first year as the starter and finished by throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama. Was the performance against the Crimson Tide a sign of things to come? Or was Knight’s 348 passing yards just a one-game mirage?
6. Ohio State
The Buckeyes ended 2013 on a down note by losing their final two games after a 12-0 start. Urban Meyer’s team is a slight favorite to win the Big Ten in Athlon’s early projections, but Michigan State isn’t far behind. Offense certainly wasn’t a problem for the Buckeyes in 2013. Quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and a veteran offensive line helped the offense average 7.2 yards per play. Miller decided to return for his senior year, but four starters from the line and Hyde are gone. Meyer and his staff have recruited well, so there is talent in the program. However, losing nearly all of the offensive line and a 1,000-yard back in Hyde won’t be easy to replace. Despite the concerns on offense, the defense is an even bigger issue. Sure, Ohio State might have one of the top defensive lines in the nation. But the back seven is a concern. Linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby decided to leave early for the NFL, only adding to the pressure for a secondary that ranked 11th in the Big Ten. Road games at Michigan State and Penn State will be a huge challenge, but the Buckeyes won’t play Nebraska, Iowa or Wisconsin in crossover play with the West Division.
7. Michigan State
Coming off a 13-1 record with a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, Michigan State will be hard-pressed to top its 2013 season. However, Mark Dantonio’s team will be in the mix for the conference championship once again. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi turned down an opportunity to be a head coach at UConn, and his return will help rebuild a unit that loses a few key players, including both starting tackles, linebacker Max Bullough, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis. The defense may take a step back, but the offense should continue to improve. Connor Cook solidified the quarterback position (22 TDs, 6 INTs), and running back Jeremy Langford will contend with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah for the Big Ten’s rushing title. Cook and Langford’s emergence was crucial for the offense’s development, but the line was an underrated cog in the Rose Bowl run. However, three starters depart in 2014. Michigan State plays at Oregon in Week 2 and finishes the regular season at Penn State. But with Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State visiting Spartan Stadium, the path to a Big Ten title runs through East Lansing.
The South Division champion has yet to win the Pac-12 conference title game. Could that change in 2014? UCLA seems to have all of the pieces to challenge Oregon or Stanford for the conference crown. Quarterback Brett Hundley is back after considering an early departure to the NFL. Hundley has room to improve in his junior season, but his job will be made easier by an offensive line that could progress despite losing guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to the NFL. Linebacker Anthony Barr was one of the top defensive players in the nation, and his ability to get after opposing quarterbacks will be missed. But the linebacking corps should remain a strength. Myles Jack is one of college football’s rising superstars, and Eric Kendricks is back after leading the team with 106 tackles in 2013. Owamagbe Odighizuwa missed 2013 due to injury but is set to return in 2014 to anchor the defensive line. And the Bruins could have one of the best defensive backfields in the nation, as all four starters are slated to return. The schedule features a non-conference road trip to Virginia and a neutral site matchup against Texas. In Pac-12 play, UCLA plays at Arizona State and Washington but hosts Stanford, USC and Oregon.
Related Content: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2014
Despite losing to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, the Bears have momentum entering the 2014 season. Baylor is coming off its first conference title since 1980, coach Art Briles didn’t leave for Texas, and quarterback Bryce Petty decided to stay for his senior year. The Bears are also set to open a new stadium in 2014, which figures to only help Baylor continue to climb the ladder in the Big 12 program hierarchy. Petty’s return will keep Baylor’s offense among the best in the nation, and Shock Linwood appears to be a capable replacement for Lache Seastrunk at running back. The line is the biggest concern on offense, as All-American Cyril Richardson and center Stefan Huber and tackle Kelvin Palmer depart. The defense was an underrated part of Baylor’s Big 12 title and several key players have expired their eligibility. Safety Ahmad Dixon, linebacker Eddie Lackey, cornerback K.J. Morton and defensive ends Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister are gone. But the news isn’t all bad for coordinator Phil Bennett, as the Bears have recruited better recently, and there’s talent ready to step into the lineup. The schedule is manageable, but trips to Texas and Oklahoma will determine if Baylor can repeat as conference champions.
Related Content: Early Big 12 Predictions for 2014
David Shaw has his work cut out for him in 2014. The Cardinal has won at least 11 games in three seasons in a row, but that mark could be in jeopardy next year. Not only is Stanford is replacing a wealth of talent, but one of the key cogs in the recent run – defensive coordinator Derek Mason – is now the head coach at Vanderbilt. The rebuilding effort for next year has to start on the offensive line. The Cardinal return only one starter up front, but there’s talent waiting in the wings, including Joshua Garnett and Kyle Murphy to team with left tackle Andrus Peat. Don’t expect Stanford’s offense to change its philosophy despite the personnel losses, but Shaw can lean more on quarterback Kevin Hogan and a veteran group of receivers. In addition to replacing Mason’s play-calling, the Cardinal loses linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, defensive end Josh Mauro and safety Ed Reynolds. Stanford’s schedule could be one of the toughest in the nation next year. The Cardinal host USC and Oregon State but play at Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA.
The SEC East will be a tight battle between Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia next year. For now, the early nod goes with the Bulldogs. Mark Richt needs to replace quarterback Aaron Murray, but Hutson Mason started the final two games of 2013 and should be a capable starter. Mason’s transition into the lineup will be easier with running back Todd Gurley returning to full strength, along with Malcolm Mitchell and Keith Marshall back from knee injuries. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left for Louisville, but the defense upgraded by hiring Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State. Pruitt will have plenty of talent to work with, starting with linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. The Bulldogs host Auburn in crossover play with the West Division but travel to Missouri and South Carolina next year.
12. South Carolina
The Gamecocks have won 11 games in each of the last three seasons. Coach Steve Spurrier has this program on solid ground, and South Carolina will be back in the hunt for the SEC East title. Quarterback Connor Shaw is a big loss, but Dylan Thompson showed he was a capable option over the last two years. Thompson won’t have to carry the team, especially with running back Mike Davis and four starters returning on the line. While Shaw will be tough to replace, the biggest losses are on defense. The Gamecocks have to replace ends Chaz Sutton and Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles. Cornerback Victor Hampton left early for the NFL Draft. Talent isn’t an issue for South Carolina, but restocking the defensive line to replace Clowney, Sutton and Quarles won’t be easy. South Carolina might have the most favorable path in the East Division to a trip to Atlanta. Missouri and Georgia visit Williams-Brice Stadium and a matchup against Texas A&M in the opener comes at an opportune time with a rebuilding Aggies’ offense.
Related Content: Early SEC Predictions for 2014
Another year, another batch of players departed early for the NFL. After losing 11 players last season, Les Miles lost seven to the NFL this January. But despite the personnel concerns, LSU isn’t short on talent. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has to overhaul the passing game, as quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham depart. With one of the SEC’s best offensive lines returning and a five-star freshman running back in Leonard Fournette available, Cameron can ease quarterback Anthony Jennings into the starting role. Linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston will be missed by the defense. But the biggest losses are in the trenches, as tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson decided to leave early for the NFL.
The Badgers finished 2013 on a two-game losing streak, but Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison was still a success. Wisconsin has won at least seven games in every year since 2002 and there’s little doubt that streak can continue in 2014. Running back Melvin Gordon turned down an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft and expects to shoulder the bulk of the carries with James White expiring his eligibility. As usual in Madison, the Badgers will be strong in the trenches and on the ground. But the passing attack is a question mark. Quarterback Joel Stave will face competition in the spring, and standout receiver Jared Abbrederis will be missed. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a rising star in the coaching ranks, but can he keep Wisconsin’s defense among the best in the Big Ten in 2014 with linemen Pat Muldoon, Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and linebackers Chris Borland, Ethan Armstrong and Brendan Kelly departing? Wisconsin has a favorable path to a Big Ten West Division title. The Badgers host Nebraska and won’t face Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan or Michigan State in crossover play.
Related Content: Early Big Ten Predictions for 2014
As mentioned in the Georgia and South Carolina write-ups, the gap in the SEC East is very small. For now, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks are slightly ahead of Missouri and Florida. Despite some key personnel departures, Gary Pinkel’s team should have a good shot at repeating as the East Division champion. Maty Mauk will provide a seamless transition from James Franklin at quarterback, and Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are set to replace Henry Josey at running back. Replacing left tackle Justin Britt and guard Max Copeland are the biggest question marks on offense. On defense, ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, along with cornerback E.J. Gaines are huge losses. But the Tigers have the necessary depth to ensure there’s not a huge drop in production. Road trips to South Carolina, Florida and Texas A&M will be tough, but Missouri hosts Georgia, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and key non-conference games against Indiana and UCF.
New coach Steve Sarkisian isn’t walking into a rebuilding effort, as the Trojans finished 2013 with 10 victories. Quarterback Cody Kessler will have to hold off redshirt freshman Max Browne for the starting spot, but Kessler finished last season on a high note by throwing for 344 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State. Marqise Lee entered the NFL Draft, leaving Nelson Agholor as the No. 1 target. The offensive line is thin on depth and center Marus Martin, guard John Martinez and tackle Kevin Graf must be replaced. With the Trojans short on proven receivers, expect the ground attack to lead the way on offense next year. The good news for Sarkisian is USC isn’t short on talented runners, including Javorius Allen, Tre Madden and Ty Isaac. Safety Dion Bailey and lineman George Uko left early for the NFL Draft. But the rest of the defense returns largely intact, including standout end Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and safety Su’a Cravens. USC has a challenging schedule, including road trips to Stanford, Arizona, Washington State and UCLA. But the Trojans miss Oregon in crossover play and Arizona State travels to Los Angeles next year.
17. Arizona State
UCLA is the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South, but Arizona State and USC aren’t far behind. The Sun Devils’ quest to repeat as the division champs starts with an explosive offense that averaged 39.7 points per game in 2013. Quarterback Taylor Kelly headlines the offense, but he will have help from running back D.J. Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong. Having an offense capable of scoring 40 points a game is critical, especially with a defense that has several holes to fill. Gone are tackle Will Sutton, end Davon Coleman, linebackers Carl Bradford and Chris Young, cornerbacks Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby. A rebuilding defense will have time to grow with Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado to open the season. But Arizona State’s next four games will define how high it can climb in the Pac-12 standings: UCLA, at USC, Stanford and at Washington.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins are huge losses, but Clemson kept one of the top offensive play-callers in college football on its staff – Chad Morris. With Morris returning, the Tigers will rank among the best offenses in the ACC once again. Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson will battle to replace Boyd, while the receiving corps will turn to Mike Williams, Adam Humphries and Charone Peake to become the top targets in the passing game. With Vic Beasley returning at defensive end, Clemson should have one of the top defensive fronts in the ACC. The cornerback spot is a concern, especially after Bashaud Breeland left early for the NFL. Redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander will be a player to watch in the secondary next year.
Related Content: Early ACC Predictions for 2014
19. Ole Miss
With LSU losing a chunk of talent to the NFL, the door is open for Ole Miss to make a run at third place in the SEC West. Despite losing receiver Donte Moncrief to the NFL, the Rebels are poised to push LSU in the West Division and exceed last year’s eight victories. Quarterback Bo Wallace will benefit from another offseason to rehab his shoulder, while Laquon Treadwell is set to replace Moncrief as the top option at receiver. Three starters depart from the line, but Laremy Tunsil is back after a standout freshman season, and guard Aaron Morris returns after missing nearly all of 2013 due to a knee injury. Linebacker Mike Marry and end Cameron Whigham will be missed, but the defense returns nearly intact. This unit will benefit from another year of development out of defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, safety Tony Conner and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. The Rebels host Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama but travel to Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and LSU. Ole Miss opens the year with a neutral site matchup against Boise State in Atlanta.
20. Notre Dame
It’s been a busy offseason for Brian Kelly. The Fighting Irish lost both of their coordinators (Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco) to head coaching jobs, and tight end Troy Niklas, running back George Atkinson III, defensive end Stephon Tuitt and tackle Louis Nix III all left for the NFL. Perhaps lost in the roster and coaching staff turnover is the return of quarterback Everett Golson. Although Golson will have some rust after missing a year of college football, his return is a boost to the passing game. Replacing Tuitt and Nix III is a tough assignment for new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. But the cupboard isn’t empty. Linebacker Jaylon Smith had a standout freshman season (67 tackles), the line can restock with Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones. The schedule is tough, but Stanford, Northwestern, Louisville, Michigan and North Carolina come to South Bend.
Washington deserves an A+ for its hire of Chris Petersen, and the Huskies will be one of the Pac-12’s most-intriguing teams to watch in 2014. While Petersen oversaw some of the nation’s top offenses at Boise State, expect defense to carry Washington next year. Seven starters return for coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, including linebacker Shaq Thompson and end Hau’oli Kikaha. Offensively, the Huskies will be solid, but quarterback Keith Price, running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be tough to replace. Cyler Miles is slated to replace Price after throwing for 418 yards and four scores in eight games in 2013. A favorable schedule should allow Washington to open the year 4-0 before Stanford comes to Husky Stadium on Sept. 27.
Related Content: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2014
22. Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is gone, but the Aggies aren’t short on talent. Kevin Sumlin recruited a top-10 class last season and could have a top-five haul in 2014. Replacing Manziel is the No. 1 priority in spring ball for Sumlin and coordinator Jake Spavital. Senior Matt Joeckel has the most experience, but Kenny Hill and incoming freshman Kyle Allen have more upside. The supporting cast is solid for the new quarterback. Brandon Williams, Tra Carson and Trey Williams form a solid trio in the backfield, while four starters return on the line. After allowing 475.8 yards and 32.2 points a game on defense in 2013, the Aggies need considerable improvement to help an offense that will slightly regress without Manziel and receiver Mike Evans. Although the numbers on defense were awful last season, Texas A&M had a host of underclassmen playing major snaps. This unit should be better by default, but another recruiting class is needed to help establish more talent and depth.
23. Kansas State
The Wildcats were one of the Big 12’s hottest teams to finish 2013, winning six out of their final seven games. Despite some personnel losses, Bill Snyder’s team is poised to build off that momentum next year. Kansas State’s offense has to find a new go-to running back with John Hubert expiring his eligibility, but quarterback Jake Waters returns, and Daniel Sams can move to an all-purpose threat if necessary. Receiver Tyler Lockett is quietly one of the nation’s best. Despite only two returning starters, the Wildcats’ defense finished third in the Big 12 in fewest yards allowed and held their opponents to 22.9 points per game. This unit will have a few holes to fill at each level, but end Ryan Mueller is one of the top defenders in the Big 12. Kansas State plays Auburn in non-conference action, while Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State visit Manhattan.
A new era begins in Austin next year. Charlie Strong takes over for Mack Brown after a four-year stint at Louisville. Can Strong return Texas to the nation’s elite? The Longhorns have talent, but Strong needs some time to find answers on offense. David Ash returns at quarterback after missing most of 2013 due to a concussion. But he will be pushed for the No. 1 spot by sophomore Tyrone Swoopes this spring. Until Strong and his staff can settle on a quarterback, expect the ground attack to be featured on offense. Texas has a wealth of talent at running back, but Johnathan Gray is recovering from a torn Achilles. Strong is known as one of college football’s top defensive coaches, and he inherits a unit that allowed 407.2 yards per game in 2013. Expect immediate improvement with Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford calling the plays. This unit received a boost in January when Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs decided to return for their senior season.
Another year, more uncertainty in the Coastal Division. North Carolina and Duke will be in the mix, but for now, an early edge goes to the Hurricanes. Is 2014 the year Miami finally plays for the ACC title? The offense has averaged at least 30 points a game in each of the last two seasons, and there’s firepower returning with running back Duke Johnson and receiver Stacy Coley. Departing quarterback Stephen Morris had an inconsistent, but productive career. Will Memphis transfer Ryan Williams replace Morris? Or will offensive coordinator turn to sophomore Gray Crow, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen or incoming freshman Brad Kaaya? Quarterback is a huge question mark, but the defense is an even bigger issue. Miami allowed 426.4 yards per game (5.7 yards per play) in 2013 and ranked 10th in the ACC in points allowed (26.8 ppg). Despite the lackluster numbers over the last two years on defense, this unit has reason to expect improvement. Linebacker Denzel Perryman and end Anthony Chickillo decided to return for their senior year, and Tracy Howard could be one of the top cornerbacks in the ACC in 2014. More talent is needed on defense, but Miami has to show improvement if it wants to win the Coastal.
The Next Five Teams
Hawkeyes must replace entire linebacking corps, but a favorable schedule (no Ohio State or Michigan State in crossover play) should have Kirk Ferentz’s team in the mix for the Big Ten West Division title.
27. North Carolina
The offensive line and defense are a concern for Larry Fedora’s team. However, the Tar Heels should be dynamic on offense behind quarterback Marquise Williams, running back T.J. Logan and receiver Quinshad Davis.
There’s simply no way the Gators can be as bad as they were last season. The offense won’t be dynamic but improvement is expected. Florida should be solid on defense.
29. Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy has a significant rebuilding effort ahead in 2014. The Cowboys lose 28 seniors, including quarterback Clint Chelf, linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey, cornerback Justin Gilbert and defensive tackle Calvin Barnett. Receiver Josh Stewart also declared for the NFL Draft.
30. Mississippi State
Dan Mullen’s 2014 squad should be the best in his tenure. Quarterback Dak Prescott returns after averaging 251.7 total yards per game in 2013, and the defense has to replace only one starter.
A week after James Franklin decided to leave for Penn State, Vanderbilt has found his replacement. According to the Tennessean, Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason will be the Commodores’ next coach.
Mason is a highly regarded defensive coach and was a key piece in Stanford’s recent run of success. The Arizona native worked at Stanford from 2010-13, including the last three years as the defensive coordinator.
Prior to his stint at Stanford, Mason worked for three years as an assistant with the Vikings (2007-09) and served as an assistant at various stops in college from 1994-2006.
Mason’s experience at an academic institution like Stanford should be a huge plus at Vanderbilt. And he is also regarded as an excellent recruiter and motivator.
There's no question James Franklin set the bar high for Vanderbilt, and Mason has some work to do in order to get the Commodores back in a bowl game in 2014. This appears to be a solid hire for Vanderbilt and one that should help continue to improve its football program.
#Vandy will make a formal announcement this afternoon regarding Derek Mason's hire & a press conference is likely for tomorrow morning— Jeff Lockridge (@jefflockridge) January 17, 2014
Derek Mason is indeed #Vandy's next head coach. Vandy donor and search committee member John Ingram: "Yes sir! ... I am very excited."— Jeff Lockridge (@jefflockridge) January 17, 2014
The Big Ten is set to grow by two teams next year, but a familiar set of programs will lead the way in the conference in 2014.
Ohio State is the early favorite to win the Big Ten next season, but Michigan State and Wisconsin are the next two teams in the mix. The Spartans are the defending Big Ten champions but have a few holes to fill on defense. The Badgers have a favorable slate in the West Division, but similar to Michigan State, Gary Andersen’s team has a few holes concerns on defense.
Penn State made a splash by hiring James Franklin away from Vanderbilt. But the Nittany Lions are still banned from postseason play for 2014. Michigan is one of the conference’s biggest wildcards. The Wolverines have talent. But Brady Hoke’s team underachieved in 2013, and left tackle Taylor Lewan departs from an already questionable offensive line.
The Big Ten welcomes Rutgers and Maryland into the mix next year. The Scarlet Knights finished 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference last season, but there’s some talent returning to Piscataway. The Terrapins are coming off their first bowl appearance under coach Randy Edsall. But with the move to the Big Ten, the expectations (and competition) will be higher starting in 2014.
Early East Division Predictions for 2014
by Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
1. Ohio State
Buckeye Nation received huge news when two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller announced he will return for his senior season. His supporting cast on offense, however, is what will give preseason prognosticators pause when considering this team for playoff contention. Four starters along the line are gone, as is stud workhorse Carlos Hyde, so Urban Meyer will need to rebuild his offensive front and find playmakers to support Miller — a guy who already takes too many hits. Meyer finds himself in much better shape on defense. After losing all four D-Line starters entering last season, Meyer could boast the best defensive line in the nation in 2014. An elite front will help alleviate concerns about the departure of star playmakers like Ryan Shazier. The schedule sets up nicely for Ohio State, with the Bucks missing what could be the top four teams in the West — Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. Home games with Virginia Tech and Michigan are certainly interesting, but two late-season trips to Happy Valley and East Lansing are likely the toughest two games of the year for Ohio State.
2. Michigan State
For the first time since Kirk Cousins returned for his senior season, the Spartans head into spring practice with a known commodity at quarterback. Connor Cook hasn’t lost a Big Ten game as a starter (9-0) and will get his star tailback Jeremy Langford back, giving this team tremendous balance on offense. Replacing three starters up front on the line and finding a go-to target to replace Bennie Fowler will be key. But having the backfield locked in stone is an excellent starting point. Conversely, for the first time in years, there are major question marks on the defensive side of the ball. Keeping defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi in the fold might have been the biggest piece of offseason news for Spartans fans, as The Broyles Award winner is the architect of the vaunted MSU defense. Narduzzi has his work cut out for him, however. The Spartans have to replace two senior defensive tackles, two senior linebackers, the Thorpe Award winner in Darqueze Dennard and a senior safety in Isaiah Lewis. Never fear, there is plenty of talent in East Lansing, but don’t expect to be ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense again. The schedule has some major speed bumps — a road trip to Oregon in Week 2, for example — but huge divisional swing games with Ohio State and Michigan will come at home, giving the defending Big Ten champs as much of a claim to the B1G throne as anyone else in the preseason.
Brady Hoke knows the pressure to win is growing in Ann Arbor, as evidenced by firing offensive coordinator Al Borges for Doug Nussmeier nearly two weeks after the season ended. Nussmeier's first order of business is to develop consistency and efficiency from his supposed star quarterback Devin Gardner. The senior-to-be has shown flashes of Heisman brilliance in some games (SEE: Notre Dame, Ohio State) while causing fans to shake their heads in other contests (SEE: Every other game). Improved offensive line play, despite replacing both tackles, and an effective running game would go a long way in helping Gardner iron out his kinks. With Jeremy Gallon gone, someone around him needs to step up and make plays, be it tight end Devin Funchess or rising sophomore Derrick Green. The defense shouldn’t be an issue as seven starters return to a unit that has been ranked in the top half of the Big Ten every year since finishing dead last in defense the season before Hoke arrived. Non-conference games at Notre Dame and Utah at home certainly won't be easy, and both matchups come before a tough start to conference play: Minnesota, at Rutgers, Penn State and at Michigan State. Indiana, Northwestern an open week and Maryland make for a nice build-up, however, to the season-ending trip to Columbus. The schedule isn’t overly difficult considering how tough the East Division should be so Hoke will be expected to make obvious headway in 2014 — or his job could be in jeopardy.
4. Penn State
There are plenty of know commodities for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have a franchise quarterback in Christian Hackenberg and a vibrant new head coach in James Franklin. Penn State also has nine of 11 starters backs on defense as well. Holes need to be plugged along the offensive line where the Lions lose three starters and replacing Allen Robinson, the program’s most prolific pass catcher, won’t be easy. But Franklin and Hackenberg have plenty of weapons to work with at tight end and running back. The key for PSU, as is the case for all teams facing roster sanctions, will be depth throughout the season. Facing UCF in Dublin to start the year won’t be nearly as tough without Blake Bortles, so PSU could be an easy favorite in each of the first five games. The toughest road trip comes at Michigan but is sandwiched between off weekends and Franklin will get two weeks to prepare for Ohio State at home on Oct. 25. The road schedule isn’t daunting at all with key swing home games with Ohio State, Michigan State and Maryland coming in Beaver Stadium. If Franklin can correct some wrongs, like the bizarre performance at Indiana in 2013, then Penn State should easily post a winning record — which would mean a trip to a bowl game should the NCAA lift the sanctions. The Nittany Lions won’t play any of the projected top four teams from the West.
This fall will usher in a brand new era for Maryland football. While there is a lot to like about the overall direction of the program under Randy Edsall, the schedule looks extremely daunting. The non-conference slate includes games with “Big 5” teams West Virginia and Syracuse before Big Ten play begins at Indiana. After that, however, it is hard to find wins until the season finale against Rutgers. The Terps will play arguably the toughest six-game Big Ten schedule in the league next fall: Ohio State, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Michigan State and at Michigan. There is good news for a team that has shown improvement each year of Edsall’s tenure, though. Four starters are back along the offensive line, along with oft-injured quarterback C.J. Brown, and electric superstar Stefon Diggs should be back after missing most of 2013. On defense, 10 of the 11 players who started in the bowl game should be back as well. The roster is finally returning to respectability in College Park, but the move to the Big Ten will likely hurt this team in the short term due to an increased level of competition.
The Hoosiers have improved every year under Kevin Wilson — from one win to four wins to five wins overall. But improvement in Year Four might be a tall order. Wilson’s offenses have taken major strides and should once again be potent behind the leadership of both Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. But the defense has a long way to go after it finished dead last in the Big Ten at 527.9 yards per game allowed and 6.74 yards per play. The defense does have 10 starters returning but the question remains if that is a good or bad thing? Five of the 10 were freshmen and sophomores, so logic would indicate improvement on this side of the ball. However, the East Division schedule makers didn’t do IU any favors. Over a seven-week span from Oct. 11 to Nov. 22, Indiana will play at Iowa, Michigan State, at Michigan, Penn State, at Rutgers and at Ohio State. The next step for Wilson is a bowl game but that might be too much to ask in 2014.
Kyle Flood will have his work cut out for him as he enters the Big Ten in 2014. The schedule in the East Division is already a significant increase from the American Athletic Conference. However, crossover games with Nebraska and Wisconsin, along with a long non-conference trip to face Washington State on the road, makes a postseason berth a difficult proposition in Piscataway next fall. The good news is Gary Nova returns under center along with eight other offensive starters. The defense only loses four starters and developing front-seven mainstays like Steve Longa, Darius Hamilton, Kevin Snyder and Djwany Mera have loads of upside and each started every game of the season minus one (Hamilton against Cincinnati). There are reasons to be excited about Rutgers football as it moves into the Big Ten, but a winning record in 2014 might not be one of them.
Early West Division Predictions for 2014
by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Gary Andersen’s second year in Madison shouldn’t be much different than the first. The Badgers will continue to rely on one of the conference’s top ground attacks, especially with Melvin Gordon returning for another season instead of leaving for the NFL. James White departs as Gordon’s backfield mate, but Corey Clement is a capable replacement. Wisconsin’s passing attack has to perform better in 2014, and the coaching staff will likely give Tanner McEvoy, Bart Houston and incoming freshman D.J. Gillins a chance to unseat Joel Stave under center. The defense has several new faces stepping into starting roles, as linebackers Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong, end Ethan Hemer and fellow linemen Pat Muldoon and Beau Allen depart. Borland was one of the top defenders in the Big Ten in 2013 and leaves big shoes to fill next year. Wisconsin opens the year with a non-conference matchup against LSU but hosts Nebraska and Minnesota in conference play. The Badgers won’t play Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan in the regular season, and their toughest road game could be at Iowa on Nov. 22.
After a 4-8 mark in 2012, low expectations surrounded Iowa heading into the 2013 season. But the Hawkeyes were one of the top surprise teams in college football, finishing 8-5 with losses to Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and LSU. There’s certainly no shame in any of those five defeats, and with most of its core returning in 2014, Iowa is positioned to contend for the West Division title. Quarterback Jake Rudock, left tackle Brandon Scherff and running back Mark Weisman headline the returnees on offense. The Hawkeyes have room to improve on offense after finishing ninth in the Big Ten (conference games only) in yards per game. The defense returns mostly intact, but all three starters are gone from the linebacking corps. The Hawkeyes have one of the Big Ten’s most favorable schedules next season. There’s no Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State in crossover play, while Nebraska and Wisconsin visit Kinnick Stadium in November.
The Cornhuskers take the third spot in our early Big Ten predictions for 2014, but Bo Pelini’s team isn’t far behind Wisconsin and Iowa. Nebraska ended last year with a little momentum, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl to earn the sixth season of at least nine wins under Pelini. Can the Cornhuskers build off that momentum next year? With running back Ameer Abdullah returning, the biggest question mark on offense turns to the quarterback situation. Tommy Armstrong has the edge to start entering spring practice, but redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push for the starting spot. The offensive line returns only one starter and will be a focal point for the staff in the spring. Nebraska allowed only 318.5 yards per game in conference action in 2013 and most of the front seven returns intact. End Randy Gregory should be in the mix for All-American honors. The biggest concern on defense is the secondary. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, safety Andrew Green and cornerback Ciante Evans have expired their eligibility.
Minnesota takes the No. 4 spot in our early West Division, but Northwestern should bounce back in 2014. The Golden Gophers dropped their first two Big Ten games last year but rallied to win four in a row, including a 24-10 win over Penn State and a 34-23 victory over Nebraska. Minnesota finished 2013 by losing its last three games, but there’s clear progress under coach Jerry Kill. The Golden Gophers have a tough road slate ahead in 2014, with trips to Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan and TCU on the schedule. Mitch Leidner heads into spring practice with an edge at quarterback after Philip Nelson decided to transfer. Running back David Cobb headlines an offense that should lean on its ground attack in 2014. The defense ranked fourth in the Big Ten by holding opponents to 22.2 points a game last year. This unit will have a few personnel losses to overcome, including tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, linebacker Aaron Hill and cornerback Brock Vereen.
The Wildcats were one of the top disappointments in the Big Ten last year. Northwestern was pegged by some as a preseason top-25 team but finished 5-7 and missed on a bowl for the first time since 2007. Expect the Wildcats to return to the postseason in 2014, especially with a healthy Venric Mark returning at running back. Kain Colter departs at quarterback, but Trevor Siemian has experience and will face competition from Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti. Another reason for optimism on offense is the return of all five starters on the offensive line. Northwestern allowed 423.4 yards per game on defense last season, but most of last year’s starting group returns. End Tyler Scott, linebacker Damien Proby and tackle Will Hampton must be replaced.
The Fighting Illini made a two-game improvement in the win column from 2012 to 2013. Coach Tim Beckman enters 2014 on the hot seat, but he has some help coming in the way of former Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt. The sophomore will be eligible to play in 2014 after sitting out a year due to a transfer. Lunt should provide a seamless transition from Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. Lunt’s supporting cast is a concern, as the top three statistical receivers from last year are gone, and two starters depart from the offensive line. Despite the personnel losses, the offense should be the strength for this team. But the defense is another story. The Fighting Illini allowed 35.4 points a game in 2013 and ranked 11th in the conference in yards allowed per contest. This unit doesn’t lose much, but does Illinois have enough talent to show drastic improve next season?
Darrell Hazell had a less-than-stellar debut at Purdue, but the Boilermakers didn’t have a wealth of talent on the roster either. After hitting rock bottom last year, Purdue should show signs of improvement in 2014. The Boilermakers have to replace left tackle Kevin Pamphile, receiver Gary Bush and right tackle Justin Kitchens, but the rest of the offense returns intact. Quarterbacks Danny Etling, Austin Appleby and incoming freshman David Blough are talented and will improve with more snaps. Running back Akeem Hunt and receivers DeAngelo Yancey and Cameron Posey will be the top playmakers on offense. While the offense has to improve to escape the cellar in the West Division, the defense is also a concern after finishing 10th in the conference last year. The Boilermakers allowed 459.9 yards and 38 points per game in 2013. There’s a handful of significant losses on defense for Hazell, as end Bruce Gaston, nose guard Ryan Isaac, cornerback Ricardo Allen and end Greg Latta all depart. Purdue misses Ohio State in crossover play, but Michigan State visits Ross-Ade Stadium in early October.
An underrated part of coaching is hiring the right coordinators. College football head coaches can be strong X’s and O’s leaders, but coordinators are a huge piece of the puzzle and are often the fall guy when things go wrong. And if a coach is more of a program CEO, then coordinators and position coaches become even more important.
If you need proof of how important coordinator changes are, take a look at the national championship game. Florida State was forced to revamp its staff after six assistant coaches departed in the offseason. However, Jimbo Fisher made the right hires, including bringing Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt over from Tuscaloosa to coordinate the defense. Pruitt was a key piece in the Seminoles’ national title run but left for Georgia a week after hoisting the crystal ball. Auburn also had two new coordinators in 2013.
Pruitt and Auburn coordinators Ellis Johnson and Rhett Lashlee are just a small sample of the top hires for 2013. BYU's Robert Anae, Wisconsin's Dave Aranda and LSU's Cam Cameron all made significant contributions to their new team.
As we look to put a bow on the 2013 season, let’s take a look at some of the top coordinator hires from last year and the impact it made on some of the teams.
College Football's Top Coordinator Hires from the 2013 Season
Robert Anae, offensive coordinator, BYU
Anae returned to BYU in 2013 after a two-year stint at Arizona. The veteran coach installed an up-tempo attack in Provo, which was a good fit for new quarterback Taysom Hill. The Cougars averaged 493.7 yards per game and scored 30.2 points per contest. Both of those numbers were an improvement from 2012. BYU has room to improve in the red zone and needs to eliminate a few turnovers, but Anae’s return gave the Cougars’ offense an identity and an uptick in production.
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
Aranda followed Gary Andersen from Utah State to Wisconsin and guided the Badgers to a No. 7 national rank in total defense in 2013. Wisconsin's defense allowed just 4.7 yards per play, forced 21 turnovers and allowed just 16.3 points per game. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider the Badgers were transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 approach. Aranda’s defense at Utah State ranked No. 14 nationally in 2012, and his defenses at Hawaii showed marked improvement during his two years with the Warriors. Aranda is an underrated coordinator and will have his work cut out for him this offseason, as the Badgers have several key players leaving.
Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Head Coaches from 2013
Don Brown, defensive coordinator, Boston College
As expected, Brown made a huge difference for Boston College’s defense. After recording only six sacks in 2012, the Eagles picked up 35 in 2013. Brown is known as an aggressive play-caller, which helped Boston College record 20 turnovers and finish third in the ACC in red zone defense. Despite some personnel losses for 2014, the Eagles are in good shape on defense with Brown calling the signals.
Cam Cameron, offensive coordinator, LSU
If Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt is the top coordinator hire from this season, Cameron is a close second. The veteran coach made a big difference in LSU’s offense in 2013. The Tigers ranked 11th in the SEC in passing in 2012 and averaged only 374.2 yards per game. Cameron helped to develop Zach Mettenberger into an All-SEC candidate at quarterback, while the offense averaged 453.3 yards per game. LSU also averaged six more points per contest in Cameron’s first season.
Geoff Collins, defensive coordinator, Mississippi State
Collins was promoted to call the defensive signals for Mississippi State in 2013. The Georgia native came to Starkville in 2011 and served as an assistant at FIU, UCF and Alabama prior to his stint with the Bulldogs. Collins helped Mississippi State improve in four critical defensive categories (pass, rush, total and scoring), while the Bulldogs ranked fourth in the SEC in third-down defense. Mississippi State also forced 25 turnovers and allowed only 19 plays of 30 yards or more. With a slew of talent returning next year, Collins should have the Bulldogs’ defense performing at an even higher level in 2014.
Bill Cubit, offensive coordinator, Illinois
The Fighting Illini’s offense ranked last in the Big Ten in points and yards per game in 2012. Tim Beckman needed a quick fix, and Cubit proved to be the right answer. Illinois averaged 426.7 yards per game in 2013 (No. 5 in the Big Ten) and scored 30 points seven times last season. Cubit’s worked wonders for quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. This offseason, he gets to develop Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt.
Ryan Day, offensive coordinator, Boston College
There wasn’t much flash to Boston College’s offense, but that’s not a necessity when you have a running back like Andre Williams. Under Day’s direction, the Eagles averaged nearly one more yard per play in 2013 (6.04 to 5.13 in 2012). Boston College was lethal in the red zone, converting 32 of 33 attempts for scores. Day has to develop a new quarterback for next season, but he can lean on a veteran offensive line and running back Myles Willis to lead the way early in the year.
Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Head Coaches from 2013
Scott Frost, offensive coordinator, Oregon
Replacing Chip Kelly as Oregon’s play-caller was no easy task. But Frost did an admirable job this year. The Ducks led the Pac-12 in total offense and averaged 7.6 yards per play. Oregon’s scoring average was down slightly in 2013 (45.5) from 2012 (49.6). However, the Ducks had more plays of 30 yards or more this season (41) than last year (36). Frost is a rising star in the assistant ranks and will be a head coach in the next few seasons.
David Gibbs, defensive coordinator, Houston
After working as the defensive coordinator at Minnesota (1997-00) and Auburn (2005), Gibbs dropped off the college radar for a few years. He spent time as an assistant with the Chiefs and Texans, along with a one-year stop in the UFL before joining Houston’s staff in 2013. Gibbs made an immediate impact on the Cougars’ defense. Houston finished ninth in the American Athletic Conference in yards allowed, but this unit made up for the yards by forcing a whopping 43 turnovers. The Cougars also finished third in the conference in red zone defense and held opponents to just 21.8 points per game.
Eddie Gran, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati
Gran has a wealth of experience as an assistant, starting his coaching career at Cal Lutheran in 1987. But despite his experience, Gran was never a play-caller until 2013 at Cincinnati. The Bearcats had seven starters returning on offense and didn’t miss a beat under the new coaching staff. Cincinnati led the American Athletic Conference by averaging 472.1 yards per game and nearly matched its scoring average from 2012 (32.1 in 2013 to 32.3 in 2012).
Chuck Heater, defensive coordinator, Marshall
Marshall’s defense was simply awful in 2012. The Thundering Herd ranked last in Conference USA in scoring defense (43.1 ppg) and allowed 456.6 yards per game. But under Heater’s direction, Marshall’s defense showed significant progress. The Thundering Herd allowed just 4.9 yards per play in 2013 and finished fifth in Conference USA in total defense (368.7 ypg). Marshall held its opponents to 22.9 points per game, generated 32 sacks and forced 26 turnovers.
Josh Henson, offensive coordinator, Missouri
Henson had some good fortune on his side, as the Tigers regained the services of running back Henry Josey and had a healthy James Franklin at quarterback this year. But the first-year play-caller pushed the right buttons in 2013. Missouri averaged 25.8 points a game in 2012, but Henson guided this attack to average of 39.1 in 2013. The offense also recorded 23 plays of 40 yards or more and was third in the SEC in red zone efficiency (87.5%).
Ellis Johnson, defensive coordinator, Auburn
Auburn nearly hit rock bottom with its 3-9 record in 2012. But the Tigers quickly rebounded under the direction of Gus Malzahn, who made a splash by hiring Johnson as his defensive coordinator. Johnson was fired after one year as Southern Mississippi’s coach, but the veteran coach is right at home in the coordinator ranks. Auburn’s defense wasn’t elite (12th in the SEC in total yards allowed). However, the Tigers led the SEC in fewest third-down conversions and ranked second in the conference in red zone defense. With more talent coming from the recruiting trail and another year to learn under Johnson, Auburn’s defense should take another step forward on the field in 2014.
Rhett Lashlee, offensive coordinator, Auburn
Gus Malzahn is the main architect and play-caller for Auburn’s offense, but Lashlee is a valuable soundboard for the head coach. Lashlee played under Malzahn in high school and worked with him at Arkansas, Arkansas State and Auburn.
Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Head Coaches from 2013
Brian Lindgren, offensive coordinator, Colorado
Lindgren played a key role in the development of San Jose State quarterback David Fales and has already made an impact in one season at Colorado. The Buffaloes ranked last in the conference in total offense but improved by averaging 67.6 more yards per game than they did in 2012. With a full offseason to work with quarterback Sefo Liufau, Colorado’s offense should take another step forward in 2014.
Doug Meacham, offensive coordinator, Houston
Meacham’s stay in Houston lasted only one year, but he made an impact on the Cougars’ offense. After starting quarterback David Piland was forced to retire, the offense turned to true freshman John O’Korn. Behind Meacham’s play-calling, Houston still managed to average 419.5 yards per game (5.7 yards per play) and 33.2 points per contest. Meacham left for TCU before the bowl game, and coach Tony Levine promoted Travis Bush to call the plays for the Cougars in 2014.
Todd Orlando, defensive coordinator, Utah State
Orlando inherited seven starters from a unit that allowed only 15.4 points a game in 2012, and this unit didn’t miss a beat with a new play-caller. Utah State led the Mountain West in total defense and allowed only 4.6 yards per play. The Aggies generated 34 sacks, 30 turnovers and allowed just 17.1 points per game.
Clancy Pendergast, defensive coordinator, USC
Even though Pendergast is searching for a new job for 2014, his work with USC should not be overlooked. After spending three years at California, Pendergast had a solid grasp on offenses in the Pac-12, which helped the Trojans’ defense improve from No. 7 in the conference to No. 1 in fewest yards allowed. USC held opponents to just 21.2 points per game and led the way in red zone defense in the Pac-12.
Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Florida State
Pruitt’s debut at Florida State was a smashing success. In his first year as a defensive coordinator on the collegiate level, Pruitt had to replace seven starters from a unit that allowed just 254.1 yards per game in 2012. The Seminoles’ defense was among the best nationally once again despite the departed players, as Pruitt guided this unit to a No. 1 rank in fewest points allowed per game (12.1). Florida State also limited opponents to just 4.09 yards per play. Pruitt was hired away from Tallahassee to coordinate Georgia’s defense in 2014.
Ted Roof, defensive coordinator, Georgia Tech
Roof was hired away from Penn State to coordinate the Yellow Jackets’ defense and his first year was an improvement from Georgia Tech’s 2012 performance. The Yellow Jackets held opponents to 5.5 yards per play after allowing 5.7 last year. Georgia Tech also finished second in the ACC against the run and held opponents to just 22.8 points per game. Roof didn’t have a dynamic impact on the defense, but there was noticeable improvement in 2013.
Timm Rosenbach, offensive coordinator, UNLV
UNLV is Rosenbach’s fourth career stop as an offensive coordinator. Prior to joining Hauck’s staff in Las Vegas, he worked as the play-caller at Montana, New Mexico State and Eastern Washington. Rosenbach also has five years of experience from a stint as an assistant at Washington State. UNLV’s offense made noticeable improvement across the board in 2014. The Rebels averaged 43.9 more yards and eight points per game in 2013 than they did in 2012. Rosenbach’s work with quarterback Caleb Herring was a big reason why UNLV made a bowl trip in 2013.
One of the key pieces in Minnesota’s offense has decided to transfer. Quarterback Philip Nelson will depart Minneapolis after two years with the Golden Gophers.
Nelson threw for 1,306 yards and nine touchdowns and added 364 yards and six rushing scores in 2013.
Nelson’s 2013 numbers were a slight improvement from 2012, but the Minnesota native still has a ways to develop as a passer.
With Nelson’s decision to transfer, sophomore Mitch Leidner is expected to open spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback.
Leidner threw for 619 yards and three scores in 2013, including 205 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl loss against Syracuse.
Kill on Nelson: “Philip is a terrific young man. I wish him all the best as he continues his education and football career elsewhere,” cont— Gopher Football (@GopherFootball) January 16, 2014
Kill: "I want to thank Philip for the contributions he made to our football program both on and off the field..." cont.— Gopher Football (@GopherFootball) January 16, 2014
Kill: "...and I will do anything I can to help him both now and in the future.”— Gopher Football (@GopherFootball) January 16, 2014
The SEC is still college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 isn’t far behind in 2014.
Oregon, Stanford and UCLA each could rank inside of the top 10 in preseason polls. The Ducks should be a slight favorite to win the Pac-12, but there's not a wide gap to the Cardinal or Bruins.
Oregon has a slight edge over Stanford in our early Pac-12 predictions, but there’s very little separating these two teams in the North. With quarterback Marcus Mariota returning, along with this year’s matchup taking place in Eugene, the Ducks get the nod at No. 1 – for now.
Outside of the top trio of teams, Arizona State, USC and Washington should be preseason top 25 squads, while Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State won’t be too far behind.
The conference has plenty of depth for 2014, as California, Colorado and Utah should improve from last season’s record.
Early North Division Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, RB Thomas Tyner, WR Bralon Addison, WR Keanon Lowe, TE Johnny Mundt, LT Tyler Johnstone, LG Hamani Stevens, C Hroniss Grasu, RG Cameron Hunt, RT Jake Fisher, DE Tony Washington, DE DeForest Buckner, DE Arik Armstead, DT Alex Balducci, LB Derrick Malone, LB Rodney Hardrick, LB Joe Walker, LB Rahim Cassell, LB Tyson Coleman, LB Torrodney Prevot, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB Troy Hill, CB Dior Mathis, S Erick Dargan
Key Losses: RB De’Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, WR Daryle Hawkins, DT Taylor Hart, DT Wade Keliikipi, DT Ricky Heimuli, LB Boseko Lokombo, CB Terrance Mitchell, FS Avery Patterson, SS Brian Jackson
As we mentioned in the introduction, it’s a close call between Oregon and Stanford for the No. 1 spot in the Pac-12 North. These two teams won’t be separated by many spots in most preseason top 25 rankings, but for now, a slight edge goes to the Ducks. Why Oregon over Stanford? Marcus Mariota is back for one more year in Eugene, and the Ducks return five starters on the line. There’s also no shortage of skill players at Mariota’s disposal. New defensive coordinator Don Pellum won’t have to make too many tweaks to a defense that led the Pac-12 in fewest yards per play (4.6).
Key Returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, RB Barry Sanders, WR Ty Montgomery, WR Devon Cajuste, WR Michael Rector, WR Kodi Whitfield, LT Andrus Peat, OT Kyle Murphy, OG Joshua Garnett, DE Henry Anderson, DE Blake Lueders, DT David Parry, LB A.J. Tarpley, LB James Vaughters, LB Joe Hemschoot, LB Kevin Anderson, CB Alex Carter, CB Wayne Lyons, S Jordan Richards
Key Losses: RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson, LG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser, RT Cameron Fleming, DE Josh Mauro, DE Ben Gardner, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, LB Jarek Lancaster, DB Usua Amanam, S Ed Reynolds, S Devon Carrington
As we mentioned with Oregon's writeup, there’s not much separating Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North next season. The Cardinal will have to play the Ducks in Eugene and face UCLA, Arizona State and USC in crossover play. Add in road dates at Washington and Notre Dame and it’s easy to see why Stanford might have the toughest schedule in college football next year. Quarterback Kevin Hogan should take another step in his development in 2014, but the Cardinal will have four new starters on the offensive line. The defense loses a few key pieces (Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds), but there’s enough talent returning to keep this unit near the top of the Pac-12.
Key Returnees: QB Cyler Miles, RB Jesse Callier, RB Dwayne Washington, RB Deontae Cooper, WR Jaydon Mickens, WR Kasen Williams, WR Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR John Ross, LT Micah Hatchie, LG Dexter Charles, C Mike Criste, RG Colin Tanigawa, RT Ben Riva, DE Hau’oli Kikaha, DE Cory Littleton, DE Josh Shirley, NT Danny Shelton, DT Evan Hudson, LB Shaq Thompson, LB John Timu, LB Travis Feeney, LB Scott Lawyer, CB Marcus Peters, S Kevin King
Key Losses: QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kevin Smith, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LB Princeton Fuimaono, LB Thomas Tutogi, CB Gregory Ducre, S Sean Parker, S Will Shamburger, S Tre Watson
Behind new coach Chris Petersen, the Huskies will be a team to watch in 2014. Former coach Steve Sarkisian isn’t leaving the cupboard bare, and the schedule is very manageable. Replacing Bishop Sankey is the team’s top question mark on offense, as new quarterback Cyler Miles was solid in relief duty last season. Another positive for Washington is the return of all five starters on the offensive line. The secondary has a few holes to fill in the offseason, but the front seven could be one of the best in the Pac-12.
4. Oregon State
Key Returnees: QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, RB Storm Woods, WR Richard Mullaney, TE Connor Hamlett, TE Caleb Smith, C Isaac Seumalo, RT Sean Harlow, DE Dylan Wynn, DT Edwin Delva, LB Jabral Johnson, LB D.J. Alexander, LB Rommel Mageo, LB Caleb Saulo, LB Joel Skotte, CB Steven Nelson, S Tyrequek Zimmerman, S Ryan Murphy
Key Losses: WR Brandin Cooks, WR Kevin Cummings, LT Michael Philipp, LG Josh Andrews, RG Grant Enger, DE Scott Crichton, DT Mana Rosa, CB Rashaad Reynolds, CB Sean Martin
The Beavers started 6-1 last season but finished 1-5 in their final six games. 2013 was an up-and-down campaign for Mike Riley’s team, as it lost the opener to Eastern Washington and fell by only eight points to Stanford and by one to Oregon. The NFL Draft early entry deadline wasn’t kind to Oregon State. Receiver Brandin Cooks and end Scott Crichton left early for the next level, but quarterback Sean Mannion decided to return for his senior year. Mannion’s return is a huge plus for the offense, and the Beavers still have good talent at the skill positions. The offensive line is the biggest concern on offense next year. The defense will miss Crichton and cornerback Rashaad Reynolds. But most of the starting core returns in 2014, including safety Ryan Murphy and cornerback Steven Nelson.
5. Washington State
Key Returnees: QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, RB Teondray Caldwell, WR Gabe Marks, WR Kristoff Williams, WR Dom Williams, WR River Cracraft, WR Rickey Galvin, LT Gunnar Eklund, LG Joe Dahl, DE Xavier Cooper, DT Kalafitoni Pole, DE/LB Kache Palacio, DE/LB Destiny Vaeao, LB Darryl Monroe, LB Cyrus Coen, LB Tana Pritchard, CB Daquawn Brown, FS Taylor Taliulu
Key Losses: WR Vince Mayle, C Elliot Bosch, RG Matt Goetz, RT John Fullington, NT Ioane Gauta, LB Justin Sagote, LB Jared Byers, CB Damante Horton, CB Nolan Washington, SS Deone Bucannon, S Casey Locker
After making a three-game improvement in the win column from 2012 to 2013, can the Cougars make a similar leap in 2014? Make no mistake, Washington State should be a better overall team next season. But improving to eight or nine wins might be a challenge. Quarterback Connor Halliday will have a better grasp of Mike Leach’s system, and the Cougars return one of the top receiving corps in the Pac-12. The offensive line and getting just a bit more production from the ground game are the two spring priorities for Leach and his staff. The defense regressed slightly in the stat column last season. All-American safety Deone Bucannon will be tough to replace, and the secondary will also miss cornerbacks Damante Horton and Nolan Washington.
Key Returnees: QB Jared Goff, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Bryce Treggs, WR Chris Harper, WR Kenny Lawler, WR Darius Powe, LT Christian Okafor, C Jordan Rigsbee, RG Alejandro Crosthwaite, RT Steven Moore, DE/LB Kyle Kragen, DE/LB Puka Lopa, LB Hardy Nickerson, LB Jalen Jefferson, LB Michael Barton, LB Lucas King, CB Stefan McClure, CB Joel Willis, CB Cedric Dozier, SS Cameron Walker, FS Michael Lowe, FS Damariay Drew, S Avery Sebastian
Key Losses: TE Richard Rodgers, DE Dan Camporeale, NT Deandre Coleman, DT Viliami Moala, LB Khairi Fortt, CB Kameron Jackson
Injuries and youth played a huge role in California’s struggles last season. The Golden Bears were able to allow some of their young players to play a lot of snaps due to the injuries, but losing Richard Rodgers, Viliami Moala, Khairi Fortt and Kameron Johnson early for the NFL is a blow to the depth. While Sonny Dykes’ debut was a disappointment, it’s hard for the Golden Bears to sink much lower in 2014. Improvement should be noticeable on both sides of the ball next year. Quarterback Jared Goff will have another offseason to work under Dykes and coordinator Tony Franklin. And Dykes smartly cleaned house on defense and will hire a new coordinator for 2014. California should be more competitive next season, but a winning record is a year (or two) away.
Early South Division Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Brett Hundley, RB Paul Perkins, RB Jordon James, WR Devin Fuller, WR Jordan Payton, WR Devin Lucien, TE Thomas Duarte, OT Simon Goines, OL Scott Quessenberry, C Jake Brendel, OG Alex Redmond, RT Caleb Benenoch, DL Eddie Vanderdoes, DT Kenny Clark, DT Ellis McCarthy, DL Owamagbe Odighizuwa, LB Eric Kendricks, LB/RB Myles Jack, LB Isaako Savaiinaea, CB Ishmael Adams, CB Fabian Moreau, CB Priest Willis, S Tahaan Goodman, S Anthony Jefferson
Key Losses: WR Shaquelle Evans, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, DE Cassius Marsh, DE Keenan Graham, DT Seali’l Epenesa, LB Jordan Zumwalt, LB Anthony Barr, S Brandon Sermons
Could 2014 be a special season for UCLA? Quarterback Brett Hundley turned down a shot at the NFL for one more year with the Bruins, and a challenging schedule will allow Jim Mora’s team to make a compelling case for one of the four playoff spots. Hundley’s return is a huge plus for UCLA, and the junior should have more help from an offensive line that shuffled a handful of players into the lineup due to injuries. Replacing linebacker Anthony Barr and end Cassius Marsh will be the biggest obstacles to overcome on defense. However, Mora has recruited well, and Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes are two players poised for a bigger role in 2014. As for the schedule, UCLA has crossover games against Stanford, Oregon and Washington, along with a non-conference test against Texas. But two of those games (Oregon and Stanford) are in the Rose Bowl, and the Bruins host Arizona and USC in key Pac-12 matchups.
Key Returnees: QB Cody Kessler, RB Tre Madden, RB Javorius Allen, RB Justin Davis, WR Nelson Agholor, WR Darreus Rogers, TE Randall Telfer, LT Chad Wheeler, LG Max Tuerk, DE Leonard Williams, DL J.R. Tavai, NT Antwaun Woods, LB Hayes Pullard, LB Anthony Sarao, LB Lamar Dawson, LB Jabari Ruffin, CB Josh Shaw, CB Kevon Seymour, S Su’a Cravens, S Leon McQuay III
Key Losses: RB Silas Redd, WR Marqise Lee, TE Xavier Grimble, C Marcus Martin, RG John Martinez, RT Kevin Graf, DE George Uko, LB Morgan Breslin, LB Devon Kennard, CB Torin Harris, S Dion Bailey, S Demetrius Wright
It’s a coin flip for the No. 2 spot in the South Division between USC and Arizona State. Before spring practice gets underway, there’s very little separating these two teams. For now, a slight edge goes to the Trojans. New coach Steve Sarkisian is still dealing with scholarship limitations and depth issues at USC. However, the Trojans’ roster isn’t totally depleted. Quarterback Cody Kessler threw only one interception over his last five games and will have a deep group of running backs at his disposal. The receiving corps isn’t overflowing with options, but Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell is a solid trio to build around. The biggest concern on offense is the line, as there’s not a lot of depth, and three starters left after 2013. Assuming the defense avoids any major injuries next year, the Trojans have enough pieces returning to finish near the top of the Pac-12 in total defense again.
3. Arizona State
Key Returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, RB D.J. Foster, WR Jaelen Strong, WR Richard Smith, LG Jamil Douglas, RG Vi Teofilo, RT Tyler Sulka, DL Jaxon Hood, DL Marcus Hardison, LB Salamo Fiso, LB Carlos Mendoza, CB Lloyd Carrington, S Damarious Randall, LB/S Viliami Moeakiola
Key Losses: RB Marion Grice, WR Kevin Ozier, TE Chris Coyle, LT Evan Finkenberg, RG Kody Koebensky, DE Davon Coleman, DT Will Sutton, DT Gannon Conway, LB Carl Bradford, LB Anthony Jones, LB Steffon Martin, LB Grandville Taylor, LB Chris Young, CB Robert Nelson, CB Osahon Irabor, S Alden Darby
Todd Graham has his work cut out for him this spring. The Sun Devils are the defending Pac-12 champions, but there are a handful of standout players leaving. Offensively, there are concerns. But there’s enough returning for Arizona State to remain near the top of the Pac-12 in scoring. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is back after throwing for 3,635 yards and 28 scores last season. Running back Marion Grice will be missed, but D.J. Foster is a capable replacement. The Sun Devils may have to win a lot of shootouts next season, especially with a defense that was decimated by departures. Tackle Will Sutton, linebacker Carl Bradford, safety Alden Darby, cornerback Robert Nelson and linebacker Chris Young were all selected to the Pac-12 all-conference team in 2013. Needless to say, that’s a ton of talent to replace in one year. Arizona State does catch a break in scheduling, as UCLA and Stanford visit Tempe in 2014.
Key Returnees: RB Jared Baker, WR Samajie Grant, WR Nate Phillips, WR Garic Wharton, WR David Richards, LT Mickey Baucus, LG Cayman Bundage, C Steven Gurrola, RT Fabbians Ebbele, DE Reggie Gilbert, LB Scooby Wright, CB Jonathan McKnight, S Jared Tevis, S Tra’Mayne Bondurant, S Jourdon Grandon, S William Parks
Key Losses: QB B.J. Denker, RB Ka’Deem Carey, WR Terrence Miller, RG Chris Putton, DE Sione Tuihalamaka, NT Tevin Hood, LB Marquis Flowers, LB Jake Fischer, CB Shaquille Richardson
Rich Rodriguez has Arizona trending in the right direction (back-to-back 8-5 seasons). But the Wildcats may take a small step back in 2014, especially with quarterback B.J. Denker expiring his eligibility, and running back Ka’Deem Carey leaving for the NFL. The quarterback battle will be the biggest storyline in the spring, and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon could be the frontrunner to replace Denker. The Wildcats have options to replace Carey, but there’s no clear-cut favorite. After finishing last in the Pac-12 in total defense in 2012, Arizona made small progress in 2013. The Wildcats finished eighth last season, and on a positive note, return most of last year's starting group for 2014. A favorable schedule should allow Arizona to open 4-0 next year. But the next four games on the slate are brutal: at Oregon, USC, at Washington State and at UCLA.
Key Returnees: QB Adam Schulz, RB Bubba Poole, WR Dres Anderson, WR Geoff Norwood, LT Jeremiah Poutasi, RG Junior Salt, RT Siaosi Aiono, DE Nate Orchard, DE Hunter Dimick, LB Jason Whittingham, LB Jared Norris, LB Jacoby Hale, LB V.J. Fehoko, LB/S Brian Blechen, CB Davion Orphey, CB Justin Thomas, S Eric Rowe, K Andy Phillips
Key Losses: RB Kelvin York, WR Sean Fitzgerald, WR Anthony Denham, LG Jeremiah Tofaeono, C Vyncent Jones, DE Trevor Reilly, DT Tenny Palepoi, DT LT Tuipulotu, CB Keith McGill, S Michael Walker, DB Mike Honeycutt, TE Jake Murphy
After an 8-5 debut in the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utes are just 10-14 over their last two years. Defense certainly hasn’t been the problem in Salt Lake City. Utah has ranked seventh or higher in the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the last three seasons. Rebuilding the line will be a priority for Kyle Whittingham and coordinator Kilani Sitake, as Trevor Reilly and tackles Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu have expired their eligibility. If the Utes want to end a two-year bowl drought, the offense has to improve. And Whittingham made a solid addition to his staff by bringing aboard former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen to call the plays. Although Christensen should make a difference, the quarterback situation is unsettled. Can Travis Wilson return to the team? Or will Adam Schulz get the nod under center? Will redshirt freshman Conner Manning factor into the position? Utah won’t have much room for error to get to a bowl in 2014, as the schedule features crossover games against Oregon and Stanford, along with a non-conference matchup against Michigan.
Key Returnees: QB Sefo Liufau, RB Christian Powell, RB Michael Adkins II, WR Nelson Spruce, WR D.D. Goodson, WR Tyler McCulloch, LG Kaiwi Crabb, RG Daniel Munyer, RT Stephane Nembot, DE Juda Parker, DE Samson Kafovalu, DT Justin Solis, DT Josh Tupou, LB Addison Gillam, LB Woodson Greer III, CB Greg Henderson, CB Kenneth Crawley, S Jered Bell, S Tedric Thompson
Key Losses: WR Paul Richardson, LT Jack Harris, C Gus Handler, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, LB Derrick Webb, S Parker Orms
The Buffaloes improved their win total by three games in Mike MacIntyre’s first season, and all signs point to this program getting back on track under this coaching staff. There should be more improvement in 2014, especially as Sefo Liufau gets a full offseason of practice under his belt. As a freshman, he threw for 1,779 yards and 12 scores last season. The biggest loss on offense is receiver Paul Richardson, while the offensive line has to replace two starters. Colorado’s defense has ranked 10th or worse in the Pac-12 in yards allowed in each of the last three years. Most of last year’s core returns in 2014, including standout linebacker Addison Gillam. But can this unit make significant progress next season? The Buffaloes have to get tougher against the run and need to generate a better pass rush (only 17 sacks in 2013).