Articles By Steven Lassan

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The Big Ten had a year to forget in 2012. Two of the conference’s best teams (Ohio State and Penn State) were ineligible to compete for the postseason, while Michigan State underachieved and finished with a 7-6 mark.

While the 2012 season will go down as a year to mostly forget, the Big Ten should be in better shape for 2013. Ohio State will be a national title contender and has a chance to run the table to finish unbeaten once again next season. The Buckeyes rank as the No. 2 team in Athlon’s early top 25 for 2013.

The Legends Division will be a tight battle between Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern next season. The Cornhuskers are the early favorite to win the division crown, but don’t overlook Michigan. The Wolverines got a huge boost when tackle Taylor Lewan turned down the NFL, while quarterback Devin Gardner had a strong finish to the season. 

Early Leaders Division Predictions for 2013

1. Ohio State

Key Returnees: QB Braxton Miller, RB Carlos Hyde, RB Jordan Hall, WR Corey Brown, WR Devin Smith, LT Jack Mewhort, LG Andrew Norwell, C Corey Linsley, DE Noah Spence, DT Adolphus Washington, LB Ryan Shazier, CB Bradley Roby, S Christian Bryant, S C.J. Barnett

Key Departures: WR/TE Jake Stoneburner, RT Reid Fragel, DE John Simon, DE Nathan Williams, DT Johnathan Hankins, NT Garrett Goebel, LB Etienne Sabino, LB Zach Boren, CB Travis Howard, S Orhian Johnson

After a 12-0 season with nothing to play for, the stakes are much higher for Ohio State in 2013. The Buckeyes are expected to be in the mix to play for the national championship and will be heavily favored to win the Big Ten. Quarterback Braxton Miller is one of the top Heisman contenders next season, but the junior needs more help from the supporting cast. Although Miller was able to start all 12 games in 2012, he took a pounding from recording 227 carries. Although the Buckeyes need their quarterback to be a factor on the ground, running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall have to shoulder more of the workload next season. While the offense should lead the Big Ten in scoring again in 2013, the defense has a few question marks to answer. The line loses four key contributors, including end John Simon and tackle Johnathan Hankins. Although Ohio State has a few holes to fill, expect Urban Meyer’s team to make another run at a perfect season.

2. Wisconsin

Key Returnees: QB Curt Phillips, QB Joel Stave, RB James White, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, LG Ryan Groy, RG Kyle Costigan, RT Rob Havenstein, DE David Gilbert, DE Tyler Dippel, DT Beau Allen, DT Brendan Kelly, LB Chris Borland, LB Ethan Armstrong, FS Dezmen Southward

Key Departures: RB Montee Ball, LT Rick Wagner, C Travis Frederick, LB Mike Taylor, CB Devin Smith, SS Shelton Johnson

There’s a new coach in Madison but expect much of the same success from the Badgers. Gary Andersen comes to Wisconsin from Utah State, where he compiled a 26-24 record and helped to elevate the program to a conference title contender. Andersen will have plenty to work with in 2013, as Wisconsin returns most of its core from offense and nearly everyone on defense. Curt Phillips and Joel Stave will compete for the starting quarterback job, while James White and Melvin Gordon should be a capable combination to replace Montee Ball. The offensive line will miss tackle Rick Wagner and center Travis Frederick, but Ryan Groy, Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein is a good place to start reloading. Linebacker Mike Taylor is a tough loss, but Wisconsin could have one of the Big Ten’s best front sevens next year.  

3. Penn State

Key Returnees: RB Zach Zwinak, WR Allen Robinson, TE Kyle Carter, LT Donovan Smith, RG John Urschel, DE Deion Barnes, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Glenn Carson, LB Mike Hull, CB Adrian Amos, FS Malcolm Willis, S Stephen Obeng-Agyapong

Key Departures: QB Matt McGloin, C Matt Stankiewitch, RT Mike Farrell, DE Sean Stanley, DT Jordan Hill, LB Michael Mauti, LB Gerald Hodges, CB Stephon Morris

Despite interest from NFL teams, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien will be back in Happy Valley for 2013. And that's huge for a program in need of stability under the upcoming NCAA scholarship sanctions. O’Brien did wonders with the Nittany Lions’ offense in 2012, leading the unit to an average of 417.5 yards per game and transforming quarterback Matt McGloin into an All-Big Ten candidate. O’Brien will have his work cut out for him in 2013, as McGloin has expired his eligibility, leaving Steven Bench (eight career passes), junior college recruit Tyler Ferguson and true freshman Christian Hackenberg to compete for the starting nod. With uncertainty surrounding the quarterbacks, look for running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton to shoulder much of the early workload. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for Georgia Tech, and O’Brien promoted assistant John Butler to call the plays. Butler will have his hands full too, as first-team All-Big Ten selections in linebacker Michael Mauti and defensive tackle Jordan Hill will be difficult to replace.

4. Indiana

Key Returnees: QB Cameron Coffman, QB Tre Roberson, RB Stephen Houston, WR Cody Latimer, WR Shane Wynn, WR Kofi Hughes, TE Ted Bolser, LT Jason Spriggs, RG Dan Feeney, DE Ryan Phillis, DE Zack Shaw, LB David Cooper, LB Chase Hoobler, LB Flo Hardin, CB Brian Williams, S Greg Heban, S Mark Murphy

Key Departures: C Will Matte, DT Adam Replogle, DT Larry Black

The Hoosiers showed marked improvement in Kevin Wilson’s second season. Indiana increased its win total by three games and suffered four losses by four points or less. With nearly everyone back for 2013, Indiana should be able to push for six wins and a bowl appearance. The Hoosiers averaged 311.2 passing yards per game and return three capable starting quarterbacks. Tre Roberson started the first two games of the year but suffered a season-ending leg injury against UMass. In his absence, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld combined for 22 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have a solid supporting cast, which includes one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps and an offensive line that returns four starters. Fixing the defense was a top priority for Wilson when he arrived in Bloomington, but Indiana has ranked 100th or worse in total and scoring defense over the last two years. Although Adam Replogle and Larry Black are huge losses for the defensive line, there’s some hope for a turnaround since nearly everyone else on the  two-deep is back for 2013.

5. Purdue

Key Returnees: QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Hunt, WR O.J. Ross, WR Gary Bush, WR Dolapo Macarthy, DE Ryan Russell, DT Bruce Gaston, LB Will Lucas, LB Joe Gilliam, CB Ricardo Allen, CB Frankie Williams, SS Landon Feichter, S Taylor Richards

Key Departures: QB Robert Marve, RB Ralph Bolden, RB Akeem Shavers, WR Antavian Edison, LG Peters Drey, C Rick Schmeig, DT Kawann Short, LB Robert Maci, CB Josh Johnson

Despite taking Purdue to back-to-back bowl games, coach Danny Hope was fired shortly after the regular season finale against Indiana. New coach Darrell Hazell is charged with elevating the program back to Big Ten contender status, but 2013 could be a difficult year for the Boilermakers. Hazell’s rebuilding project will start on offense, as Purdue loses quarterback Robert Marve and running backs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. Rob Henry will likely get the first shot at replacing Marve under center, but he has thrown only 38 passes since starting seven games in 2010. Despite losing All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short, Purdue’s defense should show some improvement after finishing near the bottom of the Big Ten in total and scoring defense last year. Hazell did a good job of rebuilding Kent State in a short amount of time. Can he find the same quick fixes in West Lafayette in 2013?

6. Illinois

Key Returnees: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young, RB Josh Ferguson, WR Ryan Lankford, WR Darius Millines, RG Ted Karras, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Mason Monheim, LB Mike Sventina, S Earnest Thomas

Key Departures: LT Hugh Thornton, C Graham Pocic, DE Michael Buchanan, NT Akeem Spence, DT Glenn Foster, CB Terry Hawthorne, CB Justin Green, S/LB Ashante Williams, S Suppo Sanni

Tim Beckman’s first season in Champaign was a disaster. The Fighting Illini won just two games for the first time since 2006 and snapped a streak of back-to-back bowl games. While a few ups and downs can be expected in a coaching transition, considering the returning talent at Illinois in 2012, no one could have predicted a season full of blowout losses and zero wins in Big Ten play. Beckman fired co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty and demoted Billy Gonzales to receivers coach. Staff changes on offense were necessary after finishing 119th nationally in scoring, but personnel is also an issue. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is a capable player but had very little help from the running game, offensive line and receiving corps in 2012. While Scheelhaase has to play better than he did last year, the coaching staff has to get better production from the surrounding cast. The defense allowed 387.6 yards per game last season and loses a chunk of its core, including nose tackle Akeem Spence, cornerback Terry Hawthorne and defensive end Michael Buchanan. The roster isn’t devoid of talent, but for now, the Fighting Illini will be the early favorite to finish in the cellar of the Leaders Division.
 

Early Legends Division Predictions for 2013

1. Nebraska

Key Returnees: QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah, RB Braylon Heard, WR Kenny Bell, WR Jamal Turner, WR Quincy Enunwa, LT Brent Qvale, RG Spencer Long, RT Jeremiah Sirles, DE Jason Ankrah, DT Thad Randle, DT Chase Rome, LB David Santos, CB Andrew Green, CB Josh Mitchell, DB Ciante Evans

Key Departures: RB Rex Burkhead, LG Seung Hoon Choi, C Justin Jackson, DE Eric Martin, DE Cameron Meredith, DT Baker Steinkuhler, LB Will Compton, LB Sean Fisher, LB Alonzo Whaley, S Daimion Stafford, S P.J. Smith, K/P Brett Maher

While the loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and the 45-31 defeat to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl put a damper on the end of the season, Nebraska did win 10 games for the third time in four seasons. The Cornhuskers will start 2013 as a slight favorite to win the Legends Division, but Michigan and Northwestern won’t be far behind. With heavy personnel losses on defense, the offense will have to carry the team early in the season. Quarterback Taylor Martinez was one of the Big Ten’s most-improved players in 2012 and has one of the conference’s top receiving corps, as well as two rising stars at running back in Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard to use in 2013. Coach Bo Pelini will have his work cut out for him on defense, as 12 seniors are gone from the two-deep. The cupboard isn’t bare, as end Jason Ankah, linebacker David Santos and defensive backs Andrew Green and Ciante Evans are a good place to start rebuilding. Nebraska’s schedule isn’t particularly difficult in conference play, but a road trip to Michigan on Nov. 9 could decide the division title.

2. Michigan

Key Returnees: QB Devin Gardner, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Jeremy Gallon, WR Drew Dileo, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DE Frank Clark, DT Jibreel Black, NT Quinton Washington, NT Ondre Pipkins, LB Jake Ryan, LB Desmond Morgan, LB James Ross III, LB Joe Bolden, CB Raymon Taylor, CB Blake Countess, S Thomas Gordon

Key Departures: QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, LG Ricky Barnum, C Elliott Mealer, RG Patrick Omameh, DT Will Campbell, DE Craig Roh, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, SS Jordan Kovacs

As mentioned in the Nebraska writeup, there’s very little separating Nebraska and Michigan for the top two spots in Athlon’s early Big Ten predictions for 2013. Although an arm injury to quarterback Denard Robinson was a huge setback for the offense in the late October matchup against Nebraska, Devin Gardner was able to gain valuable experience. He finished with 11 touchdown tosses and 1,219 yards and clearly opens the year No. 1 on the depth chart for Michigan. While Gardner is set at quarterback, the Wolverines need a No. 1 back to emerge and must replace three starters on the interior of the line. Michigan held opponents to 320 yards per game but ranked 51st nationally against the run and loses nose tackle Will Campbell and end Craig Roh. Cornerback Blake Countess will return to the lineup after suffering a torn ACL against Alabama, while coordinator Greg Mattison is counting on a big season from sophomore nose tackle Ondre Pipkins.

3. Northwestern

Key Returnees: QB Kain Colter, QB Trevor Siemian, RB Venric Mark, WR Christian Jones, WR Rashad Lawrence, C Brandon Vitabile, RT Jack Konopka, DE Tyler Scott, DT Sean McEvilly, LB Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB Damien Proby, CB Nick VanHoose, CB Daniel Jones, S Ibrahiem Campbell, K Jeff Budzien

Key Departures: WR Demetrius Fields, LT Patrick Ward, LG Brian Mulroe, DE Quentin Williams, DT Brian Arnfelt, LB David Nwabuisi, CB Quinn Evans, S Jared Carpenter

The Wildcats are coming off a 10-win season and their first bowl victory since 1949. So what does Pat Fitzgerald have planned for an encore? How about contending for the Legends Division title? Considering the returning personnel and the losses suffered by Michigan and Nebraska, it’s not out of the question Northwestern could win the division crown in 2013. The offense averaged 31.7 points a game in 2012 and brings back most of its key personnel, including quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, along with running back Venric Mark. The biggest concern for the offense will be replacing three starters on the line. The defense gave up some big plays in key moments but finished 47th nationally in total defense and fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed. The schedule isn’t easy – especially since Northwestern plays Ohio State and Wisconsin in crossover games with the Leaders Division – but the Wildcats should be a top-25 team in 2013.

4. Michigan State

Key Returnees: QB Andrew Maxwell, QB Connor Cook, WR Keith Mumphery, WR Bennie Fowler, WR Aaron Burbridge, LT Dan France, C Jack Allen, DE Marcus Rush, DT James Kittredge, LB Max Bullough, LB Denicos Allen, LB Taiwan Jones, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Isaiah Lewis, FS Kurtis Drummond

Key Departures: RB Le’Veon Bell, TE Dion Sims, RG Chris McDonald, DE William Gholston, NT Anthony Rashad White, LB Chris Norman, CB Johnny Adams

After recording 11 wins and an Outback Bowl victory over Georgia in the 2011 season, all signs seemed to indicate Michigan State was a program on the rise for 2012. Not so fast. The Spartans backtracked, needing a bowl win over TCU just to get over .500. Quarterback play was partly to blame, as Andrew Maxwell was unable to replicate Kirk Cousins’ production. Maxwell and Connor Cook will compete for the job in the spring. Running back Le’Veon Bell left early for the NFL Draft, which leaves Nick Hill (48 yards) as the team’s leading returning rusher. Defensively, the Spartans lose a couple of key contributors but should be a strength once again in 2013. 

5. Minnesota

Key Returnees: QB Philip Nelson, RB Donnell Kirkwood, RB Rodrick Williams, WR Isaac Fruechte, LT Ed Olson, LG Tommy Olson, C Zac Epping, RT Josh Campion, DE Michael Amaefula, NT Ra’Shede Hageman, DT Roland Johnson, DT Cameron Botticelli, LB Aaron Hill, LB James Manuel, S Derrick Wells, S Brock Vereen

Key Departures: QB MarQueis Gray, DE D.L. Wilhite, LB Keanon Cooper, LB Mike Rallis, CB Troy Stoudermire, CB Michael Carter

The Golden Gophers used a favorable non-conference schedule to open 2012 4-0 and scored two victories in Big Ten play to make a bowl game for the first time since 2009. While the program isn’t ready to contend for a conference championship, Minnesota is clearly on the right track under coach Jerry Kill. For the Golden Gophers to take another step forward in 2013, quarterback Philip Nelson needs to have a big season. He threw for 873 yards and eight scores, while adding 184 yards on the ground in 2012. Nelson should be better with another offseason to work with the Golden Gophers’ offensive staff, but he needs more help from the receiving corps, as well as more punch from the running game. The defense made strides from 2011, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in total defense and fourth against the pass. Coordinator Tracy Claeys has some work to do in the back seven for 2013, especially in the secondary where cornerbacks Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire are gone.

6. Iowa

Key Returnees: RB Mark Weisman, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, RG Austin Blythe, DE Dominic Alvis, DT Louis Trinca-Pasat, DT Darian Cooper, LB Anthony Hitchens, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, CB B.J. Lowery, S Tanner Miller

Key Departures: QB James Vandenberg, WR Keenan Davis, LT Matt Tobin, C James Ferentz, DE Joe Gaglione, DT Steve Bigach, CB Micah Hyde

Coming off their first losing season since 2006, the Hawkeyes will be looking to rebound in 2013. Although there’s not a bevy of personnel losses, getting back to a bowl game won’t be easy. The first year under offensive coordinator Greg Davis was a disaster, as the Hawkeyes ranked 114th nationally in total offense and averaged just 19.3 points a game. Davis is back in 2013, and Iowa must replace quarterback James Vandenberg and top receiver Keenan Davis. The defense returns nearly intact for next year but must find a replacement for cornerback Micah Hyde and two key players in the defensive line rotation. Iowa has outperformed preseason expectations in the past. But the pressure is building on Kirk Ferentz after a disappointing season, and there’s not enough in the returning personnel to suggest a significant turnaround. 


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Teaser:
<p> Early Big Ten Football Predictions for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/early-big-east-football-predictions-2013
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With college football’s 2012 season in the books, it’s never too early to start thinking about 2013.

The Big East has gone through a lot of changes since 2011 and more shuffling is expected in the next year.

With Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the ACC, the Big East will welcome four teams from Conference USA – Memphis, Houston, SMU and UCF – into the fold for 2013. UCF will be the top contender out of the new Big East teams and could push for a spot among the top three in the final standings.

After finishing 2012 with a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida, Louisville is a clear favorite to win the Big East in 2013. The Cardinals return a Heisman contender at quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) and could make a run at the national championship with a favorable schedule.

Very Early Big East Predictions for 2013

1. Louisville

Key Returnees: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Senorise Perry, WR DeVante Parker, WR Eli Rogers, RG Jake Smith, DE Lorenzo Mauldin, DT Roy Philon, LB Preston Brown, LB Keith Brown, S Hakeem Smith, S Calvin Pryor

Key Departures: LT Alex Kupper, C Mario Benavides, CB Adrian Bushell

Coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against Florida, Louisville enters 2013 with momentum on its side. The Cardinals will be a heavy favorite to win the Big East and returns most of its core from 2012’s 11-2 team. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should make a run at All-American and Heisman honors, while the return of Senorise Perry should boost the team’s rushing attack. Finding replacements for center Mario Benavides and tackle Alex Kupper will be the top priority for offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. The defense loses only one starter (cornerback Adrian Bushell), so improvement can be expected from a unit that allowed 23.8 points a game in 2012. With the Big East losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh and gaining SMU, UCF, Houston and Memphis, Louisville’s path to an unbeaten record is favorable.

2. Cincinnati

Key Returnees: QB Brendon Kay, RB Ralph David Abernathy IV, WR Anthony McClung, LT Eric Lefeld, LG Austen Bujnoch, DT Jordan Stepp, DT Camaron Beard, LB Nick Temple, LB Greg Blair

Key Departures: RB George Winn, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, TE Travis Kelce, DE Dan Giordano, DE Brandon Mills, LB Maalik Bomar, CB Camerron Cheatham, S Drew Frey

There’s no question Louisville is the No. 1 team in the Big East for next season. As for second place? Well, that’s anyone’s guess at this point. For now, a slight edge goes to Cincinnati. There will be a coaching transition from Butch Jones to Tommy Tuberville, but the Bearcats bring back quarterback Brendon Kay and all five starters on the offensive line. Running back Ralph David Abernathy IV should have a bigger role in the offense next season, especially as Cincinnati looks to replace 1,000-yard rusher George Winn. The Bearcats finished second in the Big East in scoring defense in 2012 but must replace ends Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano, linebacker Maalik Bomar and couple of key contributors in the secondary. Tuberville is a proven winner and should keep Cincinnati among the best in the Big East in 2013.

3. Rutgers

Key Returnees: QB Gary Nova, RB Savon Huggins, WR Brandon Coleman, LT Kaleb Johnson, LG Antwan Lowery, DT Jamil Merrell, LB Jamal Merrell, SS Lorenzo Waters

Key Departures: RB Jawan Jamison, WR Mark Harrison, WR Tim Wright, RT R.J. Dill, DE Ka’Lial Glaud, DT Scott Vallone, LB Khaseem Greene, LB Steve Beauharnais, CB Logan Ryan, CB Marcus Cooper, S Duron Harmon

The Scarlet Knights started 2012 with a lot of promise but finished on a down note. After opening 9-1, Rutgers lost its final three games, including a de facto Big East title game against Louisville. The defense allowed just 14.2 points a game but must replace standouts in linebacker Khaseem Greene, cornerback Logan Ryan and defensive lineman Scott Vallone. With the defense reloading, coach Kyle Flood and his staff need to find a way to jumpstart the offense. Running back Jawan Jamison left early for the NFL, but Savon Huggins is capable of picking up the slack on the ground next year. Quarterback Gary Nova threw 13 interceptions in the final seven games and with the losses on defense, he will be counted on for a bigger role in 2013. Rutgers isn’t short on talent, but is Flood and his staff capable of finding the right answers for this team next year?

4. UCF

Key Returnees: QB Blake Bortles, RB Storm Johnson, WR Rannell Hall, WR J.J. Worton, WR Jeff Godfrey, LT Torrian Wilson, LG Jordan McCray, DE Victor Gray, DE Deion Green, DT Thomas Niles, DT E.J. Dunston, LB Terrance Plummer, CB Brandon Alexander, SS Clayton Geathers

Key Departures: RB Latavius Murray, WR Quincy McDuffie, C Jordan Rae, RT Phil Smith, DE Troy Davis, LB Jonathan Davis, LB Ray Shipman, CB A.J. Bouye, S Kemal Ishmael

The Knights are the first of the new Big East teams to factor in the preseason predictions for 2013. Making the move from Conference USA is a step up in competition, but UCF returns most of its core and its four losses from 2012 came against good competition – Ohio State, Missouri and Tulsa (twice). Quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 3,059 yards and 25 scores in his first full season as the starter and will be joined by Miami transfer Storm Johnson in the backfield. The Knights also return their top three receivers and second-team All-Conference USA left tackle Torrian Wilson on the offensive line. The defense loses a couple of key players but shouldn’t suffer a huge drop in performance. UCF has upside, so this team could easily surpass Rutgers and Cincinnati for the second spot in the Big East in 2013.

5. South Florida

Key Returnees: WR Andre Davis, WR Terrence Mitchell, C Austin Reiter, RT Quinterrius Eatmon, DE Ryne Giddins, DE Tevin Mims, DT Elkino Watson, LB DeDe Lattimore, LB Reshard Cliett, FS Mark Joyce, SS JaQuez Jenkins

Key Departures: QB B.J. Daniels, RB Demetris Murray, OL Mark Popek, DT Cory Grissom, LB Sam Barrington, LB Michael Lanaris, CB Kayvon Webster

Even though the Bulls are coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons, they could be the Big East’s surprise team in 2013. New coach Willie Taggart was one of the offseason’s best hires and should work a quick turnaround in Tampa. Taggart’s background on offense will help spark an attack that averaged just 20.6 points a game in 2012. However, the Bulls need to break in a new quarterback, as well as find a running back that can handle 20-25 carries a game. The defense ranked a disappointing seventh in the Big East in yards and points allowed but returns most of its starting core. With question marks on offense, expect South Florida to lean on its defense early in the year to win games.

6. Connecticut

Key Returnees: QB Chandler Whitmer, RB Lyle McCombs, WR Geremy Davis, WR Shakim Phillips, DE Angelo Pruitt, DT Shamar Stephen, LB Yawin Smallwood, S Byron Jones, S Ty-Meer Brown

Key Departures: WR Michael Smith, WR Nick Williams, TE Ryan Griffin, OG Adam Masters, DE Trevardo Williams, DT Ryan Wirth, LB Sio Moore, LB Jory Johnson, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Dwayne Gratz

After back-to-back 5-7 seasons, Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni will be on the hot seat entering 2013. Pasqualoni probably needs to get to a bowl game to save his job, but that task won’t be easy with heavy personnel losses. The offense has ranked among the worst in college football over the last two years and fixing this unit largely rests with finding answers on the offensive line. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer showed some promise but has to cut down on the interceptions (16). The Huskies led the Big East in total defense but loses two first-team All-Big East selections and both starting cornerbacks. Unless the offense makes major strides, it’s hard to see Connecticut getting bowl eligible in 2013.

7. Houston

Key Returnees: QB David Piland, RB Charles Sims, RB Kenneth Farrow, WR Dewayne Peace, WR Deontay Greenberry, WR Larry McDuffey, LT Rowdy Harper, C Bryce Redman, DE Zeke Riser, DT Joey Mbu, LB Derrick Matthews, CB Zach McMillian, FS Trevon Stewart, SS Kent Brooks

Key Departures: RG Jacolby Ashworth, DE Lloyd Allen, LB Phillip Steward, LB Everett Daniels

The last few spots in the early Big East power rankings are really a tossup at this point. Here’s the good news for Houston: Nearly all of its starting lineup from 2012 returns for 2013. However, the Cougars went 5-7 last year and ranked near the bottom of college football in total defense. And there’s also plenty of doubt surrounding coach Tony Levine and whether or not he can pickup where Kevin Sumlin left off. Add all of those factors in and it’s easy to see why Houston will be picked near the bottom of the Big East in 2013. The offense averaged 479.6 yards a game but lost 35 turnovers and struggled to get consistency from quarterback David Piland. The defense will be the under the direction of a new coordinator, who will be tasked to find immediate improvement after the Cougars allowed 36 points a game in 2012. 

8. Temple

Key Returnees: QB Chris Coyer, QB Juice Granger, WR Jalen Fitzpatrick, TE Cody Booth, LT Zach Hooks, LG Jeff Whittingham, NT Hershey Walton, NT Levi Brown, LB Tyler Matakevich, LB Nate D. Smith, CB Anthony Robey, CB Zamel Johnson

Key Departures: RB Montel Harris, RB Matt Brown, RT Martin Wallace, DE John Youboty, DE Marcus Green, FS Vaughn Carraway, SS Justin Gildea, K/P Brandon McManus

Steve Addazio left for Boston College, so Temple turned to a familiar face for its next head coach. Matt Rhule returns to Philadelphia after one year in the NFL, and the former Penn State linebacker will have his hands full in 2013. The Owls averaged only 322 yards a game in 2012 and must replace running backs Montel Harris and Matt Brown. Quarterback Chris Coyer was benched in favor of Juice Granger late in the year, and both will compete for the starting job in the spring. The Owls were young in some spots on defense last season and allowed 31.2 points a game. The linebacking corps is the strength, especially with Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith returning after standout freshman campaigns. 

9. SMU

Key Returnees: QB Garrett Gilbert, WR Jeremy Johnson, WR Der’rikk Thompson, LT Ben Gottschalk, LB Randall Joyner, LB Stephon Sanders, CB Kenneth Acker, CB Chris Parks, S Jay Scott

Key Departures: RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson, LG Jordan Free, RT Bryan Collins, DE Margus Hunt, NT Torian Pittman, LB Ja’Gared Davis, LB Taylor Reed

The Mustangs haven’t quite made the jump most expected when June Jones arrived in Dallas, yet have made four consecutive bowl appearances and have at least seven victories in each of their last four seasons. SMU could be a bowl team once again in 2012, but this team has some significant holes to address. Running back Zach Line (4,185 career yards) is gone, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert never got comfortable as a passer in Jones’ offense. Gilbert is back and will have plenty of help at receiver, but SMU loses three starters on the line. In addition to the question marks on offense, the Mustangs must replace impact defenders like end Margus Hunt and linebackers Ja’Gared Davis and Taylor Reed.

10. Memphis

Key Returnees:
QB Jacob Karam, RB Brandon Hayes, RB Jai Steib, WR Keiwone Malone, TE Alan Cross, RT Al Bond, DE Martin Ifedi, NT Johnnie Farms, NT Terry Redden, LB Anthony Brown, LB Charles Harris, LB Tank Jakes, SS Lonnie Ballentine, P Tom Hornsey

Key Departures: WR Marcus Rucker, LT Jordan Devey, LB Akeem Davis, CB Robert Steeples, S Cannon Smith

Behind second-year coach Justin Fuente, there’s no doubt Memphis is on the right track. The Tigers closed 2012 on a three-game winning streak and showcased a much-improved defense by finishing third in Conference USA in yards allowed. The offense still has a ways to go, but quarterback Jacob Karam and running backs Jai Steib and Brandon Hayes are back in 2013. The Tigers lose only five starters off the defensive two-deep and returns three of its top four tacklers from 2012. Expect more improvement from Memphis in 2013, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Tigers escape the basement in the Big East.


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Teaser:
<p> Early Big East Football Predictions for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, January 14, 2013 - 06:50
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-5-teams-decline-2013
Body:

The 2012 college football season ended with another SEC Championship. And the SEC’s run of dominance probably won’t end in 2013, as Alabama returns most of its core and is a heavy favorite to win the national title.

While the Crimson Tide isn’t likely to see a drop in its win total, there are a few teams poised to see a decrease in victories in 2013.

While Florida State should be one of college football’s top 20 teams next year, the Seminoles will struggle to win the conference title (and record 12 victories) with Tajh Boyd returning to Clemson for his senior year. 

Bill Snyder will reload at Kansas State but asking the Wildcats to repeat as Big 12 champions in 2013 is simply unrealistic.

LSU is losing 11 players early to the NFL Draft and still needs more production from quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

These five teams aren’t on the decline for the long haul, but they will have trouble matching their win totals from 2012.

Five College Football Teams on the Decline for 2013

Florida State
While the Seminoles met most preseason expectations with a 12-win season and an ACC Championship, matching those totals in 2013 will be difficult. EJ Manuel wasn’t an All-American quarterback, but he did throw for 41 touchdowns over the last two seasons. While Clint Trickett or Jameis Winston will need some time to learn the ropes as a full-time starter, the rest of the offense should be solid, especially with the return of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. at running back. The defense finished 2012 ranked second nationally in yards allowed but will struggle to reach that mark in 2013. The line loses talented ends Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins and must replace standout cornerback Xavier Rhodes. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is regarded as an excellent recruiter but has not called the plays on the collegiate level. Florida State isn’t going to fall out of the top 25, but the Seminoles will have trouble matching 12 wins and an ACC title next season.

Kansas State
There’s a very simple rule to follow when making predictions for the upcoming Big 12 season: Never count out the Wildcats as long as Bill Snyder is on the sidelines in Manhattan. Although Snyder is one of college football’s top coaches, Kansas State has a lot of personnel losses to overcome if it wants to repeat as Big 12 champions. Heisman finalist Collin Klein will be missed at quarterback, while receiver Chris Harper also departs after leading the team with 58 catches in 2012. While the offense shouldn't suffer much of a drop in production with one of the Big 12's top offensive lines and running back John Hubert returning, the defense is another story. The Wildcats are losing a handful of key players, including end Meshak Williams, linebacker Arthur Brown and cornerback Nigel Malone. Expect another bowl berth for Kansas State in 2013 but another conference title is out of reach.

LSU
No team has been impacted by the NFL Draft’s early entry deadline quite like LSU. The Tigers lost 11 players, including defensive linemen Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan and Sam Montgomery, along with cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid. Although LSU always recruits top talent, it will be difficult to replace the departing talent in just one offseason. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger showed some progress at the end of the year but needs to shoulder more of the offensive workload in 2013. Defensive coordinator John Chavis is regarded as one of the best in the nation but will have his hands full with a rebuilt line, the departure of linebacker Kevin Minter and two starters leaving from the secondary. LSU will be a top-15 team in 2012 but contending for a BCS bowl or SEC West title is unlikely.

Oklahoma
The Sooners have been one of college football’s most consistent winners since Bob Stoops arrived in Norman. Since 2000, Oklahoma has only two seasons of less than 10 wins and has won 32 games over the last three years. After losing 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl to Texas A&M, Stoops and his staff have been heavily criticized, especially for a defense that allowed 192.2 rushing yards per game and finished 64th nationally in yards allowed. There’s no shortage of talent in Norman, but Oklahoma will have trouble recording a double-digit win total in 2013. Quarterback Landry Jones is gone, and there’s plenty of uncertainty about who emerges as the new No. 1 passer. Blake Bell has shown promise in a limited role, but can he be the full-time quarterback? Considering the defense loses at least seven starters, it may take half of the season for Oklahoma to find the right pieces on that side of the ball. The Sooners aren’t going to fall out of the top 25, but it’s hard to envision this team winning a Big 12 title next year or matching the 10 victories from 2012.

Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights were on the doorstep of winning the Big East title in 2012 but lost in what was a de facto Big East title game to Louisville in the regular season finale. First-year coach Kyle Flood did a good job of keeping continuity from Greg Schiano’s tenure, but Rutgers lost its last three games and struggled to establish its offense. Flood will be tested even more in 2013, as the Scarlet Knights lose seven starters on defense, including standout linebacker Khaseem Greene and cornerback Logan Ryan. The offense must replace running back Jawan Jamison and needs to get quarterback Gary Nova back on track after a disappointing finish. The Big East isn’t a deep league in 2013, so the Scarlet Knights could be picked by most to finish as one of the conference’s top four teams. However, Rutgers may not reach nine victories in his final season of Big East play next year.

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With college football’s 2012 season completed, it’s time to take a look back at the season that was and review the performance of all 124 teams before 2013 kicks off.

Twenty-eight coaches made their debut at a new program in 2012 and produced a mix bag of results.

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien get a slight nod as the top three new coaches, but Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, UCLA’s Jim Mora, Arizona State’s Todd Graham and Memphis’ Justin Fuente also had a strong debut year.

While those coaches are at the top, it’s a different story for Southern Miss’ Ellis Johnson, Arkansas’ John L. Smith and Illinois’ Tim Beckman. Smith wasn’t retained, Johnson was fired, and Beckman is already making staff changes after a disappointing 2012 season.

Ranking the Performance of College Football's New Coaches from 2012

1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
2012 Record: 12-0
Grade: A+

What Went Right: Despite NCAA sanctions and a postseason ban, motivation wasn’t an issue for the Buckeyes. Behind Meyer’s leadership and the play of quarterback Braxton Miller, Ohio State completed its first unbeaten season since 2002 and served notice to the rest of college football that the Buckeyes will be back and better than ever in 2013. Ohio State also claimed its eighth victory in nine games over rival Michigan.

What Went Wrong: It’s hard to find much that went wrong with Meyer’s first season. The Buckeyes struggled to find playmakers at receiver, and the defense had its share of struggles through the first part of the season. Obviously, both issues are just being nitpicky but will be worth watching in 2013.
 

2. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
2012 Record:
11-2
Grade: A+

What Went Right: New coach. New quarterback. New conference. Three factors that should have made 2012 a difficult year for Sumlin and Texas A&M. Instead, the Aggies finished as one of college football’s top 10 teams, and quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy after recording over 5,000 yards of total offense. Texas A&M knocked off No. 1 Alabama in mid-November and its only losses came by five points or less. Sumlin is on fire on the recruiting trail, and Texas A&M should be a national title contender in 2013.

What Went Wrong: Just as we mentioned with Urban Meyer, it’s hard to find many faults in Sumlin’s debut season. The Aggies lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, and it’s imperative for Sumlin to pick the right replacement this offseason. Texas A&M’s only defeats came to Florida and LSU – a combined 21-5 – so there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the loss column.
 

3. Bill O’Brien, Penn State
2012 Record: 8-4
Grade: A+

What Went Right: After starting 0-2, Penn State rallied to finish 8-4 and beat Big Ten champ Wisconsin 24-21 in Happy Valley. Considering the personnel losses and NCAA sanctions on the program, O’Brien did an outstanding job of keeping the team together, as well as rallying the team after a tough start. Under O’Brien’s direction, the offense showed significant improvement, averaging 417.5 yards and 29.1 points a game.

What Went Wrong: With the NCAA sanctions and scholarship limitations, it’s hard to criticize O’Brien for anything that happened in Happy Valley this year. He navigated the team through a difficult season, improved the offense and so far, hasn’t lost any key players to a transfer for 2013. O’Brien has a tough task ahead of him but appears to be the right person for the job.
 

4. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
2012 Record: 7-6
Grade: A-

What Went Right: After finishing 2-10 and 0-8 in SEC play in 2011, Ole Miss was one of college football’s most improved teams. The Rebels won seven contests, including the in-state rivalry against Mississippi State and the BBVA Compass Bowl over Pittsburgh. Ole Miss hung tough against Alabama and lost by only six points to LSU. The Rebels are recruiting well, so more help is on the way for a roster that showed marked improvement in 2012.

What Went Wrong: Nothing.
 

5. Jim Mora, UCLA
2012 Record: 9-5
Grade: A-

What Went Right: Mora wasn’t the first choice for UCLA, but his debut season was very successful. The Bruins improved their win total by three games, claimed another Pac-12 South crown and defeated rival USC 38-28. Overall, not a bad season. UCLA returns most of its core next season, and the Bruins should be the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South for the third consecutive year.

What Went Wrong: The Bruins closed with three consecutive losses, including a disappointing 49-26 loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. Mora’s strong suit is defense, but UCLA finished eighth in the Pac-12 in total and scoring defense. The Bruins are on the right track, but Mora and his staff still have plenty of work to do.
 

6. Justin Fuente, Memphis
2012 Record: 4-8
Grade: A-

What Went Right: While it may seem strange to have a coach with a losing record ranked inside of the top 10, Memphis was one of college football’s worst teams in the previous two years. Fuente guided the Tigers to a three-game winning streak to close out the season and nearly defeated Arkansas State (Sun Belt champion).

What Went Wrong: Although Fuente got Memphis on track late in the year, the Tigers lost to FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin in the season opener. Statistically, this team still has a long ways to go to be competitive in the Big East. Memphis averaged only 318.3 yards per game and struggled to find a passing attack. Fuente wasn’t handed much to work with, so it’s no surprise there will be growing pains in 2013 and beyond.
 

7. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
2012 Record: 8-4
Grade: B+

What Went Right: Similar to Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, Fedora deserves credit for keeping North Carolina motivated with nothing to play for. The Tar Heels were banned from postseason play but tied for first place in the Coastal Division and snapped a five-game losing streak to rival NC State.

What Went Wrong: Finishing 8-4 in a year with no postseason possibility doesn’t leave much room for criticism. However, North Carolina lost three games by four points or less, so there’s some room to improve in close contests. Obviously, that’s being very nitpicky for a team that could win the Coastal Division in 2013. However, the division will be a tight race next year, so there’s little margin for error.
 

8. Todd Graham, Arizona State
2012 Record: 8-5
Grade: B+

What Went Right: The Sun Devils were on the doorstep of playing for the Pac-12 Championship. A 45-43 loss to UCLA in late October was the tiebreaker for the South Division title, but Arizona State still finished with eight wins and a huge victory over rival Arizona. The Sun Devils also crushed Navy 62-28 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. One of Graham’s biggest accomplishments was bringing discipline to the roster, as Arizona State finished 10th nationally in fewest penalties per game – a big improvement after ranking last in college football in 2011.

What Went Wrong: Just like many of the coaches in the top 10 of this ranking, it’s hard to criticize Graham for anything at Arizona State in 2012. Statistically, the Sun Devils have room to improve against the run and need to cut down on the sacks allowed next year. Barring any unexpected injuries, Graham has Arizona State positioned to start in the top 25 next season.  
 

9. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
2012 Record:
8-5
Grade: B+

What Went Right: Rodriguez was one of the best hires of last offseason and didn’t disappoint in his first year in Tucson. After winning four games in 2011, the Wildcats rebounded to post eight victories, including a New Mexico Bowl win over Nevada. Arizona nearly knocked off Stanford, defeated USC and beat Oklahoma State for a solid non-conference win in Week 2.

What Went Wrong: With the Wildcats having to adjust to Rodriguez’s scheme on offense and the personnel issues on defense, an 8-5 record was Arizona’s best-case scenario. Failing to score in a loss to Oregon was a disappointment, but the only real negative mark this year was a defeat to rival Arizona State.
 

10. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
2012 Record: 9-4
Grade: B+

What Went Right: DeRuyter’s first season was a success. The Bulldogs claimed a share of the Mountain West title, averaged 477.5 yards per game on offense and ranked 22nd nationally in total defense. Although Fresno State lost four games, there’s no shame in losing to Tulsa, Oregon and Boise State.

What Went Wrong: While the Bulldogs were one of the Mountain West’s best teams during the regular season, the bowl loss to SMU was one of the postseason’s biggest surprises. Fresno State was thoroughly dominated in the Hawaii Bowl, which prevented the program from having its first double-digit win season since 2001.
 

11. Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State
2012 Record: 10-3
Grade: B

What Went Right: The Red Wolves needed a few games to adapt to Malzahn, but once this team got acclimated to their new coach, they emerged as the top team in the Sun Belt. Arkansas State finished 7-1 in conference play and reeled off eight consecutive victories to finish the year.

What Went Wrong: As expected, the Red Wolves took their lumps early on, losing 57-34 at Oregon and 42-13 at Nebraska. Arkansas State’s offense wasn’t as prolific as most expected but still averaged 34.9 points a game.
 

12. Matt Campbell, Toledo
2012 Record: 9-4
Grade: B-

What Went Right: Campbell was college football’s youngest head coach in 2012 but nearly guided Toledo to the MAC West title. The Rockets lost two conference games by a touchdown, dropped the season opener to Arizona in overtime, beat Cincinnati in mid-October and fell to Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Despite a few key injuries late in the year, Campbell kept Toledo on track and has the Rockets poised to push for the conference crown once again in 2013.

What Went Wrong: The Rockets were just a couple of plays away from finishing with an unbeaten regular season record, so Campbell doesn’t deserve much criticism. One area Campbell and his staff will look to improve in the offseason is the defense, which allowed 473.2 yards per game in 2012.
 

13. Kyle Flood, Rutgers
2012 Record: 9-4
Grade: C

What Went Right: After Greg Schiano bolted just before Signing Day to the NFL, hiring Flood was all about continuity. So far, so good. Rutgers just missed out on winning the Big East title but finished with nine victories and scored a road win over Arkansas in late September. The defense allowed just 14.2 points a game and ranked 10th nationally in yards allowed.

What Went Wrong: Although Rutgers won nine games, there’s a sense of disappointment. The Scarlet Knights had an excellent opportunity to win the Big East crown and fell just short. After starting 7-0, Rutgers finished 2-4 and lost its final three games. Flood has to rebuild the defense next season, as well as get quarterback Gary Nova back on track after a rough finish to 2012.
 

14. Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh
2012 Record: 6-7
Grade: C

What Went Right: After starting 0-2, most thought the Panthers would have trouble getting bowl eligible. However, Pittsburgh rallied to get to six victories, which included an upset over Rutgers and a 35-17 blowout victory over Virginia Tech. The Panthers also held their own against Notre Dame, losing 29-26 in three overtimes. Also, under Chryst’s direction, quarterback Tino Sunseri showed marked improvement. Considering the coaching turmoil that has surrounded Pittsburgh over the last few years, Chryst’s decision to not pursue the Wisconsin opening brought some much-needed stability to the program.  

What Went Wrong: The season opener. The Chryst era at Pittsburgh got off to an awful start with a 31-17 loss to FCS opponent Youngstown State. And the season didn’t get much better in Week 2, as the Panthers lost 34-10 at Cincinnati.
 

15. Bob Davie, New Mexico
2012 Record: 4-9
Grade: C

What Went Right: After winning just three games in the three previous seasons, the Lobos recorded four victories in 2012. Considering Davie was in the television booth and away from the sidelines since 2001, New Mexico’s quick improvement was a surprise. Davie’s decision to switch to an option offense paid dividends, as the Lobos ranked near the top of the nation in time of possession and averaged 301.3 rushing yards per game. Although New Mexico finished with nine losses, five of the defeats came by a touchdown or less.

What Went Wrong: Although the Lobos were more competitive in Davie’s first season, they finished with a six-game losing streak and was throttled 35-7 by a bad UNLV team.
 

16. Jim McElwain, Colorado State
2012 Record:
4-8
Grade: C-

What Went Right: New Mexico, UNLV and Hawaii isn’t exactly the toughest gauntlet of late-season scheduling but credit the Rams for finishing with three wins over their final five games. Colorado State also knocked off rival Colorado in the season opener. McElwain may have found a potential breakout player at running back, as Donnell Alexander rushed for at least 100 yards in three out of his final four games.

What Went Wrong: Outside of the victories, Colorado State struggled to be competitive in Mountain West games. The Rams lost by over 20 points to Air Force, Fresno State, San Diego State and Boise State. McElwain had bad luck with injuries at quarterback, but Colorado State’s passing game needs to get better in 2013.
 

17. Garrick McGee, UAB
2012 Record:
3-9
Grade: C-

What Went Right: It’s hard to find a lot of good news in a 3-9 season, but the Blazers won two out of their last four games. UAB also lost to Ohio State by only 12 points and was defeated by Conference USA champion Tulsa by just a touchdown. Even though UAB didn’t make significant gains in the win column, this team was competitive and found a quarterback (Austin Brown) and running back (Darrin Reaves) to build on in 2013.

What Went Wrong: While UAB showed promise on offense, the defense needs a lot of work. The Blazers allowed 37.5 points a game and registered only 1.7 sacks a game. If UAB can improve on defense and cut down on the turnovers, the Blazers could surprise in Conference USA next year.
 

18. Mike Leach, Washington State
2012 Record: 3-9
Grade: D

What Went Right: The season got off to a rough start for Washington State, but it rebounded to win its next two games to start 2-1 before Pac-12 play. The Cougars recorded only one victory within the conference, defeating rival Washington 31-28 in overtime.

What Went Wrong: There’s no doubt Leach was the biggest disappointment of college football’s new coaches for 2012. Washington State was predicted by some to reach a bowl game, and Leach’s high-powered offense never really got on track. The Cougars also had a horrible loss to Colorado and suffered blowout defeats to Arizona State, Utah, Oregon and BYU.
 

19. Curtis Johnson, Tulane
2012 Record: 2-10
Grade: D

What Went Right: Johnson didn’t have much to work with in 2012, so finishing with a 2-10 mark wasn’t much of a surprise. Despite winning only two games, Tulane showed some signs of progress. The Green Wave knocked off SMU and UAB, lost three conference games by five points or less and held their own against Rutgers in the season opener.

What Went Wrong: Tulane ranked 109th nationally in total offense and was largely hindered by injuries to starting quarterback Ryan Griffin and running back Orleans Darkwa. The defense was one of the worst in the nation, and the Green Wave ranked 101st in turnover margin. Both sides of the ball need a lot of work before next season, so there’s plenty for Johnson and his staff to work on during spring practice.
 

20. Charlie Weis, Kansas
2012 Record: 1-11
Grade: D

What Went Right: Weis was able to upgrade Kansas’ talent by adding a few transfers, but the new personnel didn’t change the success on the gridiron. The Jayhawks had only one win in 2012 but was more competitive in Big 12 play than they were in 2011.

What Went Wrong: Expectations were low for Kansas in 2012, so finishing with a 1-11 mark wasn’t a surprise. The biggest shock of the season was the lack of improvement from the passing attack, especially since Weis pulled in Dayne Crist from Notre Dame to start at quarterback.
 

21. Carl Pelini, FAU
2012 Record: 3-9
Grade: D

What Went Right: Pelini’s tenure at FAU got off to a rough start, as the Owls barely beat FCS opponent Wagner in the season opener and was 1-6 before a win over Troy. FAU showed some improvement over the second half of the year, picking up a win over Western Kentucky and losing its last three games by 10 points or less.

What Went Wrong: Pelini didn’t inherit a full cupboard, so there’s no doubt 2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Also contributing to the early struggles was a difficult schedule, which featured games against Georgia and Alabama. FAU simply doesn’t have the talent right now to push for a winning record, but the Owls will soon step into a tougher conference. Pelini needs to get both sides of the ball playing better, while finding a way to quickly close the gap in talent.
 

22. Tony Levine, Houston
2012 Record:
5-7
Grade: D

What Went Right: After starting his career with a bowl win over Penn State, Levine’s first full season as Houston’s head coach was a disappointment. There weren’t many positives, but the Cougars defeated Rice 35-14 to keep the Bayou Bucket. Levine’s team lost by only a touchdown against Louisiana Tech and finished the season on a high note by beating Tulane 40-17.

What Went Wrong: There were already plenty of doubts about Levine due to his lack of head coaching experience and so far, he’s done nothing to suggest he’s the long-term answer for Houston. The Cougars lost some key personnel, so it was inevitable this team would take a step back in the win column. However, 2012 was a weak year for Conference USA, and Houston had enough talent to get to a bowl game. With a move to a tougher conference next season, Levine will be under pressure to show this program is headed back in the right direction.
 

23. Norm Chow, Hawaii
2012 Record: 3-9
Grade: D

What Went Right: The Warriors finished 2012 with some momentum, winning their last two games against UNLV and South Alabama. First-year coach Norm Chow struggled to find the right pieces on offense, but the defense ranked 41st nationally in yards allowed and generated 2.3 sacks a game.

What Went Wrong: Chow came home to Honolulu to lead the Warriors to championships. But it’s clear Hawaii is far from contending for a Mountain West title. Chow’s specialty is on offense, so it was surprising to see Hawaii finish with just 297.4 yards per game in 2012. The Warriors were largely uncompetitive throughout Mountain West play and their only victories came against two FBS teams with a combined four wins and a FCS squad with a losing record.
 

24. Charley Molnar, UMass
2012 Record: 1-11
Grade: D

What Went Right: Considering UMass was in its first season of FBS play, the expectations were low for 2012. The Minutemen were more competitive late in the season, beating Akron 22-14 and losing to Buffalo by 10 points.

What Went Wrong: As expected, UMass struggled to be competitive and was blown out in a handful of games. The offense managed only three first downs in a loss to Connecticut and scored less than 10 points five times. Molnar seems to be a good fit at UMass, but he will need at least three seasons to get the program competitive within the MAC.
 

25. Terry Bowden, Akron
2012 Record: 1-11
Grade: D

What Went Right: Bowden inherited a disaster, so this ranking is really more reflective of the state of the program, rather than his coaching job this year. The Zips’ only victory came against FCS opponent Morgan State 66-6, but they lost four games by 10 points or less. Akron showed marked improvement on offense, averaging 427.2 yards per game in 2012.

What Went Wrong: Bowden was a good hire at Akron, but it’s clear he needs more time to get the program competitive within the conference. The Zips didn’t record a win in MAC play and gave up at least 30 points in five out of the last six games.
 

26. Tim Beckman, Illinois
2012 Record:
2-10
Grade: F

What Went Right: The only piece of good news for Illinois is that year one of the Beckman era could have been worse. The Fighting Illini earned two victories but failed to win a game in conference play. The lackluster season is resulting in staff changes, as co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty was fired, and his replacement is expected to be former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit.

What Went Wrong: Before Illinois played a game this year, Beckman earned plenty of bad publicity by trying to attract transfers from Penn State. Whether or not all of the reports were true about sending the staff to Happy Valley to recruit, it was a bad moment for Beckman. Illinois also had to report Beckman for a NCAA secondary violation after he chewed tobacco during the 35-7 loss to Wisconsin. Overall, it was a horrible beginning for Beckman in Champaign, but he will at least get 2013 to show the program is making some progress in the right direction.
 

27. John L. Smith, Arkansas
2012 Record:
4-8
Grade: F

What Went Right: For a team that began the year in most preseason top 25 polls and ended with a 4-8 record, it’s hard to find much that went right. Arkansas did win two SEC games, nearly knocked off LSU and defeated a good Tulsa team 19-15 in early November.

What Went Wrong: Considering the timing of the coaching change, it’s hard to blame everything on Smith. The Razorbacks never seemed to recover from losing head coach Bobby Petrino, especially on offense where they averaged just 23.5 points a game. Although it’s unfair to blame Smith for all of Arkansas’ woes, the Razorbacks only won two games in SEC play and struggled to be competitive against the bowl teams in the conference.
 

28. Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
2012 Record: 0-12
Grade: F

What Went Right: Nothing.

What Went Wrong: Everything. Johnson is a good defensive coordinator but is obviously not head coaching material. Southern Miss had some key personnel losses and a tough schedule, but the Golden Eagles should not have finished 0-12. Johnson was fired after the regular season finale against Memphis.


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The 2012 college football season ended the same way the last one did with Alabama and the SEC on top.

Teams who rose up and exceeded expectations, though, were among one of the major hallmarks of the year.

Texas A&M, a team few though would compete immediately in the SEC, knocked off the eventual national champion on the road, produced a freshman Heisman winner and won the Cotton Bowl.

On the other side of the country, Stanford lost Andrew Luck but gained a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl win.

Even Notre Dame found a way to surprise us with an undefeated regular season and an appearance in the BCS title game.

While Alabama will be tough to knock from the No. 1 spot, there are plenty of teams poised to climb even higher in the polls next season.

It’s early, but here’s a look at five teams poised to improve their win total in 2013. Could Clemson's Tajh Boyd be among the teams on the rise next season?

5 Teams on the Rise for 2013 Season

Arizona State - No. 24 in early top 25 for 2013
The Sun Devils finished the 2012 season by winning their final three games, including a huge 41-34 road victory over in-state rival Arizona and a 62-28 blowout win over Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. There’s no question Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe was a success, especially when you consider the program had eight victories in 2012 – the most since winning 10 in 2007 – and lost by two points to Pac-12 South champion UCLA. The offense averaged 38.4 points a game in 2012 and returns two capable quarterbacks in Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank, while D.J. Foster and Marion Grice will pickup the slack for the departed Cameron Marshall at running back. Arizona State’s defense received good news when defensive tackle Will Sutton decided to return for his senior year. Although Sutton is back, the Sun Devils need to find replacements for linebacker Brandon Magee and safety Keelan Johnson. However, this unit held opponents to 24.3 points a game last season and could improve on that number in 2013.

Clemson - No. 9 in early top 25 for 2013
Since winning the Chick-fil-A Bowl, not much has gone wrong for Clemson. Quarterback Tajh Boyd turned down the NFL Draft for one more season on campus, and with all of the head coaching vacancies filled, offensive coordinator Chad Morris will also return to Death Valley for 2013. The combination of Boyd and Morris is a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators, and Clemson should once again threaten to average over 500 yards and 40 points a game next season. The Tigers weren’t among the nation’s elite on defense but held LSU to just 99 rushing yards in the bowl game. Although Clemson has a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball, it should be a heavy favorite to win the ACC and has a chance at a marquee win in the season opener against Georgia.

Louisville - No. 10 in early top 25 for 2013
The Cardinals were one of the biggest surprises of the bowl season, upsetting a Florida team that was favored by nearly 15 points. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater surgically carved the Gators’ secondary for 266 yards on 20 completions, while Louisville’s defense held Florida to 286 yards and registered three sacks. With coach Charlie Strong turning down Tennessee, and Bridgewater back on campus for at least one more season, the Cardinals are poised to make a run at an unbeaten record. There’s no clear challenger to Louisville in the Big East next year, and the non-conference slate is very manageable. As long as the Cardinals stay healthy, finishing in the top five next year is a very realistic possibility.

Oklahoma State - No. 14 in early top 25 for 2013
Despite losing two of the nation’s top offensive players (quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon), the Cowboys still finished third nationally in scoring offense and fourth in yards per game. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider Oklahoma State started three different quarterbacks and had only one returning starter on the offensive line from 2011. The Cowboys are in good shape on both sides of the ball for next season and should be the early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2013. Although coach Mike Gundy needs to find an offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State’s offense shouldn’t miss a beat next year. The Cowboys also have a huge schedule advantage in 2013, as they play arguably their biggest challengers in the Big 12 – Oklahoma and TCU – in Stillwater.

TCU - No. 15 in early top 25 for 2013
Making the jump from the Mountain West to the Big 12 was a step up in competition, but as 2012 showed, the Horned Frogs are more than ready to challenge for a conference title. Although Trevone Boykin filled in admirably for quarterback Casey Pachall after he was forced to leave the team in early October, the offense lacked a consistent passing attack. Assuming Pachall regains his starting spot, the Horned Frogs should see a jump across the board in offensive production next year. The rushing attack will get a boost from the return of Waymon James from a knee injury, along with the arrival of Nebraska transfer Aaron Green. TCU led the Big 12 in total defense last season and returns 10 starters from that group. A schedule that features road dates at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, along with a neutral site matchup against LSU will be challenging. However, the Horned Frogs have the returning personnel to challenge for the Big 12 title or a BCS bowl.  

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With the 2012 season officially in the books, it’s time to take an early look at college football’s top 25 teams for 2013. Alabama will be losing a few key players from its national championship team, but there’s plenty of talent returning to Tuscaloosa for the Crimson Tide to claim their third consecutive national title. While Alabama is a heavy favorite to repeat, determining the No. 2 team is a much tougher task. Ohio State and Oregon will be top-five teams, but Stanford, Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame will be the top challengers to end the SEC’s run of seven consecutive national championships. Needless to say, expect some changes in this early ranking before Athlon’s official top 25 release in May. 

College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013

1. Alabama
Despite a few personnel losses, the stage is set for the Crimson Tide to win their third consecutive national championship. Quarterback AJ McCarron is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and is surrounded by plenty of All-SEC talent, led by running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper. The offensive line has to at least replace center Barrett Jones and guard Chance Warmack and could lose right tackle D.J. Fluker to the NFL. As usual, the defense will be strong once again in Tuscaloosa. Nose guard Jesse Williams departs, and cornerback Dee Milliner is expected to leave for the NFL Draft. However, the Crimson Tide returns one of the nation’s top linebacking corps and experience on the line and secondary should make up for the personnel departures.

2. Ohio State
While Alabama is a clear No. 1 going into next season, the second spot in the early top 25 for 2013 is up for grabs. For now, the edge goes to the Buckeyes. Despite a postseason ban, Ohio State had no problem finding motivation in 2012, completing a 12-0 season in Urban Meyer’s first year in Columbus. And here’s a scary thought for the Big Ten: With another offseason to work with Meyer and his coaching staff, the Buckeyes could be even better in 2013. Quarterback Braxton Miller is poised to make a run at the Heisman Trophy, while he should have more help carrying the offense next season, as running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall return, along with four starters on the offensive line. The defense will be the biggest concern, especially since linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins depart. Ohio State’s schedule isn’t daunting and it should have no trouble starting the year 4-0 with Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M on the non-conference slate.

3. Oregon
Chip Kelly's decision to leave for the NFL will impact the Pac-12 title picture. But for now, the Ducks remain ahead of Stanford in the Pac-12 North. Kelly was one of college football's top coaches, and his influence on one of the nation's best offenses will be missed. Even though Kelly is gone, the Ducks have the pieces in place to compete for a national title. Quarterback Marcus Mariota had an outstanding debut season in 2012 and should be even more comfortable with the offense after another spring practice's worth of work as the starter. Oregon needs to find a new go-to running back to replace Kenjon Barner, while De’Anthony Thomas returns to his role as one of the nation’s top all-around threats. The defense has holes to fill, especially with a front seven that loses Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. The Ducks' 2013 schedule isn’t too demanding, but they do have road trips to Stanford and Washington next season.

4. Texas A&M
With LSU losing a handful of key players to the NFL, the Aggies appear to be the biggest challenger to Alabama in the SEC West. Although Kliff Kingsbury won’t be calling the plays next year, quarterback Johnny Manziel should have a good chance to equal his numbers from 2012, while Texas A&M should remain one of the top offenses in college football. The offensive line lost Luke Joeckel to the NFL, but Jake Matthews decided to return to College Station and will slide from right to left tackle in 2013. The defense has question marks of its own, as end Damontre Moore declared for the draft, and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart have expired their eligibility. Texas A&M is bringing in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, so plenty of help is on the way for Kevin Sumlin’s team in 2013.

5. Georgia
With Aaron Murray’s decision to return to Athens for his senior year, the Bulldogs narrowly edge Florida and South Carolina for the top spot in the SEC East. And for Georgia, it’s a good thing Murray is back, as the defense is losing nearly everyone. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree declared for the draft, while nose tackle John Jenkins, cornerback Sanders Commings and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams have expired their eligibility. Murray will be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, and running back Todd Gurley should contend for All-America honors as a sophomore next year. Helping Murray’s cause is a receiving corps that returns Malcolm Mitchell, and an offensive line that brings back all five starters from 2012.

6. Stanford
The balance of power in the Pac-12 is clearly in the North Division next season. Oregon and Stanford should rank among the top 5-10 teams next season, while Oregon State and Washington could be in the top 25 on some preseason lists. The Cardinal has won at least 11 games in each of its last four years and claimed 12 victories in 2012 despite the departure of quarterback Andrew Luck and two first-team all-conference linemen. Coach David Shaw will have some holes to fill, but Stanford will be in the mix to play for the national title. Running back Stepfan Taylor, center Sam Schwartzstein and linebacker Chase Thomas will be missed. However, the Cardinal can lean more on sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan, along with a defense that should be one of the best in the Pac-12. Although Taylor is a huge loss for the rushing attack, redshirt freshman Barry Sanders Jr. could be one of college football’s breakout stars next year.

7. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish were soundly defeated by Alabama in the national championship game, but Brian Kelly clearly has this program on the right track. Linebacker Manti Te’o, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Theo Riddick are huge losses, but Notre Dame has a solid core of returning talent on defense, while the offense should be better after quarterback Everett Golson has another offseason to work with Kelly. The schedule is very manageable, but the Fighting Irish will have a hard time finishing the regular season unbeaten and making a return trip to the BCS title game.

8. South Carolina
Georgia is the early favorite to win the SEC East, but South Carolina isn’t far behind. The Gamecocks have two proven quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson and will be throwing behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Talented, but largely unproven running backs Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis will be charged with jumpstarting the rushing attack in 2013. The defense loses a handful of players, but end Jadeveon Clowney is a good cornerstone to start reloading around.

9. Clemson
With quarterback Tajh Boyd's decision to return for another season, Clemson is a heavy favorite to win the ACC in 2013. The Tigers’ offense will be one of the best in the nation, but running back is a concern with the departure of Andre Ellington. If the Tigers want to make a run at the national championship, the defense has to get better in coordinator Brent Venables’ second year. However, Clemson loses end Malliciah Goodman and must replace three starters in the secondary.

10. Louisville
The Cardinals scored one of the postseason’s most impressive victories, dominating Florida in a 33-23 Sugar Bowl win. Expect Louisville to build off of its 11-win season in 2013, as both sides of the ball return almost intact. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be in the Heisman discussion, and he has no shortage of weapons to throw to with the return of Eli Rogers, DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland. Although Bridgewater can carry this team to another Big East title, the Cardinals need to jumpstart their rushing attack and find replacements for center Mario Benavides and tackle Alex Kupper on the line. The defense loses only two seniors from the Sugar Bowl depth chart but needs to get better against the run and generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

11. Florida
The Gators were on the doorstep of playing for the national title in 2012, but the season ended with a blowout loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Despite the disappointing bowl result, Florida had a strong regular season resume, defeating Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State. Matching 11 wins in 2013 could be difficult unless the offense makes significant strides in the offseason. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is back, but the Gators have no proven running back or any weapons on the outside. The defense finished fifth nationally in yards allowed but lost tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and safety Matt Elam to the NFL Draft.

12. LSU
The Tigers were hit hard by early departures to the NFL Draft, losing safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, defensive linemen Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery, punter Brad Wing, linebacker Kevin Minter and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. However, LSU is never short on talent and should be back in the mix for the SEC West title. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger showed some improvement late in the year but finished with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Even with Ware and Ford leaving for the NFL, the Tigers will have no trouble moving the ball on the ground, as Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue form a capable trio. The defense is losing a handful of key contributors, but coordinator John Chavis should be able to find the right pieces to keep this unit among the best in the SEC.

13. Boise State
Before they even played a game, the Broncos’ stint in the Big East is over, and Boise State is headed back to the Mountain West. The Broncos will be a heavy favorite to win the conference title next season but will be pushed by Fresno State and Utah State. As expected last preseason, the Broncos took a step back on offense in 2012. However, quarterback Joe Southwick got better as the year progressed, and Jay Ajayi should be a capable replacement for D.J. Harper at running back. The offensive line is a concern with only two starters returning, while the receiving corps is stocked with Matt Miller, Kirby Moore and Geraldo Boldewijn back in the mix. Despite having only one returning starter on defense, Boise State allowed just 15.8 points a game in 2012. This unit needs to replace cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, but expect the Broncos to rank among the Mountain West’s best defenses once again in 2013.

14. Oklahoma State
Despite losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon to the NFL, the Cowboys averaged 45.7 points a game and won at least eight games for the fifth consecutive year in 2012. Oklahoma State’s offensive numbers are even more impressive when you consider three quarterbacks received starts this year, and the receiving corps lost Tracy Moore early in the season due to an injury. The Cowboys need to settle on a starting quarterback next year, but the offense returns one of the Big 12’s top lines and even though running back Joseph Randle is leaving for the NFL, the backfield is in good shape with Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland. The defense must replace linebacker Alex Elkins, cornerback Brodrick Brown and end Nigel Nicholas but most of the core will return intact.

15. TCU
As expected, the Horned Frogs had some growing pains adjusting to life in the Big 12, but Gary Patterson’s team is poised to challenge for the conference title in 2013. Casey Pachall left the team early in the season due to off-the-field issues but returned in mid-January and will compete with Trevone Boykin for the No. 1 job. Pachall would help boost the team’s passing attack, while the ground game should get some help from the return of Waymon James from a knee injury, along with the arrival of Nebraska transfer Aaron Green. The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 in total defense this season and return 10 starters for 2013. End Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett should challenge for All-America honors next season.

16. Oklahoma
The Sooners have claimed at least a share of the Big 12 title in five out of the last seven years and there’s not much separating Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU in the early Big 12 predictions. The Sooners have plenty of question marks to answer in the spring, namely under center as it looks to replace Landry Jones. Blake Bell has shown flashes of promise in a limited role, but he will face competition from Drew Allen, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson in the preseason. While the passing game could be a work in progress early in the year, running back Damien Williams should be in the mix for all-conference honors, and the offensive line is one of the best in the Big 12 with four returning starters. The defense allowed 192.2 rushing yards per game in 2012, and the line will need to be revamped in 2013. Oklahoma has some landmines on the schedule next season, as they make trips to Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and host TCU in its Big 12 opener.

17. Florida State
After winning 12 games for the first time since 1999, the Seminoles are due to take a step back in 2013. Both sides of the ball have concerns to address but none bigger than the question mark under center. Clint Trickett and Jameis Winston enter spring practice as the favorites, with Trickett owning two starts under his belt, while Winston ranked as the top quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class. The defense will be the under the direction of a new coordinator (former Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt) and needs to find a replacement for defensive stalwarts Bjoern Werner (end) and Xavier Rhodes (cornerback). Florida State’s ACC schedule is still undetermined, but the Seminoles have to travel to Clemson and host an improving Miami team. 

18. UCLA
The defending Pac-12 South champs should be in good shape to make their third consecutive appearance in the conference title game. Quarterback Brett Hundley is back after a standout freshman season, and the offseason should allow the Bruins to find a few answers for an offensive line that allowed 3.7 sacks a game in 2012. The biggest question mark for UCLA will be finding a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin. The defense should have one of the Pac-12’s top linebacking corps, as Anthony Barr turned down the NFL for one more season with the Bruins. The conference slate is challenging, as UCLA hits the road to play Arizona, Oregon, Stanford and USC but hosts its biggest challenger in the South (Arizona State).

19. Texas
Are the Longhorns ready to challenge for the Big 12 title? The talent is certainly in place, but there are also enough concerns for this team to not match 2012’s nine-win mark. The backfield of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron is one of the best in the nation, but the offense will only go as far as quarterback David Ash takes it. The defense was one of the most disappointing units in the nation in 2012 but loses only two starters. The return of Jackson Jeffcoat should ease Alex Okafor’s departure at end.

20. Wisconsin
Getting back to the Rose Bowl for the fourth consecutive season is no easy task for Wisconsin. New coach Gary Andersen was one of college football’s top hires for 2013 but there figures to be some transition period as the team adjusts to the new staff. Montee Ball must be replaced at running back, but the cupboard is far from bare with Melvin Gordon and James White returning. Getting a full year from Joel Stave at quarterback will be a huge boost to the Wisconsin passing attack. The defense has a few positions to plug in the secondary, but the front seven should be salty.

21. Oregon State
Mike Riley’s team was one of college football’s biggest surprises this year, going from 3-9 in 2011 to 9-4 in 2012. The Beavers lost three out of their last five games but two of those defeats came by four points, while the other was to in-state rival Oregon. If Oregon State wants to improve its win total in 2013, settling the quarterback position will be a priority. Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz each received a significant share of snaps this year but neither managed to play well enough to secure the job going into spring practice. The offense also needs to find a replacement for receiver Markus Wheaton. The defense ranked second in the conference in points allowed and most of the core is back for 2013. However, the Beavers must replace both starting defensive tackles and All-Pac-12 cornerback Jordan Poyer.

22. Nebraska
There’s a razor-thin margin separating the Cornhuskers and Michigan or Northwestern for the No. 1 spot in the Legends Division. With quarterback Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell returning, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. However, the defense is virtually starting over from scratch. Nebraska loses major contributors at each level of the defense and must replace All-Big Ten safety Daimion Stafford and end Eric Martin. The Cornhuskers host Northwestern and Michigan State in Big Ten play but travel to Michigan on Nov. 9 and play UCLA in the non-conference slate.

23. Michigan
Even with significant personnel losses, don’t count out the Wolverines from the Big Ten title picture. Denard Robinson will be missed, but the offense shouldn’t suffer much with Devin Gardner stepping in at quarterback. Finding a running back that can shoulder 20-25 carries a game, along with rebuilding the offensive line will be the top priorities for coach Brady Hoke and coordinator Al Borges this spring. The defense needs to replace Will Campbell and Craig Roh on the line, but this unit will get a boost from the return of cornerback Blake Countess from a torn ACL suffered in the season opener against Alabama.

24. Arizona State
A two-point loss to UCLA in late October was all that separated Arizona State from a berth in the Pac-12 Championship this season. And with most of the core returning for 2013, Todd Graham’s team should make a run at UCLA for the No. 1 spot in the South Division. The Sun Devils will need to find new weapons at receiver for quarterback Taylor Kelly, but sophomore running back DJ Foster is ready for a breakout campaign. The defense received good news when tackle (and likely All-American) Will Sutton returned to Tempe for his senior year. Arizona State catches a huge break in scheduling, as it misses Oregon in crossover play and hosts USC, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona – all crucial swing games for Pac-12 positioning.

25. Northwestern
After ending a 63-year bowl victory drought and winning 10 games for the first time since 1995, the Wildcats enter 2013 with momentum on their side. Quarterback Kain Colter is one of the Big Ten’s top all-around playmakers, and the rushing attack is in good hands with the speedy and elusive Venric Mark. One area of concern on offense for coach Pat Fitzgerald is an offensive line that loses three starters, including left tackle Patrick Ward. The defense must replace four starters and has to improve the pass defense after allowing 250.5 yards per game in 2012.

 

Next in line:

Arizona
Baylor
Fresno State
Georgia Tech
Kansas State
Miami
Michigan State
Mississippi State
North Carolina
Northern Illinois
Ole Miss
USC
Vanderbilt
Virginia Tech
Washington

 

Visit AthlonSports.com regularly for updated Top 25 college football preseason rankings and predictions. 


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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 06:35
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
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With college football’s 2012 season in the books, it’s never too early to start thinking about 2013. Alabama crushed Notre Dame in Miami to earn its third national title in four seasons and is a heavy favorite to win next season in Pasadena. In the early odds released by Bovada Sportsbook, the Crimson Tide are a 5/1 favorite to repeat next year, while Oregon and Ohio State are the top two challengers. The start of the 2013 college football season isn’t until August but here’s an early look at some of the top bets from Bovada’s early odds.

Best Bets

Alabama (5/1) – It may seem crazy to consider the Crimson Tide a best bet at 5/1 odds, but there’s not exactly a wealth of challengers to stop Alabama’s championship run next season. Ohio State and Oregon are the biggest threats to Nick Saban’s team, but the Crimson Tide return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks (AJ McCarron) and budding stars in running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. The defense has a few holes to fill but will once again rank among the best in the nation. The schedule is also very manageable, with a road trip to Texas A&M in Week 2 the toughest game on the slate. Even if Alabama loses in College Station, there's plenty of time to get back into the top two spots by the end of the year. 

Georgia (28/1) – The Bulldogs were just a couple of yards away from playing for the national championship in 2012. And despite the losses on defense, Georgia will be in the mix to win the BCS title in 2013. Quarterback Aaron Murray turned down the NFL for another year in Athens and will team with running back Todd Gurley to form one of the top backfields in college football. The Bulldogs need a lot of help on defense, but the schedule is favorable, headlined by home matchups against South Carolina and LSU.

Oklahoma State (40/1) – This pick is a little off the board, but the Cowboys are Athlon’s early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2013. With Oklahoma reloading and Texas not ready to climb back into the national title conversation, the Big 12 isn’t as strong as it has been in recent years. However, if Oklahoma State can run the table and finish unbeaten, it would have a chance to play for the national title. The Cowboys have a favorable schedule, playing TCU and Oklahoma in Stillwater.

Stanford (30/1) – This is the biggest surprise on the board. The Cardinal closed the year with an eight-game winning streak, including a 17-14 overtime road victory over Oregon. Running back Stepfan Taylor and tight end Zach Ertz must be replaced, but the passing attack should be better with the emergence of Kevin Hogan at quarterback. The defense should be the best in the Pac-12, while the schedule features home games against Oregon, Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA. Although Stanford has a few personnel losses, this team could play for the national title in 2013.

Others to like:

Boise State (75/1)
TCU (66/1)

Don't Bother

Florida State (14/1) – One of the most interesting aspects of the 2013-14 odds is Bovada considers the Seminoles an early favorite in the ACC. While that’s not far fetched, Florida State shouldn’t be ahead of Clemson in early conference predictions. The Seminoles suffered some key losses on both sides of the ball, including quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Florida State should push for 10 wins next year but contending for the national championship is unlikely.

LSU (12/1) – Even though LSU suffered a plethora of personnel losses to the NFL Draft, the Tigers aren’t going to drop too far in preseason rankings. However, it would be a big surprise if LSU gets to the national title. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger made strides late in the year, and Jeremy Hill is headed for a 1,000-yard season in 2013. While the Tigers may show improvement on offense, the defense will take a step back. The line has to replace ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, while tackles Bennie Logan and Josh Downs also depart. Linebacker Kevin Minter will be missed, and the secondary has to replace Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. Expect LSU to be in the mix for a finish inside of the top 10, but considering the personnel losses, winning a national title seems unrealistic.

Miami (25/1) – There’s no doubt the Hurricanes are on the right track under coach Al Golden. However, Miami is still under NCAA investigation and the hammer could drop at any point. With the uncertainty surrounding the program and a potential bowl ban on the table for sanctions, motivation could be an issue for this team in 2013. The Hurricanes could be the favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division but are a longshot to win the national title.

USC (33/1) – After a disappointing 2012 season, it’s fair to wonder what direction USC is headed going into 2013. The Trojans began the year as one of the favorites to win the national title but finished with a disappointing 7-6 record. USC now has to replace quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods, while the defense will be under the direction of a new coordinator. There’s no question Lane Kiffin has recruited plenty of talent to Los Angeles. However, it’s time for the talent to turn into victories. Although winning the Pac-12 South title is a reasonable goal, the Trojans will be a longshot to reach the national title game. 

Stay Away From:

Arkansas (100/1)
Mississippi State (50/1)
West Virginia (150/1)

Bovada's Early 2013-2014 National Championship Odds

Team Early 2013-2014 Odds
Alabama 5/1
Oregon 8/1
Ohio State 17/2
LSU 12/1
Texas A&M 12/1
Florida 14/1
Florida State 14/1
Clemson 22/1
Louisville 22/1
Notre Dame 22/1
Miami 25/1
Oklahoma 25/1
South Carolina 25/1
Georgia 28/1
Nebraska 28/1
Stanford 30/1
Texas 30/1
Michigan 33/1
USC 33/1
Oklahoma State 40/1
UCLA 40/1
Mississippi State 50/1
Wisconsin 50/1
TCU 66/1
Virginia Tech 66/1
Boise State 75/1
Michigan State 75/1
North Carolina 75/1
Oregon State 75/1
Arizona 100/1
Arkansas 100/1
Kansas State 100/1
Rutgers 100/1
Tennessee 100/1
Washington 100/1
Cincinnati 125/1
BYU 150/1
Pittsburgh 150/1
West Virginia 150/1
Auburn 200/1
Georgia Tech 200/1
Iowa 200/1
Missouri 250/1
Boston College 300/1
California 300/1
South Florida 300/1

Teaser:
<p> Breaking Down the Vegas Odds for the 2013-14 College Football National Title</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 06:15
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Alabama became the first team in the BCS era to win back-to-back titles by defeating Notre Dame 42-14 on Jan. 7 in Miami. The victory over the Fighting Irish gave the SEC its seventh consecutive national championship, and the stage is set for the Crimson Tide to make another run at the BCS title in 2013. Alabama is already an early favorite to win the national championship next season and has plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball. And with Nick Saban at the helm, expect another crop of youngsters to develop into key contributors throughout the year.

Who’s Back: QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, LT Cyrus Kouandjio, RG Anthony Steen, LB Trey DePriest, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Adrian Hubbard, LB Xzavier Dickson, CB Deion Belue, S Vinnie Sunseri, S HaHa Clinton-Dix

Who’s Gone: LG Chance Warmack, C Barrett Jones, TE Michael Williams, DE Damion Square, NG Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, S Robert Lester

NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Eddie Lacy, RT D.J. Fluker, CB Dee Milliner

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 – Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 14 – at Texas A&M
Sept. 21 – Colorado State
Sept. 28 – Ole Miss
Oct. 5 – Georgia State
Oct. 12 – at Kentucky
Oct. 19 – Arkansas
Oct. 26 – Tennessee
Nov. 9 – LSU
Nov. 16 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 – Chattanooga
Nov. 30 – at Auburn

Offensive Preview for 2013

After earning second-team All-SEC honors in 2012, quarterback AJ McCarron will set his sights even higher in 2013. McCarron will be one of college football’s top 10 returning quarterbacks and should be able to make a run at the Heisman Trophy. The senior will have plenty of help next year, as T.J. Yeldon is back at running back, while receiver Amari Cooper will be one of the best in the SEC. Yeldon could become the team’s feature back if Eddie Lacy leaves for the NFL, but the Crimson Tide will also work Dee Hart, Kenyan Drake and Jalston Fowler into the rotation at running back.

The biggest concern for Alabama in 2013 will be the offensive line. Center Barrett Jones has been one of college football’s top linemen of the BCS era, and his leadership will be missed. Guard Chance Warmack also departs, and right tackle D.J. Fluker could declare for the NFL Draft. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and right guard Anthony Steen will anchor the rebuilt line, while Ryan Kelly has played well in limited snaps at center. There’s no question Alabama will take a step back on the offensive line, but this unit won’t suffer a dramatic drop off as some may expect after losing Jones, Warmack and possibly Fluker.

Defensive Preview for 2013

Despite losing nearly everyone off the national title defense from the 2011 season, Alabama didn’t miss much of a beat. The Crimson Tide finished in the top five of rushing, total, pass and scoring defense, while generating over two sacks a game. And consider this: Alabama could be even better on defense in 2013.

Although the Crimson Tide will have to replace nose guard Jesse Williams, end Damion Square and safety Robert Lester, this unit will be in the mix to lead the nation in total and scoring defense. The linebacking corps could be the best in college football, as Adrian Hubbard, Trey DePriest, C.J. Mosley and Xzavier Dickson and Denzel Devall all return. The secondary could lose cornerback Dee Milliner to the NFL Draft, but Deion Belue, Geno Smith and John Fulton are experienced options.

Chance of playing for the national title in 2013 season: Very High

As long as Nick Saban is on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, Alabama will simply reload from personnel departures and remain a national title contender each year. Expect that to be the case in 2013. The Crimson Tide will have some key losses but nothing that will deter it from making a run at the BCS crown. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, with a date against Texas A&M in Week 3 the toughest matchup on the slate. Considering what transpired in Tuscaloosa in November this year, expect Alabama to have revenge on the mind when it meets the Aggies in 2013.

Very Early Preseason Rank for 2013: 1

Teaser:
<p> Can Alabama Repeat as College Football's National Champs in 2013?</p>
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The Fighting Irish were the only bowl eligible team to finish the regular season unbeaten but were soundly defeated by Alabama in the BCS National Championship. While the blowout loss to the Crimson Tide was a huge disappointment, coach Brian Kelly has this team on the right track. Notre Dame returns a handful of key contributors next year, including improving quarterback Everett Golson and two potential All-American defensive linemen in Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.

Who’s Back: QB Everett Golson, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix III, LB Prince Shembo, LB Carlo Calabrese, LB Dan Fox, CB Bennett Jackson, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Matthias Farley

Who’s Gone: RB Theo Riddick, WR Robby Toma, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, LB Manti Te’o, S Zeke Motta

NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Cierre Wood

2013 Schedule:

Aug. 31 – Temple
Sept. 7 – at Michigan
Sept. 14 – at Purdue
Sept. 21 – Michigan State
Sept. 28 – Oklahoma
Oct. 5 – Arizona State (Arlington)
Oct. 19 – USC
Oct. 26 – at Air Force
Nov. 2 – Navy
Nov. 9 – at Pittsburgh
Nov. 23 – BYU
Nov. 30 – at Stanford

Offensive Preview for 2013:

As expected, quarterback Everett Golson had an up-and-down season in his first year as a starter. The redshirt freshman topped 200 passing yards only once through his first eight games but finished with at least 200 yards in each of his final five contests. Golson’s development will be crucial to Notre Dame’s offense next year, especially with the question marks surrounding the running backs. Theo Riddick has expired his eligibility, while Cierre Wood is considering a jump to the NFL. With Golson having another year to work with Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, he will be counted on to carry more of the offense in 2013.

In addition to the question marks at running back, Notre Dame lost tight end Tyler Eifert to the NFL. The junior led the team in receptions and receiving yards during the regular season. With Eifert gone to the NFL, receivers TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels need to step up next season, especially while the Fighting Irish look for a new go-to option at tight end.

Despite the loss of center Braxston Cave and guard Mike Golic Jr., Notre Dame should be solid on the offensive line. Left tackle Zack Martin will be in the mix for All-America honors, while guard Chris Watt and right tackle Christian Lombard are experienced, proven options.

Defensive Preview for 2013:

Although Brian Kelly won with offense at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, he smartly realized his best chance to win in 2012 rested with his defense. The Fighting Irish finished in the top 10 of total and scoring defense this year and allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns of any team in college football.

This unit has some holes to fill but will be one of the best in the nation once again in 2013. Replacing linebacker Manti Te’o’s leadership and production won’t be easy, but the Fighting Irish return one of the top defensive lines in college football, along with Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Danny Spond and Carlo Calabrese at linebacker.

The secondary had to replace both starting cornerbacks going into 2012 but the new starters held up well all season. KeiVarae Russell should be better in his second year as a starter, while Bennett Jackson is back after ranking second on the team in interceptions. The secondary could get a boost if safety Jamoris Slaughter is awarded an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA after tearing his Achilles against Michigan State.

Chance of playing for the national title in 2013 season:

Notre Dame’s chances of getting back to the national championship aren’t as high as Alabama. However, the Fighting Irish should be a top-10 team in most preseason polls and should be in the mix for a BCS bowl. Although Notre Dame should win at least 10 games next year, replacing the leadership and production from Manti Te’o won’t be easy. Te’o was a huge part of the Fighting Irish’s success and simply won’t be replaced in 2013. While the defense may take a small step back, the offense figures to be better, and the schedule isn’t overwhelming. If Notre Dame can survive an early road trip to Michigan and a home date against USC, the season finale against Stanford could be for a trip to the BCS title game.

Very Early Preseason Rank for 2013: Top 10

Teaser:
<p> Can Notre Dame Return to the National Championship in 2013?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 11:37
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Two of college football’s storied programs will meet on Jan. 7 in the most-anticipated title matchup of the BCS era. For Alabama, a trip to the national championship has almost become routine. The Crimson Tide is making their third appearance in the BCS Championship in the last four seasons and are 2-0 under Nick Saban in this setting. Alabama is also looking to become the first back-to-back champion of the BCS era.

On the other sideline represents a return to glory. Notre Dame is back in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007 and returned to the national title conversation for the first time since 1993 this year. The Fighting Irish was the only bowl eligible team to finish with an unbeaten record in 2012, while linebacker Manti Te’o finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. After finishing 8-5 in back-to-back seasons, coach Brian Kelly has Notre Dame back on track to national prominence once again. The Fighting Irish are on a roll on the recruiting trail, so don’t expect Notre Dame to slip back into mediocrity anytime soon. 

These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 series edge. The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish have not played since 1987, when Notre Dame claimed a 37-6 victory in South Bend. Alabama’s only victory against the Fighting Irish came in 1986.

BCS National Championship – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0)

Date and Time: Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Miami, Fla.

When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish has the ball:

The Fighting Irish aren’t as dynamic as some of Brian Kelly’s offenses at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but this unit made steady progress over the last half of the season. After scoring more than 20 points twice through the first seven games, Notre Dame topped that mark in each of its final five contests.

Quarterback Everett Golson was a key factor in the late season improvement, finishing with seven touchdowns to just two interceptions over his final five games. Not only is Golson a threat to beat teams through the air, but his mobility could give Alabama’s defense plenty of headaches. The redshirt freshman rushed for 305 yards and five scores on 89 attempts this season. The Crimson Tide defense didn’t face a plethora of dual-threat quarterbacks in 2012 but struggled to contain Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in early November. Although Golson has delivered in some key spots this year, he doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards for Notre Dame to win this game. Efficiency and playing mistake-free ball are bigger issues for Golson and will be crucial for the Fighting Irish’s hopes at winning.

The Fighting Irish don’t have a standout wide receiver, but help is on the way for the matchup with Alabama. DaVaris Daniels missed the final two games of the season with a clavicle injury and should be able to contribute on Monday night. The redshirt freshman caught 25 passes for 375 yards in 10 games. TJ Jones and Robby Toma should be the other top targets for Notre Dame at wide receiver, but the No. 1 weapon for Golson will be tight end Tyler Eifert. The senior led the team with 44 receptions for 624 yards and four touchdowns and needs to have a standout performance against a tough Crimson Tide defense.

Led by a veteran offensive line, Notre Dame will challenge Alabama’s No. 1 ranked rush defense. The Irish ranked 29th nationally in rushing offense, spearheaded by the one-two punch of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Riddick led the team with 880 yards and five rushing scores, while Wood wasn’t far behind, generating 740 yards and four touchdowns on 110 attempts. Look for both players to see action in Monday night’s game, but rushing lanes could be difficult to find with Alabama allowing only 79.8 yards on the ground each contest. The Crimson Tide held opponents to nine rushing touchdowns and 2.5 yards per carry.

Make no mistake: There’s no glaring weakness with Alabama’s defense. Although the Fighting Irish lean slightly with the run, they may need to pass early to setup the ground attack. The Crimson Tide’s defense allowed only two opponents to score more than 20 points and generated 2.5 sacks per game. With over a month to prepare for this game, expect Alabama’s defense and Notre Dame’s offense to each have a few new looks and wrinkles to throw at the opposition. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly has done a good job at bringing the offense along this season, but this matchup against the Crimson Tide will be Notre Dame’s toughest assignment of this year.

When the Alabama Crimson Tide has the ball:

Despite breaking in a new offensive coordinator and losing running back Trent Richardson to the NFL, Alabama’s offense improved its points and yardage generated per game. The Crimson Tide also displayed balance, averaging 224.6 yards per game on the ground, while throwing for 214.5 per contest.

Quarterback AJ McCarron thrived under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, throwing for 2,669 yards and 26 touchdowns. Additionally, the junior tossed only three picks and led the nation in passing efficiency. McCarron doesn’t have a deep group of proven receivers but there’s no shortage of weapons. True freshman Amari Cooper is one of the nation’s top rising stars at receiver, grabbing 53 receptions for 895 yards and nine scores this year. Cooper isn’t the only weapon for Alabama, as Kevin Norwood (26 catches), Christion Jones (25 catches) and tight end Michael Williams (21 catches) are all dependable targets. This group could get a boost in this game with the return of Kenny Bell. The junior suffered a broken leg against Auburn but has made a quick recovery and could play on a limited snap count against Notre Dame. 

Although Alabama’s offense was balanced this year, there’s no question the success of this unit begins with the offensive line and rushing attack. The Crimson Tide’s front five is one of the nation’s best, allowing only 1.8 sacks a game and paving the way for running backs to generate 5.6 yards per carry. Center Barrett Jones suffered a foot injury against Georgia but is expected to play against the Fighting Irish.

Alabama’s offensive line faces a tough assignment on Monday night, as it looks to get a push against one of the nation’s top defenses. Notre Dame allowed only 92.4 rushing yards per game and held opponents to just two touchdowns on the ground. Jones’ battle against nose guard Louis Nix III could be one of the best one-on-one matchups of the bowl season, while the Fighting Irish rely on senior Kapron Lewis-Moore and sophomore Stephon Tuitt to lead the pass rush. In addition to the stout defensive line, senior linebacker and Heisman runner up Manti Te’o is a key presence in stopping the run.

Even if Alabama’s rushing attack struggles early, don’t expect Saban and Nussmeier to go away from handing the ball to Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Lacy and Yeldon combined for 2,182 yards and 27 rushing scores this year and each brings a different skill set to the offense. Lacy is more of a power runner, while Yeldon provides a home-run threat to the lineup.

Final Analysis

Considering the defensive prowess on the Alabama and Notre Dame sideline, points could be at a premium in the BCS National Championship. The Crimson Tide has the edge on offense, especially at quarterback with the continued improvement of AJ McCarron. However, the Fighting Irish certainly won’t be intimidated by Alabama or the fact the SEC has won the last six national titles.

Will it be another national championship for the SEC? Or is Notre Dame ready to return to glory and win its first title since 1988?

Athlon’s editors make their pick for Monday night’s title game:

Editor Rob Doster David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light Charlie Miller Mark Ross Nathan Rush
Prediction: Alabama 17, ND 16 Alabama 27, ND 20 Alabama 20, ND 17 Alabama 24, ND 20 Alabama 23, ND 21 Alabama 17, ND 3 ND 20, Alabama 17 ND 17, Alabama 16
MVP Prediction: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama Manti Te'o, LB, ND Manti Te'o, LB, ND

Teaser:
<p> BCS National Championship Preview and Prediction: Notre Dame vs. Alabama</p>
Post date: Monday, January 7, 2013 - 06:50
Path: /college-football/11-coaches-replace-doug-marrone-syracuse
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After leading Syracuse to a 25-25 mark over the last four years, Doug Marrone decided it was time to try his hand at the NFL. Marrone was picked as the new head coach for the Buffalo Bills and leaves Syracuse on a high note after beating West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. Marrone’s overall record wasn’t impressive, but he did a good job of resurrecting the program after a horrible stint under Greg Robinson. The Orange are moving from the Big East to the ACC and are caught in some bad timing, especially with Signing Day less than a month away.

11 Coaches to Replace Doug Marrone at Syracuse

Rob Ambrose, head coach, Towson – Ambrose is a longshot to become Syracuse’s next coach, but he’s worth a mention due to his success at Towson. The Illinois native inherited a struggling team and won just three games through his first two years. However, the Tigers have won 16 contests over the last two seasons and made a playoff appearance in 2011. Ambrose has FBS experience as well, working on the Connecticut staff from 2002-08.
 

Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green – Clawson took a lot of heat for Tennessee’s struggles on offense in 2008, but he is a proven head coach at three different stops. The New York native went 29-29 in five seasons at Fordham (1999-2003), which also included a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson jumped to Richmond in 2004 and led the Spiders to two playoff appearances, including an 11-3 mark in 2007. After the failed season at Tennessee, Clawson landed at Bowling Green and went 7-6 in his debut year and 8-4 in 2012. The Falcons played in their first bowl game since 2009 this season and have made steady improvement since going 2-10 in 2010. 
 

Mario Cristobal, former FIU head coach – In perhaps the most ridiculous coaching move of this year, FIU decided to fire Cristobal after the 2012 season. While Cristobal’s overall mark (27-47) at FIU isn’t impressive, he is the perfect case of why coaching records can be deceiving. Cristobal inherited a program that was in awful shape and had just made the jump to FBS play. After winning nine games in the first two years with the Golden Panthers, Cristobal led FIU to back-to-back bowl games in 2010-11. Although most of Cristobal’s experience has come in Miami, he spent three seasons in the Northeast at Rutgers. Don’t let FIU’s poor decision to fire Cristobal fool you: He’s a very good coach and will be back on the sidelines in the near future.
 

Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – Diaco has quickly emerged as one of college football’s top assistant coaches and is ready for a chance to run his own program. The New Jersey native has never worked as a head coach but worked as an assistant at Iowa, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and since 2010 with Notre Dame. Under Diaco’s leadership, the Fighting Irish have shown big improvement on defense, ranking first nationally in points allowed and fifth in total defense before the national championship. Diaco won the Broyles Award for the top assistant coach in the nation this year and despite his lack of head coaching experience, he should be near the top of Syracuse’s short list to replace Marrone.
 

Nathaniel Hackett, offensive coordinator, Syracuse – If Syracuse wants to promote from within, Hackett is a strong possibility to replace Marrone. The California native started his coaching career in 2003 at UC Davis, before coming to Stanford later that year. After spending three seasons with the Cardinal, he jumped to the NFL and worked two years with the Buccaneers and then two seasons with the Bills. Hackett joined Syracuse in 2010 and has been a key part of the offensive improvement over the last few years. The only downside to Hackett is his lack of head coaching experience.
 

Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Stanford – Hamilton’s stock has been on the rise over the last two years and has been an instrumental part of Stanford’s success under David Shaw. Hamilton played quarterback at Howard from 1993-96 and later coached there from 1997-2001. After that stint at his alma mater, Hamilton worked as an assistant in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers and Bears, before returning to the college ranks in 2010. Hamilton was promoted to offensive coordinator with the Cardinal after Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL.
 

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Although Narduzzi has helped to mold Michigan State’s defense into one of the Big Ten’s best over the last few years, he hasn’t had many looks to be a head coach. The Connecticut native has worked as an assistant since 1993, including stops as a defensive coordinator in 2003 with Miami (Ohio), from 2004-06 at Cincinnati and since 2007 with Michigan State. Narduzzi’s defense ranked fourth nationally in yards allowed and ninth in scoring defense this year.
 

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering Syracuse needs to move quick on finding a head coach due to recruiting, Roman could be out of the mix to replace Marrone, especially if the 49ers advance far in the playoffs. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. With the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses.
 

Scott Shafer, defensive coordinator, Syracuse – If Syracuse doesn’t promote Nathaniel Hackett, Shafer is the other in-house option for the Orange. The Ohio native has worked as an assistant on the college level since 1991, making stops at Rhode Island, Northern Illinois, Illinois, Western Michigan, Stanford, Michigan and at Syracuse since 2009. Shafer led Syracuse’s defense to a top-10 ranking in yards allowed in 2010 and held opponents to just 19.3 points a game. Shafer doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but is familiar with the current personnel and would provide an easy transition from Marrone. 
 

David Walker, running backs coach, Indianapolis Colts – Walker is a name many Syracuse fans are familiar with, as he played for the Orange from 1989-92. He rushed for over 2,000 yards in his career with Syracuse and joined the coaching ranks in 1994 as a high school assistant. Walker was named Syracuse’s running backs coach in 1995 and served in that capacity until 2004. He worked at Pittsburgh from 2005-2010 and has coached for the last two years with the Colts. Although Walker has strong ties to the university, he has no experience has a coordinator or head coach.
 

Bobby Wilder, head coach, Old Dominion – Wilder is a bit of an unknown commodity on the FBS level but he has experienced a lot of success in a short time at Old Dominion. In four seasons with the Monarchs, he has compiled a 38-10 record, which includes two appearances in the FCS playoffs. Wilder is no stranger to life in the Northeast, as he spent some time as an assistant at Boston College and Maine. 

Related College Football Content

A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013
College Football's Most Surprising Hires of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> 11 Coaches to Replace Doug Marrone at Syracuse</p>
Post date: Monday, January 7, 2013 - 06:44
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, San Diego Chargers, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-coaches-replace-fired-norv-turner-san-diego-chargers
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After an up-and-down tenure in San Diego, the Chargers have finally decided to pull the plug on Norv Turner. The embattled coach was nearly fired at the end of last season but finished with a 4-1 record in the final five games to save his job. Turner led San Diego to the AFC Championship in 2007 but missed the playoffs in each of his last three seasons. The Chargers were one of the league’s most inconsistent teams under his watch, often starting slow before finishing as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Who might replace Turner? Athlon takes a look at 10 names to watch in the coaching search.

10 Coaches to Replace Norv Turner at San Diego
 

Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts – Arians is highly regarded for his work as an offensive coordinator but had his first taste of head coaching experience on the NFL level in 2012. With Chuck Pagano stepping away from the team due to leukemia, Arians became the interim coach and led the Colts to an 8-3 record under his watch. The New Jersey native has done a tremendous job of helping rookie quarterback Andrew Luck quickly adapt to the NFL, and Indianapolis ranked as one of the league's top passing teams. Arians went 21-45 as Temple’s head coach from 1983-88 but as the interim stint with the Colts showcased, he can be a successful leader in the NFL. 
 

Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals – Gruden is considered a rising star in the assistant ranks and is due for a chance to be a head coach in the next few years. The brother of former NFL head coach Jon Gruden, Jay worked his way through the Arena Football ranks, before coming to the NFL in 2011. His coaching has been instrumental in the development of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, which also helped to lead the Bengals to the playoffs in 2011.
 

Mike Holmgren, former Cleveland Browns team president – Holmgren stepped off the field after the 2008 season. He served as Green Bay’s head coach from 1992-98 and worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. After taking a year off (2009), Holmgren was hired to serve as Cleveland’s team president and held that role for three years. However, with new ownership coming in, Holmgren was essentially let go and is interested in getting back in the coaching ranks. The California native would be a good fit for a veteran team like the Chargers, but he may also want control over personnel decisions. 


Chip Kelly, head coach, Oregon – Kelly nearly left for Tampa Bay last offseason and with NCAA sanctions likely coming at Oregon, he is ready to jump to the NFL in 2012. The New Hampshire native is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds, helping the Ducks record an average of 50.8 points per game during the 2012 regular season. Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense has been used to some extent in the NFL, as he visited with the Patriots in previous offseasons to swap ideas with Bill Belichick.  Kelly is not particularly fond of the media, injury reports or open practices and has no NFL coaching experience, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts to life away from the college game.
 

Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons – Considering the success of Atlanta’s offense this year, expect Koetter’s name to be in the mix for any head coach openings. The Idaho native has no experience as a head coach in the NFL but went 26-10 in three years at Boise State and 40-34 in six seasons with Arizona State. After he was fired in Tempe, Koetter was named Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator in 2007 and worked with the Jaguars until joining the Falcons this season.
 

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots – McDaniels had a failed two-year stint as a head coach in Denver, recording a disappointing 11-17 mark. Despite his lack of success with the Broncos, he will get another opportunity to be a head coach in the future. McDaniels is regarded as one of the NFL’s top offensive minds and is back with the Patriots after spending one year with the Rams in 2011.
 

Andy Reid, head coach, Philadelphia Eagles – If Reid is let go in Philadelphia, he won’t be out of work for very long. Although Reid’s tenure with the Eagles went south over the last two years, he still led the team to nine playoff appearances in 14 seasons. Reid had only three losing seasons with Philadelphia and took the Eagles to a Super Bowl in 2004. Considering he is a California native, Reid could be enticed to return to the West Coast and work for a team that should be a factor in the playoff mix next year.


Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Roman’s name has been mentioned with college openings, but he should also get a look for NFL jobs. The New Jersey native has worked in the NFL with the Panthers, Texans, Ravens and 49ers and was a key member of Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford. Roman doesn’t have any head coaching experience but his work with the 49ers' offense and quarterback Colin Kaepernick has showcased why he is one of the NFL’s top assistant coaches.
 

Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Washington Redskins -Mike Shanahan's son may only be 33 years old, but his football IQ is advanced beyond his years. In 2008, a 28-year-old Shanahan became the youngest coordinator in history when Mike Shanahan's former right-hand man Gary Kubiak hired him to run the show for the Texans. The younger Shanahan may want to coach star quarterback Robert Griffin III for a few more seasons, and possibly even take over the reins when his father retires. But after the success he's had, Shanahan's meteoric rise will continue with head coaching interest from teams around the league this offseason.


Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals – Zimmer has no head coaching experience but has been one of the NFL’s top defensive coordinators since coming to Cincinnati. The Bengals have ranked inside of the top 15 in total defense in every season since Zimmer arrived, and he has a wealth of experience from stops as an assistant with the Cowboys and the Falcons. 

Teaser:
<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Fired Norv Turner with the San Diego Chargers</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 13:58
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Philadelphia Eagles, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-coaches-replace-andy-reid-philadelphia-eagles
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Andy Reid’s 14-year run as the Eagles’ head coach has ended. Philadelphia’s front office decided to go in another direction after the Eagles’ first losing season since 2005. Philadelphia also missed out on the playoffs the last two years and has not won a postseason game since 2008. Reid had a solid career with the Eagles and will land another head coaching job in the near future. However, Philadelphia has a big decision to make for its next coach, especially since Washington made big strides this year, and the Giants should be better in 2013. There’s a lot of promising pieces for the next Eagles’ head coach to work with, and a run at the playoffs next year wouldn’t be unexpected. 

10 Coaches to Replace Andy Reid in Philadelphia

Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts – Arians is highly regarded for his work as an offensive coordinator but had his first taste of head coaching experience on the NFL level in 2012. With Chuck Pagano stepping away from the team due to leukemia, Arians became the interim coach and led the Colts to an 8-3 record under his watch. The New Jersey native has done a tremendous job of helping rookie quarterback Andrew Luck quickly adapt to the NFL, and Indianapolis ranked as one of the league's top passing teams. Arians went 21-45 as Temple’s head coach from 1983-88 but as the interim stint with the Colts showcased, he can be a successful leader in the NFL. 
 

Perry Fewell, defensive coordinator, New York Giants – Fewell has been a NFL assistant since 1998 and served as Buffalo’s interim head coach for seven games in 2009. The North Carolina native helped to lead the Giants to a ranking inside of the top 10 in total defense in 2010, along with developing one of the NFL’s top defensive lines. Fewell’s defenses have given up a lot of yards over the last two years, but the Giants have also had bad luck with injuries.
 

Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals – Gruden is considered a rising star in the assistant ranks and is due for a chance to be a head coach in the next few years. The brother of former NFL head coach Jon Gruden, Jay worked his way through the Arena Football ranks, before coming to the NFL in 2011. His coaching has been instrumental in the development of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, which also helped to lead the Bengals to the playoffs in 2011. Considering his development of Dalton, Gruden could be a perfect choice to help mold Nick Foles over the next couple of seasons. 
 

Jon Gruden, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach – Gruden is expected to be one of the top targets for any NFL team looking for a head coach this offseason. But will he return to coaching? After being fired by Tampa Bay in 2008, Gruden has been away from the sidelines and worked in the broadcast booth with ESPN. Although Gruden has insisted he is happy working as analyst, most believe he could be lured back to the sidelines. The Ohio native is 95-81 in his NFL career and led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in the 2002 season. Gruden may say no, but it can’t hurt the Eagles to ask.
 

Mike Holmgren, former Cleveland Browns team president – Holmgren stepped off the field after the 2008 season. He served as Green Bay’s head coach from 1992-98 and worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. After taking a year off (2009), Holmgren was hired to serve as Cleveland’s team president and held that role for three years. However, with new ownership coming in, Holmgren was essentially let go and is interested in getting back in the coaching ranks. The California native could be a good fit for a team like the Eagles, especially considering the talent on offense. However, he may want control over personnel decisions. 
 

Ray Horton, defensive coordinator, Arizona – If Ken Whisenhunt is let go with Arizona, Horton is expected to be one of the top candidates to lead the Cardinals in 2013. However, the veteran assistant could choose to look at the other openings. With Arizona struggling to generate anything on offense, the defense has a lot of pressure on its shoulders every week. The Cardinals rank in the top 15 of the NFL in total defense in 2012, which is a slight improvement after finishing 18th in the league last season. Horton has done a good job of developing defensive backs in his career and gained valuable experience working with Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh. Horton does not have any head coaching experience.
 

Chip Kelly, head coach, Oregon – Kelly nearly left for Tampa Bay last offseason and with NCAA sanctions likely coming at Oregon, he is ready to jump to the NFL in 2012. The New Hampshire native is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds, helping the Ducks record an average of 50.8 points per game during the 2012 regular season. Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense has been used to some extent in the NFL, as he visited with the Patriots in previous offseasons to swap ideas with Bill Belichick.  Kelly is not particularly fond of the media, injury reports or open practices and has no NFL coaching experience, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts to life away from the college game.
 

Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator, Denver Broncos – McCoy is considered one of the NFL’s rising stars in the coordinator ranks, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a chance to be a head coach. The California native worked with the Panthers from 2000-08, before joining the Broncos as the team’s offensive coordinator in 2009. McCoy did a good job of molding Denver’s offense around Tim Tebow last season and revamped the attack for Peyton Manning in 2012. 
 

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots – McDaniels had a failed two-year stint as a head coach in Denver, recording a disappointing 11-17 mark. Despite his lack of success with the Broncos, he will get another opportunity to be a head coach in the future. McDaniels is regarded as one of the NFL’s top offensive minds and is back with the Patriots after spending one year with the Rams in 2011.
 

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Roman’s name has been mentioned with college openings, but he should also get a look for NFL jobs. The New Jersey native has worked in the NFL with the Panthers, Texans, Ravens and 49ers and was a key member of Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford. Roman doesn’t have any head coaching experience but his work with the 49ers' offense and quarterback Colin Kaepernick has showcased why he is one of the NFL’s top assistant coaches.

Teaser:
<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 09:47
Path: /college-football/orange-bowl-preview-and-prediction-northern-illinois-vs-florida-state
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In terms of intrigue, the Florida State-Northern Illinois matchup in the Orange Bowl has to be one of the must-see games of the postseason. After cracking the top 16 of the BCS standings, the Huskies became a polarizing case study and a lightning rod for criticism. Northern Illinois has plenty of doubters and there’s no shortage of bulletin board material for this team to rally around. The Huskies will be under the direction of a new coach, as Dave Doeren departed to NC State after the MAC Championship win over Kent State. Rod Carey was promoted from co-offensive coordinator to head coach and has a huge stage for debut on the Northern Illinois’ sideline.

While this is the first BCS bowl appearance for Northern Illinois, Florida State is back in a BCS bowl for the first time since losing 26-23 to Penn State in 2006. The Seminoles are slowly working their way back into a national power, winning 30 games over the last three years. Despite the success under Jimbo Fisher, there’s also a feeling of disappointment surrounding the program. Florida State was handled by rival Florida in Tallahassee and suffered a surprising defeat to NC State on Oct. 6. The Seminoles had the talent to compete for a national championship, yet finished 11-2 and could have some motivation issues playing Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.

This will be the first meeting between these two teams. Florida State is 3-0 against teams from the MAC, and Northern Illinois is 2-6 against teams currently in the ACC.

Orange Bowl – Northern Illinois vs. Florida State

Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Miami, Fla. (Sun Life Stadium)

When the Northern Illinois Huskies have the ball:

The mission for Florida State’s defense is simple: Stop Jordan Lynch. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The junior was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks this year, rushing for 1,771 yards and 19 touchdowns and throwing for 2,962 yards and 24 scores. Lynch tossed only five picks and was held under 100 rushing yards only one time in 2012.

Lynch clearly carries the offense for Northern Illinois, but he is far from a one-man show. Running backs Leighton Settle, Akeem Daniels and Keith Harris each had more than 200 rushing yards, with Daniels recording nine touchdowns on the ground. However, the Huskies will be without the services of Settle and Harris for the Orange Bowl, which means Daniels needs to have a big performance. 

The receiving corps is loaded with solid targets, including first-team All-MAC receiver Martel Moore. The senior caught 71 passes for 1,054 yards and 12 scores this year, which included six 100-yard performances. Lynch needs a big game from Moore, but Florida State’s secondary ranked third nationally against the pass. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Lamarcus Joyner were first-team All-ACC selections and were a key reason why opposing quarterbacks completed just 50 percent of their passes against the Seminoles.

Helping to keep opposing passing attacks grounded for Florida State is one of the nation's top defensive lines. Considering the Seminoles can generate a consistent pass rush with their front four, opposing quarterbacks don't have a lot of time to wait for their receivers to come open. This line held opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game (93) and averaged 2.5 sacks a game. If there is a concern about the defensive line, depth has become an issue this year. Ends Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins were lost for the year, which forced top recruit Mario Edwards, Jr. into more snaps than the coaching staff expected to give him this season. Although Carradine and Jenkins were big losses, Bjoern Werner had a standout season (18 TFL, 13 sacks) and is tasked with generating a pass rush against a Northern Illinois’ offensive line that averaged just one sack allowed a game this year. 

After averaging 40.7 points and nearly 500 yards a game (485.7) in the regular season, the Orange Bowl will be the toughest defensive test Northern Illinois has faced this year. The Huskies faced only two BCS opponents in 2012, recording 17 points against Iowa and 30 against Kansas. Florida State’s defense is much better than the Hawkeyes and Jayhawks but is also dealing with the loss of coordinator Mark Stoops. Defensive line coach D.J. Eliot will call the plays for the Seminoles in this game and will join Stoops at Kentucky at the conclusion of the Orange Bowl.

Stopping Lynch will be the top priority for Florida State’s defense. Expect the Seminoles to load up the box to prevent Lynch from getting over 100 yards on the ground and allow their cornerbacks to play man against Northern Illinois’ wide receivers. Lynch doesn’t have to generate huge gains on each play to be a factor. If the junior can generate three or four yards a carry, the Huskies can keep the chains moving, which should allow them a chance to hang around in this game. 

When the Florida State Seminoles have the ball:

For the fifth consecutive season, Florida State averaged over 30 points a game. The Seminoles were relatively balanced on offense, recording 203.4 yards per game on the ground and 263.3 passing yards a contest.

Despite those numbers, the Seminoles' offense bogged down at times. Quarterback EJ Manuel finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency but can be a streaky passer. Manuel threw for 3,106 yards and 22 touchdowns, while tossing 10 picks on 349 attempts. The senior has struggled at times in the early portion of games, so it’s important for Fisher to get Manuel comfortable in the first quarter.

Florida State boasts a deep collection of targets at receiver, along with an emerging weapon at tight end. Sophomore Rashad Greene led the team with 52 receptions for 696 yards and five touchdowns. Rodney Smith, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw each recorded over 400 receiving yards, while Greg Dent chipped in 24 catches for 313 yards. Tight end Nick O’Leary became a bigger factor in the offense late in the season, catching six passes (with two going for scores) over the final three contests.

The Seminoles’ rushing attack suffered an early blow this year, losing Chris Thompson to a torn ACL against Miami. After coming back from a serious back injury, Thompson was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season. Sophomores Devonta Freeman and James Wilder have been steady in Thompson’s absence, combining for 1,218 yards and 19 rushing scores. Expect both players to find running room against a Northern Illinois defense allowing 139 rushing yards per game. 

As mentioned above with Northern Illinois’ offense, this is its toughest test of the season. While the MAC is known for offense, Florida State has more depth, speed and talent than any team the Huskies have played this year. Northern Illinois' defense was one of the best in the MAC this year, allowing only 19 points a game and recording 2.9 sacks per contest.

Forcing turnovers will be a huge component of Northern Illinois’ upset bid, especially considering Florida State ranks 96th nationally in turnover margin. The Huskies need a few breaks to go their way to pull the upset, and it may take a touchdown on defense or special teams to knock off the Seminoles.

Final Analysis

The Huskies will have their moments in this game but it won’t be enough to beat Florida State. Even without Stoops coordinating the defense, the Seminoles’ front seven will hold Lynch in check, while the secondary will prevent many big plays. Northern Illinois should be able to hold its own early on the defensive side, but Florida State’s depth and speed will eventually take control in the second half. Motivation is an issue for the Seminoles, and they cannot afford to take Northern Illinois’ lightly. The Huskies will hang around for three quarters, while the Seminoles pull away in the fourth quarter to earn their fifth consecutive bowl victory.

Prediction: Florida State 38, Northern Illinois 20


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Teaser:
<p> Orange Bowl Preview and Prediction: Northern Illinois vs. Florida State</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:48
Path: /college-football/chick-fil-bowl-preview-and-prediction-clemson-vs-lsu
Body:

Considering the success of Clemson and LSU this year, the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl could easily be a BCS matchup and should be one of the postseason’s must-see bowl games. Clemson’s two losses came at the hands of South Carolina and Florida State, a combined 21-4. LSU suffered two close defeats to Florida and Alabama – both teams in BCS bowls.

Although Clemson fell short of repeating as ACC champions, coach Dabo Swinney has the program on the right track. Swinney has assembled a solid coaching staff, which is a key reason why the program has back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1989-90. Clemson went 1-1 against the SEC this season, losing 27-17 to South Carolina in the regular season finale, while beating Auburn in Atlanta 26-19 to open the year. Taking on LSU will be an even tougher challenge for Clemson, especially with the matchup in the trenches.

LSU had preseason expectations of playing for the national championship once again but narrow losses to Alabama and Florida relegated Les Miles’ team to a bowl game outside of the BCS. However, LSU has been on an incredible run over the last three years, recording a 34-5 mark during that span.

These two teams have met only twice, with LSU winning both games. Interestingly enough, the two meetings between Clemson and LSU occurred in bowl games.

Chick-fil-A Bowl – Clemson (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2)

Date/Time: Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Location: Atlanta, Ga.

When the Clemson Tigers have the ball:

Since the arrival of Chad Morris as coordinator, Clemson has emerged as one of the top offenses in the ACC. The Tigers averaged 33.6 points per game last season but increased that number to 42.3 per contest in 2012. Morris’ scheme has been a major factor in Clemson’s offensive improvement but a ton of credit also goes to quarterback Tajh Boyd.

The junior passer has thrived under Morris, throwing for 67 scores and 7,378 yards over the last two seasons. Boyd has 25 picks over the last two years but showed improved mobility in 2012, which allowed him to record 492 yards and nine scores on the ground this season.

Although Boyd has been one of college football’s top-10 quarterbacks the last two seasons, he has struggled against SEC defenses. Take out his 386-yard performance against Auburn in 2011 and Boyd has thrown for 474 yards, three touchdowns and four picks in three previous contests against SEC opponents.

With Boyd and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins capable of scoring 30 points, the offensive line will be under the microscope on New Year’s Eve. This unit allowed 2.2 sacks a game this season and faces it’s toughest test of the year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU has one of the best defensive lines in the nation, filled with depth, speed, talent and experience. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo combined for 11 sacks this season, while tackles Bennie Logan, Anthony Johnson and Josh Downs are active around the line of scrimmage. 

Pass protection is a huge question mark for Clemson’s offensive line in this matchup, but it also has to be concerned about clearing the way for running back Andre Ellington. LSU ranks ninth nationally against the run and allowed only one player – Florida’s Mike Gillislee – to reach the 100-yard mark. Ellington rushed for 228 yards in the opener against Auburn but had only two 100-yard performances the rest of the year.

It may seem simple and perhaps too obvious, but the Chick-fil-A Bowl is going to be won or lost in the trenches. Clemson’s offensive line has to play better than it did against South Carolina. If LSU’s defensive line wins the battle up front, Boyd won’t have opportunities to stretch the field. If Boyd has time to throw, there’s no shortage of weapons with Watkins and Hopkins outside at receiver, along with tight end Brandon Ford working the middle of the field.

When the LSU Tigers have the ball:

There’s quite a contrast in style of play between Clemson and LSU. While Clemson prefers a no-huddle spread offense, LSU has old school, run-first mentality. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with running an old-school offense, especially when it has worked to win 34 games over the last three years.

LSU leans with the run but is fairly balanced on offense. The rushing attack is generating 179.9 yards per game, while the passing offense ranks 90th nationally at 207.3 yards per contest.

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger was under heavy pressure to perform in his first season as the starter and didn’t get comfortable until late in the year. Mettenberger recorded only two games of more than 200 passing yards through the first eight weeks but finished with at least 217 yards in each of his final four games. Mettenberger seemed in control and showed more poise than he did at the start of the season, which allowed LSU’s passing attack to take a few more chances.

LSU has an underrated group of receivers, headlined by Odell Beckham (40 catches), Jarvis Landry (52 catches), Kadron Boone (24 catches) and Russell Shepard. This group is capable of stretching the field against Clemson’s secondary, which ranked eighth in the ACC and allowed 250.3 yards per game.

Even though Mettenberger showed improvement at the end of the regular season, LSU isn’t going to go away from its bread and butter. Les Miles’ team has an embarrassment of riches in the backfield, as five players could start for a handful of SEC teams. Freshman Jeremy Hill led the team with 631 rushing yards and 10 scores, but Kenny Hilliard (456 yards), Michael Ford (393 yards), Spencer Ware (358 yards) and Alfred Blue (270 yards) will all see touches. Ware was a key contributor out of the backfield for Mettenberger, catching 15 passes for 212 yards and one score.

LSU’s offensive line suffered some key injuries this season, including the loss of potential All-America tackle Chris Faulk early in the year. Despite the new faces in the lineup, LSU averaged 4.3 yards per rush. Clemson’s defensive line averaged 2.3 sacks a game during the regular season, which could create some problems for LSU’s passing attack. However, the bigger problem for Clemson is a rush defense allowing 160.7 yards per game.

Final Analysis

Although Clemson can put up points in a hurry, LSU’s edge in the trenches will control the tempo of this game. Boyd should be able to hit on a few big plays but the time off between the regular season finale and bowl game could create some early rust for Clemson. LSU won’t need too much from its passing attack, as Jeremy Hill and Spencer Ware should be able to grind out plenty of yards against Clemson’s defensive line.

Prediction: LSU 34, Clemson 24


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Teaser:
<p> Chick-fil-A Bowl Preview and Prediction: Clemson vs. LSU</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:46
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-new-years-resolutions-2013
Body:

The end of every year is always a good time for reflection and examining what improvements could be made for the following 12 months. And that’s the case with college football, especially as the sport gets ready to close the books on a crazy 2012 season and move on to 2013 with another interesting race for the national title ready to unfold. There are still plenty of big events coming to college football in the next few days, including the anticipated Notre Dame-Alabama BCS championship game on Jan. 7. With the 2012 season nearly over, it’s time to start thinking about how college football could be better in 2013. With that in mind, here are six resolutions for fans to consider for next season:

Six College Football New Year's Resolutions for 2013

A quiet year for realignment
Nebraska to the Big Ten. Texas A&M to the SEC. Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC. Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten. Will the realignment carousel ever stop? Unfortunately for college football fans, realignment will probably continue into 2013, 2014 and 2015. With the uncertainty surrounding the Big East, along with rumors about the Big Ten wanting to poach a few more teams from the ACC, it’s likely there will be a few more programs changing addresses in 2013. However, all fans should hope for less realignment and more news devoted to the on-field product in 2013. Speaking of realignment and affecting games…

Resuming defunct rivalries
Although conference realignment will create new rivalries, some historical matchups like Texas-Texas A&M, Pittsburgh-West Virginia and Kansas-Missouri should be played every year. Although schools don’t want to overload their non-conference schedules, there’s really no excuse for Texas to be unwilling to schedule Texas A&M because it changed conferences. Programs that won't schedule a rivalry game are only hurting their fans and pocketbook, especially as they will likely fill the void on the schedule with an easy non-conference win. Let’s hope 2013 brings some changes at those schools, which gets the defunct rivalries back on the schedule for 2014 and beyond.

An increased emphasis on non-conference scheduling
With a four-team playoff coming in 2014, some schools are ramping up their future non-conference schedules to become more attractive for the selection committee. Can some of that scheduling happen for 2013? It’s understandable why most of the SEC was playing FCS or non-BCS opponents the week before playing their rival. However, it’s also embarrassing for a conference to have no marquee matchup for an entire week. LSU-TCU, Georgia-Clemson, Virginia Tech-Alabama and Notre Dame-Oklahoma are some of the more enticing non-conference matchups for 2013, but college football needs more marquee non-conference games - and less of Alabama-Western Carolina, Auburn-Alabama A&M and Oklahoma State-Savannah State.

A defensive player to get more consideration for the Heisman
Considering college football has become a very offense-heavy sport, it’s no surprise quarterbacks and running backs get the most attention in Heisman races. While high-scoring games and spread offenses are the talk of college football, let’s see defensive players get more attention for the Heisman. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o finished second to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in 2012, and South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney has already been tabbed one of the frontrunners for 2013. Although defensive players may not have the highlight reel plays or big stats like quarterbacks, their impact is just as crucial to the outcome of any game or success of their team.

Less complaining about the BCS
Frankly, the constant whining and complaining about the BCS is nauseating. And it’s even worse when fans complain about where their team ranks on Oct. 10. With the playoff coming in 2014, college football fans (at least most of them) got what they wanted. Instead of spending the next year complaining about the system and rankings until it matters in late November, let’s try to enjoy the on-field action more in the 2013 season, while engaging in more healthy debates like the Heisman, non-conference scheduling for the future and how to fix off-the-field scandals. And please, no debates about expanding the playoff to eight teams. 

No more off-the-field scandals
For the past couple of years, it seems college football has had one ongoing scandal after another. Whether it is Miami, North Carolina, Oregon or Penn State, the off-the-field news is getting ridiculous. How about a year where there are no NCAA investigations or letters of inquiry sent to schools? Miami and Oregon could be hearing from the NCAA this spring, but college football fans should hope no new scandals will break in 2013. 


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Teaser:
<p> College Football's New Year's Resolutions for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:05
Path: /college-football/holiday-bowl-preview-and-prediction-baylor-vs-ucla
Body:

If you like offense, the Holiday Bowl is one of the postseason’s must-watch matchups. Baylor and UCLA each averaged over 35 points and 470 yards a game, so this game could be one of the highest-scoring contests of the bowl season

UCLA has claimed back-to-back Pac-12 South titles, but this season's team showed big improvement after finishing 6-8 last year. New coach Jim Mora assembled an excellent staff, while making the Bruins more relevant on the recruiting trail. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone deserves a ton of credit for his work with quarterback Brett Hundley, who ranked as one of the top redshirt freshmen in college football in 2012. The Bruins lost four games in Pac-12 play but nearly beat Stanford in the conference championship and knocked off USC 38-28 to win the division title.

The post-Robert Griffin III era at Baylor went the way most expected. Well, sort of. The Bears started 3-0 but lost their next four games. However, both sides of the ball found their rhythm late in the year, which allowed Baylor to finish with victories in four out of its final five games. The Bears knocked off conference champ Kansas State in mid-November, came within eight of beating Oklahoma and defeated Oklahoma State in the regular season finale.

Holiday Bowl – UCLA vs. Baylor

Date and Time: Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location:  San Diego, Calif.

When the UCLA Bruins have the ball:

After dealing with injuries and inconsistency at quarterback over the last couple of years, UCLA finally found its answer with redshirt freshman Brett Hundley. In 13 games this year, he threw for 3,411 yards and 26 touchdowns, while adding 365 yards and nine scores on the ground. Hundley is a perfect fit for coordinator Noel Mazzone’s spread attack, as the offense allows the redshirt freshman to quickly deliver the ball to the receivers, while taking advantage of his mobility on read-option plays.

When Hundley throws, his favorite receivers this year have been Shaquelle Evans and tight end Joseph Fauria. Evans leads the team in receptions (53) and yards (795), while Fauria ranked first with 11 scores. Jerry Johnson, Steven Manfro and Jordan Payton are other key targets for Hundley, but expect Evans and Fauria to see most of the targets.

Although the offense took a huge step forward thanks to Hundley’s development, the play of running back Johnathan Franklin shouldn’t be overlooked. The senior recorded his second 1,000-yard season of his career in 2012, rushing for 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns on 268 attempts. Franklin is a key factor in the passing game, catching 32 passes for 319 yards and two scores.

Baylor’s defense was expected to be better in coordinator Phil Bennett’s second year, but the Bears finished 119th nationally in yards allowed and gave up 38.2 points a game. However, this unit played showed some signs of life at times, holding Kansas State to 24 points and ended the year with 25 forced turnovers.

The Bears will have their hands full in this matchup, as UCLA was held under 20 points only two times this year. The Bears have to find a way to slow down Franklin on early downs, while keeping Hundley in the pocket. Baylor hasn’t generated much pressure this year, so forcing turnovers will be a priority.

When the Baylor Bears have the ball:

Despite having to replace Robert Griffin, Baylor’s offense finished first nationally in total offense and averaged 44.1 points a game. Senior Nick Florence isn’t as mobile as Griffin, yet finished with 531 rushing yards and nine scores. Through the air, Florence tossed 31 touchdowns and 4,121 yards on 451 attempts.

With USC’s Marqise Lee and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin stealing the national spotlight, Baylor’s receiving corps often gets overlooked. However, the Bears have one of the top receiver trios in the nation, starting with senior and Biletnikoff finalist Terrance Williams. The senior grabbed 95 receptions for 1,764 yards and 12 scores this season. Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson were solid No. 2 and No. 3 options, each catching 51 balls this year. Levi Norwood chipped in 39 receptions and Antwan Goodley stepped up late in the season by catching seven passes over his final three games.

Baylor’s offense became even more dangerous late in the year with the emergence of Lache Seastrunk at running back. The Oregon transfer had only 15 carries through the first five weeks but closed out the regular season with four 100-yard efforts in his final five contests. Seastrunk provides big-play ability in the backfield, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt and had an 80-yard touchdown run this year.

UCLA’s defensive stats weren’t as bad as Baylor but were nothing for Jim Mora to be pleased about. The Bruins ranked in the second half of the Pac-12 in total, scoring and pass defense but made up for the yards allowed by generating 3.3 sacks a game. Linebacker Anthony Barr was shifted from offense in the preseason and was a pleasant surprise for this unit. The junior generated 13.5 sacks and finished third on the team with 74 tackles.

This game is a huge test for the Bruins’ secondary, which has to matchup against one of the nation’s top receiving corps. Even if UCLA finds a way to slow down Williams, Reese and Sampson are capable of connecting with Florence on big plays. Considering the depth and talent in Baylor’s receiving corps, the Bruins have to get a consistent pass rush on Florence, which will help reduce the amount of pressure on the secondary. UCLA lost a key piece of the secondary for this game in late December, as safety Tevin McDonald was suspended due to a violation of team rules.

Final Analysis

There should be no shortage of yards and points in this game. The Holiday Bowl is usually one of the more entertaining postseason matchups, so this game should be one of the top-10 bowl games in 2012. Considering the offensive ability on both sidelines, timely stops and turnovers will be crucial. Baylor and UCLA will have plenty of highlights on offense, but the Bruins are slightly better on defense, which is just enough to pull out the victory.

Prediction: UCLA 41, Baylor 38


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Teaser:
<p> Holiday Bowl Preview and Prediction: Baylor vs. UCLA</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 06:48
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-most-surprising-head-coach-hires-bcs-era
Body:

No college football head coaching search ever goes according to plan. However, anytime a job opens during or after the season, there’s a good idea of which candidates will be interested or the most likely targets. Despite having a general feel of where a particular program might go with its hire, there are times where a school makes a decision that blindsides or surprises everyone. Arkansas made a solid hire when it pulled Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, but the move came as a complete surprise.

What other coaching moves came out of nowhere or caught everyone off guard? Check out these 12 coaching moves of the BCS era. 

College Football's Most Surprising Head Coach Hires of the BCS Era

Bret Bielema, Arkansas from Wisconsin (2012)
With the rise of social media, keeping a coaching search under wraps for any program is nearly impossible. Somehow, Arkansas kept its courtship of Bielema off the radar and was able to hire him away from Wisconsin just after winning the Big Ten Championship. Considering Bielema’s background as a player in the Big Ten and his successful stint at Wisconsin (68-24 and three consecutive Rose Bowls), it was a surprise to see him make the move to Arkansas. Moving to Fayetteville will help Bielema pay his assistants a little more, but making the jump from the Badgers to the Razorbacks really isn’t a huge leap in terms of moving up the coaching ladder. 
 

Rich Brooks, Kentucky from unemployment (2003)
Brooks was instrumental in jumpstarting Oregon as a top-25 program. He led the Ducks to 91 victories from 1977-94, which included a Rose Bowl appearance and a nine-win season in 1994. After his tenure with the Ducks, Brooks jumped at an opportunity to go to the NFL but was fired after a 13-19 record in two years with the Rams. The California native served as a defensive coordinator for the Falcons for the next four years and was selected as Kentucky’s head coach in 2003. Brooks was not a popular hire at Kentucky, especially considering he was out of football for two years before coming to Lexington. The California native only added fuel to the fans' disappointment, starting his tenure with a 9-25 mark through the first three years. However, credit athletic director Mitch Barnhart for sticking with Brooks after a bad start. Kentucky made four consecutive bowl appearances from 2006-09 and finished in a tie for third place in the SEC in '06. 
 

Bill Callahan, Nebraska from the Oakland Raiders (2004)
Callahan is regarded as an excellent assistant but probably isn’t built to be a head coach. Even though he led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season, Oakland slumped to an awful 4-12 mark the next year, which resulted in Callahan’s firing. After the terrible 2003 season with the Raiders, Callahan somehow managed to land at Nebraska. Yes, there’s something appealing about a coach with NFL experience, but Callahan rode the coattails of former Raider head coach Jon Gruden to get Oakland to a Super Bowl and lost the team the next year. Callahan led Nebraska to a 27-22 mark during his four seasons, which included a Big 12 North division title in 2006. However, the Cornhuskers were just 15-17 overall in Big 12 play under Callahan’s watch and recorded two seasons with just five victories.
 

Bob Davie, New Mexico from ESPN (2012)
For a program that was trying to recover from the disastrous Mike Locksley era, Davie seemed to be a good fit in Albuquerque. The veteran coach brought some much-needed stability and helped the Lobos improve their win total by three games from 2011 to 2012. Although Davie wasn’t a bad hire, it came as a surprise when you consider his last coaching experience came in 2001. Working as an ESPN analyst certainly helped Davie keep in touch with the latest trends in college football, but it’s never easy returning to the sidelines after a 10-year absence.
 

Gerry DiNardo, Indiana from the XFL (2002)
DiNardo had some success in his career, recording a 19-25 mark in four seasons at Vanderbilt and started his tenure at LSU with three winning campaigns. However, the Tigers trailed off during DiNardo’s last two years, and he was fired with one game remaining in 1999. After spending one year out of football, the New York native resurfaced in the XFL with Birmingham and then turned up at Indiana after the XFL folded. Although DiNardo won 51 games during his previous two college stops, it was a strange to see Indiana make this hire, especially after the way his tenure at LSU ended.
 

Randy Edsall, Maryland from Connecticut (2011)
Dream job. That’s how Edsall summed up his decision to leave Connecticut for Maryland. While it’s a stretch to say Edsall moved up far on the coaching ladder, this move caught everyone by surprise. The Pennsylvania native was coming off of a Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2010 and led the Huskies to four consecutive postseason appearances. In two years with the Terrapins, Edsall is just 6-18 but seems to have the program back on track after a miserable debut in 2011.  

Jim Mora, UCLA from Fox (2011)
The Bruins had an extensive coaching search to find Rick Neuheisel’s replacement at the end of the 2011 regular season. Some big candidates (Chris Petersen) weren’t interested in leaving their current school, and when the pool of candidates began to get thin, UCLA decided to go with Mora as its next head coach. Considering he had no collegiate coaching experience since 1984 and was just 31-33 in four seasons as a NFL head coach, Mora’s hire came as a big surprise. However, Mora has been a good fit so far, assembling an excellent coaching staff and leading the Bruins to the Pac-12 South Division title in 2012.
 

Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut from the Dallas Cowboys (2010)
Even though Pasqualoni is a Connecticut native and recorded a 107-59-1 mark during his tenure at Syracuse, this hire made little sense at the time and has not worked out well for the Huskies. Pasqualoni was out of college football for six seasons, spending all of that time in the NFL. Considering the last three years of his Syracuse tenure resulted in a 16-20 record, coupled with his time away from the college game, Connecticut’s hire of Pasqualoni made little sense.  
 

Bill Snyder, Kansas State from retirement (2009)
After a failed three-year stint under Ron Price, Kansas State re-hired the most successful coach in its school history. While it’s no surprise that Snyder is having tremendous success in his second stint in Manhattan, it was a mild shock the retired coach decided to dust off his purple jacket and return to the Wildcats’ sideline. Snyder's first tenure at Kansas State ended with back-to-back losing seasons, so it was fair to wonder if the program had slipped. Snyder was always expected to be restless throughout his retirement, but a return to full-time coaching seemed like a distant possibility. 
 

Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati from Texas Tech (2012)
The marriage between Tuberville and Texas Tech always seemed a little odd from the start. However, no one could have expected Tuberville to jump from Texas Tech to Cincinnati, especially considering the uncertainty surrounding the Big East. If anything, Tuberville was expected to get in the mix for openings at Tennessee and Arkansas. The Arkansas native has left each of his three stops with a winning record and led Texas Tech to a 20-17 mark in three years. As a program, Cincinnati has upside. And the Bearcats are making a commitment to facility upgrades, which should help the program become more attractive for future conference realignment. Tuberville wasn’t expected to stick around at Texas Tech for 10 years, but he also wasn’t expected to land at Cincinnati or in the Big East.
 

Charlie Weis, Kansas from Florida offensive coordinator (2011)
Weis started off his career at Notre Dame with a solid 19-6 mark, which included back-to-back appearances in BCS bowls. Despite the early success, Weis was never able to elevate the program into national title contention and never won more than seven games in each of his final three years in South Bend. After getting fired from Notre Dame, he spent one year with the Chiefs and then one season with Florida as its offensive coordinator. Although Weis is a highly regarded assistant, he’s done little to suggest he can lead a program for the long haul. The Jayhawks went 1-11 in his first season in Lawrence, which continues to raise the question of why Weis got a second head coaching gig after his performance at Notre Dame. 
 

Ron Zook, Illinois from Florida (2004)
With an elite recruiting base and the success of Florida under Steve Spurrier, Zook’s 23-14 record was a major disappointment in Gainesville. The Gators never won more than eight games in a season under Zook’s watch and he was fired with two games remaining in 2004. Considering his less than stellar stint at one of the nation’s top programs, Illinois’ decision to hire Zook didn’t make a lot of sense. Zook did lead Illinois to a Rose Bowl appearance but had four losing seasons. The Ohio native was always regarded as an excellent recruiter but was never able to mesh the talent with results on the field. 

Just off the radar

Gene Chizik, Auburn from Iowa State (2009)
Chizik was not a popular hire at Auburn but led the Tigers to the 2010 national championship. However, his success was short lived, going 11-14 over the last two years. Chizik had some success in his career, but at the time, it was hard for Auburn to justify hiring a coach that went 5-19 in two years at Iowa State.

Stan Parrish, Ball State from offensive coordinator (2008)
With the success of Brady Hoke, it’s understandable the Cardinals wanted to stick with continuity and promote Parrish to head coach. However, his last tenure as a head coach was awful, recording a 2-30-1 mark in three seasons at Kansas State. Of course, winning in Manhattan isn’t easy, but Parrish was a poor fit for a program that was coming off of 19 wins from 2007-08.

Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky from unemployment (2012)
Considering what transpired at Arkansas, it’s no surprise Petrino was forced to land at a non-BCS school. However, there will still be some shock involved when Petrino leads the Hilltoppers out of the tunnel for their season opener next year.

Buddy Teevens, Stanford from Florida assistant coach (2002)
Why? That’s about the only word to sum up Teevens’ hire at Stanford. He went 11-45 in five years at Tulane and considering all of his coaching experience was East of Texas, Teevens was an odd fit on the West Coast. As expected, Teevens didn’t produce any results, going 10-23 in three years with Stanford. 

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Post date: Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/las-vegas-bowl-preview-and-prediction-boise-state-vs-washington
Body:

With Boise State and Washington returning most of its starting core for 2013, the Las Vegas Bowl is a chance for both teams to establish momentum and use the postseason as a springboard for an improvement in the win column next year.

The Broncos have played in the Las Vegas Bowl in each of the last two seasons, beating Utah and Arizona State by a combined score of 82-27. By reaching 10 victories in 2012, Boise State has achieved seven consecutive seasons of double-digit victories. The Broncos had to replace a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball and its only two losses were by a combined six points.

Washington is making slow progress under coach Steve Sarkisian but most expected the Huskies to finish better than 7-5. Fixing the defense was a top priority for Sarkisian in the offseason, and the hire of coordinator Justin Wilcox has paid big dividends. The Huskies are making back-to-back trips to a bowl game for the first time since 2001-02. Washington played a tough schedule in 2012, losing to two top-10 teams in LSU and Oregon. However, the Huskies lost to Washington State in the season finale and was blown out 52-17 by Arizona in mid-October.

These two teams have met only one time (2007), with Washington beating Boise State 24-10 in Seattle.

Las Vegas Bowl – Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5)

Date/Time: Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Location: Las Vegas

When the Boise State Broncos have the ball:

The departure of six starters is a lot for any offense to overcome. But try replacing one of college football’s top quarterbacks of the BCS era, a 1,000-yard rusher and a stalwart left tackle. That’s the obstacle Boise State had to overcome this season, and the offense certainly had its share of ups and downs. The Broncos finished 54th nationally in scoring offense and 76th in total offense.

Quarterback Joe Southwick had big shoes to fill in replacing Kellen Moore, and he finished with 2,466 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. The junior completed 66.7 percent of his throws and did not toss a pick in the final three games of the season. Southwick’s favorite target is Matt Miller (60 catches), but five players have at least 20 receptions in 2012.

Helping Southwick along this year has been the steady performance of running back D.J. Harper. The senior has battled knee injuries in his career but stayed healthy for all 12 games and finished with 1,065 yards and 15 scores. When Harper needs a rest, promising redshirt freshman Jay Ajayi is averaging 6.9 yards per carry and has four touchdowns this year.

Thanks to the arrival of Justin Wilcox, Washington has emerged as one of the nation’s most-improved defenses. Wilcox came to Seattle after spending two years as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. The Huskies allowed 35.9 points a game last season but cut that total to just 23.8 in 2012. Washington also ranks 30th nationally in yards allowed and finished the regular season second in the Pac-12 in pass defense.

While the secondary ranks near the top of the Pac-12, the rush defense has been a bigger issue. The Huskies are allowing 164.3 yards per game on the ground, which should work into Boise State’s favor. Expect Harper and Ajayi to see plenty of carries, as the Broncos use the run to setup the pass.

When the Washington Huskies have the ball:

Although the Huskies took a step forward on defense this year, the offense regressed after averaging 409.9 yards and 33.4 points a game last season. Despite the return of quarterback Keith Price, the Huskies were unable to match last season’s totals, largely due to the offensive line. Injuries and inexperience hindered this unit in 2012, as Washington allowed 2.8 sacks per game. Protecting Price was an issue for most of the year, which was a big reason why the junior quarterback watched his passing yards drop from 3,063 (2011) to 2,486.

When Price has time to throw, he has two of the Pac-12’s rising stars to target. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is one of the nation’s best, catching 63 passes for 791 yards and six scores. Kasen Williams had a breakout year as he emerged as the No. 1 wide receiver and led the team with 71 receptions. Outside of Seferian-Jenkins and Williams, Washington needs more from its receiving corps. Jaydon Mickens is a promising freshman but ranked second among wide receivers with 18 receptions.

The battle between Washington’s passing game and Boise State’s secondary could be the defining matchup on Saturday. The Broncos are generating 2.8 sacks a game and rank fourth nationally against the pass. Senior cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins were both All-Mountain West selections, and safety Jeremy Ioane ranked second on the team with 65 stops. Even if Price has time to throw, the secondary won’t allow for the Huskies to have many chances for big plays.

While the passing attack has struggled, the running game has thrived under first-year starter Bishop Sankey. The sophomore quietly rushed for 1,234 yards and 15 scores and caught 27 passes for 175 yards. Sankey figures to test a Boise State defense that ranks 39th nationally against the run and lost tackle Mike Atkinson for the season with a torn ACL in early November.

Boise State’s defense had to replace 10 starters from last year’s team, so it’s a credit to the work of coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to keep this unit among the best in the nation. Despite the heavy losses from last season’s defense, the Broncos ranked ninth in total defense and allowed just 14.9 points a game.

Final Analysis:

Both teams could start next year in the top 25, so this is a key opportunity to seize momentum. Interestingly enough, Boise State and Washington will meet in the season opener in 2013, so this is a chance to get some early scouting done for next year. Although both teams are capable of putting points on the scoreboard, expect a low-scoring defensive game. Washington’s defense is one of the nation’s most-improved units, but Boise State should be to find some running room with senior back D.J. Harper. This game should go deep into the fourth quarter, but a slight edge goes to the Broncos over the Huskies.  

Prediction: Boise State 24, Washington 20


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Teaser:
<p> Las Vegas Bowl Preview and Prediction: Boise State vs. Washington</p>
Post date: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 05:49
Path: /college-football/new-orleans-bowl-preview-and-prediction-east-carolina-vs-louisiana-lafayette
Body:

The New Orleans Bowl features a matchup of two teams riding a wave of momentum to close out the regular season. East Carolina won five out of its last six games, with the only loss coming to Navy. The Pirates didn’t beat a team with a winning record during that span but recorded two victories by 20 or more points. The Ragin’ Cajuns won four out of their last five games and nearly upset Florida on Nov. 10.

Louisiana-Lafayette is making its second consecutive postseason trip to the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns won a 32-30 thriller against San Diego State last season and are a slight favorite to win on Saturday. The Pirates are back in a bowl after a one-year absence and will be looking to end a three-game losing streak in postseason appearances.

These two teams have met 10 times, with Louisiana-Lafayette owning a 6-4 series edge. The Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns last met in 1990, with East Carolina claiming a 20-10 victory.

New Orleans Bowl

Date and Time: Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: New Orleans

When the Ragin’ Cajuns have the ball:

Despite losing quarterback Blaine Gautier to a hand injury early in the year, Louisiana-Lafayette’s offense really hasn’t missed a beat. Houston transfer Terrance Broadway stepped into the starting lineup and finished with 3,192 total yards and 24 scores. The sophomore completed 65.4 percent of his throws and averaged 6.4 yards per rush.

Broadway should have plenty of opportunities to attack an East Carolina defense that allowed 30.7 points a game and ranked 105th nationally against the pass. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a solid group of receivers, which is led by Harry Peoples with 61 receptions, Javone Lawson and all-purpose threat Darryl Surgent.

Louisiana-Lafayette didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher during the regular season, but Alonzo Harris rushed for 761 yards and eight touchdowns. The sophomore finished with two 100-yard efforts to close out the season and will be spelled by Torrey Pierce and Effrem Reed.

East Carolina was better against the run than it was against the pass but still allowed 145.7 rushing yards per game. If there was one bit of good news for the defense, it’s the fact the Pirates were solid in the forced turnover department (20) and averaged 2.1 sacks per game.

Getting pressure on Broadway will be crucial for East Carolina, especially with a secondary that ranked near the bottom of Conference USA in yards allowed. If the Pirates can get pressure on Broadway, they will have a chance to slow down Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns won’t generate a ton of huge gains on the ground, but Broadway’s ability to make plays when things break down in the pocket is a huge bonus for the Louisiana-Lafayette offense.

When the Pirates have the ball:

Sophomore Shane Carden took over the Pirates’ quarterback duties after the second game of the season and got more comfortable as the year progressed. Carden finished the year with 2,838 yards and 21 passing scores and added eight touchdowns on the ground. The sophomore also completed 66.8 percent of his passes.

Carden’s favorite target has been Justin Hardy, but East Carolina has seven players with at least 20 receptions this year. Hardy caught 83 passes for 1,046 yards and 10 scores in 2012, which included 16 receptions in the 65-59 shootout win over Marshall on Nov. 23. Carden to Hardy should be a popular connection on Saturday, especially considering Louisiana-Lafayette is allowing 283.9 passing yards per game.

Protecting Carden is going to be a crucial element for the Pirates on Saturday afternoon. The Ragin’ Cajuns are averaging 2.2 sacks a game, while East Carolina’s front five is allowing 2.3 a contest. Carden is far from a statue in the pocket, but Louisiana-Lafayette’s defense can be active around the line of scrimmage, which helps it in the turnover department.

Although East Carolina leans on the pass, don't overlook running back Vintavious Cooper. The junior college transfer amassed 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns this year, while also catching 24 passes for 226 yards and one score. Cooper doesn’t have to have a huge game, but the Pirates need to establish some balance to keep Louisiana-Lafayette guessing.

Final Analysis

With a short trip from Lafayette to New Orleans, expect the Ragin’ Cajuns to have a home crowd advantage. Louisiana-Lafayette fans packed the Superdome for last season’s game and should be out in full force once again on Saturday. Both teams will have plenty of success moving the ball on offense, so it’s up to whichever defense can make a key stop in the fourth quarter. This one is a tossup, but with a home field advantage, a slight edge goes to Louisiana-Lafayette.

Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 34, East Carolina 31


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Teaser:
<p> New Orleans Bowl Preview and Prediction: East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette</p>
Post date: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 05:45
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2012-coordinator-carousel-tracker-0
Body:

College football's coaching carousel has been active since the end of the regular season and will continue to spin over the next few months. Athlon has compiled all of the coordinator changes from this season and will continue to update this list as moves take place. 

Note: This list assumes coordinator jobs will be open when a head coach leaves for another position or is fired. 

School Position     Old Coordinator New Coordinator
Akron OC Terry Bowden A.J. Milwee
Arkansas OC Paul Petrino Jim Chaney
Arkansas DC Paul Haynes Chris Ash
Arkansas State OC Rhett Lashlee  
Auburn OC Scot Loeffler Rhett Lashlee
Auburn Co-DC Brian VanGorder Ellis Johnson, Charlie Harbison
Boston College OC Doug Martin Ryan Day
Boston College DC Bill McGovern Don Brown
California OC Jim Michalczik Tony Franklin
California DC Clancy Pendergast Andy Buh
Cincinnati OC Mike Bajakian Eddie Gran
Cincinnati DC John Jancek  
Colorado OC Eric Bieniemy  
Colorado DC Greg Brown  
Connecticut DC Don Brown  
Eastern Michigan OC Ken Karcher  
FIU OC Tim Cramsey  
FIU DC Todd Orlando  
Florida State DC Mark Stoops Jeremy Pruitt
Georgia State OC John Bond Jeff Jagodzinski
Georgia State DC Anthony Midget Jesse Minter
Georgia Tech DC Al Groh  
Idaho OC Jason Gesser  
Idaho DC Mark Criner Ronnie Lee
Kent State OC Brian Rock  
Kent State DC Jon Heacock  
Kentucky OC Randy Sanders Neal Brown
Kentucky DC Rick Minter D.J. Eliot
Louisiana Tech OC Tony Franklin  
Louisiana Tech DC Tommy Spangler  
Marshall DC Chris Rippon  
Missouri OC David Yost Josh Henson
NC State OC Dana Bible Matt Canada
NC State DC Mike Archer Dave Huxtable
Northern Illinois OC Rod Carey  
Northern Illinois Co-DC Ryan Nielson, Jay Niemann  
Oklahoma State OC Todd Monken  
Pittsburgh DC Dave Huxtable  
Purdue OC Gary Nord  
Purdue DC Tim Tibesar  
San Jose State OC Brian Lindgren  
San Jose State DC Kent Baer  
South Alabama DC Bill Clark  
South Florida OC Todd Fitch  
South Florida DC Chris Cosh  
Southern Miss OC Steve Buckley  
Southern Miss DC Tommy West David Duggan
Temple OC Ryan Day  
Temple DC Chuck Heater  
Tennessee OC Jim Chaney Mike Bajakian
Tennessee DC Sal Sunseri John Jancek
Texas OC Bryan Harsin Major Applewhite, Darrell Wyatt
Texas A&M OC Kliff Kingsbury  
Texas Tech OC Neal Brown  
Texas Tech DC Art Kaufman  
UNLV OC Brent Myers  
UNLV DC J.D. Williams  
USC DC Monte Kiffin  
Utah State DC Dave Aranda  
UTEP OC Aaron Price  
UTEP DC Andre Patterson Jeff Choate
Virginia DC Jim Reid  
West Virginia Co-DC Keith Patterson, Joe DeForest Keith Patterson
Western Kentucky OC Willie Taggart  
Western Kentucky DC Lance Guidry  
Western Michigan OC Bill Cubit, Ryan Cubit  
Western Michigan DC Rich Nagy  
Wisconsin OC Matt Canada  
Wisconsin Co-DC Chris Ash, Charlie Partridge Dave Aranda

Teaser:
<p> College Football's 2012 Coordinator Carousel Tracker</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 02:58
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-football-makes-home-run-hire-utah-states-gary-andersen
Body:

After a two-week search, Wisconsin has finally found its next head coach. Utah State’s Gary Andersen has been hired to replace Bret Bielema in Madison, becoming Wisconsin’s third head coach since 1990. Bielema left for Arkansas after recording a 68-24 mark in seven seasons.

Although Andersen isn’t a big name, Wisconsin hit a home run with this hire. Andersen inherited a program that was 9-38 in the four seasons prior to his arrival and led the Aggies to a 26-24 mark and two bowl appearances over the last four years. Utah State recorded its first season of double-digit victories and won an outright WAC title in 2012.

Before taking over at Utah State, Andersen cut his teeth as an assistant coach at a handful of stops. He worked at Utah from 1997-2002 under Ron McBride and after one season as the head coach at Southern Utah, returned to work as the defensive coordinator for Urban Meyer with the Utes. Andersen went 4-7 in his only season at Southern Utah but the program showed marked improvement after winning one game prior to his arrival in 2002.

Positives for Wisconsin in hiring Gary Andersen

Built a program from scratch
There’s no doubt Andersen put a lot of hard work into building Utah State from one of the worst teams in the nation to a potential top-25 team in 2013. It’s easy to inherit a program with a proven track record and continue to build on that success. However, it’s another to build it from scratch and turn it into a successful program. Andersen did just that at Utah State, leading the Aggies to a 26-24 mark in four seasons – with 18 wins coming in the last two years. As a program, Utah State is in much better shape than when Andersen arrived on the scene in 2009. Considering what Andersen did with limited resources with the Aggies, he should be able to thrive at Wisconsin with more money to pay assistants, as well as carry the Big Ten brand on the recruiting trail.

A proven winner
This section is essentially an extension of building a program from scratch. Every coaching hire is risky, but Andersen’s track record as a head coach is rock solid. Yes, his overall record is just 30-31, but this is a perfect case of how deceiving it is to judge coaches strictly on record. Andersen took over two struggling teams and brought immediate improvement in the first season and eventually turned Utah State into a top-25 team in 2012. Considering Wisconsin has made three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, there’s not as much (if any) rebuilding for Andersen to do. Expect Andersen to take what Alvarez and Bielema have built over the last 20 years and continue to turn Wisconsin into a consistent contender in the Big Ten.

Defending Urban Meyer and an excellent background on defense
Considering Andersen spent a year working under Urban Meyer at Utah, he probably has some good insight into how to defend his spread offense. With Wisconsin and Ohio State playing each other every year in the Big Ten’s current divisional setup, Andersen’s insight could pay off for the Badgers. Utah State finished 113th nationally in total defense in 2009 but showed improvement in each of the next three years, which included a finish of 15th nationally in 2012. Under Andersen’s watch at Utah, the Utes finished in the top 20 in total defense in 2007 and 2008.

Negatives in Wisconsin's hire of Gary Andersen

Very few negatives in Wisconsin's hire but here are a few things to watch: 

No Big Ten experience
As with any coaching hire, experience in a certain region or conference is largely overrated. However, there is a transition period for any coach stepping into unfamiliar territory. Most of Andersen’s experience has been in Utah, so Wisconsin will be a different challenge.

What type of staff will Andersen assemble?
Considering Andersen’s lack of experience in the Big Ten, it will be interesting to see how he builds his coaching staff. Utah State coordinators Matt Wells (offensive) and Dave Aranda (defensive) are two solid coaches, while defensive assistant Bill Busch is regarded for his work on the recruiting trail. Assuming all three leave for Wisconsin, Andersen would have the makings of a quality staff. Andersen doesn’t need five coaches with Big Ten experience but it couldn’t hurt to surround himself with someone familiar with the conference, as well as anyone who can help the Badgers in their usual recruiting areas.

What type of scheme will Andersen run on offense?
Out of all of the factors involved with the coaching change at Wisconsin, this aspect is perhaps the most intriguing. The Badgers have developed into one of the nation’s top rushing attacks under Alvarez and Bielema, while Andersen ran a spread offense at Utah State. It’s likely Andersen will use some combination of a spread and a run-first offense, so don’t expect Wisconsin to stray too far from what has worked in the past.

Final Analysis

Wisconsin was caught off-guard by Bielema’s departure and considering the length of the coaching search, the fanbase was starting to get restless. However, athletic director Barry Alvarez made one of the best hires of the offseason, selecting Utah State’s Gary Andersen as Wisconsin’s new coach. Andersen’s background on defense and reputation for developing talent is a perfect fit in Madison. The former Utah State head coach will likely tweak his offensive scheme to focus more on the run, but the Badgers should have one of the Big Ten’s best defenses under Andersen’s watch.

As with any coaching hire, it’s important to look past the overall record and dive into the factors surrounding the head coach that contributed or hurt his success. Andersen inherited a program that won nine games in the four years prior to his arrival and led it to its first 10-win season in 2012. Even though he’s not a big-name candidate like Miami’s Al Golden or Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, Andersen is a home run hire at Wisconsin and should keep the Badgers in the mix for the Leaders Division title every year.

Grading Wisconsin’s Hire of Gary Andersen: A+


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Teaser:
<p> Wisconsin Football Makes Home Run Hire of Utah State's Gary Andersen</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/florida-state-makes-curious-decision-hire-jeremy-pruitt-defensive-coordinator
Body:

Florida State’s search for a defensive coordinator is over. Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt has been hired as the replacement for Mark Stoops, who left to become Kentucky’s head coach after three seasons in Tallahassee.

Considering Jimbo Fisher’s experience and familiarity with Nick Saban, it’s no surprise he looked at Pruitt as a possible replacement for Stoops. However, this move might be one of the offseason’s most curious coordinator hires.

Before diving into Pruitt’s background, it’s important to note Fisher did a good job of assembling a staff when he took over in Tallahassee, so he may have a good eye for coaching talent.

Examining Pruitt’s Background

Pruitt played his college ball at MTSU and Alabama, helping to lead the Crimson Tide to the 1996 SEC West title. After his college career was finished, Pruitt joined Alabama as a student assistant in 1997, before spending the next three years at Plainview High School (1998 and 2000), then West Alabama in 1999.

After one year at West Alabama, Pruitt accumulated more experience on the high school level, spending 2001-03 as an assistant coach at Fort Payne High School and then as an assistant with Hoover High School in 2004 and worked as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2005-06.

Pruitt was picked by Nick Saban to be Alabama’s director of player development in 2007 and continued in that role until becoming the team’s defensive backs coach in 2010.

How much of a role did Pruitt play in the development of Alabama’s secondary?

This is tough to answer. There’s no doubt Nick Saban is college football’s best coach and is regarded as one of the top defensive minds. Coordinator Kirby Smart also played a role in the development of the defense, so you have to wonder just how much Pruitt factored in the secondary.

Regardless of how much Saban and Smart factored into the secondary, it’s hard to argue with the results. Alabama ranked 13th nationally in pass defense in 2010, first in 2011 and sixth in 2012. Considering the secondary had to replace three starters, including first-round picks Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, finishing sixth nationally in pass defense was an impressive performance from the Crimson Tide.

No coordinator experience

The biggest concern about the Pruitt hire has to be the lack of coordinator experience on the collegiate level. Anytime you hire someone to step into the coordinator role without some experience, it’s always a risk that the defense will suffer a drop in performance.

The good news for Pruitt is Florida State has plenty of talent to work with, even with the likely departure of end Bjoern Werner to the NFL. Mario Edwards, Jr. is ready to breakout in 2013, while the line returns tackles Timmy Jernigan, Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel. Linebacker Christian Jones garnered second-team all-conference honors this season, and the secondary is in good shape for next season.

Considering Pruitt’s lack of experience as a coordinator, Florida State needs to surround him with veteran coaches. And it seems the Seminoles will do that with former Alabama assistant Sal Sunseri. Although Sunseri had a horrendous season as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, the veteran coach should be an asset to Florida State in 2013. Sunseri has a wealth of experience and is highly regarded for his work on the recruiting trail.

The Seminoles were a 4-3 team under Stoop,s but it's fair to wonder if Fisher is considering a switch to a 3-4 in the future. Pruitt and Sunseri are both experienced in that scheme, but Florida State would need some time to recruit the necessary talent to switch to a 3-4 approach. 

Good hire or Bad hire?

Even though Pruitt isn’t a big name, he is an intriguing risk for Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. Considering his recruiting connections and experience with Nick Saban, Pruitt should fit in well on Fisher’s staff and will bring some new ideas to Tallahassee. The one downside for Fisher is this hire has a lot of risk and could backfire, which would send the program back in the wrong direction. Adding Sunseri as a position coach will be overlooked but is good move to help with Pruitt’s inexperience.

While it’s risky, Pruitt deserves a chance to show he can be a FBS coordinator or whether he is better served as a position coach. There’s no question Pruitt will be under the microscope early and often in 2013. Is he the next Sunseri or the next Will Muschamp? Only time will time. However, considering the success Fisher had of selecting his initial staff, he deserves the benefit of the doubt (for now) with this hire.

Grading Florida State’s hire of Pruitt: B-


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Teaser:
<p> Florida State Makes a Curious Decision to Hire Jeremy Pruitt at Defensive Coordinator</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 08:15
Path: /college-football/willie-taggart-matt-rhule-or-tommy-tuberville-who-big-easts-best-hire
Body:

Change seems like the perfect word to sum up the Big East in 2013. The conference will welcome six new teams next season, while three programs will have new head coaches. Willie Taggart was hired to replace Skip Holtz at South Florida, Tommy Tuberville was brought in to replace Butch Jones at Cincinnati, and Matt Rhule returns to Temple to take over for Steve Addazio. All three coaches were solid hires, but which coach will have the most success in 2013 and beyond? 

Willie Taggart, Matt Rhule or Tommy Tuberville: Who is the Big East's Best Hire?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Tommy Tuberville is the easily the most proven commodity of the bunch. But he slipped out of Lubbock with cloak and dagger in hand. He never really fit at Texas Tech and will have to take a spread offense and convert them back to a pro-style attack, but he should be successful in the watered down Big East. Willie Taggart might have the most upside, however. He should recruit extremely well in Florida and should be able develop talent. He took a struggling program and led to them to their first winning seasons in the FBS and its first-ever bowl game. Matt Rhule is simply an unknown. Not everyone is Bill O'Brien.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think all three schools made solid hires. However, South Florida’s move to hire Willie Taggart is the best out of the trio and could rank as the No. 1 hire in college football once all of dust settles from the 2012 coaching carousel. Considering he played high school ball about an hour outside of Tampa and recruited Florida hard during his time at Western Kentucky, Taggart is a perfect fit at USF. The Bulls struggled to reach expectations over the last few seasons, and Taggart is going to bring some much-needed toughness on both sides of the ball. Taggart inherited a difficult situation at Western Kentucky and led the Hilltoppers to a 14-10 mark over the last two years. It may take some time for South Florida’s new coach to restock the roster, but the Bulls could push for a winning record next year. Tommy Tuberville is an interesting fit at Cincinnati but is a proven winner (130-77) and could help bring some stability to the program after having three head coaches over the last seven seasons. Temple’s hire of Matt Rhule won’t generate much national interest, but the Owls also landed a good fit. The former Penn State linebacker coached at Temple from 2006-2011 and has NFL experience with the Giants. Rhule is a good recruiter, which should help the Owls keep some of the Philadelphia talent at home.  

Mark Ross
While the Big East may not have generated the same buzz as the SEC did with its recent head coaching changes, the beleaguered conference did pretty well with its three newest hires. As for which school made the best decision, I'll go with South Florida bringing Willie Taggart further south over Tommy Tuberville heading north to take over at Cincinnati. For me, the jury is still out on Matt Rhule, the former Temple assistant coach who left his job with the New York Giants to take over the Owls' program. Rhule's never been a head coach on any level, and he will certainly have his work cut out at Temple, who lost Steve Addazio to Boston College. And as much as I like Tuberville and think Cincinnati is a place where he can make some noise, I can't ignore his sudden departure from Texas Tech and view the Bearcats job as just another stepping stone in hopes of getting back into the SEC in the near future. That's why I'll go with South Florida enticing Taggart to leave Western Kentucky, where he did a fine job rebuilding the Hilltoppers' program and leaving them in a position for more success in the future, to take over a Bulls program in disarray. Despite the recent turmoil and upheaval, the Big East is still a BCS conference, which means the rewards that will come with success at South Florida will be far greater than they would ever have been at Western Kentucky. Couple that with the fact that Taggart now has the fertile recruiting ground of the Sunshine State to assist him in that goal. In the current state that is college football, there's no guarantee any coach will stick around long enough at a so-called "non-major" school to enjoy a period of sustained success. But for the time being, with Taggart leading the way, South Florida seems well-positioned for success in the very near future, and that's what matters most as far as the present is concerned.

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Teaser:
<p> Willie Taggart, Matt Rhule or Tommy Tuberville: Who is the Big East's Best Hire?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /college-football/15-key-college-football-players-could-declare-2013-nfl-draft
Body:

The NFL’s early entry deadline into the draft always plays a huge role in ranking teams for the next season. There’s a handful of key players that could depart college football for the NFL after this season, which could force a lot of changes in Athlon’s very early top 25 for 2013. It’s never too early to think about next season, so it’s time to examine some of the key players that could depart for the NFL Draft, which will also play a huge role in determining the top 25.

15 Key Underclassmen Who Will Impact the 2013 Draft and College Football's Top 25

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd has been the perfect fit in Chad Morris’ spread attack at Clemson, leading the Tigers to back-to-back 10-win seasons. Over the last two years, he has thrown for 7,378 yards and 67 touchdowns. At 6-foot-1, Boyd doesn’t have ideal size for the NFL. However, he has been one of college football’s most productive quarterbacks the last two seasons and won ACC Player of the Year honors for 2012.

Impact on Clemson: Boyd is expected to file his papers with the NFL Draft advisory board and make a decision after the bowl game against LSU. The junior could benefit from another year at the college level and throwing to Sammy Watkins certainly can’t hurt his stock. As long as Boyd returns, Clemson is the heavy favorite to win the ACC. Without him? The Tigers remain a likely top-25 team, but the race to win the ACC is wide open.
 

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
In his first season carrying the full workload for Michigan State, Bell rushed for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns on 350 attempts. The Ohio native had three 200-yard efforts this season, including 210 in the 17-13 win over Boise State. Bell has 3,201 rushing yards in his career and has 76 receptions for 518 yards. He doesn’t have elite speed but is workhorse that can handle 25-30 carries every game.

Impact on Michigan State: Although quarterback Andrew Maxwell had some bright spots in 2012, Bell carried the Spartans’ offense. If he chooses to go to the NFL, Michigan State would have a hard time replacing Bell’s production with one player. If the junior does return, he should be in the mix for All-America honors.
 

D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
As most expected coming into this season, Fluker took the next step in his development into one of college football’s best offensive linemen. The Alabama native started every game over the last two years and earned first-team All-SEC honors this season. Fluker was picked as a second-team All-American by Athlon Sports for his performance in 2012. At 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, the junior has the size to be a force in clearing the way for running backs in the NFL.

Impact on Alabama: With Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack departing for the NFL, Alabama’s offensive line is already shorthanded going into 2013. Fluker is projected as a top 50 pick and is unlikely to return to Tuscaloosa for next season. Assuming he does leave for the NFL, Alabama’s offensive line will have three new starters and will be the team’s biggest weakness going into 2013.  
 

Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
After dominating defensive lines in the Big 12, the jump in competition to the SEC didn’t bother Joeckel in 2012. The Arlington native has made 38 consecutive starts and was a first-team All-SEC selection this season. Joeckel is a sure-fire first-round pick and would likely be selected among the top 10 picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Impact on Texas A&M: If Joeckel and fellow tackle Jake Matthews leave for the NFL, it’s not out of the question Texas A&M’s offense will take a step back next season. Add in coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s departure, and the Aggies have some significant question marks to address in spring practice. It’s early to talk about 2013 rankings, but losing Joeckel would make it difficult for Texas A&M to surpass Alabama and LSU in the SEC West standings. 
 

Related Content: A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013

Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
Jones has been one of the nation’s top defensive playmakers over the last two years and is a back-to-back first-team All-SEC selection. The Georgia native started his career at USC but transferred after suffering a neck injury in 2009. Jones is a key presence in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme, as his speed and athletic ability is a perfect fit for coordinator Todd Grantham to attack opposing offenses.

Impact on Georgia: The Bulldogs have significant question marks on defense next year, and this unit could get even worse if Jones decides to enter the NFL Draft. Considering he is listed among the top 25 prospects and his injury history, the junior linebacker is likely headed to the NFL. Georgia has five senior starters on the defensive depth chart and could lose Jones and fellow linebacker Alec Ogletree to the draft. Without Jones in the lineup, the Bulldogs pass rush will suffer in 2013.
 

Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan has been a stalwart on Michigan’s offensive line for the last three seasons. The Arizona native started all 13 games at left tackle in 2011 and matched that feat in 2012, along with earning the Big Ten’s award for the best offensive lineman in the conference.

Impact on Michigan: Lewan will have a chance to improve his draft stock in the bowl, as he blocks South Carolina defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. Depnding on the other early entries, the junior could be the second offensive lineman off the board. The Wolverines are already losing guard Ricky Barnum, center Elliott Mealer and guard Patrick Omameh, so if Lewan departs, this unit will have four new starters in 2013.
 

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews wasn’t as decorated as teammate Luke Joeckel was in 2012, but the junior still had an outstanding season. The Texas native earned third-team All-America honors and was a first-team selection on the All-SEC squad. Matthews enters the bowl game with 32 consecutive starts.

Impact on Texas A&M: If Joeckel and Matthews decide to return, Texas A&M will have the best set of offensive tackles in college football. However, both players are considered first-round talents, so it’s hard to envision either returning to College Station. Matthews has excellent bloodlines in the family, as he is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. If the Aggies lose their top two tackles, the offense will take a step back in 2013.
 

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Milliner came to Alabama as one of the top prospects in the nation and has easily lived up to expectations. As a freshman, he played in all 13 games and was a freshman All-SEC selection. Milliner saw extensive snaps as Alabama’s third cornerback in 2011 and was a unanimous All-America selection in 2012.

Impact on Alabama: Milliner is projected as the draft’s top corner and a likely top-10 pick. The Crimson Tide has depth in the secondary, especially as freshmen Geno Smith and safety Landon Collins get more comfortable in the defense. Although Smith, John Fulton and Deion Belue are a solid trio of corners to build around in 2013, Milliner’s ability to shut down one side of the field will be missed. 
 

Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
With Mingo and Sam Montgomery coming off the edge, LSU had no trouble generating a pass rush in 2012. The Tigers averaged 2.5 sacks a game and held opponents to only 101.8 rushing yards per contest. Mingo’s numbers dipped slightly from 2011, as he had only four sacks and 33 tackles. Last year, the Louisiana native registered eight sacks, 15 tackles for a loss and 46 tackles.

Impact on LSU: Although he had a down year on the stat sheet, Mingo is still regarded as a first-round talent for the NFL Draft. The junior is quick off the line of scrimmage, which has translated into back-to-back years of at least 10 quarterback hurries. Losing Mingo would be a blow to LSU’s pass rush, but the Tigers have a track record of developing defensive ends under coach Les Miles and coordinator John Chavis.
 

Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
The Tigers always seem to produce elite defensive linemen and 2012 is no different. Montgomery and teammate Barkevious Mingo are projected top-25 selections for the 2013 NFL Draft. Montgomery suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2010 but bounced back with nine sacks in 2011 and seven in 2012. At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, the South Carolina native has the size to be an every-down lineman in the NFL.

Impact on LSU: The LSU coaching staff always does a good job of identifying the next standout defensive lineman, so even if Montgomery and Mingo leaves, the Tigers should be fine up front. However, there will be a dropoff early in 2013. If both ends return, LSU could make a run at the preseason No. 1 spot. 
 

Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Moore played in a 3-4 rush end position during his first two years in College Station and had no trouble adapting to the defensive line this season. The Texas native had 14 sacks in 2010-11 and nearly matched that total with 12.5 in 2012. Moore also recorded one forced fumble, 80 tackles and 20 tackles for a loss this year.

Impact on Texas A&M: Coach Kevin Sumlin is on a roll on the recruiting trail, but his biggest challenge will be keeping Moore, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews on campus next season. Moore is projected as a first-round pick and could be the second defensive end off the board. The Aggies showed improvement on defense under new coordinator Mark Snyder this year and losing Moore would put a lot of pressure on underclassmen Julien Obioha and Tyrell Taylor next season. Texas A&M has a chance to win the SEC West in 2013 but losing Joeckel, Matthews and Moore would likely keep it from getting to 10 wins.
 

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Although Mosley technically doesn’t start every week, there’s little doubt he is one of the best linebackers in the nation. The Alabama native led the team in 2012 with 99 tackles, recorded four sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble. Mosley was picked to the All-SEC freshman team in 2010 and was a key cog in Alabama’s national championship season in 2011. 

Impact on Alabama: Building an elite defense is never a problem for coach Nick Saban, but the Crimson Tide is losing linebacker Nico Johnson and could have Mosley depart for the NFL. Johnson and Mosley are key leaders in the linebacking corps and help get the rest of the defense on the same page. Even if Mosley leaves, the cupboard is far from bare. Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are rising stars in the SEC. 
 

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Murray has been a solid three-year starter for the Bulldogs, tossing 90 touchdowns and 9,664 yards during that span. The Florida native recorded a career-best 3,466 passing yards in 2012 and tossed only three interceptions. Murray was a second-team All-SEC selection last year and finished second nationally in pass efficiency. The junior has all of the intangibles needed to succeed in the NFL but checks in at only 6-foot-1.

Impact on Georgia: The Bulldogs should be one of the favorites to win the national championship in 2013 – if Murray returns to Athens. Geno Smith, Mike Glennon and Matt Barkley are expected to be the first three quarterbacks off the board in the NFL Draft, so Murray is a fringe first-round selection. If the junior quarterback returns, he will be in the mix for All-America honors, especially with all five starters coming back on the offensive line. If Murray decides to leave, Hutson Mason and Christian LeMay will compete for the starting job.
 

Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Werner has taken one of the nation’s most interesting paths to All-America honors in 2012. The Germany native played only two years of high school football in the United States and got better each season at Florida State. Werner recorded 23 sacks and 35 tackles for a loss through the first three years in his Seminole career. He was selected as the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year for the 2012 season.

Impact on Florida State: Werner is projected as top-15 pick, so it would be a surprise if he returned to Florida State. The Seminoles are also losing ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine, which will place a lot of pressure on Mario Edwards and Giorgio Newberry to step into a starting role next year. Florida State also has a new defensive coordinator in 2013, so there will be a transition period for this unit. 
 

Robert Woods, WR, USC
A season with 73 catches is usually a pretty good year for any receiver. For Woods, that’s not exactly the case. After catching 111 passes in 2011, the junior’s numbers dropped to only 73 catches and he had just one 100-yard effort. Woods had ankle surgery after the 2011 season, which may have played a part in his drop in production.

Impact on USC: With Matt Barkley expiring his eligibility after the Sun Bowl, the Trojans have a lot of work to do on offense before next season. Even if Woods leaves, USC could have one of the Pac-12’s best receiving corps, as wideouts Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor return, along with tight end Randall Telfer. 


5 Other Potential Departures to Watch for 2013

Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Eifert led Notre Dame with 44 receptions and 624 receiving yards this season and if he declares, is projected to be the first tight end off the board in the 2013 draft.

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Floyd’s numbers aren’t huge on the stat sheet (41 tackles), but his presence on the interior changes a game from beyond the box score. Floyd is considered a fringe first-round pick by most experts but could rise on the draft board with a strong combine. If Floyd returns, he will help anchor one of the SEC’s best defenses.

Louis Nix III, NG, Notre Dame
Although Manti Te’o is a major factor in Notre Dame’s run defense, the emergence of Nix has been huge. Literally. At 6-foot-3 and 326 pounds, Nix clogs the middle, which allows Te’o and the other Fighting Irish linebackers plenty of room to patrol. Brian Kelly announced in mid-December he expects Nix to return in 2013.

Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Buckeyes already lost one player to the NFL Draft (Johnathan Hankins) and could see another depart. Roby was one of the Big Ten’s top corners in 2012, recording 63 tackles, two interceptions and 17 pass breakups. Roby is a third-year sophomore but could benefit from another year at Ohio State.

Matt Elam, S, Florida
If he declares, Elam could be the first safety picked in the draft. The Florida native ranked second on the team with 65 stops and recorded four picks in 2012. Elam was a first-team All-SEC selection this season.

Others to Watch:

David Amerson, CB, NC State
Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia (declared for NFL Draft)
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA (expected to return)
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (declared for NFL Draft)
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
Silas Redd, RB, USC
Eric Reid, S, LSU
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Tharold Simon, CB, LSU
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame
 

Related NFL Draft Rankings By Position:

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Running Backs
2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Tight Ends

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Safeties

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Defensive Tackles

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Wide Receivers

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Inside Linebackers

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Cornerbacks

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Guards and Centers

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Outside Linebackers

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Quarterbacks

2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Defensive Ends

Teaser:
<p> 15 Players Who Will Impact the NFL Draft and College Football in 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, December 17, 2012 - 05:23

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