Articles By Steven Lassan
A new trend has popped up in recent years for college football teams, as some have scheduled games in baseball stadiums. Illinois-Northwestern played at Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium in New York hosts the Pinstripe Bowl.
Boston College and Notre Dame will continue this recent trend, scheduling a game for Fenway Park in 2015.
This will be the first football game in Fenway Park since 1968. Needless to say, this is a pretty awesome setting for a football game.
Notre Dame 2014-16 schedules include at Lucas Oil Stadium vs. Purdue in '14, Fenway Park vs. BC in '15, Alamodome vs. Army in '16— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 20, 2013
Oregon announced it will have new Nike “Mach Speed” uniforms for its Dec. 30 bowl matchup against Texas.
This uniform is also a sneak peek at what to expect from the Ducks in 2014.
According to the Nike release, here's a sample about what's new about these uniforms:
It’s all about speed. For the last decade Nike has continually evolved college football uniforms for the country’s best teams. Among these, the Oregon Ducks football uniforms are on the cutting edge of innovation, with the clear goal of optimizing athlete performance and speed on the field. On December 30, Oregon will take the field wearing the latest Nike Pro Combat “Mach Speed” uniform, the most innovative Nike Pro Combat system of dress to date.
The uniform features an all-new chassis including the latest in lightweight fabric innovation built for maximum speed, ventilation and comfort. Drawing inspiration from some of the fastest athletes in the world, Nike has applied research and design across multiple sports to create one of the fastest uniforms on the field. Taking insights from Nike’s Swift Suit technology, the new Nike Mach Speed Football uniform fabric construction features an articulated fit to match the athlete’s motion of play. Ultimately this allows the athletes to move with the uniform fabrics, rather than against them.
Click here to view a full gallery of images for Oregon’s uniforms.
Jon Gruden is back in the coaching rumor carousel once again. Last year the former NFL coach was mentioned prominently as a name to watch at Tennessee. Now the rumor mill has placed Gruden in the mix at Texas. If you are following along on Twitter, the hashtag is appropriate and catchy: #Grumors.
Gruden’s name popping up for coaching jobs seems to happen every offseason, but the Ohio native has a pretty cushy job – and a nice contract – in the Monday Night Football booth.
Is it just rumor or is there some truth to the Gruden to Texas rumors? My guess is its somewhere in the middle.
Gruden hasn’t coached since he was fired at Tampa Bay in 2008. Yes, that is five seasons ago. Also, Gruden hasn’t coached in college since 1991. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.
A week ago, Athlon Sports posted a look at the top 10 candidates to replace Mack Brown at Texas. Gruden isn’t on our list, but if he’s interested, Texas will inquire.
Although Gruden might be interested in coming to Texas, the Longhorns would be wise to look in another direction. Sure, Gruden has a Super Bowl ring and is 95-81 at two different NFL stops. But for a program like Texas, is Gruden the right fit? Shouldn’t Texas target candidates with recent head coaching experience in college football?
Gruden will end up coaching once again, but our guess is it’s in the NFL – not on the sidelines in Austin.
Five Reasons Why Jon Gruden Would be a Bad Fit at Texas
1. Lack of College Experience
It’s one thing to coach in the NFL, but it’s another to win in the college ranks. UCLA’s Jim Mora is 18-8 in two years, but Bill Callahan was just 27-22 in four seasons at Nebraska. Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino each had success after spending time in the NFL, but both coaches got their start on the collegiate level. There’s no doubt coaches that come from the NFL can bring a lot of knowledge to a program, however, it’s not always easy relating to the players. Trying to implement a complicated offense is much easier in the NFL, especially since collegiate athletes have fewer hours to spend in the film room. Considering Gruden’s lack of head coaching experience in college, there would certainly be a transition period – and it may not be pretty early on – for Texas. Adapting to the college game takes time and even though Gruden has been intrigued by the no-huddle, spread offenses, he was a West Coast disciple in the NFL. Could he blend the two schemes together? Or would he revert to the West Coast? At Texas, the Longhorn Network requires some extra attention by the head coach in terms of media obligations. Also, there's the booster meet and greets that the head coach has to attend. Even though Gruden has been a good addition to the Monday Night Football booth, the extra media obligations and booster attention may be something he is not interested in taking on.
2. An Eye to the NFL?
Even if Gruden jumps at the opportunity to coach at Texas or anywhere else in the collegiate ranks, what’s to stop him from getting back into the NFL? Contracts for college football coaches usually mean very little, and Gruden could spend two years in college, then choose to depart for the NFL. Texas should be able to offer a hefty contract and could put provisions into the deal to protect the program from a coach leaving after a year or two. However, you never know how long a coach is going to stick around, but considering Gruden’s NFL background and how he exited, it’s a safe bet that he wants another shot. If Gruden was hired at Texas and left after two years, there’s no question the Longhorns would have a long list of interested coaches. However, transitioning from one coach to another, especially one with different styles, can set the program back a few years.
3. Recruiting and Building a Coaching Staff
Gruden could probably recruit successfully off of his name only, at least for the first two or three years of his college tenure. However, what happens after that has to be a concern. It’s been over 20 years since Gruden had to hit the recruiting trail. And this isn’t just a six-month process – it lasts all season. Gruden is a relentless worker and there’s always the fear he could get burned out after just a few seasons. The former NFL coach would also have to put together a staff that would be good recruiters, but that shouldn’t be an issue at Texas where money is plentiful. Building a staff without many college connections isn’t easy, and a collection of NFL assistants wouldn't necessarily work at Texas.
4. The West Coast Offense
The spread and high-scoring offenses are becoming the norm in college football, and there’s always been doubt the West Coast offense can work outside of the NFL. Although Gruden’s offense at Oakland finished three times in the top 10 of scoring offense, his teams at Tampa Bay never finished higher than 18th in the NFL in total offense. Obviously, it’s a different league, so it’s hard to take a lot away from those statistics. And of course, total offense numbers aren’t necessarily the best indicator of success. However, it’s also important to note 59 of the 125 teams in the nation are averaging at least 30 points a game, with 13 scoring at least 40 points per contest. Even though Alabama owns one of the nation’s best defenses, the Crimson Tide are averaging 38.8 points a game. Florida State – the No. 1 team in the nation – ranks third nationally in total defense and sixth in total offense. Again, those totals for Alabama and Florida State aren't necessarily the best indicator of success, but it showcases how some of the top teams in the nation are built. While Gruden’s background on offense is appealing, implementing a West Coast offense takes a lot of time. Nebraska (Bill Callahan) and Syracuse (Greg Robinson) implemented a similar scheme with limited results. During his time in the NFL, Gruden’s playbook might have been one of the deepest in the league. Although the schemes, plays and formations have worked in NFL, there’s simply no way Gruden can copy that offense in college. It’s not impossible for the West Coast offense to work in college, but Gruden would have to do a lot of simplifying to his playbook and be willing to adapt to more of a spread approach.
5. Too Difficult to Play For?
There’s no question Gruden would bring passion and energy to the sideline or to any program, but that may not translate well at the college level. Criticism is most players least favorite word, but NFLers are more likely to handle it better than college athletes. Although Gruden’s intensity could be a good thing for some players who have underachieved or aren’t putting in the proper hours, it’s a very fine line to walk with college players who don’t have the amount of time NFL players can put into perfecting their game. Gruden could land at a college and work out just fine. However, if he gets the reputation of being too difficult or too demanding to play for, his tenure will go south in a hurry. On name value alone, Gruden would have coaches lining up to join his staff. However, he’s a relentless worker. Would assistant coaches eventually get burned out from working with him?
Arkansas State has hired North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson as its new head coach. Anderson will replace Bryan Harsin, who left to replace Chris Petersen at Boise State.
This is Anderson’s first head coaching job, but he has served as a coordinator since 2002. Prior to joining North Carolina’s staff in 2012, Anderson worked with Larry Fedora at Southern Miss from 2008-11.
Anderson also has experience from stints at UL Lafayette, MTSU, New Mexico and Trinity Valley College.
Anderson will be Arkansas State’s fifth coach in five years in 2014.
Fresno State and USC are separated by less than 300 miles, but the two California programs have met only twice on the gridiron. That number will change on Saturday, as the Bulldogs and Trojans are set to kickoff the first weekend of bowl action with a matchup in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Fresno State was on the doorstep of playing in a BCS bowl, but the Bulldogs lost a 62-52 shootout to San Jose State on Nov. 29, knocking Tim DeRuyter’s team out of contention for one of college football’s premier postseason destinations. But all was not lost for Fresno State, as the Bulldogs won 11 games for the first time in school history since an 11-3 record in 2001. And thanks to a 24-17 win over Utah State on Dec. 7, Fresno State claimed its first outright conference title since 1989.
While 2013 was mostly a good year for Fresno State, this season was a roller-coaster ride for USC. The Trojans started 3-2, and after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State, Lane Kiffin was fired as the team’s head coach. Ed Orgeron was promoted to the top spot, guiding USC to a 6-2 finish and a third-place finish in the Pac-12 South. Orgeron was not promoted to the full-time gig and chose to leave Los Angeles after Steve Sarkisian was hired from Washington. Sarkisian won’t take over until after the bowl game, leaving offensive coordinator Clay Helton as the interim coach.
Fresno State and USC have split the all-time series, with the Bulldogs winning in 1992 and the Trojans claiming a victory in 2005. Fresno State is 0-4 in its last four bowl appearances, but it has won its last four postseason games against BCS foes. Last year’s loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl snapped a four-game winning streak for USC in bowl games. The last time the Trojans played in the Las Vegas Bowl, they were defeated 10-6 by Utah.
Fresno State vs. USC
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: USC -6.5
Fresno State’s Key to Victory: Stop USC’s rushing offense
During USC’s 6-2 finish under Ed Orgeron, the rushing attack seemed to find its stride. The Trojans averaged 173.8 rushing yards per game over their final six victories and recorded at least 240 yards on the ground in three out of the last five games. Depth in the backfield is a little thin due to injuries, as Silas Redd and Tre Madden are questionable to play. With Redd and Madden likely sidelined, Javorius Allen and Ty Isaac will become the go-to backs against Fresno State. The Bulldogs held up relatively well on the ground this year, limiting opponents to 147.7 yards per game. As evidenced by its 98 tackles for loss, Fresno State’s defense is active around the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Ejiro Ederaine leads the team with 15.5 tackles for a loss, while safety Derron Smith (69 tackles, 6 INTs) is another playmaker to watch. USC’s passing attack (10th in the Pac-12) isn’t quite as effective as its ground game, but quarterback Cody Kessler has not thrown an interception over his last four games. If the ground game gets on track, Kessler should be able to take advantage of Fresno State’s secondary and connect with Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor on big plays downfield. The Bulldogs need to make USC one-dimensional and force other receivers outside of Lee and Agholor to step up.
USC’s Key to Victory: Get pressure on Derek Carr and minimize the big plays
Fresno State’s offense has been lethal all season. Only two defenses (Cal Poly and San Diego State) managed to hold the Bulldogs under 400 yards. Behind quarterback Derek Carr and an excellent group of receivers, Fresno State is averaging 6.7 yards per play. Although Orgeron isn’t coaching the team, coordinator Clancy Pendergast is calling the plays in the Las Vegas Bowl, and he was a key reason why USC’s defense improved to No. 2 in the Pac-12 in yards allowed this year. The Trojans are loaded with talent on defense, starting in the trenches with sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams (13.5 TFL, 6 sacks), and continuing into the back seven with linebacker Hayes Pullard (89 tackles) and safety Dion Bailey (5 INTs). Each level of the defense has an All-Pac-12 performer, with Williams taking home Athlon Sports third-team All-America honors this year. Fresno State’s offensive line has allowed only 11 sacks in 2013, but USC’s defense is easily the toughest unit it has faced. The Trojans have registered 34 sacks through 13 games and held opponents to just five yards per play. USC’s secondary ranks 21st nationally in efficiency defense, and this group will be under the microscope on Saturday, with Fresno State having three receivers with at least 79 catches. Getting pressure on Carr is critical to slowing down the Bulldogs’ passing attack. Even if the Trojans don’t record a lot of sacks, just disrupting the timing of Fresno State’s offense will have a huge impact on this game.
Key Player: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
We could mention a couple of players here, including Fresno State left tackle Austin Wentworth or USC quarterback Cody Kessler. But let’s highlight Adams, who did not get enough credit nationally for his 2013 season. Adams led the nation with 122 receptions, averaged 13.5 yards per catch and caught 23 touchdowns. The sophomore is clearly Derek Carr’s go-to receiver, and he could be counted on even more if Josh Harper is unable to play due to a groin injury. USC has not allowed a team to throw for more than 300 yards in its last seven games. Can Fresno State change that on Saturday? If the line protects Carr, Adams will have a chance for his fourth consecutive 100-yard game.
Motivation is a key factor in every bowl. USC didn’t seem interested to be in the Sun Bowl last year – will 2013 be any different? The Trojans are now on their third head coach, and the staff is shorthanded with Orgeron and line coach Peter Jenkins leaving the team after the regular season. Talent isn’t an issue for USC, but the motivation is clearly on Fresno State’s sideline. This is the final game for quarterback Derek Carr, and receiver Davante Adams could declare early for the NFL Draft. And if Carr has a huge game against the Trojans, his draft stock will only continue to climb before pre-draft workouts. If USC is motivated to play, the Trojans will win this game. However, the guess here is USC isn’t as interested in this bowl as Fresno State, and the Bulldogs pull a slight upset in Las Vegas.
Prediction: Fresno State 31, USC 27
Think there are too many bowl games this year? Don’t tell that to Colorado State and Washington State. The Rams and Cougars are set to open the bowl season in Albuquerque, and even though the combined record of these two teams is 13-12, this game could be one of the better pre-Christmas bowl matchups.
Washington State is back in the postseason after a nine-year absence. The Cougars’ last bowl appearance was a 28-20 win over Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
Under coach Mike Leach, Washington State made significant progress from 2012 to 2013. The Cougars won only three games last year, but Leach’s team rebounded with a 6-6 mark this season, which included wins over Arizona and USC.
Colorado State’s last bowl appearance came in 2008, which was a 40-35 New Mexico Bowl win over Fresno State. Under the direction of second-year coach Jim McElwain, the Rams improved their win total by three games from 2012 to 2013.
The Rams didn’t beat a team with a winning record, but this team played tough against Boise State and Utah State in conference play and trailed Alabama only 17-6 going into the fourth quarter.
This is the first meeting between Colorado State and Washington State. The Rams are 5-7 in previous bowl appearances, while the Cougars are 6-4.
Colorado State vs. Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Washington State -3.5
Colorado State’s Key to Victory: A big game from Kapri Bibbs
This game features a stark contrast in styles. Colorado State’s offense is based on the ground, led by sophomore running back Kapri Bibbs. On the other side, Washington State prefers to air it out, leading the nation with 698 passing attempts this year. Which style will win out? For Colorado State, establishing Bibbs and keeping the Cougars’ offense on the sideline is the key to its hopes at hoisting the New Mexico Bowl trophy. Despite not recording a game of over 20 carries until the seventh contest of the year, Bibbs finished 13th nationally with an average of 120.9 rushing yards per game. The sophomore produced some huge efforts, gashing Nevada for 312 yards and New Mexico for 291. Bibbs was slowed late in the year by an ankle injury, but the sophomore should be at full strength for the bowl. If Bibbs gets on track, it will open up play-action passes for quarterback Garrett Grayson. The junior tossed only 10 picks this season and finished the year by throwing six touchdown tosses over the final three games. Stopping Bibbs will be a challenge for Washington State. The Cougars ranked ninth in the Pac-12 against the run and allowed an average of 243.6 yards on the ground over the final five games.
Washington State’s Key to Victory: Control the offensive tempo
As we mentioned above, this game is a matchup in contrasting styles. Time of possession is an overrated stat in college football, but if Colorado State has success on the ground and controls the clock, Washington State will be in trouble. Quarterback Connor Halliday wore out his right arm this season, throwing 656 times for 4,187 yards and 28 touchdowns. As expected with a high number of attempts, Halliday tossed 21 picks but completed 62.8 percent of his throws. The junior will be throwing to a receiving corps that features eight players with at least 34 receptions. Gabe Marks is the headliner (69 catches), but River Cracraft (13.2 ypc) and Dominique Williams (16.5 ypc) are names to watch. The Cougars don’t run the ball often (18.7 attempts per game) and average only 3.1 yards per attempt. However, a little balance is needed to keep the Rams' defense on their heels. Colorado State’s front seven has to get pressure on Halliday to disrupt the timing of Washington State’s offense. The good news for defensive co-coordinators Marty English and Al Simmons is the Rams have four senior starters in the front seven, including standout Shaquil Barrett. The senior recorded 20.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks this season. If Barrett and Colorado State’s front seven can’t get to Halliday, it could be a long afternoon for the secondary. The Rams allowed 265.4 yards per game through the air and ranked 100th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
Key Player: Garrett Grayson, QB, Colorado State
The Rams hope they can keep Washington State’s offense off the field and this game in the 27-24 type of final. Should the Cougars jump out to an early lead or this bowl turn into a shootout, Grayson will have to shoulder more of the offensive focus. The junior threw six touchdowns to only two interceptions over his final three games and finished 2013 with a 62.2 completion percentage. Grayson has a good group of weapons at his disposal, including true freshman receiver Rashard Higgins and tight ends Crockett Gillmore and Kivon Cartwright. In his two games against BCS opponents this year, Grayson threw for 429 yards and no touchdowns. If Colorado State wants to win, Grayson has to be efficient and keep the offense on schedule for Bibbs to have favorable down and distance situations in run downs.
Last year’s New Mexico Bowl was one of the most entertaining games of the postseason, with Arizona winning a 49-48 thriller over Nevada. Could we see another back and forth affair this season? Despite contrasting styles, Colorado State and Washington State combine to average 65.1 points a game this year. The turnover battle is worth monitoring, as the Cougars were -5 and the Rams were +2. In a tight game, a turnover could be the difference. Led by senior center Weston Richburg, Colorado State’s veteran offensive line should be able to open rushing lanes for running back Kapri Bibbs. If the Rams eat up the clock and keep the Cougars’ offense on the sidelines, Colorado State will have a chance to score the upset. Washington State’s gameplan on offense should be to score quickly early in the game, putting the Rams behind schedule on offense. Bibbs will have success, but the Cougars’ passing attack is the difference in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Washington State 38, Colorado State 30
Bowling Green is coming off a MAC Championship, but coach Dave Clawson left for Wake Forest after the victory over Northern Illinois. The Falcons have picked Clawson’s replacement, choosing Eastern Illinois’ coach Dino Babers to take the top spot at Bowling Green next year.
Babers is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks and has a wealth of experience on his resume.
Babers started his coaching career at Hawaii in 1984 and worked at a handful of programs, including Purdue, San Diego State, Arizona, Texas A&M, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Baylor.
Babers has spent the last two years at Eastern Illinois, recording a 19-7 mark in the process.
With a good chunk of their roster returning in 2014, the Falcons should be picked near the top of the MAC East.
College football’s bowl season kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 21 and extends until Jan. 6 with the BCS National Championship in Pasadena between Auburn and Florida State.
With the bowl lineup set and confidence pools and pick’em contests set to start on Dec. 21, Athlon’s editors give their predictions for the bowl season.
There’s plenty of consensus among the staff, starting with East Carolina, Arizona State and Notre Dame all picked as a heavy favorite in the confidence rankings.
Some of the earlier bowl games (Hawaii, New Orleans and Military) are lower on the confidence scale. And it’s no surprise, but two of the BCS bowls feature plenty of confidence in Alabama and Baylor.
Note: Number in parentheses indicates confidence in prediction. A No. 35 ranking indicates more confidence in the prediction, while a lower number indicates less confidence in a pick.
College Football's 2013-14 Bowl Predictions
|Beef 'O' Brady's||(31)||(23)||(34)||(31)||(32)|
|Buffalo Wild Wings||(12)||(13)||(21)||(14)||(25)|
|Heart of Dallas||(1)||(1)||(19)||(2)||(5)|
College football’s regular season is officially in the books. After Saturday’s Army-Navy game, only 35 bowl matchups stand in the way of a long offseason.
With the completion of the regular season, it’s time to take a look at some of the top players in college football. Last week, Athlon Sports awarded its all-conference and All-America honors for 2013. And this week, it’s a look at the top freshmen in college football.
Each season, a handful of freshmen make an impact on the national stage. Last year, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel led the Aggies to an 11-2 record in the Aggies’ debut season in the SEC. In 2013, Jameis Winston guided Florida State to a perfect 13-0 mark and an appearance in the national championship.
Putting together an all-freshman task is no easy assignment. Talent and recruiting ranks don’t always equal success as a freshman. With that in mind, our task of picking players for the three teams was split based on production and talent. Players like Wisconsin running back Corey Clement and Pittsburgh’s James Conner are future standouts, but we awarded the production from two non-BCS players. However, players like Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche – 2013’s No. 1 recruit – didn’t necessarily have the biggest stats but clearly made an impact beyond the box score.
College Football's Freshman All-America Team for 2013
|First-Team Offense||Second-Team Offense||Third-Team Offense|
|QB Jameis Winston, Florida State||QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State||QB John O'Korn, Houston|
|RB Alex Collins, Arkansas||RB Thomas Tyner, Oregon||RB Aaron Jones, UTEP|
|RB Shock Linwood, Baylor||RB Kareem Hunt, Toledo||RB Elijah McGuire, ULL|
|WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh||WR Stacy Coley, Miami||WR Tyler Winston, SJSU|
|WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss||WR Corey Davis, W. Michigan||WR Marquez North, Tennessee|
|TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas||TE O.J. Howard, Alabama||TE Maxx Williams, Minnesota|
|C Dan Voltz, Wisconsin||C Deyshawn Bond, Cincinnati||C Cory Helms, Wake Forest|
|G Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M||G Alex Kozan, Auburn||G Denver Kirkland, Arkansas|
|G Alex Redmond, UCLA||G Caleb Peterson, North Carolina||G Dan Skipper, Arkansas|
|T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss||T Jerald Hawkins, LSU||T Chad Wheeler, USC|
|T Jack Conklin, Michigan State||T Jonathan McLaughlin, Virginia Tech||T Andrew Jelks, Vanderbilt|
|AP Myles Jack, UCLA||AP Dontre Wilson, Ohio State||AP Khalfani Muhammad, California|
|First-Team Defense||Second-Team Defense||Third-Team Defense|
|DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama||DE Carl Lawson, Auburn||DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson|
|DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State||DE Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA||DE Avery Moss, Nebraska|
|DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss||DT Darius Philon, Arkansas||DT Montravius Adams, Auburn|
|DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State||DT Monty Nelson, NC State||DT Isaiah Golden, Texas A&M|
|LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame||LB Scooby Wright, Arizona||LB Ben Weaver, Boise State|
|LB Addison Gillam, Colorado||LB Steve Longa, Rutgers||LB T.J. Holloman, South Carolina|
|LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia||LB Darian Claiborne, Texas A&M||LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma|
|CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech||CB Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech||DB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma|
|CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida||CB Cam Sutton, Tennessee||DB Tre'Davious White, LSU|
|S Su'a Cravens, USC||S Tony Conner, Ole Miss||DB Desmond King, Iowa|
|S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State||S Ryan Janvion, Wake Forest||DB Nate Andrews, Florida State|
|First-Team Specialists||Second-Team Specialists||Third-Team Specialists|
|K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State||K Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State||K Andy Phillips, Utah|
|P Austin Rehkow, Idaho||P Cameron Johnston, Ohio State||P Sean Covington, UCLA|
|RS Ryan Switzer, North Carolina||RS DeVon Edwards, Duke||RS William Likely, Maryland|
Making an impact as a college football true freshman isn’t an easy task. Although recruiting rankings and ratings matter to some degree, it’s all an inexact science. Until a player gets to campus and learns the schemes and spends time in a weight room, it’s just a guess on who the top players will be from a recruiting class.
With the 2013 regular season in the books, we can take a look at the top freshmen from this season. There’s no question this list of players could look a lot different three years from now. Some freshmen start from the first day of camp, while others work their way into the lineup through the first few games.
It’s tough to rank or grade freshmen just based on stats. You have to look at playing time, production, talent and impact on the team to get an accurate representation.
With the criteria in mind, here’s a look at Athlon’s top 25 freshmen for 2013. It’s a deep crop of talent this season, led by Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman is clearly the No. 1 player on this list, but Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller also had outstanding seasons.
College Football's Top 25 Freshmen from 2013
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Winston’s debut easily ranks among the best seasons by a freshman during the BCS era. The redshirt freshman opened his career by completing 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh and never looked back. Winston torched Clemson for 444 yards and three scores and threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-7 victory over rival Florida. Winston ended the year with 3,820 passing yards and 38 touchdowns, while completing 67.9 percent of his throws. The Alabama native threw just 10 picks on 349 attempts. And after a stellar debut, the hardware came in bunches for Winston. He was picked as the ACC’s Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year. And as expected, Winston claimed the Heisman in a landslide victory. With a chance to win a national championship on Jan. 6, Winston can only add to what has been one of the most-impressive seasons by a quarterback (regardless of year of eligibility) in recent years.
2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
There wasn’t much good news coming out of Gainesville this season, but Hargreaves III was one of the few bright spots for coach Will Muschamp. Hargreaves wrestled his way into the starting lineup by the third game of the year and started the next 10 contests. The Florida native recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions and broke up 11 passes. Hargreaves tied for the SEC lead with 14 passes defended and was a first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press.
3. Kendall Fuller/Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller ranked as the No. 4 defensive back in the nation in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100, and with an older brother (Kyle) currently playing, and two older brothers that played for Virginia Tech, there was plenty of pressure on the true freshman’s shoulders to perform. Fuller had no trouble living up to the hype, earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and second-team All-ACC honors. The true freshman stuffed the stat sheet, recording 56 tackles, six interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Fuller also defended 16 passes and forced one fumble. Facyson could stand on his own in the top 25, but we will group him with Fuller. Facyson played in 11 games, recording 25 tackles and five interceptions. He also defended 12 passes.
4. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
It’s not easy starting as a true freshman on any offensive line for any FBS team. But it’s even more challenging starting as a true freshman on the offensive line in the SEC. That was the assignment for Tunsil this year, but he easily passed his first test with flying colors. Tunsil entered the starting lineup against Texas and finished the season with nine starts at left tackle. The Florida native was a second-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press. With another offseason to work in the weight room, Tunsil is set to contend for All-America honors in 2014.
5. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Jameis Winston’s season set the bar high for opposing quarterbacks, but Hackenberg quietly had a solid freshman campaign. The Virginia native started all 12 games for coach Bill O’Brien, throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns. Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes and finished 2013 on a high note, completing 21 of 30 throws for 339 yards and four touchdowns against Wisconsin. The freshman’s 2,955 yards ranked as the third-most passing yardage in a single season in Penn State history.
6. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Jack’s position is listed as linebacker, but the true freshman was an all-purpose threat by the end of 2013. Jack started 11 games on defense, recording 70 tackles (five for a loss), one interception, 10 pass breakups and one blocked kick. While those numbers alone are good enough to be a top-10 player on this list, Jack became one of UCLA’s top offensive weapons late in the season. The Washington native recorded 267 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, including 120 yards on six attempts against Arizona. With Anthony Barr off to the NFL, Jack is expected to see a more prominent role on UCLA’s defense in 2014.
7. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
It’s no secret Arkansas’ coach Bret Bielema loves to run the football. With Collins leading the way, the Razorbacks should have no trouble establishing a run-first, physical approach on offense. In 12 games this year, Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns. The Florida native was picked as the SEC Freshman of the Year and was the first freshman in SEC history to start his career with three straight 100-yard rushing performances. He also caught 11 passes for 63 yards.
8. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Bosa began 2013 as a backup to Adolphus Washington, but the freshman became a significant contributor and a starter by the end of the year. The true freshman finished with 39 tackles (12.5 for a loss), 6.5 sacks and one pass breakup. Bosa came up big at the end of the year, recording 3.5 tackles for a loss over Ohio State’s final two games. With Bosa, Noah Spence and Washington returning in 2014, the Buckeyes should have one of the nation’s top defensive lines.
9. A’Shawn Robinson, DE, Alabama
Robinson made only two starts, but that’s a bit of a misnomer, as the true freshman rotated into the game for a healthy amount of snaps each week. Defensive linemen in a 3-4 defense usually aren’t asked to make a bunch of plays behind the line of scrimmage, but Robinson did just that this year, recording 36 stops (seven for a loss) and 5.5 sacks. With Ed Stinson departing, Robinson could be the new anchor for Alabama’s line in 2014.
10. Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State
Ramsey was the first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders. But due to an injury to Tyler Hunter, Ramsey moved to safety in the fourth game of the season. The Tennessee native started all 13 games and finished with 41 tackles, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. Ramsey’s ability to move around in the secondary is valuable asset for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and the 6-foot-1 safety is only going to get better with another offseason to work with Florida State’s coaching staff. In addition to his size, Ramsey’s athleticism and ball skills should make him one of the top safeties in the nation by the start of 2014.
11. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
The Spartans’ offensive line was one of the most-improved units in the Big Ten this year, and Conklin was a key cog in this group’s emergence. After a redshirt season in 2012, Conklin earned the starting spot at right tackle for the opener. But after four games, the Michigan native was moved to the left side, where he started the final nine contests of 2013.
12. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Smith ranked as the No. 1 linebacker in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and became the first freshman at Notre Dame to start at linebacker since 1995. Smith lived up to his recruiting hype this year, finishing third on the team with 61 tackles (6.5 for a loss), one interception and one forced fumble.
13. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Boyd teamed with senior Devin Street to form one of the ACC’s top receiving duos this season. The freshman grabbed 77 passes for 1,001 yards and seven scores. Boyd’s best game came against Duke, as he caught eight passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
14. Su’a Cravens, S, USC
Cravens ranked as the No. 1 safety in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and didn’t disappoint in his debut at USC. He started 12 of the Trojans’ 13 regular-season contests and finished with 51 tackles, one forced fumble and four interceptions. Cravens earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
15. Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State
Jones seemed to get better with each snap, and the Mississippi native is set for a monster 2014 season. In 12 games this year, Jones finished with 31 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.
16. Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss
Nkemdiche missed three games with a hamstring injury, but he still finished with 34 tackles (two for a loss) and one forced fumble. At 6-foot-5 and 294 pounds, Nkemdiche has the size and strength to play on the outside or on the interior. If he played in all 12 contests, it’s likely Nkemdiche would have ranked higher on this list. But there’s no question he has immense talent and is a future star on Ole Miss’ defense.
17. Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
Gillam was simply everywhere for Colorado’s defense in 2013. In 12 games, he recorded 119 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and six pass breakups. Gillam also recorded one interception and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
18. John O’Korn, QB, Houston
In his first start, O’Korn threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns against Rice. And after his performance, combined with David Piland’s retirement, O’Korn never relinquished the starting spot. The Florida native finished his true freshman campaign with 2,889 yards and 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
19. Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA
Jim Mora is accumulating some impressive young talent in Los Angeles, as Vanderdoes and Myles Jack are set to anchor the Bruins’ defense for the next two years. Vanderdoes finished 2013 with 38 tackles and one forced fumble and showcased his athleticism with a touchdown run and an 18-yard catch.
20. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Treadwell was picked as the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, and he led all Ole Miss receivers with 67 receptions and tied for the team lead with five receiving scores.
21. Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU
Hawkins was overshadowed by Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil, but the redshirt freshman finished with 11 starts at right tackle in 2013.
22. Alex Kozan, OG, Auburn
Kozan was a key reason why Auburn leads the nation with an average of 335.7 rushing yards per game. The redshirt freshman started all 13 games in 2013.
23. Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss
Conner was another freshman from Hugh Freeze’s top-10 recruiting class to make an impact in 2013. He finished the regular season with 59 tackles (four for a loss), one sack and five pass breakups.
24. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
Floyd finished 2013 as Georgia’s No. 1 sack producer, recording 6.5 in 12 contests. He also picked up 47 tackles and two forced fumbles.
25. Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
Coley was one of the ACC’s top all-around threats, finishing with 30 catches for 559 yards and seven touchdowns, rushing for 80 yards and a score and 618 yards on returns.
After a 34-7 loss to Navy on Saturday, Rich Ellerson’s tenure at Army is over. Ellerson was fired on Sunday, ending his five-year tenure at West Point with a 20-41 mark.
Army went 12-13 in Ellerson’s first two years, including a 7-6 mark in 2010.
However, the Black Knights did not win more than three games in each of the last three years.
Prior to coming to Army, Ellerson went 56-34 at Cal Poly.
Army is not an easy job, and the next coach will have quite a challenge to get this program into a bowl game every season. Another challenge for the next coach: Beat Navy. The Black Knights have lost 12 in a row to the Midshipmen.
Spoke with Rich Ellerson. Said on his firing,"I lost to our rival 5 timesl. C’mon. It’s just arithmetic. I know the business I’m in."— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) December 16, 2013
Ellerson: I knew this was hard & I knew it was. I have no regrets none at all. I couldnt be prouder of guys who have chose to follow us here— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) December 16, 2013
Ellerson: "I’d like to be guy that got it done. I’m proud of the work we did here & I think whoever who ends up in this job has a chance."— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) December 16, 2013
Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas is over. In 16 seasons in Austin, Brown recorded a 158-47 mark, including a national championship in 2005 and nine consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins from 2001-09.
Texas is widely considered one of the best head coach jobs – if not No. 1 – in the nation. The Longhorns have all of the resources to win at a high level every season, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a plethora of talented recruits in your background.
The Longhorn Network and the obligations associated with Texas’ television channel could be a bit overwhelming to some coaches. However, with the resources available in Austin, Texas can afford to hire as many people as necessary in the support staff for the head coach.
While Texas is arguably the No. 1 job in the nation, there’s not an easy or obvious fit to replace Brown.
Considering where this job ranks nationally and the uncertainty about interested candidates, this should be one of the more intriguing coaching searches in recent memory.
Candidates to Replace Mack Brown at Texas
Jimbo Fisher, head coach, Florida State
Under Fisher’s direction, Florida State has emerged as a national title contender once again. The Seminoles were 30-22 in the four seasons prior to Fisher’s arrival, but the West Virginia native has brought steady improvement to Tallahassee, guiding Florida State to a 44-10 mark over the last four years. The Seminoles are 25-2 over the last two seasons and will play Auburn for the national title on Jan. 6. Florida State and Fisher have agreed to a new deal, and it seems unlikely he would leave with the Seminoles set to play for the national title. Fisher is regarded as an excellent talent evaluator and guided the program through the loss of six assistant coaches this year to an appearance in the national title. If nothing else, Fisher can use the Texas job as leverage to get an upgraded deal, assistant pay or any additional resources he needs in Tallahassee.
Pat Fitzgerald, head coach, Northwestern
As a former Northwestern player, it’s difficult to see Fitzgerald leaving Evanston. But if he was looking to leave, Texas may be the only job that tempts the 39-year-old coach. The Wildcats are 55-46 under Fitzgerald’s watch and had a streak of five consecutive bowl appearances from 2008-12. Northwestern – much like Vanderbilt or Duke – is a tough place to consistently win at a top 10-15 level. Again, it’s unlikely Fitzgerald will ever leave Northwestern, but he would be a home-run hire for Texas.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Franklin is one of the rising stars among college football coaches, and it’s a surprise the 41-year-old coach hasn’t been courted by more top jobs over the last two seasons. In three years with Vanderbilt, Franklin has a 23-15 record and one bowl victory. The 23 wins accumulated under Franklin are the best in a three-year stint by a Vanderbilt coach since Dan McGugin had from 1927-29. Not only is Franklin an excellent X’s and O’s coach, he is a dynamic recruiter and a coach that can bring much-needed energy to a fanbase.
Al Golden, head coach, Miami
Miami is a top-25 job, but the Hurricanes simply lack the resources of a place like Texas. Even though Golden seems content at Miami and guided the program through the Nevin Shapiro scandal, the New Jersey native would at least have to listen if Texas calls. Golden helped to resurrect Temple’s football program, recording a 27-34 mark in five seasons with the Owls. Temple played in one bowl game and earned back-to-back winning records with Golden leading the way. In three years at Miami, Golden is 22-14 and has a 10-6 mark in ACC play over the last two seasons.
Mike Gundy, head coach, Oklahoma State
Gundy played quarterback at Oklahoma State and has spent most of his coaching career in Stillwater, so it wouldn't be easy for him to leave for another job in the Big 12. In nine years as the Cowboys’ head coach, Gundy has a 77-37 record, including a 45-30 mark in conference play. Oklahoma State is 5-2 in bowl games under Gundy and finished No. 3 in the nation in 2011. Although Gundy’s ties to Oklahoma State are strong, he nearly left for Tennessee last offseason. The Oklahoma native already has good recruiting connections in Texas, and there would be more resources at his disposal with the Longhorns. Considering what Gundy has done in his seven-year mark with the Cowboys, along with his experience in recruiting Texas, it’s easy to see why he should be a target at Texas.
Bill O’Brien, head coach, Penn State
O’Brien inherited a difficult situation at Penn State. The program was hit by NCAA sanctions due to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and there was plenty of uncertainty about which players might transfer to another program due to the postseason ban. In two years, O’Brien is 15-9 and Penn State has back-to-back winning records under his watch. O’Brien also has NFL experience, spending 2007-11 as an assistant with the Patriots. The Nittany Lions are getting some relief from the scholarship sanctions, but the bowl ban for the next two years is still in place. O’Brien interviewed with the Browns last season, and his name will likely come up in coaching searches over the next few years.
Gary Patterson, head coach, TCU
Much like the other coaches on this list, Patterson seems unlikely to leave TCU. The Kansas native guided the Horned Frogs on a winding conference journey, starting in the WAC in 2000, continuing with Conference USA from 2001-04, the Mountain West from 2005-11 and the Big 12 in 2012. Transiting from a non-BCS league to a BCS conference is no easy task, but TCU is 11-14 over the last two years and recorded a 7-6 mark in 2012 without its starting quarterback for most of the season. Patterson is known as one of the best defensive coaches in the nation and certainly knows how to recruit the state of Texas. Patterson has a pretty good gig at TCU. But if he wants to upgrade, it’s not easy to turn down the No. 1 program in the nation – and he won’t have to go too far to do it.
Rich Rodriguez, head coach, Arizona
Rodriguez is a good darkhorse candidate for Texas. After a failed three-year stint at Michigan, Rodriguez is 15-10 with two bowl appearances at Arizona. And while the 15-22 record at Michigan is tough to overlook, Rodriguez went 60-26 at West Virginia and was on the doorstep of playing for the national title in 2007. Rodriguez does not have any experience coaching in Texas, but even with a mediocre tenure at Michigan, his overall record is 135-94-2.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama
Since Texas can’t get Nick Saban, would they settle for a Saban clone? Smart has worked under Saban for eight years, starting in 2004 at LSU and continuing in the NFL with the Dolphins. Smart followed Saban to Alabama in 2007 and has served as the defensive coordinator since 2008. The Crimson Tide’s defense has ranked No. 1 in the SEC in total defense every season since 2008, and this unit led the nation in fewest points allowed in 2011-12. Smart does not have any head coach experience, and most of his background has been in the SEC. The former Georgia defensive back is ready to run his own program, but Texas likely wants a proven commodity to replace Mack Brown.
Les Miles, head coach, LSU
Raise your hand if you would watch Les Miles every day on the Longhorn Network. Yep, that’s what we thought. Miles has one of college football’s top-10 jobs at LSU and is 94-24 in nine years in Baton Rouge. In order to coach at Texas, you have to be good at dealing with boosters and able to put up with the requirements of the Longhorn Network. Both sound like strengths of Miles, but again, it’s unlikely he leaves for Austin.
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor
Briles received a contract extension until 2023 this season and seems content to stay at Baylor. However, if there was a perfect candidate to take over in Austin, Briles might be it. The 58-year-old coach has spent his entire career in Texas and turned Baylor from a Big 12 doormat into a Big 12 title contender.
Larry Fedora, head coach, North Carolina
Fedora is a Texas native – College Station to be exact. The 51-year-old coach has stops as an assistant at Baylor, Air Force, MTSU, Florida and Oklahoma State. Fedora has been a head coach for six seasons, recording a 48-29 overall mark. It’s a safe bet Fedora would be interested if offered an opportunity to interview. However, is six combined seasons at Southern Miss and North Carolina enough to interest Texas?
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette
With a victory over Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl, Hudspeth will have nine wins in each of his first three seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette. Hudspeth is clearly a rising star, but Texas is probably looking for someone with more experience as a head coach.
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
DeRuyter is 20-5 in two seasons at Fresno State and went 1-0 as Texas A&M’s interim coach in 2011. The California native is due for a promotion to run a BCS program, but he is unlikely to be in the mix at Texas.
Hugh Freeze, head coach, Ole Miss
Freeze’s contract was upgraded this offseason by Ole Miss. Would that be enough to stop him from leaving? In two years with the Rebels, Freeze is 14-11 and went 10-2 for Arkansas State in 2011. Freeze’s record at Ole Miss isn’t particularly overwhelming, but he inherited a team that went 6-18 in the two seasons prior to his arrival. The Rebels reeled in a top-10 recruiting class this year and after back-to-back seven-win seasons, the program is on the right track.
Jerry Gray, defensive coordinator, Tennessee Titans
Gray is a former Texas player and worked on Mack Brown’s staff in 2011. However, despite his ties to the university, Gray is an extreme longshot candidate for the position. The Titans rank No. 9 in the NFL in total defense, but Gray has never worked as a head coach on the college or pro level.
Jim Harbaugh, head coach, San Francisco 49ers
Harbaugh was one of the top coaches in college football before leaving to take the top spot with the 49ers. In four years with Stanford, he recorded a 29-21 mark and won the Orange Bowl in 2010. Harbaugh is 33-11 in three seasons with the 49ers and led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance last year. While Harbaugh’s name has been mentioned for this job, it’s unlikely he would leave the NFL after just three seasons. However, after he wins a Super Bowl, who knows what could happened?
Gus Malzahn, head coach, Auburn
Much like Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Malzahn has agreed to a raise and an extension this offseason. And with Auburn set to play in the national championship on Jan. 6, don’t expect Malzahn to leave the Plains anytime soon.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
It’s only a matter of time before Morris gets a chance to be a head coach in a BCS conference. The Texas native was a successful high school coach prior to taking over at Tulsa as an offensive coordinator in 2010. After one season with the Golden Hurricane, Morris was hired by Dabo Swinney to coordinate Clemson’s offense. Over the last three years, the Tigers have ranked first or second in the ACC in total offense.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi was in the mix to be the coach at Connecticut, but he turned down an opportunity to lead the Huskies for another year at Michigan State. Narduzzi does not have head coaching experience, which would seem to be a major drawback for Texas. However, there’s no denying Narduzzi is one of the best defensive coordinators in college football.
Mike Tomlin, head coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tomlin’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Mack Brown. Keep dreaming. Even after a down year with the Steelers, Tomlin isn’t leaving Pittsburgh.
Amid rumors of a potential change at Texas, Nick Saban has signed an extension to remain at Alabama. According to various reports, Saban will receive an extension to around $7 million a season.
If Texas made a change from Mack Brown, Saban was expected to be the No. 1 target for new athletic director Steve Patterson. However, if there was any doubt Saban would remain at Alabama, that was removed on Friday night.
Brown’s status with Texas remains unchanged, and this extension should end the speculation that Saban would be a target for the Longhorns.
Nick Saban says he never any intentions of going to Texas (via ESPN's Chris Low) » pic.twitter.com/R0bRxjKjYE— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 14, 2013
According to the Longhorn Network, Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas is over. Brown will step down as the Longhorns’ head coach, which opens arguably the No. 1 job in college football.
Brown went 158-47 in 16 years as Texas’ head coach, including a national championship over USC in 2005.
While the Longhorns won 158 games under Brown’s direction, the program slipped in recent years. Texas went 5-7 in 2010 and recorded a 25-13 mark over the next three years.
Texas is a high-profile job with a lot of booster responsibilities. Needless to say, the search to replace Brown will intriguing, especially since there is no easy replacement candidate.
Mack Brown has informed the team and recruits of his resignation He will coach the bowl game.— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) December 15, 2013
Cincinnati beat Duke in last year’s Belk Bowl, and the Bearcats are set to make a return trip to Charlotte on Dec. 28 to take on North Carolina.
And Cincinnati plans to take on the Tar Heels with a new variation on its helmets:
UConn has announced Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco as its new head coach. Diaco replaces interim coach T.J. Weist, who took over after Paul Pasqualoni was fired early in the season.
Diaco won the Broyles Award (the nation’s best assistant coach) in 2012 and worked at Notre Dame from 2010-13.
Prior to coming to Notre Dame, Diaco made stops as an assistant at Cincinnati, Virginia and Central Michigan.
Diaco should be a good hire for UConn, but the first-time head coach needs to find a fix for the Huskies' offense. UConn has struggled on offense in recent years, so Diaco's offensive coordinator hire will be crucial.
College football’s 2013 regular season – with the exception of the Army-Navy game – is in the books.
The 2013 season featured plenty of intrigue and surprises, and Florida State and Auburn are set to cap the BCS era with the national championship matchup on Jan. 6 in Pasadena.
With the season for all BCS programs completed, it’s time to honor the top players around the nation.
As usual, it’s no easy assignment assembling three All-America teams. There are plenty of standout performers that won’t make the cut, but we tried to blend talent, production and consistency to form the top three teams.
2013 Season Reviews and All-Conference Teams: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | National Awards
College Football's 2013 Postseason All-America Team
|First-Team Offense||Second-Team Offense||Third-Team Offense|
|QB Jameis Winston, FSU||QB Bryce Petty, Baylor||QB Derek Carr, Fresno State|
|RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona||RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State||RB Bishop Sankey, Washington|
|RB Andre Williams, Boston College||RB Tre Mason, Auburn||RB Tyler Gaffney, Stanford|
|WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State||WR Allen Robinson, Penn State||WR Davante Adams, Fresno State|
|WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt||WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson||WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor|
|TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech||TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina||TE Nick O'Leary, Florida State|
|C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon||C Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma||C Reese Dismukes, Auburn|
|G David Yankey, Stanford||G Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA||G Anthony Steen, Alabama|
|G Cyril Richardson, Baylor||G Gabe Jackson, Miss. State||G Tre Jackson, Florida State|
|T Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama||T Cameron Erving, Florida State||T Taylor Lewan, Michigan|
|T Jake Matthews, Texas A&M||T Jack Mewhort, Ohio State||T Brandon Scherff, Iowa|
|AP Myles Jack, UCLA||AP Antonio Andrews, WKU||AP De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon|
|First-Team Defense||Second-Team Defense||Third-Team Defense|
|DE Vic Beasley, Clemson||DE Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State||DE Leonard Williams, USC|
|DE Michael Sam, Missouri||DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas||DE Marcus Smith, Louisville|
|DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh||DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina||DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota|
|DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU||DT Will Sutton, Arizona State||DT Derrick Hopkins, Va. Tech|
|LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama||LB Trent Murphy, Stanford||LB Kyle Van Noy, BYU|
|LB Anthony Barr, UCLA||LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo||LB Shayne Skov, Stanford|
|LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State||LB Chris Borland, Wisconsin||LB Telvin Smith, FSU|
|CB Lamarcus Joyner, FSU||CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon||CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State|
|CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State||CB Jason Verrett, TCU||CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State|
|S Deone Bucannon, Wash. State||S Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss||S Jimmie Ward, NIU|
|S Ed Reynolds, Stanford||S Calvin Pryor, Louisville||S Kurtis Drummond, Mich. State|
|First-Team Specialists||Second-Team Specialists||Third-Team Specialists|
|K Roberto Aguayo, FSU||K Marvin Kloss, USF||K Anthony Fera, Texas|
|P Tom Hornsey, Memphis||P Mike Sadler, Michigan State||P Pat O'Donnell, Miami|
|KR Ty Montgomery, Stanford||KR Christion Jones, Alabama||KR DeVon Edwards, Duke|
|PR Ryan Switzer, UNC||PR Nelson Agholor, USC||PR Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma|
With the exception of Saturday’s Army-Navy game, college football’s regular season is in the books. Only 36 games separate college football fans until the long offseason, but with another week until the bowl season starts, it’s time to take a look back at 2013 and some of the highlights of the year.
From the opener between North Carolina-South Carolina to the finale between Utah State and Fresno State, the 2013 season provided plenty of highlights, big performances and disappointments.
College Football’s 2013 National Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Winston quickly went from a talented, inexperienced quarterback in September to arguably the best in the nation by December. The redshirt freshman completed at least 60 percent of his passes in 10 out of 12 games against BCS competition and threw at least one touchdown pass in every contest. Winston finished the regular season with 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns, while rushing for 193 yards and four scores. He also completed 67.9 percent of his throws, averaged 293.8 passing yards per game and led the nation with a 190.1 passer rating. The Alabama native set FBS freshmen records with 38 touchdown passes and 3,820 passing yards.
2. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
3. Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald dominated the line of scrimmage and opposing offensive lines during his four years in Pittsburgh, but he was at his best during his senior year. Donald recorded 54 tackles – no easy feat for a defensive tackle – 10 sacks and 26.5 tackles for a loss. He also recorded 16 quarterback hurries, forced four fumbles and blocked one kick. Donald finished his career in the Steel City with 64 tackles for a loss and 28.5 sacks. He was picked as a finalist for the Bednarik, Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski Awards, and was the ACC media’s pick as ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
2. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
3. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
4. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
5. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: David Cutcliffe, Duke
Cutcliffe guided Duke to its first ACC Coastal title and the program’s first season of double-digit victories. To illustrate how far along Cutcliffe has improved Duke as a program, from 2000-07 the Blue Devils won just 13 games. Under Cutcliffe’s direction (2008-13), the Blue Devils have won 31 contests, including 16 in the last two seasons. And this isn’t a one-year wonder: Duke has enough returning talent to be in the Coastal Division mix again in 2014.
2. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
3. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
4. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
5. Art Briles, Baylor
Coordinator of the Year: Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
For the third consecutive season, Narduzzi coordinated a Michigan State defense that ranked among the top six nationally in fewest yards allowed per game. The Spartans ranked fourth nationally in total defense last season and improved upon that total in 2013, finishing No. 1 overall by limiting opponents to just 248.2 yards per contest. Michigan State also led the nation in rush defense, finished fourth nationally in fewest points allowed per game and second in pass efficiency defense. Narduzzi’s defense allowed only three opponents to score more than 20 points in a game this year, while no opposing team managed to reach the 30-point mark for the second season in a row. Narduzzi’s work as a defensive coordinator has made him a hot commodity for open head coach vacancies.
2. Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Florida State
3. Phil Bennett, defensive coordinator, Baylor
4. Philip Montgomery, offensive coordinator, Baylor
5. Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Best Coach Hire for 2013: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn brought immediate improvement to Auburn in his first season as the head coach. The Tigers went 3-9 last year and failed to win a SEC game. But under Malzahn’s watch, Auburn quickly rebounded. The Tigers finished 12-1 – with a huge victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl – and claimed the SEC Championship. Thanks to a Michigan State victory over Ohio State, Auburn is headed to Pasadena to play Florida State for the national championship on Dec. 6. In two years as a head coach, Malzahn is 21-4 at the collegiate level.
2. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
3. Steve Addazio, Boston College
4. Matt Wells, Utah State
5. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
Biggest Surprise: Missouri
Even though Gary Pinkel’s team lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship, let’s give the nod here to Missouri. Sure, Auburn’s rise to the national championship was a huge shocker, but Missouri’s 11-2 season was an even bigger surprise. After a 5-7 mark last year, Missouri was picked to finish lower than Auburn in Athlon’s 125 power rankings for 2013, and there was plenty of talk about the future of coach Gary Pinkel if the Tigers had another losing mark. But Missouri rebounded with a SEC East title and claimed its fourth season of at least 10 victories over the last seven years. The Tigers will have some holes to fill on the roster in 2014, but Pinkel’s team should remain in the mix for a finish in the top half of the SEC East.
5. Boston College
Biggest Disappointment: Florida
Coming into 2013, Florida was expected to have a hard time matching its 11-2 mark from 2012. However, no one expected what transpired in Gainesville this year. The Gators had their worst season since 1979, recording a 4-8 final record and a seven-game losing streak to close out the year. Florida won only two SEC games – Tennessee and Arkansas – and was routed by Florida State in the season finale. The offense was the primary culprit of the 4-8 record, and coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis were canned after the loss to the Seminoles. Will Muschamp plans to hire a coach to run an up-tempo attack in 2014, but this team has significant personnel concerns on offense, particularly at quarterback and in the receiving corps.
Top Freshman in 2013: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
3. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
4. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
5. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
6. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Best All-Around in 2013: Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA
By the end of 2013, Jack was not only one of UCLA’s best defenders, but the freshman also emerged as one of the Bruins’ top offensive weapons. In 12 contests, Jack recorded 70 tackles (five for a loss), one interception, one blocked kick and 10 pass breakups. On the offensive side, Jack rushed 37 times for 267 yards and seven scores. He averaged a whopping 7.2 yards per carry and had a 66-yard touchdown run against Arizona. Jack will be one of the Pac-12’s top returning players in 2014 – but will he play more on offense or stick to defense? With Anthony Barr headed to the NFL, Jack should be one of the top pass rushers in the Pac-12 and a preseason All-American.
2. Antonio Andrews, RB, Western Kentucky
3. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
4. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
5. Albert Wilson, WR, Georgia State
Most-Improved Player: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Mettenberger’s season ended prematurely due to a knee injury suffered against Arkansas, but the senior made considerable progress in 2013. Under new coordinator Cam Cameron, Mettenberger had a solid year, throwing for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also improved his completion percentage to 64.9 percent – a six-point increase from 2011. Mettenberger tossed only eight picks and threw 20 completions of 30 yards or more. By comparison, Mettenberger had only 17 passing plays of 30 or more yards in 2012. The senior also averaged three more yards per completion in 2013 than he did in 2012.
Three Coaches on the Rise
1. Pete Lembo, Ball State
Lembo could be in the mix for open jobs this offseason. In three years with Ball State, he is 25-12 and has guided the Cardinals to back-to-back bowl appearances.
2. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette
It’s only a matter of time before a BCS job hires Hudspeth away from the Ragin’ Cajuns. In three years with Louisiana-Lafayette, Hudspeth is 26-12 with three bowl trips.
3. Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Johnson is just 9-15 overall, but the Green Wave improved their win total by five games from 2012 to 2013. Tulane is also set to play in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21, which is its first bowl appearance since 2002.
Five Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2014
1. Will Muschamp, Florida
2. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
3. Tim Beckman, Illinois
4. Mike London, Virginia
5. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Five Players to Watch in 2014
1. Dontre Wilson, RB, Ohio State
2. Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
3. Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
4. Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State
5. P.J. Walker, QB, Temple
Three Programs on the Rise for 2014
2. North Carolina
3. Ole Miss
Best Play: Auburn's Chris Davis returns missed field goal to beat Alabama
Best Catch: UCF's J.J. Worton against Temple
Best Coaching Soundbyte: Les Miles after beating Florida
Best Coaching Rant: Iowa State's Paul Rhoads after losing to Texas
Best Trick Play: Fresno State's fumblerooski against New Mexico
Worst Officiating Moment: Arizona State-Wisconsin clock fiasco
Boise State’s coaching search has ended with a familiar name taking over for Chris Petersen. After one season at Arkansas State, Bryan Harsin has been hired by Boise State as its next head coach.
Harsin went 7-5 in his only season with the Red Wolves. However, he is a native of Boise and played as a quarterback with the Broncos from 1995-99.
Harsin also served on Boise State’s staff from 2001-10.
With Harsin’s departure, Arkansas State will have its fifth coach in five years in 2014.
Overall, 2013 was a pretty good year for the ACC. Florida State went 13-0 and is set to play Auburn for the national championship. Clemson went 10-2 – its only losses to Florida State and South Carolina – and the Tigers will play in their second BCS game in three years.
There was a drop in the final rankings from Florida State and Clemson, but Duke finished 10-3 and claimed its first Coastal Division title. Behind the Blue Devils in the Coastal were Virginia Tech (8-4), Miami (9-3) and Georgia Tech (7-5).
Florida State and Clemson clearly dominated the Atlantic Division, but Syracuse, Boston College and Maryland all finished with at least a .500 record.
The ACC expanded to 14 teams with the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and the conference has 11 teams set to play in a bowl game this year.
The bowl season is still to come, but Athlon Sports wraps up the 2013 regular season with a few awards and all-conference honors.
ACC 2013 Season Awards
Coach of the Year: David Cutcliffe, Duke
Between Cutcliffe, Boston College’s Steve Addazio and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, the ACC has a good crop of candidates for coach of the year. Despite the seasons by Fisher and Addazio, it’s hard to pick against Cutcliffe for this award. Cutcliffe guided Duke to its first ACC Coastal title and the program’s first season of double-digit victories. To illustrate how far along Cutcliffe has improved Duke as a program, from 2000-07 the Blue Devils won just 13 games. Under Cutcliffe’s direction (2008-13), the Blue Devils have won 31 contests, including 16 in the last two seasons. And this isn’t a one-year wonder: Duke has enough returning talent to be in the Coastal Division mix again in 2014.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Boston College running back Andre Williams and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd deserve consideration here, but Winston is the clear frontrunner for this award. The redshirt freshman quickly went from a talented, inexperienced quarterback in September to arguably the best in the nation by December. In the season opener against Pittsburgh, Winston threw for 356 yards and four touchdowns and only got better with each snap. Against Clemson, he threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns and completed 21 of 29 passes for 325 yards and one score against Miami. Winston completed at least 60 percent of his passes in 10 out of 12 games against BCS competition and threw at least one touchdown pass in every contest.
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald dominated the line of scrimmage and opposing offensive lines during his four years in Pittsburgh, but he was at his best during his senior year. Donald recorded 54 tackles – no easy feat for a defensive tackle – 10 sacks and 26.5 tackles for a loss. He also recorded 16 quarterback hurries, forced four fumbles and blocked one kick. Donald finished his career in the Steel City with 64 tackles for a loss and 28.5 sacks. He was picked as a finalist for the Bednarik, Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski Awards, and was the ACC media’s pick as ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Newcomer of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
As we mentioned under the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, Winston is already one of – if not the best – quarterback in the nation. The redshirt freshman finished the regular season with 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns, while rushing for 193 yards and four scores. Winston completed 67.9 percent of his throws, averaged 293.8 passing yards per game and led the nation with a 190.1 passer rating. The Alabama native set FBS freshmen records with 38 touchdown passes and 3,820 passing yards.
Biggest Disappointments of 2013: Virginia and NC State
No one was necessarily expecting big things from either NC State or Virginia this year, but a combined 0-16 mark in conference play is a big disappointment. The Wolfpack was picked to finish third in the Atlantic Division by the ACC media in July, while the Cavaliers were pegged sixth in the Coastal. Neither team was particularly competitive in ACC games, as NC State’s closest conference loss was by eight points to North Carolina, while only one of Virginia’s defeats were by less than 10 points. Despite the disappointing 2013 season, there is hope for both programs. The Cavaliers have a solid recruiting class on the way, and the Wolfpack will gain the services of transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett for 2014.
Biggest Surprises of 2013: Duke and Boston College
We normally award just one team here, but it’s hard to ignore the accomplishments of Duke and Boston College in 2013. We highlighted the Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe’s coach of the year selection, and 2013 will be recorded as one of the best seasons in Duke football history. Boston College won only two games last year but finished 7-5 this season behind first-year coach Steve Addazio. The Eagles leaned on a veteran core of players to return to the postseason, including senior running back Andre Williams (2,102 yards) and quarterback Chase Rettig (17 TDs, 6 INTs). Both of these programs have experienced their share of struggles in recent years, but it’s clear Duke and Boston College are pointed in the right direction going into 2014.
Athlon's 2013 All-ACC Team
|First-Team Offense||Second-Team Offense|
|QB Jameis Winston, Florida State||QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson|
|RB Duke Johnson, Miami||RB Devonta Freeman, Florida State|
|RB Andre Williams, Boston College||RB Kevin Parks, Virginia|
|WR Rashad Greene, Florida State||WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State|
|WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson||WR Allen Hurns, Miami|
|TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina||TE Nick O'Leary, Florida State|
|C Bryan Stork, Florida State||C Macky MacPherson, Syracuse|
|G Tre Jackson, Florida State||G Brandon Linder, Miami|
|G Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech||G Laken Tomlinson, Duke|
|T Cameron Erving, FSU||T Matt Patchan, Boston College|
|T James Hurst, North Carolina||T Brandon Thomas, Clemson|
|AP Jamison Crowder, Duke||AP Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh|
|First-Team Defense||Second-Team Defense|
|DE Vic Beasley, Clemson||DE Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech|
|DE Kareem Martin, North Carolina||DE Kasim Edebali, Boston College|
|DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh||DT Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech|
|DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State||DT Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest|
|LB Christian Jones, Florida State||LB Kelby Brown, Duke|
|LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College||LB Denzel Perryman, Miami|
|LB Telvin Smith, Florida State||LB Jack Tyler, Virginia Tech|
|CB Ross Cockrell, Duke||CB Bashaud Breeland, Clemson|
|CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State||CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech|
|S Jeremy Cash, Duke||S Tre Boston, North Carolina|
|S Anthony Harris, Virginia||S Terrence Brooks, Florida State|
|First-Team Specialists||Second-Team Specialists|
|K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State||K Nate Freese, Boston College|
|P Pat O'Donnell, Miami||P Tommy Hibbard, North Carolina|
|KR DeVon Edwards, Duke||KR Stacy Coley, Miami|
|PR Ryan Switzer, North Carolina||PR Jamison Crowder, Duke|
College football’s most prestigious award will be handed out on Saturday night, and six players will head to New York for the ceremony: Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, Northern Illinois’ quarterback Jordan Lynch, Boston College running back Andre Williams, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Auburn running back Tre Mason.
Winston is considered a heavy favorite to win on Saturday night, and the redshirt freshman is expected to become the third Florida State player to claim the Heisman Trophy.
Mason has made a strong case late in the season, while Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch totaled 45 touchdowns in 13 games this year.
Williams leads the nation by averaging 175.2 rushing yards per game.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is the defending Heisman winner, and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron threw just 13 interceptions over his three seasons as the Crimson Tide’s starter.
Heisman finalists: Jameis Winston - FSU Jordan Lynch - NIU Johnny Manziel - TAMU Tre Mason - AUB A.J. McCarron - ALA Andre Williams - BC— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 9, 2013
Wake Forest moved quickly in replacing Jim Grobe, choosing Bowling Green’s Dave Clawson to be its next head coach.
Grobe tied the school record with 77 victories during his Wake Forest tenure, which included an 11-3 record with an ACC Championship in 2006.
Clawson is a good hire for Wake Forest, as he has a 90-80 career record in three head coaching stops. Clawson went 29-29 in five years at Fordham, 29-20 in four years at Richmond and 32-31 in five seasons at Bowling Green.
Wake Forest isn’t an easy job, but Clawson already has experience winning at difficult programs, and his rebuilding effort at Bowling Green should serve him well in Winston-Salem.
The Pac-12 is a conference on the rise, and the league was strengthened during this year’s coaching carousel. Washington hired Chris Petersen away from Boise State to replace Steve Sarkisian, who left to take over at USC.
Boise State had success in the years prior to Petersen taking over, but the California native guided the program to new heights, including two BCS bowl victories. Petersen’s final record at Boise State was 92-12.
Sarkisian didn’t inherit much to work with when he arrived in Washington in 2009. The Huskies made a five-game improvement in the win column in his first season and won at least seven games in each of the next four years.
With more resources and an expected top-notch coaching staff at his disposal at USC, Sarkisian is expected to return the Trojans to national championship contention.
Both programs seem to have found a good fit. Is Sarkisian or Petersen the better hire this offseason?
Washington or USC: Which Program Made the Better Coach Hire?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Steve Sarkisian is a good fit at USC, but Washington made the better hire. Boise State’s Chris Petersen is arguably one of the nation’s top 15-20 coaches and guided the Broncos to a 92-12 record. Boise State also went 5-2 in bowl games under his watch and finished six times in the final Associated Press poll from 2006-12. Winning in a BCS league on a week-to-week basis is certainly going to be a bigger challenge than in the Mountain West, and Petersen has to prove he can win outside of Boise State, unlike previous coaches (Dan Hawkins and Dirk Koetter) that left for Pac-12 jobs. However, Petersen is regarded as one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the nation and will have more resources at his disposal in Washington. Sarkisian will win a lot of games at USC, but I think the Huskies upgraded when they hired Petersen away from Boise State.
I think both schools made solid hires, but I believe Washington hit the proverbial "home run" in luring Petersen away from Boise State. Don't get me wrong, I have no issues whatsoever with USC picking Steve Sarkisian as Lane Kiffin's replacement, but I have been anxious to see what Petersen could do at a "major" program for several years. This is a guy who up until this season had won at least 10 games every season with the Broncos. Included in his eight-year run was five conference titles and two BCS bowl victories. Now Petersen, a California native who played at UC Davis, gets to stay "home" in the Pacific Northwest and apply his winning formula at Washington, a school with significantly more resources and national brand recognition than Boise State, even with the Broncos' recent run of success.
USC is one of the top coaching jobs in college football, but instead of going for the "home run," athletic director Pat Haden decided to tap into the Trojans' most recent glory days by hiring Sarkisian, a former assistant coach under Pete Carroll. This actually put Washington AD Scott Woodward in the tougher position of filling his vacancy, and give him credit for finally saying the right things to convince Petersen to leave Boise. Of the course the biggest question regarding the Huskies' new head man is will the winning follow him from the famed "Smurf Turf" to Seattle? Only time will tell, but Washington fans have no reason to not be excited about the future of their football program.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Let’s start by saying both will do well. I’d argue both Washington and USC upgraded their coaching situations. Go ahead and point to the the last two Boise State coaches who flamed out at major jobs, both at current Pac-12 schools. Dirk Koetter took over a program that had stagnated at Arizona State and still had nice seasons. Dan Hawkins took over a mess of a program at Colorado. Petersen, though, has a program ready to return to national prominence. That’s partly due to the facilities upgrades and the work Sarkisian did when he took over a program in disarray. Skeptics wonder if Petersen will be able to recruit at the level Washington needs to in order to beat Oregon and Stanford. I have enough faith in Petersen as an administrator to augment his abilities with his staff. After all, this is a guy who needed to replace Justin Wilcox, Bryan Harsin, Brent Pease and others over the years. He’ll do fine at Washington.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Can I wait until I see the entire make up of coaching staffs to make that decision? On the surface, Chris Petersen feels like the better hire. However, if Steve Sarkisian can lure Justin Wilcox, Tosh Lupoi and Peter Sirmon to join him in Los Angeles, than I would switch my vote. Petersen is more of a proven commodity who has obviously won at a higher level. But he has struggled the last two seasons (relatively speaking) as the Broncos stepped up in competition by joining the Mountain West. And his 2013 campaign was the worst of his head coaching tenure at Boise. Coach Sark knows the USC landscape and understands what the expectation levels will be at Heritage Hall. Both teams made quality hires given their circumstances, but for now, Washington has done something that many have failed to do in luring Petersen away from Boise State. Trojans fans likely think they "under hired" while Huskies believe they actually upgraded.
College football’s regular season is over, and the chase for the national championship is down to Florida State and Auburn.
The Seminoles returned only 10 starters this year and had to replace six assistants, but coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited and developed talent as well as any team in the nation.
Florida State scored at least 40 points in 12 of its games this season and only one matchup was decided by 20 points or less.
This is the Seminoles’ first appearance in the BCS Championship since 2000. Florida State is 1-2 in national title appearances in the BCS era, but the Seminoles are 3-0 under Fisher in bowl appearances.
Standing in the way of Florida State’s first national title since 2000 is Auburn. The Tigers represent the SEC – the home of the last seven national champions. Can the Seminoles knock off Auburn and end the SEC’s run?
Here are five reasons why Florida State is the team to beat on Jan. 6. in Pasadena.
5 Reasons Why Florida State Will Beat Auburn for the National Championship
1. Florida State’s passing game will have its way against Auburn’s secondary
The strength of Auburn’s defense is its line, which has generated 28 sacks this year. End Dee Ford leads the way with 8.5 sacks, and talented freshman Carl Lawson has four. Florida State’s offensive line is anchored by tackle Cameron Erving, who was picked as the ACC’s top lineman in 2013. Provided the Seminoles protect quarterback Jameis Winston, he should have plenty of opportunities to make plays against Auburn’s secondary. The Tigers rank last in the SEC against the pass, allowing 259.3 yards per game. Auburn also ranks 63rd nationally in pass efficiency defense and has allowed 27 passing plays of at least 30 yards in 2013. Florida State has one of the deepest receiving corps in college football, with three receivers over 900 yards. Tight end Nick O’Leary is also a difficult matchup for opposing defenses, as the junior has 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven scores. Auburn has allowed two teams to throw for more than 400 yards this season: Georgia and Texas A&M. Considering Florida State’s offense has been more productive than the Bulldogs and the Aggies this year, it should be able to move the ball easily against the Tigers.
Related Content: 5 Reasons Why Auburn Will Beat Florida State for the National Title
2. The Seminoles have the pieces to stop Auburn’s rushing attack
If Florida State wants to win, it has to stop the run. Auburn’s bread and butter on offense is its ground game, which features a dynamic quarterback in Nick Marshall, as well as running back Tre Mason. Over the last five games, Mason is averaging 173.6 rushing yards per game. Marshall isn’t a polished passer but has made strides in the second half of the season. One of the junior’s biggest assets is his ability to handle the necessary reads and fakes in this offense. In order to stop Auburn’s ground attack, Florida State needs to be strong at the point of attack. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is one of the best in the nation, while the linebacking corps is athletic and fast. The Seminoles have to be disciplined and keep a close watch on the fakes and reads Auburn will use. Florida State held opponents to just 116.5 rushing yards per game this year, while the first-team defense has yet to allow a rushing score. The Seminoles don’t necessarily have to get constant penetration in the backfield, but they have to be able to maintain gaps and block responsibility against Auburn’s offense. And with excellent cornerbacks, Florida State can cheat an extra safety or two into the box to stop the Tigers’ ground game.
3. Florida State is more than Jameis Winston
Even though Florida State’s offense averages 322 passing yards a game, quarterback Jameis Winston isn’t the sole reason for the Seminoles’ success. The backfield goes three-deep in terms of talent. Devonta Freeman is a tough runner between the tackles, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and leads Florida State’s running backs with 19 catches. Karlos Williams switched from safety this season and is averaging 8.2 yards per carry. James Wilder Jr. is another weapon for Jimbo Fisher, averaging 6.9 per carry and has the size and talent to be a punishing option in the fourth quarter. On the other side of the ball, Florida State ranks second nationally with 34 forced turnovers. Roberto Aguayo might be the nation’s best kicker, converting 19 of 20 attempts this year. While Winston is certainly deserving of the Heisman, don’t lose sight the Seminoles are the nation’s most-complete team.
4. Florida State was college football’s most dominant team in 2013
Auburn has the edge in strength of schedule, but Florida State was clearly college football’s most dominant team this year. The Seminoles’ margin of victory was 42.3 points a game, and Jimbo Fisher’s team easily dispatched four ranked opponents by a combined score of 200-35. Sure, the SEC is the best conference. And Florida State’s ability to win close games is uncertain without a game decided by less than 14 points. However, the Seminoles took care of business by simply dominating their competition.
5. Auburn’s luck will run out at some point
It’s unfair to call Auburn a lucky team. But let’s be honest: Ricardo Louis’ catch against Georgia and Chris Davis’ field goal return to beat Alabama aren’t every day plays. While the Tigers deserve credit for beating Alabama, Texas A&M, Missouri, Ole Miss and Georgia, let’s also not overlook the seven-point win to a 6-6 Washington State team and a last-minute touchdown pass to beat 6-6 Mississippi State. The SEC is still the best conference in college football, but it’s also not as strong as it has been. Florida – a traditional SEC East power – finished 4-8. Georgia was hit hard by injuries and finished with an 8-4 mark. Again, Auburn is very good and deserves to play for the national championship. However, despite playing in a weaker conference, Florida State is the better team. While Auburn has a penchant for making plays at the right time, the Seminoles have dominated and that will show in Pasadena on Jan. 6.
College football’s regular season is over and the postseason is set. 35 bowl games take place, starting on Dec. 21 and stretching until the national championship on Jan. 6. Which bowls should you tune into?
Athlon ranks and previews all of the matchups from the must-see to the ones you can avoid.
Ranking the 35 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-Miss
1. BCS Championship – Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1) – Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
This is it. The final national championship before the playoff era (for better or worse) is an unlikely, but intriguing matchup. Florida State has been the most dominant team in the nation this year, but Auburn is red hot, riding a nine-game winning streak to Pasadena. Can the Seminoles stop the Tigers’ ground game? Florida State’s first-team defense has yet to allow a rushing score in 2013 and only one team has rushed for more than 150 yards over the last seven games. Quarterback Jameis Winston – the likely Heisman winner – and the Florida State receiving corps is a tough matchup for Auburn’s secondary. With both teams averaging over 40 points a game, the BCS Championship shouldn’t be short on offensive fireworks. Can the SEC close out the BCS era with an eighth consecutive national title? Or will Florida State end the SEC’s run of dominance?
2. Orange – Clemson (10-2) vs. Ohio State (12-1) – Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
Clemson and Ohio State have only one previous meeting – a rather infamous Gator Bowl matchup in 1978. The Buckeyes are 24-1 under Urban Meyer, while the Tigers have won 31 games over the last three years – the most in a three-year span in program history. This bowl features one of the best quarterback duels of the postseason, with Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd combining for 70 touchdowns in 2013. With a berth in the Orange Bowl, the Buckeyes have played in all five BCS games since 1998.
3. Rose – Michigan State (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2) – Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
Most of the BCS bowls seem to favor offense and high-scoring games, but defense should win out in Pasadena on Jan. 1. Michigan State and Stanford rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense and have combined for 71 sacks in 2013. With both teams among the nation’s elite on defense, which offense can make the most plays? Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is coming off a strong performance in the Pac-12 title game, throwing for 277 yards and one touchdown. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook tossed only five picks in 344 attempts this year.
4. Cotton – Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Missouri (11-2) – Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
With the Cotton and Orange Bowls on the same night, Jan. 3 is shaping up to be one of the better days of the bowl season. Oklahoma State and Missouri are former Big 12 foes, with the Cowboys winning four out of the last five against the Tigers. Both teams have talented pieces on defense, but this should be a high-scoring matchup. One of the bowl season’s intriguing one-on-one player matchups should be Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham taking on Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. Even though both teams fell short of reaching the BCS, the Cotton Bowl is a nice consolation prize.
5. Capital One – Wisconsin (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Much like the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Capital One Bowl always has one of the must-see matchups of the postseason. The SEC has won four out of the last five meetings against the Big Ten in this game, but Wisconsin should have a good chance to end that run on Jan. 1. Led by the one-two punch of Melvin Gordon and James White, the Badgers average 283 rushing yards per game. South Carolina’s defensive line is among the best in the nation, which will challenge the Badgers in the trenches. End Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles are future NFL standouts, and both players have to win the battle at the point of attack to slow down Gordon and White. South Carolina also features a standout running back (Mike Davis), but quarterback Connor Shaw is one of the nation’s most underrated players, throwing only one interception on 259 attempts in 2013.
6. Sugar – Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2) – Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
On paper, this is a great matchup between two of the top programs of the BCS era. But realistically, Oklahoma isn’t the best matchup for Alabama. The last time Alabama played in the Sugar Bowl, it was upset 31-17 by Utah. Considering the Crimson Tide was a heavy favorite to win the title in the preseason, there has to be some disappointment to be in New Orleans – instead of Pasadena. Oklahoma’s offensive strength is on the ground (235.8 ypg), but Alabama is holding opponents to 108.3 yards per game. The Sooners probably can’t line up and run over the Crimson Tide’s defense, so it’s important for Bob Stoops to get consistent production in the passing game, whether it’s Blake Bell or Trevor Knight under center.
7. Alamo – Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4) – Dec. 30 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Even though the combined final record for both teams is 18-6, it’s fair to say 2013 was a slight disappointment for Oregon and Texas. The Ducks had national title aspirations, but losses to Stanford and Arizona prevented an opportunity to play in a BCS game. The Longhorns rallied from a slow start to get back into Big 12 title contention. However, Texas fell short against Baylor and Oklahoma State, dropping Mack Brown’s team to 8-4. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered a knee injury late in the season and didn’t seem to be 100 percent in the final weeks. With a month to heal, Mariota should be closer to full strength, which should help the Ducks’ offense regain their early 2013 form. This Brown’s final game on the Longhorns’ sideline, so there's some extra motivation for Texas on Dec. 30. With Mariota already announcing his intention to return in 2014, Oregon can use this game as a springboard for a run at a Pac-12 title next season.
8. Fiesta – Baylor (11-1) vs. UCF (11-1) – Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Not only is this matchup the first between Baylor and UCF, but it’s also the first BCS appearance for both schools. The month off should help the Bears’ offense, with receiver Tevin Reese (wrist) and running back Lache Seastrunk (groin) nursing late-season injuries. Baylor averaged 61.2 points a game through the first nine weeks but was held to just 29.3 per game average over the final three contests. Eight of UCF’s games were decided by seven points or less, but the Knights have the firepower to hang around in this game. Quarterback Blake Bortles is efficient (seven picks) and averages 273.3 passing yards per game. Running back Storm Johnson leads the American Athletic Conference with an average of 84.6 rushing yards per game.
9. Russell Athletic – Miami (9-3) vs. Louisville (11-1) – Dec. 28 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Next season, Miami and Louisville will be ACC foes. But for now, the Cardinals-Hurricanes matchup is just an intriguing bowl game, as there is some familiarity between these two programs and players. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was committed to Miami during his recruiting process, and the Cardinals pluck a lot of prospects from the state of Florida. Coach Al Golden has Miami on the right track, and a win over Louisville would give the Hurricanes double-digit victories for the first time since 2003. With Bridgewater projected to be one of the top-five picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, this could be the final college game for the junior quarterback.
10. Las Vegas – Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4) – Dec. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Derek Carr vs. USC’s defense is one of the must-see matchups from the pre-Christmas bowls. Fresno State’s senior signal-caller threw for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns this year, with receiver Davante Adams (122 catches) the primary target. The Trojans’ defense is the toughest matchup that Fresno State will see this year, especially in the trenches. USC’s defense generated 34 sacks this season and held four out of the last seven opponents to 17 points or less. The Trojans also lead the Pac-12 in pass defense and have intercepted 16 passes this year. Fresno State’s rush defense will be tested against a USC offense that averages 174.2 yards per game on the ground. While the Trojans aren’t short on talent, they will be led by an interim coach (Clay Helton) for this game. Will the motivation be there for USC?
11. Fight Hunger – BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4) – Dec. 27 at 9:30 p.m. ET
The Fight Hunger Bowl should be one of the better pre-New Year’s Day matchups this season. Washington finally got over the 7-6 mark with a solid 8-4 record in 2013, but instead of building on this year's success in 2014, coach Steve Sarkisian left for USC. The Huskies were able to pull Chris Petersen away from Boise State, which is easily one of the top hires of the BCS era. Regardless of the coaching situation, Washington will be a tough opponent for BYU. The Huskies ranked second in the Pac-12 in total offense (514.3 ypg), and running back Bishop Sankey is expected to be a postseason All-American (147.9 ypg). The Cougars went 2-4 against BCS competition this season, but Bronco Mendenhall’s defense ranks 21st nationally in points allowed (21.3), while quarterback Taysom Hill is a dangerous dual-threat option. BYU has been vulnerable in the secondary, and it’s critical for linebacker Kyle Van Noy to get pressure on Washington quarterback Keith Price.
12. Outback – Iowa (8-4) vs. LSU (9-3) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
These two programs have met only once – a 30-25 thriller in the Capital One Bowl – but there are plenty of similarities between Iowa and LSU for this year’s matchup. With quarterback Zach Mettenberger sidelined with a knee injury, the Tigers should plan on a run-heavy approach on offense. LSU has one of the deepest backfields in the nation, with Jeremy Hill leading the way (1,185 yards, 14 TDs). Freshman Anthony Jennings is expected to replace Mettenberger under center on Jan 1. Iowa averages 4.4 yards per rush on offense, led by Mark Weisman (938 yards, 7 TDs). But quarterback Jake Rudock was solid in his first year as the starter (18 TDs, 60.2%). With Jennings making his first start, Iowa has to stop the run and force LSU’s young quarterback to win the game.
13. Chick-fil-A – Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Duke (10-3) – Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is the final college football game of 2013, and as always, this game is the perfect way to ring in the New Year. The Aggies – led by sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel – make their first appearance in this bowl. This is also Duke’s first appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and the Blue Devils are looking for their first postseason win since 1961. Both teams should be able to move the ball with ease, as Texas A&M’s defense allowed 460.3 yards per game. The Blue Devils gave up 408.5 yards per contest this year, but this unit made some big plays and good adjustments in the second half of games. The month to prepare should allow the Aggies some time to get their younger players on defense valuable reps to help defend against the Blue Devils' solid offense. A win over Texas A&M would cap an impressive season for Duke, which featured the first Coastal Division title in school history, along with the program’s first double-digit win total.
14. Sun – Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3) – Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
Something has to give when the Hokies and Bruins meet in El Paso. Virginia Tech’s defense is allowing just 17.4 points a game, while UCLA averages 36.5 points per contest. The Hokies’ defensive line (37 sacks) will be a handful for a young Bruins’ offensive line, but quarterback Brett Hundley has thrown for only one interception in his last five games. Virginia Tech’s offense has been inconsistent and won’t have much margin for error against a UCLA defense that boasts two of the nation’s top pass rushers in linebackers Anthony Barr and Myles Jack.
15. Holiday – Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5) – Dec. 30 at 10:15 p.m. ET
The Holiday Bowl is known for its high-scoring affairs and offensive shootouts, so it’s no surprise Arizona State and Texas Tech will meet in San Diego. The Sun Devils were handled by Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship, but Todd Graham’s team has an opportunity to win 11 games for the first time since 1996. First-year coach Kliff Kingsbury guided Texas Tech to a 7-0 start. But a difficult schedule in the second half of the season dropped the Red Raiders to five consecutive losses to end the year. Arizona State running back Marion Grice missed the last two games of the year with a leg injury, and if healthy, he should find plenty of running room against a Texas Tech defense allowing 194.5 rush yards per game.
16. Belk – Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6) – Dec. 28 at 3:20 p.m. ET
Cincinnati returns to Charlotte to defend its Belk Bowl title after its third consecutive season with at least nine wins. The Bearcats beat Duke 48-34 in this bowl last year. North Carolina started 1-5 but rallied with a 5-1 finish to get bowl eligible. Both teams average over 30 points a game so this year’s Belk Bowl could exceed last season’s 82 points scored. Even though the Tar Heels lost quarterback Bryn Renner to a season-ending shoulder injury in November, the offense hasn’t missed a beat. Sophomore Marquise Williams accounted for 10 scores over the final three games, and his dual-threat ability will challenge a Cincinnati defense that has allowed only two opponents to score more than 30 points in 2013.
17. Poinsettia – Utah State (8-5) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1) - Dec. 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET
From the BCS to the Poinsettia Bowl. That’s the story of the postseason for Northern Illinois. The Huskies were easily handled by Bowling Green in the MAC Championship, which dropped Rod Carey’s team to the Poinsettia Bowl. Quarterback Jordan Lynch recorded 4,557 yards and 45 overall scores this season. The senior is one of the top players in college football, but he will be tested by a Utah State defense that held opponents to just 17.3 points a game. First-year coach Matt Wells did an outstanding job guiding the Aggies to a Mountain West division title, especially after losing quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a knee injury. With Utah State limited on offense, it needs a big effort from its defense and rushing attack to hold off Lynch.
18. Hawaii – Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (6-6) – Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
For a team (Boise State) with an interim coach, and the other team (Oregon State) with a 6-6 record, a trip to Hawaii isn’t the worst way to spend time around Christmas. The Beavers lost their final five games, including a 69-27 drubbing at the hands of Washington. Boise State will be led by interim coach Bob Gregory after Chris Petersen left for Washington. The Broncos are rebuilding, yet finished 8-4 and needed one more win to play for the Mountain West title. Quarterback Joe Southwick suffered a broken ankle against Nevada and played in the regular season finale against New Mexico. Southwick could be ready to reclaim his starting job in time for this game. The Broncos’ defense has been steady this year, but the secondary will be tested by the Beavers’ passing attack, which features receiver Brandin Cooks (120 catches).
19. Gator – Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4) – Jan. 1 at Noon ET
Do not adjust your vision. Yes, this is a rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl, which resulted in a Georgia 45-31 victory. With two backup quarterbacks likely to start this game, points could be at a premium in this year’s matchup. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez has not played since late October, leaving freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. and former walk-on Ron Kellogg III to handle the starting quarterback duties. Georgia lost Aaron Murray to a torn ACL in late November, but backup Hutson Mason started and played well against Georgia Tech. While there’s uncertainty at quarterback, there’s no question about the running backs in this game. Todd Gurley (Georgia) and Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) are two of the best in the nation.
20. Buffalo Wild Wings – Michigan (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5) – Dec. 28 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Considering both teams return a chunk of their roster for 2014, this bowl game could be a springboard to bigger and better things next season. Michigan’s offense struggled this year, largely due to an inability to establish the run and protect quarterback Devin Gardner. But the junior finished the regular season on a high note by throwing for 451 yards and four touchdowns against Ohio State. With just 10 returning starters, Kansas State was in rebuild mode this year. And it showed early on, as the Wildcats started 2-4 but rebounded to win five out of their final six games. This is the first meeting between these two programs.
21. AdvoCare V100 – Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5) – Dec. 31 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Get your stopwatches ready: With two teams that like to lean on the run, this could be one of the fastest games of the bowl season. Or better yet: How many passes will be thrown in this game? The AdvoCare V100 Bowl features the nation’s leading rushers in Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (156 ypg) and Boston College’s Andre Williams (175.2 ypg), and both players should expect a heavy workload on Dec. 31. Williams was banged up at the end of the regular season but is expected to be at full strength for this game. Carey rushed for at least 100 yards in every contest this year. With two teams dedicated to the run, this game could be decided on which quarterback is able to make the most plays (B.J. Denker, Arizona or Chase Rettig, Boston College).
22. Music City – Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Ole Miss (7-5) – Dec. 30 at 3:15 p.m. ET
Despite being separated by less than 400 miles, this the first meeting between these two programs since 1971. Georgia Tech is just 1-4 in bowl games under coach Paul Johnson, but the Yellow Jackets have finished in the final Associated Press poll in four out of the last five years. Stopping the Georgia Tech option is no easy assignment. Ole Miss ranked ninth in the SEC against the run but allowed 26 rushing scores this season. The Rebels have an edge in talent in the trenches, but freshman Robert Nkemdiche and senior Cameron Whigham have be able to maintain gap responsibility instead of trying to rush the backfield on every snap. The Yellow Jackets’ defense made progress under new coordinator Ted Roof this season, but the secondary finished 13th in the ACC against the pass. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace struggled in its last two games (4 INTs), but the junior has one of the nation’s most-talented trio of receivers at his disposal.
23. BBVA Compass – Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. Houston (8-4) – Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
It seems one team is shafted every year in the bowl process. And this season, that team is clearly Vanderbilt. The Commodores finished 4-4 in the SEC and is picked behind two 3-5 teams in Ole Miss and Mississippi State. While there may be a sense of disappointment for Vanderbilt, this is a favorable matchup for James Franklin’s team. Houston lost three of its final four games – albeit against solid competition – and offensive coordinator Doug Meachem left for TCU in early December. Houston quarterback John O’Korn had a solid freshman season (2,889 yards, 26 TDs), but the Commodores finished fifth in the SEC against the pass.
24. Military – Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5) – Dec. 27 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Despite their states bordering one another, Marshall and Maryland have never met. And while some mid-tier bowl games won’t draw much interest among fanbases, this one should have some intrigue. The Terrapins are back in the postseason after a two-year absence, and the Thundering Herd posted its best win total (nine) since winning 11 games in 2002. Maryland was hit hard by injuries on both sides of the ball this year, but its defense held opponents to just 366.9 yards per game. Behind quarterback Rakeem Cato and receiver Tommy Shuler, Marshall’s offense is dynamic (43 ppg). However, the Thundering Herd’s defense is suspect, allowing 184.9 rushing yards per game in nine C-USA contests. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown played well against Virginia Tech and NC State, and he will have opportunities to make plays against Marshall’s defense.
25. Liberty – Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6) – Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. ET
Expect plenty of cowbells in Memphis on Dec. 31, as Mississippi State fans should overwhelm the Liberty Bowl with less than a three-hour drive from Starkville. This is Rice’s first appearance in the Liberty Bowl, and a victory over the Bulldogs would give the Owls their first 11-win season in school history. Mississippi State has the edge in talent and size in the trenches, but the Bulldogs will be tested by a Rice rushing offense that averages 240.2 yards per game. Running back Charles Ross has 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, but quarterback Taylor McHargue is also a dangerous runner (466 yards) in addition to his arm (17 TDs, 2,261 yards). Mississippi State’s quarterback situation for this game is uncertain. Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott were injured late in the year, but Prescott came off the bench and rallied the Bulldogs to a victory over Ole Miss in the regular season finale. Russell won't play in this game, which means Prescott and true freshman Damian Williams will get the nod under center.
26. Little Caesars Pizza – Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (10-3) – Dec. 26 at 6 p.m. ET
After three consecutive trips to Birmingham for the BBVA Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh has to be ecstatic for the post-Christmas trip to Detroit. But the Panthers have a tough matchup on their hands, as Bowling Green has its first double-digit win season since 2003 and knocked off Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. Points could be at a premium in Ford Field. Bowling Green is allowing only 14.8 points a game, while Pittsburgh boasts ACC Defensive Player of the Year in tackle Aaron Donald.
27. New Mexico – Washington State (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6) – Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. ET
The bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque with a striking contrast in styles. Washington State made significant progress in Mike Leach’s second season, improving its win total by three games after a 3-9 record last year. The Cougars love to throw the ball, leading the nation with 698 pass attempts. Quarterback Connor Halliday has tossed 28 touchdowns but also has 21 picks. Colorado State also improved its win total by three games this year, but the Rams didn’t do it through the air. Running back Kapri Bibbs emerged midway through the season and finished with 1,572 yards and 28 scores on 254 attempts. Which style will win out on Dec. 21?
28. Pinstripe Bowl – Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4) – Dec. 28 at Noon ET
The Pinstripe Bowl should have a good crowd for this one, as Notre Dame will travel well to New York City, and the Scarlet Knights are about an hour away from Yankee Stadium. After playing in the national title last season, the Pinstripe Bowl has to be a disappointment for the Fighting Irish, but this team lost quarterback Everett Golson in the preseason, and injuries on defense prevented this unit from matching last year’s success. Rutgers needed a win over South Florida on the final weekend just to get bowl eligible. Turnovers and consistency on offense were huge concerns for the Scarlet Knights this year, but quarterback Chas Dodd threw for 179 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in the win over the Bulls. The time off to prepare for the bowl should help Rutgers’ running back Paul James return to 100 percent, who never seemed to be at full strength after suffering a leg injury against Arkansas in late September.
29. GoDaddy – Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Ball State (10-2) - Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. ET
For the third consecutive season (and three different coaches), Arkansas State makes its postseason home in Mobile. The Red Wolves are 1-1 in this bowl, beating Kent State last year and losing to Northern Illinois in 2012. Ball State was overshadowed by Northern Illinois in the MAC, but the Cardinals averaged 486.3 yards per game in 2013 and held opponents to 24.8 points per contest. Ball State coach Pete Lembo could be in the mix for openings at Wake Forest and Connecticut. Will he coach the Cardinals in this game?
30. New Orleans – Tulane (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) – Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. ET
Bragging rights in the state of Louisiana are on the line for this game, as less than 150 miles separate Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won the last two New Orleans Bowls, while this is the Green Wave’s first appearance in a bowl since 2002. Tulane has made significant improvement under second-year coach Curtis Johnson, improving from 2-10 last year to 7-5 in 2013. The Green Wave failed to score more than 17 points in four out of their last five games, but the defense was one of the best in Conference USA, limiting opponents to 353.1 yards per game. Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway suffered an arm injury in the Nov. 30 loss to ULM but is expected to play in this game. Despite the close proximity between the two schools, this is just the second meeting between Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette since 2001.
31. Texas – Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4) – Dec. 27 at 6 p.m. ET
Minnesota is back in the Texas Bowl for the second consecutive season. The Golden Gophers were one of the Big Ten’s best stories in 2013, rallying around interim coach Tracy Claeys while Jerry Kill took time away from the team to deal with medical concerns. Syracuse squeaks into the postseason after a last-second win against Boston College. The Orange dealt with transition to a new conference, as well as a new quarterback, yet still made it into a bowl in Scott Shafer’s first season. Both teams have enjoyed success on the ground this year, with Syracuse averaging 194.3 yards per game and Minnesota rushing for 200.9 per contest.
32. Heart of Dallas – UNLV (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4) – Jan. 1 at Noon ET
Yes, there are too many bowls, but it’s also good to see 35 postseason games when they create matchups like this one. UNLV is back in a bowl for the first time since 2000, while North Texas returns to a postseason game after a 12-year drought. The Mean Green’s run defense held opponents to only 125.1 yards per game this season, but that number should be tested by UNLV running back Tim Cornett (1,251 yards, 15 TDs). North Texas isn’t particularly flashy on offense, with quarterback Derek Thompson completing 63.9 percent of his throws but tossing 13 picks. Running back Brandin Byrd is the Mean Green’s standout performer on offense, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. UNLV led the Mountain West in pass defense, but it left a lot to be desired against the run (222.6 ypg).
33. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s – East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5) – Dec. 23 at 2 p.m. ET
It’s hard to find many reasons to get excited about this bowl, especially since it’s clear these two teams are headed in opposite directions. East Carolina has a solid resume in 2013, beating North Carolina 55-31 in Chapel Hill and falling to Virginia Tech by just five points. The Pirates should score plenty of points behind quarterback Shane Carden (32 TDs, 3,866 yards). Ohio limps into the postseason by losing three of its final four games. However, quarterback Tyler Tettleton threw for 2,623 yards this season and will test an East Carolina defense ranked 90th nationally against the pass.
34. Famous Idaho Potato – Buffalo (8-4) vs. SDSU (7-5) – Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. ET
This bowl has produced some high-scoring affairs in its 16-year history, but defense could be this season’s theme. Buffalo’s defense is led by linebacker Khalil Mack, who forced 16 fumbles in his career and was named the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Mack isn’t the only standout on Jeff Quinn’s team, as Branden Oliver gashed opposing defenses for 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns this year. San Diego State lived on the edge in 2013, winning six games by seven points or less. The Aztecs’ offense is guided by running back Adam Muema (1,015 yards), while walk-on Quinn Kaehler stabilized the passing attack after he replaced Adam Dingwell as the starter.
35. Armed Forces – MTSU (8-4) vs. Navy (7-4) – Dec. 30 at 11:45 a.m. ET
This is the first meeting between the Blue Raiders and Midshipmen. Navy still has one game remaining, a showdown with rival Army next Saturday. MTSU finished its regular season by winning five in a row, including a 51-49 victory over C-USA East champ Marshall. Stopping the run is always critical when playing Navy, and MTSU ranked eighth in Conference USA in rush defense, allowing 185.8 yards per game. But the Blue Raiders should benefit from the extra bowl practices to develop a plan to stop Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.