Articles By Steven Lassan
After one season at Western Kentucky, Bobby Petrino has been hired at Louisville to replace Charlie Strong.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Petrino, who was the head coach at Louisville from 2003-06. During his four years with the Cardinals, Petrino recorded a 41-9 mark, including a No. 5 overall finish in the final Associated Press poll in 2006.
There’s no question Petrino has baggage. But there’s no one who questions his ability to coach.
In four seasons at Arkansas, Petrino went 34-17 and 8-4 in one season at Western Kentucky.
Athletic director Tom Jurich is one of the best in the nation. And he certainly knows the risks involved with this hire.
While the risks are high, Petrino will win a lot of games at Louisville.
Jurich: "Bobby has convinced he's a changed man ... The coach I had here seven years ago is not the coach I want to hire."— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) January 9, 2014
With college football’s 2013 season completed, it’s time to take a look back at the season that was amd review the performance of all 125 teams before 2014 kicks off.
College football’s coach carousel was quite active last offseason, featuring 31 changes among BCS programs. The changes in 2014 are not expected to reach that number, so we may not see another year with 31 teams changing coaches for a while.
Auburn’s Gus Malzahn easily takes the top spot in our first-year coaching hires from 2013. The Tigers were one of the most-improved teams in the nation and nearly claimed their second national title in the BCS era. Malzahn’s offense once again gave opposing SEC defenses fits, and Auburn should be back in the national title mix in 2014.
After Malzahn, Utah State’s Matt Wells, Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen, Boston College’s Steve Addazio and Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury round out the top coaching hires from 2013.
Ranking the Performance of College Football's New Coaches from 2013
1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Before: 3-9 (0-8) After: 12-2 (7-1)
Malzahn’s debut at Auburn might be one of the best first-year coaching jobs of the BCS era. The Tigers struggled mightily last season, losing all eight conference games and finishing with their worst record since a 3-8 mark in Terry Bowden’s final year in 1998. But Auburn rebounded quickly under Malzahn, who had a solid grasp of the team’s roster due to a stint as offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik from 2009-11. The Tigers suffered an early season loss to LSU (35-21) but finished the regular season on a nine-game winning streak. During this streak, Auburn made two of the most memorable plays of the 2013 season, with Chris Davis returning a missed field goal to beat Alabama and quarterback Nick Marshall connecting with Ricardo Louis on an unlikely 73-yard touchdown pass to beat Georgia. The Tigers fell just short of winning the national championship, but the foundation is strong for this team to contend once again in 2014. Another credit to Malzahn’s ability to coach was the development of Marshall, who was a Georgia defensive back in 2011 and played only one season at quarterback on the junior college level.
Final Grade: A+
Before: 11-2 (6-0) After: 9-5 (7-1)
Wells inherited 14 returning starters off a team that won 11 games in 2012, so it was no surprise Utah State won at least seven games for the third consecutive season. But winning nine games in 2013 is quite an accomplishment for Wells, especially after starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton was lost for the year with a torn ACL in early October. With Keeton sidelined, Utah State turned to a true freshman quarterback in Darell Garretson and a defense ranked as the best in the Mountain West. Of the Aggies' five losses, three were by a touchdown or less, including games to Utah, USC and Fresno State. Utah State also capped its season with a bowl victory over Northern Illinois. Wells kept the Aggies on track despite a key injury and led Utah State to an appearance in the first Mountain West Championship Game. Despite the two-game regression in wins, 2013 was a very successful year for Wells. But now comes the big question. As Utah State is further removed from Gary Andersen, can Wells keep the program performing at a high level?
Final Grade: A
3. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Before: 8-6 (4-4) After: 9-4 (6-2)
Much like his successor at Utah State, Andersen inherited plenty of talent in his first year with the Badgers. Wisconsin returned 11 starters, including one of the best backfields in the nation in running backs Melvin Gordon and James White. The Badgers lost two of their first five games, but one of those defeats was by seven to Ohio State, and the other was a 32-30 loss at Arizona State, which featured some questionable officiating at the end. A late-season loss to Penn State ended any shot Wisconsin had of playing in a BCS bowl, and the Badgers dropped a 34-24 matchup to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. Overall, 2013 was another solid year for Wisconsin, which has been a model of consistency recently with 12 consecutive winning seasons. Andersen’s top priority in 2014 will be to upgrade the passing game, along with replenish a defense that loses a handful of key players in the front seven.
Final Grade: A-
4. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Before: 2-10 (1-7) After: 7-6 (4-4)
Expectations were low at Boston College heading into the 2013 season. The Eagles finished 6-18 in the final two years under former coach Frank Spaziani and were picked last in the Atlantic Division at ACC media days. But Addazio pushed all of the right buttons this season. Boston College made a bowl game for the first time since 2010, and the Eagles finished out of the cellar in the Atlantic. All six of Addazio’s losses came against bowl teams, including national champion Florida State, Orange Bowl champ Clemson and a solid USC team. The Eagles gave the Seminoles all it could handle, losing only by 14 (48-34) in late September. Boston College finished the year by losing its last two games. However, that shouldn’t put a damper on Addazio’s first season, especially with a solid recruiting class on the way. With running back Andre Williams, quarterback Chase Rettig and receiver Alex Amidon moving on next year, the Eagles may take a step back in the win column. But with Addazio on the sidelines, Boston College is well-positioned for the future.
Final Grade: A-
5. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Before: 8-5 (4-5) After: 8-5 (4-5)
Kingsbury’s first season in Lubbock didn’t result in a different record than his predecessor Tommy Tuberville had in 2012. However, there’s a different feeling surrounding the program, as Texas Tech is trending in the right direction going into 2014. A soft schedule helped the Red Raiders start 7-0, but the second half of the season featured a tougher slate, and Kingsbury’s team ended with a 7-5 mark. Despite losing its final five games, Texas Tech lost to Oklahoma by only eight points and finished the year with a convincing 37-23 victory over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Although momentum is tough to carry from the end of one season to the start of another, the Red Raiders benefitted from the extra bowl practices and should be picked among the top 35 teams next season.
Final Grade: B+
6. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Before: 12-1 (8-1) After: 11-2 (7-2)
Oregon was pegged by most as a national title contender in the preseason. The Ducks started 8-0, but lost two out of their next three games, including a costly 26-20 defeat at Stanford. A knee injury to quarterback Marcus Mariota hampered the offense late in the year and pushed Oregon out of contention for the Pac-12 title. Helfrich had a tough job in 2013, as expectations were high and Chip Kelly was not an easy coach to replace. Despite the two losses, the Ducks won at least 10 games for the sixth consecutive season and extended their bowl winning streak to three. Helfrich has a busy offseason ahead, as he has to find a replacement for defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, as well as close on a likely top-15 recruiting class. With most of Oregon’s core returning next year, Helfrich will have a chance to get the Ducks back into the national title mix.
Final Grade: B+
7. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
Before: 10-3 (5-2) After: 9-4 (6-2)
With the recent defections in the American Athletic Conference, Cincinnati has a chance to emerge as one of the top programs from the “Group of Five.” Three coaches – Brian Kelly, Butch Jones and Tuberville – have guided the Bearcats to at least nine wins since 2007. Tuberville was a surprising hire at Cincinnati, but he kept the program on track with a third-place finish in the American Athletic. The Bearcats were soundly defeated by Illinois 45-17 in the second week of the season, but this team was close to finishing conference play with an unbeaten mark. Losses to Louisville and South Florida came by a touchdown or less. Cincinnati lost its bowl game 39-17 to North Carolina, but Tuberville seems to have this program on solid footing. Don’t be surprised if the Bearcats are picked to win the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
Final Grade: B+
8. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Before: 12-2 (8-0) After: 12-2 (8-0)
Carey’s first full season on the sidelines in DeKalb nearly resulted in another BCS bowl for Northern Illinois. The Huskies cruised to a 12-0 mark in the regular season, which included wins over two BCS opponents (Iowa and Purdue). But Northern Illinois ended the year with a disappointing loss to Bowling Green (47-27), which cost the program a chance to play in a BCS bowl. Perhaps some of that disappointment carried over into the Poinsettia Bowl, where the Huskies were defeated by Utah State 21-14. Despite the losses to Bowling Green and Utah State, Northern Illinois won at least 11 games for the fourth consecutive season. Carey will have a tough assignment next year, as quarterback Jordan Lynch and standout safety Jimmie Ward depart. But the Huskies are set to bring in one of the MAC’s top recruiting classes, and there’s enough talent to win the West Division once again in 2014.
Final Grade: B+
9. Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Before: 8-5 (5-2) After: 7-6 (4-4)
Admittedly, we were slightly skeptical of Shafer this preseason. After all, this was his first head coaching gig, and the Orange lost several key pieces from last season’s 8-5 team. However, Shafer did a remarkable job of getting Syracuse back to the postseason. Syracuse started 0-2, suffered a 56-0 loss to Georgia Tech as well as a 59-3 whipping at the hands of Florida State. But the Orange never collapsed, finishing the season with a thrilling 34-31 win over Boston College to earn bowl eligibility. And Syracuse used the bowl practices to their advantage, as quarterback Terrel Hunt was clearly an improved player in the 21-17 win over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl.
Final Grade: B+
10. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
Before: 1-11 (1-8) After: 4-8 (1-8)
MacIntyre walked into a difficult situation at Colorado, a program that has not had a winning season since 2005, and there were concerns about facility improvements if the Buffaloes wanted to win in the Pac-12. Coming off a 1-11 record and a roster that was not stocked with overwhelming talent, MacIntyre did a solid job just getting Colorado to four wins. Sure, three of those came in non-conference action, but the Buffaloes were more competitive in Pac-12 action. MacIntyre appears to have found his quarterback of the future in Sefo Liufau, and most of the starting lineup will return in 2014. After a bad two-year stint under former coach Jon Embree, Colorado is headed in the right direction under MacIntyre.
Final Grade: B+
11. Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky
Before: 7-6 (4-4) After: 8-4 (4-3)
Given how his Arkansas tenure ended, Petrino was a risky hire for Western Kentucky. But the move was worth the risk for the Hilltoppers, as Petrino – before his motorcycle incident – was regarded as one of the top coaches in the nation. Petrino was solid in his first (and only) year at Western Kentucky, guiding the Hilltoppers to a win over Kentucky in the season opener and four wins in conference play. Two of Western Kentucky’s losses (South Alabama and Troy) were by seven points or less. Petrino couldn’t get the Hilltoppers to a bowl game. However, Western Kentucky has won at least seven games in three consecutive years. Not bad for a program that started on the FBS level in 2009.
Final Grade: B
12. Bryan Harsin, Arkansas State
Before: 10-3 (7-1) After: 8-5 (5-2, Harsin did not coach the bowl game)
When the 2013 season kicked off, Harsin became the fourth head coach at Arkansas State in four years. But his stay in Jonesboro was short, as Harsin left in December to take over at Boise State. He did not coach in the GoDaddy Bowl, but Harsin guided Arkansas State to a 7-5 mark in the regular season, with losses coming against Auburn, Memphis, Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Kentucky. Despite losing quarterback Ryan Aplin after the 2012 season, the Red Wolves still managed to average 29.2 points a game in 2013. Considering the lack of stability at head coach for the Red Wolves, it’s a testament to where this program is that they were able to win 28 games over the last three years. Harsin was a good hire, but Arkansas State needs new coach Blake Anderson to stick around for a few years. Change at a program is fine. However, five head coaches in five seasons is simply too much turnover.
Final Grade: B
13. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Before: 5-7 (1-7) After: 5-7 (2-6)
Tennessee was once one of the premier programs in the SEC East. However, the Volunteers have fallen on hard times recently, recording five losing seasons over the last six years. Given the recent lack of success in Knoxville, it’s hard to fault Jones on winning five games in his first season. Tennessee did show improvement in the SEC, beating South Carolina 23-21 and losing to Georgia and Vanderbilt by a combined seven points. Jones is putting together a top-five recruiting class, and the future in Knoxville looks bright. Tennessee took a few baby steps in the right direction in 2013. Now the next step for Jones is to get the Volunteers back in a bowl next year.
Final Grade: B
14. Matt Rhule, Temple
Before: 4-7 (2-5) After: 2-10 (1-7)
The final ledger on Rhule’s first season at Temple records only two wins. But the Owls played significantly better in the second half of 2013, losing their last four games by 10 points or less, including a three-point defeat to Fiesta Bowl champion UCF. Overall, Temple lost seven games by 10 points or less and avoided the cellar in the American Athletic Conference with a victory over Memphis in the season finale. Considering the close losses, along with the emergence of quarterback P.J. Walker in the second half of the season, Rhule’s first season at Temple doesn’t look as bad as the record might indicate.
Final Grade: C+
15. Trent Miles, Georgia State
Before: 1-10 (1-7) After: 0-12 (0-7)
Does it look strange to have a coach ranked this high that did not win a game in 2013? Sure. But let’s consider the circumstances Miles inherited. Georgia State finished 1-10 on the FCS level last season, and this program has only played football for four years. The Panthers were on the verge of a couple of wins, losing to Troy, Texas State and Arkansas State by a touchdown or less. Miles worked wonders at Indiana State on the FCS level prior to coming to Georgia State. Considering the improvement by the Panthers throughout the year and the close calls in their first season on the FBS level, Miles’ first season at Georgia State was better than the record shows.
Final Grade: C+
16. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Before: 2-10 (0-8) After: 2-10 (0-8)
Coming off a 2-10 record with a difficult schedule ahead in 2013, Kentucky was expected to struggle this fall. The Wildcats won only two games (Miami, Ohio and Alabama State) and failed to record a SEC victory for the second year in a row. But there was progress on the field, as Kentucky lost to South Carolina by seven points and Mississippi State by six. Moral victories won’t get it done in the SEC. However, Stoops has the Wildcats trending in the right direction. The program is making much-needed facility improvements, and Stoops is expected to bring in a top-25 recruiting class. Kentucky may not make a bowl in 2014, but all signs point to the program being in good hands with Stoops at the helm.
Final Grade: C+
17. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
Before: 11-2 (5-1) After: 6-6 (5-3)
Caragher did a nice job getting San Jose State back to at least six wins, which is the program’s first back-to-back non-losing seasons since 1991-92. However, despite returning quarterback David Fales and one of the Mountain West’s top receiving corps, the Spartans regressed by five wins and missed out on a bowl. Caragher will have a tough job ahead next season, as San Jose State has to replace Fales and will lose defensive stalwarts in cornerback Bene Benwikere and linebacker Keith Smith.
Final Grade: C
18. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Before: 4-8 (2-6) After: 3-9 (0-8)
Bielema wasn’t afraid to mix things up in his first season in the SEC, but results were tough to come by for Arkansas. Contributing to the lack of success on the field was a brutal SEC West, along with just three returning starters on offense. As expected, there were growing pains at quarterback and on the offensive line. However, Bielema’s recruiting paid off, as running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and offensive linemen Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland are building blocks for the offense. The Razorbacks opened 3-0 but blew a 24-7 lead against Rutgers in their final non-conference game. SEC play was tough on a young Arkansas team, but there were a few close calls for Bielema, including an overtime loss to Mississippi State and a four-point defeat to LSU. Despite a 3-9 mark, Bielema’s team never quit and nearly pulled off a huge win in Death Valley. That’s a good sign going forward for Arkansas.
Final Grade: C
19. Willie Taggart, South Florida
Before: 3-9 (1-6) After: 2-10 (2-6)
We had Taggart pegged as one of the top hires from last year’s coaching carousel, but the Bulls’ first-year coach finished with a disappointing 2-10 mark. Of course, it’s hard to fault Taggart for everything that went wrong. Former coach Skip Holtz didn’t leave much to work with, and South Florida was especially short on offensive playmakers. Freshman quarterback Mike White showed signs of promise late in the year, and Andre Davis could be one of the top receivers in the American Athletic Conference in 2014. While wins were hard to come by, the Bulls played better at the end of the year. USF lost to UCF by three points and dropped a 35-23 game at Houston in late October. There’s only one fix for Taggart’s roster issues: recruiting. In early January, South Florida was regarded as having the top recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference. Better days are ahead for the Bulls.
Final Grade: C
20. Paul Haynes, Kent State
Before: 11-3 (8-0) After: 4-8 (3-5)
Kent State was just one win away from a BCS bowl last year. The Golden Flashes were +20 in turnover margin and won a handful of close games in 2013, so some regression in the win department was expected. However, Kent State surprisingly fell to 4-8 and out of the bowl picture. The Golden Flashes rallied to win their last two games, but 2013 was an underachieving season considering 10 starters were back, including all-purpose threat Dri Archer. Considering Kent State won its last two games, Haynes managed to end a disappointing season with some positive momentum.
Final Grade: C-
21. Dave Doeren, NC State
Before: 7-6 (4-4) After: 3-9 (0-8)
NC State entered 2013 by earning bowl trips in three consecutive seasons, and with a favorable schedule, another postseason game was a reasonable expectation. However, the Wolfpack backtracked in 2013, largely due to inconsistency at the quarterback spot. NC State finished the year on an eight-game losing streak and winless in conference play for the first time since 1959. While 2013 was largely a forgettable year for Doeren and his staff, the Wolfpack did land transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett for 2014, and their recruiting class is ranked No. 7 in the ACC. NC State also has some other promising young talent returning next year, including running back Matt Dayes and defensive tackle Monty Nelson. It may take another year, but Doeren seems to be establishing a solid foundation in Raleigh, and Brissett should help jumpstart the offense next year.
Final Grade: C-
22. Brian Polian, Nevada
Before: 7-6 (4-4) After: 4-8 (3-5)
Polian had a tough assignment in his first year in Reno, as replacing coaching legend Chris Ault was no easy task. The Wolf Pack also played a brutal non-conference schedule, including road trips to UCLA and Florida State, which left little margin for error to get to a bowl. Nevada lost three games by a touchdown or less, but two of the Wolf Pack’s Mountain West victories came against Air Force and Hawaii, arguably the two worst teams in the conference. The non-conference schedule won’t get any easier next season, but Nevada will have a healthy Cody Fajardo at quarterback, which could be the difference between a winning record and another offseason at home.
Final Grade: C-
23. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Before: 9-3 (4-2) After: 4-8 (3-5)
With only five returning starters in 2013, the Bulldogs were expected to take a step back in the win column. Additionally, coaching transition is never easy, so Louisiana Tech had its hands full going into this season. Holtz had success at Connecticut and East Carolina but was fired at South Florida after a 16-21 mark in three years. The Bulldogs struggled in their first season in Conference USA, winning just four games and finishing the year on a three-game losing streak. Louisiana Tech’s four victories weren’t exactly against the best competition, with one coming against FCS opponent Lamar and the other three (FIU, Southern Miss and UTEP) versus teams who finished a combined 4-32. While expectations were low and transition was high in Ruston, Conference USA was not as strong as it has been in recent years. And the Bulldogs were pounded 30-10 by UTSA, a team playing just its third season of football. As his past history shows, Holtz is a capable coach. But why did things not work out at USF? Holtz had plenty of new faces stepping into key roles in 2013, but there was enough talent to expect a bowl. Holtz has plenty to prove in 2014.
Final Grade: D
24. Sonny Dykes, California
Before: 3-9 (2-7) After: 1-11 (0-9)
Dykes inherited a talented roster, but injuries and a challenging schedule prevented California from building any momentum in 2013. The Golden Bears’ only victory came against FCS opponent Portland State, while non-conference games against Ohio State and Northwestern were too much for a young, rebuilding team. Pac-12 play wasn’t kind to California either, as the Golden Bears had only one loss by 10 points or less. While injuries and a freshman quarterback are to blame for the one-win season, the defense was simply horrendous. The Golden Bears allowed 529.6 yards per game and opponents averaged a whopping 7.1 yards per play. Coordinator Andy Buh was demoted, and assistants Randy Stewart and Barry Sacks were fired in early January. California has talent and Dykes proved he can coach at Louisiana Tech. Improvement should be on the way for the Golden Bears in 2014, but it’s probably too much to ask this team to finish above .500.
Final Grade: D
25. Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Before: 6-7 (3-5) After: 1-11 (0-8)
After leading Kent State to 11 wins in 2012, Hazell was one of the top names in the coaching carousel last offseason. Purdue and Hazell seemed like a good fit, but the first year was a struggle. The Boilermakers’ only win was a six-point victory over Indiana State and just one Big Ten defeat was by fewer than 14 points. Despite the struggles in 2013, there is reason for optimism. Hazell’s first year at Kent State resulted in a 5-7 mark, but the Golden Flashes improved by six wins the next year. Purdue probably won’t make that big of a leap in 2014. However, quarterback Danny Etling gained valuable experience in 2013, and running back Akeem Hunt and receiver DeAngelo Yancy return next season. The defense suffers a few key losses, including cornerback Ricardo Allen and end Bruce Gaston. The Boilermakers took their lumps in 2013. But Hazell has some options at quarterback, and this team should show small progress in the win department in 2014.
Final Grade: D
26. Sean Kugler, UTEP
Before: 3-9 (2-6) After: 2-10 (1-7)
Kugler is a former UTEP offensive lineman but had never worked as a coordinator or head coach on the collegiate level until 2013. As expected, Kugler took his lumps with a rebuilding roster this year, which included an injury to quarterback Jameill Showers. The Miners defeated New Mexico State and FIU and also lost two games (New Mexico and Louisiana Tech) by a touchdown or less. With a full year from Showers, UTEP’s offense will be better in 2014. However, the defense has ranked ninth or worse in Conference USA in yards allowed for three consecutive seasons. The Miners should show some improvement next year, but this team needs a full year from Showers and talented running back Aaron Jones.
Final Grade: D
27. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
Before: 1-11 After: 2-10
Before a one-year stint as Boston College’s play-caller in 2012, Martin served as New Mexico State’s offensive coordinator in 2011. And Martin returned to Las Cruces to work under former coach DeWayne Walker, but he left for the NFL and Martin was promoted to head coach. With a FBS Independent schedule, wins were difficult to come by for New Mexico State. The Aggies played road games at Texas and UCLA and hosted BCS opponents in Minnesota and Boston College. New Mexico State won two of its final five games, but it’s tough to judge Martin with an impossible schedule. More will be known about Martin’s ability to coach in Las Cruces after the Aggies have one season in the Sun Belt in 2014.
Final Grade: D
28. Paul Petrino, Idaho
Before: 1-11 (1-5) After: 1-11
Much like New Mexico State’s Doug Martin, Petrino was placed into an impossible situation in 2013. The Vandals were an FBS Independent and faced a challenging schedule with few opportunities for wins. Idaho played Northern Illinois tough (45-35) and beat Temple 26-24 in late September for its only win of 2013. However, as expected, there were some ugly blowouts. The Vandals were pounded by Florida State 80-14 and lost 42-0 to Washington State. It’s unfair to judge Petrino based off of 2013. But joining the Sun Belt next year should help Idaho get on an even playing field.
Final Grade: D
29. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
Before: 4-8 (2-6) After: 1-11 (1-7)
Fleck brought energy and enthusiasm to Western Michigan. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into victories. The Broncos were hit hard by injuries in the preseason, including a season-ending one to standout receiver Jaime Wilson. Western Michigan started the year with a 13-point loss to Michigan State, but a loss to Nicholls State quickly killed any momentum Fleck was hoping to build. The Broncos broke into the win column against UMass in late October and suffered back-to-back losses to Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan by a combined eight points. Western Michigan seemed to play better at the end of the season, and Fleck is bringing in a solid recruiting class. While Fleck’s recruiting ability appears to be very good, he needs to translate that into more victories in 2014.
Final Grade: D
30. Todd Monken, Southern Miss
Before: 0-12 (0-8) After: 1-11 (1-7)
Southern Mississippi’s fall as a top C-USA football program has been swift and surprising. The Golden Eagles had 18 consecutive winning seasons from 1994-2011. But Southern Miss has won just two games over the last two years. Monken inherited a bare cupboard on offense, and a defense that ranked near the bottom of the nation in points allowed. A tough non-conference schedule – Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State – didn’t allow the Golden Eagles to get off to a good start. And this program struggled until late in the year before defeating UAB 62-27 in its final game. Monken has a lot of work on his plate this offseason, but Southern Miss may have found a quarterback in Nick Mullens and most of the starting lineup will return intact next year. Expect more improvement from Monken’s team in 2014.
Final Grade: D-
31. Ron Turner, FIU
Before: 3-9 (2-6) After: 1-11 (1-7)
Turner was a questionable hire for FIU. The former Illinois coach went 35-57 in his previous stint with the Fighting Illini and had only two winning seasons in eight years in Champaign. Another problem with Turner was his lack of ties to the Florida high school scene. Although FIU isn’t going to dominate in-state recruiting, it’s important for the program to keep recruits at home, instead of going to other Conference USA teams. Turner inherited a team short on returning starters, and the Panthers won only one game in 2013 – a 24-23 victory over Southern Miss. However, FIU was largely uncompetitive for the rest of the season, and the Panthers lost 34-13 to Bethune-Cookman. Turner is an odd fit at FIU, and he needs to show major progress in 2014.
Final Grade: F
In a move that should surprise no one, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has decided to declare for the NFL Draft.
Manziel leaves College Station after just two years with the Aggies. He claimed the Heisman Trophy in 2012 by throwing for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,410 yards and 21 scores.
Manziel improved as a passer in 2013, throwing for 4,114 yards and 37 scores. And as expected, his rushing numbers regressed slightly, adding only 759 yards on the ground.
Texas A&M will have a tough time replacing Manziel, but sophomore Kenny Hill and incoming freshman Kyle Allen are two potential stars in College Station.
Manziel is expected to be a first-round draft pick this April.
College football’s 2013 season is officially in the books. While kickoff for the 2014 season is still months away, it’s never too early to start looking at rosters, depth charts and coaching changes for teams poised to make a jump in the rankings next year.
Of course, with a few months to dissect rosters, opinions can change on teams. However, last year’s five teams on the rise article correctly pinpointed Arizona State as a team to watch in 2014.
So what teams have our attention for 2014? Iowa, Kansas State, Mississippi State, North Carolina and UCLA get the nod as our top five teams on the rise, but keep a close eye on Washington State, Texas Tech and Ole Miss.
College Football's Top Five Teams on the Rise for 2014
After a 4-8 record in 2012, most thought Iowa would finish last in the Big Ten Legends Division and struggle just to be in contention for a bowl. However, the Hawkeyes righted the ship and finished second in the Legends Division with an 8-5 overall mark and a 5-3 record in Big Ten play in 2013. And Iowa was certainly battle-tested, as its five losses came against stiff competition – Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and LSU. After a successful 2013, there should be plenty of optimism for Kirk Ferentz looking ahead to 2014. The Hawkeyes return quarterback Jake Rudock, and the rushing attack will be solid once again with Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri back next year. The offensive line loses two starters, but left tackle Brandon Scherff turned down the NFL for one more season at Iowa. The Hawkeyes finished 2013 ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten in total defense, and this unit should be solid even with the departure of three starters at linebacker. Even though Iowa’s roster has a few concerns, the schedule works significantly in its favor. The Hawkeyes have a tough non-conference road game at Pittsburgh, but they miss Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State in crossover play. And here’s one more factor in Iowa’s favor: Wisconsin and Nebraska come to Kinnick Stadium in 2014.
With only 10 starters returning from a team that went 11-2 in 2012, it was no surprise the Wildcats took a step back in the win column in 2013. But the rest of the Big 12 should be on notice next season. As Bill Snyder has shown throughout his tenure in Manhattan, never count out Kansas State from a surprise run at the Big 12 title. The schedule sets up favorably for the Wildcats, with Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech visiting Manhattan. John Hubert must be replaced at running back, but quarterback Jake Waters is back, along with one of the nation’s top receivers in Tyler Lockett. Kansas State will have to replace both tackles and guard Keenan Taylor, but guard Cody Whitehair and center B.J. Finney is a good duo to build around for 2014. Despite returning only two starters on defense, the Wildcats finished third in the Big 12 in fewest yards allowed per game. This unit will have a few personnel losses, but end Ryan Mueller (11.5 sacks in 2013) is back, along with safety Dante Barnett and linebacker Jonathan Truman.
Dan Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a school-record four consecutive bowl games, but Mississippi State has never finished higher than fourth in the SEC West under his watch. That could change in 2014, as the Bulldogs return most of their core, which could be most-talented roster during Mullen’s tenure in Starkville. Guard Gabe Jackson and running back LaDarius Perkins must be replaced, but the return of quarterback Dak Prescott has the Bulldogs’ offense on the cusp of a breakout season. Prescott threw for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns, while leading the team with 829 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. Jackson and Perkins will be missed, but the supporting cast is far from bare. Josh Robinson, Nick Griffin and Ashton Shumpert return at running back, while the top five players in the receiving corps are back, including go-to target Jameon Lewis (64 receptions, 14.4 ypc). Mississippi State’s defense allowed 5.9 yards per play in 2013, so there’s some tightening up to do in the offseason. But there’s no shortage of building blocks for coordinator Geoff Collins. Freshman tackle Chris Jones emerged as a force in the middle, and he will anchor the defensive line in 2014. Linebacker Benardrick McKinney should be one of the best in the SEC, while all four starters return in the secondary. Mississippi State’s non-conference schedule should result in a 4-0 mark, with conference swing games against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Arkansas all in Starkville.
The Coastal Division is set to be one of the toughest conferences to predict in 2014, and a case could be made for six teams to be picked as the favorite. Miami is the very early pick, but don’t overlook North Carolina for the top spot. The Tar Heels started 1-5 but finished 6-1, with its only loss in the final seven games coming by two points to Coastal Division champ Duke. Larry Fedora enters his third season in Chapel Hill with plenty of offensive talent to run his spread attack, starting with quarterback Marquise Williams. The sophomore finished 2013 as North Carolina’s leading rusher (536 yards, six touchdowns), while throwing for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns. Williams should improve with a spring practice to work as the starter, but he could be pushed for the No. 1 spot by Mitch Trubisky or incoming freshman Caleb Henderson. T.J. Logan, A.J. Blue and Romar Morris is a solid trio at running back, and this group will get deeper with the addition of true freshman Elijah Hood. Even though tight end Eric Ebron will be missed, Quinshad Davis, Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard are a capable group of pass-catchers. The biggest question mark on offense will be the line, where tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine depart. With all of the offensive firepower returning for Fedora, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. But the defense allowed 403.1 yards per game in 2013 and a few key pieces depart. End Kareem Martin, tackle Tim Jackson, cornerback Jabari Price and safety Tre Boston will be missed. The Tar Heels will have to play at Clemson, Duke and Miami next season, but Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech travel to Chapel Hill.
Considering the Bruins are coming off a 10-3 mark in 2013, this team isn’t too far off the national radar. But with quarterback Brett Hundley returning next season, UCLA could make the jump into preseason top-10 consideration. The Bruins’ three losses in 2013 went to Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State – a combined 32-9 this season. UCLA won’t get many breaks in the schedule department next year, as a neutral site matchup against Texas is on tap, while Oregon, Stanford and Washington – arguably the top three teams in the Pac-12 North – are on the slate for 2014. While the schedule will be challenging, Hundley’s continued development, along with a young (and improving) supporting cast will help the Bruins’ offense be even more dangerous next year. The offensive line will miss Xavier Su’a-Filo, but the rest of the unit returns and should have more overall depth as a result of injuries in 2013. The defense loses a few key players in the front seven, including linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive lineman Cassius Marsh. But coach Jim Mora has stockpiled promising young talent, including linebacker Myles Jack and lineman Eddie Vanderdoes. Although the schedule will be a challenge, Oregon, Stanford and USC visit the Rose Bowl next year. Combine Hundley’s development with three crucial home games and UCLA could make a case as the favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2014.
Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football every week leading up to the 2014 season.
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The Rebels have a challenging slate, featuring road games at Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and LSU. However, Ole Miss also has a few chances at an upset, including a home dates against Alabama and Auburn. Quarterback Bo Wallace should benefit from an offseason to rest his ailing shoulder, and the Rebels will get more contributions from their 2013 top-five recruiting class.
The Red Raiders scored one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season by defeating Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Receiver Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro will be missed, but quarterback Davis Webb returns in 2014.
Mike Leach’s team gave away a victory in the New Mexico Bowl, but the future looks bright for the Cougars. Quarterback Connor Halliday returns in 2014, while the receiving corps is stocked with weapons. Safety Deone Bucannon will be missed.
Florida State claimed its second BCS title with a 34-31 victory over Auburn. While the Seminoles still have plenty of time to celebrate their national championship, it’s never too early to look ahead to what could be in store next season.
Florida State is projected as the No. 1 team in Athlon’s very early top 25 for 2014. The Seminoles have a handful of players who could leave for the NFL, including standout defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, defensive end Mario Edwards and receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
Even if Florida State loses a couple of players to the draft, Jimbo Fisher has assembled a talented roster and plenty of help is on the way from the 2014 signing class.
Repeating as national champions is never easy. But the Seminoles have the pieces in place to win the 2015 College Football Playoff.
Who’s Back: QB Jameis Winston, RB Karlos Williams, WR Christian Green, WR Kermit Whitfield, RT Bobby Hart, DE Chris Casher, DE DeMarcus Walker, DE Eddie Goldman, DT Desmond Hollin, LB Terrance Smith, LB Reggie Northrup, LB E.J. Levenberry, LB Ukeme Eligwe, CB Ronald Darby, CB P.J. Williams, S Jalen Ramsey, S Nate Andrews, S Tyler Hunter, K Roberto Aguayo
Who’s Gone: WR Kenny Shaw, C Bryan Stork, DT Jacobbi McDaniel, DT Demonte McAllister, LB Christian Jones, LB Telvin Smith, LB Dan Hicks, CB Lamarcus Joyner, S Terrence Brooks
NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Devonta Freeman, RB James Wilder Jr., WR Rashad Greene, WR Kelvin Benjamin, TE Nick O’Leary, OT Cameron Erving, OG Josue Matias, OG Tre Jackson, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DT Timmy Jernigan
Aug. 30 Oklahoma State (Arlington)
Sept. 6 The Citadel
Oct. 18 Notre Dame
Nov. 29 Florida
ACC Home Games: Boston College, Clemson, Virginia, Wake Forest
ACC Road Games: Louisville, Miami, NC State, Syracuse
Offensive Preview for 2014
Evaluating Florida State’s offense is tough right now. The Seminoles have a handful of players who could declare for the NFL Draft, including four starters on the offensive line and two of the top three receivers. It’s unlikely all of Florida State’s potential early entrants declare for the draft, but it’s a possibility Jimbo Fisher and his staff are aware of. Regardless of the early departures, the Seminoles return a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback (Jameis Winston), and a potential breakout player at running back in Karlos Williams. Winston will only get better with another offseason to work under Fisher and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders and outstanding recruiting classes should help to replenish his weapons in time for 2014. The Seminoles are set to lose center Bryan Stork, but backup Austin Barron has played meaningful snaps and has five start in his career. Stork is a huge loss, but the offensive line – a place where there’s not a ton of depth – would be a bigger problem if Cameron Erving and guards Josue Matias and Tre Jackson declare for the NFL Draft.
Defensive Preview for 2014
Much like the offense, Florida State’s early evaluation on defense is tough due to potential departures for the draft. But even if the Seminoles lose nose guard Timmy Jernigan and end Mario Edwards Jr., this unit should still rank among the nation’s best. Linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner will be missed, but the Seminoles have promising talent waiting in the wings. Freshman safety/cornerback Jalen Ramsey is a future star in Tallahassee, and the linebacking corps could quickly reload with Matthew Thomas, E.J. Levenberry, Reggie Northrup and Ukeme Eligwe. Another name to watch on defense will be safety Nate Andrews. If Jernigan and Edwards Jr. declare for the draft, the defensive line would be the biggest concern for Fisher and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, as two other seniors are already set to depart from the line (Demonte McAllister, Jacobbi McDaniel). However, much like some of the other units on this team, there is talent waiting to produce in the trenches – it’s just inexperienced.
Early outlook of playing for the national title in 2014
Very high. In fact, Florida State could begin 2014 as the No. 1 team in most preseason polls. The Seminoles could suffer a few defections to the NFL Draft, but talent development and recruiting should help to fill in the gaps. And in a scary proposition for defenses: Jameis Winston can only get better in 2014. The schedule is very manageable. Florida State’s toughest road game will be at Miami, with Clemson, Notre Dame and Florida visiting Tallahassee in 2014. And a matchup against Louisville doesn’t look as intimidating with Charlie Strong leaving for Texas and Teddy Bridgewater bolting for the NFL. It’s not easy making a return trip to the national championship game, but all of the pieces are in place for Florida State to win the college football playoff next year.
Auburn’s run at the national championship fell short in Pasadena, but the Tigers have nothing to be ashamed about after a 34-31 loss to Florida State. Auburn was a heavy underdog to the Seminoles, yet managed to lead 21-10 at halftime and held a small advantage with just over a minute to go.
The Tigers were one of the most-improved teams in the nation this season, rebounding from a 3-9 record to an appearance in the National Championship.
With Gus Malzahn at the helm, Auburn isn’t going anywhere in the national landscape. The Tigers return most of their core from 2013, including quarterback Nick Marshall, who should be improved with another year to work under Malzahn. Running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson could declare for the NFL Draft, which would be a huge blow for the offense.
Auburn could be the favorite to win the SEC next season, but Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, LSU and South Carolina will be in the mix. Winning 12 games and an appearance in the national title game was no fluke. The Tigers could be one of the top-five teams in most preseason polls next season.
Who’s Back: QB Nick Marshall, RB Cameron Artis-Payne, RB Corey Grant, WR Sammie Coates, WR Ricardo Louis, LG Alex Kozan, RG Chad Slade, RT Avery Young, DE Carl Lawson, DT Montravius Adams, DE Ladarius Owens, DE Elijah Daniel, LB Cassanova McKinzy, LB/S Robenson Therezie, CB Jonathon Mincy, S Jermaine Whitehead
Who’s Gone: FB Jay Prosch, DE Dee Ford, DT Nosa Eguae, LB Jake Holland, CB Chris Davis, S Ryan Smith, K Cody Parkey, P Steven Clark
NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Tre Mason, OT Greg Robinson, C Reese Dismukes
Aug. 30 Arkansas
Sept. 6 San Jose State
Sept. 20 at Kansas State
Sept. 27 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 4 LSU
Oct. 11 at Mississippi State
Oct. 25 South Carolina
Nov. 1 at Ole Miss
Nov. 8 Texas A&M
Nov. 15 at Georgia
Nov. 22 Samford
Nov. 29 at Alabama
Offensive Preview for 2014
One word: Loaded. And this unit could get even deeper if running back Tre Mason and offensive linemen Reese Dismukes and Greg Robinson return instead of exploring NFL options. Quarterback Nick Marshall should improve as a passer with another offseason to work under coach Gus Malzahn and coordinator Rhett Lashlee. A receiving corps that expects to return all of its key performers from 2013, including Ricardo Louis, Quan Bray and Sammie Coates, will help Marshall’s development. Top junior college prospect D’haquille Williams will also fight for time in the receiving corps. Even if Mason leaves, there’s plenty of talent at running back. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are effective options, and Marshall can pickup some of the slack on the ground. If Robinson and Dismukes return up front, the Tigers could have the best offensive line in the nation in 2014.
Defensive Preview for 2014
While Auburn’s offense will be one of the best in the nation, its defense still has some work to do. The Tigers allowed 5.9 yards per play in the regular season and gave up at least 20 points in each of their final five games. Ellis Johnson is an excellent coordinator, so this unit should see some improvement from being in the same scheme for another season. The defensive line must replace end Dee Ford and tackle Nosa Eguae, but talent isn’t an issue. Elijah Daniel, Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams played as true freshmen and will benefit from another offseason in a college weight room. Expect all three to be impact players in 2014. Jake Holland departs at linebacker, but Cassanova McKinzy and hybrid linebacker/safety Robenson Therezie form a solid duo. And Justin Garrett will return to the lineup after missing 2013 due to injury. The secondary loses cornerback Chris Davis and safety Ryan Smith, and this unit should be the biggest area of concern for Johnson in spring practice.
Early outlook of playing for the national title in 2014
Very high. College football’s new playoff postseason format has added an extra curveball to determine a national champion, but Auburn should be an easy top-10 preseason selection. The Tigers have an improving quarterback in Nick Marshall, and even if Mason goes to the NFL, there’s plenty of talent in the supporting cast. Auburn has to improve on defense, but a promising trio of sophomores on the defensive line is a good place to start reloading on that side of the ball. If there’s something working against Auburn and its hopes to play for the national title once again, the schedule could be the one area to focus. The Tigers caught a few breaks to get to Pasadena in 2013 and those breaks could go the other way in 2014. Auburn has to play at Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and there’s a trip to Kansas State in non-conference action. The Tigers could have more overall talent on the roster next year. But repeating in the SEC is never easy. The last time a team won back-to-back titles in the SEC? Alabama in 2008-09. With the SEC East facing a lot of uncertainty, it would not be a surprise if Alabama and Auburn are once again the top two teams from the SEC next year.
UCLA’s Pac-12 title hopes got a huge boost this week, as quarterback Brett Hundley has decided to return to school for his junior year.
Hundley was projected by some to be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he decided to stay at UCLA for one more season. Hundley’s decision to return to campus is huge for the Bruins, as Jim Mora’s team could be the favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2014.
After throwing for 3,745 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2012, Hundley’s numbers dropped just a bit in 2013. He completed a higher percentage of throws (67.2 to 66.6), but threw for only 3,071 yards this year.
Hundley should benefit from another season of working with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, and a solid supporting cast should have the junior quarterback in the mix for preseason All-America honors.
Brett Hundley and Jim Mora passed on the next big thing to build the next big thing: http://t.co/pN8C0uBc8c— Kyle Kensing (@kensing45) January 6, 2014
Texas is arguably the No. 1 job in college football, and the first assignment on new athletic director Steve Patterson’s plate was to pick a replacement for Mack Brown. After a three-week coaching search, Patterson hired Charlie Strong away from Louisville to lead the Longhorns back in national title contention.
Strong compiled a 37-15 record in four seasons at Louisville. Over the last two years, the Cardinals were 23-3 and claimed bowl victories over Florida (Sugar) and Miami (Russell Athletic). Prior to taking over at Louisville, Strong cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator at Florida and South Carolina. He also made stops as an assistant at Ole Miss and Notre Dame.
Although Texas slipped at the end of Brown’s tenure, he guided the Longhorns to nine consecutive seasons (2001-09) of at least 10 wins, including a national title in 2005. In addition to his success on the field, Brown was a perfect fit in Austin. The job demands at Texas are a little different than some other BCS programs, and Brown was able to master the booster glad-handling and television obligations with the Longhorn Network.
With Brown’s tenure and job obligations in mind, it brings us to an evaluation of Charlie Strong. Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for Texas, followed by the final grade.
Positives for Texas’ Hire of Charlie Strong
Strong is simply a football coach
It’s a simple statement, but Strong isn’t particularly keen on media obligations or anything other than coaching football. While there are more responsibilities at Texas other than the X’s and O’s, Strong excels when he’s recruiting, developing talent or getting his players ready to play. Louisville went 15-21 in the three seasons prior to Strong’s arrival. During his four-year tenure with the Cardinals, Strong compiled a 37-15 mark and led Louisville to four consecutive bowl games. The Cardinals also finished No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll in 2012. While Louisville never worked its way into national title consideration under Strong, the program clearly improved under his watch. And given what Strong accomplished at Louisville (a top 25-30 job), he should be able to win at a high level at a program with more resources. Strong isn’t the flashiest coach, but he wins games and knows how to build a program.
Strong is one of the best defensive minds in college football
Before he was selected by Tom Jurich to be Louisville’s coach in 2010, Strong was regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation. Strong coordinated South Carolina’s defense from 1999-02 and Florida’s from 2003-09. Both of those units had several highlights under Strong, and Louisville ranked inside of the top four in the American Athletic/Big East in total defense in each of the last four years. The Cardinals finished No. 1 nationally in total defense in 2013, allowing just 4.2 yards per play. Strong could bring Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford (a former Texas defensive back) to Austin, which should ensure the Longhorns own one of the nation’s best defenses under his watch.
Talent developer and toughness
It’s a bit of a cliché, but Strong is going to bring toughness to Austin. While that element is tough to put into statistics, something was missing from Texas over the last few years. Under Strong, the Longhorns certainly won’t be accused of not having a physical team. And while Texas can reel in top-five recruiting classes with ease, that talent has to be developed more successfully. Expect Strong and his staff to do a better job of turning recruiting hype into All-Big 12 talent. According to 247Sports.com, in four years at Louisville, Strong never recruited a top-25 class. He should have no trouble with recruiting at Texas, but to win 37 games (23 in the last two years), with no top-25 recruiting classes shows how much talent development and coaching matters. Expect that to continue for the Longhorns.
Negative for Texas’ Hire of Charlie Strong
As mentioned above, a chunk of Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas was filled with obligations to the Longhorn Network or other media duties. Who knows what Strong and Patterson worked out, but this setup seems a little odd. Strong isn’t crazy about media obligations, yet is taking over a job with a television network and a larger media presence? With the extra resources and staff in place, Strong should be able to have some extra help to ensure he’s not overwhelmed with game preparation and media. In addition to the media, booster glad-handling will be a part of the job. Is Strong ready to give up some of his football time to appease those areas?
There’s very little to dislike about this hire for Texas. Strong is easily one of the top-25 coaches in the nation, and his recruiting connections in Florida will only add another area for Texas to expand its reach. Strong will add some much-needed toughness in Austin and should develop talent better than the previous staff has done over the last few years. So while this seems to be a good hire for Texas – and one with few negatives – on the surface, this feels like a strange fit. As we mentioned earlier, Strong could have agreements already in place to minimize his obligations with the media, boosters and Longhorn Network, but it’s a concern for a coach who prefers to focus only on what transpires on the football field. Expect Strong to win a lot of games at Texas, and once we see how things transpire with the off-the-field obligations by next year, this hire could be upgraded to an A.
Grading Texas’ Hire of Charlie Strong: B+
After receiving interest from Penn State regarding its head coach vacancy, Al Golden has decided to remain at Miami. Golden is a former Penn State player, so the Nittany Lions’ interest in the Miami coach was no surprise.
Miami has made steady gains under Golden, recording a 22-15 mark over the last three seasons. Prior to taking over in Coral Gables, Golden led Temple to a 27-34 record in five years.
While Golden is making progress, Miami has yet to play for the conference title since joining the ACC. But with a top 10-15 recruiting class coming to campus next year, the Hurricanes could start 2014 as the favorite to win the Coastal Division.
After a 37-15 record in four seasons at Louisville, Charlie Strong has decided to leave to take over the top spot at Texas. Strong inherited a program that won just 15 games in the three seasons prior to his arrival and quickly moved Louisville back into bowl contention, playing in four consecutive postseason games.
The Cardinals are 23-3 over the last two seasons and finished 2013 by demolishing Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Although Strong is leaving, the program is still in good shape. Louisville has one of the best athletic directors in college football in Tom Jurich, and the Cardinals are set to join the ACC in time for the 2014 season.
Louisville has good resources and facilities, so this job will garner plenty of interest from coaches around the nation.
Who will replace Strong in Louisville? Here are some possible candidates for the Cardinals:
10 Candidates to Replace Charlie Strong at Louisville
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Admittedly, it seems unlikely Franklin would leave Vanderbilt for Louisville, especially if he has interest in Penn State or the NFL. But the Cardinals have excellent resources, good facilities and money to throw in Franklin’s direction. In three years with the Commodores, Franklin has a 24-15 record, including back-to-back bowl victories. Considering how difficult it is to maintain success at Vanderbilt, playing in three consecutive bowl games and an 18-8 record from 2012-13 is a testament to how good of a coach Franklin is. Vanderbilt has made facility improvements over the last few years, but Louisville is a better job and it’s easier to win nine games a season in the ACC. It’s a longshot, but Jurich and Louisville would be wise to inquire about Franklin.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman is a rising star in the assistant coach ranks. The Cincinnati native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Texas in 1999. After two years with the Longhorns, he stayed in the Lone Star State with stops at Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice. After four stops in Texas, Herman was the offensive coordinator at Iowa State from 2009-11. And after three years with the Cyclones, Herman was hired by Urban Meyer to coordinate the Ohio State offense. Under Herman’s direction, the Buckeyes averaged 37.2 points a game in 2012 and 46.3 points a contest in 2013. Much like Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Herman is due for a chance to run his own program. However, is Herman ready to take the top spot at a top 25-30 job in 2014? Or does he want to make another run at a national championship with Ohio State next season?
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, UL Lafayette
Hudspeth has quietly built an impressive resume from a handful of stops, including the last three years as the head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns. Louisiana-Lafayette is 27-12 under Hudspeth’s direction, and the Ragin’ Cajuns claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in 2013. The 27 wins under Hudspeth are the most in a three-year span in school history. Prior to taking over at Louisiana-Lafayette, Hudspeth spent two years as a receivers coach at Mississippi State (2009-10) and worked as the head coach at North Alabama from 2002-08. In seven years at North Alabama, Hudspeth recorded a 66-21 mark.
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Lembo doesn’t have the name recognition of a Chad Morris or James Franklin, but he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks and has been a successful coach at three different stops. The New York native went 44-14 stint at Lehigh from 2001-05. From 2006-10, Lembo guided Elon to a 35-22 mark and one playoff appearance. In three years at Ball State, the Cardinals are 25-12 under his watch. Lembo has also led Ball State to back-to-back bowl games for just the second time in school history. Moving from Ball State to Louisville would be a sizeable jump, but Lembo is ready to lead a BCS program in 2014.
Derek Mason, defensive coordinator, Stanford
Mason has been a key piece of Stanford’s success under David Shaw, and some early reports seem to indicate he will be in the mix at Louisville. Prior to joining Stanford’s staff in 2010, Mason worked in the NFL with the Vikings as a defensive backs assistant from 2007-09. Mason’s first college job was in 1994 at San Diego Mesa College, followed by stops at Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell, Utah, Saint Mary’s, New Mexico State and Ohio. Under Mason’s direction, Stanford has finished first or second in the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the last three years. Mason also has an important connection for this job. Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich was at Northern Arizona when Mason was a defensive back with the Lumberjacks.
Jim McElwain, head coach, Colorado State
McElwain is a former Louisville assistant, spending 2000-02 with the Cardinals under John L. Smith. And the Montana native has developed a solid resume since leaving the Cardinals, working from 2003-05 at Michigan State and in 2006 in the NFL with the Raiders. In 2007, McElwain coordinated the Fresno State offense to an average of 419.5 yards per game. After one season with the Bulldogs, McElwain was hired by Nick Saban to call the plays for the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s offense improved under McElwain’s watch, finishing 64th nationally in total offense in 2008 and then jumping to 31st nationally in 2011. McElwain has spent the last two years at Colorado State, guiding the Rams to a 12-14 mark. Colorado State won the New Mexico Bowl this season, which was the school’s first postseason victory since 2008.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is the highest-paid assistant in college football and just finished his third season calling the plays at Clemson. Under Morris’ direction, the Tigers have averaged at least 440 yards per game in each of the last three years. Clemson has also averaged at least 40 points a contest in in back-to-back seasons. In one season as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator (2010), the Golden Hurricane averaged 505.6 yards per game and 6.5 yards per play. As if it wasn’t obvious by those numbers, Morris is one of the nation’s top offensive minds. However, his only head coaching experience was on the high school level. While Morris may experience a few ups and downs as a head coach, his offensive background is worth the risk.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi turned down Connecticut, but openings at Penn State or Louisville certainly provide intrigue for the 47-year-old coach. Narduzzi’s coaching career started at Miami (Ohio) in 1990 and continued there until 1992. From 1993-99, Narduzzi worked at Rhode Island and spent the following three years (2000-02) at Northern Illinois. Narduzzi’s first chance to coordinate a defense on the FBS level was in 2003 at Miami (Ohio), and he joined forces with Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati in 2004. Since 2004, Narduzzi has worked under Dantonio and has coordinated some of the nation’s top defenses at Michigan State. Narduzzi won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach in 2013. The Spartans finished second nationally in total defense and allowed just 4.0 yards per play this season. Narduzzi’s defense at Michigan State was a key reason why the Spartans claimed the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory over Stanford this year. The only downside to Narduzzi’s resume is no head coaching experience.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama
Smart’s name has popped up for a few jobs over the last few years, but the former Georgia defensive back can afford to be patient in choosing his first head coaching gig. Smart has worked under Saban for eight years, starting in 2004 at LSU and continuing in the NFL with the Dolphins. He 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. As we mentioned earlier, Smart does not have any head coaching experience, which seems to be the only concern on his resume. Is Smart waiting for a job in the SEC to open? Or is he willing to take a job outside of the conference?
Shawn Watson, offensive coordinator, Louisville
Watson is no stranger to Louisville fans, as he joined Charlie Strong’s staff in 2011 and served as the team’s offensive coordinator for the last three years. Prior to coming to Louisville, Watson coordinated offenses at Nebraska and Colorado, while also spending time as an assistant at Illinois, Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern. After averaging 333 yards per game in 2011, Watson’s offenses improved in 2012 and 2013 – largely due to the development of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater – as the Cardinals averaged at least 400 yards per game over the last two years. Watson has one previous stint as a head coach, recording an 11-22 mark in three years at Southern Illinois (1994-96).
Other Names to Watch
Vance Bedford, defensive coordinator, Louisville
Bedford is a Texas native and played his college ball with the Longhorns. Even though he’s paid his dues as an assistant and was a key piece to building Louisville’s defense over the last four seasons, Bedford is likely following Strong to Austin.
David Cutcliffe, head coach, Duke
Cutcliffe’s name has popped up in the rumor mill to replace Strong, but it seems unlikely he leaves Duke for another ACC school. Cutcliffe is 31-43 in six seasons with the Blue Devils, including a 16-10 mark over the last two years.
Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals
Gruden is a former Louisville quarterback and has played a key role in developing Andy Dalton for the Bengals. While Gruden is a solid offensive mind, he has no head coaching experience on the college level and may be more interested in NFL jobs. And depending on the Bengals’ postseason success, Gruden may not be capable of taking a job until mid-January.
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State
Mississippi State is one of the toughest jobs in the SEC, but Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to four consecutive bowl games. Mullen has a solid team returning next year, which could be the best of his tenure in Starkville. It seems like a longshot for Mullen to leave, but Louisville’s a better job and it’s easier to win in the ACC than coaching in the SEC West.
Bobby Petrino, head coach, Western Kentucky
Petrino went 41-9 in four years at Louisville from 2003-06. However, it’s hard to envision Petrino returning to a BCS job in 2014, especially since what transpired at Arkansas following the 2011 season. You never say never, but all signs seem to indicate it's a longshot for Petrino to return to Louisville.
Rich Rodriguez, head coach, Arizona
Rodriguez seems to be content (and has a pretty good job) at Arizona, but Louisville would be wise to inquire to see if there’s any interest. In two years with the Wildcats, Rodriguez is 16-10 overall. While his stint at Michigan didn’t not go particularly well, Rodriguez has been successful at each of his other stops, including a 60-26 mark at West Virginia from 2001-07.
Matt Wells, head coach, Utah State
Wells worked at Louisville in 2009 and did an outstanding job at Utah State in 2013, guiding the Aggies to a 9-5 record despite losing quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a knee injury. Although Wells was the Mountain West Coach of the Year, it’s probably too early to expect him to move to a BCS job.
Charlie Strong has decided to leave Louisville for Texas, ending a successful four-year run with the Cardinals.
Reports surfaced on Friday night that Strong was Texas’ top pick, but he waited to accept the job until he had a chance to meet face-to-face with athletic director Tom Jurich on Saturday.
In four years at Louisville, Strong compiled a 37-15 record. Over the last two years, the Cardinals were 23-3 and won back-to-back bowl games.
A source confirms to WDRB that Charlie Strong has told U of L AD Tom Jurich that he is leaving for the Texas football job.— rickbozich (@rickbozich) January 5, 2014
Art Briles was mentioned by many as one of the leading candidates to replace Mack Brown at Texas. And with Baylor’s season complete, the rumor mill has been in full effect over the last few days, as Briles’ name came up in regards to a possible interview with Texas athletic director Steve Patterson.
However, Briles tweeted his support of the school (and his current job) on Friday. And the school also released a statement from Briles, which confirmed his intentions to stay in Waco.
At the beginning of the season, Auburn and Florida State were considered longshots to play for the national championship. Fast forward to Jan. 6 in Pasadena, and that’s the unlikely, yet highly anticipated matchup to determine college football’s 2013 champion.
In addition to crowning the No. 1 team in the nation, this game is also the final matchup in the BCS era. Next year – for better or worse – college football’s postseason shifts to a four-team playoff format.
The BCS era has been kind to both Florida State and Auburn. The Seminoles opened the BCS era with an appearance in the national championship, losing 23-16 to Tennessee after the 1998 season. But Florida State won the national title the next year and played for it again after the 2001 season. Auburn has only one previous appearance in the BCS title game, a 22-19 victory over Oregon to claim the championship for the 2010 season.
Auburn’s ascension into the national championship game was more of a surprise than Florida State, but the Seminoles didn’t have an easy path to their 13-0 record. Florida State had to replace six assistant coaches, and 11 players from last year’s team were selected in the NFL Draft. But coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited well, and the Seminoles’ roster was able to quickly reload in time for 2013. And Fisher’s hires on the coaching staff were outstanding, including the additions of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.
After a 3-9 record last year, Auburn parted with Gene Chizik and brought former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn back to the Plains as head coach. Recruiting talent hasn’t been an issue for the Tigers, so it was no surprise the Tigers were one of the most-improved teams in the nation. However, no one could have expected what transpired at Auburn in 2013. Sure, the Tigers caught a few lucky breaks, but this team improved throughout the season and finished the year on a nine-game winning streak.
Auburn and Florida State have 18 previous meetings. The Tigers own a 13-4-1 series edge over the Seminoles. However, these two teams have not played since 1990. There are some current ties between the two programs, as Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig worked under Jimbo Fisher at Florida State from 2010-12. And Fisher worked at Auburn from 1993-98 under Terry Bowden.
Auburn vs. Florida State
Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State -7.5
Three Things to Watch
Florida State’s run defense vs. Auburn’s offense
The Seminoles are loaded with talent on defense. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought a new scheme to Tallahassee, but the production didn’t drop from 2012. Florida State ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense last year and led the nation in fewest yards allowed per play (3.9). Despite seven new starters, the Seminoles were dominant once again, holding opponents to 10.7 points per game and just 3.9 yards per play in 2013. Florida State’s defense held Clemson’s high-powered offense to just 14 points and only one opponent scored more than 20 points in 2013. But the Seminoles’ defense will be tested by an Auburn offense that finished the regular season on a tear. The Tigers averaged 47.8 points per contest over their final four games, largely due to their rushing attack. Quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason combined to rush for 2,644 yards this season, and both players averaged at least five yards per carry. Marshall is a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s spread attack, as he is adept at carrying out the fakes and reads to run Auburn’s offense. Of course, no offense is successful without a good offensive line, and the Tigers have a solid front five. Left tackle Greg Robinson is the headliner, but center Reese Dismukes is one of the best in the nation. Can Auburn’s offensive line continue to win the battle in the trenches against Florida State? The Seminoles have held their last six opponents to under 3.3 yards per carry, and the first-team defense has yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is one of the best in the nation, but end Mario Edwards Jr. is stout against the run and is a key piece for Florida State’s defense on Jan. 6. Which unit will win the battle at the point of attack? If Auburn’s rushing game has success, it will help to keep the Seminoles’ offense on the sidelines and control the tempo of the game. However, Florida State wants to put the Tigers into long-distance situations and force Marshall to beat the defense with his arm.
Auburn’s secondary vs. Florida State’s passing attack
Turnovers and special teams
We could talk about several areas in this section, but in the national championship, every area of the game is magnified. One small mistake could be end up as a game-changing play, which is why turnovers and special teams should be monitored throughout Monday night’s matchup. Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo is one of the best in the nation, connecting on 19 of 20 attempts in 2013. And the Seminoles are set on returns with Kermit Whitfield (kickoffs) and Kenny Shaw (punts). Punter Cason Beatty was average this year, managing 40.8 yards per kick. Much like Florida State, Auburn’s special teams have been solid. Kicker Cody Parkey has connected on 14 of 19 attempts, and punter Steven Clark averaged 42.5 yards per punt, while placing 23 inside the 20. The Tigers are also in good shape on returns, with Chris Davis averaging 20.1 yards per punt return (with one touchdown), while Tre Mason and Quan Bray take the lead on kickoff returns. In the turnover department, Florida State has an edge. The Seminoles have forced 34 turnovers this year, creating a margin of +17. Auburn is even in turnover margin, forcing only 18 turnovers in 2013.
Key Player: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Marshall is the x-factor in this game. Florida State will load up to stop Auburn’s rushing attack, which should leave Marshall with opportunities to make plays through the air. The junior made progress as a passer in his first season with the Tigers, finishing 2013 with 1,759 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 60.4. Marshall’s rushing ability is a perfect fit for this offense, but his arm will be a critical aspect on Monday night. Auburn doesn’t have the standout playmakers like Florida State has in the receiving corps, but Sammie Coates (22.1 ypc), Ricardo Louis, Marcus Davis and Quan Bray form a solid group of options for Marshall. If the Seminoles jump out to an early lead, the Tigers won’t be forced to abandon the run, but more will be placed on Marshall’s arm. If Auburn does fall behind by two or three scores, is Marshall up to the task to pass his team back into the game? And on the flipside, the junior averages 6.6 yards per carry and will be a key cog in the rushing attack on Monday. Marshall has thrown only five interceptions this year. He needs to another mistake-free game on Monday night for Auburn to claim another national championship.
Last year’s BCS Championship between Notre Dame and Alabama was a total dud. Expect things to be different on Jan. 6. Florida State and Auburn should provide an entertaining game, with two teams bringing contrasting, but still high-scoring offenses to Pasadena. The Tigers are a run-first team, while the Seminoles are balanced and capable of hurting opposing defenses in a variety of ways. A key question to watch on Monday night: Can Auburn get pressure with its defensive line? Or will the Tigers have to blitz? If Auburn has to blitz, Winston and Florida State’s receivers will hit on several big plays. But if the Tigers can control the battle in the trenches by getting pressure on Winston with their front four, Auburn will be in good shape. When the Tigers have the ball, they have to stay out of long-distance yardage situations. Although Auburn can throw the ball effectively, its offense just isn’t built to rally from a three-score deficit. Florida State has simply dominated this year. Will the Seminoles pickup where they left off in the ACC Championship? The Tigers navigated the SEC with one loss but seemed to get better each week. Will Auburn once again find a way to win a close game?
|Steven Lassan||Florida State 38-34||Jameis Winston, QB, FSU|
|Mitch Light||Florida State 37-34||Devonta Freeman, RB, FSU|
|Mark Ross||Florida State 35-27||Jameis Winston, QB, FSU|
|Braden Gall||Auburn 41-38||Dee Ford, DE, Auburn|
|Nathan Rush||Florida State 42-33||Jameis Winston, QB, FSU|
|Rich McVey||Florida State 45-35||Jameis Winston, QB, FSU|
|David Fox||Auburn 38-35||Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn|
Georgia Tech’s offense will have a new quarterback next season, as Vad Lee has decided to transfer following the Yellow Jackets’ bowl loss to Ole Miss.
Lee was Georgia Tech’s No. 1 quarterback in 2013, throwing for 1,561 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushing for 513 yards and eight scores.
Why is Lee leaving Georgia Tech? Check out this tweet:
GT QB Vad Lee said he will transfer. "The triple option was never really my thing," Lee said.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 3, 2014
With Lee transferring, Justin Thomas is likely to open spring practice as Georgia Tech's No. 1 quarterback.
If you like offense, Friday night’s Orange Bowl matchup between Clemson and Ohio State will be must-see television. The Tigers and Buckeyes combined to average 86.5 points a game during the regular season, and there’s little to suggest a defensive struggle is in store at Sun Life Stadium.
Outside of the National Championship, the Orange Bowl matchup between the Buckeyes and Tigers might be the most intriguing bowl from the 2013-14 postseason.
Ohio State was a win away from playing for the BCS title, while Clemson capped off its best three-year stretch in program history with a 10-2 mark during regular season. The Buckeyes only defeat came in the Big Ten Championship against Michigan State, while the Tigers lost 51-14 to No. 1 Florida State and 31-17 to rival South Carolina.
Clemson and Ohio State have played only once – and what a meeting it was. These two teams played in the 1978 Gator Bowl, with the Tigers winning 17-15. But a Clemson victory wasn’t the biggest storyline from that game. Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass with less than two minutes to go, which sealed the victory for the Tigers. However, after he was tackled along the Ohio State sideline, Bauman was punched by Buckeyes’ coach Woody Hayes. The incident resulted in the end of Hayes’ coaching career at Ohio State.
Clemson vs. Ohio State
Kickoff: Friday, Jan. 3. at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ohio State -2.5
Three Things to Watch
Ohio State's secondary vs. Clemson's receivers
The biggest weakness on Ohio State’s defense is the secondary. The Buckeyes ranked 11th in the Big Ten against the pass, allowing 259.5 yards per game and 26 passing scores. Opposing quarterbacks completed 60.5 percent of their throws against Ohio State’s defense this year. The Buckeyes are strong in the trenches with an outstanding defensive line, but the secondary has not played at an elite level. In the last four games of 2013, Ohio State allowed at least 288 passing yards and gave up seven passing scores in its last two contests. Making matters worse for coach Urban Meyer is the status of top cornerback Bradley Roby. The junior suffered a knee injury in the Big Ten Championship and is not expected to play. With Roby sidelined, sophomore Armani Reeves is listed as the backup and would slide into the starting lineup. But without Roby, the pressure also increases on the rest of the secondary, including the other starter at cornerback (Doran Grant) and senior safeties Corey Brown and C.J. Barnett. Even if Roby was able to play, Ohio State’s secondary would have its hands full against Clemson’s passing game. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has thrown for 11,526 yards and 102 touchdowns in his career and has completed 67 percent of his throws in back-to-back years. Boyd also has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including the explosive Sammy Watkins (14.6 ypc, 10 TDs), Adam Humphries (41 receptions), and Martavis Bryant (20.5 ypc). If Ohio State can generate a consistent pass rush, it would help take the pressure off a questionable secondary. However, if Boyd has all day to throw, the senior will torch the Buckeyes’ secondary.
Despite a three-game suspension to start the season, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde led the Big Ten by averaging 140.8 yards per game and finished only 160 yards behind Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah for the conference rushing title. The senior averaged at least six yards per carry in each of his last eight games, including a ridiculous 10.3 average against Illinois. Clemson’s rush defense finished ninth in the ACC, allowing 152.6 yards per game. At first glance, those numbers would appear to be a huge problem for the Tigers. However, a deeper look at the statistics shows Clemson hasn’t been awful against the run, as giving up 248 to Georgia Tech and 323 to Syracuse skewed the numbers. Winning the battle in the trenches will be critical for the Tigers, especially against an Ohio State offensive line that features four senior starters. The Tigers can counter in the trenches with an underrated defensive front. End Vic Beasley was an All-American in 2013, and there's depth at end with Corey Crawford, Tavaris Barnes and Shaq Lawson. The tackle spots are in good shape with Grady Jarrett, D.J. Reader, Josh Watson and DeShawn Williams. There’s no question the Buckeyes want quarterback Braxton Miller to throw downfield. However, the run game helps to set the table for the offense. While Clemson can’t solely focus on stopping Hyde, keeping Ohio State in long yardage situations is critical to its Orange Bowl title hopes.
Clemson's secondary vs. Braxton Miller
As we mentioned above, the defensive backfields will be under fire on Friday night. Ohio State’s secondary struggled during the regular season and could be shorthanded in the Orange Bowl. Clemson’s secondary finished third in the ACC in pass defense and 16th nationally in pass efficiency defense. However, the Tigers are thin on depth in the secondary, as three freshmen are listed on the depth chart. Safety Jayron Kearse finished tied for second on the team with three interceptions, but fellow freshman Jadar Johnson played in less than 100 snaps this year. Needless to say, Clemson cannot afford an injury in this unit on Friday night. While depth may be an issue, there is talent for coordinator Brent Venables. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland had an All-ACC caliber season, and senior Darius Robinson picked off three passes on the other side. Ohio State doesn’t have a No. 1 option like Sammy Watkins, but the Buckeyes aren’t short on talent at receiver. Corey Brown led the team with 55 catches, while Devin Smith averaged 15.6 yards per catch, and tight end Jeff Heuerman quietly recorded 25 receptions. Evan Spencer, Chris Fields and freshman standout Dontre Wilson are also options to watch. And the triggerman for Ohio State’s offense is junior quarterback Braxton Miller, who threw for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. Miller missed two games due to injury but also rushed for 1,033 yards in 2013. When healthy, the junior is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and makes the Ohio State offense go. Clemson didn’t play a plethora of elite quarterbacks this year but allowed 444 passing yards to Florida State and Jameis Winston. If Clemson struggles to stop Carlos Hyde on the ground, Miller and his receivers should have no trouble carving up this secondary.
Key Player: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
With cornerback Bradley Roby expected to sit due to a knee injury, and the suspension of defensive end Noah Spence, there’s even more pressure on Shazier to set the tone for Ohio State's defense. Shazier led the team with 134 tackles (22.5 for a loss) and recorded six sacks and four forced fumbles in 2013. The junior will be tasked with keeping Clemson running back Roderick McDowell from breaking any big plays, while also cleaning up any missed tackles all over the field. The Tigers are always capable of throwing a trick play or two at opposing defenses, which makes having a veteran leader in the linebacking corps even more valuable. And most importantly, Shazier is the heart and soul (and leader) for this defense. With a dangerous offense on the other sideline, Shazier will need to play one of his best games in an Ohio State uniform for the Buckeyes to earn the victory.
Get ready for an offensive showcase. Ohio State and Clemson are loaded with talent on offense, including two of the best quarterbacks in the nation (Tajh Boyd and Braxton Miller). While Boyd and Miller should put on a show, the outcome of this game will be determined by which defense can get the most stops or create a turnover at an opportune time. The Buckeyes’ secondary is a huge concern, but the front seven should get pressure on Boyd to disrupt the timing of Clemson’s offense. With Hyde and four senior starters on the offensive line, Ohio State will grind the clock in the fourth quarter, with Miller tossing a late score that gives the Buckeyes their first victory in the Orange Bowl since 1977.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Clemson 34
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien has accepted the head coaching job with the Houston Texans. O’Brien went 15-9 in two years with the Nittany Lions.
O’Brien inherited a challenging situation at Penn State, as the program was hit by NCAA sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal prior to his first season in Happy Valley.
Penn State is one of the Big Ten’s top jobs, but it isn’t without challenges. The school has uncertainty surrounding its athletic director position and is ineligible for a bowl game for the next two years.
Here are 10 replacements for Bill O'Brien at Penn State.
Texans are expected to introduce Bill O'Brien as their new head coach by Saturday, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 1, 2014
After a two-year stint at Penn State, Bill O’Brien has decided to leave for the NFL and the Houston Texans. O’Brien guided Penn State through a difficult period, which included scholarship sanctions and a bowl ban due to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
O’Brien went 15-9 at Penn State, with 10 of those victories coming in Big Ten play. Despite winning records in both seasons, NCAA sanctions prevented the Nittany Lions from participating in a bowl over the last two years.
There’s no question O’Brien is a NFL guy, as he interviewed for openings last season and spent from 2007-11 with the Patriots.
O’Brien brought stability to Happy Valley after the NCAA sanctions were announced and recruited solid talent, including quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Even with two more years of a postseason ban, Penn State is still one of the top jobs in the Big Ten. However, there’s some uncertainty about who will serve as the school’s athletic director in the coming years. Will that deter a big-name coach from Penn State?
Candidates to Replace Bill O’Brien at Penn State
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Franklin is one of the hottest names in coaching circles for open vacancies. The Pennsylvania native’s name has popped up for the jobs at Texas, Penn State and in the NFL. In three years at Vanderbilt, Franklin is 23-15 and has guided the Commodores to three consecutive bowl games. Vanderbilt’s three straight bowl games are a school record and 23 wins over a three-year period is one of the best stretches in the program’s history. As a Pennsylvania native, this is a chance for Franklin to return home. However, he could have his pick of offers – including college football’s No. 1 job in Texas.
Al Golden, head coach, Miami
Much like Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Penn State represents an opportunity for Golden to return to a familiar setting. Golden grew up in Colts Neck, N.J. and played at Penn State from 1987-91 under Joe Paterno. Golden also coached linebackers with the Nittany Lions in 2000. In addition to his one-year stint at Penn State as an assistant, Golden worked at Virginia and Boston College before taking over at Temple in 2006. Under his direction, the Owls went from being one of the worst teams in the nation to a bowl team. Temple went 27-34 during Golden’s five seasons, but the Owls went 17-8 in his last two years. Golden inherited a mess at Miami due to an off-the-field scandal and has brought improvement to the Hurricanes. In three years under Golden, Miami is 22-15 and is 10-6 in the ACC over the last two seasons. After cleaning up from one NCAA scandal at Miami, would Golden want to finish another at Penn State?
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman is a rising star in the assistant coach ranks. The Cincinnati native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Texas in 1999. After two years with the Longhorns, he stayed in the Lone Star State with stops at Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice. After four stops in Texas, Herman was the offensive coordinator at Iowa State from 2009-11. And after three years with the Cyclones, Herman was hired by Urban Meyer to coordinate the Ohio State offense. Under Herman’s direction, the Buckeyes averaged 37.2 points a game in 2012 and 46.3 points a contest in 2013. Much like Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Herman is due for a chance to run his own program. However, is Penn State willing to gamble on an assistant with no head coaching experience? If the Nittany Lions are, Herman would be an outstanding hire.
Larry Johnson Sr., assistant coach, Penn State
Johnson is a bit of a longshot, but if Penn State wants to move quickly in replacing O’Brien, he should be near the top of the list. The North Carolina native has worked at Penn State since 1996, serving as an assistant coach under Joe Paterno and Bill O’Brien. Johnson is regarded as an excellent defensive line coach and recruiter, and his presence will be key in keeping the 2014 signing class together. Johnson’s only head coaching experience occurred in high school at two different locations.
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Lembo wouldn’t be a big-name hire like James Franklin or Al Golden, but the New York native is a coach that is due for a promotion to run a BCS program. Lembo has been a successful head coach at three different stops, starting with a 44-14 stint at Lehigh from 2001-05. From 2006-10, Lembo guided Elon to a 35-22 mark and one playoff appearance. In three years at Ball State, the Cardinals are 25-12 under his watch. Lembo has also led Ball State to back-to-back bowl games for just the second time in school history.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is the highest-paid assistant in college football and should be ready to run his own program after spending the last four years as an offensive coordinator in the FBS ranks. Under Morris’ direction, Clemson has averaged at least 440 yards per game in each of the last three seasons. The Tigers also averaged 40.2 points a game in 2013. There’s no question Morris is one of the nation’s top offensive minds. But his only head coaching experience took place at the high school level. Would Penn State take a chance on Morris? Or does he need to take another head coaching job at a smaller program before having a chance to run a program like Penn State?
Mike Munchak, head coach, Tennessee Titans
Munchak’s status with the Titans is up in the air for 2014. However, his future in Tennessee may not matter now that Penn State is open. Munchak played at Penn State from 1979-81 and was drafted by the Oilers in 1982. After a 12-year career in the NFL, Munchak retired and joined Houston’s coaching staff in 1994. He worked with the Oilers and Titans in an assistant capacity until 2011, as he was promoted to head coach after the team parted ways with Jeff Fisher. In three seasons as the Titans’ head coach, Munchak is 22-26. Munchak has no experience coaching on the college level, but he is a Pennsylvania native and a former Penn State player. With strong ties to Happy Valley, Munchak figures to be a strong candidate for athletic director Dave Joyner.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi turned down Connecticut, but a job with the profile of Penn State would certainly provide intrigue for the 47-year-old coach. Narduzzi’s coaching career started at Miami (Ohio) in 1990 and continued there until 1992. From 1993-99, Narduzzi worked at Rhode Island and spent the following three years (2000-02) at Northern Illinois. Narduzzi’s first chance to coordinate a defense on the FBS level was in 2003 at Miami (Ohio), and he joined forces with Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati in 2004. Since 2004, Narduzzi has worked under Dantonio and has coordinated some of the nation’s top defenses at Michigan State. Narduzzi won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach in 2013. The Spartans led the nation in total defense this year and allowed just 3.9 yards per play. The only downside to Narduzzi’s resume is no head coaching experience.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Roman was in the mix the last time the Penn State job was open and should be a candidate to replace O’Brien this year. Most of Roman’s experience has been in the NFL, starting with the Panthers in 1995, continuing with the Texans in 2002, the Ravens in 2006 and the 49ers in 2011. Roman worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2009-10. Although he has no head coaching experience, Roman has worked under one of the best coaches in the NFL (Harbaugh) and is an excellent offensive mind. How quickly Roman would be available depends on how far San Francisco goes in the NFL playoffs.
Greg Schiano, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach
Schiano recently joined the ranks of the unemployed, as he was fired after Tampa Bay’s Week 17 loss to New Orleans. While Schiano was just 11-21 in two years with the Buccaneers, he had a much better stint in college at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights struggled mightily prior to Schiano’s arrival, but he led Rutgers to six bowl appearances in his final seven years. The Scarlet Knights also won at least eight games in five out of the last six seasons. Schiano is also regarded as an excellent recruiter in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area. Considering his losing record at Tampa Bay, Schiano could be a tough sell to Penn State’s fan base.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher agreed to a contract extension with the school prior to the ACC Championship and now the agreement is official. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Fisher has signed a new contract with Florida State, increasing his salary to around $4 million a season.
Fisher’s contract will reportedly include incentives and upgrades in pay for his assistants.
In four years at Florida State, Fisher is 44-10 and is 3-0 in bowl games. The Seminoles will play for the national championship on Jan. 6 against Auburn.
Jimbo Fisher signs new contract 4 about than $4.1 million/year, per Tall. Democrat. Agreement first reported by PB Post 1 month ago.#FSU— Tom D'Angelo (@tomdangelo44) December 31, 2013
North Texas and UNLV cap off surprising 2013 seasons with a matchup in the Heart of the Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1. Dallas has seen plenty of good bowl games on Jan. 1 in the Cotton Bowl, but the North Texas-UNLV matchup could be lost in the New Year’s Day shuffle, as the Heart of the Dallas bowl kicks off at the same time as the Gator, Capital One and Outback Bowls.
If you think there are too many bowl games – you haven’t studied this matchup. North Texas and UNLV were picked by many to finish near the bottom of their respective conferences. However, both teams were two of college football’s biggest surprises, combining for a 15-9 mark.
These two teams have met four times, with UNLV winning all four matchups. The last meeting between the Rebels and Mean Green was in 2000. In the last two games between these two teams, UNLV has outscored North Texas 64-3.
This is UNLV’s first appearance in a bowl since the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl. The Rebels are 3-0 in previous bowl matchups.
North Texas is 1-5 in six bowl appearances. The Mean Green has lost two in a row, with the only victory coming in the 2002 New Orleans Bowl.
North Texas vs. UNLV
Kickoff: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at Noon ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: North Texas -6.5
North Texas’ Key to Victory: Stop UNLV RB Tim Cornett
Running back Tim Cornett had an underrated and very productive career at UNLV. Cornett finished the 2013 regular season with 1,251 yards and 15 touchdowns and is only the second player in school history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Cornett is also UNLV’s career leading rusher. North Texas has been solid against the run this year, limiting opponents to only 125.1 rushing yards per game. The Mean Green allowed only six rushing scores in eight Conference USA contests and limited both Rice and MTSU – the top two teams in conference-only games in rushing offense – to less than 140 yards on the ground. The strength of North Texas’ defense is in the front seven, with linebacker Zach Orr as the headliner (114 tackles). UNLV’s offensive line is anchored by left tackle Brett Boyko (second-team All-Mountain West), and this unit gave up just 21 sacks and helped to pave the way for the Rebels to average 4.5 yards per carry. This is a strength versus strength scenario. If UNLV wins the battle in the trenches, Cornett should easily top the 100-yard mark. But if North Texas is able to establish its edge in the trenches, Cornett will struggle, forcing the Rebels to lean more on quarterback Caleb Herring.
UNLV’s Key to Victory: Make North Texas win the game with the pass
Much like UNLV, North Texas prefers to lean on its ground game to win. Leading the way for the Mean Green’s rushing attack is Brandin Byrd (1,023 yards, 5.6 ypc) and Antoinne Jimmerson (428 yards, 4.3 ypc). The running backs get the attention in Denton, but the offensive line is a veteran unit, led by guards Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo. This line will be critical to North Texas’ hopes at victory, especially with a struggling UNLV defense. The Rebels ranked ninth in the Mountain West against the run, allowing a whopping 222.6 yards per game on the ground. No UNLV defender garnered all-conference honors this season, so this is a unit looking for answers in the bowl practices. While North Texas has proven it can run the ball, the passing attack has left a little to be desired. Of course, with a strong defense and rushing attack, quarterback Derek Thompson doesn’t need a huge performance each week. In eight Conference USA games, the Mean Green ranked eighth in the conference in passing offense, throwing eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. How important is it to force the Mean Green out of their comfort zone? In eight wins, the offense is averaging 25.9 pass attempts. In four losses, North Texas averaged 38.3 attempts. Stopping the run has been an issue for UNLV, but it’s essential the Rebels slow Byrd and Jimmerson on Jan. 1.
Key Player: Caleb Herring, QB, UNLV
Herring finished the fall as the team’s No. 2 quarterback behind Nick Sherry. But after a slow start by Sherry, Herring took over the No. 1 job and was a key cog in UNLV’s turnaround. The senior threw for 2,522 yards and 22 touchdowns, but most importantly, he completed 64.3 percent of his throws and tossed only four interceptions. Herring’s emergence gave the Rebels’ offense balance and allowed the team to take advantage of a solid group of weapons at receiver, including Devante Davis (77 catches, 1,194 yards). Herring will need another efficient effort on Jan. 1, as North Texas’ secondary allowed just five passing scores in conference games. The Mean Green also picked off 12 passes. With North Texas likely to stuff the box to stop Cornett, UNLV’s offense needs Herring to have success early in the game.
Both programs should be excited to be in this bowl. UNLV coach Bobby Hauck began the year on the hot seat but earned a contract extension with a 7-5 season. After a 9-15 start under Dan McCarney, North Texas nearly won Conference USA’s West Division with an 8-4 record. Both programs are pointed in the right direction, and this game is a reward for a breakout year. Quarterback play will be critical for both teams on Jan. 1. If Herring has success early, UNLV should be able to establish its running game. And the same can be said for North Texas, but Herring was more efficient than Derek Thompson in 2013. The Rebels have an edge in offensive talent with Herring and Cornett, but the Mean Green has the better defense and a home-field advantage. Those two factors should be the difference in this game.
Prediction: North Texas 31, UNLV 24
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is the final college game in the 2013 calendar year, and this season’s version features two teams making their first appearance in this postseason classic. Duke and Texas A&M meet in Atlanta on Dec. 31, in what is one of the more intriguing pre-Jan. 1 bowl matchups.
David Cutcliffe has transformed Duke from an afterthought on the gridiron to Coastal Division champion. The Blue Devils went 10-82 from 2000-07, but Cutcliffe has brought steady improvement to Durham, guiding the Blue Devils to back-to-back bowls for the first time in program history. A 45-7 loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship didn’t diminish the 2013 season for Duke, as the program has a chance to win 11 games for the first time in school history and earn its first bowl victory since 1961 on Dec. 31.
While Duke enters this game coming off arguably the best season in school history, there’s a slight sense of disappointment on the Texas A&M side. Of course, spending the New Year in Atlanta is never a bad outcome, but the Aggies had hopes of contending for a SEC Championship. Texas A&M lost by seven points to Alabama and by four to Auburn and finished the season with back-to-back losses to LSU and Missouri. 8-4 certainly isn’t a bad season, but most preseason predictions placed the Aggies around the top 10-15 teams in the nation. With Kevin Sumlin inking an extension after the season and a renovated stadium on the way, Texas A&M is poised to continue its climb up the SEC ladder.
This will be the first meeting between Duke and Texas A&M on the gridiron. The Blue Devils are 3-6 in nine previous bowl appearances and have lost three in a row in the postseason. The Aggies have won back-to-back bowl games, including a 41-13 victory over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl last season.
Duke vs. Texas A&M
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Texas A&M -12.5
Three Things to Watch
Can Duke’s defense stop Johnny Manziel?
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was unable to match the hardware in 2013 he accumulated from his standout freshman season. However, the sophomore was a better all-around quarterback in 2013, throwing for 3,732 yards and 33 touchdowns. Under Manziel’s guidance, Texas A&M scored the most touchdowns in the SEC (71) and averaged a whopping 7.3 yards per play. Kevin Sumlin decided to shake up his coaching staff before the bowl, as Jake Spavital takes over as play-caller, with Clarence McKinney staying on staff as a running backs coach. Manziel makes the Texas A&M offense go, but he’s certainly not the only piece for this team. Receiver Mike Evans is a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs, and the Aggies have one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Duke didn’t face many elite offenses this season and allowed 5.5 yards per play. But the Blue Devils had a knack for making timely plays. Duke forced 26 turnovers in 2013 and held six out of its last eight opponents under 30 points. There’s no easy formula or answer to stop Manziel. Can the Blue Devils find any answers over the next few weeks? Duke’s secondary does have talent, starting with cornerback Ross Cockrell and continuing with safeties Deondre Singleton, DeVon Edwards and Jeremy Cash. The depth is here for the Blue Devils to defend Texas A&M’s receiving corps. Can Duke force Manziel and this offense to earn their yardage? Or will the Aggies be able to dictate the tempo and easily gash the Blue Devils’ defense?
Texas A&M’s run defense
It’s no secret how much Texas A&M has struggled on the ground this year. The Aggies rank last in the SEC in rush yards allowed per game, giving up 221.3 in each contest. The problem for Texas A&M isn’t necessarily talent, but this unit is inexperienced and had to replace four starters in the front seven this preseason. And complicating the run defense’s problems even more was a suspension for the bowl to linebacker Darian Claiborne. The true freshman tied for the team lead with 89 stops. Duke averages 31.6 points a game, but Cutcliffe and the offensive staff would like to avoid a shootout. With a veteran offensive line, the Blue Devils should be able to move the ball on the ground against the Aggies. Leading rusher Jela Duncan was suspended for a year, but Josh Snead (6.1 ypc), Shaquille Powell and Juwan Thompson are capable options. Backup quarterback Brandon Connette leads the team with 13 rushing touchdowns and will factor prominently into the gameplan. The bowl practices should help Texas A&M’s younger players, but Duke’s rushing attack will be able to find running lanes. If the Aggies can keep the Blue Devils in long-yardage situations and minimize the damage on the ground, Duke will be facing an uphill battle on offense.
The Turnover Battle
With Texas A&M entrenched as a heavy favorite, Duke has to have a couple of breaks in order to spring the upset. Outside of playing keep away with their ground attack, the Blue Devils can keep within striking distance of the Aggies if they can force a couple of turnovers. Texas A&M wasn’t overly generous with turnovers, but Sumlin’s team did lose 21 this season. The Aggies were -1 in turnover margin for the season. Winning the turnover battle was a key element to Duke’s Coastal Division title. The Blue Devils forced a few timely turnovers, which played a key role in wins against NC State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Duke finished +3 in turnover margin and forced 26 takeaways this year. Can the Blue Devils replicate that formula in the Chick-fil-A Bowl? In addition to forcing turnovers, Duke cannot afford to give Texas A&M’s offense any help. With the firepower on the Aggies’ sideline, a turnover by the Blue Devils would put this team in a significant hole that could be too tough to dig out of.
Key Player: Anthony Boone, QB, Duke
With Manziel on the other sideline, Boone is the forgotten quarterback in this game. The junior had his share of ups and downs in 2013, finishing with 1,833 yards and 10 touchdown tosses to 11 interceptions. Boone completed 63.9 percent of his throws and did not toss a pick in three out of his final four games. When Boone makes mistakes, they seem to come in bunches. In wins against Virginia Tech and NC State, the junior tossed seven picks. Against Florida State, Boone threw two picks on 40 attempts. There’s no doubt Duke has to have production from its passing game, and there’s plenty of playmakers available with receivers Jamison Crowder and Brandon Braxton and tight end Braxton Deaver. Boone doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards, but he can’t afford any mistakes and has to convert on third downs to keep drives alive. The junior has mobility (3.1 ypc), which will be needed if the pocket collapses. Expect Duke to establish the run and keep Texas A&M’s offense on the sideline. However, Boone will have to make a handful of plays just to keep the Blue Devils within striking distance.
Duke has been a Cinderella story this year. Do the Blue Devils have one more upset in them or has the clock hit midnight for this team? Texas A&M’s offense is one of the most-explosive units in the nation but managed just 31 points over its final two games. Manziel didn’t appear to be 100 percent late in the year, and the month to prepare should help the sophomore quarterback. Manziel should be sharp, and receiver Mike Evans will be a tough matchup for the Duke defensive backs. If Duke’s offense has success running the ball, then Cutcliffe’s team is going to give the Aggies all they can handle. Texas A&M’s offense is simply too explosive for the Blue Devils, but the Aggies’ struggling defense keeps Duke within striking distance until the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Duke 31
Michigan State’s Rose Bowl hopes took a hit on Thursday, as head coach Mark Dantonio announced linebacker Max Bullough has been suspended for the Jan. 1 matchup against Stanford. Bullough was suspended for a violation of team rules.
Bullough ranked third on the team with 76 tackles (9.5 for a loss) and recorded one forced fumble and 1.5 sacks.
The senior was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media and the coaches this season and finished his career in East Lansing with 299 tackles and eight sacks.
Bullough is a big loss for a Michigan State defense that led the nation in rush defense and allowed just 12.7 points a game.
Senior Kyler Elsworth is listed as Bullough’s backup, but there’s plenty of talent for coordinator Pat Narduzzi to mix if necessary. Senior Denicos Allen and junior Taiwan Jones are solid players and will anchor the outside spots in the linebacking corps in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State LB Max Bullough has been suspended for the Rose Bowl - http://t.co/ODE0rVkxSS— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) December 26, 2013
After both teams finished with a losing record in 2013, Marshall and Maryland have rebounded back into the postseason, and the Thundering Herd and Terrapins are set to make the short drive to Annapolis to meet in the Military Bowl.
The Military Bowl has moved to Annapolis, Md. after the first five matchups in this game's history were in RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
This season has been a year of near-misses for Marshall. The Thundering Herd lost by three points to Ohio, two points to MTSU and by eight to Virginia Tech in overtime. Marshall’s biggest loss occurred in the Conference USA Championship, dropping a 41-24 game to Rice. While the Thundering Herd didn’t get much national attention, they were just a few plays away from an unbeaten regular season.
Maryland has experienced an up and down 2013 campaign. The Terrapins started 4-0 before losing to Florida State 63-0. Maryland lost three out of its next four games but ended the year by winning two out of the last three contests. Under coach Randy Edsall, Maryland has increased its win total in each of the last three years.
Marshall is 7-2 in nine previous bowl appearances. The Thundering Herd has not played an ACC team in a postseason appearance. Maryland is 11-11-2 in its bowl history. The Terrapins are 5-1 in their last six bowl appearances, including a 51-20 victory over East Carolina in the 2010 Military Bowl.
Less than 500 miles separate the campuses for Maryland and Marshall, but these two teams have never played in a regular season or bowl matchup.
Marshall vs. Maryland
Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 27 at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Marshall -2.5
Marshall’s Key to Victory: Contain Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown
Brown missed two games due to an injury this season, but when healthy, the senior is Maryland’s best offensive player. Injuries to receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs have limited the passing game over the second half of the season, but Brown has rushed for at least 100 yards in two out of the last three contests. In the Conference USA Championship loss to Rice, Marshall allowed 248 rushing yards on 48 attempts. And the Thundering Herd finished the regular season seventh in Conference USA in run defense, allowing 4.2 yards per carry and 183.7 yards per game. All four of Marshall’s losses came against teams with mobile quarterbacks, and this defense has allowed at least 28 points in three out of the last four games. Brown isn’t the lone threat for Maryland on the ground, as running backs Brandon Ross and Albert Reid average over four yards per carry. Brown doesn’t have a 300-yard passing game this season, and the Terrapins hope they can keep their pass attempts under 30 in this game. Marshall had only two defenders earn all-conference honors, but both players were in the front seven (defensive lineman James Rouse and linebacker Jermaine Holmes). Rouse and Holmes need to contain Brown on running plays, while the Thundering Herd’s offense can help by winning the battle to control the tempo.
Maryland’s Key to Victory: Find a way to slow down Rakeem Cato
Marshall’s offense has been one of the best in the nation over the last two seasons. Piloting the offense is junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has thrown for 73 touchdown passes and 7,780 yards over Marshall’s last 25 games. As a freshman, Cato threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the Thundering Herd’s 20-10 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl win over FIU. While Cato is the triggerman for Marshall’s offense, he isn’t the only weapon. Essray Taliaferro leads the team with 1,059 rushing yards, while Steward Butler (762) is another reliable option the ground. The receiving corps is loaded with options, including Tommy Shuler (97 catches), tight end Gator Hoskins (13 TD catches) and Penn State transfer Devon Smith (17.6 ypc). Maryland’s defense was hit by a few injuries this season, especially in the secondary where true freshman William Likely was forced into action at cornerback. The Terrapins were gashed by Florida State and Clemson but held their last four opponents under 30 points. Marshall is averaging less yards per game in 2013 (502.3) than it was in 2012 (534.3). But the Thundering Herd has been more efficient, averaging 6.4 yards per play in 2013, up from 5.9 in 2012. Stopping Cato and his supporting cast is a tough assignment for coordinator Brian Stewart. One of the biggest strengths for the Terrapins has been getting pressure on the quarterback (34 sacks), which will be a key role in this game, especially since Marshall has allowed 25 sacks in 2013. If Maryland gets pressure on Cato, the junior can make plays with his legs (279 yards).
Key Player: Marcus Whitfield, LB, Maryland
Whitfield was one of the ACC’s most underrated defenders from 2013. In 12 games, he recorded 50 stops (14.5 tackles for a loss) and nine sacks. Whitfield also forced two fumbles and broke up three passes. The senior is clearly one of Maryland’s top playmakers on defense and will be a critical part of the gameplan to stop Marshall’s offense. The Thundering Herd average 291.2 passing yards per game, and quarterback Rakeem Cato is one of the top passers from a non-BCS conference. Stopping Cato is no easy task, especially with Marshall having more balance on offense this year. However, the key to stopping the Thundering Herd is to get pressure on Cato, which Maryland should be able to do. End Andre Monroe and Whitfield have combined for 17.5 sacks this year, and Marshall’s offensive line allowed 25 sacks in 2013. Whitfield doesn’t necessarily have to get sacks but getting pressure on Cato will prevent the junior from getting too comfortable in the pocket.
Maryland should have an edge in fan support, as Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is less than 40 miles from College Park, Md. But despite the edge in fans, this game should be close. Marshall’s offense is explosive, and if Rakeem Cato gets off to a good start, the Terrapins could have trouble keeping up with the Thundering Herd. Maryland needs to control the tempo and flow of the game and allow quarterback C.J. Brown to make plays with his legs. One underrated factor to watch will be the turnover battle. The Terrapins were -6 in turnover margin, while Marshall was +2. If the Thundering Herd protect Cato and win the turnover battle, Doc Holliday’s team should head back to Huntington with a bowl trophy.
Prediction: Marshall 31, Maryland 27
From the files of strange timing: UMass has decided to fire coach Charley Molnar. In his two years as the coach of the Minutemen, Molnar went 2-22 and both victories came against MAC teams.
The timing of this decision is odd, especially since UMass has missed out on a couple of weeks of a coaching search, plus recruiting for the new regime.
Molnar had a difficult task at UMass, as the program was transitioning from the FCS to the FBS level and had to play games at Gillette Stadium instead of an on-campus facility.
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl didn’t go according to plan for Buffalo. The Bulls were easily defeated by San Diego State, and an onside kick in the fourth quarter was an epic fail.
Punter Tyler Grassman attempted an onside kick, but instead of giving his team a chance to recover, the ball barely moved off the tee.
Wisconsin’s 2014 Big Ten title hopes received a boost on Friday, as running back Melvin Gordon announced his intention to return for next season.
Gordon is only a junior but could have left early for the NFL Draft, as he redshirted after playing sparingly in 2011.
Gordon rushed for 1,466 yards and 12 touchdowns on 181 attempts in 2013.
Gordon should be one of the top returning running backs in college football next season.