Articles By Steven Lassan

All taxonomy terms: Arizona Wildcats, Pac 12, News
Path: /news/arizona-wildcats-teammates-fight-during-new-mexico-bowl
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College football’s 2012 bowl season kicked off in thrilling fashion. Arizona used a furious late fourth-quarter rally to knock off Nevada 49-48, finishing the first season under Rich Rodriguez at 8-5.

Although there were plenty of fireworks on the field, the most interesting moment came in the first half, as two Arizona defenders – linebacker Cody Ippolito and defensive tackle Tevin Hood – traded punches on the sideline. The Wildcats’ defense got off to a slow start, so frustration was running high in the early going. 

Teaser:
<p> Arizona Wildcats' Teammates Fight During New Mexico Bowl</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 16, 2012 - 12:58
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-football%E2%80%99s-coaching-search-continues-top-remaining-candidates
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Wisconsin’s coaching search has been relatively quiet, with no clear frontrunner emerging to replace Bret Bielema since his departure to Arkansas. Some reports indicated athletic director Barry Alvarez made a run at Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads and Miami’s Al Golden but neither appeared to be interested in leaving their current position. Alvarez will coach the bowl game but finding a head coach soon is crucial, especially since a staff needs to be hired, and Wisconsin needs to keep its recruiting class intact. 

10 Coaches to Replace Bret Bielema at Wisconsin

Mark Banker, defensive coordinator, Oregon State – There’s a lot of speculation surrounding Oregon State head coach Mike Riley and the Wisconsin position. However, what if Banker is the real candidate from Corvallis? The Massachusetts native has never been a head coach but has a wealth of experience in the assistant ranks. Banker has made stops at Hawaii, USC, Stanford and in the NFL with the Chargers. If Banker is indeed the candidate Wisconsin flew to Corvallis to meet with, it would be a curious move for the Badgers.

Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks – Bevell has no head coaching experience but has to be on the radar for Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. The former Badger quarterback has been an assistant coach since 1996, starting his career at Westmar University. He worked at Iowa State and Connecticut, before jumping to the NFL to serve as an offensive assistant with the Packers, Vikings and Seahawks. Bevell has been Seattle’s offensive coordinator for the last two years and has played a key role in developing rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. The only downside to hiring Bevell is the timetable for his arrival. The Seahawks are poised to make the NFL playoffs, so Bevell may not be available until mid-January.

Bob Bostad, offensive line coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bostad is regarded as one of the nation’s best offensive line coaches, developing top units at Wisconsin and in the NFL with the Buccaneers. He also has experience during stops as an assistant at San Jose State and New Mexico from 1997-2005 but has never served as a head coach. Bostad worked under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, so there’s some natural ties to the program. Although Bostad’s performance as an offensive line coach is outstanding, Alvarez is probably looking for someone with head coaching experience.

Matt Campbell, head coach, Toledo – At 32 years old, Campbell is college football’s youngest coach. The Ohio native has been on a fast track through the coaching ranks, as he started his career as a graduate assistant with Bowling Green in 2003 and has made stops at Mount Union and as an offensive assistant under Tim Beckman at Toledo. Campbell is 10-3 in his career as the Rockets’ head coach. Although Campbell is young, he is ready to lead a BCS program. Considering he played at the very successful Mount Union program and has done well in a short amount of time at Toledo, Campbell would be a solid hire for Wisconsin.

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

Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – If Wisconsin chooses to look in the assistant ranks, Diaco should be in the mix to replace Bielema. The New Jersey native played at Iowa, so he’s certainly familiar with life in the Big Ten. Diaco has spent time as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and for the last three years at Notre Dame. Diaco has no head coaching experience but has helped to lead the Fighting Irish to a rank of No. 1 overall in points allowed (10.3 ppg). Diaco won the Broyles Award for 2012, which goes to the nation’s No. 1 assistant coach. 

Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State – Lembo is a proven winner at three different stops during his coaching career and is ready to move up the coaching ladder after two years at Ball State. He recorded a 44-14 mark in five years at Lehigh and a 35-22 record in five seasons with Elon, which included an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Lembo is 15-9 in two years with the Cardinals and improved his win total by three games from 2011 to 2012. The New York native would bring a different approach on offense, as Lembo’s spread attack would be a switch from Wisconsin’s run-first mentality.

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi doesn’t have any head coaching experience but is regarded as one of the Big Ten’s top assistant coaches. The Connecticut native started his coaching career at Rhode Island in 1993 and stayed until 2000 when he left to go to Northern Illinois. After three seasons with the Huskies, Narduzzi spent one year at Miami (Ohio) and joined Mark Dantonio’s staff at Cincinnati in 2004. Narduzzi followed Dantonio to Michigan State in 2007 and has helped to build one of the Big Ten’s best defenses over the last few years. The Spartans ranked fourth nationally in total defense this season.

Jay Norvell, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Norvell has been an assistant coach in the NFL and college ranks since 1986. The Madison native hasn’t been a head coach but has worked at top programs like Nebraska, UCLA and Oklahoma. Norvell currently shares the Sooners’ co-offensive coordinator duties with Josh Heupel and is regarded as an excellent recruiter. Desipte the lack of head coaching experience, Norvell has to be on the radar for Wisconsin, especially since he’s a Madison native and worked as an assistant with Barry Alvarez from 1990-94.

Joe Rudolph, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh – Even though Paul Chryst appears unlikely to leave, Wisconsin could target a Pittsburgh coach to replace Bielema. Rudolph played under Alvarez at Wisconsin and earned All-Big Ten honors in two seasons. The Pennsylvania native spent time as an assistant at Ohio State and Nebraska before coming to Wisconsin in 2008. After four seasons with the Badgers, Rudolph followed Chryst to Pittsburgh. Rudolph doesn’t have any head coaching experience but his background at Wisconsin figures to have him on the shortlist of Alvarez’s possible candidates.  

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Teaser:
<p> Wisconsin Football’s Coaching Search Continues: Top Remaining Candidates?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Friday, December 14, 2012 - 10:47
Path: /college-football/big-east-split-what-basketball-breakup-means-football
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The Big East suffered another setback in realignment, as seven basketball schools – Providence, DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova and Seton Hall have decided to break away from the conference. While this is a much bigger problem for the Big East’s basketball product, it could also present some issues for the football side. After losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC and West Virginia to the Big 12 last year, the Big East was attempting to rebrand itself as a national conference. However, Louisville accepted a spot in the ACC, and Rutgers is joining the Big Ten, likely in 2014.

Here’s the divisional format that the Big East planned to go with for 2013:

East West
UCF Boise State
South Florida Houston
Connecticut Memphis
Cincinnati San Diego State
Rutgers SMU
Louisville Temple

Navy is scheduled to join the conference in 2015, while East Carolina and Tulane are expected to become members in 2014. 

With the news that the basketball schools are breaking away from the conference, what does this do to the football product?

Although there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Big East, all of the additions seem to be on track to join in time for 2013. Boise State is the key cog in the new membership, and the Broncos, at least publically, are full steam ahead to leave the Mountain West for the Big East. Assuming Boise State does join, it would be a huge boost to the future of the conference. And as long as the Broncos are coming along, San Diego State will be joining as well. While losing the basketball schools will hurt the television contract, the Big East doesn’t seem to be in any danger of dissolving altogether.

What about the television contract?

This is the million-dollar question. The Big East is banking on landing a good television deal, which will help keep Boise State and San Diego State in the mix. If the Broncos can make more money on this television contract than in the Mountain West, it’s a good bet they remain in the Big East. There have been a handful of estimates thrown around but none have been as large as the conference was hoping for. Losing the seven basketball-only schools is going to hurt on the television contract, but football can still generate plenty of value.

Biggest winner in this move: None

The Big East as a football conference isn’t going to go away. However, the decision by the basketball schools to leave is a big setback for the Big East, especially as it appeared the conference was ready for a national rebranding and a new image. Will the basketball schools land a better television deal than the one they had in the Big East? Probably not. 

Biggest loser in this move: Connecticut and Cincinnati

Both schools lobbied hard to get into the ACC, but Louisville was chosen as the conference’s replacement for Maryland. Connecticut has a good television market and has been one of college basketball’s top 25 programs over the last 10 years. However, the Huskies are left in a watered down Big East and won’t have their usual Northeast foes on the schedule. Cincinnati should be one of the top football programs in the new format, but after missing out on the ACC, the Bearcats have to be disappointed about no longer being in a conference with Louisville and the seven basketball-only schools.

What will happen next?

Even though the Big East may not be able to land a huge television contract, there’s still an opportunity to piece together a decent football conference. Considering the Big East can earn a chunk of money by having a team make a BCS bowl in the new postseason format in 2014, there is plenty of incentive to be the “best of the rest” conference. It’s certainly a possibility that the Big East’s new football format could eventually break apart, but if Boise State, Cincinnati and Connecticut are on board, other schools will want to join.

The Big East could benefit by expanding to 14 or 16 teams, which would help soften the blow if Connecticut and Cincinnati get ACC invites. If the conference does decide to expand, Western schools such as Fresno State and Air Force will be on the radar for the conference. The Big East could also look at Tulsa from Conference USA or make another run at BYU.

The departure of the basketball-only schools is a significant setback, but the Big East as a football conference isn’t going anywhere. So while this week’s news is a blow to commissioner Mike Aresco, as long as he keeps Boise State in the mix and can prevent any other losses for now, the conference will survive to 2013 and 2014. However, if the Big East loses Boise State, the conference isn’t going to break apart, but it will lose its premier football program.

The new Big East isn’t a football juggernaut, but programs like Houston, Memphis and Temple are better off in this new format, as opposed to returning and playing in a revamped Conference USA. 

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<p> Big East Split: What the Basketball Breakup Means for Football</p>
Post date: Friday, December 14, 2012 - 07:48
Path: /college-football/famous-idaho-potato-bowl-preview-and-prediction-utah-state-vs-toledo
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Even though the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl doesn’t have the star power of a BCS game or the Cotton Bowl, this year’s game could be one of the best pre-New Year’s Day matchups. Utah State finished the regular season at 10-2 and unbeaten in WAC play. The Aggies were just a couple of plays away from a 12-0 record, losing to Wisconsin by two points and to BYU by a field goal. Toledo knocked off Cincinnati and fell to Arizona in overtime, while losing two games in MAC play by a touchdown.

The Aggies return to the blue turf in Boise looking for revenge. Utah State fell just short of a bowl win in this game last season, losing a 24-23 heartbreaker to Ohio in the final seconds. Toledo is making its first appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but this will be the Rockets’ third consecutive postseason trip. Toledo knocked off Air Force 42-41 in the Military Bowl last year.

This will be the first meeting between these two teams, and this game also features two of the nation’s top rising stars in the coaching ranks – Toledo’s Matt Campbell and Utah State’s Gary Andersen.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Toledo (9-3) vs. Utah State (10-2)

Date/Time: Dec. 15 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Location: Boise, Idaho

When the Utah State Aggies have the ball:

In terms of national rankings, Utah State is as balanced as they come. The Aggies rank 37th nationally in rushing and passing offense, while averaging 34.4 points a game. The catalyst for the offense is quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The sophomore recorded 3,671 yards of total offense and 34 overall scores in 2012. Keeton finished the regular season on a high note, throwing for at least 300 yards in three out of the final four games, including a huge 340-yard performance against Louisiana Tech to decide the WAC title.

Although Keeton is one of the nation’s top non-BCS quarterbacks, he doesn't have to carry the offense just on his shoulders. Running back Kerwynn Williams averaged 163 all-purpose yards per game and led the team with 663 receiving yards. The senior averaged 6.4 yards per carry and recorded an 86-yard touchdown scamper against San Jose State.

Williams will catch his share of passes out of the backfield, but the Aggies also have dependable receivers in Chuck Jacobs, Matt Austin, Cameron Webb and tight end Kellen Bartlett. Austin is the team’s top big-play threat, averaging 15.5 yards per reception.

Stopping Utah State’s offense is going to be a big challenge for Toledo. The Rockets allowed 464.1 yards per game and ranked near the bottom of the nation in pass defense. If there is any good news in the defensive statistics, Toledo gave up a lot of yards but held opponents to just 27.3 points a game. The Rockets forced 25 turnovers this season and they will need a couple on Saturday afternoon to knock off Utah State. 

When the Toledo Rockets have the ball:

The Rockets averaged 32.9 points a game this season but will have their hands full trying to move the ball against Utah State’s defense. The Aggies ranked 15th nationally in yards allowed (322.7 ypg) and points allowed (15.4 ppg). In addition to holding opponents to less than 330 yards a contest, Utah State was active around the line of scrimmage, recording 3.3 sacks per game.

Although Utah State has been stingy on defense, Toledo is getting some reinforcements back for the bowl game. Quarterback Terrance Owens and running back David Fluellen both missed the season finale due to injuries but are expected to play on Saturday afternoon.

Fluellen was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2011 and rushed for 1,460 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. The junior is expected to be close to 100 percent after suffering an ankle injury late in the year but faces a tough test against an active Utah State front seven. The Aggies allowed only six rushing scores all season and rank 12th nationally against the run.

Considering how tough it has been to run against Utah State this year, Toledo needs a big game from its passing attack. Owens is ready to return to the lineup, but senior Austin Dantin may see some snaps in this game. Regardless of whether Owens or Dantin is under center, the Rockets’ receiving corps will test Utah State’s secondary. Bernard Reedy is the No. 1 target for Toledo, catching 82 passes for 1,051 yards and six scores this year. Freshman Alonzo Russell didn’t match Reedy’s catch total (54) but led the team with an average of 17.1 yards per reception.  

Reedy and Russell will be a good challenge for Utah State’s secondary, which features three All-WAC performers. Cornerback Will Davis was a first-team all-conference selection, picking off five passes and recording 16 pass breakups.

Final Analysis

Three out of the last four meetings in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl have been decided by a touchdown or less. Barring a complete collapse by one team, another tight game should be expected. The Aggies have already set a school record with 10 victories and expect to have a large contingent of fans make the trip from Logan. Toledo is capable of pulling off the upset, but Utah State is better on both sides of the ball and has plenty of motivation as it tries to erase last season’s disappointing loss in this bowl game.

Prediction: Utah State 34, Toledo 27


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Teaser:
<p> Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Preview and Prediction: Utah State vs. Toledo</p>
Post date: Friday, December 14, 2012 - 05:22
Path: /college-football/new-mexico-bowl-preview-and-prediction-arizona-wildcats-vs-nevada-wolf-pack
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College football’s bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque, N.M. with what should be a high-scoring affair between Nevada and Arizona. The Wolf Pack averaged 37 points a game this year and ranked seventh nationally in rushing offense. The Wildcats finished the regular season by scoring at least 30 or more points in seven out of their final eight games.

Although its final record was just 7-5, Arizona has to be thrilled to return to a bowl game in coach Rich Rodriguez’s first season in Tucson. The Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma State, Washington and USC this year and had narrow losses to Oregon State and Stanford. Nevada is making its eighth consecutive trip to a bowl game but is just 1-5 in the last six postseason trips. The Wolf Pack started the year with an upset win over California but finished with losses in four out of their final five games.

These two teams have not met since 1941, with the overall series tied at 1-1-1.

New Mexico Bowl – Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)

Date and Time: Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Albuquerque, N.M.

When the Nevada Wolf Pack has the ball:

The Wolf Pack quietly has one of college football’s top backfields. Quarterback Cody Fajardo threw for 2,530 yards and 17 scores, while adding 981 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Running back Stefphon Jefferson was a workhorse for the Nevada offense in 2012, recording 341 carries and rushing for 1,703 yards and 22 scores. Jefferson ranked second nationally with an average of 141.9 yards per game.

Stopping Fajardo and Jefferson won’t be an easy task for an Arizona defense that allowed 20 or more points in eight out of nine Pac-12 games. The Wildcats rank 100th nationally in scoring defense and 116th in yards allowed per contest (485.7). This unit struggled to generate pressure (1.3 sacks per game) but forced 23 turnovers this year.

Although Fajardo has nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, the Wildcats also have to respect the Nevada passing attack. Receiver Brandon Wimberly leads the team with 63 catches and 788 yards, while tight end Zach Sudfeld recorded 43 receptions for 553 yards and six scores.

In a matchup where both teams are going to score, Arizona’s best plan on defense should be a bend-but-don’t-break strategy. Nevada is going to get its yards and points, but the Wildcats need to force the Wolf Pack to kick field goals instead of touchdowns. Winning the turnover battle is crucial, which slightly favors Arizona.  

When the Arizona Wildcats have the ball:

As expected, the Wildcats emerged as one of the Pac-12’s top offenses under first-year coach Rich Rodriguez. Arizona averaged 521.8 yards per game this season and was held under 20 points only twice in 2012.

In addition to Rodriguez’s arrival, Matt Scott’s emergence helped to transition from a pass-first offense to a spread attack. Scott redshirted last season, preserving one year of eligibility for 2012. Despite missing one game due to injury, the senior recorded 3,723 yards and 29 scores this season. Turnovers were a problem for Scott at times, as he tossed three picks against Arizona State and Oregon and two in the 38-35 loss to Oregon State.

Scott isn’t a one-man show on offense, as Arizona has a strong supporting cast. Receiver Austin Hill had a breakout season, catching 73 passes for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns. He was joined by Dan Buckner (59 receptions) and David Richards (24 catches) as other key targets in the passing game.

While Scott can do some damage on the ground, running back Ka’Deem Carey was one of the top breakout players in college football this season, rushing for 1,757 yards and 20 scores on 275 attempts. The sophomore caught 33 passes for 288 yards and one touchdown and was a first-team selection on Athlon Sports’ postseason 2012 All-America team. 

Considering Nevada never held an opponent under 20 points this season and Arizona is the best offense it will face in terms of yards per game, the Wolf Pack defense is facing an uphill battle on Saturday afternoon. Nevada is allowing 213.2 rushing yards per game, which is bad news against Carey and the Wildcats’ offensive line. 

Final Analysis

Expect bowl season to get started off on a high note when these two teams kick off on Saturday afternoon. Both offenses should have plenty of success moving the ball, with turnovers and timely stops likely to decide this game. Nevada has struggled in bowl games under Chris Ault, while the Wildcats hope to snap a two-game losing streak in postseason appearances. Considering the Wolf Pack’s struggles to stop the run, look for Carey to approach 200 rushing yards, while Matt Scott also has a big day through the air. This matchup should go back and forth, but Arizona picks up a bowl win and finishes its first season under Rich Rodriguez at 8-5.

Prediction: Arizona 41, Nevada 34


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Post date: Friday, December 14, 2012 - 05:18
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/6-coaches-replace-kliff-kingsbury-texas-am
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Texas A&M is in the market for a new offensive coordinator, as Kliff Kingsbury is leaving College Station to be the head coach at Texas Tech. Kingsbury is considered one of college football's rising stars in the coaching ranks and was a key factor in the development of quarterback Johnny Manziel. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin assembled an impressive staff last season and should have plenty of interested targets for the open position. One candidate that makes sense but probably won't happen is Chad Morris. The Clemson offensive coordinator has a huge buyout, so it's hard to envision him leaving Death Valley, even for his alma mater.

6 Coaches to replace Kliff Kingsbury as Texas A&M's Offensive Coordinator

David Beaty, wide receivers coach, Texas A&M – If Sumlin chooses to promote someone from the current staff to offensive coordinator, Beaty and running backs’ coach Clarence McKinney make the most sense. The Texas native started his coaching career at Rice in 2006, before joining the staff at Kansas in 2008. After two seasons with the Jayhawks, Beaty served as Rice’s offensive coordinator in 2010 and went back to Kansas in 2011 as the co-offensive coordinator. Beaty did a good job of developing redshirt freshman Mike Evans into a top target for quarterback Johnny Manziel this season and is regarded as an excellent recruiter.

Clarence McKinney, running backs coach, Texas A&M – Just as we mentioned with David Beaty, if Kevin Sumlin wants to promote from within, McKinney will get serious consideration. The Houston native worked with Sumlin at Houston as the running backs coach and joined the Texas A&M staff in the same role. McKinney has no play-calling experience but is familiar with the scheme and returning talent. 

Jay Norvell, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Norvell has been an assistant in the college and NFL ranks since 1986. The Wisconsin native followed Kevin Sumlin at Oklahoma in 2008 and currently serves as a co-coordinator with Josh Heupel. If Norvell wants to be a head coach, the Texas A&M offensive coordinator position would be a good stepping stone position. Although Norvell hasn’t coordinated an offense that’s identical to the one Texas A&M currently runs, he would be an ideal target for Sumlin.

Jason Phillips, co-offensive coordinator, SMU – Phillips worked with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin at Houston and played a key role in developing the Cougars’ offenses under Kliff Kingsbury and Dana Holgorsen. Phillips left Houston after Sumlin departed and joined June Jones’ staff at SMU. Phillips needs some seasoning as a play-caller, but his experience with Sumlin would be a good fit for this staff.

Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator, East Carolina – Riley is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks and has done an excellent job as East Carolina’s offensive coordinator. The Pirates averaged 407.5 yards per game this season and ranked fifth in Conference USA in passing offense. Riley followed Ruffin McNeill from Texas Tech and has worked as East Carolina’s play-caller for the last three years. Before coming to Greenville, Riley served as Texas Tech’s receiver coach.  

Jake Spavital, quarterbacks coach, West Virginia – Spavital worked under Kevin Sumlin at Houston in 2009 and has followed Dana Holgorsen to his last two stops (Oklahoma State and West Virginia). The Oklahoma native served as West Virginia’s quarterback coach the last two seasons but has never called plays. Spavital is a rising star in the coaching ranks and certainly has experience in running an Air Raid scheme.


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Teaser:
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Post date: Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 07:40
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-disappointments-2012
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With college football's 2012 regular season in the books, it's time to take a look back at preseason predictions and which teams failed to meet expectations. USC was a popular pick to play for the national championship but unexpectedly finished with a 7-5 record. Virginia Tech, Texas and Arkansas were also three of the year's biggest disappointments, as the Razorbacks failed to make a bowl and the Hokies finished with a 6-6 record.

Top 10 Disappointments from 2012

1. USC
After finishing 2011 with a four-game winning streak – including an impressive 38-35 win over Oregon in Eugene – all signs seemed to point to a national title run for USC. However, the Trojans finished 2012 with a disappointing 7-5 mark, which was the program’s fewest victories since posting six in 2001. Quarterback Matt Barkley was expected to be one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy, but he never managed to get back into contention after a loss to Stanford. The biggest problem for USC was a defense that struggled to stop spread offenses. The Trojans were torched for 62 points against Oregon and had trouble containing UCLA and Arizona. After the 7-5 mark in 2012, coach Lane Kiffin needs to show the program is headed back in the right direction to avoid the hot seat in 2013.

2. Virginia Tech
With Miami and North Carolina in transition, the Hokies were the clear frontrunner to win the ACC Coastal and play for their third consecutive trip to the conference title game. Despite a key overtime victory over Georgia Tech in the season opener, Virginia Tech never found its championship form. Losses to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and North Carolina left the Hokies sitting at 3-3 at the halfway point of the year. And Virginia Tech needed wins over Boston College and Virginia just to get eligible to play in its 20th consecutive bowl appearance. Both sides of the ball are to blame, as the defense didn’t quite live up to preseason expectations, while the offense finished ninth in the ACC with an average of 391.8 yards per game. The Hokies have enough talent coming back to Blacksburg to contend for the ACC Coastal title next season, but the offense has to show big improvement.

3. Texas
After improving their win total by three games from 2010 to 2011, the Longhorns were expected to make another jump in the Big 12 standings this year. Instead, Texas failed to build off last season’s 8-5 mark and finished the regular season at 8-4, with losses in its final two games. Although the offense averaged 441 yards per game, the passing attack is an ongoing issue for coach Mack Brown. Quarterback David Ash was inconsistent, and the coaching staff is taking a look in the junior college ranks for upgrades for 2013. The offensive line and rushing attack is solid, but quarterback play is crucial if Texas wants to win the Big 12 next year. The defense also shares in the blame, as this unit underachieved in 2012 and loses end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro in 2013.

4. Arkansas
Even though losing Bobby Petrino was a huge setback, Arkansas was still expected to be a top-25 team in 2012. The season started off with a 49-24 win over Jacksonville State, but the Razorbacks lost their next four games, including a 52-0 blowout at the hands of Alabama. A two-game winning streak gave Arkansas hope of making a bowl, but losses to Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State clinched the program’s first losing season since 2008. New coach Bret Bielema has some pieces to work with next year, but the Razorbacks will be hovering right around the .500 mark in 2013.

5. Auburn
Even though the Tigers had plenty of question marks about its roster coming into the season, a 3-9 overall record just didn’t seem possible. After all, Auburn recruited among the nation’s best under Gene Chizik and were coming off an 8-5 season, which included a surprise 16-13 win over South Carolina. Instead of showing signs of improvement, everything went wrong for the Tigers. The offense lacked an identity under new coordinator Scot Loeffler and averaged only 18.7 points a game. The defense returned nine starters, yet finished 13th in the SEC in yards allowed. New coach (and former offensive coordinator) Gus Malzahn is a good fit at Auburn, but he will need some time to fix the woes on both sides of the ball and rectify the bad coaching from the last few seasons.

6. South Florida
With 13 starters back and five losses by 10 points or less in 2011, most expected USF to rebound back into a winning season in 2012. Despite opening 2-0 with a comeback win over Nevada in Week 2, the Bulls never found the right mix on either side of the ball. The offense averaged only 20.6 points a game, while the defense ranked 86th nationally against the pass. An injury to quarterback B.J. Daniels certainly didn’t help, but a lack of playmakers at running back had a lot to do with the lackluster performance of the offense. The disastrous 3-9 season cost coach Skip Holtz his job, but the Bulls landed one of the top coaching hires of 2012 in Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart.

7. Tennessee
No one expected Tennessee to win the SEC East in 2012. However, a 5-7 final record seemed like a longshot with the returning talent on offense. The Volunteers started 3-1 but lost four consecutive games and needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Troy on Nov. 3. An overtime loss to Missouri and a blowout defeat at Vanderbilt was enough to seal Derek Dooley’s fate and clinched the Volunteers’ third consecutive losing season. The offense wasn’t the problem, averaging 475.9 yards per game. However, the defense was a total disaster under new coordinator Sal Sunseri, giving up 471.3 yards and 35.7 points per game. 

8. Washington State
The Cougars seemed to be on the right track after the 2011 season, winning two Pac-12 games and losing two others by three points. However, the rebuilding job in Pullman was bigger than most anticipated. New coach Mike Leach was expected to turn the Washington State offense into one of the nation’s best, but the Cougars averaged only 20.4 points a game and finished 95th nationally in yardage. Consistency at quarterback was an issue, but the offensive line and rushing attack were also huge problems. Washington State only beat UNLV by eight points and lost three Pac-12 games by 20 points or more. Leach will get the Cougars back in contention for a bowl game, but 2012 was a considerable disappointment with the buzz surrounding the program and the returning players from last season’s 4-8 team.

9. Iowa
The Hawkeyes weren’t expected to win the Big Ten, but it’s also hard to give a pass for finishing 4-8 in a down year in the conference. The Hawkeyes struggled to transition to new offensive coordinator Greg Davis, as quarterback James Vandenberg threw only seven touchdown passes. Injuries hampered the running backs once again, while the defense finished eighth in the Big Ten in yards allowed. Iowa scored a one-point win over Northern Illinois and beat Michigan State in overtime. However, there were plenty of lowlights on the schedule, as the Hawkeyes lost to Central Michigan and Indiana. Kirk Ferentz has a huge contract, so he’s really in no danger of losing his job. However, Iowa cannot afford to finish 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten next season.

10. West Virginia
A 7-5 finish in its first season in the Big 12 isn’t too bad of a year for West Virginia. However, when you consider how the Mountaineers started the season, 7-5 is a disappointment. Led by a high-scoring offense and the play of quarterback Geno Smith, West Virginia started 5-0 with a huge road win over Texas. The Mountaineers tumbled after beating the Longhorns in Austin, losing their next five games and winning the final two contests to get to 7-5. West Virginia’s offense was one of the best in the nation, but the defense ranked 119th against the pass and 114th in points allowed. With Geno Smith and Tavon Austin gone to the NFL after the Pinstripe Bowl, the Mountaineers have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball in 2013.

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With 35 bowl games, it's not easy to decide which matchups are worth your time. To help your viewing experience, Athlon has ranked all postseason games from must-see to the must-miss. After taking a look at the top 10 must-watch matchups, it's time to examine the games that you can miss. Whether these games appear to be a blowout or lack interesting storylines, here are the 10 bowl matchups that you can miss. 

College Football's Top 10 Worst Matchups of the 2012 Bowl Season

1. Armed Forces Bowl – Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6) 
Date/Time: Dec. 29 at 11:45 a.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

The Armed Forces Bowl is just one of two of postseason games with both teams sporting a 6-6 record. Air Force is making its fifth consecutive bowl trip under coach Troy Calhoun and its third game in the Armed Force Bowl in the last five years. Rice was picked by most to finish near the bottom of Conference USA’s West Division but won its final four games to get bowl eligible. The Owls are playing in a postseason game for the first time since 2008 but will have their hands full trying to stop Air Force’s offense, which averages 328.8 rushing yards per game.
Why you can miss this one: Two 6-6 teams. Is there really any other explanation needed? The last two Armed Forces Bowls have been decided by three points or less, but there's really nothing noteworthy about this matchup. Credit Air Force and Rice for making it to the postseason, but this game is one you can miss to catch up on post-Christmas chores.

2. Little Caesars – Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)
Date/Time: Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

This matchup in Detroit might not be one of the most intriguing games, but there are some interesting aspects surrounding both teams. After getting passed in the bowl selection process last year, Western Kentucky is making its first trip to a postseason game. The Hilltoppers feature running back Antonio Andrews, who leads the nation with 248.1 all-purpose yards per game. Central Michigan returns to the postseason after a two-year absence and had a road win over Iowa this year but failed to beat a team with a winning record. 
Why you can miss this one: Considering this matchup falls on the day after Christmas, it's easy for this one to get lost in the shuffle. And who knows, maybe there's a gift you need to return or getting a jumpstart on your 2013 Christmas shopping. Western Kentucky lost head coach Willie Taggart to South Florida, but interim coach Lance Guidry led Miami (Ohio) to a win in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl. Central Michigan might be the worst team in bowl season, beating Akron, Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio) and UMass - a combined 8-40 in 2012.

3. Hawaii Bowl – SMU (6-6) vs. Fresno State (9-3) 
Date/Time:
Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

Former Hawaii coach June Jones makes his first appearance in Aloha Stadium since a 35-28 victory over Washington in Dec. 1, 2007. Despite leaving Hawaii after the 2007 season, Jones is still a popular figure and should help build the local interest in this game. SMU has made four consecutive bowl games but needed a victory over Tulsa in its final game just to get eligible this year. Former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 2,720 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season with the Mustangs. New coach Tim DeRuyter led the Bulldogs to a share of the Mountain West title in his first season and brings a high-powered offense to Hawaii. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for 3,742 yards and 36 touchdowns this year, while running back Robbie Rouse topped 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. These two teams were once conference mates in the WAC, and Fresno State holds a 5-1 edge over SMU in the all-time series.
Why you can miss this one: Just as we mentioned with the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, this game is a tough draw on Dec. 24. Yes, it's the only college game on, but there's also a lot going on with Christmas parties and gatherings. Of course, it's a nice getaway if the in-laws are bothering you. It's hard to see this game being close, especially considering the firepower on the Fresno State sideline. If Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse get on track early, SMU will have a lot of trouble keeping this one close in the fourth quarter.

4. Meineke Car Care – Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5) 
Date/Time: Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN 

Considering Minnesota lost six out of its last eight games, this game has potential to be a blowout victory by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders didn’t exactly close out the year on a high note either, losing four out of their final five games. However, the Golden Gophers will need a huge effort on defense to stop Texas Tech’s passing attack (No. 2 nationally). Minnesota’s offense never managed more than 17 points in each of its final four contests, which won’t be good enough against the high-scoring Red Raider attack. 
Why you can miss this one: On paper, this is a huge mismatch. Minnesota struggled to generate anything on offense in the second half of the season, while Texas Tech averages 37.8 points a game. Even though the Red Raiders lost coach Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati, it's hard to see the Golden Gophers being able to score enough points to pull off the victory.

5. Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6) 
Date/Time:
Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPNU

In a bit of a surprise, Oklahoma State ended up in the final allotted Big 12 bowl. The Cowboys were 7-5 but lost three games by a touchdown or less and were forced to start three quarterbacks due to injuries this year. Despite making back-to-back bowl games, Purdue fired coach Danny Hope after the season finale. The Boilermakers found a spark on offense from quarterback Robert Marve late in the year but will have a tough time keeping pace with the Cowboys on Jan. 1.
Why you can miss this one: It's easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of bowl games on Jan. 1. The Heart of Dallas Bowl kicks off at the same time as the Gator Bowl and just an hour before the Capital One and Outback bowls begin. Considering the amount of games on New Year's Day, this matchup will get lost in the mix. And there's a strong possibility this game turns into a blowout. Oklahoma State's offense averaged 44.7 points a game, which is bad news for a Purdue team that ranked seventh in the Big Ten in scoring. 

6. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl – UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3)
Date/Time:
Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

Looking for something to do on the Friday before Christmas? How about this MAC vs. C-USA matchup? These two teams have met three times, with Ball State owning a 2-1 edge. The Cardinals finished the regular season with six consecutive victories but head into the bowl game with some uncertainty surrounding their quarterback Keith Wenning, who suffered an ankle injury against Ohio. UCF fell just short of a Conference USA title and three of its losses came by five points or less, with its only other loss coming to Ohio State in Week 2. Ball State’s rush defense has struggled this year, which is bad news against a UCF team with running backs Latavius Murray and Miami transfer Storm Johnson. 
Why you can miss this one: Considering this game falls on the Friday before Christmas, last-minute shopping might have to take precedence. Ball State's quarterback situation is a huge question mark, and if starter Keith Wenning or backup Kelly Page can't go, the Cardinals will have to turn to walk-on Kyle Kamman. If Ball State has Wenning under center, this matchup should be an entertaining affair. However, there's also potential for this one to be a real dud.

7. Sun Bowl – USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7) 
Date/Time:
Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS

From preseason No. 1 to the Sun Bowl. That’s the kind of year it has been for USC. The Trojans lost four out of their final five games to slip out of contention in the Pac-12 South, while quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a shoulder injury in the loss to UCLA. The good news for USC is Barkley is expected to play against Georgia Tech, who limps into the bowl season as the only team with a losing record. The Yellow Jackets lost in the Sun Bowl against Utah last season and will give the Trojans’ defense a challenge with its option attack. If Barkley and a deep USC receiving corps get on track early, it could be an uphill battle for Georgia Tech to keep this one close. 
Why you can miss this one: Considering the preseason expectations surrounding USC, there has to be a sense of disappointment for the Trojans to be playing in a game outside of the BCS. Assuming Matt Barkley is able to return from a shoulder injury, USC should be able to have its way against Georgia Tech's defense. The Yellow Jackets have to find a way to control the clock and keep the Trojans' high-powered passing attack on the sidelines. Georgia Tech will have some success on offense, but USC simply has too much firepower and this one could get out of hand in the second half.  

8. Belk Bowl – Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)
Date/Time:
Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

The last three matchups in the Belk Bowl have each been decided by seven points or less. And this season’s game should be just as competitive, especially after Cincinnati found its rhythm on offense with the switch to Brendon Kay at quarterback. Kay replaced Munchie Legaux as the team’s No. 1 passer and finished with six touchdowns over the final four games. The Bearcats allow 373.8 yards per game on defense but are holding opponents to 17.2 points a contest. Duke is making its first bowl appearance since 1994 but closed out the year by losing its final four games. The Blue Devils have made solid progress under coach David Cutcliffe and will test Cincinnati’s secondary with quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting receiver Conner Vernon.
Why you can miss this one: Motivation will be a key factor to watch in this bowl. There's no question Duke is excited to be in a bowl game, while Cincinnati is dealing with the departure of coach Butch Jones to Tennessee. The Blue Devils cooled off in the second half of the year but still finished with a 6-6 mark. The Bearcats are the better team, but how will they respond without their head coach? Both offenses average over 30 points a game, so there could be plenty of fireworks. However, it's hard to get excited about a 6-6 team playing against a squad that lost its head coach. 

9. New Orleans – Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4)
Date/Time:
Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

There should be no shortage of points when the Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns meet in New Orleans on Dec. 22. Both teams are averaging over 30 points a game and each finished the year with a three-game winning streak. Louisiana-Lafayette won a 32-30 thriller over San Diego State in last season’s New Orleans Bowl and with its campus less than 200 miles away from the Superdome, should have a significant homefield advantage over East Carolina. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden finished the year by throwing nine touchdowns over his last three games and should be able to take advantage of a Ragin’ Cajuns’ secondary that ranked near the bottom of the Sun Belt.
Why you can miss this one: It's probably unfair to put this game in the must-miss category, but most of the college football world will probably skip this matchup. East Carolina didn't beat a team with a winning record, while Louisiana-Lafayette used wins in four out of its final five games to get bowl eligible. Both offenses are potent, so the scoreboard operator could be busy. This matchup has potential, but there are few reasons for the average college football fan to be interested. 

10. Independence Bowl – Ohio (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4)
Date/Time:
Dec. 28 at 2 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

With not enough ACC or SEC teams bowl eligible, the Independence Bowl landed an intriguing matchup between two non-BCS teams. Ohio started the year with a bang, winning on the road at Penn State and opened 7-0 before a loss to Miami (Ohio). The Bobcats suffered a handful of season-ending injuries, which played a key role in the team’s struggles in the second half of the year. Louisiana-Monroe is making its first bowl appearance in program history and it also started the year off with a huge upset, beating Arkansas 34-31 in Week 2. Warhawks’ quarterback Kolton Browning had an outstanding season, throwing for 2,830 yards and 27 touchdowns on 389 attempts. Both teams average over 30 points a game, so expect plenty of fireworks on Dec. 28 in Shreveport, La. 
Why you can miss this one: The Independence Bowl kicks off a trio of bowl games on Dec. 28, but none are particularly exciting. If you like offense, there should be plenty of points scored between these two teams, especially with the talent at quarterback - Kolton Browning, ULM and Tyler Tettleton, Ohio. The Bobcats closed out 2012 by losing four out of their final five games, and both teams experienced bad luck with injuries. This game has some potential, but it's probably better to set the DVR and watch later that night.

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The SEC is college football’s toughest conference and only got better with the addition of new coaches Gus Malzahn, Bret Bielema, Butch Jones and Mark Stoops. All four schools (Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky) made solid hires, which should help each program get back to winning records and bowl games over the next few years.

Ranking the new hires is no easy task, but with the SEC’s head coaching carousel likely finished for 2013, it’s time to take a look at how the new coaches stack up in the conference for next year.

Ranking the SEC's New Hires for 2013

1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Previous Job:
Head coach at Arkansas State

Pros: Malzahn certainly knows his way around Auburn, as he spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik from 2009-11. The Tigers ranked in the top 20 of scoring offense two out of Malzahn’s three seasons, and he was a key reason why Auburn claimed the 2010 national championship. Although he spent only one season at Arkansas State, the experience as a head coach on the collegiate level will greatly benefit Malzahn for his stint at Auburn.

Cons: Although the experience at Arkansas State is beneficial, Malzahn is still raw as a head coach. The Texas native has yet to build a program for the long haul on the collegiate level and isn’t inheriting a great situation. Auburn needs a lot of work on both sides of the ball, and Malzahn needs Kiehl Frazier to live up to his recruiting hype at quarterback.

Final Analysis: Malzahn certainly knows offense and now he gets a chance to build his own program at Auburn. He is piecing together a solid staff, which includes former South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Although Malzahn needs to find a capable quarterback, this offense should be much better in 2013. Auburn’s hire of Malzahn seems to get lost in the shuffle but this appears to be the best fit of the four new SEC coaches.

2. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Previous Job:
Head coach at Wisconsin

Pros: Bielema had a difficult assignment for his first head coaching gig, following Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. However, Bielema led the Badgers to a 68-24 mark in seven seasons, which included three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. Wisconsin also had three consecutive seasons of at least 10 victories under his watch. Bielema’s style of play isn’t flashy, but the run-first mentality fits very well in the SEC.

Cons: The biggest downside to Bielema is the lack of experience in the SEC. The Illinois native has spent all of his career in the Midwest, which included four years at Iowa as a defensive lineman. If Bielema was not a fan of Urban Meyer’s recruiting at Ohio State, he’s going to have a tough time surviving in the SEC. Recruiting to the nation’s No. 1 conference is a tougher grind, and Bielema needs to establish more connections in Texas and Florida.

Final Analysis: Bielema is a curious fit at Arkansas. However, he has a solid resume and is bringing a style of play that meshes well with other teams in the SEC. Considering Bielema did a good job of identifying and developing talent at Wisconsin, that same formula should work at Arkansas. The Razorbacks aren’t going to bring in top-10 talents every season, but Bielema can find a few hidden gems and develop those players into starters. It’s tough to say if Bielema can deliver multiple BCS bowls to Arkansas, but the Razorbacks should be in contention for a bowl every year under his watch.

3. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Previous Job:
Head coach at Cincinnati

Pros: Even though Jones inherited two favorable situations at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, he has a solid 50-27 record and led the Bearcats to a share of the Big East title in back-to-back seasons. After struggling to find stability with its recent coaching changes, Tennessee shouldn’t have to worry about Jones bolting for another program. The Michigan native clearly wants to be in Knoxville and should help the Volunteers rebuild into a consistent winner. Jones should be able to use his recruiting connections from his time at Cincinnati to help lure some talent from Ohio to Tennessee.

Cons: Is Jones only a product of following Brian Kelly? That’s the big question surrounding his upcoming tenure at Tennessee. Even if Jones benefitted from following Kelly and Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati, going 23-14 with a share of two conference titles isn’t easy to do. Jones certainly put his own stamp on Central Michigan and Cincinnati during his three seasons with each program. However, he needs to prove he can build a program for the long haul. Considering Jones has no SEC experience, it may take him a year to adjust to the style of play, as well as learn the nuances of the other teams in the conference. After missing out on Mike Gundy, Charlie Strong and Jon Gruden, it’s clear Jones wasn’t Tennessee’s No. 1 choice. Will the fan base rally around Jones or will this be an unpopular hire?

Final Analysis: Is Jones going to win multiple national championships at Tennessee? Probably not. However, he should keep the Volunteers in contention for the SEC East title, along with getting the program back into bowl games on a consistent basis. The Volunteers have good facilities to showcase, which should help Jones recruit at a higher level. Although the expectations are high at Tennessee, winning eight or nine games for multiple seasons would be a successful stint for Jones in Knoxville.

4. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Previous Job:
Defensive coordinator at Florida State

Pros: Before coming to Kentucky, Stoops was regarded as one of the nation’s best assistant coaches. Under his watch, Florida State’s defense emerged once again as one of the nation’s best. Stoops also has a solid resume from stops as an assistant at South Florida, Wyoming, Houston, Miami and Arizona. The Ohio native is assembling an impressive coaching staff, which includes former Florida State defensive assistant D.J. Eliot and former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown. Stoops doesn’t have any previous head coaching experience, but brought some much-needed energy into the program. Considering Stoops is from Ohio and built some connections in Florida from his time in Tallahassee, he should be able to boost Kentucky’s recruiting over the next few seasons.

Cons: Hiring someone without head coaching experience is always a risky proposition for any athletic director. However, first-time coaches have worked out well recently in the SEC, as Vanderbilt hit a home run with James Franklin and Will Muschamp is off to a good start at Florida. Until Stoops proves he can win at Kentucky, his lack of head coaching experience is going to be a concern.

Final Analysis: Even though he ranks fourth on this list, Kentucky made the right decision to hire Stoops. With his recruiting connections and background as an assistant coach, Stoops is the right fit to turn Kentucky into an annual bowl team. Picking up Neal Brown as the offensive coordinator was a huge acquisition for the Wildcats, especially since they need to run an offense that’s a little different from the rest of the SEC. All four SEC teams made good hires, so there’s really no shame in Stoops checking in at No. 4 on this list.

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Post date: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 05:32
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With the 2012 season officially in the books, it’s time to take an early look at college football’s top 25 teams for 2013. Alabama will be losing a few key players from its national championship team, but there’s plenty of talent returning to Tuscaloosa for the Crimson Tide to claim their third consecutive national title. While Alabama is a heavy favorite to repeat, determining the No. 2 team is a much tougher task. Ohio State and Oregon will be top-five teams, but Stanford, Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame will be the top challengers to end the SEC’s run of seven consecutive national championships. Needless to say, expect some changes in this early ranking before Athlon’s official top 25 release in May. 

College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013 (updated Jan. 16)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next in line:

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


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Teaser:
<p> A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 05:20
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-must-see-matchups-2012-bowl-season
Body:

College football’s 2012-2013 bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque on Dec. 15 and ends on Jan. 7 with the BCS National Championship in Miami. With 35 games, there’s a lot of college football to watch over the next few weeks. And needless to say, it can get a little overwhelming to take in every game with the holidays and plenty of unannounced visits from the in-laws. To help maximize your bowl watching experience in December and January, Athlon has ranked all of the bowl games in order from the must-see to the must-miss. If you can only catch 10 bowl games this year, these are the ones you cannot afford to miss.

College Football's Top 10 Must-See Matchups of the 2012 Bowl Season

1. BCS National Title – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0) 
Date and Time: Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

With the history and tradition between Alabama and Notre Dame, this season's national title matchup is the most-anticipated championship game of the BCS era. With a Crimson Tide victory, the SEC will claim its seventh consecutive national championship, while Alabama is looking for its third BCS title in four seasons. This is the Fighting Irish’s first BCS bowl appearance under coach Brian Kelly and their first overall since 2007. Both teams rank among the best in defense, but the Crimson Tide have a slight edge on offense, largely due to the continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron. These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 edge in the series. Interestingly enough, Alabama and the Fighting Irish are tied with eight Associated Press national titles apiece.
Why you should watch: It's the national championship! 

2. Fiesta Bowl – Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1) 
Date and Time: Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

If you like offense, the Fiesta Bowl should be the game to watch. The Ducks rank second nationally in scoring offense with an average of 50.8 points per game, while Kansas State is 10th nationally at 40.7 points per game. Oregon is loaded with playmakers, starting with redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Kenjon Barner. Although Kansas State’s offense is averaging over 400 yards per game, its success is largely due to the play of one man — quarterback Collin Klein. The senior carried the offense with 3,380 total yards and 37 touchdowns. These two teams were scheduled to meet in the regular season, but the series was canceled in 2010. One key question surrounding this one: Will Chip Kelly still be Oregon’s coach when this game kicks off?
Why you should watch: Expect lots of points, and it's also the final game for Collin Klein at Kansas State and Kenjon Barner at Oregon. Last year's Fiesta Bowl was one of the best matchups of the bowl season and expect much of the same in 2013.

3. Chick-fil-A Bowl – LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2) 
Date and Time: Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

The Chick-fil-A Bowl is usually one of the best matchups outside of the BCS and 2012 certainly lives up to that hype. LSU was one defensive stop against Alabama from playing for the SEC Championship and won at least 10 games for the sixth time in eight seasons. Clemson is 1-1 against SEC opponents this year, beating Auburn in the season opener and losing to South Carolina on Nov. 24. The Tigers own one of college football’s top offenses, averaging 42.3 points a game. The chess match between Clemson’s offense against LSU’s defense should be one of the top O's vs. X's battles this bowl season.
Why you should watch: Who wouldn't want to watch a Tigers vs. Tigers bowl matchup? There's also the ACC vs. SEC storyline. And the chess match between Clemson's offense against LSU's defense. Needless to say, pickup a Chick-fil-A sandwich and waffle fries and grab a seat on the recliner. 

4. Rose Bowl – Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

After watching Oregon and Wisconsin trade scores in last season’s Rose Bowl, points could be a premium in the 2013 edition. Stanford and Wisconsin will be a war in the trenches, as the Cardinal hope to hold the Badgers’ powerful rushing attack in check. Stanford’s offense improved in the second half of the season, largely due to the emergence of quarterback Kevin Hogan. Considering both teams are strong on defense and on the ground, a key play by Hogan or Wisconsin’s Curt Phillips could be just enough to win. The Badgers have lost back-to-back Rose Bowl games.
Why you should watch: How about the return of Barry Alvarez to the Wisconsin sideline for one more game? Also, both teams mirror each other in a lot of ways, so expect a physical game with plenty of good battles in the trenches.

5. Cotton Bowl – Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2) 
Date and Time: Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox 
Even though the Cotton Bowl was pressured not to setup a Texas-Texas A&M matchup, it ended up with a solid game between two former Big 12 rivals. Oklahoma also just missed out on a BCS bowl, even though its only losses came against Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl) and Notre Dame (BCS title). The Sooners’ defense allowed at least 30 points in three out of their final four games, which has to be a concern against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy and ranks second nationally with 383.3 yards of total offense per game. Oklahoma has won eight out of the last nine matchups against Texas A&M, including a 41-25 game last season.  
Why you should watch: The Cotton Bowl features teams from two of the top conferences in the nation, and it's also the first game for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel after winning the Heisman Trophy. And this matchup is on a Friday night, so if you are looking for a way to wind down after a long week at work, the Cotton Bowl is the perfect medicine.

6. Capital One Bowl – Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2) 
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Channel: ABC

Considering how the conference championship games turned out for both teams, there certainly has to be a feeling of disappointment by having to play in Orlando. However, if Nebraska and Georgia are motivated, this should be one of the best bowl matchups outside of the BCS. After the Cornhuskers were shredded for 539 rushing yards against Wisconsin, the Bulldogs have to be licking their chops. Freshmen backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 1,983 yards and 24 touchdowns this year. This matchup also features an exciting quarterback duel between Georgia’s Aaron Murray (34 TDs) and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (31 TDs).
Why you should watch: Both of these teams fell just short of winning their conference title and have combined for a 21-5 overall mark. There's also two talented quarterbacks - Aaron Murray and Taylor Martinez - along with three standout running backs - Rex Burkhead, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.

7. Sugar Bowl – Louisville (10-2) vs. Florida (11-1) 
Date and Time: Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

Florida has one of the nation’s best resumes but also has some puzzling results, including close victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Missouri. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, but a loss to Georgia prevented Will Muschamp’s team from having a chance to play for the national title. Louisville won the Big East title with a 20-17 win over Rutgers, which featured a gutsy performance from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. With over a month to heal, Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent, which should give the Cardinals a chance to hang around in this matchup. There’s also an underlying coaching theme, as Louisville’s Charlie Strong worked at Florida from 2002-09.
Why you should watch: With a full month to heal, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent from his wrist and ankle injuries suffered against Connecticut. Bridgewater is a Florida native and he will give the Gators' secondary a challenge on Jan. 2. Considering the improvement from Florida from 2011 to 2012, this team could use the Sugar Bowl as a springboard to a national title run in 2013.

8. Holiday Bowl – Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)
Date and Time: Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

The Holiday Bowl seems to bring out the best in offense, so expect plenty of fireworks when Baylor and UCLA meet on Dec. 27. The Bears were one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 to finish 2012, winning four out of their final five games, with the only loss coming to Oklahoma. Baylor leads the nation in total offense, while quarterback Nick Florence kept the passing attack going without Robert Griffin, throwing for 4,121 yards and 31 scores. UCLA won the Pac-12 South in coach Jim Mora’s first season and fell just short of a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have a dynamic offense and the combination of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin should test a shaky Baylor defense.
Why you should watch: Offense, offense and more offense. This could be the highest scoring game of the bowl season.  

9. Outback Bowl – South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4) 
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

Even though both teams had its sights set on a bigger bowl game this year, the Outback Bowl should be another entertaining Big Ten-SEC matchup. The time off from the season finale is good news for both teams, as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw missed the game against Clemson with a foot injury and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is also banged up. Michigan could use the month off to find a fix for its rushing attack, which sputtered when Fitzgerald Toussaint was lost for the year with a leg injury. Expect Florida native Denard Robinson to play a quarterback/running back hybrid role for Michigan in his final game in a Wolverine uniform.
Why you should watch: A classic SEC vs. Big Ten bowl game. The Big Ten had a miserable regular season but an upset or two against the SEC in bowl games would make things a little better. Watching Denard Robinson against South Carolina's front four will be one of the more intriguing matchups of the postseason.

10. Orange Bowl – Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1) 
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN

For the first time in the BCS era, a MAC team will make an appearance in a BCS bowl. The Huskies aren’t the strongest non-BCS squad to play in a big-time bowl, as they lost to Iowa in Week 1 and scored a one-point victory over a 2-9 Army team in Week 3. Also, coach Dave Doeren left for NC State after the MAC Championship victory over Kent State. However, Northern Illinois features one of the nation’s most exciting players in quarterback Jordan Lynch and an offense that averages 40.8 points per game. The Huskies’ high-powered attack will be tested by a Florida State defense that ranks second nationally in yards allowed and is giving up just 15.1 points per game. The Seminoles will be without coordinator Mark Stoops in this game, who left to take the head coaching job at Kentucky. If Florida State is motivated, the Seminoles should overwhelm Northern Illinois with its speed and depth. 
Why you should watch: Can Northern Illinois pull off the upset? After hearing a month of talk about how they don't belong, expect the Huskies to have plenty of motivation on Jan. 1.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 10 Must-See Matchups of the 2012 Bowl Season</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 05:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-freshmen-2012
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With the 2012 college football regular season in the books, it’s time to take a look at the year in review. Several freshmen made an impact in the national and conference title races, including Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman wasn’t the only quarterback making a splash in their first season, as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley each averaged over 250 yards of total offense. Outside of the quarterbacks, TCU defensive end Devonte Fields and Georgia running back Todd Gurley were other impact freshmen.

College Football's Top 25 Freshmen from 2012

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Manziel’s freshmen campaign will likely enter the record books as one of the best of the BCS era. The Texas native set a SEC record with 4,600 yards of total offense, while scoring 43 overall scores. Manziel claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy and led Texas A&M to a 10-2 record in its first season of SEC play. With another offseason to work under coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, Johnny Football will be even more dangerous for opposing defenses to stop in 2013.

2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Despite having to replace quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, the Ducks’ offense never missed a beat. The emergence of Mariota kept Oregon ranked among the nation’s best offenses, averaging 550.1 yards and 50.8 points per game. Mariota threw for 2,511 yards and 30 touchdowns, while recording 690 yards and four scores on the ground. The Hawaii native completed 69.9 percent of his throws and led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency. Even if coach Chip Kelly departs to the NFL, Mariota will be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman in 2013.

3. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Although Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota should earn any freshman first or second-team All-America honors, Hundley’s 2012 season should not be overlooked. He was a key reason for UCLA’s improvement in the win column, as the redshirt freshman proved to be a perfect fit for coordinator Noel Mazzone’s spread offense. Hundley threw for 3,411 yards and 26 scores and recorded 365 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Hundley nearly led UCLA to a Pac-12 title, but helped the Bruins score key victories against Nebraska, USC and a 66-10 blowout win over Arizona.

4. Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Fields was an absolute monster for the Horned Frogs this year, recording 49 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. The true freshman also forced two fumbles and broke up three passes. Fields was named the Big 12’s Freshman of the Year and was arguably one of the conference’s best defenders. With another year to work with coach Gary Patterson and in the weight room, Fields should be a lock for All-America honors in 2013.

5. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Gurley and fellow freshman Keith Marshall combined to form one of the nation’s best one-two punches at running back. Gurley was the team’s workhorse, leading the way with 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 113 yards. Gurley had six 100-yard performances in SEC play and rushed for 122 yards and two scores against Alabama in the conference title game. Georgia’s offensive line returns intact next season, which should allow Gurley to push his totals even higher in 2013.  

6. Isaac Seumalo, C, Oregon State
Lost in the huge seasons from quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota was a solid group of impact freshmen in trenches. Seumalo anchored a much-improved Oregon State offensive line this season, starting all 12 games at center and earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. The Beavers’ line allowed only 1.9 sacks a game, while paving the way for the rushing attack to score 23 touchdowns this season.  

7. John Theus, RT, Georgia
With the departure of Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn, Georgia’s offensive line was a question mark coming into this season. However, the line seemed to jell as the year progressed, largely due to Theus’ steady play on the right side. He started all 13 games and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. 

8. Leonard Williams, DT, USC
USC’s defensive line was arguably the team’s biggest question mark heading into 2012. However, thanks to the emergence of Williams and junior college recruit Morgan Breslin, those concerns were quickly erased. Williams recorded 50 stops, 13 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks and earned Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors.   

9. Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
Thanks to the arrival of coordinator Justin Wilcox and Thompson’s performance, the Huskies had one of the nation's most-improved defenses. The true freshman recorded 66 stops, two sacks and three interceptions this season. Thompson earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.

10. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
No Trent Richardson? No problem for Alabama. Despite losing a first-round pick at running back, the Crimson Tide averaged 224.6 rushing yards per game, which ranked second in the SEC. Eddie Lacy shouldered the bulk of the workload, but Yeldon finished with 1,000 yards and 11 scores on 154 attempts. The true freshman also caught 10 balls for 131 yards and one touchdown. Yeldon’s best performance came in the SEC Championship, gashing Georgia for 153 yards on 25 attempts.

11. Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame
Golson didn’t post flashy numbers like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota but had a solid all-around season. The redshirt freshman finished with 2,135 passing yards and 11 touchdowns and added 305 rushing yards and five scores. Golson’s play picked up as the season progressed and is one win away from leading Notre Dame to a national championship. 

12. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
With Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks expiring their eligibility at the end of 2011, Alabama’s receiving corps needed a big year from its incoming freshmen. In addition to becoming the go-to target for quarterback AJ McCarron, Cooper emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers. The true freshman caught 53 passes for 895 yards and nine scores. Cooper failed to record a catch against LSU but produced three 100-yard efforts over the final four games.

13. Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State
Despite a ban on postseason play, the Nittany Lions didn’t have a problem with motivation. Penn State finished 8-4 and knocked off Big Ten champ Wisconsin 24-21 in the regular season finale. Defense is usually a strength in Happy Valley and 2012 was no different under first-year coach Bill O'Brien. Barnes recorded 26 tackles, six sacks, 10 tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles. With Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley departing, Penn State needs Barnes to have an even better season in 2013. 

14. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Johnson was expected to make an immediate impact with the Hurricanes and the Miami native didn’t disappoint. He opened the year with 135 yards and two touchdowns on seven attempts against Boston College and finished the year with three 100-yard efforts in his final four games. Johnson recorded 2,060 all-purpose yards in 2012 and was picked as the ACC’s rookie of the year.  

15. Tyler Johnstone, LT, Oregon
Johnstone was a key cog in Oregon’s offensive line, starting all 13 games and helping the Ducks lead the Pac-12 in rushing, total and scoring offense.

16. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
With a handful of quarterback injuries, Maryland never had a chance to establish any consistency in the passing game. When you consider four quarterbacks saw snaps in regular season action, Diggs’ numbers become even more impressive. The true freshman led the team in receptions (54), receiving yards (848) and touchdown catches (6). He was also a weapon on special teams, averaging 28.5 yards per kickoff return and taking two back for scores. Assuming Maryland finds some stability under center next year, Diggs will easily surpass his all-purpose yardage total from 2012 (1,896).  

17. KeiVarae Russell, CB, Notre Dame
Not many true freshmen are thrown into a starting role at cornerback, but that’s exactly what was asked of Russell this season. The Washington native started all 12 games for the Fighting Irish, recording 50 tackles and two picks. Russell had plenty of help with one of the nation’s best defensive lines and linebacking corps putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. However, Russell held up just fine under the pressure and should be a standout player for Notre Dame next season.

18. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
Dixon set a FBS freshman record with 27 rushing scores, while adding 1,194 yards on 200 carries. He also earned WAC Freshman of the Year honors and was a first-team all-conference selection. 

19. Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss
Nkemdiche’s emergence played a huge role in the improvement of Ole Miss’ defense. The Rebels ranked last in the SEC in total defense last season and improved to seventh in the conference in 2012. Nkemdiche was active around the line of scrimmage all year, recording 78 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions.

20. Jalen Mills, DB, LSU
Without Morris Claiborne or Tyrann Mathieu patrolling in the secondary, the Tigers needed a big season from Mills and fellow freshman Jalen Collins. Mills started all 13 games at cornerback, recording 52 stops and two interceptions. He should be in the mix for All-SEC honors next year.

21. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
With Jalen Saunders transferring from Fresno State in spring practice, the Bulldogs needed a new No. 1 receiver to emerge for quarterback Derek Carr. Adams became the go-to guy, nabbing 89 receptions for 1,168 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

22. Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
West Virginia ranked as one of the worst defenses in the nation this year, but Joseph’s play shouldn’t be overlooked. Joseph led the team with 95 tackles and recorded two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

23. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Evans emerged as the No. 1 target for quarterback Johnny Manziel, catching 75 passes for 1,022 yards and five scores. 

24. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Boykin was forced into action after starter Casey Pachall was suspended for the year. The redshirt freshman finished with 1,853 passing yards and 15 scores, while adding 380 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Although Boykin’s numbers weren’t huge, his steady play was crucial to TCU’s 7-5 finish in its first season of Big 12 play. 

25. Jake Brendel, C, UCLA
After struggling to find consistency on the offensive line over the last few seasons, UCLA found something to build on for 2013. Brendel anchored the Bruins’ line this year, starting all 13 games at center. UCLA allowed 3.5 sacks a game, but the offensive line helped to clear the way for the rushing attack to average 202.9 yards per contest.

Honorable Mention:

Jack Allen, C, Michigan State
Austin Blythe, OG, Iowa
Evan Boehm, OG, Missouri
Keith Brown, LB, Louisville
Kyle Carter, TE, Penn State
Le’Raven Clark, OL, Texas Tech
Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State
Landon Foster, P, Kentucky
Dante Fowler, DL, Florida
Jaxon Hood, DT, Arizona State
Jabari Hunt-Days, LB, Georgia Tech
D.J. Hunter, LB, Marshall
Keith Marshall, RB Georgia
Ross Martin, K, Duke
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
Ethan Perry, P, TCU
Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin
Trevon Stewart, FS, Houston
Nick VanHoose, CB, Northwestern
Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State
Jaime Wilson, WR, Western Michigan


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Texas Tech is the latest college football program looking for a new coach, as Tommy Tuberville made a surprising decision to bolt to Cincinnati to replace Butch Jones. Tuberville was 20-17 in three seasons with the Red Raiders but never seemed to be a good fit in Lubbock. Texas Tech has experienced only one losing season since 1993, and Tuberville isn’t leaving the cupboard bare for the new coach.

8 Coaches to Replace Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech

Art Briles, head coach, Baylor – Briles just signed an extension with Baylor but that likely won’t stop Texas Tech from pursuing him in the next few days. He graduated from Texas Tech with a bachelor’s degree in 1979 and went to Rule High School, which is less than 200 miles outside of Lubbock. Briles was a successful high school head coach and jumped into the collegiate ranks in 2000 as a running backs coach with Texas Tech. After three years with the Red Raiders, Briles was selected as Houston’s head coach and recorded a 34-28 record in five seasons with the Cougars. He replaced Guy Morriss at Baylor in 2008 and is 32-30 in five years in Waco, including a 10-3 mark in 2011.
 

Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State – DeRuyter had a successful debut season at Fresno State, leading the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record and a share of the Mountain West title. DeRuyter has a solid resume as an assistant, working as a defensive coordinator at Air Force and Texas A&M. Although he’s only been a head coach for one year, it’s very easy to be impressed with DeRuyter. Fresno State struggled to get over the hump with Pat Hill on the sidelines, but DeRuyter brought quick improvement after the Bulldogs went 4-9 last season. The 49-year-old coach played at Air Force from 1982-84 and coached with the Falcons from 1991-94 and 2007-09.


Bryan Harsin, offensive coordinator, Texas – Harsin has been on a quick rise through the coaching ranks, starting his career at Eastern Oregon as an assistant in 2000. Harsin was hired at Boise State in 2001 and eventually worked his way into the offensive coordinator role in 2006. After five seasons with the Broncos, Harsin came to Austin and has brought improvement to the Longhorns’ attack, which ranked 37th nationally in total offense this year. Harsin has no head coaching experience but is ready for a shot to run his own program.  
 

Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M – Kingsbury is the perfect fit for Texas Tech. However, is he ready to lead this program? The San Antonio native played under Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 1998-2002 and ranks second in school history with 12,429 passing yards. After a short career in the NFL, Kingsbury landed on Houston’s coaching staff as an assistant under Kevin Sumlin. The Cougars were one of the nation’s best offenses under Kingsbury’s watch, and he joined Sumlin at Texas A&M in 2012. The Aggies finished third nationally in total and scoring defense this year, while finishing 10-2 in their first season of SEC play. Kingsbury is a rising star, but the lack of head coaching experience has to be a concern for Hocutt.
 

Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – If Texas Tech wants to go with a young, offensive-minded coach, Monken is another guy to keep on the radar. The Illinois native has no head coaching experience but made stops as an assistant at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, LSU and Oklahoma State. Monken also spent two years in the NFL with the Jaguars and is believed to be on the radar for openings at Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.
 

Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Morris is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football. The Texas native has no collegiate head coaching experience but helped to engineer top-25 offenses at Tulsa and Clemson. The Tigers finished 2012 ranked in the top 10 in total and scoring offense, while averaging 319.6 passing yards per game. Morris has a wealth of experience in the high school ranks, working as a head coach from 1994-2009 at five different stops. Although Morris has no collegiate head coaching experience, his time in the Texas high school ranks and offensive background would be a perfect fit for the Red Raiders.
 

Jay Norvell, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Norvell has been an assistant coach since 1986, making stops at Iowa, Wisconsin, Iowa State, Nebraska, UCLA and in the NFL with the Colts and Raiders. Norvell has worked with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma since 2008 and is a co-offensive coordinator with Josh Heupel. Although the Wisconsin native has no head coaching experience, he’s a proven assistant with Big 12 experience and a background on offense.
 

Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson – Venables is a name many in the Big 12 are familiar with, as he played at Kansas State from 1991-92 and coached at Oklahoma from 1999-2011. The Kansas native left Norman to work as Clemson’s defensive coordinator in 2012 and the Tigers showed improvement under his direction, finishing fourth in the ACC in scoring defense. Venables and Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt played together at Kansas State from 1991-92 and also crossed paths at Oklahoma. Venables has no head coaching experience but is due for his chance to run a BCS program.
 

Longshots to watch

Josh Heupel, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma
Dana Holgorsen, head coach, West Virginia
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette
Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator, Indiana
Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas head coach


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Teaser:
<p> 8 Coaches to Replace Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech</p>
Post date: Monday, December 10, 2012 - 05:35
Path: /college-football/grading-tennessee-footballs-hire-coach-butch-jones
Body:

After an extended coaching search, Tennessee has finally found its man. Butch Jones was picked as the Volunteers’ next coach, replacing Derek Dooley after an ineffective three-year run in Knoxville. Jones isn’t a big name or flashy hire, but Tennessee is getting a solid coach that should return to the program to bowl games.

Here’s a deeper look at Jones and the positives and negatives surrounding his hire:

Positives

A Proven Winner
Although Jones has yet to build a program from scratch, his resume is rock solid. Jones is 50-27 in six seasons as a head coach, which also includes five bowl trips. Even if Brian Kelly helped to set the table for Jones’ success at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, it’s not easy getting to 50 victories based on someone else’s recruits. After going 4-8 in his first season with Cincinnati, Jones did a tremendous job getting the program back on track, recording a 19-6 mark over the last two years.

Tennessee is a Destination Job for Jones
Considering Jones is only 44 years old, he’s got plenty of energy and is ready to build something special at Tennessee. Leaving Cincinnati was not an easy decision for Jones but moving to Tennessee and a conference (SEC) with more stability was the right call. Even though his resume may not indicate this, the Michigan native is the type of coach who wants to set down roots in an area and build a program. As long as Jones is successful, he won’t be looking to bolt Knoxville anytime soon.

Ohio Recruiting
Even though Jones spent just three years at Cincinnati, his time in the Buckeye State should help Tennessee on the recruiting trail. The Volunteers have to be able to recruit nationally, especially since the state of Tennessee doesn’t produce a ton of elite talent. Having a coach with ties in Ohio can only help on the recruiting trail. In addition to his Ohio ties, Jones did a good job of recruiting the state of Florida and Memphis while at Cincinnati, which should work even better at Tennessee.

Negatives

No SEC Experience
This factor is probably overrated in coaching searches, but it will take some time for Jones to adjust to life in the SEC. James Franklin has been a successful hire at Vanderbilt and had no SEC head coaching experience before joining the Commodores. Arkansas recently hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, and the former Badger coach has no SEC experience either. This is not a huge concern, but Jones will have an adjustment period and needs to find some assistants with SEC ties.

Building a Program
Although Jones’ resume is solid, there’s a concern he has yet to build a program like Charlie Strong did at Louisville. Jones followed Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and went 27-13, recording two MAC Championships and three bowl appearances. After three years with the Chippewas, Jones took over for Kelly at Cincinnati and went 23-14 with two bowl trips. The Bearcats were 4-8 in his first season but rebounded to a 19-6 mark over the last two years. The good news for Jones and his staff? Tennessee isn’t a huge rebuilding job. However, the program does need some work, which means this is the toughest coaching job Jones will have so far in his career.

Jones wasn’t the first choice of Tennessee
Satisfying a fanbase in the SEC is never an easy task, and Jones already has some ground to cover. Tennessee reportedly made a run at Jon Gruden, Charlie Strong and Mike Gundy and was turned down by each coach. If that’s the case, Jones was likely the No. 4 or maybe even the No. 5 man on athletic director Dave Hart’s list. While it’s not really a big deal for Tennessee to miss on its No. 1 target, the fanbase wanted a bigger name. One thing for the Volunteer fanbase to keep in mind – Jim Mora probably wasn’t the first choice at UCLA and that hire turned out pretty well. Jones will do just fine at Tennessee, but considering the lack of success by the program in recent years, the fanbase wants to win and win now. Basically, there’s no grace period for Jones as he adjusts to life in the SEC.

Final Analysis and Grade

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Butch Jones is no Nick Saban. However, he’s also not Derek Dooley either. Considering his success at two different stops, Jones is better prepared for this opportunity at Tennessee. Can he win national championships? That’s the big question. Hiring a good staff will also be crucial, especially assistants that have ties in the SEC. The Volunteers have good facilities and a stable conference, which Jones should be able to use to recruit at a higher level than he did at Cincinnati. Depending on what Tennessee’s trio – quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson – does in regards to the NFL Draft, the Volunteers have a chance to push for at least eight wins in 2013. Even though Jones may not have been the first choice at Tennessee, he’s a solid hire and should win a lot of games in Knoxville.

Final Grade: B


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Teaser:
<p> Grading Tennessee Football's Hire of Coach Butch Jones</p>
Post date: Friday, December 7, 2012 - 09:50
Path: /college-football/10-coaches-replace-butch-jones-cincinnati
Body:

Butch Jones was one of the top names in the coaching rumor mill over the last few weeks and decided to leave Cincinnati for Tennessee. Jones led the Bearcats to a 23-14 mark in three years, which included a share of the Big East title the last two seasons. Jones’ departure is a huge blow to Cincinnati, as the program will be looking for its fourth head coach since 2004.

10 Coaches to Replace Butch Jones at Cincinnati

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


Kerry Coombs, Ohio State assistant coach – Coombs is regarded as an excellent recruiter but has no head coaching experience on the collegiate level. He spent 2007-2011 as an assistant at Cincinnati, before joining Urban Meyer at Ohio State in 2012. Coombs was a high school head coach at Colerain High School from 1991-2006, so there’s no doubt he has excellent recruiting ties throughout the state. Hiring a head coach without any experience is risky, but Coombs would be able to pull in solid talent and likely wouldn’t look to bolt for another head coaching job. 

Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – Diaco's name was mentioned in the Boston College search, so there's no question he is interested in becoming a head coach. And Diaco is familiar with the Cincinnati program, serving as an assistant under Brian Kelly in 2009. He also has spent time as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Virginia and for the last three years at Notre Dame. Diaco has no head coaching experience but has helped to lead the Fighting Irish to a rank of No. 1 overall in points allowed (10.3 ppg).
 

Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State –Herman is a longshot in this coaching search but a rising star to watch over the next couple of seasons. The Ohio native started his coaching career at Texas Lutheran in 1998, before working his way through the ranks at Texas, Sam Houston State and then as an offensive coordinator at Texas State from 2005-06. After two years with the Bobcats, Herman worked at Rice as the offensive coordinator, then jumped to Iowa State in 2009 and came to Columbus to work with Urban Meyer. 
 

Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State – Lembo is a proven winner at three different stops during his coaching career and is ready to move up the ladder after two years at Ball State. He recorded a 44-14 mark in five years at Lehigh and a 35-22 record in five seasons with Elon, which included an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Lembo is 15-9 in two years with the Cardinals and improved his win total by three games from 2011 to 2012. Although Lembo might be looking to jump to a better job in the next few years, he would continue Cincinnati's run of recent success.
 

Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State –MacIntyre has turned San Jose State into one of the WAC’s worst teams into a bowl team in just three years. The Spartans went 1-12 in 2010, improved to 5-7 in 2011 and recorded a 10-2 mark and an appearance in the Military Bowl in 2012. MacIntyre has stops as an assistant at Temple, Ole Miss, Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. MacIntyre isn’t a flashy or a big name, but as the results have shown at San Jose State, he’s capable of leading a BCS program. If Cincinnati is interested, it could have plenty of competition for his services, as MacIntyre could get in the mix at South Florida or Colorado.
 

Chuck Martin, offensive coordinator, Notre Dame –Although Brian Kelly plays a large role in calling the plays each week for Notre Dame, Martin should get his chance to be a head coach on the FBS level in the next few seasons. He succeeded Kelly at Grand Valley State and recorded a 74-7 mark in six seasons, including back-to-back national titles in 2005-06. Martin came to South Bend in 2010 and spent two years on defense, before moving to offensive coordinator in 2012. With his background on offense and successful stint at Grand Valley State, Martin fits the mold of what Cincinnati is looking for in its next head coach.
 

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi isn’t an offense-first coach like Cincinnati has hired with Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, as he has spent his entire career on defense. However, Narduzzi has helped to mold Michigan State’s defense into one of the nation’s best and has been rumored to be in the mix for a couple of head coaching jobs over the last few seasons. Narduzzi spent from 2004-06 at Cincinnati, working as the defensive coordinator under Mark Dantonio.


Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses. One downside to Roman’s candidacy has to be the 49ers’ playoff chances. With San Francisco likely to make a deep run into the NFL playoffs, Roman may not be available on a full-time basis until mid-January.

 

Other Names to Watch
 
Mike Bajakian, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati
Mario Cristobal, former FIU head coach
Luke Fickell, co-defensive coordinator, Ohio State
Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State
Teaser:
<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Butch Jones at Cincinnati</p>
Post date: Friday, December 7, 2012 - 08:58
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-surprises-2012
Body:

With college football’s 2012 regular season in the books, it’s time to take a look back at the highlights and lowlights from this year. There were plenty of surprises in college football this season, starting with the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings – Notre Dame. Athlon takes a look back at the top 10 surprises in college football, along with where those teams ranked in the preseason rankings.

College Football's Top 10 Surprises from 2012

1. Notre Dame
Preseason Prediction:
No. 20 overall in final 124

After back-to-back 8-5 seasons to begin the Brian Kelly era, Notre Dame broke through in 2012 with an unbeaten 12-0 mark and an appearance in the national title game. The Fighting Irish returned 15 starters from 2011 but lost safety Jamoris Slaughter early in the year to a torn ACL and had to deal with the ups and downs of new quarterback Everett Golson. While the offense was a work in progress early on, the defense has been dominant this year. Linebacker Manti Te’o helped to lead the Notre Dame defense to a rank of No. 1 overall nationally in points allowed and sixth in total defense, along with earning a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist.

2. Kansas State
Preseason Prediction:
No. 27 in final 124

A case could be made the Wildcats are one of college football’s most underrated teams every year. Kansas State surprised most last season when it was outgained by 106.8 yards per game and still managed a 10-3 finish. The Wildcats started 10-0 this year and was in position to play for the national title until a loss to Baylor knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten. Quarterback Collin Klein was picked as a Heisman finalist and averaged 281.7 yards per game of total offense. As long as Bill Snyder remains on the sidelines in Manhattan, Kansas State will be a dangerous opponent for the rest of the Big 12 – no matter how many returning starters it has or what the stats indicate from the previous season.

3. Oregon State
Preseason Prediction:
No. 61 in final 124

There’s no question Oregon State was one of Athlon’s biggest misses in the preseason rankings. The Beavers were expected to improve after a 3-9 record in 2011, but no one could have predicted a 9-3 mark in 2012. Despite some uncertainty at quarterback, Oregon State finished 34th nationally with an average of 442.7 yards per game. The rushing attack wasn’t flashy but improved by nearly 40 yards a game from 2011 (39.3).  The defense had a huge turnaround, ranking in the top four of the Pac-12 in rushing, total, pass and scoring categories. Two of Oregon State’s three losses came by four points or less, and it defeated Pac-12 champ UCLA 27-20 in late September. After going 8-16 in 2010-11, it’s clear the Beavers are headed back in the right direction under coach Mike Riley.

4. Stanford
Preseason Prediction:
No. 21 in final 124

No Andrew Luck at quarterback. No David DeCastro or Jonathan Martin on the offensive line. No problem. It’s hard to believe, but that’s exactly the scenario that played out at Stanford this season. The Cardinal had to replace a handful of key contributors from last season and still managed to win the Pac-12 title and earn an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Although the offense struggled at times, the insertion of redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan sparked this unit late in the season, while the defense ranked first in the Pac-12 in yards and points allowed. Stanford’s only losses were both by a touchdown or less, with one coming to Notre Dame – the No. 1 team in the BCS standings. Considering what Stanford lost, it’s a huge credit to the coaching job by David Shaw getting this team back in the mix for a Pac-12 title.

5. Florida
Preseason Prediction:
No. 26 in the final 124

The Gators were on the doorstep of making Athlon’s preseason top 25, so it wouldn’t have been a big surprise to see this team finish in the 15-20 range. However, Florida was one win away from playing in the SEC title game and a chance to compete for the national title. The Gators’ offense was only slightly better in 2012, but the defense ranked inside of the top 10 in yards and points allowed. Florida pitched two shutouts (Jacksonville State, Kentucky) this year and held Texas A&M to 17 points in the SEC opener for both teams. The Gators need to take the next step on offense to contend for the national championship in 2013. However, after a 7-6 mark in Will Muschamp’s first season, Florida seems to be back on track as one of the SEC’s top programs.

6. Ole Miss
Preseason Prediction:
No. 71 in the final 124

After a disastrous 2011 season, Ole Miss had nowhere to go but up in 2012. New coach Hugh Freeze was a perfect match for the Rebels, leading the program to a 6-6 mark and a bowl appearance against Pittsburgh in Birmingham. Ole Miss won three SEC games in 2012, which was more than the Rebels combined for in 2010 and 2011 (1-15). After finishing last in the SEC in total defense and 11th in total offense, Ole Miss improved to the middle of the conference in both categories. With most of the core returning intact for 2013, don’t be surprised if the Rebels make a run at eight victories.

7. Duke
Preseason Prediction:
No. 80 in the final 124

The Blue Devils started fast, opening up the 2012 season at 5-1 with a blowout victory over Virginia in ACC play. However, Duke tailed off in the second half of the season, losing five out of their final six games. Despite the sluggish end to 2012, the Blue Devils are making their first bowl trip since 1994 and had a chance to win the Coastal Division late in the year. Coach David Cutcliffe has done a good job of building the program over the last few seasons, and Duke is no longer an automatic out in conference play.

8. UCLA
Preseason Prediction:
No. 42 in final 124

A team from Los Angeles was supposed to win the Pac-12 South title this year. However, most expected it to be USC – not UCLA. The Bruins made a surprising climb from a 6-8 finish last year to Pac-12 South champions in 2012. New coach Jim Mora seems to be a perfect fit in Los Angeles, while the emergence of quarterback Brett Hundley guided the UCLA offense to an average of 35.1 points per game. The Bruins lost two games by a touchdown or less and knocked off USC for the first time since 2006. With the Trojans losing Matt Barkley next season, UCLA should be the frontrunner to win the Pac-12 South in 2012.

9. Texas A&M
Preseason Prediction:
No. 32 in final 124

Considering Texas A&M had a new coach, was dealing with a transition to a new conference and had to replace first-round pick Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, most believed getting to seven wins and a bowl would be a successful season. However, the Aggies exceeded expectations in 2012, winning 10 games for the first time since 1998, while quarterback Johnny Manziel was named as a Heisman finalist in early December. After struggling in the second half of games in 2011, Texas A&M corrected those issues under new coach Kevin Sumlin and scored one of the season’s biggest upsets by knocking off Alabama in Tuscaloosa. With Sumlin in control at College Station, the Aggies are poised to emerge as a consistent top-15 program.

10. Kent State/Northern Illinois
Preseason Prediction:
No. 97 for Kent State, No. 85 for Northern Illinois

For the first time in the BCS era, a team from the MAC will play in one of college football's biggest bowl games. Northern Illinois managed to get into the top 16 of the final BCS standings and finished ahead of major conference champions Louisville and Wisconsin, which allowed the Huskies to play in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. Quarterback Jordan Lynch was one of the nation’s most underrated players this season, recording 4,733 yards of total offense and 43 overall scores. Although Northern Illinois’ defense allowed 356.7 yards per game, this unit forced 2.9 sacks a contest and generated 26 turnovers. Even though the Huskies are playing in the Orange Bowl, Kent State's 2012 season shouldn’t be overlooked. The Golden Flashes fell just short in double overtime against Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship but won at Rutgers 35-23 in late October. With its crazy, high-scoring mid-week games, the MAC has quickly emerged as one of the nation’s most entertaining conferences. And with Northern Illinois on the big stage in the Orange Bowl, it’s an opportunity for the MAC to prove it belongs right with the teams from BCS conferences.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 10 Surprises From 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, December 7, 2012 - 05:30
Path: /college-football/colorados-football%E2%80%99s-coaching-search-continues-top-remaining-candidates
Body:

Colorado had a messy divorce with former coach Jon Embree and finding a replacement hasn’t been easy. Cincinnati’s Butch Jones interviewed in Boulder with Colorado officials but decided not to take the job. With Jones deciding to stay in Cincinnati (for now), the Buffaloes’ search is wide open once again.

5 Candidates to Replace Jon Embree at Colorado

Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State – DeRuyter had a successful debut season at Fresno State, leading the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record and a share of the Mountain West title. DeRuyter has a solid resume as an assistant, working as a defensive coordinator at Air Force and Texas A&M. Although he’s only been a head coach for one year, it’s very easy to be impressed with DeRuyter. Fresno State struggled to get over the hump with Pat Hill on the sidelines, but DeRuyter brought quick improvement after the Bulldogs went 4-9 last season. The 49-year-old coach also has ties to the state of Colorado, as he played at Air Force from 1982-84 and coached with the Falcons from 1991-94 and 2007-09.
 

Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Stanford – Hamilton is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks and it’s only a matter of time before he lands a head coaching gig. Hamilton played quarterback at Howard from 1993-96 and coached there from 1997-2001. After a couple of seasons in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers and Bears, Hamilton joined Stanford’s staff in 2010. Although David Shaw plays a key role in the offensive gameplan and play-calling, Hamilton is heavily involved. Hamilton is a bright offensive mind but has no head coaching experience.
 

Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State – MacIntyre has turned San Jose State into one of the WAC’s worst teams into a bowl team in just three years. The Spartans went 1-12 in 2010, improved to 5-7 in 2011 and recorded a 10-2 mark and an appearance in the Military Bowl in 2012. MacIntyre has stops as an assistant at Temple, Ole Miss, Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. MacIntyre isn’t a flashy or a big name, but as the results have shown at San Jose State, he’s capable of leading a BCS program. Colorado could have plenty of competition for his services, as MacIntyre could get in the mix at South Florida or Tennessee.
 

Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – If Colorado wants to go with a young, offensive-minded coach, Monken is another guy to keep on the radar. The Illinois native has no head coaching experience but made stops as an assistant at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, LSU and Oklahoma State. Monken also spent two years in the NFL with the Jaguars and is believed to be on the radar for openings at Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.
 

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses. One downside to Roman’s candidacy has to be the 49ers’ playoff chances. With San Francisco likely to make a deep run into the NFL playoffs, Roman may not be available on a full-time basis until mid-January. With Roman’s time at Stanford, he has plenty of familiarity with the Pac-12 and would be a solid pickup for the Buffaloes.

Longshots

Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Bob Stitt, head coach, Colorado School of Mines
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky

Teaser:
<p> Colorado's Football’s Coaching Search Continues: Top Remaining Candidates?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 13:05
Path: /college-football/tennessee-football%E2%80%99s-coaching-search-continues-top-remaining-candidates
Body:

With Mike Gundy, Larry Fedora and Charlie Strong saying no to Tennessee, the Volunteers' coaching search is wide open. The top names on athletic director Dave Hart's list have passed on the job, which leaves the school scrambling to find a new coach. There are still plenty of good coaches available for Tennessee, but it's important for the school that the coaching search doesn't drag deep into next week. 

15 Names to Watch in Tennessee's Coaching Search

Butch Davis, former North Carolina head coach – Davis is reportedly in the mix at FIU, but he would likely listen if Tennessee came calling. The Oklahoma native went 51-20 in six years with Miami from 1995-2000 and recorded three consecutive eight-win seasons with North Carolina in 2008-2010. Davis had a messy end to his tenure with the Tar Heels but has a 79-43 overall mark as a college head coach.


Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – If Tennessee chooses to look in the assistant ranks, Diaco should be in the mix to replace Dooley. Diaco has spent time as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and for the last three years at Notre Dame. Diaco has no head coaching experience but has helped to lead the Fighting Irish to a rank of No. 1 overall in points allowed (10.3 ppg).

 

Al Golden, head coach, Miami – Considering the NCAA hammer is about to drop on Miami, Golden could be tempted to look at another job this offseason. The New Jersey native has spent most of his career on the East Coast, playing for Penn State from 1987-91 and coaching as an assistant at Virginia, Boston College and Penn State. Golden resurrected Temple and led the Owls to a 17-8 record during his final two years in Philadelphia. Miami is just 13-11 in his two years, but the program did not have an abundance of talent when he arrived. Golden has maintained he does not want to leave Miami, but considering the situation in Coral Gables, he could be enticed to bolt for the SEC.

 

Butch Jones, head coach, Cincinnati – Jones has been a hot name in coaching searches this offseason, interviewing at Colorado and Purdue for openings at those schools. He has six years of head coaching experience, spending three years at Central Michigan and recording a 27-13 mark. During his time in Mount Pleasant, the Chippewas made three bowl appearances and claimed two MAC Championships. Jones moved to Cincinnati in 2010 and guided the Bearcats to a 23-14 mark over the last three seasons. Cincinnati has claimed a share of the Big East title in each of the last two years after going 4-8 in Jones’ first season in 2010. Although Jones isn’t a big-name hire, he’s a proven coach with experience and victories at two different stops.

 

Pete Lembo, Ball State – Lembo is a proven winner at three different stops during his coaching career and is ready to move up the ladder after two years at Ball State. He recorded a 44-14 mark in five years at Lehigh and a 35-22 record in five seasons with Elon, which included an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Lembo is 15-9 in two years with the Cardinals and improved his win total by three games from 2011 to 2012.

 

Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State – MacIntyre has turned San Jose State into one of the WAC’s worst teams into a bowl team in just three years. The Spartans went 1-12 in 2010, improved to 5-7 in 2011 and recorded a 10-2 mark and an appearance in the Military Bowl in 2012. MacIntyre has stops as an assistant at Temple, Ole Miss, Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. MacIntyre isn’t a flashy or a big name, but as the results have shown at San Jose State, he’s capable of leading a BCS program.

 

Doug Marrone, head coach, Syracuse – Marrone is a Syracuse alum, so it’s a longshot that he would be interested in leaving for Tennessee. However, he served as an assistant with the Volunteers in 2001 and was believed to be in the mix for this job after Phillip Fulmer was let go in 2008. Marrone has led the Orange to a 24-25 mark over the last four years, which includes two bowl appearances. It’s hard to envision Marrone leaving Syracuse, but it’s much easier to win big at Tennessee.

 

Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson - Morris has surprisingly not engaged in many coaching searches this offseason. He emerged as one of the top offensive minds in college football, leading Clemson's offense to an average of 42.3 points a game this season. Morris has no head coaching experience and already has a salary of $1.3 million, so it would take a significant raise to leave Clemson. Considering the Tigers return a chunk of talent on offense next year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stick around in Death Valley for one more season.

 

Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State – Although Mullen hasn’t expressed much interest in leaving Mississippi State, it’s worth a phone call for Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart to Starkville. Even though Mullen has yet to beat Alabama or LSU during his tenure in Starkville, there’s no doubt Mississippi State is an improved team. The Bulldogs will be making their third consecutive bowl appearance in 2012 and has a 13-19 mark in SEC play over the last four years. Mullen also has assistant experience from stops at Bowling Green, Notre Dame, Utah and Florida. Considering what Mullen has done in four years at Mississippi State, he could thrive at a program with more resources.

 

Bo Pelini, head coach, Nebraska – Just as we mentioned with Doug Marrone and Dan Mullen, it’s a longshot that Pelini would be interested in leaving his current job. However, with the top options falling through, Tennessee has to look at the next available candidates. Pelini has a good job at Nebraska and has a 49-19 overall record. He has led the Cornhuskers to six bowl games and claimed the Big Ten Legends Division title in 2012. Although Pelini has one of college football’s top 25 jobs, he does have previous experience in the SEC and is not working under the same athletic director that brought him to Lincoln.

 

Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas head coach – Why not? Since Tennessee tried and failed to land Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong, the top options are running thin for Dave Hart. Yes, Petrino’s divorce from Arkansas was a mess, but it’s doubtful those issues pop up at his next school. Also, he’s ready work and would probably take less money in an effort to prove himself for the next few years. There’s a lot of baggage hanging around Petrino, but if Tennessee wants to compete for SEC titles, it needs to consider the former Arkansas head coach.

 

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses. One downside to Roman’s candidacy has to be the 49ers’ playoff chances. With San Francisco likely to make a deep run into the NFL playoffs, Roman may not be available on a full-time basis until mid-January.

 

Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Tennessee’s last attempt at hiring a Nick Saban assistant didn’t go so well. And considering Derek Dooley’s tenure was a failure, the school probably has some concern about going back to that well in 2012. Smart doesn’t have head coaching experience, but he is regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in the nation. Considering Saban plays a large role in Alabama’s defense, there’s a lot of concerns for athletic directors when considering Smart for any open vacancy.  

 

Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and is ready for a promotion to a bigger program. He is 16-20 in three years with Western Kentucky, including back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2011-12. In addition to his time as a head coach at Western Kentucky, Taggart worked as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh for three seasons at Stanford. Taggart reportedly interviewed with South Florida and is believed to be a target for the opening at Wisconsin.

 

Tommy Tuberville, head coach, Texas Tech – Tuberville already has two tours of duty through the SEC, coaching at Ole Miss from 1995-98 and at Auburn in 1999-2008. In four seasons with the Rebels, he recorded a 25-20 mark and went 85-40 at Auburn. Tuberville is 20-17 in three seasons at Texas Tech and has the Red Raiders back on track after a 5-7 mark in 2011. Tuberville isn’t flashy, but he’s a proven winner and a steady option for Tennessee.

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee's Coaching Search Continues: Who are the best available candidates?</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 09:01
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2012-postseason-awards-and-recap
Body:

With all of the BCS conferences finished with regular season play, it's time to take a look at the 2012 college football season and hand out some hardware. At the midpoint of 2012, all signs pointed to West Virginia's Geno Smith as the runaway Heisman favorite, while Oregon and Alabama appeared to be on a collision course for the national championship. And what a difference a couple of weeks can make. The Ducks were bounced out of the top five by Stanford, while the Crimson Tide lost to Texas A&M, yet rebounded back into No. 2 in the BCS standings. Before the road to the national championship begins on Dec. 15, Athlon takes a look at the best of the best from the 2012 regular season.

College Football's 2012 Postseason Awards

Offensive Player of the Year: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
It’s a close call between Manziel and Kansas State’s Collin Klein, but the edge goes to the redshirt freshman. Manziel finished with 3,419 passing yards and 24 scores, while adding 1,181 yards and 19 scores on the ground. In Texas A&M’s upset win over Alabama, the redshirt freshman threw for 253 yards and added 92 more on the ground. Manziel owns the single-game SEC mark for total offense (576 against Louisiana Tech) and broke Cam Newton’s record for most total offense in a season with 4,600 yards after 12 regular season games.

Next in Line:
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
 

Defensive Player of the Year: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Te’o doesn’t have earth-shattering numbers, but the senior is college football’s best defensive player and is a key reason why Notre Dame ranks as the No. 1 team in the BCS. Te’o led the Fighting Irish with 103 tackles, recorded 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, seven interceptions and 11 passes defended. Sometimes, a defensive player’s impact goes beyond the box score and that’s the case with Te’o. In addition to his 103 tackles, the senior’s leadership and presence on the field were critical to the Fighting Irish finishing first nationally in scoring defense and sixth in yards allowed.

Next in Line:
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia


Coach of the Year: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Just like the offensive player of the year honor, there’s not much separating Athlon’s No. 1 and No. 2 pick. A slight edge goes to Brian Kelly over Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, especially since the Fighting Irish are booked for a chance to win the national title in early January. Notre Dame went 8-5 in each of Kelly’s first two seasons but completed a perfect 12-0 mark in 2012.

Next in Line:
Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Bill O’Brien, Penn State
David Shaw, Stanford
Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
 

Top Freshman: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Is there really any doubt about the winner of this award? After averaging 373.4 yards of total offense in SEC games this season, Manziel could be the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night. The redshirt freshman was a big reason why the Aggies navigated through their first season of SEC play with a 10-2 record and will matchup against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

Next in Line:
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
 

Best All-Around: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Although the Mountaineers cooled off after a 5-0 start, their offense was still one of the best in college football this year. West Virginia ranked seventh nationally in scoring and averaged 518.5 yards per game. Austin is arguably the nation’s top all-around weapon, rushing for 598 yards and three touchdown, while catching 110 passes for 1,259 yards and 12 scores. He also added 738 yards and one touchdown on kickoff returns. Most of Austin’s production came at receiver, but he played more snaps at running back late in the season, including a 344-yard performance against Oklahoma in mid-November.


Top JUCO: Morgan Breslin, DE, USC
A strong case could be made for Ole Miss’ quarterback Bo Wallace or Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, but a slight edge goes to Breslin. The California native helped to turn the USC defensive line from a weakness into a strength this year, recording 53 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks. He also broke up four passes and recovered one fumble in 12 games. Breslin recorded second-team All-Pac-12 honors this year and could be in the mix for a spot on the first team in 2013.

Next in Line:
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss
Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
 

Rising Star in the Coaching Ranks: Gary Andersen, Utah State
Andersen was courted in coaching searches at Kentucky, Colorado and California but chose to stay another year in Logan. Since his arrival at Utah State, the Aggies are 25-24 and are making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1960-61. Utah State is also 17-8 over the last two years and claimed the outright WAC Championship this season. Andersen is one of college football’s rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and should have Utah State contending for the Mountain West title in 2013. 

Next in Line:
Pete Lembo, Ball State
Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky
 

Biggest Surprise: Notre Dame
It’s been quite a season for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame was unranked in the first Associated Press poll and jumped to the No. 22 spot after crushing Navy 50-10 in the season opener. The Fighting Irish climbed steadily in the polls, eventually claiming the No. 1 spot after Kansas State lost to Baylor on Nov. 17. Although it wasn’t a surprise Notre Dame managed to win 10 games and get back to a BCS bowl, it’s rare to see a team begin the year unranked and get into the national championship. Also, the Fighting Irish emerged as one of college football’s top defensive teams, a slight change from Brian Kelly’s offense-first mentality at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

Next in Line:
Florida
Kansas State
Oregon State
Stanford
 

Biggest Disappointment: USC
Nothing seemed to go right for USC in 2012. The Trojans closed out 2011 as one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning seven out of their last eight contests, including a 38-35 victory against Oregon. Considering USC returned 15 starters, most expected it would continue that momentum and make a run at a BCS title. Instead, the Trojans slumped to a 7-5 overall mark and a 5-4 record in Pac-12 play. Quarterback Matt Barkley was supposed to be a Heisman contender, but his campaign never managed to get on track, and he missed the season finale against Notre Dame with a shoulder injury. For a team that had national title aspirations, playing in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech is quite a drop from the preseason.
 

Best Coaching Hire of 2012: Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Meyer certainly didn’t inherit a bare cupboard, but he managed to lead the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record with no postseason possibility due to NCAA sanctions. Ohio State rebounded from a disappointing 6-7 mark in 2011 to a perfect record in 2012, winning at Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin, while picking up a huge victory over rival Michigan in the season finale. Meyer has Ohio State poised to regain its status as one of college football’s premier programs and could start 2013 ranked among the top three teams in most preseason polls.

Next in Line:
Bill O’Brien, Penn State
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Jim Mora, UCLA
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
 

Worst Coaching Hire of 2012: Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
You have to look deep to find any positives about Johnson’s tenure at Southern Miss. And even an extensive examination doesn’t reveal anything that went right for the Golden Eagles under his watch. Johnson compiled the worst season in school history in 2012, going 0-12 with losses to Rice, UAB, UTEP and Memphis. Southern Miss had a tough schedule in the early part of the season, but this team struggled to be competitive and ranked near the bottom of the nation in scoring offense and defense. Johnson was fired at the end of 2012, which ended one of college football’s worst coaching tenures in recent years.

Next in Line:
Tim Beckman, Illinois
 

Coach on the Hottest Seat for 2013: Lane Kiffin, USC
Considering the disappointing 2012 season, it’s not out of the question that Kiffin needs to win eight or nine games in 2013 to save his job. The Trojans were picked by many to win the Pac-12 this year but finished a disappointing 7-5 and out of the conference championship game. In addition to the struggles on the field, USC was also involved in the embarrassing deflated football incident against Oregon, as well as a jersey switch controversy against Colorado. Kiffin is 25-12 in his career at USC and is still navigating NCAA sanctions from the Reggie Bush scandal. Recruiting talent isn’t a problem for Kiffin, but it’s time to start winning games. With Matt Barkley off to the NFL, the Trojans may take a small step back on offense, and the Pac-12 South isn’t getting any easier, which only adds more troubles to Kiffin’s plate in 2013.

The Next in Line:
Mack Brown, Texas
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Bobby Hauck, UNLV


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College Football's 2012 All-America Team

Teaser:
<p> College Football's 2012 Postseason Awards and Recap</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - 06:15
Path: /college-football/10-coaches-replace-bret-bielema-wisconsin
Body:

In one of the biggest surprises of the offseason coaching carousel, Bret Bielema decided to depart Wisconsin for Arkansas. Bielema led the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and was coming off back-to-back Big Ten titles. However, whether it was the attraction of coaching in the SEC or some friction with athletic director Barry Alvarez, Bielema chose to depart and won't coach Wisconsin in the 2013 Rose Bowl. 

10 Replacement Coaches for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin

Chris Ash, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin – Could the Badgers choose to stay in house for a Bielema replacement? Ash is a rising star in the coaching ranks, coming to Wisconsin in 2010 to coach defensive backs, before a promotion to defensive coordinator in 2011. In addition to his time in Madison, Ash had stops at San Diego State and Iowa State but has no head coaching experience. Bielema was a young defensive coordinator when he was promoted to head coach - could Wisconsin choose to do the same path this year?
 

Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks – Since all signs point to Paul Chryst staying in Pittsburgh, Wisconsin’s next option might be Bevell. The former Badger quarterback has been an assistant coach since 1996, starting his career at Westmar University. He worked at Iowa State and Connecticut, before jumping to the NFL to serve as an offensive assistant with the Packers, Vikings and Seahawks. Bevell has been Seattle’s offensive coordinator for the last two years and has played a key role in developing rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
 

Bob Bostad, offensive line coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bostad is regarded as one of the nation’s best offensive line coaches, developing top units at Wisconsin and in the NFL with the Buccaneers. He also has experience during stops as an assistant at San Jose State and New Mexico from 1997-2005 but has never served as a head coach. Bostad worked under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, so there’s some natural ties to the program. However, not having head coaching experience has to be a drawback for athletic director Barry Alvarez.
 

Paul Chryst, head coach, Pittsburgh – Even though Chryst has expressed his commitment to Pittsburgh, Wisconsin still make a run for his services. Chryst played at Wisconsin from 1986-88 and coached in Madison in 2002 and 2005-2011. He also has experience from stops at Oregon State and in the NFL with the Chargers. Chryst is the perfect candidate for Wisconsin but leaving Pittsburgh after one season will be difficult. 
 

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

 

Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – If Wisconsin chooses to look in the assistant ranks, Diaco should be in the mix to replace Bielema. The New Jersey native played at Iowa, so he’s certainly familiar with life in the Big Ten. Diaco has spent time as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and for the last three years at Notre Dame. Diaco has no head coaching experience but has helped to lead the Fighting Irish to a rank of No. 1 overall in points allowed (10.3 ppg).

 

Butch Jones, head coach, Cincinnati – Jones has been a hot name in coaching searches this offseason, interviewing at Colorado and Purdue for openings at those schools. He has six years of head coaching experience, spending three years at Central Michigan and recording a 27-13 mark. During his time in Mount Pleasant, the Chippewas made three bowl appearances and claimed two MAC Championships. Jones moved to Cincinnati in 2010 and guided the Bearcats to a 23-14 mark over the last three seasons. Cincinnati has claimed a share of the Big East title in each of the last two years after going 4-8 in Jones’ first season in 2010.
[NOTE: Since publishing, Jones has been hired at Tennessee.]
 

Pete Lembo, Ball State – Lembo is a proven winner at three different stops during his coaching career and is ready to move up the coaching ladder after two years at Ball State. He recorded a 44-14 mark in five years at Lehigh and a 35-22 record in five seasons with Elon, which included an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Lembo is 15-9 in two years with the Cardinals and improved his win total by three games from 2011 to 2012.
 

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi doesn’t have any head coaching experience but is regarded as one of the Big Ten’s top assistant coaches. The Connecticut native started his coaching career at Rhode Island in 1993 and stayed until 2000 when he left to go to Northern Illinois. After three seasons with the Huskies, Narduzzi spent one year at Miami (Ohio) and joined Mark Dantonio’s staff at Cincinnati in 2004. Narduzzi followed Dantonio to Michigan State in 2007 and has helped to build one of the Big Ten’s best defenses over the last few years. The Spartans ranked fourth nationally in total defense this season.


Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and is ready for a promotion to a bigger program. He is 16-20 in three years with Western Kentucky, including back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2011-12. Taggart is from Palmetto, Fla., which is just under 50 miles to Raymond James Stadium. In addition to his time as a head coach at Western Kentucky, Taggart worked as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh for three seasons at Stanford.  


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Teaser:
<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Bret Bielema at Wisconsin</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - 05:30
Path: /college-football/arkansas-auburn-or-tennessee-which-best-job-opening-sec
Body:

The SEC is college football's No. 1 conference, so it's no surprise there's a lot of interest in the coaching positions at Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas. Although each of the three schools has a lot of positives, is there much separating this trio? The Razorbacks and Volunteers have upgraded their facilities in recent years, while the Tigers are just two years removed from a national title. 

Which job is the best opening in the SEC: Arkansas, Auburn or Tennessee?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Perhaps a few years ago, I would have said something other than Tennessee, but now it’s pretty obvious Tennessee is the best open SEC job this season. The Volunteers are on more solid ground after cycling through Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley in three years. Even through all the turnover and losing, good players still found their way to Knoxville, even if them could tackle. Like most SEC schools, the commitment is there, the facilities are there, the money is there. Instead, the Tennessee job is better for right now than the other two for what it’s not. The Vols aren’t in the West, even if they have to play Alabama every year. They don’t have the headaches of an Auburn job that eats its own. They have a better track record than Arkansas. All the jobs are tough, a good coach can win at any of them. But Tennessee has the greatest potential for short- and long-term success.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Tennessee is the best job opening in the SEC, but they are all solid gigs. Arkansas has done much to elevate its standing in the college football hierarchy with major facility upgrades in the last few years. But this program lacks an elite recruiting base, is in arguably the toughest division in college football and has yet to prove it can win an SEC title. Auburn has more upside than the Razorbacks, as 2010 proved, and has the best in-state talent pool of the three, but a bizarre and unreasonable fanbase (and their expectations) combined with always being No. 2 in their own state makes the Plains an volatile place to coach. Tennessee has a better tradition of sustained success than both and has arguably the best facilities in the nation. And today, the East is a slightly "easier" place to reside than the West. In the SEC, my rankings would go Tennessee (6th), Auburn (7th) and then Arkansas (9th) — but all three are top 30 jobs nationally.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering each of these jobs would rank among the top 25 in the nation, it’s not easy to choose the best one out of this trio. Arkansas strikes me as a program on the rise, especially as it continues to upgrade the facilities and after recording back-to-back seasons of at least 10 victories from 2010-11. However, the Razorbacks don’t have a ton of in-state talent to build a program around, which means recruiting Texas is a priority. And of course, there’s already Alabama and LSU in the same division, which makes getting to the SEC Championship – at least right now – very difficult. Although Auburn won a national title in 2010, dealing with in-state rival Alabama is never going to be an easy task. The Tigers also seem to be in a bit of disarray right now, especially with the NCAA snooping around the program for recruiting violations. Tennessee has an easier path to a SEC Championship right now, even though Florida is back on the rise, and South Carolina continues to improve under Steve Spurrier. The Volunteers have solid facilities and are willing to spend to get a good coach, but just like Arkansas, there’s not a ton of in-state talent to build a program. With all of those factors considered, I’d have to give a slight edge to Tennessee as the best job out of this trio. However, if Arkansas can hire the right coach and successfully recruit Texas, the Razorbacks have a chance to surpass the Volunteers for the No. 1 spot.

Mark Ross
For me, it comes down to Arkansas or Tennessee, because as long as Nick Saban's in Tuscaloosa, I want nothing to do with the job at the "other" Alabama school. That said, it's very close, but I'll go with the Hogs' job over the Volunteers' gig. Yes, Arkansas resides in the same division as Alabama and LSU, not to mention Mississippi State, a Texas A&M program that appears to be on the rise and an improving Ole Miss, but that doesn't mean the Hogs aren't in position to make some noise of their own. Don't forget what Bobby Petrino had accomplished with the program before his unexpected dismissal. That's not the case with Tennessee, who has seven or fewer wins in each of the last four seasons and will be hiring its fourth head coach in four years in the near future. Tennessee was once considered one of the best jobs in all of college football, and I'm not saying it won't ever reach that level again. However, the Volunteers' glory days seem almost like a distant memory these days, and I'm not convinced it won't take some time to get the program back to the level the powers that be and the fan base expect it to be at. Regardless of how long that takes, the pressure will always be there to win "now" in Knoxville, especially with what James Franklin has already done in just two seasons at Vanderbilt, the "other" Tennessee school. Arkansas also has made more of a commitment recently to improving its football facilities, an aspect that can never be overlooked, especially in the SEC, and whoever gets the Hogs' job doesn't have to worry about competing with another SEC program, let alone major FBS member school, in his state. Both teams have plenty of questions surrounding them headed into the offseason and will likely be looking at major turnover, as it applies to the coaching staff and player personnel, and both will play difficult schedules in 2013. Still, if I had to choose, I would probably take the Arkansas job over the other open ones in the SEC because I think the Hogs are better situated to turn things around in the near future and there's no question that there is less pressure to win in Fayetteville than Knoxville, or even Auburn for that matter. Of the three jobs, I think it's less stressful and much sweeter to win big with the Hogs than either the Vols or the Tigers.

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Teaser:
<p> Arkansas, Auburn or Tennessee: Which is the best job opening in the SEC?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 05:14
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2012-postseason-all-america-team
Body:

College football's 2012 regular season is over, which means it's time to hand out the hardware. It's never easy compiling a postseason All-America team, especially after watching several players have excellent 2012 campaigns. Some positions required little debate (linebacker - Manti Te'o) but others (quarterback and running back) were difficult to sort out. 


First-Team All-America Offense

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin

RB Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona

WR Marqise Lee, USC

WR Terrance Williams, Baylor

TE Zach Ertz, Stanford

C Barrett Jones, Alabama

OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

OG Chance Warmack, Alabama

OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan



First-Team All-America Defense

DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State

DT Star Lotulelei, Utah

DT Will Sutton, Arizona State

LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia

LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama

LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame

CB Dee Milliner, Alabama

CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State

S Matt Elam, Florida

S Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma


First-Team All-America Special Teams

K Dustin Hopkins, Florida State

P Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech

KR Reggie Dunn, Utah

PR Venric Mark, Northwestern

AP Tavon Austin, West Virginia


Second-Team All-American Offense

QB Collin Klein, Kansas State

RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon

RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford

WR Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington

C Braxston Cave, Notre Dame

OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor

OG David Yankey, Stanford

OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama

OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M


Second-Team All-America Defense

DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame

DT Jordan Hill, Penn State

DT Kawann Short, Purdue

LB Anthony Barr, UCLA

LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

LB Chase Thomas, Stanford

CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State

S Eric Reid, LSU

S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State


Second-Team All-America Special Teams

K Caleb Sturgis, Florida

P Kyle Christy, Florida

KR Dri Archer, Kent State

PR Marcus Murphy, Missouri

AP Giovani Bernard, North Carolina


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Teaser:
<p> College Football's 2012 Postseason All-America Team</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 05:13
Path: /college-football/5-reasons-why-notre-dame-will-beat-alabama-national-title
Body:

After struggling to find success under Tyrone Willingham, Bob Davie and Charlie Weis, Brian Kelly has led Notre Dame back to promience. The Fighting Irish are playing in their first BCS bowl since the 2006 season and have not won a national title since 1988. Notre Dame faces a tall task trying to win the BCS title on Jan. 7, as it has to knock off Alabama and end the SEC's recent run of dominance in national championships. 

5 Reasons Why Notre Dame Will Win the National Title

1. It’s time for the SEC’s run to end
All good things must come to an end. Even though the SEC has claimed six consecutive national championships, a team from one of the other power conferences or Notre Dame will end its run in the next few seasons. So why not 2012? The Fighting Irish defeated nine bowl teams this year and beat another squad (Miami) that finished 7-5. Notre Dame proved its mettle on the road, beating Oklahoma 30-13 and at USC 22-13 in its regular season finale. There’s no question the SEC is the nation’s best conference and plays at the highest level of college football. However, at some point, the SEC’s success in the national championship will end, even if it’s just for one season.

2. The defense might be the best in the nation
Picking the nation’s best defense is no easy task. Florida, Florida State, LSU and Alabama all have a legitimate case for the No. 1 honor, but let’s not overlook Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish rank first nationally in scoring defense, holding opponents to 10.3 points a game. Notre Dame is fourth nationally in rush defense, sixth in total defense and is allowing only 194.4 passing yards per game. Led by senior linebacker Manti Te’o, the Fighting Irish have allowed just 10 touchdowns this season, which is the fewest allowed in college football.

3. Experience on the offensive line
Alabama’s 3-4 defense has been consistently one of the best in college football since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide lost a bevy of key players to the NFL Draft, yet finished 2012 ranked No. 1 in total defense and averaged 2.5 sacks a game. Although it’s not a glamorous matchup, the battle between the Notre Dame offensive line and Alabama’s front seven will have a huge impact on who hoists the national title. The Crimson Tide has an athletic front seven, but the Fighting Irish can counter with an experienced offensive line. Zack Martin is a standout performer at left tackle, starting 38 consecutive games. Center Braxston Cave has 34 career starts, while left guard Chris Watt, right tackle Christian Lombard and right guard Mike Golic Jr. have a combined 53 career starts. Winning starts in the trenches, and Notre Dame’s front five is more than capable of holding its own against Alabama’s defense.

4. Quarterback Everett Golson was playing his best ball at the end of the season
Even though Notre Dame led with its defense this year, the offense started to come alive at the end of the year. Redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson threw for at least 200 yards in each of his final four games, including a 346-yard effort against Wake Forest. Golson has tossed only five picks this season and turned in a key performance in a road win over Oklahoma (13 of 25, 177 yards). Although the redshirt freshman is making strides as a passer, his ability to make plays outside of the pocket is what makes him dangerous. Golson rushed for 305 yards and five touchdowns this year and considering Alabama struggled to stop Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, another dual-threat quarterback is not what Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart wanted to see.

5. Don’t underestimate Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly
Alabama’s Nick Saban is widely regarded as the best coach in the nation, but Kelly has to rank in the top five of any best coaching list. The Massachusetts native has been a winner at each stop in his career, recording a 118-35-2 mark and two national championships in 13 years at Grand Valley State. Kelly went 19-16 with a MAC Championship in three seasons at Central Michigan, followed by a 34-6 mark in three full years with Cincinnati. While it took Kelly two years to surpass the eight-win mark at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish are on the right track and are poised to emerge once again as an annual top-10 team. While Kelly isn’t as proven as Saban on a national championship stage, his background and playcalling on offense shows Notre Dame will have an excellent chance to end the SEC’s national title streak.  

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<p> 5 Reasons Why Notre Dame Will Beat Alabama for the National Title</p>
Post date: Monday, December 3, 2012 - 10:28
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Alabama is back in the national championship for the third time in four seasons. The Crimson Tide survived an early November loss to Texas A&M to wind up No. 2 in the BCS rankings and has a shot to continue the SEC's recent dominance. 

5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Win the National Title:

1. The SEC’s recent success in national title games
It’s no coincidence the SEC has won six consecutive national championships. For a conference that has the most rabid fanbases and support in FBS play, along with recruiting the nation’s top high school prospects, the SEC has established a blueprint on how to dominate college football. Alabama can add to the SEC’s run of dominance with a win over Notre Dame on Jan. 7, and it’s no surprise the Crimson Tide are already listed by some places as a touchdown favorite. Winning a national title requires luck, but considering the SEC is on the doorstep of its seventh consecutive title, it’s all about talent and owning the top programs in the nation. Notre Dame is worthy challenger, but the SEC is the best of the best and that will show on Jan. 7 in Miami.

2. The continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron
Quarterback AJ McCarron was a key reason why Alabama knocked off LSU in last season’s title game. He completed 23 of 34 throws for 234 yards and no interceptions in New Orleans, which significantly relieved the pressure on running back Trent Richardson and the defense. McCarron has taken another step in his development this year, throwing for 2,669 yards and 26 touchdowns, while tossing just three picks. The junior is also completing 66.8 percent of his throws and ranks first nationally in passing efficiency. Moving the ball against Notre Dame’s defense won’t be easy, but McCarron is getting better with every snap and has progressed significantly since last year’s national title victory over LSU. Considering the junior quarterback scored a road win over LSU and led Alabama to a victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship, the national stage against a stout Notre Dame defense won’t be too big for McCarron.

3. Alabama has the best defense Notre Dame has played this year
Although Notre Dame’s schedule features nine teams playing in a bowl game this year, it hasn’t played a defense quite like the one it will see in Miami on Jan. 7. Alabama has more team speed and depth than anyone the Fighting Irish have played this season and rank first nationally in yards allowed and are second in scoring defense. The secondary had some lapses during the regular season but no opponent threw for more than 296 yards this year. With a month to gameplan for Notre Dame, coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart should have a few new wrinkles to throw at quarterback Everett Golson. The Crimson Tide’s pass rush (2.5 sacks per game) will challenge an experienced Fighting Irish offensive line.

4. Emerging playmakers on offense
Despite losing running back Trent Richardson and receiver Marquis Maze, Alabama’s offense was statistically better in 2012. The Crimson Tide averaged 439.1 yards and 38.5 points per game, slightly increased from 34.9 points and 429.6 yards a game in 2011. The development of quarterback AJ McCarron as played a key role in the increased production, but the Crimson Tide also have a group of emerging playmakers to also thank for the success. Running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon each topped 1,000 yards this year, while freshman receiver Amari Cooper emerged as the go-to threat for McCarron, catching 53 passes for 895 yards and nine scores. With another set of practices to work with the coaching staff, expect Yeldon, Cooper and receiver Christion Jones to be even more comfortable in the offense by Jan. 7, which only adds to an offense that features McCarron and one of the best offensive lines in the nation.

5. Nick Saban in national title games
Even though Nick Saban has routinely had some of college football’s best rosters at Alabama and LSU, winning a national championship requires more than talent. And when ranking the best coaches in the nation, Saban should be No. 1 by a wide margin. In 11 years in the SEC, he has a 67-21 conference record and has only one season of fewer than eight victories. Saban has been simply unstoppable since coming to Alabama, as the Crimson Tide has won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons. That record looks even more impressive when you consider the three national championships on Saban’s resume. He won the 2003 title at LSU by beating Oklahoma and claimed the 2009 and 2011 championships with the Crimson Tide. Saban is 3-0 in national title appearances and 4-1 in bowl games during his career at Alabama. Needless to say, Saban is at his best when everything is on the line. 

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5 Reasons Why Notre Dame Will Win the National Title
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Post-Week 14 BCS Analysis

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<p> 5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Beat Notre Dame for the National Title</p>
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After starting his career at South Florida with a solid 8-5 season, Skip Holtz appeared to have the Bulls in position to contend for Big East championships. However, the program never managed to take the next step under Holtz's watch. The Bulls went 5-7 in 2011 and continued the downward spiral with a 3-9 record in 2012. Holtz was fired on Sunday, which means South Florida will be looking for just its third coach in program history.  

10 Replacements for Skip Holtz at South Florida

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

Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – Considering Cristobal has spent most of his career in Florida, he would be a logical target for South Florida. However, Cristobal could have a hard time leaving the Miami area, especially with FIU making the jump from the Sun Belt to Conference USA. Cristobal has a 27-47 record in six years with the Golden Panthers but helped to resurrect a program that was in awful shape when he became head coach in 2007. 
 

Eddie Gran, RB coach, Florida State – Gran has been an assistant in the college ranks since 1987, making stops at Miami, Cincinnati, Ole Miss, Auburn, Tennessee and Florida State. The California native has never been a coordinator but is a relentless recruiter and has been a key addition to the Seminoles’ staff over the last three seasons. Not having head coaching experience has to be a drawback for Gran’s chances of landing at South Florida.
 

Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State – Herman is a longshot in this coaching search but a rising star to watch over the next couple of seasons. The Ohio native started his coaching career at Texas Lutheran in 1998, before working his way through the ranks at Texas, Sam Houston State and then as an offensive coordinator at Texas State from 2005-06. After two years with the Bobcats, Herman worked at Rice as the offensive coordinator, then jumped to Iowa State in 2009 and came to Columbus to work with Urban Meyer. 
 

June Jones, head coach, SMU – Jones wanted to leave SMU last season, so it’s a bit of a surprise his name hasn’t popped up for more jobs this year. Although the Mustangs haven’t made dramatic improvements under his watch, SMU is making its fourth consecutive bowl appearance. Jones is 30-34 in six seasons with the Mustangs and was 76-41 in nine years with Hawaii. Considering South Florida needs to build some excitement in the fanbase, hiring a coach that runs a pass-first offense would be ideal. 
 

Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M – If South Florida really wants to make a splash with its hire, Kingsbury should be one of its top targets. The Texas native has been coaching in college since 2008, beginning his career under Kevin Sumlin at Houston. Kingsbury helped to orchestrate one of the nation’s best offenses with the Cougars in 2011 and played a key role in the development of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M this season. Kingsbury has no head coaching experience but runs an exciting offense and has worked under some successful coaches – Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen. 
 

Dan McCarney, head coach, North Texas – Just like Houston Nutt, McCarney’s name has been mentioned as an early candidate for the vacancy at South Florida. McCarney has a career record of 65-100 but spent 12 years coaching at a difficult place to win (Iowa State). He also has one season of experience at South Florida (2007) and coached at Florida from 2008-2010. McCarney is 9-15 in two years at North Texas. 
 

Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – Monken is another coach with a background on offense and is also due for his shot to run a program. The Illinois native has no head coaching experience but has built a solid resume with stops as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Oklahoma State and in the NFL with the Jaguars. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has helped to build a foundation for offensive success in Stillwater, but Monken has done a tremendous job this season, starting three quarterbacks and dealing with a revamped offensive line to rank No. 3 nationally in scoring offense.
 

Brent Pease, offensive coordinator, Florida – Pease has been an assistant in the college ranks since 1991, which included a stop as Boise State’s offensive coordinator in 2011. The Idaho native also worked at Kentucky, Baylor and helped to improve Florida’s offense in 2012. Pease doesn’t have head coaching experience but he has a solid resume from his time as an assistant and would help South Florida spark a struggling offense. 
 

Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and is ready for a promotion to a bigger program. He is 16-20 in three years with Western Kentucky, including back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2011-12. Taggart is from Palmetto, Fla., which is just under 50 miles to Raymond James Stadium. In addition to his time as a head coach at Western Kentucky, Taggart worked as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh for three seasons at Stanford.  

 

A few wildcards to watch
 

Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth is 17-8 in two seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette and has SEC experience from a two-year stint at Mississippi State. Although Hudspeth would be a great hire, he may be holding out for a chance to land in the SEC.
 

Houston Nutt, former Ole Miss head coach – The early rumor mill has suggested Nutt could be in the mix for the opening at South Florida, which would certainly be an interesting fit for both parties. Nutt recorded a 75-48 mark during his tenure at Arkansas, including at least a share of three SEC West titles. Nutt started 18-8 at Ole Miss but went 6-18 during the next two seasons.  

Teaser:
<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Fired Skip Holtz at South Florida</p>
Post date: Monday, December 3, 2012 - 06:05

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