Articles By Steven Lassan

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

11 Coaches to Replace Doug Marrone at Syracuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Coaches to Replace Norv Turner at San Diego
 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

10 Coaches to Replace Andy Reid in Philadelphia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orange Bowl – Northern Illinois vs. Florida State

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

When the Northern Illinois Huskies have the ball:

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the Florida State Seminoles have the ball:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Analysis

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

Prediction: Florida State 38, Northern Illinois 20


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the Clemson Tigers have the ball:

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the LSU Tigers have the ball:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Analysis

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

Prediction: LSU 34, Clemson 24


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<p> Chick-fil-A Bowl Preview and Prediction: Clemson vs. LSU</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:46
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-new-years-resolutions-2013
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The end of every year is always a good time for reflection and examining what improvements could be made for the following 12 months. And that’s the case with college football, especially as the sport gets ready to close the books on a crazy 2012 season and move on to 2013 with another interesting race for the national title ready to unfold. There are still plenty of big events coming to college football in the next few days, including the anticipated Notre Dame-Alabama BCS championship game on Jan. 7. With the 2012 season nearly over, it’s time to start thinking about how college football could be better in 2013. With that in mind, here are six resolutions for fans to consider for next season:

Six College Football New Year's Resolutions for 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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


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<p> College Football's New Year's Resolutions for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:05
Path: /college-football/holiday-bowl-preview-and-prediction-baylor-vs-ucla
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If you like offense, the Holiday Bowl is one of the postseason’s must-watch matchups. Baylor and UCLA each averaged over 35 points and 470 yards a game, so this game could be one of the highest-scoring contests of the bowl season

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

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

Holiday Bowl – UCLA vs. Baylor

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

When the UCLA Bruins have the ball:

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

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

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

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

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

When the Baylor Bears have the ball:

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

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

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

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

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

Final Analysis

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

Prediction: UCLA 41, Baylor 38


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Teaser:
<p> Holiday Bowl Preview and Prediction: Baylor vs. UCLA</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 06:48
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-most-surprising-head-coach-hires-bcs-era
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No college football head coaching search ever goes according to plan. However, anytime a job opens during or after the season, there’s a good idea of which candidates will be interested or the most likely targets. Despite having a general feel of where a particular program might go with its hire, there are times where a school makes a decision that blindsides or surprises everyone. Arkansas made a solid hire when it pulled Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, but the move came as a complete surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just off the radar

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

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

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

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

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Post date: Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/las-vegas-bowl-preview-and-prediction-boise-state-vs-washington
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With Boise State and Washington returning most of its starting core for 2013, the Las Vegas Bowl is a chance for both teams to establish momentum and use the postseason as a springboard for an improvement in the win column next year.

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

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

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

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

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

When the Boise State Broncos have the ball:

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

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

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

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

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

When the Washington Huskies have the ball:

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

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

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

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

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

Final Analysis:

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

Prediction: Boise State 24, Washington 20


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Post date: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 05:49
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The New Orleans Bowl features a matchup of two teams riding a wave of momentum to close out the regular season. East Carolina won five out of its last six games, with the only loss coming to Navy. The Pirates didn’t beat a team with a winning record during that span but recorded two victories by 20 or more points. The Ragin’ Cajuns won four out of their last five games and nearly upset Florida on Nov. 10.

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

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

New Orleans Bowl

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

When the Ragin’ Cajuns have the ball:

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

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

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

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

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

When the Pirates have the ball:

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

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

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

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

Final Analysis

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

Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 34, East Carolina 31


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Post date: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 05:45
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2012-coordinator-carousel-tracker-0
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College football's coaching carousel has been active since the end of the regular season and will continue to spin over the next few months. Athlon has compiled all of the coordinator changes from this season and will continue to update this list as moves take place. 

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

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

Teaser:
<p> College Football's 2012 Coordinator Carousel Tracker</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 02:58
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-football-makes-home-run-hire-utah-states-gary-andersen
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After a two-week search, Wisconsin has finally found its next head coach. Utah State’s Gary Andersen has been hired to replace Bret Bielema in Madison, becoming Wisconsin’s third head coach since 1990. Bielema left for Arkansas after recording a 68-24 mark in seven seasons.

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

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

Positives for Wisconsin in hiring Gary Andersen

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

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

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

Negatives in Wisconsin's hire of Gary Andersen

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

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

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

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

Final Analysis

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

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

Grading Wisconsin’s Hire of Gary Andersen: A+


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Teaser:
<p> Wisconsin Football Makes Home Run Hire of Utah State's Gary Andersen</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/florida-state-makes-curious-decision-hire-jeremy-pruitt-defensive-coordinator
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Florida State’s search for a defensive coordinator is over. Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt has been hired as the replacement for Mark Stoops, who left to become Kentucky’s head coach after three seasons in Tallahassee.

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

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

Examining Pruitt’s Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

No coordinator experience

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

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

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

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

Good hire or Bad hire?

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

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

Grading Florida State’s hire of Pruitt: B-


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Teaser:
<p> Florida State Makes a Curious Decision to Hire Jeremy Pruitt at Defensive Coordinator</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 08:15
Path: /college-football/willie-taggart-matt-rhule-or-tommy-tuberville-who-big-easts-best-hire
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Change seems like the perfect word to sum up the Big East in 2013. The conference will welcome six new teams next season, while three programs will have new head coaches. Willie Taggart was hired to replace Skip Holtz at South Florida, Tommy Tuberville was brought in to replace Butch Jones at Cincinnati, and Matt Rhule returns to Temple to take over for Steve Addazio. All three coaches were solid hires, but which coach will have the most success in 2013 and beyond? 

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

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

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

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

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Teaser:
<p> Willie Taggart, Matt Rhule or Tommy Tuberville: Who is the Big East's Best Hire?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 05:02
Path: /college-football/15-key-college-football-players-could-declare-2013-nfl-draft
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The NFL’s early entry deadline into the draft always plays a huge role in ranking teams for the next season. There’s a handful of key players that could depart college football for the NFL after this season, which could force a lot of changes in Athlon’s very early top 25 for 2013. It’s never too early to think about next season, so it’s time to examine some of the key players that could depart for the NFL Draft, which will also play a huge role in determining the top 25.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


5 Other Potential Departures to Watch for 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Others to Watch:

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

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Teaser:
<p> 15 Players Who Will Impact the NFL Draft and College Football in 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, December 17, 2012 - 05:23
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Wildcats, Pac 12, News
Path: /news/arizona-wildcats-teammates-fight-during-new-mexico-bowl
Body:

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
Body:

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
Body:

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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Teaser:
<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
Body:

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
Body:

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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Teaser:
<p> New Mexico Bowl Preview and Prediction: Arizona Wildcats vs. Nevada Wolf Pack</p>
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
Body:

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:
<p> 6 Coaches to Replace Kliff Kingsbury at Texas A&amp;M</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 07:40
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-disappointments-2012
Body:

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

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