Articles By Steven Lassan
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
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.
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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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|
|Eastern Michigan||OC||Ken Karcher|
|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||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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Utah State||DC||Dave Aranda|
|UTEP||DC||Andre Patterson||Jeff Choate|
|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||Co-DC||Chris Ash, Charlie Partridge||Dave Aranda|
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.
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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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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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.
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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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.
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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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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.
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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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:
|Cincinnati||San Diego State|
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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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
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.
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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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
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.
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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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.
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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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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Related College Football Content
College football’s 2012-2013 bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque on Dec. 15 and ends on Jan. 7 with the BCS National Championship in Miami. With 35 games, there’s a lot of college football to watch over the next few weeks. And needless to say, it can get a little overwhelming to take in every game with the holidays and plenty of unannounced visits from the in-laws. To help maximize your bowl watching experience in December and January, Athlon has ranked all of the bowl games in order from the must-see to the must-miss. If you can only catch 10 bowl games this year, these are the ones you cannot afford to miss.
College Football's Top 10 Must-See Matchups of the 2012 Bowl Season
1. BCS National Title – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0)
Date and Time: Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
With the history and tradition between Alabama and Notre Dame, this season's national title matchup is the most-anticipated championship game of the BCS era. With a Crimson Tide victory, the SEC will claim its seventh consecutive national championship, while Alabama is looking for its third BCS title in four seasons. This is the Fighting Irish’s first BCS bowl appearance under coach Brian Kelly and their first overall since 2007. Both teams rank among the best in defense, but the Crimson Tide have a slight edge on offense, largely due to the continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron. These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 edge in the series. Interestingly enough, Alabama and the Fighting Irish are tied with eight Associated Press national titles apiece.
Why you should watch: It's the national championship!
2. Fiesta Bowl – Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1)
Date and Time: Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
If you like offense, the Fiesta Bowl should be the game to watch. The Ducks rank second nationally in scoring offense with an average of 50.8 points per game, while Kansas State is 10th nationally at 40.7 points per game. Oregon is loaded with playmakers, starting with redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Kenjon Barner. Although Kansas State’s offense is averaging over 400 yards per game, its success is largely due to the play of one man — quarterback Collin Klein. The senior carried the offense with 3,380 total yards and 37 touchdowns. These two teams were scheduled to meet in the regular season, but the series was canceled in 2010. One key question surrounding this one: Will Chip Kelly still be Oregon’s coach when this game kicks off?
Why you should watch: Expect lots of points, and it's also the final game for Collin Klein at Kansas State and Kenjon Barner at Oregon. Last year's Fiesta Bowl was one of the best matchups of the bowl season and expect much of the same in 2013.
3. Chick-fil-A Bowl – LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Date and Time: Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is usually one of the best matchups outside of the BCS and 2012 certainly lives up to that hype. LSU was one defensive stop against Alabama from playing for the SEC Championship and won at least 10 games for the sixth time in eight seasons. Clemson is 1-1 against SEC opponents this year, beating Auburn in the season opener and losing to South Carolina on Nov. 24. The Tigers own one of college football’s top offenses, averaging 42.3 points a game. The chess match between Clemson’s offense against LSU’s defense should be one of the top O's vs. X's battles this bowl season.
Why you should watch: Who wouldn't want to watch a Tigers vs. Tigers bowl matchup? There's also the ACC vs. SEC storyline. And the chess match between Clemson's offense against LSU's defense. Needless to say, pickup a Chick-fil-A sandwich and waffle fries and grab a seat on the recliner.
4. Rose Bowl – Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
After watching Oregon and Wisconsin trade scores in last season’s Rose Bowl, points could be a premium in the 2013 edition. Stanford and Wisconsin will be a war in the trenches, as the Cardinal hope to hold the Badgers’ powerful rushing attack in check. Stanford’s offense improved in the second half of the season, largely due to the emergence of quarterback Kevin Hogan. Considering both teams are strong on defense and on the ground, a key play by Hogan or Wisconsin’s Curt Phillips could be just enough to win. The Badgers have lost back-to-back Rose Bowl games.
Why you should watch: How about the return of Barry Alvarez to the Wisconsin sideline for one more game? Also, both teams mirror each other in a lot of ways, so expect a physical game with plenty of good battles in the trenches.
5. Cotton Bowl – Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
Date and Time: Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Even though the Cotton Bowl was pressured not to setup a Texas-Texas A&M matchup, it ended up with a solid game between two former Big 12 rivals. Oklahoma also just missed out on a BCS bowl, even though its only losses came against Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl) and Notre Dame (BCS title). The Sooners’ defense allowed at least 30 points in three out of their final four games, which has to be a concern against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy and ranks second nationally with 383.3 yards of total offense per game. Oklahoma has won eight out of the last nine matchups against Texas A&M, including a 41-25 game last season.
Why you should watch: The Cotton Bowl features teams from two of the top conferences in the nation, and it's also the first game for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel after winning the Heisman Trophy. And this matchup is on a Friday night, so if you are looking for a way to wind down after a long week at work, the Cotton Bowl is the perfect medicine.
6. Capital One Bowl – Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Considering how the conference championship games turned out for both teams, there certainly has to be a feeling of disappointment by having to play in Orlando. However, if Nebraska and Georgia are motivated, this should be one of the best bowl matchups outside of the BCS. After the Cornhuskers were shredded for 539 rushing yards against Wisconsin, the Bulldogs have to be licking their chops. Freshmen backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 1,983 yards and 24 touchdowns this year. This matchup also features an exciting quarterback duel between Georgia’s Aaron Murray (34 TDs) and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (31 TDs).
Why you should watch: Both of these teams fell just short of winning their conference title and have combined for a 21-5 overall mark. There's also two talented quarterbacks - Aaron Murray and Taylor Martinez - along with three standout running backs - Rex Burkhead, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
7. Sugar Bowl – Louisville (10-2) vs. Florida (11-1)
Date and Time: Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Florida has one of the nation’s best resumes but also has some puzzling results, including close victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Missouri. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, but a loss to Georgia prevented Will Muschamp’s team from having a chance to play for the national title. Louisville won the Big East title with a 20-17 win over Rutgers, which featured a gutsy performance from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. With over a month to heal, Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent, which should give the Cardinals a chance to hang around in this matchup. There’s also an underlying coaching theme, as Louisville’s Charlie Strong worked at Florida from 2002-09.
Why you should watch: With a full month to heal, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent from his wrist and ankle injuries suffered against Connecticut. Bridgewater is a Florida native and he will give the Gators' secondary a challenge on Jan. 2. Considering the improvement from Florida from 2011 to 2012, this team could use the Sugar Bowl as a springboard to a national title run in 2013.
8. Holiday Bowl – Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)
Date and Time: Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
The Holiday Bowl seems to bring out the best in offense, so expect plenty of fireworks when Baylor and UCLA meet on Dec. 27. The Bears were one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 to finish 2012, winning four out of their final five games, with the only loss coming to Oklahoma. Baylor leads the nation in total offense, while quarterback Nick Florence kept the passing attack going without Robert Griffin, throwing for 4,121 yards and 31 scores. UCLA won the Pac-12 South in coach Jim Mora’s first season and fell just short of a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have a dynamic offense and the combination of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin should test a shaky Baylor defense.
Why you should watch: Offense, offense and more offense. This could be the highest scoring game of the bowl season.
9. Outback Bowl – South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Even though both teams had its sights set on a bigger bowl game this year, the Outback Bowl should be another entertaining Big Ten-SEC matchup. The time off from the season finale is good news for both teams, as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw missed the game against Clemson with a foot injury and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is also banged up. Michigan could use the month off to find a fix for its rushing attack, which sputtered when Fitzgerald Toussaint was lost for the year with a leg injury. Expect Florida native Denard Robinson to play a quarterback/running back hybrid role for Michigan in his final game in a Wolverine uniform.
Why you should watch: A classic SEC vs. Big Ten bowl game. The Big Ten had a miserable regular season but an upset or two against the SEC in bowl games would make things a little better. Watching Denard Robinson against South Carolina's front four will be one of the more intriguing matchups of the postseason.
10. Orange Bowl – Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
For the first time in the BCS era, a MAC team will make an appearance in a BCS bowl. The Huskies aren’t the strongest non-BCS squad to play in a big-time bowl, as they lost to Iowa in Week 1 and scored a one-point victory over a 2-9 Army team in Week 3. Also, coach Dave Doeren left for NC State after the MAC Championship victory over Kent State. However, Northern Illinois features one of the nation’s most exciting players in quarterback Jordan Lynch and an offense that averages 40.8 points per game. The Huskies’ high-powered attack will be tested by a Florida State defense that ranks second nationally in yards allowed and is giving up just 15.1 points per game. The Seminoles will be without coordinator Mark Stoops in this game, who left to take the head coaching job at Kentucky. If Florida State is motivated, the Seminoles should overwhelm Northern Illinois with its speed and depth.
Why you should watch: Can Northern Illinois pull off the upset? After hearing a month of talk about how they don't belong, expect the Huskies to have plenty of motivation on Jan. 1.
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With the 2012 college football regular season in the books, it’s time to take a look at the year in review. Several freshmen made an impact in the national and conference title races, including Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman wasn’t the only quarterback making a splash in their first season, as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley each averaged over 250 yards of total offense. Outside of the quarterbacks, TCU defensive end Devonte Fields and Georgia running back Todd Gurley were other impact freshmen.
College Football's Top 25 Freshmen from 2012
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Manziel’s freshmen campaign will likely enter the record books as one of the best of the BCS era. The Texas native set a SEC record with 4,600 yards of total offense, while scoring 43 overall scores. Manziel claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy and led Texas A&M to a 10-2 record in its first season of SEC play. With another offseason to work under coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, Johnny Football will be even more dangerous for opposing defenses to stop in 2013.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Despite having to replace quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, the Ducks’ offense never missed a beat. The emergence of Mariota kept Oregon ranked among the nation’s best offenses, averaging 550.1 yards and 50.8 points per game. Mariota threw for 2,511 yards and 30 touchdowns, while recording 690 yards and four scores on the ground. The Hawaii native completed 69.9 percent of his throws and led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency. Even if coach Chip Kelly departs to the NFL, Mariota will be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman in 2013.
3. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Although Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota should earn any freshman first or second-team All-America honors, Hundley’s 2012 season should not be overlooked. He was a key reason for UCLA’s improvement in the win column, as the redshirt freshman proved to be a perfect fit for coordinator Noel Mazzone’s spread offense. Hundley threw for 3,411 yards and 26 scores and recorded 365 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Hundley nearly led UCLA to a Pac-12 title, but helped the Bruins score key victories against Nebraska, USC and a 66-10 blowout win over Arizona.
4. Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Fields was an absolute monster for the Horned Frogs this year, recording 49 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. The true freshman also forced two fumbles and broke up three passes. Fields was named the Big 12’s Freshman of the Year and was arguably one of the conference’s best defenders. With another year to work with coach Gary Patterson and in the weight room, Fields should be a lock for All-America honors in 2013.
5. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Gurley and fellow freshman Keith Marshall combined to form one of the nation’s best one-two punches at running back. Gurley was the team’s workhorse, leading the way with 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 113 yards. Gurley had six 100-yard performances in SEC play and rushed for 122 yards and two scores against Alabama in the conference title game. Georgia’s offensive line returns intact next season, which should allow Gurley to push his totals even higher in 2013.
6. Isaac Seumalo, C, Oregon State
Lost in the huge seasons from quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota was a solid group of impact freshmen in trenches. Seumalo anchored a much-improved Oregon State offensive line this season, starting all 12 games at center and earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. The Beavers’ line allowed only 1.9 sacks a game, while paving the way for the rushing attack to score 23 touchdowns this season.
7. John Theus, RT, Georgia
With the departure of Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn, Georgia’s offensive line was a question mark coming into this season. However, the line seemed to jell as the year progressed, largely due to Theus’ steady play on the right side. He started all 13 games and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
8. Leonard Williams, DT, USC
USC’s defensive line was arguably the team’s biggest question mark heading into 2012. However, thanks to the emergence of Williams and junior college recruit Morgan Breslin, those concerns were quickly erased. Williams recorded 50 stops, 13 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks and earned Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors.
9. Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
Thanks to the arrival of coordinator Justin Wilcox and Thompson’s performance, the Huskies had one of the nation's most-improved defenses. The true freshman recorded 66 stops, two sacks and three interceptions this season. Thompson earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
10. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
No Trent Richardson? No problem for Alabama. Despite losing a first-round pick at running back, the Crimson Tide averaged 224.6 rushing yards per game, which ranked second in the SEC. Eddie Lacy shouldered the bulk of the workload, but Yeldon finished with 1,000 yards and 11 scores on 154 attempts. The true freshman also caught 10 balls for 131 yards and one touchdown. Yeldon’s best performance came in the SEC Championship, gashing Georgia for 153 yards on 25 attempts.
11. Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame
Golson didn’t post flashy numbers like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota but had a solid all-around season. The redshirt freshman finished with 2,135 passing yards and 11 touchdowns and added 305 rushing yards and five scores. Golson’s play picked up as the season progressed and is one win away from leading Notre Dame to a national championship.
12. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
With Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks expiring their eligibility at the end of 2011, Alabama’s receiving corps needed a big year from its incoming freshmen. In addition to becoming the go-to target for quarterback AJ McCarron, Cooper emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers. The true freshman caught 53 passes for 895 yards and nine scores. Cooper failed to record a catch against LSU but produced three 100-yard efforts over the final four games.
13. Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State
Despite a ban on postseason play, the Nittany Lions didn’t have a problem with motivation. Penn State finished 8-4 and knocked off Big Ten champ Wisconsin 24-21 in the regular season finale. Defense is usually a strength in Happy Valley and 2012 was no different under first-year coach Bill O'Brien. Barnes recorded 26 tackles, six sacks, 10 tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles. With Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley departing, Penn State needs Barnes to have an even better season in 2013.
14. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Johnson was expected to make an immediate impact with the Hurricanes and the Miami native didn’t disappoint. He opened the year with 135 yards and two touchdowns on seven attempts against Boston College and finished the year with three 100-yard efforts in his final four games. Johnson recorded 2,060 all-purpose yards in 2012 and was picked as the ACC’s rookie of the year.
15. Tyler Johnstone, LT, Oregon
Johnstone was a key cog in Oregon’s offensive line, starting all 13 games and helping the Ducks lead the Pac-12 in rushing, total and scoring offense.
16. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
With a handful of quarterback injuries, Maryland never had a chance to establish any consistency in the passing game. When you consider four quarterbacks saw snaps in regular season action, Diggs’ numbers become even more impressive. The true freshman led the team in receptions (54), receiving yards (848) and touchdown catches (6). He was also a weapon on special teams, averaging 28.5 yards per kickoff return and taking two back for scores. Assuming Maryland finds some stability under center next year, Diggs will easily surpass his all-purpose yardage total from 2012 (1,896).
17. KeiVarae Russell, CB, Notre Dame
Not many true freshmen are thrown into a starting role at cornerback, but that’s exactly what was asked of Russell this season. The Washington native started all 12 games for the Fighting Irish, recording 50 tackles and two picks. Russell had plenty of help with one of the nation’s best defensive lines and linebacking corps putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. However, Russell held up just fine under the pressure and should be a standout player for Notre Dame next season.
18. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
Dixon set a FBS freshman record with 27 rushing scores, while adding 1,194 yards on 200 carries. He also earned WAC Freshman of the Year honors and was a first-team all-conference selection.
19. Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss
Nkemdiche’s emergence played a huge role in the improvement of Ole Miss’ defense. The Rebels ranked last in the SEC in total defense last season and improved to seventh in the conference in 2012. Nkemdiche was active around the line of scrimmage all year, recording 78 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions.
20. Jalen Mills, DB, LSU
Without Morris Claiborne or Tyrann Mathieu patrolling in the secondary, the Tigers needed a big season from Mills and fellow freshman Jalen Collins. Mills started all 13 games at cornerback, recording 52 stops and two interceptions. He should be in the mix for All-SEC honors next year.
21. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
With Jalen Saunders transferring from Fresno State in spring practice, the Bulldogs needed a new No. 1 receiver to emerge for quarterback Derek Carr. Adams became the go-to guy, nabbing 89 receptions for 1,168 yards and 13 touchdowns.
22. Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
West Virginia ranked as one of the worst defenses in the nation this year, but Joseph’s play shouldn’t be overlooked. Joseph led the team with 95 tackles and recorded two interceptions and three forced fumbles.
23. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Evans emerged as the No. 1 target for quarterback Johnny Manziel, catching 75 passes for 1,022 yards and five scores.
24. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Boykin was forced into action after starter Casey Pachall was suspended for the year. The redshirt freshman finished with 1,853 passing yards and 15 scores, while adding 380 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Although Boykin’s numbers weren’t huge, his steady play was crucial to TCU’s 7-5 finish in its first season of Big 12 play.
25. Jake Brendel, C, UCLA
After struggling to find consistency on the offensive line over the last few seasons, UCLA found something to build on for 2013. Brendel anchored the Bruins’ line this year, starting all 13 games at center. UCLA allowed 3.5 sacks a game, but the offensive line helped to clear the way for the rushing attack to average 202.9 yards per contest.
Jack Allen, C, Michigan State
Austin Blythe, OG, Iowa
Evan Boehm, OG, Missouri
Keith Brown, LB, Louisville
Kyle Carter, TE, Penn State
Le’Raven Clark, OL, Texas Tech
Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State
Landon Foster, P, Kentucky
Dante Fowler, DL, Florida
Jaxon Hood, DT, Arizona State
Jabari Hunt-Days, LB, Georgia Tech
D.J. Hunter, LB, Marshall
Keith Marshall, RB Georgia
Ross Martin, K, Duke
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
Ethan Perry, P, TCU
Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin
Trevon Stewart, FS, Houston
Nick VanHoose, CB, Northwestern
Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State
Jaime Wilson, WR, Western Michigan
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Texas Tech is the latest college football program looking for a new coach, as Tommy Tuberville made a surprising decision to bolt to Cincinnati to replace Butch Jones. Tuberville was 20-17 in three seasons with the Red Raiders but never seemed to be a good fit in Lubbock. Texas Tech has experienced only one losing season since 1993, and Tuberville isn’t leaving the cupboard bare for the new coach.
8 Coaches to Replace Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor – Briles just signed an extension with Baylor but that likely won’t stop Texas Tech from pursuing him in the next few days. He graduated from Texas Tech with a bachelor’s degree in 1979 and went to Rule High School, which is less than 200 miles outside of Lubbock. Briles was a successful high school head coach and jumped into the collegiate ranks in 2000 as a running backs coach with Texas Tech. After three years with the Red Raiders, Briles was selected as Houston’s head coach and recorded a 34-28 record in five seasons with the Cougars. He replaced Guy Morriss at Baylor in 2008 and is 32-30 in five years in Waco, including a 10-3 mark in 2011.
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State – DeRuyter had a successful debut season at Fresno State, leading the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record and a share of the Mountain West title. DeRuyter has a solid resume as an assistant, working as a defensive coordinator at Air Force and Texas A&M. Although he’s only been a head coach for one year, it’s very easy to be impressed with DeRuyter. Fresno State struggled to get over the hump with Pat Hill on the sidelines, but DeRuyter brought quick improvement after the Bulldogs went 4-9 last season. The 49-year-old coach played at Air Force from 1982-84 and coached with the Falcons from 1991-94 and 2007-09.
Bryan Harsin, offensive coordinator, Texas – Harsin has been on a quick rise through the coaching ranks, starting his career at Eastern Oregon as an assistant in 2000. Harsin was hired at Boise State in 2001 and eventually worked his way into the offensive coordinator role in 2006. After five seasons with the Broncos, Harsin came to Austin and has brought improvement to the Longhorns’ attack, which ranked 37th nationally in total offense this year. Harsin has no head coaching experience but is ready for a shot to run his own program.
Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M – Kingsbury is the perfect fit for Texas Tech. However, is he ready to lead this program? The San Antonio native played under Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 1998-2002 and ranks second in school history with 12,429 passing yards. After a short career in the NFL, Kingsbury landed on Houston’s coaching staff as an assistant under Kevin Sumlin. The Cougars were one of the nation’s best offenses under Kingsbury’s watch, and he joined Sumlin at Texas A&M in 2012. The Aggies finished third nationally in total and scoring defense this year, while finishing 10-2 in their first season of SEC play. Kingsbury is a rising star, but the lack of head coaching experience has to be a concern for Hocutt.
Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – If Texas Tech wants to go with a young, offensive-minded coach, Monken is another guy to keep on the radar. The Illinois native has no head coaching experience but made stops as an assistant at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, LSU and Oklahoma State. Monken also spent two years in the NFL with the Jaguars and is believed to be on the radar for openings at Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Morris is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football. The Texas native has no collegiate head coaching experience but helped to engineer top-25 offenses at Tulsa and Clemson. The Tigers finished 2012 ranked in the top 10 in total and scoring offense, while averaging 319.6 passing yards per game. Morris has a wealth of experience in the high school ranks, working as a head coach from 1994-2009 at five different stops. Although Morris has no collegiate head coaching experience, his time in the Texas high school ranks and offensive background would be a perfect fit for the Red Raiders.
Jay Norvell, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Norvell has been an assistant coach since 1986, making stops at Iowa, Wisconsin, Iowa State, Nebraska, UCLA and in the NFL with the Colts and Raiders. Norvell has worked with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma since 2008 and is a co-offensive coordinator with Josh Heupel. Although the Wisconsin native has no head coaching experience, he’s a proven assistant with Big 12 experience and a background on offense.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson – Venables is a name many in the Big 12 are familiar with, as he played at Kansas State from 1991-92 and coached at Oklahoma from 1999-2011. The Kansas native left Norman to work as Clemson’s defensive coordinator in 2012 and the Tigers showed improvement under his direction, finishing fourth in the ACC in scoring defense. Venables and Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt played together at Kansas State from 1991-92 and also crossed paths at Oklahoma. Venables has no head coaching experience but is due for his chance to run a BCS program.
Longshots to watch
Josh Heupel, co-offensive coordinator, Oklahoma
Dana Holgorsen, head coach, West Virginia
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette
Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator, Indiana
Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas head coach
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After an extended coaching search, Tennessee has finally found its man. Butch Jones was picked as the Volunteers’ next coach, replacing Derek Dooley after an ineffective three-year run in Knoxville. Jones isn’t a big name or flashy hire, but Tennessee is getting a solid coach that should return to the program to bowl games.
Here’s a deeper look at Jones and the positives and negatives surrounding his hire:
A Proven Winner
Although Jones has yet to build a program from scratch, his resume is rock solid. Jones is 50-27 in six seasons as a head coach, which also includes five bowl trips. Even if Brian Kelly helped to set the table for Jones’ success at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, it’s not easy getting to 50 victories based on someone else’s recruits. After going 4-8 in his first season with Cincinnati, Jones did a tremendous job getting the program back on track, recording a 19-6 mark over the last two years.
Tennessee is a Destination Job for Jones
Considering Jones is only 44 years old, he’s got plenty of energy and is ready to build something special at Tennessee. Leaving Cincinnati was not an easy decision for Jones but moving to Tennessee and a conference (SEC) with more stability was the right call. Even though his resume may not indicate this, the Michigan native is the type of coach who wants to set down roots in an area and build a program. As long as Jones is successful, he won’t be looking to bolt Knoxville anytime soon.
Even though Jones spent just three years at Cincinnati, his time in the Buckeye State should help Tennessee on the recruiting trail. The Volunteers have to be able to recruit nationally, especially since the state of Tennessee doesn’t produce a ton of elite talent. Having a coach with ties in Ohio can only help on the recruiting trail. In addition to his Ohio ties, Jones did a good job of recruiting the state of Florida and Memphis while at Cincinnati, which should work even better at Tennessee.
No SEC Experience
This factor is probably overrated in coaching searches, but it will take some time for Jones to adjust to life in the SEC. James Franklin has been a successful hire at Vanderbilt and had no SEC head coaching experience before joining the Commodores. Arkansas recently hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, and the former Badger coach has no SEC experience either. This is not a huge concern, but Jones will have an adjustment period and needs to find some assistants with SEC ties.
Building a Program
Although Jones’ resume is solid, there’s a concern he has yet to build a program like Charlie Strong did at Louisville. Jones followed Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and went 27-13, recording two MAC Championships and three bowl appearances. After three years with the Chippewas, Jones took over for Kelly at Cincinnati and went 23-14 with two bowl trips. The Bearcats were 4-8 in his first season but rebounded to a 19-6 mark over the last two years. The good news for Jones and his staff? Tennessee isn’t a huge rebuilding job. However, the program does need some work, which means this is the toughest coaching job Jones will have so far in his career.
Jones wasn’t the first choice of Tennessee
Satisfying a fanbase in the SEC is never an easy task, and Jones already has some ground to cover. Tennessee reportedly made a run at Jon Gruden, Charlie Strong and Mike Gundy and was turned down by each coach. If that’s the case, Jones was likely the No. 4 or maybe even the No. 5 man on athletic director Dave Hart’s list. While it’s not really a big deal for Tennessee to miss on its No. 1 target, the fanbase wanted a bigger name. One thing for the Volunteer fanbase to keep in mind – Jim Mora probably wasn’t the first choice at UCLA and that hire turned out pretty well. Jones will do just fine at Tennessee, but considering the lack of success by the program in recent years, the fanbase wants to win and win now. Basically, there’s no grace period for Jones as he adjusts to life in the SEC.
Final Analysis and Grade
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Butch Jones is no Nick Saban. However, he’s also not Derek Dooley either. Considering his success at two different stops, Jones is better prepared for this opportunity at Tennessee. Can he win national championships? That’s the big question. Hiring a good staff will also be crucial, especially assistants that have ties in the SEC. The Volunteers have good facilities and a stable conference, which Jones should be able to use to recruit at a higher level than he did at Cincinnati. Depending on what Tennessee’s trio – quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson – does in regards to the NFL Draft, the Volunteers have a chance to push for at least eight wins in 2013. Even though Jones may not have been the first choice at Tennessee, he’s a solid hire and should win a lot of games in Knoxville.
Final Grade: B
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Butch Jones was one of the top names in the coaching rumor mill over the last few weeks and decided to leave Cincinnati for Tennessee. Jones led the Bearcats to a 23-14 mark in three years, which included a share of the Big East title the last two seasons. Jones’ departure is a huge blow to Cincinnati, as the program will be looking for its fourth head coach since 2004.
10 Coaches to Replace Butch Jones at Cincinnati
Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green –Clawson took a lot of heat for Tennessee’s struggles on offense in 2008, but he is a proven head coach at three different stops. The New York native went 29-29 in five seasons at Fordham (1999-2003), which also included a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson jumped to Richmond in 2004 and led the Spiders to two playoff appearances, including an 11-3 mark in 2007. After the failed season at Tennessee, Clawson landed at Bowling Green and went 7-6 in his debut year and 8-4 in 2012.
Kerry Coombs, Ohio State assistant coach – Coombs is regarded as an excellent recruiter but has no head coaching experience on the collegiate level. He spent 2007-2011 as an assistant at Cincinnati, before joining Urban Meyer at Ohio State in 2012. Coombs was a high school head coach at Colerain High School from 1991-2006, so there’s no doubt he has excellent recruiting ties throughout the state. Hiring a head coach without any experience is risky, but Coombs would be able to pull in solid talent and likely wouldn’t look to bolt for another head coaching job.
Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – Diaco's name was mentioned in the Boston College search, so there's no question he is interested in becoming a head coach. And Diaco is familiar with the Cincinnati program, serving as an assistant under Brian Kelly in 2009. He also has spent time as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Virginia and for the last three years at Notre Dame. Diaco has no head coaching experience but has helped to lead the Fighting Irish to a rank of No. 1 overall in points allowed (10.3 ppg).
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State –Herman is a longshot in this coaching search but a rising star to watch over the next couple of seasons. The Ohio native started his coaching career at Texas Lutheran in 1998, before working his way through the ranks at Texas, Sam Houston State and then as an offensive coordinator at Texas State from 2005-06. After two years with the Bobcats, Herman worked at Rice as the offensive coordinator, then jumped to Iowa State in 2009 and came to Columbus to work with Urban Meyer.
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State – Lembo is a proven winner at three different stops during his coaching career and is ready to move up the ladder after two years at Ball State. He recorded a 44-14 mark in five years at Lehigh and a 35-22 record in five seasons with Elon, which included an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Lembo is 15-9 in two years with the Cardinals and improved his win total by three games from 2011 to 2012. Although Lembo might be looking to jump to a better job in the next few years, he would continue Cincinnati's run of recent success.
Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State –MacIntyre has turned San Jose State into one of the WAC’s worst teams into a bowl team in just three years. The Spartans went 1-12 in 2010, improved to 5-7 in 2011 and recorded a 10-2 mark and an appearance in the Military Bowl in 2012. MacIntyre has stops as an assistant at Temple, Ole Miss, Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. MacIntyre isn’t a flashy or a big name, but as the results have shown at San Jose State, he’s capable of leading a BCS program. If Cincinnati is interested, it could have plenty of competition for his services, as MacIntyre could get in the mix at South Florida or Colorado.
Chuck Martin, offensive coordinator, Notre Dame –Although Brian Kelly plays a large role in calling the plays each week for Notre Dame, Martin should get his chance to be a head coach on the FBS level in the next few seasons. He succeeded Kelly at Grand Valley State and recorded a 74-7 mark in six seasons, including back-to-back national titles in 2005-06. Martin came to South Bend in 2010 and spent two years on defense, before moving to offensive coordinator in 2012. With his background on offense and successful stint at Grand Valley State, Martin fits the mold of what Cincinnati is looking for in its next head coach.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi isn’t an offense-first coach like Cincinnati has hired with Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, as he has spent his entire career on defense. However, Narduzzi has helped to mold Michigan State’s defense into one of the nation’s best and has been rumored to be in the mix for a couple of head coaching jobs over the last few seasons. Narduzzi spent from 2004-06 at Cincinnati, working as the defensive coordinator under Mark Dantonio.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses. One downside to Roman’s candidacy has to be the 49ers’ playoff chances. With San Francisco likely to make a deep run into the NFL playoffs, Roman may not be available on a full-time basis until mid-January.
Mario Cristobal, former FIU head coach
Luke Fickell, co-defensive coordinator, Ohio State
Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State
With college football’s 2012 regular season in the books, it’s time to take a look back at the highlights and lowlights from this year. There were plenty of surprises in college football this season, starting with the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings – Notre Dame. Athlon takes a look back at the top 10 surprises in college football, along with where those teams ranked in the preseason rankings.
College Football's Top 10 Surprises from 2012
1. Notre Dame
Preseason Prediction: No. 20 overall in final 124
After back-to-back 8-5 seasons to begin the Brian Kelly era, Notre Dame broke through in 2012 with an unbeaten 12-0 mark and an appearance in the national title game. The Fighting Irish returned 15 starters from 2011 but lost safety Jamoris Slaughter early in the year to a torn ACL and had to deal with the ups and downs of new quarterback Everett Golson. While the offense was a work in progress early on, the defense has been dominant this year. Linebacker Manti Te’o helped to lead the Notre Dame defense to a rank of No. 1 overall nationally in points allowed and sixth in total defense, along with earning a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist.
2. Kansas State
Preseason Prediction: No. 27 in final 124
A case could be made the Wildcats are one of college football’s most underrated teams every year. Kansas State surprised most last season when it was outgained by 106.8 yards per game and still managed a 10-3 finish. The Wildcats started 10-0 this year and was in position to play for the national title until a loss to Baylor knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten. Quarterback Collin Klein was picked as a Heisman finalist and averaged 281.7 yards per game of total offense. As long as Bill Snyder remains on the sidelines in Manhattan, Kansas State will be a dangerous opponent for the rest of the Big 12 – no matter how many returning starters it has or what the stats indicate from the previous season.
3. Oregon State
Preseason Prediction: No. 61 in final 124
There’s no question Oregon State was one of Athlon’s biggest misses in the preseason rankings. The Beavers were expected to improve after a 3-9 record in 2011, but no one could have predicted a 9-3 mark in 2012. Despite some uncertainty at quarterback, Oregon State finished 34th nationally with an average of 442.7 yards per game. The rushing attack wasn’t flashy but improved by nearly 40 yards a game from 2011 (39.3). The defense had a huge turnaround, ranking in the top four of the Pac-12 in rushing, total, pass and scoring categories. Two of Oregon State’s three losses came by four points or less, and it defeated Pac-12 champ UCLA 27-20 in late September. After going 8-16 in 2010-11, it’s clear the Beavers are headed back in the right direction under coach Mike Riley.
Preseason Prediction: No. 21 in final 124
No Andrew Luck at quarterback. No David DeCastro or Jonathan Martin on the offensive line. No problem. It’s hard to believe, but that’s exactly the scenario that played out at Stanford this season. The Cardinal had to replace a handful of key contributors from last season and still managed to win the Pac-12 title and earn an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Although the offense struggled at times, the insertion of redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan sparked this unit late in the season, while the defense ranked first in the Pac-12 in yards and points allowed. Stanford’s only losses were both by a touchdown or less, with one coming to Notre Dame – the No. 1 team in the BCS standings. Considering what Stanford lost, it’s a huge credit to the coaching job by David Shaw getting this team back in the mix for a Pac-12 title.
Preseason Prediction: No. 26 in the final 124
The Gators were on the doorstep of making Athlon’s preseason top 25, so it wouldn’t have been a big surprise to see this team finish in the 15-20 range. However, Florida was one win away from playing in the SEC title game and a chance to compete for the national title. The Gators’ offense was only slightly better in 2012, but the defense ranked inside of the top 10 in yards and points allowed. Florida pitched two shutouts (Jacksonville State, Kentucky) this year and held Texas A&M to 17 points in the SEC opener for both teams. The Gators need to take the next step on offense to contend for the national championship in 2013. However, after a 7-6 mark in Will Muschamp’s first season, Florida seems to be back on track as one of the SEC’s top programs.
6. Ole Miss
Preseason Prediction: No. 71 in the final 124
After a disastrous 2011 season, Ole Miss had nowhere to go but up in 2012. New coach Hugh Freeze was a perfect match for the Rebels, leading the program to a 6-6 mark and a bowl appearance against Pittsburgh in Birmingham. Ole Miss won three SEC games in 2012, which was more than the Rebels combined for in 2010 and 2011 (1-15). After finishing last in the SEC in total defense and 11th in total offense, Ole Miss improved to the middle of the conference in both categories. With most of the core returning intact for 2013, don’t be surprised if the Rebels make a run at eight victories.
Preseason Prediction: No. 80 in the final 124
The Blue Devils started fast, opening up the 2012 season at 5-1 with a blowout victory over Virginia in ACC play. However, Duke tailed off in the second half of the season, losing five out of their final six games. Despite the sluggish end to 2012, the Blue Devils are making their first bowl trip since 1994 and had a chance to win the Coastal Division late in the year. Coach David Cutcliffe has done a good job of building the program over the last few seasons, and Duke is no longer an automatic out in conference play.
Preseason Prediction: No. 42 in final 124
A team from Los Angeles was supposed to win the Pac-12 South title this year. However, most expected it to be USC – not UCLA. The Bruins made a surprising climb from a 6-8 finish last year to Pac-12 South champions in 2012. New coach Jim Mora seems to be a perfect fit in Los Angeles, while the emergence of quarterback Brett Hundley guided the UCLA offense to an average of 35.1 points per game. The Bruins lost two games by a touchdown or less and knocked off USC for the first time since 2006. With the Trojans losing Matt Barkley next season, UCLA should be the frontrunner to win the Pac-12 South in 2012.
9. Texas A&M
Preseason Prediction: No. 32 in final 124
Considering Texas A&M had a new coach, was dealing with a transition to a new conference and had to replace first-round pick Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, most believed getting to seven wins and a bowl would be a successful season. However, the Aggies exceeded expectations in 2012, winning 10 games for the first time since 1998, while quarterback Johnny Manziel was named as a Heisman finalist in early December. After struggling in the second half of games in 2011, Texas A&M corrected those issues under new coach Kevin Sumlin and scored one of the season’s biggest upsets by knocking off Alabama in Tuscaloosa. With Sumlin in control at College Station, the Aggies are poised to emerge as a consistent top-15 program.
10. Kent State/Northern Illinois
Preseason Prediction: No. 97 for Kent State, No. 85 for Northern Illinois
For the first time in the BCS era, a team from the MAC will play in one of college football's biggest bowl games. Northern Illinois managed to get into the top 16 of the final BCS standings and finished ahead of major conference champions Louisville and Wisconsin, which allowed the Huskies to play in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. Quarterback Jordan Lynch was one of the nation’s most underrated players this season, recording 4,733 yards of total offense and 43 overall scores. Although Northern Illinois’ defense allowed 356.7 yards per game, this unit forced 2.9 sacks a contest and generated 26 turnovers. Even though the Huskies are playing in the Orange Bowl, Kent State's 2012 season shouldn’t be overlooked. The Golden Flashes fell just short in double overtime against Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship but won at Rutgers 35-23 in late October. With its crazy, high-scoring mid-week games, the MAC has quickly emerged as one of the nation’s most entertaining conferences. And with Northern Illinois on the big stage in the Orange Bowl, it’s an opportunity for the MAC to prove it belongs right with the teams from BCS conferences.
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Colorado had a messy divorce with former coach Jon Embree and finding a replacement hasn’t been easy. Cincinnati’s Butch Jones interviewed in Boulder with Colorado officials but decided not to take the job. With Jones deciding to stay in Cincinnati (for now), the Buffaloes’ search is wide open once again.
5 Candidates to Replace Jon Embree at Colorado
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State – DeRuyter had a successful debut season at Fresno State, leading the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record and a share of the Mountain West title. DeRuyter has a solid resume as an assistant, working as a defensive coordinator at Air Force and Texas A&M. Although he’s only been a head coach for one year, it’s very easy to be impressed with DeRuyter. Fresno State struggled to get over the hump with Pat Hill on the sidelines, but DeRuyter brought quick improvement after the Bulldogs went 4-9 last season. The 49-year-old coach also has ties to the state of Colorado, as he played at Air Force from 1982-84 and coached with the Falcons from 1991-94 and 2007-09.
Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Stanford – Hamilton is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks and it’s only a matter of time before he lands a head coaching gig. Hamilton played quarterback at Howard from 1993-96 and coached there from 1997-2001. After a couple of seasons in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers and Bears, Hamilton joined Stanford’s staff in 2010. Although David Shaw plays a key role in the offensive gameplan and play-calling, Hamilton is heavily involved. Hamilton is a bright offensive mind but has no head coaching experience.
Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State – MacIntyre has turned San Jose State into one of the WAC’s worst teams into a bowl team in just three years. The Spartans went 1-12 in 2010, improved to 5-7 in 2011 and recorded a 10-2 mark and an appearance in the Military Bowl in 2012. MacIntyre has stops as an assistant at Temple, Ole Miss, Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. MacIntyre isn’t a flashy or a big name, but as the results have shown at San Jose State, he’s capable of leading a BCS program. Colorado could have plenty of competition for his services, as MacIntyre could get in the mix at South Florida or Tennessee.
Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – If Colorado wants to go with a young, offensive-minded coach, Monken is another guy to keep on the radar. The Illinois native has no head coaching experience but made stops as an assistant at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, LSU and Oklahoma State. Monken also spent two years in the NFL with the Jaguars and is believed to be on the radar for openings at Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses. One downside to Roman’s candidacy has to be the 49ers’ playoff chances. With San Francisco likely to make a deep run into the NFL playoffs, Roman may not be available on a full-time basis until mid-January. With Roman’s time at Stanford, he has plenty of familiarity with the Pac-12 and would be a solid pickup for the Buffaloes.
Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Bob Stitt, head coach, Colorado School of Mines
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky
With Mike Gundy, Larry Fedora and Charlie Strong saying no to Tennessee, the Volunteers' coaching search is wide open. The top names on athletic director Dave Hart's list have passed on the job, which leaves the school scrambling to find a new coach. There are still plenty of good coaches available for Tennessee, but it's important for the school that the coaching search doesn't drag deep into next week.
15 Names to Watch in Tennessee's Coaching Search
Butch Davis, former North Carolina head coach – Davis is reportedly in the mix at FIU, but he would likely listen if Tennessee came calling. The Oklahoma native went 51-20 in six years with Miami from 1995-2000 and recorded three consecutive eight-win seasons with North Carolina in 2008-2010. Davis had a messy end to his tenure with the Tar Heels but has a 79-43 overall mark as a college head coach.
Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – If Tennessee chooses to look in the assistant ranks, Diaco should be in the mix to replace Dooley. Diaco has spent time as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and for the last three years at Notre Dame. Diaco has no head coaching experience but has helped to lead the Fighting Irish to a rank of No. 1 overall in points allowed (10.3 ppg).
Al Golden, head coach, Miami – Considering the NCAA hammer is about to drop on Miami, Golden could be tempted to look at another job this offseason. The New Jersey native has spent most of his career on the East Coast, playing for Penn State from 1987-91 and coaching as an assistant at Virginia, Boston College and Penn State. Golden resurrected Temple and led the Owls to a 17-8 record during his final two years in Philadelphia. Miami is just 13-11 in his two years, but the program did not have an abundance of talent when he arrived. Golden has maintained he does not want to leave Miami, but considering the situation in Coral Gables, he could be enticed to bolt for the SEC.
Butch Jones, head coach, Cincinnati – Jones has been a hot name in coaching searches this offseason, interviewing at Colorado and Purdue for openings at those schools. He has six years of head coaching experience, spending three years at Central Michigan and recording a 27-13 mark. During his time in Mount Pleasant, the Chippewas made three bowl appearances and claimed two MAC Championships. Jones moved to Cincinnati in 2010 and guided the Bearcats to a 23-14 mark over the last three seasons. Cincinnati has claimed a share of the Big East title in each of the last two years after going 4-8 in Jones’ first season in 2010. Although Jones isn’t a big-name hire, he’s a proven coach with experience and victories at two different stops.
Pete Lembo, Ball State – Lembo is a proven winner at three different stops during his coaching career and is ready to move up the ladder after two years at Ball State. He recorded a 44-14 mark in five years at Lehigh and a 35-22 record in five seasons with Elon, which included an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Lembo is 15-9 in two years with the Cardinals and improved his win total by three games from 2011 to 2012.
Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State – MacIntyre has turned San Jose State into one of the WAC’s worst teams into a bowl team in just three years. The Spartans went 1-12 in 2010, improved to 5-7 in 2011 and recorded a 10-2 mark and an appearance in the Military Bowl in 2012. MacIntyre has stops as an assistant at Temple, Ole Miss, Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. MacIntyre isn’t a flashy or a big name, but as the results have shown at San Jose State, he’s capable of leading a BCS program.
Doug Marrone, head coach, Syracuse – Marrone is a Syracuse alum, so it’s a longshot that he would be interested in leaving for Tennessee. However, he served as an assistant with the Volunteers in 2001 and was believed to be in the mix for this job after Phillip Fulmer was let go in 2008. Marrone has led the Orange to a 24-25 mark over the last four years, which includes two bowl appearances. It’s hard to envision Marrone leaving Syracuse, but it’s much easier to win big at Tennessee.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson - Morris has surprisingly not engaged in many coaching searches this offseason. He emerged as one of the top offensive minds in college football, leading Clemson's offense to an average of 42.3 points a game this season. Morris has no head coaching experience and already has a salary of $1.3 million, so it would take a significant raise to leave Clemson. Considering the Tigers return a chunk of talent on offense next year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stick around in Death Valley for one more season.
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State – Although Mullen hasn’t expressed much interest in leaving Mississippi State, it’s worth a phone call for Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart to Starkville. Even though Mullen has yet to beat Alabama or LSU during his tenure in Starkville, there’s no doubt Mississippi State is an improved team. The Bulldogs will be making their third consecutive bowl appearance in 2012 and has a 13-19 mark in SEC play over the last four years. Mullen also has assistant experience from stops at Bowling Green, Notre Dame, Utah and Florida. Considering what Mullen has done in four years at Mississippi State, he could thrive at a program with more resources.
Bo Pelini, head coach, Nebraska – Just as we mentioned with Doug Marrone and Dan Mullen, it’s a longshot that Pelini would be interested in leaving his current job. However, with the top options falling through, Tennessee has to look at the next available candidates. Pelini has a good job at Nebraska and has a 49-19 overall record. He has led the Cornhuskers to six bowl games and claimed the Big Ten Legends Division title in 2012. Although Pelini has one of college football’s top 25 jobs, he does have previous experience in the SEC and is not working under the same athletic director that brought him to Lincoln.
Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas head coach – Why not? Since Tennessee tried and failed to land Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong, the top options are running thin for Dave Hart. Yes, Petrino’s divorce from Arkansas was a mess, but it’s doubtful those issues pop up at his next school. Also, he’s ready work and would probably take less money in an effort to prove himself for the next few years. There’s a lot of baggage hanging around Petrino, but if Tennessee wants to compete for SEC titles, it needs to consider the former Arkansas head coach.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses. One downside to Roman’s candidacy has to be the 49ers’ playoff chances. With San Francisco likely to make a deep run into the NFL playoffs, Roman may not be available on a full-time basis until mid-January.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Tennessee’s last attempt at hiring a Nick Saban assistant didn’t go so well. And considering Derek Dooley’s tenure was a failure, the school probably has some concern about going back to that well in 2012. Smart doesn’t have head coaching experience, but he is regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in the nation. Considering Saban plays a large role in Alabama’s defense, there’s a lot of concerns for athletic directors when considering Smart for any open vacancy.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and is ready for a promotion to a bigger program. He is 16-20 in three years with Western Kentucky, including back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2011-12. In addition to his time as a head coach at Western Kentucky, Taggart worked as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh for three seasons at Stanford. Taggart reportedly interviewed with South Florida and is believed to be a target for the opening at Wisconsin.
Tommy Tuberville, head coach, Texas Tech – Tuberville already has two tours of duty through the SEC, coaching at Ole Miss from 1995-98 and at Auburn in 1999-2008. In four seasons with the Rebels, he recorded a 25-20 mark and went 85-40 at Auburn. Tuberville is 20-17 in three seasons at Texas Tech and has the Red Raiders back on track after a 5-7 mark in 2011. Tuberville isn’t flashy, but he’s a proven winner and a steady option for Tennessee.
With all of the BCS conferences finished with regular season play, it's time to take a look at the 2012 college football season and hand out some hardware. At the midpoint of 2012, all signs pointed to West Virginia's Geno Smith as the runaway Heisman favorite, while Oregon and Alabama appeared to be on a collision course for the national championship. And what a difference a couple of weeks can make. The Ducks were bounced out of the top five by Stanford, while the Crimson Tide lost to Texas A&M, yet rebounded back into No. 2 in the BCS standings. Before the road to the national championship begins on Dec. 15, Athlon takes a look at the best of the best from the 2012 regular season.
College Football's 2012 Postseason Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
It’s a close call between Manziel and Kansas State’s Collin Klein, but the edge goes to the redshirt freshman. Manziel finished with 3,419 passing yards and 24 scores, while adding 1,181 yards and 19 scores on the ground. In Texas A&M’s upset win over Alabama, the redshirt freshman threw for 253 yards and added 92 more on the ground. Manziel owns the single-game SEC mark for total offense (576 against Louisiana Tech) and broke Cam Newton’s record for most total offense in a season with 4,600 yards after 12 regular season games.
Next in Line:
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Defensive Player of the Year: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Te’o doesn’t have earth-shattering numbers, but the senior is college football’s best defensive player and is a key reason why Notre Dame ranks as the No. 1 team in the BCS. Te’o led the Fighting Irish with 103 tackles, recorded 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, seven interceptions and 11 passes defended. Sometimes, a defensive player’s impact goes beyond the box score and that’s the case with Te’o. In addition to his 103 tackles, the senior’s leadership and presence on the field were critical to the Fighting Irish finishing first nationally in scoring defense and sixth in yards allowed.
Next in Line:
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
Coach of the Year: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Just like the offensive player of the year honor, there’s not much separating Athlon’s No. 1 and No. 2 pick. A slight edge goes to Brian Kelly over Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, especially since the Fighting Irish are booked for a chance to win the national title in early January. Notre Dame went 8-5 in each of Kelly’s first two seasons but completed a perfect 12-0 mark in 2012.
Next in Line:
Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Bill O’Brien, Penn State
David Shaw, Stanford
Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Top Freshman: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Is there really any doubt about the winner of this award? After averaging 373.4 yards of total offense in SEC games this season, Manziel could be the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night. The redshirt freshman was a big reason why the Aggies navigated through their first season of SEC play with a 10-2 record and will matchup against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Next in Line:
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Best All-Around: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Although the Mountaineers cooled off after a 5-0 start, their offense was still one of the best in college football this year. West Virginia ranked seventh nationally in scoring and averaged 518.5 yards per game. Austin is arguably the nation’s top all-around weapon, rushing for 598 yards and three touchdown, while catching 110 passes for 1,259 yards and 12 scores. He also added 738 yards and one touchdown on kickoff returns. Most of Austin’s production came at receiver, but he played more snaps at running back late in the season, including a 344-yard performance against Oklahoma in mid-November.
Top JUCO: Morgan Breslin, DE, USC
A strong case could be made for Ole Miss’ quarterback Bo Wallace or Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, but a slight edge goes to Breslin. The California native helped to turn the USC defensive line from a weakness into a strength this year, recording 53 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks. He also broke up four passes and recovered one fumble in 12 games. Breslin recorded second-team All-Pac-12 honors this year and could be in the mix for a spot on the first team in 2013.
Next in Line:
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss
Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Rising Star in the Coaching Ranks: Gary Andersen, Utah State
Andersen was courted in coaching searches at Kentucky, Colorado and California but chose to stay another year in Logan. Since his arrival at Utah State, the Aggies are 25-24 and are making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1960-61. Utah State is also 17-8 over the last two years and claimed the outright WAC Championship this season. Andersen is one of college football’s rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and should have Utah State contending for the Mountain West title in 2013.
Next in Line:
Pete Lembo, Ball State
Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky
Biggest Surprise: Notre Dame
It’s been quite a season for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame was unranked in the first Associated Press poll and jumped to the No. 22 spot after crushing Navy 50-10 in the season opener. The Fighting Irish climbed steadily in the polls, eventually claiming the No. 1 spot after Kansas State lost to Baylor on Nov. 17. Although it wasn’t a surprise Notre Dame managed to win 10 games and get back to a BCS bowl, it’s rare to see a team begin the year unranked and get into the national championship. Also, the Fighting Irish emerged as one of college football’s top defensive teams, a slight change from Brian Kelly’s offense-first mentality at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
Next in Line:
Biggest Disappointment: USC
Nothing seemed to go right for USC in 2012. The Trojans closed out 2011 as one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning seven out of their last eight contests, including a 38-35 victory against Oregon. Considering USC returned 15 starters, most expected it would continue that momentum and make a run at a BCS title. Instead, the Trojans slumped to a 7-5 overall mark and a 5-4 record in Pac-12 play. Quarterback Matt Barkley was supposed to be a Heisman contender, but his campaign never managed to get on track, and he missed the season finale against Notre Dame with a shoulder injury. For a team that had national title aspirations, playing in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech is quite a drop from the preseason.
Best Coaching Hire of 2012: Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Meyer certainly didn’t inherit a bare cupboard, but he managed to lead the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record with no postseason possibility due to NCAA sanctions. Ohio State rebounded from a disappointing 6-7 mark in 2011 to a perfect record in 2012, winning at Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin, while picking up a huge victory over rival Michigan in the season finale. Meyer has Ohio State poised to regain its status as one of college football’s premier programs and could start 2013 ranked among the top three teams in most preseason polls.
Next in Line:
Bill O’Brien, Penn State
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Jim Mora, UCLA
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Worst Coaching Hire of 2012: Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
You have to look deep to find any positives about Johnson’s tenure at Southern Miss. And even an extensive examination doesn’t reveal anything that went right for the Golden Eagles under his watch. Johnson compiled the worst season in school history in 2012, going 0-12 with losses to Rice, UAB, UTEP and Memphis. Southern Miss had a tough schedule in the early part of the season, but this team struggled to be competitive and ranked near the bottom of the nation in scoring offense and defense. Johnson was fired at the end of 2012, which ended one of college football’s worst coaching tenures in recent years.
Next in Line:
Tim Beckman, Illinois
Coach on the Hottest Seat for 2013: Lane Kiffin, USC
Considering the disappointing 2012 season, it’s not out of the question that Kiffin needs to win eight or nine games in 2013 to save his job. The Trojans were picked by many to win the Pac-12 this year but finished a disappointing 7-5 and out of the conference championship game. In addition to the struggles on the field, USC was also involved in the embarrassing deflated football incident against Oregon, as well as a jersey switch controversy against Colorado. Kiffin is 25-12 in his career at USC and is still navigating NCAA sanctions from the Reggie Bush scandal. Recruiting talent isn’t a problem for Kiffin, but it’s time to start winning games. With Matt Barkley off to the NFL, the Trojans may take a small step back on offense, and the Pac-12 South isn’t getting any easier, which only adds more troubles to Kiffin’s plate in 2013.
The Next in Line:
Mack Brown, Texas
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Bobby Hauck, UNLV
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