Braxton Miller

An early top 10 for 2014


The sun has barely set on the BCS era and, as we speak, Florida State’s Chief Osceola is riding off toward the horizon with the last Crystal Ball tucked carefully under his arm.  But now it’s time to take a break from this glorious ending and ponder: What will next season look like?

Here’s an early top 10 for 2014:

1. Ohio State — The Buckeyes return the Heisman front runner in Braxton Miller and a ton of other playmakers on both sides of the ball. After going 24-2 in his first two years in Columbus, Urban Meyer finally has the roster in place to win the first national title under the new College Football Playoff system.

2. Oregon — If Miller is the Heisman favorite, Marcus Mariota isn’t too far behind. He returns to lead an explosive Duck offense that should once again wreak havoc on opposing defenses. On the other side of the ball is a unit led by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu that could be the best defense in school history.

3. Auburn — For all the magic and luck Auburn needed to get to the BCS title game, remember that it was only Year One of the Gus Malzahn Era on The Plains. Give the man another spring ball and add a stellar recruiting class to the mix and watch him mold a new juggernaut consisting of players who buy in completely with what he’s trying to accomplish. It helps that the ever-improving Nick Marshall and a bevy of talented young defenders are set to return for another go-around.

4. Oklahoma — No one should’ve been that surprised by OU’s upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It’s Oklahama, after all. This is a program that is always loaded with talent. Quarterback Trevor Knight showed glimpses of a bright future against the Tide and could develop into one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in 2014. The Sooner defensive front seven is an elite group on par with those units from the early Bob Stoops era.

5. Florida State — What will the Seminoles do for an encore? Well, first they’ve got to figure out how many key players from this year’s squad will be heading to the NFL. Devonta Freeman, James Wilder, Jr., Timmie Jernigan and Kelvin Benjamin could all leave early for the draft, while seniors Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith and Bryan Stork will all be gone, too. Still, Jameis Winston returns and the treasure trove of talent on defense means FSU should once again be the team to beat in the ACC.

6. Alabama — Next year’s Crimson Tide could be the most talented team of Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa. Somewhere between 40 and 50 players will play in the NFL at some point. However, the Tide will need to find a quarterback to replace AJ McCarron and do a little rebuilding on defense, too. With a few minor tweaks, Alabama should have no trouble making the four-team playoff.

7. Baylor — Heisman candidate Bryce Petty returns to lead what could be the best offense in college football. Tailback Lache Seastrunk is heading to the pros, but his able backup, Shock Linwood, returns and could be even more productive. The Bears were one of the most improved defenses in the country this past season, but will have to find able replacements for Ahmad Dixon and Eddie Lackey if they want to remain in the upper echelon of the Big 12.

8. UCLA — Heisman candidate Brett Hundley bypassed millions of NFL dollars and should be in line for a huge junior season for the Bruins. He has a ton of offensive weapons at his disposal, including linebacker-turned-running back Myles Jack. The defense is deep and experienced. This should be the best UCLA team since the late 1990s.

9. Wisconsin — Stud running back Melvin Gordon returns as does quarterback Joel Stave. If the Badgers can rebuild their wide receiver and linebacker groups, they should once again challenge for the Big Ten title.

10. Stanford — The defense must replace a lot of NFL bodies, but there’s plenty of available talent ready to give it a shot. The offensive line will once again be among the nation’s best and quarterback Kevin Hogan, who is 10-1 as a starter against ranked teams, should be ready for a breakout season.

Georgia reportedly hires Kirby Smart as head coach

Kirby Smart

Sometimes the rumors really are true.

Seemingly since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, the worst-kept secret in college football was that Kirby Smart wouldn’t jump from Nick Saban‘s perch until the Georgia job opened.

And now, one day after Mark Richt said goodbye in Athens, multiple reports say that’s exactly what will happen – Smart will be the next Bulldogs coach.

Outside of Houston’s Tom Herman, Smart was the only target UGA athletics director Greg McGarity truly targeted and, barring a major turn of events between now and the SEC championship, he’ll have landed him.

Hailing from Bainbridge, Ga., Smart played safety for Georgia from 1995-98, then returned in 2005 as running backs coach. In between he made stops at Valdosta State, Florida State, LSU, the Miami Dolphins and, finally, Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide to three national titles and never produced a defense ranked lower than 18th nationally in yards per play defense.

This year’s Crimson Tide defense ranks second nationally heading into an SEC title game date with Florida. If, as expected, Alabama wins and, as expected, Smart is introduced as Georgia’s next coach, he would have to decide whether or not to pull a move much like Herman last year and work double-duty through Alabama’s run in the College Football Playoff. Or he could rip a page from his predecessor’s book and dump Alabama to drive straight into the Georgia job.

What sort of program will Smart run? Other than the Process-based enterprise seemingly microchip implanted into the brain of every Saban aide, it’s hard to say. Smart only spoke to the media three times annually.

But here’s one guarantee: he’ll need to nail his offensive coordinator hire. Saban’s former offensive coordinators — Jimbo Fisher and Jim McElwain — have thrived, while his most prominent defensive coordinator-turned-head coach protege — Will Muschamp — failed mightily at Florida because he could never conquer the other side of the ball.

Smart will be expected to win, win big, and win quickly. You don’t fire a coach with 145 wins in 15 years and 19 victories in the last two for any other reason.

Why Steve Spurrier retired, as told by Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier

When Steve Spurrier abruptly retired in October, most stopped to reminisce about a true college football original’s career come to a sudden, but not unexpected end. But others pointed out that Spurrier essentially quit on his team in the middle of a tough season. It was an easy take and, hey, it’s not like the Old Ball Coach himself wouldn’t have said something if Mark Richt had done something similar.

In a letter provided to The State, Spurrier reasoned his retirement truly was better for the team, that the team played better without him around and that his presence would’ve generated speculation that would have suffocated the rest of the season.

Considering the Gamecocks lost to The Citadel, one has every reason to doubt that claim. But it’s the one Spurrier is going with.

The letter in full:

In the last few years when asked how much longer I plan to coach, I have said often that if our team is going in the wrong direction I need to resign and allow someone else to take over as head coach here. After six games, we were 2-4 with two blow-outs by Georgia and LSU. We were behind at halftime against UCF (a team that went 0-12 this year). We were definitely going in the wrong direction. I felt that I was doing a lousy job as head coach and a change would help our team become more competitive.

I told our team after I resigned that they needed new leadership, new enthusiasm and a new plan. By stepping aside, this allowed Shawn Elliott the opportunity to change our direction, change our attitude, and hopefully, he could be named head coach after the season. If this happens, some of our assistant coaches would be retained, and this was a major reason for me to get out of the way. Also, by resigning, I forfeited the buyout clause in my contract that saved our university three million dollars.

I certainly believe, as the media has said, that our team played better after I resigned. Shawn Elliott did an excellent job getting this team prepared to play with enthusiasm and effort the rest of our season. Unfortunately, the close games turned into close losses.

When I mentioned I may coach again, I meant possibly as a volunteer coach at a high school. After thirty years as a head coach, I positively know that my head coaching career is finished.

I understand the critics have asked why I didn’t announce I was retiring at the end of the season, as some other coaches have done. I felt that if I had done this, I would have been a distraction throughout the remainder of the season about my last game everywhere I went. I did not want a “Spurrier Farewell Tour.” The players deserve to be the story of each game. Also, it would have prevented Shawn Elliott, a coach that has loved the South Carolina Gamecocks his whole life, from getting the shot to be the interim head coach, with the possibility of becoming the Head Coach here.

When a coach gets fired, the change is often good and helpful to the team. Miami was 4-3 when Al Golden was fired, and the interim head coach went 4-1. Randy Edsall was 2-4 at Maryland when fired and his replacement got the team playing better. Clay Helton, the interim coach at the other USC, was recently named head coach as they went 5-2 under his watch.

Our university was not going to fire me, so I thought it was best for our team that I basically fire myself by resigning. The players have enjoyed playing for Coach Elliott and again the media has said the team has performed better after I resigned.

Thanks to all Gamecocks for allowing me to be your coach for over ten years. My wife Jerri and I will always be thankful and appreciative to the University of South Carolina for this opportunity.


Steve Spurrier

Top four remains same in penultimate College Football Playoff rankings

Bob Stoops

The penultimate College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night and the top four remained the same from last week. Michigan State sits at fifth, meaning Saturday’s Big Ten Championship is officially a national quarterfinal.

Stanford, heading into this week’s Pac-12 Championship, checked in at No. 7, while party-crasher-to-be North Carolina jumped from No. 14 to No. 10.

Ohio State checks in at No. 6, but Stanford seems primed to pass the Buckeyes with a win over No. 20 USC. Getting into the top four, however, would require a loss by No. 1 Clemson or No. 2 Alabama. No. 3 Oklahoma is seemingly in the playoff with a completed 11-1 regular season.

TCU moved one spot ahead of Baylor after a rain-soaked double overtime win over the Bears on Friday night.

Houston, USC and LSU moved back into the rankings, while Tennessee joined the party for the first time this year.

Tuesday night’s release was the final dress rehearsal of the 2015 season; the next time we hear from the CFP selection committee will be to announce the four semifinal selections.

But while these are the second-to-last set of rankings, we can ask 2014 TCU about how much they ultimately mean.

The full rankings:

1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Iowa
5. Michigan State
6. Ohio State
7. Stanford
8. Notre Dame
9. Florida State
10. North Carolina
11. TCU
12. Baylor
13. Ole Miss
14. Northwestern
15. Michigan
16. Oregon
17. Oklahoma State
18. Florida
19. Houston
20. USC
21. LSU
22. Temple
23. Navy
24. Utah
25. Tennessee

Dabo Swinney wins ACC Coach of the Year award

Dabo Swinney

When you go undefeated, people tend to give you awards.

In the wake of Clemson’s first perfect regular season, its first since 1981, head coach and pizza party patron Dabo Swinney was named the ACC’s top coach on Tuesday.

Swinney received 27 of the 50 available votes, edging North Carolina’s Larry Fedora (21). Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi each gobbled up one of the two remaining votes.

Aaron Brenner of the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier notes Swinney is due a $25,000 bonus for winning the award.