Tag: Stanford

The Men of Troy are back and a Miracle for Auburn

Once again, a little MACtion kicks things off, as Northern Illinois trounced Toledo 35-17 behind Jordan Lynch’s 363 total yards and 3 touchdowns. The victory clinches the West Division for the Huskies and keeps them in the running for another BCS appearance.

Week 12 gave us a lot to enjoy. There were surprising upsets along with miracle finishes–including one that will be remembered for ages.

Welcome Back, USC

Well hello there, Trojans. Nice to see you again.

Left for dead after getting pummeled by Arizona State and firing coach Lane Kiffin, USC proved that it’s still a force to be reckoned with and did so in resounding fashion. The Trojans stymied powerful Stanford and upset the #4 team in the nation 20-17 to improve to 5-1 under interim head coach Ed Orgeron. USC’s defense recorded two fourth-quarter interceptions and held Stanford to a season-low 17 points. The Cardinal trailed much of the game and managed to finally tie it at 17, but the Trojan defense clamped down in the second half. The loss is a costly one for the Cardinal: Stanford is out of the national title picture, likely the Rose Bowl, and perhaps a BCS bowl as well.

As shocking as that upset was, it paled in comparison to what went down in the ACC. Not only did Duke beat Miami, they did it handily. The Blue Devils won 48-30 and ran all over the Hurricanes en route to their sixth-straight victory. Duke tallied 358 yards on the ground, and backup quarterback Brandon Connette had four rushing touchdowns. At 8-2, Duke now leads the Coastal Division and is in the driver’s seat for a berth opposite Florida State in the ACC championship game.

Central Florida had to work to keep its BCS hopes alive. The AAC frontrunners trailed 1-8 Temple until a diving, one-handed grab by J.J. Worton tied the game at 36 with just over a minute to go. The game appeared destined for overtime, but Blake Bortles found Rannell Hall for a 64-yard gain down to the Temple 6-yard line and was able to spike the ball with two seconds left. A 23-yard field goal gave UCF the improbable victory.

Surprisingly, that wasn’t the most miraculous finish of the day.

In you somehow missed it, Georgia and Auburn went down-to-the-wire in an instant classic. Auburn was up 27-7 but couldn’t hold the lead against Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs. Georgia’s senior quarterback engineered three fourth quarter touchdown drives, including a controversial fourth down touchdown scamper with 1:49 to go that put the Bulldogs up 38-37.

Facing 4th-and-18 with 25 seconds remaining, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall stepped up to avoid the rush and heaved the ball downfield. Two Georgia defenders had a bead on it, but the pass bounced off safety Josh Harvey-Clemons’ hand and right in front of Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis. Louis bobbled the ball a little bit before securing it and raced into the end zone to give the Tigers an improbable 43-38 lead.

As if that wasn’t enough, Murray drove Georgia down to the Auburn 20-yard line. His last-ditch pass fell incomplete as he threw, and the game ended in yet another last-second heartbreak for the Bulldogs.

Looking Ahead to Week 13

There’s not a whole lot on the docket this week, unfortunately, at least in terms of the national championship picture. However, one contender has a tough test this week; more on that later.

The SEC heavyweights are taking a breather: Auburn has a bye while Alabama and South Carolina are playing Chattanooga and Coastal Carolina respectively. Florida State is at least playing a school in the FBS, although Idaho could probably lose to either of those FCS schools. Ohio State gets Indiana, and while the Hoosiers can put up points, their defense gives sieves a bad name.

There are games with conference title game implications, however.

In the SEC, #8 Missouri holds a slim lead in the East Division and needs to win at #24 Ole Miss to keep South Carolina at bay. The Rebels are on a roll, winning their past four games and averaging over 40 points a game during that stretch. Mizzou will get a boost with the return of senior quarterback James Franklin, who missed the past four games with a shoulder injury.

In other SEC action, Texas A&M and LSU square off in a game that doesn’t have title consequences but does feature two top quarterbacks in Johnny Manziel and Zach Mettenberger. Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, is playing at an even better clip than he did last year while Mettenberger has transformed himself into an NFL prospect. Both teams have defenses that have struggled this year, so count on plenty of offensive fireworks.

In the Big 10, surging Wisconsin takes on a surprising Minnesota team that has an outside shot at the Big 10 title game. Minnesota is 8-2 and ranked for the first time in eons. What’s even more remarkable is that they are doing it with an interim coach while head coach Jerry Kill recuperates from seizures. The Gophers will face a tall task against a powerful Badger squad that has steamrolled the opposition of late. Wisconsin’s trademark running game has been as strong as ever, but the Badger defense has really stepped up of late and limited potent Indiana to just three points last week. Both teams need a victory if they want to keep their slim championship hopes alive.

The Pac-12’s elite are out of the spotlight this week, which should be welcome news as both Oregon and Stanford have suffered crippling losses in the past two weeks. Stanford’s victory over Oregon two weeks ago pretty much eliminated the Ducks from national title contention, but the Cardinal’s stunning upset at the hands of USC knocked Stanford out of the title picture and gives Oregon the inside track to the Rose Bowl.

Who the Ducks will play in the Pac-12 championship game could become a little clearer after this weekend. Arizona State currently leads the Pac-12 South by a game over UCLA and the resurgent Trojans. If the Sun Devils win, they clinch a spot in the title game (ASU already has defeated USC, the game that resulted in Lane Kiffin being fired). If UCLA wins, then the picture gets a little muddled.

Each team comes in on a roll. The Bruins have won three-straight and received a considerable boost from Myles Jack, the dynamic two-way player who starts at linebacker but has ignited the offense the past two weeks. Jack followed up his scintillating debut with a four-touchdown performance last week against Washington. He’ll face a tough task against an ASU defense that has been hot. During the Devil’s current five-game win streak, ASU has averaged 18.8 points against. The Devils also have their own backfield threat in senior Marion Grice, who ranks second in the nation with 20 touchdowns.

The big game of the week occurs in the southwest, as Big 12 foes Baylor and Oklahoma State square off. Baylor is enjoying a season for the ages, as the Bears are currently undefeated and sitting at #4 in the BCS. If either Florida State or Alabama slips up, the Bears are in prime position to play for a national title.

To do so, however, Baylor must first get past 9-1 Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Cowboys are fresh off a 38-13 thrashing of Texas and have won six-in-a-row. Baylor hasn’t won in Stillwater since 1939, but these aren’t the same Baylor Bears. Baylor is averaging a mind-boggling 61 points and 685 yards a game on offense, and the Baylor defense is fast and aggressive.

 

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National Title Picture Gets Clearer: Ducks Fly Into a Tree, Bears Roar

Jordan Lynch and undefeated Northern Illinois helped get this week started, defeating Ball State 48-27 in some Wednesday night MACtion. Lynch threw for 345 yards and 2 touchdowns while adding another 123 yards and 2 more touchdowns on the ground. The Huskies are now 10-0 and on the cusp of crashing the BCS for the second year in a row.

Speaking of the BCS, Week 11 had huge implications for who will be playing in those coveted BCS bowls. A titanic clash out west caused a shakeup at the top of the standings, one team thought to be out of it is now squarely back in it, and an upstart program proved that it indeed belonged.

Oh, and the top team in the country reminded everyone that it’s still the team to beat.

 

Heavyweights Collide, Title Hopes are Kindled & Dashed

Last Thursday was the best Thursday college football has seen in some time. Having one Thursday night game with national title aspirations on the line is rare enough, but last Thursday featured two.

In the early game, Baylor thrashed Oklahoma and proved it is a legitimate title contender. The Bears hadn’t had much of a test at all this season, and many people were wondering how they would fare against the Sooners. After a 41-12 victory, those questions have been answered. The Bears still put up 41 points despite a slow start and going scoreless in the first quarter. Bryce Petty accounted for 5 touchdowns, and third-string running back Shock Linwood ran for 182 yards. Even better, Baylor’s defense proved it could hold up against a physical offense, holding Oklahoma to just 237 yards.

The marquee game of the night saw Stanford hand Oregon its first loss of the season and dash the Ducks’ national title hopes for the second year in a row. The Cardinal dominated the Ducks for three quarters and withstood a 20-point onslaught in the final period to win 26-20. Stanford rushed for 274 yards, including 157 from Tyler Gafney, and held the ball for a whopping 42.5 minutes. As prolific as Oregon’s offense is, it can’t score when it doesn’t have the ball. When the Ducks did have possession, Stanford’s stifling defense made life miserable for Marcus Mariota & Co. Oregon is now out of the running for a national championship, but Stanford is back in the picture.

Saturday lacked the drama of Thursday. Miami failed to recover from its crushing loss to Florida State a week ago and was walloped by Virginia Tech 42-24. Texas Tech and Notre Dame both lost, but those were the only upsets. The big game on Saturday was #1 Alabama against #13 LSU. This game went down to the wire a year ago, but that was not the case this time. The game was tied in the third quarter, but Alabama pulled away, scoring the game’s final 21 points in a 38-17 victory.

 

Looking Ahead to Week 12

Unlike last week, there aren’t really any must-see games on the slate this week. It’s like the schedule makers knew that last week was going to be awesome and decided to give everyone a break.

Still, intriguing games can be found. Thursday offers an interesting matchup between #8 Clemson and 6-3 Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have such a unique offense that they could give the Tigers problems, especially on a short week.

Friday features two good, but flawed, Pac-12 teams when #13 UCLA squares off against Washington. The Huskies have three losses, but two came in tough games against Oregon and Stanford. UCLA is battling injuries but does have two-way sensation Myles Jack, the linebacker who earned Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors after rushing for 120 yards on six carries and scoring on a 66-yard run.

Talk about revenge of the nerds. For years, USC dominated Stanford. Now, it’s the Cardinal who are the bullies. Stanford has won four-straight against the Trojans and are coming off a huge win over previously undefeated and second-ranked Oregon. That win put the Cardinal back in the mix for a national title, and while USC somehow has seven wins, these aren’t Pete Carroll’s Trojans. For those of you who want to see USC knocked down a peg, this game is for you.

There are a couple of matchups pitting top-25 teams. Auburn takes on Georgia on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers have quietly climbed to #7 in the nation and will be looking to reverse their recent fortunes against the Bulldogs, having lost six-of-seven to Georgia. The Bulldogs are still banged-up and have struggled on defense, but as long as Aaron Murray is around, it’d be foolish to count them out.

The biggest game of the weekend has #12 Oklahoma State traveling to Austin to take on #24 Texas in a game vital to both teams’ Big 12 championship hopes. Both teams come in hot, with Texas riding a six-game winning streak while Oklahoma State has won its last five games. Both teams have quarterbacks coming off their best games of the seasons, and both have struggled at times on defense. Oklahoma State isn’t quite the explosive offensive unit to which we’ve become accustomed, but Texas has suffered a rash of injuries.

The most surprising matchup of the week takes place in the ACC and pits two 7-2 teams. A 7-2 Miami team isn’t much of a surprise, but a 7-2 Duke team certainly is. The Blue Devils have been winning via smoke-and-mirrors, but the fact remains that they’ve still won 7 games and clinched their first winning season in almost 20 years. Miami started the year off 7-0 but has lost its last two games in blowout fashion. To make matters worse. star tailback Duke Johnson is out for the year after breaking his ankle against Florida State. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, are riding a five-game winning streak. However, Duke has never beaten Miami in eight tries as ACC foes.

 

 

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The Pac-12 is a league on the rise and the biggest threat to SEC supremacy

Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports

Kirby Lee – USA Today Sports

Well ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time of year again. Football season is nearly upon us!

Gone are the summer doldrums without any pigskin action. Finally, we can actually watch teams play rather than hear about the latest scandal or Johnny Manziel’s lifestyle choices. Football is here, and it’s about time.

To get you up to speed after the summer hiatus, GuysGirl will be previewing all ten FBS conferences (RIP WAC, you’ll be missed) from east to west, starting with the Pac-12.

The Pac-12 is a league on the rise and the biggest threat to SEC supremacy. The league had two teams finish 2012 ranked in the top ten and begins 2013 with two teams in the top five.

Larry Scott has the league thinking big, Oregon is still loaded, and Stanford has proven it can be successful without Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck. Rich Rodriguez is making things exciting in Tucson, Todd Graham may actually have been a great higher in Tempe, Jim Mora Jr.’s Bruins were a pleasant surprise last year, and California hired the man who led the nation’s most prolific scoring offense a year ago.

Even lowly Colorado, 1-11 a year ago with a loss to FCS Sacramento State, has reason for optimism after hiring Mike MacIntyre, the man who turned around San Jose State and gave the Spartans their best season in decades.

Entering the 2012 season, the Pac-12 was expected to have a couple of national championship contenders. Oregon lived up to the billing and was a late-season loss away from playing for the national title. The surprise was USC. The Trojans began the year ranked #1 behind senior quarterback and Heisman favorite Matt Barkley, but USC stumbled. The Trojans finished the season unranked at 7-6, suffering a humiliating loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

Fortunately for the Pac-12, Stanford stepped up. Questions swirled around the Cardinal after Andrew Luck left for the NFL. Could the team sustain their success? Could David Shaw thrive without the talent stockpiled by Jim Harbaugh? Well, the answer is yes. Stanford went 12-2, gave Oregon its only loss and knocked the Ducks out of the national championship game, won the Pac-12 title, and appeared in a BCS bowl for the third straight year en route to a top-10 ranking.

Oregon State rebounded from some subpar years and went 9-4 to finish in the top 20, UCLA won the Pac-12 South in Jim Mora Jr.’s first year at the helm, and both Arizona and Arizona State provided gave their fans plenty of hope for the future with 8-5 campaigns under new coaches.

What will 2013 deliver?

Cream of the Crop

Oregon, Stanford

Marcus Mariota (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

Marcus Mariota (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

The Ducks and Cardinal and head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference and the clear elite in the Pac-12. Not only are both vying for the Pac-12 crown, but both are ranked in the top five and national title contenders.

The Ducks have risen to prominence behind their flashy, bottomless sea of uniform combinations and a high-octane offense that leaves defenses and scoreboard operators gasping for breath.

The Ducks suffered a big loss in the offseason when Chip Kelly left to become the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich has been handed the reins, and he’ll have plenty to work with to keep the Ducks’ offense running smoothly.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota burst onto the scene a year ago as a red-shirt freshman, throwing for nearly 2,700 with 32 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. Imagine how good he’ll be now that he has a year of experience under his belt.

He’ll be assisted by the dynamic De’Anthony Thomas as well as his top six receiving targets from a year ago and five returning offensive linemen with starting experience. Oregon’s defense is deep, talented, and anchored by one of the nation’s best secondaries. Led by cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the nine returning secondary members combined for an eye-opening 18 interceptions, 268 tackles, 43 passes defensed, 7 forced fumbles (and 7 recoveries), and 8 tackles for loss.

The Ducks may suffer a drop off with the departure of Kelly, but it won’t happen this year. With the talent assembled by his predecessor, Helfrich may become the next Larry Coker and win a national championship in his first season.

For the Ducks to get that elusive crystal football, they’ll have to get through the immovable object known as the Stanford defense.

The Cardinal boast the best defense in the conference and one of the best in the nation. Only one starter from last year’s stout front seven departed, and that came at the deepest and most talented position in the defense: linebacker. Senior Trent Murphy had 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a year ago, and he’ll be joined by fellow seniors Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley, and Jarek Lancaster. Not to be outdone, the secondary features some outstanding players of its own. Safety Jordan Richards and cornerback Usua Amanam combined for 17 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, 5 sacks, and 19 pass breakups.

The defense will have to live up to its building as the offense has some question marks. Quarterback Kevin Hogan took over the starting role in the 9th game of the year and never looked back. Hogan has yet to lose a game, but he’ll be without tight end Zach Ertz and running back Stepfan Taylor. Running back Tyler Gaffney returns to help ease the loss of Taylor, but the receivers and tights ends will have to step up and give Hogan some weapons.

Middle of the Pack

Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, USC, Washington, Utah

Will Sutton (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Will Sutton (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“Middle of the Pack” isn’t really a fair way to describe the Pac-12 teams as there are a couple of tiers within this grouping. Oregon State had nine wins last year and nearly knocked off Stanford. UCLA also won nine games en route to the Pac-12 South title and nearly upset Stanford to claim a Rose Bowl berth and Pac-12 crown. Jim Mora Jr. has the Bruins on the rise. USC stumbled, but they’re still USC. The Trojans are loaded with talented players destined for a look in the NFL. Whether Lane Kiffin gets them to play up to their potential, however, is a question. Look for Oregon State to have a season similar to 2012: 8-10 wins but not able to beat Oregon and win the North. UCLA should be in the mix in the South division, and while USC has question marks–particularly at quarterback–and won’t contend for a national title, the Trojans will be better than last year’s dismal 7-6 performance.

While those teams aren’t on the same level as Oregon and Stanford, they are above the rest of the middle of the conference. Arizona and Arizona State have plenty to be excited about after identical 8-5 campaigns under new head coaches. The Wildcats lose senior quarterback Matt Scott but still have stud running back Ka’Deem Carey, who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards last season, as well a number of returning starters from an improved defense. Don’t be surprised if Arizona improves from a year ago but regresses in the standings. Still, things are looking up in Tucson.

Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe saw the Sun Devils nearly win the Pac-12 South as Arizona State featured a fast, fun team on both sides of the ball. The Devils have a brutal early schedule that could doom them (Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC, Notre Dame in four straight weeks), but if they can survive that, they should be in good shape. Pull off an upset or two, and things could get really interesting in Tempe. With nose tackle Will Sutton leading the defense and quarterback Taylor Kelly pulling the strings on offense, ASU will certainly be entertaining to watch.

The Washington Huskies are nothing if not consistent. Steve Sarkisian’s bunch has gone 7-6 the past three seasons. Quarterback Keith Price struggled with a new offensive system, but the defense improved considerably under new coordinator Justin Wilcox. There were some upsets, too; the Huskies defeated Oregon State and Stanford, both ranked in the top ten at the time. This team is incredibly young, but the Huskies are also full of talent. They are probably a year away from threatening the upper echelon, but if they catch a few breaks this year, they could definitely break through their recent 7-win ceiling. Six to eight wins is more likely, though.

Utah is in danger of dropping into the lower tier. The original BCS busters haven’t found the going as smoothly in the Pac-12 as they had hoped. Their inaugural season in 2011 was fine–the Utes were one loss from playing in the Pac-12 championship game–and came into 2012 with high hopes. A hyped defense failed to live up to expectations, and the offense was plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness. Utah went 5-7 and snapped a nine-season bowl streak. The vibe entering 2013 is certainly different than a year ago, especially since Utah’s strengths–defense and special teams–have been depleted. The hope now isn’t contending for a conference title, it’s merely to keep from losing ground. The Utes picked a bad time to stagnate and regress when so many other conference foes are on the upswing.

Bottom of the Barrel

Cal, Washington State, Colorado

Cal is on this list based on their recent performances, but don’t expect the Bears to stay here for long. Jeff Tedford had revived a downtrodden Cal program and made it relevant, but his message had gotten stale over the past few years as the Golden Bears regressed into mediocrity. He was let go, and the school brought in Sonny Dykes from Louisiana Tech. Dykes’ Tech squad featured a prolific offense that lead the nation in scoring. He’ll need to find a quarterback, but he has plenty to work with at the receiver position along with home run threat Brendan Bigelow. With upgraded facilities, stadium renovations, and plenty of talent inherited from Tedford, Dykes should have Cal back in the hunt sooner than later. Six wins and a bowl are a definite possibility this year.

Not much went right for the Washington State Cougars last year. The school brought in Mike Leach to be the head coach, and big things were expected. Leach had never had a losing season, and with two experienced quarterbacks as well as star receiver Marquess Wilson, it seemed like the Cougars had the talent on hand to adapt to Leach’s Air Raid offense. Alas, it didn’t work at that way. The offense regressed, and Wilson feuded with Leach. Worst of all, Wazzu lost to Colorado. There is talent on the roster, but not enough of it. The Cougars will be improved, but so is the rest of the Pac-12. Hope is still on the horizon, but it’s going to be awhile.

And then there’s Colorado. The Buffs have been awful ever since firing Gary Barnett, and they finally hit rock bottom last year. CU went 1-11 and was atrocious in almost every way except punting. The offense couldn’t gain yards or score while the defense couldn’t stop anybody. Not only did the Buffs lose to in-state rival Colorado State, they lost to a middle-of-the-pack FCS squad Sacramento State. Those weren’t even the low points. The Buffs lost 69-14 to Fresno State, a game in which it was 55-7 at half and Robbie Rouse had four touchdowns in the first quarter alone. Fresno had not one, but two touchdowns of over 90 yards in the first quarter. Colorado lost 42-14 to UCLA, 51-17 to ASU, 50-6 to USC, and 38-3 to Washington. Oregon hung 70 on the Buffs while Stanford shut CU out 48-0. Coach Jon Embree was fired and replaced by miracle worker Mike MacIntyre, fresh off leading San Jose State to its best season in years. Embree recruited fairly well, so there is some talent, but it’s going to be awhile before the Buffs become relevant again.

North Division Champ

Oregon

This one’s going to be fun. Oregon and Stanford have a nice rivalry brewing, and each has knocked off the other and dashed their title hopes the past few seasons. They have such contrasting styles: Oregon’s high-octane and explosive offense versus Stanford’s rugged and physical defense. Look for Oregon State to spoil someone’s season, but they haven’t been able to handle Oregon’s speed for years. The Beavers may knock off Stanford, but they can’t beat Oregon. It’s going to come down to the Ducks and Cardinal again. The game is at Stanford, but that hasn’t mattered of late in the series. The Ducks are loaded, though, and have some unfinished business after falling short of the title game the past couple seasons.

South Division Champ

Arizona State

Unlike the North, there isn’t a clear separation between the teams in the Pac-12 South. Every team has flaws. USC has the star power and talent, but the Trojans have to rebound from last year’s debacle and find an effective quarterback. Arizona has to replace Matt Scott and figures to regress a bit after such a surprisingly good 2012 season. UCLA figures to be susceptible to a regression, too. Arizona State returns its quarterback and has plenty of weapons on offense, and its defense boasts one of, if not the best defensive player in the conference in nose tackle Will Sutton. However, the Devils have to survive a difficult early schedule and hold up the rest of the year. With so many evenly-matched teams, it’s going to be hard to call, but ASU has the benefit of being solid on both sides of the ball plus having an experienced quarterback. The bounces go the Devils’ way.

Conference Champ

Oregon

This one is considerably easier to call: whoever wins the North, whether its Stanford or Oregon, wins the conference. The South has some fun, talented teams, but none of them can go toe-to-toe with the big boys of the North.

 

 

 

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The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Nick Saban

Well that was ugly.

Notre Dame’s vaunted defense was no match for the onslaught that is the Crimson Tide as Alabama steamrolled the Fighting Irish 42-14 to capture its third BCS title in four years.

Alabama drove right down the field on its opening drive and never looked back. It was 14-0 after one quarter and 28-0 at half. Notre Dame trailed 35-0 before finally getting on the board and ending Alabama’s incredible 108 minute-long BCS title game shutout streak.

For the second straight year, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron came up big when it mattered most. Last year’s title game MVP was 20-of-28 for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns. Running back Eddie Lacy was named the game’s offensive MVP after rushing for 140 yards on 20 carries with both a rushing and receiving touchdown.

The scariest part about Alabama’s display of dominance? Next year’s team could be even better.

 McCarron is coming back and is only a junior. Lacy is leaving, but TJ Yeldon, who also topped 100 yards rushing in the game, will return along with freshman receiving sensation Amari Cooper. The Tide will lose a plethora of talent to the NFL, but under Nick Saban, Alabama simply reloads.

 So which teams, if any, can dethrone Alabama?

The SEC

Many people are loath to admit it, but the SEC is the finest conference in football. Say what you will, but seven straight titles are seven straight titles. The SEC has beaten champions from the Pac-12, Big 12, and Big 10. They even got tired of beating everyone else last year, so the conference placed two teams in the title game. If anyone is going to take down Alabama, the SEC is a good place to start.

The Crimson Tide lost one game this season, a 29-24 thriller to SEC newcomer Texas A&M and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. After pummeling Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, the Aggies are sure to be a top-5 team entering next season. Manziel is only a freshman, so it’s staggering to imagine how good he could become. The only teams to beat Alabama in recent memory have been spread teams with mobile quarterbacks, and Manziel fits the bill. Plus, Alabama has to go to College Station next year.

LSU was the only team to beat Alabama last season, and the Tigers nearly pulled it off again this year. McCarron engineered a game-winning drive with time running out to allow the Tide to leave Death Valley with a 21-17 victory. LSU has a defense on par with Alabama’s, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger played his best game against the Tide.

Georgia was a tipped pass away from beating Alabama in the SEC championship game and playing for a national title. Star quarterback Aaron Murray is returning for his senior season, and talented freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall should be better than ever.

Florida was #4 in the BCS rankings going into bowl season and boasts a ferocious defense. South Carolina is a perennial top-10 contender and has the top defender in the country in Jadeveon Clowney.

Will Anyone End the Reign of Terror?

If you’re one of the SEC-weary people hoping someone, ANYONE, outside of the south will win, then these teams offer you the best hope.

Louisville won the Big East and finished the year with an 11-2 record, earning a berth in the Sugar Bowl against Florida. The game was universally expected to be a mismatch, and it was, except the Gators proved to be no match for Teddy Bridgewater and Co. Lousiville’s sophomore quarterback extraordinaire led the Cards to a 33-23 beatdown of the heavily-favored Gators. The momentum from that win will likely propel the Cardinals to a top-10 preseason ranking. If Bridgewater can stay healthy, Louisville will have a good shot at running the table. He’s got the ability to shred Alabama’s defense.

Oregon ended up 12-1 after thrashing Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl but scored an even bigger victory when head coach Chip Kelly turned down overtures from the NFL to remain in Eugene. Other than Stanford, nobody came within 11 points of the Ducks. Kenjon Barner will be departing, but quarterback Marcus Mariota and all-everything phenom De’Anthony Thomas will be back to power one of the country’s most prolific and potent offenses. Few teams, if any, can match Oregon’s speed, and a matchup with Alabama is one that has most college football fans salivating.

Oregon-Alabama would have happened this year if it wasn’t for one team: Stanford. A throwback oddity in a spread-happy conference, the powerful Cardinal are tough and physical. Their front seven was the only unit that was able to slow down the Ducks this year. Stanford’s two losses came by a combined 11 points, and one was a controversial overtime defeat to Notre Dame. Stanford loses star running back Stepfan Taylor, but quarterback Kevin Hogan is only a freshman and will get better. One has to wonder if the Cardinal has enough athleticism to hang with Alabama, but they have gone toe-to-toe with Oregon and USC the past few years.

Yes, Notre Dame just got embarrassed on national television by Alabama. And yes, the Irish lose standout linebacker Manti Te’o and talented tight end Tyler Eifert. However, Notre Dame is ahead of schedule. They were unranked to start this season; the Irish weren’t supposed to be title contenders for another year or two. They are only going to get better—Coach Brian Kelly has put together the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals.com. Quarterback Everett Golson steadily improved over the course of his first year as a starter and will get better. If the offense can get on par with the defense, watch out.

Ohio State finished the season as the only unbeaten team in the land but was ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions. Things were supposed to improve under new coach Urban Meyer, but they weren’t supposed to happen this quickly. The Buckeyes have a phenomenal dual-threat quarterback in sophomore Braxton Miller, and with another offseason under Meyer under their belt should be favored to win the Big 10. Meyer won two national titles at Florida and knows how to beat SEC teams.

Only time will tell if any of these teams can take the next step and defeat the Tide, but if this season is any indication, it’s going to be fun to watch.

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The Granddaddy of Them All: Rose Bowl Preview

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all had an enjoyable Christmas (or an awesome Tuesday for those of you who don’t celebrate the holiday) and a fun, safe New Year’s Eve.

January 1 not only marks the start of a new year but also traditionally is one of the most highly-anticipated days of the college football season. The marquee bowl games, the much-maligned BCS games, begin with both the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl kicking off on the first day of 2013. Both offer intriguing matchups, but let’s look first at the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl.

2013 Rose Bowl: #6 Stanford Cardinal (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)

This year’s edition of the Rose Bowl pits two smash-mouth teams who are almost mirror images of one another: #6 Stanford against Big 10 champ Wisconsin. Both teams like to play power football and pummel the opposition behind big, bruising offensive lines.

Before the season started, it wasn’t a stretch to think the Badgers would return to Pasadena for the third-straight year. After all, they returned star running back Montee Ball and had experienced quarterback Danny O’Brien transferring from Maryland to lead a team that went 11-3 a year ago. Not many people would have picked Stanford after the Cardinal lost standout quarterback Andrew Luck to the NFL while having to get past Oregon and USC in the Pac-12.

It’s a good thing they actually play out the season, then, because things didn’t quite work out that way.

Stanford proved it wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan with Andrew Luck, going 11-2 and knocking off both Oregon and USC when both were undefeated and ranked #2 in the nation. The Cardinal gave undefeated and top-ranked Notre Dame all it could handle, losing in overtime on a controversial goal line call. Stanford comes into the game with a seven-game winning streak that included wins over ranked opponents in its last four games.

Wisconsin stumbled this year, becoming the first five-loss team to ever play in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers actually finished third in their division but advanced to the Big 10 championship game because both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for postseason play. Once there, Wisconsin throttled Nebraska 70-31 to claim the Big 10 title. Shortly thereafter, Bret Bielema left to take over Arkansas in a move that stunned pretty much everybody. Current athletic director and former Wisconsin coaching legend Barry Alvarez announced he will return to the sidelines and coach the team for this game, adding even more intrigue. Alvarez is 3-0 in Rose Bowls, but he hasn’t coached a game since 2005. Does he still have what it takes, and if so, will that be enough against a tough Stanford team?

Keys to the Game

Whichever team is successful running the ball will win. Wisconsin is led by the aforementioned Ball, who set all-time FBS records for rushing touchdowns (76) and total touchdowns (82). He has rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns on the year but will be facing one of the best run defenses in the nation. Stanford ranks third nationally against the run, yielding only 87.7 yards a game. Ball and backup James White (802 yards, 12 touchdowns) will have to find some holes because the Badgers are woeful through the air, ranking 115th at 162.6 passing yards a game.

Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is no slouch himself, rushing for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns to go along with 38 receptions and 2 receiving touchdowns this year. Since Stanford only averages a little over 200 yards passing a game, Taylor will have to carry the load. He’ll be running against the country’s 22nd-best rush defense. He’ll have some help, though, as freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan has changed the Stanford offense with his dual-threat ability. Since taking over the starting role, Hogan has thrown 8 touchdowns against 3 interceptions while rushing for 193 yards.

The Verdict

Wisconsin ran all over Nebraska, but they won’t be able to do the same against a stout Stanford defense that shackled Oregon’s explosive attack. The loss of Bielema has to sting, and while the return of Alvarez should provide the Badgers with a morale boost, one has to wonder if he can shake the rust off in so little time. Fact is, this isn’t a great Wisconsin team. The Badgers finished third in their division, and if it weren’t for other teams’ ineligibility, they wouldn’t be anywhere close to this game.

Stanford is too good, too tough, and too disciplined for Wisconsin. Hogan has played well and transformed their offense, and he continues to get better. The Cardinal will win.

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