Big 12: Oregon Ducks

Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.

Position U: Running backs

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
10:00
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video
Who really deserves to claim the title of "Running Back U" for the 2000s?

1. Arkansas (104 points)
In perhaps the biggest upset at any position, Arkansas can call itself “Running Back U” for the 2000s. Certainly Darren McFadden played the biggest role in the Razorbacks’ claim, but he got an assist from Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Those former backfield mates are among six Arkansas running backs who have been drafted since 2001, helping the Hogs barely edge Oklahoma for the top spot.

Award winners: McFadden, Walker (2006, 2007), Camp (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: McFadden (2006, 2007).
First-team all-conference: Fred Talley (2002), Cedric Cobbs (2003), Darren McFadden (2005, 2006, 2007).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2008), McFadden (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cobbs (Round 4, 2004), Knile Davis (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Hillis (Round 7, 2008), Kiero Small (Round 7, 2014).

2. Oklahoma (102 points)
When someone like Adrian Peterson has been on your campus, you have to start there when discussing Oklahoma running backs. But one of the main reasons the Sooners racked up such a considerable point total is the Big 12’s unusual practice of honoring fullbacks on its all-conference team. In addition to the Petersons and DeMarco Murrays, there are also several blocking backs included in the Sooners’ 12 all-conference running backs who made our list.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Peterson (2004).
First-team all-conference: Quentin Griffin (2002), Peterson (2004, 2005, 2006), J.D. Runnels (2005), Brody Eldridge (2007), DeMarco Murray (2008, 2010), Matt Clapp (2008), Trey Millard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Peterson (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Griffin (Round 4, 2003), Murray (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Runnels (Round 6, 2006), Patrick (Round 7, 2008), Trey Millard (Round 7, 2014).

3. Alabama (100 points)
Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams had better pick it up this season, or the Alabama train is going to roll to the top spot. The Crimson Tide once again has one of the nation’s most talented backfields with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry set to join the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy as top point producers from Alabama.

Award winners: Ingram, Heisman (2009); Richardson, Walker (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011).
First-team all-conference: Kenneth Darby (2005), Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011), Lacy (2012), Yeldon (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ingram (2011), Richardson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Le’Ron McClain (Round 4, 2007), Glen Coffee (Round 3, 2009), Lacy (Round 2, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ahmaad Galloway (Round 7, 2003), Darby (Round 7, 2007), Brad Smelley (Round 7, 2012).

4. Auburn (86 points)
Auburn hasn’t been as flashy as its in-state rival -- the Tigers don’t have a single award winner or consensus All-American in the 2000s -- but few schools have been as consistent at developing solid tailbacks. Perhaps the most memorable names are the stars from the undefeated 2004 team -- Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams -- but Rudi Johnson, Kenny Irons, Ben Tate and Tre Mason all made big impacts at Auburn, as well.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2000), Williams (2003, 2004), Brown (2004), Irons (2005, 2006), Michael Dyer (2011), Mason (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Brown (2005), Williams (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Heath Evans (Round 3, 2001), Johnson (Round 4, 2001), Irons (Round 2, 2007), Tate (Round 2, 2010), Mason (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jay Prosch (Round 6, 2014).

4. Wisconsin (86 points)
Montee Ball is Wisconsin’s only major award winner and consensus All-America tailback from the 2000s, but the Badgers have an impressive tradition of turning out 1,000-yard rushers. Among the program’s top producers from this era are 2001 first-round pick Michael Bennett, Brian Calhoun and Anthony Davis, among others. Ball posted huge yardage and touchdown totals in 2011 and 2012 -- which explains why he was a two-time All-American and won the 2012 Doak Walker Award -- but it’s the run of consistency at running back that makes Wisconsin a producer of top rushers.

Award winners: Ball, Walker (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Ball (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Davis (2001), Calhoun (2005), P.J. Hill (2006), John Clay (2009), Ball (2011, 2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bennett (2001).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Calhoun (Round 3, 2006), Ball (Round 2, 2013), James White (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Davis (Round 7, 2005), Bradie Ewing (Round 5, 2012).

6. Oregon (82 points)
Although the Ducks have ranked among the nation’s top programs over the past half-decade, LaMichael James’ 2010 Doak Walker Award is the only major award that an Oregon player has won at any position in the 2000s. James is the Ducks’ top point producer out of the backfield in recent years, but they also won points with backs like Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith before Chip Kelly’s rushing attack turned Oregon into the offensive juggernaut that we see today.

Award winners: James, Walker (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: James (2010), Kenjon Barner (2012).
First-team all-conference: Smith (2002), Jonathan Stewart (2007), James (2010, 2011), Barner (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Stewart (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Morris (Round 2, 2002), Smith (Round 4, 2003), LaMichael James (Round 2, 2012), De’Anthony Thomas (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Barner (Round 6, 2013).

7. USC (78 points)
Reggie Bush was actually a two-time All-American, but we aren’t factoring the 2004 nod he received because that was as an all-purpose player, not a running back. Nonetheless, Bush’s standout 2005 season was the main points driver as the Trojans cracked the top 10 largely because of the former No. 2 overall NFL pick’s accomplishments. It bears mentioning, however, that USC has already had eight running backs drafted in the 2000s.

Award winners: Bush, Heisman (2005), Camp (2005), Walker (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Bush (2005).
First-team all-conference: Bush (2004, 2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bush (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Fargas (Round 3, 2003), LenDale White (Round 2, 2006), Joe McKnight (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Malaefou Mackenzie (Round 7, 2003), David Kirtman (Round 5, 2006), Allen Bradford (Round 6, 2011), Stanley Havili (Round 7, 2011).

8. Penn State (72 points)
Larry Johnson’s huge 2002 season accounts for much of Penn State’s point production -- he generated 52 points between winning three national awards, becoming a consensus All-American, winning first-team all-conference honors and getting drafted in the 2003 first round -- but the Nittany Lions have had five running backs drafted and Evan Royster also won all-conference honors in 2009.

Award winners: Johnson, Camp (2002), Maxwell (2002), Walker (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Johnson (2002).
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2002), Royster (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Johnson (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Omar Easy (Round 4, 2002), Michael Robinson (Round 4, 2006), Tony Hunt (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Royster (Round 6, 2011).

9. Oklahoma State (70 points)
There’s nothing flashy about Oklahoma State’s point production here. No national awards, and just Kendall Hunter among its All-Americans. But the Cowboys have been outstanding at producing all-conference running backs, with Hunter (twice) and Tatum Bell ranking among their eight backs who made the coaches’ first team.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Hunter (2010.
First-team all-conference: Bell (2003), Dantrell Savage (2007), Hunter (2008, 2010), Keith Toston (2009), Bryant Ward (2009, 2010), Joseph Randle (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Bell (Round 2, 2004), Vernand Morency (Round 3, 2005), Hunter (Round 4, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Randle (Round 5, 2013).

10. California (66 points)
Considering how Cal shares a conference with splashy programs like Oregon and USC, perhaps it’s understandable that its success developing tailbacks might fly a bit under the radar. But just look at the Bears’ résumé, starting with Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and J.J. Arrington. There have been some enormously productive tailbacks who got their start in Berkeley.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Arrington (2004).
First-team all-conference: Adimchinobe Echemandu (2003), Arrington (2004), Lynch (2006), Justin Forsett (2007), Best (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Lynch (2007), Best (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Arrington (Round 2, 2005), Shane Vereen (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Echemandu (Round 7, 2004), Forsett (Round 7, 2008).

10. Virginia Tech (66 points)
Frank Beamer’s Hokies are another bunch who trotted out productive tailback after productive tailback. Virginia Tech hasn’t won a national award and has only Kevin Jones among its All-America backs, but its list of all-conference backs -- including first-round picks Jones and David Wilson, along with Lee Suggs, Brandon Orr and Ryan Williams -- features some players whose running abilities fit perfectly with Beamer’s winning formula in Blacksburg.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jones (2003).
First-team all-conference: Suggs (2000), Jones (2003), Orr (2006), Williams (2009), Wilson (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2004), Wilson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Suggs (Round 4, 2003), Williams (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jarrett Ferguson (Round 7, 2002), Cedric Humes (Round 7, 2006).

REST OF “RUNNING BACK U” RANKINGS
62 -- Boston College; 60 -- Michigan, Ohio State; 58 -- Stanford; 56 -- LSU, Miami; 52 -- Georgia Tech, Oregon State; 50 -- West Virginia; 48 -- BYU; 44 -- Arizona, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, TCU; 42 -- Texas; 40 -- Clemson, Iowa, Nebraska; 36 -- Kansas State, Rutgers; 32 -- Georgia, Minnesota; 28 -- Florida State, Louisville, Tennessee, UCLA; 26 -- Illinois, Maryland, Syracuse; 24 -- Virginia; 20 -- Colorado, North Carolina; 18 -- Baylor, Mississippi State, Wake Forest; 16 -- Florida, Northwestern, Washington, Washington State; 14 -- Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas Tech; 12 -- Iowa State, Kentucky; 10 -- Kansas, N.C. State, Texas A&M; 8 -- Missouri, Utah; 6 -- Arizona State, Duke, Indiana, Notre Dame; 2 -- Vanderbilt

Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
10:05
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SAN ANTONIO -- No. 10 Oregon beats Texas 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A few thoughts on the game:

It was over when: Oregon safety Derrick Malone picked off a Case McCoy pass over the middle midway through the fourth quarter, then went 39 yards for the score. The Ducks went up 30-7 on McCoy’s second pick-six of the night.

Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was masterful both on the ground and through the air, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 133. A month off to heal a nagging knee injury did him plenty of good.

Stat of the game: McCoy finished with 48 passing yards and no touchdowns. The two passes he completed to Oregon defenders were returned for a total of 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Unsung hero: Oregon safety Avery Patterson, who gave the Ducks a 7-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game when he picked off a McCoy pass and scored on a 37-yard return. The senior added nine tackles in his final game.

Best call: The Ducks’ first score on offense came when Mariota, with Jackson Jeffcoat fast approaching, flipped to Josh Huff on a shovel pass and he found the end zone from 16 yards out. Huff finished with 104 receiving yards and a school-record 1,140 in 2013.

What Oregon learned: If Mariota makes good on his promise to return in 2014, Oregon should once again have a preseason top-10 team and plenty of firepower to make a run at a college football playoff bid.

What Texas learned: Nothing it didn’t already know, really. Its Case McCoy-led offense can pound the rock but couldn’t keep up with elite teams and capitalize on opportunities. The Longhorns couldn’t give Mack Brown a satisfying sendoff. Now it’s time to find his successor.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Valero Alamo Bowl, click here.

Valero Alamo Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
1:30
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Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Texas reporter Max Olson break down the biggest storylines in Monday’s Valero Alamo Bowl matchup featuring Texas and No. 10 Oregon:

How do you think Mack Brown's resignation affects this game?

Max Olson: Throughout the past few weeks, Brown has stuck to the same message publicly: Texas players should win this game for themselves, not for their coach. They’ve had a brutal season, overcome plenty and have a chance to cap it with a ninth win and a few good memories. Brown keeps saying he wants this to be about the kids, not him.

What we’ll get out of kids, though, I just don’t know. They’ve been big underdogs before. They came out firing against Oklahoma and built real momentum. They held Baylor to 3 points in the first half but ran out of gas. Which Texas team shows up Monday? They’ll need plenty of motivation and good fortune.

Kevin Gemmell: My first thought was that this was going to be a huge motivation advantage for Texas -- and I’m a big believer that the bowl season is all about which team is motivated to be there. But I think the recent news that Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is also retiring balances things out in the Oregon locker room. While he’s not as big of a name nationally as Brown, he’s as much an Oregon institution as Brown is to Texas.

Both pregame speeches will be rousing. Heartstrings will be tugged. But ultimately it comes down to what happens on the field. If Oregon is able to set aside its disappointment of not being in a BCS game, then who is coaching on which sideline shouldn't matter because on paper Oregon is the stronger team.

What should be expected of a 100-percent healthy Marcus Mariota?

Gemmell: For starters, an extra element to the Oregon offense that makes them that much tougher to stop. Consider Mariota in the first seven games of the season before his knee injury. He averaged 70.4 rushing yards per game and scored nine touchdowns -- including at least one rushing touchdown in all seven games. Since hurting the knee against UCLA, he’s averaged just 17.8 rushing yards with zero rushing touchdowns.

He also threw four interceptions in the final two games after going pick-free for the first 10, so aside from his rushing abilities -- which are substantial -- his throwing mechanics should be much stronger. I’m of the belief that when he’s 100 percent healthy, Mariota is the best football player in the country. And if Texas gets a 100 percent Mariota, he’s going to be very, very difficult to stop.

Olson: Mariota is one of the many reasons why this is just not a good matchup for Texas, especially considering its defense has had legitimate issues defending the option against mobile quarterbacks. Of quarterbacks who started the last two seasons, nobody in the country has a better Total QBR than Mariota at 89.0. He’s the real deal. I fully expect him to put up big numbers in the Alamodome, and it’ll be interesting to see how Texas defends him, probably with Jackson Jeffcoat reprising his freestyle “spinner” role.

Who will be the key player in this game?

Olson: If you’ve been following this Texas team, you know the key isn’t getting a huge performance from Case McCoy. Yes, he needs to play relatively mistake-free and hit on the big passes when they’re there. But Texas doesn’t stand a chance in this one without a big night from Malcolm Brown.

The San Antonio native had rushed for 421 yards in the four games since Texas lost Johnathan Gray, including 118 in the first half against Baylor. He did a terrific job of hitting cutback lanes against the Bears, and run defense hasn’t been a strength for Oregon. Brown needs to get rolling or Texas could fall behind quickly.

Gemmell: Take your pick from any number of superstars on both sides of the ball for Oregon. Be it Mariota, Josh Huff or Byron Marshall. Defensively, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is as lockdown as they come. But the guy who always seems to show up in the postseason is De’Anthony Thomas.

Last season against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, caught four balls for 60 yards and a score and rushed twice for 15 yards. In the 2011 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, he carried twice for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Wisconsin. He also caught four balls for 34 yards and returned five kicks for 125 yards. Thomas is a big-game player with blazing speed and scary elusiveness. When he’s hitting on all cylinders, he’s a difference maker.

Valero Alamo Bowl preview

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
11:00
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No. 10 Oregon and Texas face off Monday (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. A few key players and matchups to watch:

Who to watch: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota says he’s 100 percent healthy, and that’s very good news for the Ducks. A knee injury suffered against UCLA in October limited his ability to run in Oregon’s final five games, two of which were losses. Now that he has had time off to recover, expect the Ducks’ high-tempo option attack to be back to full speed. Mariota is coming back for 2014 and has a chance to end his sophomore campaign with a big game against a Texas defense that has proven vulnerable to running quarterbacks.

What to watch: What can Texas do up front to grab control of this game from the Ducks? These Longhorns are capable of big upsets when their offensive line owns the line of scrimmage, and they’re reshuffling to put All-Big 12 left guard Trey Hopkins at right tackle. On defense, defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed must be disruptive, and you could see Jeffcoat play all over the field in a hybrid role. Texas can’t win this game without being the more physical team.

Why to watch: Mack Brown’s last hurrah after 16 seasons as head coach of the Longhorns. Texas has won seven of its past eight bowl games dating back to 2004, and its players want to send Brown off with one final victory, the 245th of his career. When everybody counted them out, Brown’s players rallied and knocked off No. 12 Oklahoma 38-20 in the Red River Rivalry this season. Can the Longhorns pull off another stunner?

Prediction: Oregon 38, Texas 17. Oregon simply has too much firepower for Texas, whose four losses have come by an average margin of 21 points. Retiring Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti gets the celebratory final Gatorade bath.

Texas gets scariest matchup yet: Oregon

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The great unknown of Texas’ future remains unsolved two days after Texas’ loss to Baylor. But the imminent future was at least settled Sunday: Texas is returning to the Valero Alamo Bowl, this time to take on No. 10 Oregon.

And that proposition looks about as scary as anything Mack Brown and his loyalists might see in the next few weeks.

We don’t know what’s next for Brown. He traveled to New York on Sunday with UT president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson for the College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. He’s supposed to hit the road this week for in-home visits with recruits.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTexas has troubles defending the option. Marcus Mariota and Oregon run it perhaps better than anybody.
Whatever is in the works in the meantime remains unknown. Texas’ grand plan is far from clear. But this much is certain: When the dust settles, the Longhorns have plenty of work to do and 15 practices to do so. At some point, preparations to face Oregon will begin.

The response from fans and pundits on Sunday night was relatively consistent: Texas (8-4) is going to get smoked by Oregon (10-2). It won’t be pretty.

Oddsmakers have made the Ducks a two-touchdown favorite, which is familiar territory for the Longhorns by now. This team liked playing the underdog role in 2013, so perhaps there’s no better way to end the year than with Texas’ most difficult matchup yet.

Oregon has a two-time All-Pac-12 quarterback in Marcus Mariota. He ranked No. 2 in the nation in QBR this season behind Florida State's Jameis Winston. If not for an MCL sprain that limited his game late in the season, Mariota would likely be New York-bound as well this week. The way this Heisman field fell apart, he still might.

The Ducks' famously fast tempo won’t be what causes this Texas defense trouble. The Longhorns have seen faster this season, and Oregon’s plays-per-game-average of 75 is down from a year ago.

The problem will be the option. Among spread offenses, nobody does that better in college football than the Ducks. It’s a big reason they’re 56-9 since 2009, the year former coach Chip Kelly took over.

Mariota rushed for 695 yards excluding sacks this season, his second as the starter. He says the knee injury that prevented him from running effectively should be 100 percent healed by the Dec. 30 bowl game.

And he’s surrounded by options: Three running backs surpassed 500 yards this season, led by second-year back Byron Marshall’s 995 yards. He has an ankle injury, but also plenty of time to recover.

And don’t forget De’Anthony Thomas, as explosive a player as there is in college football. He’s healthy again after missing four games with an ankle injury. Miss him once in space and he’ll hit the home run. And when you sell out to stop the run, Josh Huff (1,036 receiving yards, 11 TDs) can sneak behind the defense and make you pay.

“These guys are like Baylor," Brown said. "They can score fast and they do a tremendous job."

Read option, speed option, triple option, veer, packaged plays – the Ducks do it all. No other bowl team has more 20-yard runs this season than Oregon.

And few bowl teams struggled more to stop the option and the quarterback run than Texas. For all the progress Greg Robinson and the defensive staff made in the past 10 games, this remains the team's Achilles’ heel.

The Longhorns gave up the ninth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks in the bowl subdivision. As Brown joked midway through the season: If Texas’ opponents don’t run the option, they’ll put it in the playbook.

It was just too easy, even against a defense with a pair of All-Big 12-caliber ends. Injuries have rendered this unit thin at linebacker and defensive tackle. Robinson, his coaches and his defenders will need these 15 bowl practices to find answers.

Oregon’s defense is far from flawless, but it did hold foes to 19 points per game in its wins. It’s a top-three scoring defense in the Pac-12 and No. 4 in total defense. At the moment, though, the attention of Texas’ offense will be on fixing itself.

Case McCoy is coming off the worst start of his career. The Longhorns gained 59 yards in the second half Saturday at Baylor. Their only touchdown drive began at Baylor’s 11-yard line, and they still needed seven plays to score.

They’ll need every practice and film session afforded to them this month. Stanford beat Oregon with pure power. Arizona blew out the Ducks with an elite running back. What’s it going to take for Texas to pull this one off?

The Longhorns have their own problems to solve first, and plenty of preparation ahead. If you think the next three weeks will be rough and messy off the field, it can get a lot worse if Texas doesn’t stay focused on its toughest test yet.

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
10:00
PM ET

Oregon Ducks (10-2) vs. Texas Longhorns (8-4)

Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)


OREGON DUCKS BREAKDOWN
During an 8-0 start, Oregon fans had only one thought in coach Mark Helfrich's first season: We want Bama. During a 2-2 finish, they started missing Chip Kelly.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota should be at full strength and ready to run in the postseason.
That 8-0 start was a thing of beauty, as the Ducks climbed to No. 2 in the nation, dominating on both sides of the ball. They hung 59 points on both Virginia and Tennessee. They turned a precarious seven-point fourth-quarter lead into a 45-24 stomping of hated rival Washington, a 10th consecutive victory in the series by at least 17 points. They showed some grit in the second half against UCLA, swamping the Bruins 42-14.

Not only were the Ducks again in the thick of the national title hunt, but QB Marcus Mariota was also the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate.

But in that win over the Bruins, Mariota sprained his knee. While the injury didn't force him to miss a game, it severely limited his ability to run either on designed plays or scrambles. That put a major part of the Ducks’ offense on ice.

Stanford dominated the Ducks on both sides of the ball in a 26-20 win on Nov. 7, the Pac-12's marquee date of the year. Mariota struggled mightily, but the real issue was the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal owned it.

The low point, however, was a 42-16 defeat at Arizona that proved the death knell of the Ducks' BCS bowl hopes. It was Oregon's first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008.

The Ducks bounced back with a victory in the Civil War, but that 36-35 nail-biter at home over a reeling Beavers team was hardly suggestive of the team that dominated foes through the first eight games. It will be interesting to see how the Ducks respond in the postseason. It should help that Mariota should be close to full health. -- Ted Miller

vs.

TEXAS LONGHORNS BREAKDOWN
The Longhorns had everything on the line against Baylor, including a Big 12 title and a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They couldn’t get the job done. The bowl matchup that the 30-10 loss leads to is immaterial to Texas fans now. All they want to know is whether the Mack Brown era is over.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
John Albright/Icon SMITexas will lean on its run game but will need Case McCoy to make a few plays to close out the season with a win.
If that ends up being the case, we’ll know before Texas takes the field for its bowl game later this month. These Longhorns could have plenty to play for in their finale, even if at 8-4 they’ve ended up in the same Valero Alamo Bowl they played in last year.

Despite losing five starters to season-ending injuries, the Longhorns turned around a rough start with a 7-2 record in Big 12 play. They made that run with a potent power run game, now led by Malcolm Brown (774 yards, nine touchdowns). Whether or not Mack Brown is done, this is the final game for nine senior starters and an opportunity for Case McCoy to end his up-and-down career on a high note.

Texas’ defense underwent a revival in 10 games under Greg Robinson and did hold Baylor’s top-ranked scoring offense to three points in the first half. Jackson Jeffcoat finished with a Big 12-leading 12 sacks in his senior season and anchors a unit that has plenty of experience defending high-tempo spread offenses. -- Max Olson

Non-AQs to be shut out of BCS

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
12:30
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Northern Illinois' loss to Bowling Green on Friday in the MAC title game means there won't be a non-AQ team in the BCS this season.

Instead, the defeat opens up another at-large spot for a major-conference team. That team will probably come from the Big 12 or Pac-12 and play in the Sugar Bowl, the most likely candidates being Baylor or Oregon.

Oklahoma could also have a chance to get that spot with a victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Thursday Title Talk Live

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
4:30
PM ET
Oregon-Stanford. Oklahoma-Baylor. Four top-10 teams. Conference and BCS implications galore.

It’s almost certainly the biggest non-Thanksgiving Thursday in college football regular-season history and we know many of you will be working the remote and following social media during this titanic night. Keep Thursday Title Talk Live open throughout the evening – starting at 7:30 p.m. ET -- and we’ll bring you real-time reaction and analysis from ESPN’s stable of reporters, analysts and experts.



Last week, Nick Saban called out Alabama students for leaving Crimson Tide games early, saying they needed to stick around for all 60 minutes or give away their tickets.

The students responded on Saturday by keeping their section of Bryant-Denny Stadium full until the end of a 45-10 win over Tennessee -- a game the Tide led 35-0 at halftime.

We don't really know if Alabama students are growing bored of their team's constant domination. But if so, they would merely be joining the rest of America.

Saban's "process" reaps undeniably admirable results, as his program has won three of the past four national titles and is in position to claim a third straight crystal football this January.

Admiration and enjoyment, however, do not always go together. An Alabama fatigue factor exists across the country, both because of the Crimson Tide's sustained success and the clinical, almost bloodless, manner in which they've achieved it.

The biggest suspense in the last two BCS title games -- in which Alabama beat Notre Dame and LSU by a combined score of 63-14 -- was whether Saban would crack half a smirk during the celebration.

We respect Alabama's precision. But we also long for some panache. In an age when everyone has a high-definition television and a smartphone to relay all the scores, we demand entertainment as well as execution from our college football teams.

Luckily, we also have an abundance of alternative, anti-Alabama programming this season. In fact, it seems that we're blessed with an unprecedented amount of spectacles and showmen on display from coast to coast, and that is true at the top of this season's BCS standings.

If you could afford just one ticket -- or if you had a really terrible cable package that gave you access to just one game -- how would you choose between some of these top viewing options?

To continue reading, click here.

#CampusConnection: Primetime Live

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
10:25
PM ET
Will UCLA score enough points to somehow beat Oregon? Will Missouri all but clinch the SEC East against South Carolina? Will Ohio State remain unbeaten against the rival Nittany Lions? Head on over to Campus Connection at 7 ET and follow the evening action along with 10 of our reporters, including Mark Schlabach at UCLA-UO, Chris Low at SC-Mizzou, Max Olson at Texas-TCU, Greg Ostendorf at FAU-Auburn and Austin Ward at PSU-OSU.

Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Kickoff Live

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
11:35
AM ET
Editor's note: To watch the show on your smartphone, click here.

Big 12 reporters Jake Trotter and Max Olson as well as “Big 12 This Week” host Chad McKee join host Chantel Jennings to preview the Red River Rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma this Saturday in Dallas. Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and ACC reporter Andrea Adelson also join the panel to talk about the other big games around the country in Week 7.

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Washington has a chance to turn its 2014 recruiting efforts around with key Pac 12 games; Texas Tech running back commit Justin Stockton found himself in a problem this week; and will the New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr duo of Speedy Noil and Gerald Willis III visit Gainesville this weekend?

The Big 12 sent nine teams to bowl games, which for a 10-team league is no small accomplishment. As has been well-documented on this blog, it was the highest percentage for any league in the history of college football.

The Big 12 was the best league in college football from top to bottom (or, perhaps more accurately, bottom to top), but qualifying for those bowl games also means you've got to play them. The lesson the Big 12 learned was clear: Its strength was in the middle of the league, with mostly just OK teams at the top and good-but-questionable teams at the bottom.

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Lache Seastrunk
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsPerformances like those of Lache Seastrunk and Baylor allowed the Big 12's middle to pull away from the rest of the country.
Oklahoma and Kansas State made it clear: The Big 12 lacked a team that deserved to be in the national title hunt this season. Both finished outside the top 10 in both polls after suffering embarrassing losses in marquee bowl games to teams that looked the part of top five teams. They were outscored by a combined 40-7 in the second half of their games against Texas A&M and Oregon.

Like in 2010, the Big 12 was weak at the top. The same was true at the bottom, where overachieving Iowa State played its worst game of the year against a 10-win Tulsa team that cracked the Top 25 and dominated the line of scrimmage while the Cyclones offense sputtered. West Virginia's fall from grace (and the top five ... and Big 12 respectability) finished in predictably ugly fashion. When you began writing the story of WVU's season, you couldn't have written a more gruesome finish than a 24-point loss to a Big East team (the same Big East, though, that went 4-1 against the SEC this year) in a snowstorm.

Where the Big 12 shined, though, was predictable. The middle of the league was perhaps its biggest strength relative to the rest of college football, and we saw that play out on the field. Oklahoma State drew one of the easiest matchups of the bowl season and made a mediocre Big Ten team in Purdue look like an FCS team, delivering the worst beating of anyone the Boilermakers faced all season.

The Big 12's biggest wins, though, came in two of its toughest matchups against the league that was its toughest competition for the nation's No. 2 league: the Pac-12.

Texas and Baylor both faced top 20 opponents from the Pac-12 and did so as underdogs. Baylor won in spectacular fashion in the Big 12's bowl opener, earning respect for the league and a clear edge in the Big 12 vs. Pac-12 debate. Oregon's beatdown of Kansas State leveled the playing field between the two leagues, but ultimately, those two games likely gave the Big 12 an edge in the debate between the two conferences. Despite the losses everywhere else, that's saying a little something.

The Big 12's lackluster performances on its biggest stages means it will fall short when it comes to national respect. It leaves the league without a single top 10 finisher and critics deservedly questioning the credentials of the league's co-champions. However, the strong performance against the Pac-12 gives it the edge as college football's No. 2 league.

For the Big 12 , there was no big movement or exodus into the Top 25, no grand statement. Just a 4-5 record and a feeling of being underwhelmed with college football's postseason complete.
Our ESPN Stats and Info crew does a great job all season, but they step it up for the BCS bowls especially. What did they find in Kansas State's loss to Oregon? Let's have a look:

The biggest thing that stuck out? Collin Klein struggled badly on downfield throws. You probably saw that, but the stats say he completed none of his six attempts further than 10 yards downfield, but both of his interceptions came on passes longer than 10 yards. In wins this season, Klein completed 60 percent of those throws for 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. In losses, he completed just 23 percent of those throws with no scores and five picks.

Oregon's defense also held Klein to just seven yards on designed rushing plays. He had averaged five yards a carry on designed running plays this year, but against the Ducks, Klein averaged less than a yard per carry, his lowest average of the season. Credit a solid defensive performance from the Ducks there. This was just the second game this season Klein went without a rushing touchdown on a designed running play. Missouri State was the only other game that occurred.

K-State's defense played well by my estimation, but all three Ducks touchdown drives lasted less than 2:30.

Running back Kenjon Barner racked up 120 of his 143 yards in the second half and had eight rushes in which K-State's defense didn't touch him until he was at least five yards downfield. That spells disaster for a defense that was solid against the run for most of this season. The second half included four Barner rushes longer than 10 yards.

That third quarter when Kansas State's offense sputtered cost them dearly. K-State makes its mark with time of possession, but the Ducks had the ball for 9:23 in the third quarter after having just 8:51 of possession in the first two quarters combined. Kansas State can't win like that, and last week, it didn't.

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