Big Ten: SEC

Coaches get away with golf

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
1:30
PM ET
In more than 30 years of coaching, Steve Spurrier has never lost a round of golf to one of his players. New challengers are apt to dismiss the claim, but Spurrier is happy to provide witness accounts of each of his triumphs. It's a record he takes seriously.

Of course, opportunities to hit the tees at all are getting harder to come by for coaches. The recruiting calendar has grown more cumbersome, the demands of the job more strenuous, and the number of coaches regularly playing golf has diminished as a result. Even Spurrier, the elder statesmen of the coaching ranks on both the football field and the golf course, doesn't get out quite as much as he used to. By the end of July, his clubs are already gathering dust.

But as the demands of the job increase, the importance of finding an escape is even more crucial, Spurrier said. So he has kept golf a priority during those few months every year when NCAA rules prevent him from working with his players.

For the rest of David M. Hale's story about why golf is a favorite offseason activity for football coaches, click here. And to find out what a few college football coaches had to say about playing golf with players and other coaches, their best rounds, their favorite courses and more, click here.
Texas and Texas A&M might not be playing one another anytime soon.

But other schools around the league are interested in the prospects of rekindling rivalries that were destroyed by two rounds of conference realignment.

While the Longhorns and Aggies remain at odds, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told ESPN.com this week he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to get Texas A&M on the Red Raiders’ schedule down the line again. Hocutt said there has been interest from Texas A&M’s side, as well.

“Hopefully that’s a series that at some point in time that could start again,” Hocutt said. “Is that a game that won’t happen again? No. We’ve had discussions about it. Hopefully we can reengage that in the coming years.”

Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to play a home-and-home in 2021-22. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has reportedly said he thinks his school will play Kansas again someday.

And West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, told ESPN.com he's hopeful he'll be able to revive the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt at some point, as well.

“At some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule,” Luck said. “What I’m trying to do with our nonconference games is stay as regional as possible and rekindle some of our historical rivalries. Penn State is back on the schedule. Virginia Tech is back on the schedule. That game meant a lot to southern West Virginians. The Pitt game meant a lot to northern West Virginians. We’ve continued to play Pitt in many of the sports.

“We’ve both gone through transitions, so it’s tough schedule-wise for both of us. But I think at some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule. I see [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson every now and then at various conventions. And we’ve had some discussions about that. We just haven’t been able to really eyeball the proper time to get it going again.”

Position U: Offensive line

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
11:45
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Offensive Line U” for the 2000s?

OFFENSIVE LINE
1. Alabama (242 points): Nick Saban (whose first season at Alabama was 2007) has been the Crimson Tide’s coach for only half of the time period that we examined. But that’s when nearly all of the noteworthy accomplishments have occurred in the 2000s for the Tide’s offensive line: three national awards, seven All-America picks, 11 all-conference selections, four first-round picks and eight linemen drafted. Saban teams win by dominating the line of scrimmage, and the offensive line results reflect why Alabama has been so successful.

Award winners: Andre Smith, Outland (2008); Barrett Jones, Outland (2011), Rimington (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Antoine Caldwell (2008), Andre Smith (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), Chance Warmack (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
First-team all-conference: Paul Hogan (2000), Marico Portis (2002), Wesley Britt (2002, 2003, 2004), Andre Smith (2007, 2008), Antoine Caldwell (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), James Carpenter (2010), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), William Vlachos (2011), Chance Warmack (2012), D.J. Fluker (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Andre Smith (2009), James Carpenter (2011), Chance Warmack (2013), D.J. Fluker (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Smiley (Round 2, 2004), Evan Mathis (Round 3, 2005), Antoine Caldwell (Round 3, 2009), Mike Johnson (Round 3, 2010), Barrett Jones (Round 4, 2013), Cyrus Kouandjio (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Shawn Draper (Round 5, 2001), Wesley Britt (Round 5, 2005),

2. Michigan (238 points): If any program was going to threaten Alabama’s claim on the top spot, it was Michigan, which has enjoyed a ridiculous run of success along the offensive line. Four first-round picks (Jeff Backus, Steve Hutchinson, Jake Long and Taylor Lewan) include one (Long) who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Throw in five consensus All-Americans, two national award winners and 21 All-Big Ten selections. The 2000s were truly a great time to be a Michigan offensive lineman.

Award winners: David Baas, Rimington (2004); David Molk, Rimington (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Steve Hutchinson (2000), David Baas (2004), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2011).
First-team all-conference: Steve Hutchinson (2000), Jeff Backus (2000), Jonathan Goodwin (2001), David Baas (2002, 2003, 2004), Tony Pape (2002, 2003), Matt Lentz (2004, 2005), Adam Stenavich (2004, 2005), Adam Kraus (2006, 2007), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2010, 2011), Taylor Lewan (2012, 2013), Patrick Omameh (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Steve Hutchinson (2001), Jeff Backus (2001), Jake Long (2008), Taylor Lewan (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Maurice Williams (Round 2, 2001), David Baas (Round 2, 2005), Michael Schofield (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Goodwin (Round 5, 2002), Tony Pape (Round 7, 2004), Stephen Schilling (Round 6, 2011), David Molk (Round 7, 2012).

3. Wisconsin (192 points): Although Wisconsin placed well behind the juggernauts from Alabama and Michigan, the Badgers have a ton to brag about. Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi were both Outland Trophy winners, consensus All-Americans and first-round draft picks. In fact, Wisconsin had a total of 14 offensive linemen drafted in the 2000s, four of whom went in the first round (with Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick joining Thomas and Carimi).

Award winners: Joe Thomas, Outland (2006); Gabe Carimi, Outland (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Joe Thomas (2006), Gabe Carimi (2010).
First-team all-conference: Casey Rabach (2000), Dan Buenning (2004), Joe Thomas (2005, 2006), Marcus Coleman (2007), Gabe Carimi (2009, 2010), John Moffitt (2009, 2010), Peter Konz (2011), Josh Oglesby (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2011), Travis Frederick (2012), Rick Wagner (2012), Ryan Groy (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Joe Thomas (2007), Gabe Carimi (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2012), Travis Frederick (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Casey Rabach (Round 3, 2001), Bill Ferrario (Round 4, 2001), Al Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Dan Buenning (Round 4, 2005), Kraig Urbik (Round 3, 2009), John Moffitt (Round 3, 2011), Peter Konz (Round 2, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Johnson (Round 7, 2003), Bill Nagy (Round 7, 2011), Ricky Wagner (Round 5, 2013).

4. Oklahoma (186 points): With four first-round picks and four consensus All-America selections, Oklahoma has had a great run along the offensive line in the 2000s. And the Sooners have been consistent throughout that time period, placing at least one lineman on the all-conference team in every season except 2000 and 2002. In some years, there were as many as three on the all-conference first team.

Award winners: Jammal Brown, Outland (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Jammal Brown (2004), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Trent Williams (2009).
First-team all-conference: Frank Romero (2001), Jammal Brown (2003, 2004), Vince Carter (2003, 2004), Davin Joseph (2005), Chris Messner (2006), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Phil Loadholt (2008), Trent Williams (2008, 2009), Eric Mensik (2010), Gabe Ikard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jammal Brown (2005), Davin Joseph (2006), Trent Williams (2009), Lane Johnson (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Chester (Round 2, 2006), Phil Loadholt (Round 2, 2009), Donald Stephenson (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wes Sims (Round 6, 2005), Duke Robinson (2009).

5. USC (182 points): Considering how much success it experienced in the early and mid-2000s, it seems strange that USC didn’t have a first-round offensive lineman until Sam Baker in 2008 (the first of three, as Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil have since joined him). Nonetheless, the Trojans churned out six second-round picks, 17 all-conference linemen and a trio of All-Americans, so there has been plenty of acclaim for the group in the 2000s.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jacob Rogers (2003), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2006).
First-team all-conference: Jacob Rogers (2002, 2003), Norm Katnik (2003), Ryan Kalil (2005, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2005, 2006, 2007), Chilo Rachal (2007), Kristopher O’Dowd (2008), Jeff Byer (2009), Charles Brown (2009), Tyron Smith (2010), Matt Kalil (2011), Khaled Holmes (2012), Marcus Martin (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Sam Baker (2008), Tyron Smith (2011), Matt Kalil (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jacob Rogers (Round 2, 2004), Winston Justice (Round 2, 2006), Deuce Lutui (Round 2, 2006), Ryan Kalil (Round 2, 2007), Chilo Rachal (Round 2, 2008), Charles Brown (Round 2, 2010), Khaled Holmes (Round 4, 2013), Marcus Martin (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Fred Matua (Round 7, 2006).

6. Florida State (166 points): FSU has only one first-round draft pick and one national award winner (Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center last season) along the offensive line in the 2000s. But with three All-Americans and 13 all-conference selections in the 2000s, the Seminoles still rank among the nation’s better programs for linemen.

Award winners: Bryan Stork, Rimington (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2010), Bryan Stork (2013).
First-team all-conference: Justin Amman (2000), Char-ron Dorsey (2000), Brett Williams (2001, 2002), Montrae Holland (2002), Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2008, 2009, 2010), Bryan Stork (2013), Tre Jackson (2013), Cameron Erving (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Alex Barron (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Montrae Holland (Round 4, 2003), Brett Williams (Round 4, 2003), Ray Willis (Round 4, 2005), Mario Henderson (Round 3, 2007), Rodney Hudson (Round 2, 2011), Menelik Watson (Round 2, 2013), Bryan Stork (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Char-ron Dorsey (Round 7, 2001), Milford Brown (Round 6, 2002), Todd Williams (Round 7, 2003), Andrew Datko (Round 7, 2012), Zebrie Sanders (Round 5, 2012).

7. Miami (158 points): The Hurricanes were nearly unstoppable at the turn of the century, thanks in large part to a supremely talented offensive line. Between 2000 and 2002, Miami had eight first-team all-conference players, two All-Americans and two national award winners. The Hurricanes have been successful along the line here and there since then, but their spot in the top 10 is largely because of those outstanding days in the early 2000s.

Award winners: Brett Romberg, Rimington (2002), Bryant McKinnie, Outland (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Bryant McKinnie (2001), Brett Romberg (2002).
First-team all-conference: Joaquin Gonzalez (2000, 2001), Bryant McKinnie (2000, 2001), Martin Bibla (2001), Brett Romberg (2001, 2002), Sherko Haji-Rasouli (2002), Eric Winston (2003, 2005), Jason Fox (2009), Brandon Washington (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bryant McKinnie (2002), Vernon Carey (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Bibla (Round 4, 2002), Rashad Butler (Round 3, 2006), Eric Winston (Round 3, 2006), Jason Fox (Round 4, 2010), Orlando Franklin (Round 2, 2011), Brandon Linder (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Joaquin Gonzalex (Round 7, 2002), Carlos Joseph (Round 7, 2004), Chris Myers (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Washington (Round 6, 2012), Seantrel Henderson (Round 7, 2014).

8. Texas (150 points): Texas would have ranked higher on this list had we compiled it a few years ago. The Longhorns haven’t had a first-team all-conference pick or a draft pick since 2008, nor a consensus All-American since 2006. They were good enough in the early 2000s that the Longhorns still cracked the top 10, but Texas needs to turn it around under Charlie Strong if it intends to stay there over the next few years.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Jonathan Scott (2005), Justin Blalock (2006).
First-team all-conference: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Tillman Holloway (2003), Justin Blalock (2004, 2005, 2006), Jonathan Scott (2004, 2005), Will Allen (2005), Kasey Studdard (2006), Tony Hills (2007), Adam Ulatoski (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Leonard Davis (2001), Mike Williams (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derrick Dockery (Round 3, 2003), Justin Blalock (Round 2, 2007), Tony Hills (Round 4, 2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Scott (Round 5, 2006), Kasey Studdard (Round 6, 2007).

T-9. Iowa (144 points): No. 2 overall pick Robert Gallery, who won the 2003 Outland Trophy and was an All-American that season and a two-time all-conference pick, is the big point winner for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have produced a considerable number of productive offensive linemen. They can claim 13 drafted offensive linemen in the 2000s, including three first-rounders (Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff).

Award winners: Robert Gallery, Outland (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Eric Steinbach (2002), Robert Gallery (2003).
First-team all-conference: Eric Steinbach (2001, 2002), Robert Gallery (2002, 2003), Bruce Nelson (2002), Mike Jones (2006), Seth Olson (2008), Bryan Bulaga (2009), Dace Richardson (2009), Riley Reiff (2011), Brandon Scherff (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Robert Gallery (2004), Bryan Bulaga (2010), Riley Reiff (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Eric Steinbach (Round 2, 2003), Bruce Nelson (Round 2, 2003), Marshal Yanda (Round 3, 2007), Seth Olsen (Round 4, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Sobieski (Round 5, 2003), Pete McMahon (Round 6, 2005), Mike Elgin (Round 7, 2007), Kyle Calloway (Round 7, 2010), Julian Vandervelde (Round 5, 2011), Adam Gettis (Round 5, 2012).

T-9. Ohio State (144 points): With 13 draft picks -- but just one first-rounder, Nick Mangold -- and 14 all-conference picks, Ohio State built a solid résumé for offensive linemen in the 2000s. Center LeCharles Bentley, a Rimington Trophy winner, is the only All-American, but the Buckeyes have turned out plenty of outstanding players along the line.

Award winners: LeCharles Bentley, Rimington (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: LeCharles Bentley (2001).
First-team all-conference: LeCharles Bentley (2001), Tyson Walter (2001), Alex Stepanovich (2003), Rob Sims (2005), Doug Datish (2006), T.J. Downing (2006), Kirk Barton (2007), Alex Boone (2008), Justin Boren (2009, 2010), Mike Adams (2010), Mike Brewster (2010), Andrew Norwell (2012), Corey Linsley (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Nick Mangold (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: LeCharles Bentley (Round 2, 2002), Alex Stepanovich (Round 4, 2004), Rob Sims (Round 4, 2006), Mike Adams (Round 2, 2012), Jack Mewhort (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tyson Walter (Round 6, 2002), Shane Olivea (Round 7, 2004), Adrien Clarke (Round 7, 2004), Doug Datish (Round 6, 2007), Kirk Barton (Round 7, 2008), Reid Fragel (Round 7, 2013), Corey Linsley (Round 5, 2014).

REST OF "OFFENSIVE LINE U" RANKINGS
134 – Stanford; 132 – Florida; 124 – TCU; 116 – Arkansas; 112 – Auburn; 108 – Louisville; 104 – Penn State, Utah; 98 – California; 96 – Texas A&M; 94 – Boston College, LSU; 92 – Ole Miss; 90 – Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia; 88 – Colorado; 84 – Georgia Tech; 82 – Georgia, Oklahoma State; 80 – Nebraska; 76 – Arizona State, Pittsburgh; 74 – Virginia Tech; 72 – Clemson, Oregon; 70 – Tennessee; 66 – Baylor; 58 – BYU, North Carolina; 56 – Syracuse; 54 – Maryland, Wake Forest; 50 – Illinois, Rutgers; 48 – Kansas State, Oregon State; 46 – Notre Dame; 44 – Missouri; 38 – Mississippi State; 36 – Texas Tech; 34 – Washington State; 32 – Washington; 30 – Purdue; 28 – Vanderbilt; 24 – NC State, UCLA; 18 – Kansas, Michigan State; 16 – Iowa State, Kentucky; 14 – Arizona; 12 – Indiana; 10 – Northwestern; 10 – South Carolina; 8 – Duke

Big Ten Friday mailblog

May, 30, 2014
May 30
4:30
PM ET
The next time we meet (barring breaking news), it will be June. One month closer to the season.

Follow us on Twitter.

Looks like I made a few friends down South after this post.

To the inbox ...

Jonathan from San Antonio writes: While I get the irony of oversigning and then standing on "integrity" to complain about Franklin, do you get the irony of your article? You seem to defend Franklin's strategy based on the fact that others do it and that it's within the rules. Yet, you (Big Ten proponents and fans) complain about oversigning, when it too is a "others are doing it," and "it's within the rules" equally applies to that practice. So if you want the SEC to stop complaining about this particular issue (and join in), then the Big Ten needs to stop complaining about oversigning (and join in).

Adam Rittenberg: Jonathan, you can't possibly be equating oversigning to guest-coaching at another program's camp? Only one of those tactics hurts players. Only one involves dishonesty. My post had a heavy dose of sarcasm, but just to be clear, I don't like oversigning. I have no problem with guest-coaching at camps. Who does it harm? It's a brilliant move by James Franklin, and other coaches either have or will follow. The SEC should get rid of its rule and guest-coach as well. No issue there. These are two extremely different tactics, and only oversigning does real damage, in my view.


Tracie from Manhattan, Kan., writes: You obviously have a personal vendetta against the SEC and are using your public platform to voice your biased opinion. It's disappointing that ESPN allows this type of journalism to be on the website. The message that I received from this article is how jealous you are of the SEC and will try to put the conference down in order to make the Big Ten look better. What actually happened is you made the Big Ten look like all it can do to compete with the SEC is to try to find a loophole. Good luck in your future attempts at journalism, this was a complete fail. Go Hogs.

Adam Rittenberg: It's kind of funny, Tracie, because every third email I receive states how ESPN promotes the SEC whenever possible. I don't have a vendetta against the SEC. It's a great league with great coaches. It's also a league that doesn't get called out enough for things like this. People might think I'm a Big Ten homer for writing that post. Those who read me know that's far from the truth. The Big Ten is justifiably criticized for its missteps. The SEC seems to get a pass because it wins national championships. It's not a jealousy issue. The Big Ten is way behind the SEC when it comes to recruiting and winning. That's why Franklin's guest-coaching plan makes complete sense. The funny part is that the SEC, a league very good at football but also very good at bending recruiting rules to its advantage, has a problem with it. Woo Pig Sooie!


Zac from Colorado Springs, Colo., writes: No Ezekiel Elliott on your list? I know Meyer only has one 1,000-yard (running back) rusher all time, but Elliott is going to get the majority of the carries this year for the Buckeyes. He's more of a home-run threat than Hyde and I'm sure he'll get 1,000-plus this year.

Adam Rittenberg: I like your confidence, but I need to see more from Elliott to include him on the list of likely 1,000-yard rushers. I can't include every player who eclipsed 250 yards last year. The list becomes pointless. Elliott is a talented back, but 162 of his 262 rushing yards last year came against Florida A&M. He had more than two carries in only one Big Ten game, against last-place Purdue. I also think Ohio State will mix and match backs. So while Elliott could reach 1,000 yards, he needs to prove himself this season.


Kevin from Fort Myers, Fla., writes: Adam, I know there has been talk about [head coach Brady] Hoke being on the hot seat or even let go if there is another losing or unsatisfactory season. If this were to occur (knocking on wood), would there be a chance Coach [Doug Nussmeier] would take over, seeing how he has the résumé for it and that there was talk that his stop at U of M was just temporary until a college came for him as a head coach? Head coach of the Wolverines would be an attractive job for Nuss. ... Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: It would be an attractive job, Kevin, but it won't happen for several reasons. The biggest one is simple logic. If Michigan is to consider Nussmeier for the top job, Nussmeier would have to perform well as offensive coordinator this season. And if the offense performs better, the team seemingly will, too. Michigan's defense should be as good and likely better than it was in 2013. The team's big issues are on offense. If those are rectified, the win total goes up and Hoke stays. Athletic director Dave Brandon does not want to fire Hoke, whom he hired. Plus, I'd be surprised if Michigan would replace Hoke with a first-time head coach.


Anthony from Columbus, Ohio, writes: It seems like whenever a Big Ten team has a successful year (aka beating Ohio State), that team always underperforms the next season. Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan have all made it to BCS bowls after winning against Ohio State, but didn't have the same success the next year. Do you think this will happen with Michigan State?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting observation, Anthony, although I wouldn't say the 2011 Wisconsin team, which beat Ohio State in 2010 but repeated as Big Ten champion the following year, grossly underperformed. This seems more coincidental than anything else. Michigan State could take a step back if certain linebackers and defensive backs struggle, or if some of Connor Cook's near interceptions turn into actual interceptions. But I like how the Spartans, who have been very good at home under Mark Dantonio, get Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska on their home field.
The SEC's long-awaited future schedule model came out Sunday, and it looks a lot like its predecessor. The league maintained an eight-game league schedule with longstanding division crossover games, rather than going to nine league games. Beginning in 2016, the conference will require each member to play one nonconference game against a team from a power conference on an annual basis. Teams will continue to be allowed to schedule FCS opponents.

Reporters Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg weigh in on the SEC's schedule structure.

Ted Miller: Well, Adam, you knew it was coming. We live in an age when if you want to do something sneaky and con the public, you claim you are doing the opposite of your true intent. And then repeat it over and over again until some believe it really is opposite day.

Even we fall for it. Our ESPN.com headline says, "Schedule strength is SEC priority," when the opposite is actually the truth.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe SEC is sticking with an eight-game league schedule.
It's irrelevant outside of the SEC whether the conference retained its "longstanding non-divisional rivalries." It's also irrelevant that the SEC insists it will continue to upgrade its nonconference schedule.

The only thing that matters is the SEC's massive con that games the system as we move toward the College Football Playoff: The SEC will maintain its eight-game conference schedule when other major conferences are -- or are planning to -- play nine conference games.

That is the only thing that matters, and this is nothing more than the SEC giving itself an annual advantage by deciding that it will eliminate seven losses from its standings.

This is not regional bias, folks. This is not SEC jealousy. This is something called "math."

With an eight-game SEC schedule, 5-7 teams become 6-6 teams. And 8-4 teams become 9-3 teams. And that 11-1 team that beat the 9-3 team that should really be 8-4 will look better than the 11-1 team in the Big 12, Pac-12 or Big Ten that beat an 8-4 team who would be 9-3 in the SEC.

Those sentences might glaze over many eyes and evoke a "Huh?" But they are the very thing that won the day among SEC leaders when it was decided to duck the mathematical realities of a nine-game conference schedule.

I'll now take a breath. Adam, what do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: It makes me less excited about the playoff, for starters. Maybe I'm naïve, but I saw the playoff, with its purported emphasis on schedule strength, as the great equalizer in scheduling. Maybe it still will be, but I have my doubts.

You cover a league (Pac-12) that for years has employed the most challenging schedule model in the country: nine league games plus marquee nonconference contests. I cover a league (Big Ten) that has traditionally resided in cupcake city. But three factors -- the playoff, an expanded conference and an upcoming TV contract -- triggered the Big Ten to adopt a nine-game league schedule, no more FCS opponents in the near future and stronger nonleague opponents. This is good for the fans. Expansion might remain a sore subject for some, but the idea of playing each other more, not less, is a good one.

If every league had the same model -- nine league games, at least one marquee nonleague game, a championship game -- it would create a degree of equity, produce more appealing games for fans and allow the selection committee to evaluate teams with similar profiles.

This SEC chest-puffing about the requirement to schedule one nonleague game against an opponent from a power conference is the most laughable part of Sunday's announcement. SEC teams already do this, just like those from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and so on. What really changes here? Can I still see SEC teams playing FCS teams in November? OK, cool, just checking. Rejoice, SEC fans.

Now fast-forward to December 2016, and the selection committee is choosing between a two-loss Pac-12 or Big Ten champion, which has played nine league games plus a championship game, and a one-loss, second-place SEC team with eight league games and no championship game. If the SEC team is chosen, it invalidates the whole system. Here's hoping the committee makes the right call.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Ivory, Jonathan Allen
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama crushed FCS foe Chattanooga in 2013; FCS Western Carolina is on tap in 2014.
Perhaps then, we'll see the SEC align at nine.

But maybe this has the opposite effect: leagues backing away from playing more conference games. The ACC has a similar decision ahead.

What do you think comes next?

Miller: Know what would be great? If SEC fans would realize they are being cheated, just as much as the rest of college football. Why would Alabama fans rather watch a game against a Sun Belt team more often than, say, Georgia?

It would be great if they demanded a better schedule, one that went further toward determining the best teams in the SEC. In a 14-team league, how can anyone insist playing eight conference games rather than nine is better and more equitable?

Of course, that won't happen. As you and I have seen through the years, it's mostly "my conference, wrong or right" in the SEC. The typical SEC fan response when their conference is criticized ranges from "Well, your conference stinks!" to "We owned the BCS!" Folks down South tend to defensively circle the wagons instead of aspire to some objective self-analysis, though you could reasonably argue that is a powerful syndrome operating throughout college football.

Part of that defensiveness is there is no real rebuttal. This isn't an argument. It's an empirical truth that the SEC is gaming the system by playing eight conference games.

So as to what actually might come next, my thought is the CFP selection committee needs to make a stand: An eight-game conference schedule should automatically operate as a demerit as it falsely elevates the apparent strength of a conference.

What do you think?

Rittenberg: We're all wondering about the committee's collective guts, especially when it squares off against the SEC monolith. That certainly would be a way to show the group means business. Because it's not about whether the Big Ten stinks, as hundreds of SEC fans told me Sunday night on Twitter. Yes, the Big Ten stinks, but it's not a Big Ten-SEC debate. It's about the SEC living in the playoff realm alongside the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC.

While I'm not surprised by the SEC fan sensitivity to anyone who dares to critique their beloved league, how many other fan bases would actually want this? Don't fans want more appealing matchups? I know Big Ten fans want to play other league teams more, not less. They want more rivalry games. They want to see marquee nonleague contests. I'm guessing Pac-12 fans feel the same way.

The ACC's decision will be fascinating. Most of the coaches, like their colleagues in every other league, want to stay at eight. The ADs seem to be leaning toward nine. We could have four leagues playing nine league games and one playing eight.

The SEC would be on its own. Perhaps that's exactly what it wants.
I used to oppose the idea of the Big Ten increasing its schedule from eight league games to nine.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Dave MartinNick Saban is an ally to the Big Ten in the conference schedule debate, as he endorses the idea of a nine-game league schedule for the SEC.
Although I understood the benefits for fans (in theory, more quality games), players (the chance to play league members more often) and athletic directors (fewer games to schedule), the move seemed to hurt the Big Ten's chances to reach the national title game -- the only metric that matters when judging major conferences. Strength of schedule meant next to nothing in the BCS era, so if the Big Ten had an easier path to play for the crystal football, why deviate?

The College Football Playoff, with its promised emphasis on schedule strength, changed the game. So did an expanded Big Ten. Although I don't agree with everything commissioner Jim Delany has said about expansion, he's right that it's better for league members to play one another more, not less. So I've come around on the nine-game league schedule, which the Big Ten will adopt beginning with the 2016 season.

The Pac-12 has used a nine-game league slate for years, and the Big 12 moved to a nine-game round-robin schedule after reducing to 10 members before the 2011 season. The SEC and ACC each remain at eight league games, although both leagues are considering a move to nine.

The Big Ten already has obstacles to reach the playoff after failing to win a national title since 2002. The league needs the major conferences to align at nine. Go ahead, start the campaign: #alignat9.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive says a resolution on future conference schedules should come early next month, before the league's spring meetings in Destin, Fla. The league has presented its members with several schedule options.

Alabama coach Nick Saban long has supported a move to nine league games, but he appears to be in the minority.
"I think there's a little bit more support for staying with an eight-game schedule and everybody playing a ninth opponent that's in the five major conferences. My thing is I'm for playing nine conference games and still playing another team in the major conferences, so you play 10 games because of fan interest, people coming to games looking forward to seeing more good games."

Whether you love or loathe Saban, I'm guessing most of you agree wholeheartedly with him. I certainly do. College football fans are among the most dedicated in any sport. They deserve a better overall product, and they would get it from more league games, combined with upgraded nonleague schedules.

Most ACC coaches seem to agree with their SEC colleagues, preferring to keep an eight-game schedule. The ACC approved a nine-game schedule in May 2012 but went back to eight after forming a scheduling alliance with Notre Dame. The big difference with the ACC is that there's strong support for nine-game schedules among athletic directors, who hold more power on this issue. Two ACC coaches, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer and Miami's Al Golden, both have stated their preference for nine league games.

The ACC could vote on the schedule at its spring meetings next month in Florida.

The Big Ten should monitor both leagues closely in the coming weeks. If both the SEC and ACC stay at eight games, the Big Ten, along with the Pac-12 and Big 12, could be at a significant disadvantage with making the playoff. Even if the playoff selection committee places a premium on schedule strength, it will have a hard time keeping out any undefeated team from a major conference. Playing eight league games in the ACC -- with or without Notre Dame -- enhances a team's chances of running the table.

Big Ten teams, meanwhile, will have to navigate nine-game league schedules plus, in the case of many, upgraded nonleague schedules. Both elements are good for fans, who are sick of seeing their teams play overmatched opponents from smaller FBS conferences or the FCS. But they could make the path to the playoff even steeper.

The ultimate goal for the Big Ten is to get its top one-loss teams into the playoff. An undefeated Big Ten team will make the field of four almost every year. But it's hard to run the table, and it will become even less likely with the improved schedules.

The playoff is designed to create more opportunities and a true national field for the national championship. If every league plays nine conference games and challenging out-of-conference games, the result should be a group of one-loss playoff candidates in most years. But if leagues are playing different types of schedules, the field will tilt.

It's why the Big Ten needs the other major conferences to align at nine.

Doug Nussmeier to be Michigan's OC

January, 8, 2014
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Michigan will hire Doug Nussmeier as offensive coordinator to replace the fired Al Borges.

Nussmeier has spent the past two seasons as Alabama's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Nick Saban.

Michigan fired Borges earlier Wednesday.

"Decisions like these are never easy," coach Brady Hoke said in a news release. "I have a great amount of respect for Al as a football coach and, more importantly, as a person."

Michigan begins spring practice Feb. 25 and will hold its spring game April 5.

Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2014

January, 7, 2014
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The BCS era ended with No. 1 Florida State ending the SEC's streak of seven consecutive BCS national championships Monday night, winning its first national title since 1999 with a 34-31 victory over No. 2 Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl.

With Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and a plethora of starters returning this coming season, FSU will be the team to beat again in 2014. FSU is the No. 1 team in the first edition of the 2014 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 poll.

The Seminoles will be a popular choice to win back-to-back national titles in 2014, the first season of college football's new four-team playoff.

Click here to view the full Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 poll.

Click here Insider to see how all of the schools in the Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 are faring in recruiting for the Class of 2014.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Five thousand or so Nebraska fans still sat in their soaked seats at EverBank Field about 15 minutes after the Huskers wrapped up a 24-19 win on New Year’s Day over No. 22 Georgia in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. They chanted, “Bo, Bo, Bo,” as hugs and handshakes ruled the day below around the trophy stand.

Coach Bo Pelini took the mike. He thanked TaxSlayer.com, the sponsor. (So polished, that Bo.)

He lauded MVP Quincy Enunwa, who caught the longest pass in college football history in the third quarter. Pelini said he’s never been more proud of a group of players.

“We’re looking forward to some championships in the near future,” the coach said.

Where were we? Did someone hit the reset button on the season or transport everyone here five years into the future or past?

[+] EnlargeQuincy Enunwa
AP Photo/Stephen B. MortonQuincy Enunwa caught two touchdown passes in Nebraska's victory over Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla.
This is not the Nebraska football team we last saw on Nov. 28, losing by three touchdowns on its home turf to Iowa as Pelini ranted in the postgame circus as if he had his bags packed in the office upstairs.

The Huskers were fundamentally sound Wednesday. They tackled exceptionally well. They were smart, making good decisions under duress. They adjusted well at halftime. They won the turnover battle. They scored twice after takeaways. They were ultra-efficient in the red zone -- on both sides.

Nebraska did not botch a punt return. The Huskers won a game against an SEC team despite being outgained by more than 100 yards.

This is what Nebraska football can be.

Pelini said he doesn’t believe the solid performance will have a carryover effect in Lincoln. The Huskers won’t reconvene on the practice field until March. They don’t play again for almost eight months. So much will change before the meat of the next nonconference season against Fresno State and Miami.

The Huskers ought to remember what they can from Wednesday, though.

“I think what it does is serve as an example for your football team,” Pelini said.

Nebraska, in October and November, was minus-16 in turnover margin. That ranked dead last in the nation; no other program was worse than minus-12. Since 2008, Nebraska is minus-31 in turnover margin -- 106th nationally, the worst by 42 spots among programs that won 70 percent of their games.

Nebraska couldn’t get out of its own way this season. When penalties struck, the timing was often bad. When they missed tackles, it happened in bunches.

In other words, the Huskers operated regularly like the opposite of a championship team.

Pelini said the Nebraska coaches talked with their players before the Gator Bowl about the areas that hurt the Huskers this season. They’ve been talking for six years.

Did it finally sink in? If so, run with it.

“It’s the first game of the new year,” defensive end Randy Gregory said. “I think we intend on taking this momentum through the rest of the year.”

Gregory got tangled early with Georgia left tackle Kenarious Gates, and it got worse from there. Twice, fights nearly erupted. Gregory said he liked it.

“I haven’t really been a fan of the SEC,” Gregory said. “To go out there and play against these guys, I think it was big for all of us.”

He contributed a sack on Wednesday, his 10th of the season. Gregory is an SEC-caliber defender. He said after the game that he’s definitely set to return as a fourth-year junior in 2014.

“I’m here,” he said. “I’m behind Bo.”

I-back Ameer Abdullah wasn’t so certain. He’ll soon make a decision on the NFL after rushing for 122 yards against Georgia -- his 11th triple-digit game – to reach 1,690 yards this season. That total is fourth in school history.

Beyond Gregory and Abdullah, the Huskers aren’t stocked with SEC-type talent. This isn’t the 1990s. The dynamic has changed drastically since that championship era, a reality Nebraska and its fans can accept.

What they shouldn’t accept is mistake-filled football. The Huskers beat Georgia largely by avoiding mistakes. In the Big Ten, they can win big that way.

After the Bulldogs scored their lone touchdown to pull within five points on the first play of the fourth quarter and the teams traded punts, freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong gathered his teammates on the sideline.

“We’re in control of this game,” Armstrong said he told them. “The defense is going to get stops. Just stay calm and run our offense.”

The Huskers won as Georgia stalled at the Nebraska 16-yard line with less than 30 seconds to play. Armstrong was right. He was calm and cool, as usual, in the aftermath.

"I think he’s going to lead this team to a championship,” offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said after his final game.

Sounds kind of simple, the formula of strong leadership and fundamental, opportunistic play.

Six years in the making -- three years after a seismic shift to the Big Ten -- the Huskers saw on Wednesday what they can be. Where from here? We’ll know in about nine months.
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A late surge gave South Carolina another 11-win season, as the Gamecocks defeated Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl.

This marked a program-best third consecutive season that South Carolina won a bowl game. Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Freshman linebacker Skai Moore intercepted a Wisconsin pass in the end zone with 3:14 remaining. Badgers backup quarterback Curt Phillips threw a 16-yard pass into heavy coverage, and Moore made an athletic pick to ice the game.

Game ball goes to: South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. The performance of Shaw against Wisconsin (9-4) cannot be understated. Stats usually don't tell the whole story, but these numbers should definitely give you a good idea of his efficiency: 22-of-25, 312 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions. Wisconsin's secondary struggled against Shaw and the South Carolina receivers all day, and Shaw made the Badgers' defense pay in other ways, too. He caught a 9-yard touchdown pass, ran for a 1-yard touchdown and even rushed for 47 yards. Shaw did anything and everything for the Gamecocks.

Stat of the game: 88 percent. That's the completion rate for the Gamecocks, between Shaw's 22-of-25 passing and wide receiver Bruce Ellington's 1-of-1 stat line. South Carolina threw just three incompletions in 60 minutes and never threw more than one incompletion in a quarter.

Unsung hero: Ellington. Not only did he account for more than 40 percent of his team's yards through the air and catch two touchdown passes, he also threw a 9-yard TD pass on a double-reverse pass play. Ellington finished with six catches for 140 yards and he came up big when the Gamecocks needed it. On a key fourth-and-7 play in the second half, Ellington kept the drive alive by making an acrobatic catch after tipping the pass -- one that's sure to be a "SportsCenter" highlight. He made a tough 22-yard TD catch one play later to give his team a 20-17 lead.

What it means: This punctuated what looks like the golden age of Gamecocks football. Steve Spurrier's team has finished the last three seasons with the same record (11-2) and ended each season with a bowl victory. That's never been done before in school history. Before this three-year streak, the Gamecocks had won just four bowl games and hadn't had a 10-win season since 1984.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Capital One Bowl, click here.

Capital One Bowl preview

January, 1, 2014
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Wisconsin is hoping to change the Big Ten's fortunes with a win in the Capital One Bowl, while South Carolina is on the verge of clinching a program-best third straight season with a bowl win.

The two teams will face each other at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday (ABC). Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney and Wisconsin LB Chris Borland. This will be the last college game for both players, and you can bet they'll want to end their respective careers on a high note. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will almost certainly call Clowney's name within the first five picks of the draft, and Borland was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Clowney has dealt with injuries and more double-teams this season, so his stats are down -- but, when he's on, he's one of the most exciting players in college to watch. Borland led his team with 102 tackles -- 40 more stops than the No. 2 tackler -- and has been the heartbeat of Wisconsin's defense. Both of these defensive players have the uncanny ability to take control of a game.

What to watch: Wisconsin's run game. It's no secret that if the Badgers are going to win, then they're going to have to run the ball. That's been the staple of their offense. Wisconsin is the only team in the FBS with two running backs, James White and Melvin Gordon, who both average more than 100 rushing yards a game. And the Badgers are second in the FBS by averaging 6.61 yards per carry. On the flip side, South Carolina's defensive line will be a huge test for this rushing attack. DT Kelcy Quarles has been compared to Warren Sapp and currently has 13.5 tackles for loss to go along with 9.5 sacks. Then, of course, there's Clowney. Wisconsin's success rushing the ball could march hand in hand with its overall success in this game.

Why to watch: This game features some of the best defensive players either conference has to offer, three all-conference tailbacks will be showcased, and then there's South Carolina QB Connor Shaw (21 TDs, 1 INT) and Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis (73 catches, 1,051 yards). What's not to love? Outside of that, this is the first-ever matchup of these two teams, and the Badgers are trying to rebound from an upset to Penn State. Both teams weren't that far off from BCS bowls, so this is a strong matchup for the Capital One Bowl.

Prediction: South Carolina 28, Wisconsin 24.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nebraska seeks to avenge its loss in the Capital One Bowl from a year ago against No. 22 Georgia on Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2. Here’s a preview:

Who to watch: The quarterbacks are a good place to start. They won't be Taylor Martinez and Aaron Murray, the record-setting senior duo who led these teams to a combined 76 points last year in Orlando; rather freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. is expected to start for the eighth time this season for Nebraska, and junior Hutson Mason gets the call for the Bulldogs for a second straight game. Also, keep an eye on Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, an SEC-caliber star with size, speed and strength. If he’s not the best player on the field, it might be Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

What to watch: Statistically, it’s difficult to identify too many spots at which one team might exploit the other. Remember, though, Georgia was challenged by a schedule that featured five teams arguably as good or better than Nebraska’s best foe. So the numbers matter little in gauging matchups. Here’s a hunch that the Huskers, who couldn’t stop Minnesota or, for one quarter, South Dakota State, will struggle to contain Gurley. He was in contention for the title of best SEC back before the midseason injury. And watch the matchup of UGA receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett against Nebraska defensive backs Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. It should be good.

Why to watch: The trio of Big Ten-SEC clashes on New Year’s Day is always entertaining -- at least, it is for fans of the SEC teams. Seriously, the Big Ten is 0-2 in bowls (0-4 if you count 2014 newcomers Rutgers and Maryland), and the SEC is 3-0. Perhaps this game presents the Big Ten with its best chance to win on Wednesday. If that doesn’t get you, tune in to see if Nebraska's Bo Pelini can join the likes of Mack Brown, Tom Osborne, Steve Spurrier and Barry Switzer as the eighth BCS-conference coach in history to win nine games in each of his first six years at a school.

Prediction: Georgia 34, Nebraska 24. A big day for Gurley and a typical turnover or two will spell doom for the Huskers. Look for Ameer Abdullah to keep the Huskers close for a while, but like last year, the Bulldogs will make plays when necessary late.
New Year’s Day is near, along with the end to long layoffs for No. 22 Georgia and Nebraska.

Mitch Sherman and David Ching come together for a final discussion on the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, set for Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2:

How motivated is Georgia to win this game and why?

Ching: That's the big question entering this game, isn't it? It doesn't feel like either fan base is particularly jazzed about this matchup since these teams just played in a bowl a year ago. It wouldn't be a surprise if the teams deal with the same problem. Georgia seems like the more talented team here, but the coaches have to convince the Bulldogs that this is a game worth playing their best.

Sherman: I don’t expect motivation to be a problem for Nebraska. The Huskers don’t want their streak of nine-win seasons -- a point of much discussion and pride -- to end. A victory over an SEC opponent would serve as boost for Bo Pelini’s program and the Big Ten. Moreover, it has been a long, trying season in Lincoln; playing well in the Gator Bowl could change the narrative and allow the Huskers and their fans to focus on positives.

What do you expect out of the quarterback position?

Ching: Hutson Mason has the benefit of already making one start in a huge game. He started slowly against Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, but helped the Bulldogs rally for a double-overtime win. Nebraska has a talented secondary that will test him, but I expect Mason to perform well. He has waited his turn behind Aaron Murray, but is well prepared to become a solid performer as a senior in 2014.

Sherman: We saw at the Big House in November that Tommy Armstrong has a knack for playing well under the spotlight. And for a redshirt freshman with seven starts under his belt, New Year’s Day is big. Armstrong is motivated. His linemen are healthier than at any point since late October. His receivers are healed up, and while Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa won’t surprise Georgia with their athleticism after last year, look for the Huskers to make plays in the passing game.

Who holds the edge when Nebraska has the football?

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia tailback Todd Gurley has been effective since returning for injury, rushing for six touchdowns in his last five games.
Ching: Probably Nebraska. I know the Huskers have struggled on offense for most of the season without Taylor Martinez, but Georgia's defense has only dominated against the least of its competition this season. I expect Nebraska to produce decent yardage and point totals against the Bulldogs, considering how half of their opponents this season generated at least 400 yards of offense and eight scored at least 30 points.

Sherman: If we’re answering based off the second half of the season, it’s Georgia, despite its defensive injuries and propensity to allow chunks of yardage. Offensively, Nebraska simply hit a wall after mid-October, with the exception of the Michigan State game. The Huskers didn’t once scored 30 points after all-conference guard Spencer Long went down on Oct. 12 at Purdue. Injuries are the wild card, though. Long remains out, but most of the others who missed time are back. If Nebraska creates some momentum early, it could top 400 yards for the first time in five games.

Who holds the edge when UGA has the football?

Ching: Georgia. The Huskers haven't defended the run particularly well -- they're 60th nationally at 161.2 yards per game -- and that doesn't bode well for stopping Todd Gurley after he's had a month to allow his injured ankle to heal. Nebraska's defense has been fairly average in every way, so even with someone other than Murray at the helm, I expect Georgia's high-scoring offense to keep rolling in Jacksonville.

Sherman: Season-long statistics don’t tell the whole story of this Nebraska defense. The Blackshirts are much improved from September, when they were trampled in the opening quarter by an FCS-level foe. Since Nov. 1, the Huskers rank among the top 20 defensive units nationally. They’re especially strong against the pass. And with time to prepare, Pelini will devise a scheme to test Mason. As for Gurley, well, he could pose a problem. The Huskers will miss defensive end Avery Moss. And Big Ten results so far this bowl season don’t bode well for Nebraska.
Aaron Murray and Taylor Martinez, the shelved senior quarterbacks at Georgia and Nebraska, started 95 college games.

They won 67.4 percent.

Bet you thought that rate was higher.

Seems we’ve watched these two operate forever. In the past four years, Murray and Martinez meant something important to college football. They tormented defensive coordinators and served as the poster boys for a pair of proud programs, trying -- desperately close at times -- to break through.

It’s not going to happen in their time.

Despite 64 victories between them (35 for Murray, 29 for Martinez), neither won a conference title. At Georgia and Nebraska, a conference title, at minimum, is the standard of success.

Yet as Murray and Martinez depart the college game in sadly anticlimactic fashion as the Bulldogs (8-4) and Huskers (8-4) meet for a New Year’s Day rematch in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, they leave a record of greatness.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Josh Wolfe/Icon SMITaylor Martinez's final season didn't go as planned, but he'll be remembered in Lincoln.
Murray’s senior season was nearly doomed from the start. Injuries to running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, several top receivers and playmakers on defense contributed heavily to four Georgia losses.

The QB persevered until Nov. 23, when he suffered an ACL tear in a 59-17 victory over Kentucky. Murray played through the injury for one series but couldn't fight the pain any further.

In similar fashion, Martinez battled for two weeks through a foot injury, suffered in the Huskers’ season opener.

He led the Huskers to a 21-3 edge over UCLA in the second quarter on Sept 14, but any thoughts of a storybook ending to his career crashed to a halt in the second half. The Bruins scored 38 consecutive points. Martinez clearly wasn’t himself, unable use his usually dangerous feet to stem momentum.

A one-game comeback fell flat at Minnesota in October. Martinez was finished. He lost his final two starts and an opportunity to join Colin Kaepernick as the only players in FBS history to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000. He finished with 7,258 passing yards and 2,975 rushing yards.

He lost his chance to win a conference title, a hope so promising back in 2010, when Martinez led Nebraska to a 17-point lead over Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game as a freshman.

Martinez never broke through.

“It’s been hard,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “This whole season’s been hard on him. It’s not the way you want to see him go out.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt said the same thing about Murray. Richt visited a hospitalized Murray after he underwent surgery on the damaged knee. Richt said he wanted to feel sorry for his quarterback, but Murray wouldn’t let him.

His positivity is relentless. And that’s part of Murray’s legacy, alongside the 13,166 passing yards and 121 touchdown passes.

No Southeastern Conference quarterback before Murray threw for 3,000 yards in three seasons. Murray did it four times. He broke Danny Wuerffel’s SEC record for touchdown passes and Tim Tebow’s record for total yardage.

But, like Martinez, his teams never broke through.

Murray’s best chance fell 5 yards short last year against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He targeted Malcolm Mitchell in the end zone, a shot within reach to win an SEC title as the clock ticked away. Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley deflected the pass to Georgia receiver Chris Conley. Conley slid to the turf, surrounded by defenders. Time expired on Murray’s best opportunity.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia's Aaron Murray
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAaron Murray's place in Georgia and SEC football history is secure.
Instead of a shot to play for the national title, Georgia beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl as Murray threw for 427 yards and five touchdowns, both career-best marks.

It all felt anticlimactic for Murray, though nothing like this year.

“Obviously I had a vision of how I wanted to go out,” Murray said recently.

This wasn’t it.

“It’s almost like I didn't say goodbye,” he said, “which, I guess, is a good thing. I guess it's like, 'to be continued.' I'm not leaving. I'm always a Bulldog. I'll always be a Bulldog, and I guess if I would have been there to wave and really cherish the end of it, that would have been like, 'Book closed, it's over,' and I feel like it's not over for me.”

Murray is eloquent and charismatic. Martinez is quite the opposite.

Uncomfortable in the spotlight, the Nebraska quarterback hasn’t spoken to the media since the Minnesota game.

But Martinez appears to be at peace. He has remained at the side of teammates through conditioning drills and practices this month. Those close to him, though, say he’s devastated by the injury.

A generation from now, Murray and Martinez will be remembered not for this anticlimactic ending or their inability to break through and win a championship.

Time will heal their wounds. History will reflect well on their legacies. College football will remember them.

Flip Week: Wisconsin

December, 24, 2013
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Editor's note: During Week 12, 10 ESPN.com reporters changed conferences to experience college football in unfamiliar territory. Here is what they learned from the experience.

As you know, we here on the blog circuit changed things up this year and took trips to relatively foreign college football lands. We had Big Ten guys in SEC surroundings. SEC guys in 40-degree, rainy weather. ACC folks hanging out with Bevo!

It was a lot to consume during our exciting flip week of fun, and we couldn't express our emotions in just one post. So we are throwing out superlatives for our trips. I dared to set foot in Madison, Wis., for the Badgers game against Indiana in November. It was rainy and gross, but the fans didn't disappoint and Wisconsin rolled over the Hoosiers 51-3 in a game that was pretty much over after the opening kick.

I stuffed my face and started to adore that Midwestern accent that makes Wisconsin go 'round.

Madtown was a blast. Here are a few things that I took away from my time in Dairy Land:

Best meal: I love food. I want to taste every single flavor in whatever I'm consuming, and I want a good atmosphere. While I loved the signature "Jake" and delicious Oreo malt at Potbelly on State Street, I have to go with homegrown on this one. The cheese curds and brats were scrumptious at State Street Brats, but the meal that almost put me in a food coma was the scrambler I had at Mickies Dairy Bar (cash only!). It was loaded with potatoes (yanks), peppers, onions, eggs and chicken, and was topped with a mound of cheese. I put some salsa and hot sauce on that bad boy, smushed what I could between two slices of whole wheat bread and went to town!

[+] EnlargeWisconsin
Edward AschoffTheres as much entertainment in the stands as there is on the field during a Wisconsin home game.
Must-see sight in Madison: There's so much, but I was in awe of how cool the UW Field House looked attached to Camp Randall Stadium. The rustic cathedral is still holding up after opening in 1930, and it really did bring a nostalgic feel to my experience.

Also, check out the "Badger Wagon." It's a souped-up tailgate wagon made from an old utility truck. Thousands of dollars have gone into it, making it this beautiful, metallic party bus. It has a wet bar, there's a push button for four different liquors, an electronic beer tap on the side of the truck that is operated via remote, two grills attached (one for pizza and the other for just about anything), a beautiful TV, an amazing 10-speaker stereo system operated by an iPad and a V-8 engine. You'll find it parked just outside the stadium every Saturday.

Biggest surprise: The weather was bad so I won't blame UW students too much, but Friday night before the game, I couldn't tell that it was a game-day weekend. Down South, Fridays are sacred nights of celebration. I was expecting a lot of action on State Street, but it was relatively quiet. The students more than made up for it with the most entertaining performance in the stands that I've ever seen at any sort of sporting event. I barely knew the game was going on! That just doesn't happen in the SEC.

Biggest difference from SEC: The entertainment from the fans, students and band during the game blew my mind. I'm so used to the actual game being the one and only focal point, but inside Camp Randall, everything is the focal point. There's the wave, choreographed dances during songs and action during plays. Students blurted chants at random times and the band struck up tunes while the Badgers played just yards away from them. I didn't know who to focus on.

They said it: Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez on his first time getting on the team bus with former assistant Dan McCarney on lower University to drive to the stadium before a game with barely any fans around: "You could have shot a cannon through there. There wasn't anybody. I looked at Mac and said, 'We're going to change this.' And we did."

They said it II: Badgers fan Melissa Lund on comparing tailgates at Wisconsin with the rest of the Big Ten: "Like, Ohio State compared to Wisconsin, they're a football fan first and then they're a tailgater. Where here, it's definitely tailgate and an atmosphere, then it's the football experience.

"Other places it revolves around the football program, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But at least here, it doesn't matter if you're football, basketball or any other fan, you're definitely a tailgater first and then you're a fan."

If I could go back: I want to see a big game in Camp Randall. I want to see that place rocking for Ohio State or Michigan. I want to see what kind of show the students can put on when the big boys come to town. I bet it's great.

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