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While the Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will bring an exciting and much-anticipated coaching matchup between Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer, it also brings us an intriguing player vs. coaches matchup.

That would be Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones facing a pair of defensive gurus in Saban and his coordinating partner in crime, Kirby Smart. On paper, you have a redshirt sophomore, third-string-quarterback-turned-starter taking on two guys who eat, sleep and breathe defense and preparedness. What you have is Jones making his second start, following a fantastic showing in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, battling two brilliant football minds who got nearly a month to prepare for their relatively inexperienced opponent.

But you also have those two X's and O's brainiacs taking on a lumbering yet deceptively agile gunslinger who went from being defined by an infamous tweet to piling up 257 passing yards and three touchdowns in the Buckeyes' 59-0 pounding of Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago.

While Ohio State trying to perfect the ideal game plan for a new quarterback -- for the second time this season -- against a tag team that feasts off inexperience and relishes the notion of extra time to think and scheme sounds daunting, Alabama has to be ready for a 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback who coaches and players really don't know a ton about. The factor of the relative unknown complicates things a little for Alabama as well.

"This guy is very, very capable," Saban said of Jones. "He's a very good passer. Big strong, athletic guy who can do all the things the other guy (J.T. Barrett) could do in terms of the quarterback runs. It's just a little different style, that's all. We did see him play almost a game and a half. And he pretty must did what the other guy did. The one thing he did really well was pass the ball. He made some really good throws in the Wisconsin game, big plays down the field. Which the other guy did, too, so we have a tremendous amount of respect what this guy can do."

Saban and Smart have kind of been down this path before. They adjusted on the fly in-game to Garrett Gilbert in the BCS title win over Texas in 2009 and prepared for a completely different quarterback -- and scheme -- against Jordan Jefferson and LSU in their 2011 national championship win.

So for the moment, this battle is a little bit of a chess match. While Saban and Smart, who watched their defense rank third in the SEC (312.4 yards allowed per game) and have combined to win four of their last five bowl games together, pose the threat of unleashing some new and threatening exotic looks to confuse Ohio State's green QB, Jones and his coaches have limited film and a plethora of offensive knowledge working in their favor as well.

See, while Jones is one obstacle Alabama's defensive brain trust must overcome, there's also the issue of preparing for any potential wrinkles from Meyer and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who won this year's Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant. The Buckeyes have been down this path before. After star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, Herman helped develop Barrett into one of the nation's elite players.

In his first season of work, Barrett threw for 2,834 yards (more than Miller has in a single season) and a school-record 34 touchdowns while rushing for another 938 yards and 11 more scores. This was all before a season-ending ankle injury in the season finale against Michigan gave way to Jones.

Whether it was Barrett for so long or Jones for so little, Ohio State hasn't had to change much to help its quarterbacks.

"Most of their quarterbacks are kind of similar," Alabama safety Landon Collins said. "They run the same scheme offense. We’re just gonna have to watch film on what they do because, I mean, they’re not gonna change the whole offense for one player."

Ohio State isn't, and it doesn't have to. The Buckeyes arrived in New Orleans leading the Big Ten in total offense (507.6 yards per game) and scoring (45.2) and ranking third in passing (246.8 yards per game). That's all without Miller and mostly thanks to some masterful play calling by Herman to put Barrett in the right situations. Now, it's time for Herman to use a little bit of that magic on Jones to thwart Alabama's suffocating defense.

"We feel philosophically, they are going to run their offense," Saban said. "It's just what part of it they might feature a little different. That's the part we are not sure about."

Urban Meyer vs. Nick Saban

December, 28, 2014
Dec 28
8:27
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Paul Finebaum gives his take on whether Urban Meyer or Nick Saban is the better in-game coach and decision maker.
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Ohio State coach Urban Meyer discusses how the Buckeyes are focusing on facing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Watch: Alabama fan surprised with Sugar Bowl tickets for Christmas

December, 27, 2014
Dec 27
10:51
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- From seventh grade to now, Biff Poggi has gotten to know Cyrus Jones well. So you'll have to pardon the long-time coach at Gilman High School in Baltimore if he wants to brag on his former player in ways you’re not accustomed to.

“He’s a very sweet kid,” Poggi said. “He’s a sensitive kid.”

Never mind that Jones once ran a 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds and leapt 33 inches from a standstill position. Forget the fact that he was once ESPN’s No. 20 overall prospect or that he fielded offers from dozens of Division I universities.

Jones played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback and safety for Poggi. He even punted, kicked off and served as the team’s leading return specialist. But Poggi thinks of Jones in different terms.

[+] EnlargeCyrus Jones
Brynn Anderson/Associated PressAfter struggling last season, junior cornerback Cyrus Jones has been a stabilizing presence in Alabama's secondary.
“He’s a kid with empathy,” he said. “He has a high emotional IQ.”

That is a build-up, of course. Poggi can talk about the kid for only so long before his voice drops ever so slightly and he begins talking about the athlete Jones grew up to be, the “freak” with “un-be-lieveable” hand-eye coordination that “could have eas-il-y been a Division I basketball player.”

“He was ridiculous,” he said, finally abandoning the emphasis of sounding out each syllable.

But what drives him? What makes Jones so good?

It isn’t being sweet or sensitive. It’s more raw than that.

“He does not want to fail,” Poggi said. “As a matter of fact, failing is just an unacceptable option for that kid.”

Take for instance, Oct. 7, 2011. Jones was a senior with his feet planted on the 35-yard line against Calvert Hall.

“We were losing a game we should have been winning,” Poggi recalled. “There were 3 minutes left to go, and he was not happy.

“The kid we were playing punted the ball to us -- which is maybe the dumbest thing you could do.”

But it was the best punt of the punter's life, Poggi said, and it sailed way over Jones’ head. The ball rolled all the way to the 1-yard line before Jones did the unthinkable and scooped it up.

“Time is running off the clock,” Poggi said. “He fields the ball after being told strictly to never field the ball inside the 10 ... and runs 99 and a half yards for a touchdown -- and I fired our special teams coach right after the game.”

And afterward Jones had a reason why.

“In our joy, he knew that he had to have an explanation, even though it was a touchdown because it was outside of our process,” Poggi said. “And he said, ‘There wasn’t enough time on the clock, our two-minute offense has struggled and our best chance for us to win as a team was the punt return.

“That’s the intellect, the competitiveness, the desire. Most kids would have said, ‘Hey, screw it, that ball’s on the half-yard line.’ Not Jones. Not Jones.”

------

Jones could have said, “Screw it” after his sophomore season at Alabama.

His move from receiver to cornerback had not paid immediate dividends. The kid who never accepted failure had been beaten time and time again.

“I was just thinking too much,” Jones said. “I wasn’t really all that comfortable.”

Opposing teams noticed. In his worry not to mess up, he was picked on. The worst moment of which came against Auburn when he abandoned wideout Sammie Coates on what looked like a sure-fire run by QB Nick Marshall. Pulling up abruptly at the line of scrimmage, Marshall found a wide-open Coates, Auburn scored the game-tying TD, and Alabama lost out on a trip to the BCS National Championship.

“Last year, everything happened so fast,” he said.

But instead of throwing in the towel, Jones stayed the course. He started paying more attention, said safety Landon Collins.

“He got as much film as we can,” he said.

With that came confidence.

“Sometimes you don’t have your safety,” Collins said. “You have to have that confidence that that’s your island, that’s your spot and nobody is going to mess with you.”

After starting five games as a sophomore, Jones hasn’t missed a start as a junior. He’s gone from 25 tackles to 44, from seven passes defended to 11, and in doing so he’s become what Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban described as the team’s “most consistent corner.”

Without Jones anchoring the secondary, it’s difficult to imagine where Alabama would be. After all, the cornerback spot opposite him has been a turnstile with Eddie Jackson, Bradley Sylve and Tony Brown all taking turns on the wheel. If Jones hadn’t been so steady, the whole unit might have cracked.

“I just matured a lot as a player, as a person,” Jones said. “I just approached it, I think, the right way this year. I did a lot of growing up.”

After seeing the ball sail over his head early in his career, Jones has recovered.

And this time it wasn’t by abandoning the playbook and doing it all on his own.

“Instead of panicking and all that nonsense and thinking about himself, he did what his coach asked him to do,” Poggi said. “He has taken the next steps forward. He’s not where he wants to be. He’s not where he should be. But he’s in the natural progression of that.”

The next step: Ohio State and the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.

Does defense still win titles?

December, 27, 2014
Dec 27
12:33
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[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAlabama coach Nick Saban notes that it's still important to be able to stop people at key times, despite the emergence of high-scoring offenses across college football.

A week into the 2014 season, one that would prove memorable on a multitude of fronts, Alabama coach Nick Saban mused that college football had changed more in these past couple of years than he could ever remember since he started coaching.

It was his way of saying the offensive revolution had taken hold of the sport like never before, which was only magnified by 55 FBS teams averaging more than 30 points per game, and hurry-up, spread offenses spitting out the kind of numbers that would make even the most rabid Xbox gamers blush.

Look around. It's an offensive world right now in college football. Even Saban's Crimson Tide spread it out some this season under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and dared to join the "fastball" ranks, as Saban was fond of calling the hurry-up offenses in the past.

The four teams in the first-ever College Football Playoff all average more than 34 points per game. Oregon has won eight straight games and scored more than 40 points in all eight contests. Ohio State exploded for 59 points in its 59-0 destruction of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, and like Oregon, is in the top five nationally in scoring offense. Both are averaging more than 45 points per game.


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Examining four playoff coordinators

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
6:16
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We all do it, if we're being honest.

With the passage of each decade, each time our ages have a zero on the end -- or even begin to creep closer to it -- we take stock.

Where are we? What have we done? Where are we going? Are we where we want to be?

Often, it's a simultaneously rewarding and harrowing exercise. Even in the celebration of accomplishment, there's recognition that the climb is never complete. The mountain continues to rise, and rise, in front of us.

With that in mind, the magic number for the upcoming College Football Playoff is 39.

That's the age of four of the coordinators coaching in the semifinals: Alabama's Lane Kiffin and Kirby Smart, Oregon's Scott Frost and Ohio State's Tom Herman.

Kiffin, Smart, Frost and Herman will turn the Big 4-0 in 2015, and each man finds himself in a different phase of the wild, weird coaching life.

Their varied career stages illustrate hiring trends and the fact that most coordinators, including these four, have thought often of becoming a head coach.

One has already experienced it. And failed.

Kiffin

Clearly, Kiffin has a different perspective than the others, already having been a head coach in the NFL, the SEC and at his "dream job" -- USC.

Prior to 2014, the "stock" taken was that Kiffin won 40 and lost 36 games in those three jobs. He left Tennessee after one season, chapping fans in the process. He was fired in the middle of his second season with the Oakland Raiders and the middle of his fourth season at USC.

Even at four games over .500, arrogance and failure are words often used in coaching circles to describe those Kiffin tenures.

The silver lining: The guy knows offense. Nick Saban was aware of that, telling then-coordinator Doug Nussmeier to seek other employment so that he could open up a spot for Kiffin.


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The big guys battling up front mamight y be the ones with the most influence over the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but that’s certainly not the only matchup worth watching. And what happens when the ball is in the air could be every bit as crucial in determining which team moves on to play for a national title.

Obviously Amari Cooper is going to have something to say about who is advancing in the College Football Playoff. And the Big Ten’s most opportunistic secondary is going to have a chance to prove it’s really capable of delivering on the game’s biggest stage.

When the roles are reversed, can Ohio State’s athletic targets get the better of a secondary that has had some issues at times but traditionally ranks as one of the better units in the nation for Nick Saban’s program?

So, who has the edge in the passing game? Big Ten reporter Austin Ward and SEC reporter Alex Scarborough take a look at those matchups as the Allstate Sugar Bowl creeps ever closer.

Alabama targets: The Crimson Tide have the best receiver in college football. Cooper, for those who have been asleep at the wheel all season, is the real deal. Whether you play off coverage or press him at the line of scrimmage, he finds a way to get open. But the bigger story for Alabama might be everyone else. Outside of finding No. 9, quarterback Blake Sims has struggled to incorporate the rest of his passing targets. Wide receivers Christion Jones and DeAndrew White have gotten the ball more in recent weeks, but overall their production has been lacking. The same goes for tight end O.J. Howard, who is a freakish athlete but can’t seem to generate any consistency as a playmaker. -- Scarborough

Ohio State secondary: A new co-defensive coordinator, a more aggressive scheme and the maturation of a pair of talented young safeties have combined to turn Ohio State’s defensive backs into one of the most improved units in the nation. Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell have combined for eight interceptions as they’ve grown more comfortable and confident at safety, and with Doran Grant locking down receivers at cornerback and chipping in five picks of his own, it’s becoming a dangerous proposition to throw on the Buckeyes. Only three defenses in the nation nabbed more passes than Ohio State did this season under Chris Ash, and he’ll be expecting more of the same against the Crimson Tide. -- Ward

Advantage: Starting with one of the best players in the entire country regardless of position is a good way to gain an edge, and Cooper should push Alabama slightly ahead in this matchup. But it’s closer than might be expected considering how much talent the Buckeyes have in the secondary and how well coached they’ve been under Ash and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.

Alabama secondary: Outside of Landon Collins, there wasn’t much expected of Alabama’s secondary entering the season. Neither cornerback spot was settled and the second safety position opposite Collins was up in the air, too. But thanks to the steady play of Nick Perry and the emergence of Cyrus Jones, the unit has held its own. That doesn’t mean it’s without faults, mind you. Against Auburn, every flaw was exposed as Nick Marshall threw for 456 yards. The most concerning issue was the way the Tigers picked on cornerback Eddie Jackson, who was helpless against Duke Williams. The next week against Missouri, it wasn’t much better as Jimmie Hunt racked up 169 yards on six catches. Whether it’s Jackson, Bradley Sylve or freshman Tony Brown, Alabama needs someone to step up and round out the secondary at cornerback. -- Scarborough

Ohio State targets: Urban Meyer needed a couple seasons to acquire the kind of talent he needed to balance his spread offense with a consistent passing attack, but he certainly has all the tools in place now. Michael Thomas bounced back from a surprising redshirt season as a sophomore to become Ohio State’s most complete receiver, leading the team with 43 receptions and becoming a reliable option to move the chains with his sharp routes and strong hands. Devin Smith had already proven more than capable of burning secondaries deep as the home-run threat for the Buckeyes, but he has taken his game to a higher level as a senior and is averaging nearly 27 yards per catch. Throw in a wildcard such as Jalin Marshall as a hybrid weapon and a future NFL tight end in Jeff Heuerman, and Ohio State makes it impossible now to focus too much on stopping its powerful ground game. -- Ward

Advantage: The Buckeyes have enough weapons to keep even the best secondaries in the country busy, and this year the Crimson Tide aren’t quite living up to the high standard the program has established against the pass. Ohio State should have the edge.

Tale of the tape

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
10:13
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As the inaugural College Football Playoff looms, it's time to start the overanalysis ... er, I mean, analysis ... of the four combatants. Time to begin the process of measuring the four would-be national champions, head-to-head-to-head-to-head.

Exactly what factors rank most important when it comes to these comparisons is up to the person who is doing the comparing. Some might want to talk straight X's and O's. Others might want to talk game control and QBR. But when our eyes glaze over during that, it might cause us to refocus elsewhere, to the nooks and crannies of each program that will eventually add up to create the true advantages to win a team's final two games of the season.

What am I talking about? I'm not entirely sure. I'm writing this with one hand on the keyboard and the other hand on a ladle of eggnog. But as with eggnog, no one is entirely sure what will add up to the correct mixture of a College Football Playoff champion.

Here's our best guess in a too-early CFP Tale of the Tape.

Offense

Anyone who paid any attention to Alabama over the last two seasons knows that its ability to move the football received a supercharge this season, as the Tide averaged 490.5 YPG, good for a 1.3-yard advantage over high-powered archrival Auburn. Ohio State averaged an even more impressive 507.6 YPG and was one of four FBS schools to average 7-plus yards per play with 7.04. By comparison, Florida State posted 434.7 YPG, ranked 40th in the nation. So ... where's Oregon? Out ahead like the Road Runner leaving Wile E. Coyote, averaging 546.2 YPG (third in FBS), 46.3 points per game (third in FBS), and scoring 80 touchdowns (first in FBS). In fairness, Ohio State ranks just behind the Ducks in those two last categories, but Oregon's complete body of offensive work is undeniable.

Advantage: Oregon


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With all due respect to the quarterbacks and other skill position players, the Allstate Sugar Bowl will ultimately come down to who wins the battle of the trenches.

If Ohio State can’t protect Cardale Jones, his youth will show.

If Alabama can’t give Blake Sims a clean pocket, he could struggle, too.

So which team has the edge in the battle of offensive line versus defensive line? Big Ten reporter Austin Ward and SEC reporter Alex Scarborough preview the matchup.

 Alabama OL: This isn’t the Alabama offensive line of two years ago, the one that consistently moved the line of scrimmage four and five yards ahead with each snap. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker have long since left the building. But while this season’s group hasn’t met that lofty standard, it has exceeded the nationally average. Just look at the past four games when the line surrendered only four sacks. And that was with a less-than-100-percent Cam Robinson at left tackle, who should be healthy again after a few weeks of rest. Robinson is still a true freshman, though, and starting right guard Leon Brown has been inconsistent, drawing penalties at some inopportune moments. -- Scarborough

Ohio State DL: The Buckeyes might not have lived up to the preseason hype as the best unit in the nation after losing star defensive end Noah Spence for the entire season (second failed drug test), but they’re pretty close. With three more surefire, high-round draft picks in the starting lineup, including perhaps the most disruptive pass-rusher in the country in sophomore Joey Bosa, there’s still no shortage of talent up front. Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington make life miserable on the inside, and Bosa has shown signs of becoming a more complete, even more frightening defensive end late in his second year with the program. -- Ward

Advantage: It’s awfully close, but give the slight edge to Ohio State, which might have the best lineman on the field in Bosa.

 Ohio State OL: There was plenty of growing up to do for an offensive line that was replacing four starters while also moving the only veteran with first-team experience to a new position. But the Buckeyes zipped through the learning curve. The unit is virtually unrecognizable at this point when compared to the one that struggled mightily in a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech. Left tackle Taylor Decker emerged as a cornerstone for Ohio State. He has both on-field ability and is a respected leader who helped usher those new starters through a rough patch and into players capable of keeping the highest-scoring attack in the Big Ten rolling. -- Ward

Alabama DL: Everyone who watched this team closely and followed its recruiting exploits over the past few years knew that this promised to be one of the most deep and talented D-lines in Nick Saban’s time at Alabama. Saban, of course, scoffed at the idea, and for the first few weeks of the season he looked to be right as the unit largely underperformed. But somewhere along the way things kicked it into gear. A'Shawn Robinson returned to his freshman All-American form, anchoring the interior of the line, and Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson and others pitched in at defensive end. Throw in hybrid end/linebackers Ryan Anderson and Xavier Dickson, and Alabama has a wealth of options to rush the passer. -- Scarborough

Advantage: Another close call with both units steadily improving throughout the year, but we’ll give the nod to Alabama’s depth and ability to roll in fresh linemen.
Alabama and Ohio State meet in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) with a spot in the College Football Playoff national championship game on the line. So how do the two teams match up? Let's go to the tale of the tape:

SEC rivalries that need to happen

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
1:30
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With the Allstate Sugar Bowl rekindling a great coaching rivalry in Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer, it got me to thinking (shocker, I know): There are some SEC rivalries that I'd love to see take off in the near future.

What Saban and Meyer did -- and what Saban keeps doing -- in the SEC has changed the landscape of the league. And even though they met just three times in the SEC, we all wanted to watch when they did. So why not have a few games that we all get hyped up for when they come around?

I came up with five games that I want to see turn into or turn back into great rivalries to get your popcorn ready for. Of course, scheduling hurts most of these games, but maybe the right people will hear me out ...

Have a few of your own rivalries you want to see in the SEC? List them below!

1. Alabama vs. Florida: Remember when these two just couldn't stop playing each other in the SEC championship games in the 90s? Remember the Meyer-Saban days? Now, there's another ex-Saban assistant -- Jim McElwain -- coaching the Gators, and a chance of redemption in Gainesville. Saban and Alabama are the class of the SEC, just like Florida was in the 90s. Having these guys good at the same time and playing against each other, more often than not, is good for the league.

2. Arkansas vs. Auburn: OK, so these two play every year, but, man, amping up the Gus Malzahn-Bret Bielema storyline would be great. They've both exchanged words with each other, there's been controversy, and they are both the antithesis of each other when it comes to offensive philosophies. This game has the chance to be fun for everyone who cares anything concerned with SEC football. The quiet Malzahn vs. the brash Bielema is too good not to be on everyone's radar each year.

3. Georgia vs. LSU: The Tigers hold a 16-13-1 series lead over Georgia, and that 44-41 Georgia win in 2013 was one for the ages. These two are two of the best in their respective divisions, and should play a lot more than they do, but with the new scheduling format, we have to wait and wait. I mean who wouldn't want to see the laid back Mark Richt in his signature sunglasses taking on the Mad Hatter more? Two very different, yet very successful coaching styles meeting more often just needs to happen.

4. Ole Miss vs. Tennessee: These two went back-and-forth in the 1970s, but Tennessee has dominated the series. However, with Hugh Freeze at the helm in Oxford, this has the chance to be a fun little rivalry to keep an eye on. Why? Well, Freeze coached in the state of Tennessee for more than a decade and can recruit in Butch Jones' backyard when needed. The two played in a lopsided Ole Miss win this year, but with Tennessee trending up with its young talent, these two could have much more competitive games in the future.

5. Missouri vs. Texas A&M: I mean, they were together in the Big 12, and it only makes sense that they ignite those old bitter feelings for each other. Honestly, this game should be played every year because of that. You have two very impressive coaching résumés and two schools that entered the SEC poking their own chests out at the SEC elite. It's been great, so let's get them back on the schedule!

Honorable mention

Auburn vs. Florida: This was one of the great rivalries in the league before it was basically discontinued in 2003. There have been classics in the past and the 2000s brought us some nail-biters in this game, as well. It was sad for both fan bases when this game got cut from both schools' regular schedules, but now Will Muschamp is at Auburn, so hopefully these two can meet while he's still on the Plains.

Mariota named AP player of year

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
12:36
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The only thing left for Marcus Mariota to win at Oregon is the national championship.

The Ducks' star quarterback is The Associated Press college football player of the year, adding yet another honor to his spectacular season.

Mariota won the AP vote in the same landslide fashion he won the Heisman Trophy. He received 49 of the 54 votes submitted by the AP Top 25 media panel. Alabama receiver Amari Cooper drew three votes. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston had one vote each.

Mariota is the first Oregon player to win AP player of the year, which was first awarded in 1998, and the eighth quarterback to win it in the last nine years.

The junior has also won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp player of the year, and the Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which go to the top quarterbacks in the country.

Oregon will face Florida State and last year's Heisman winner and AP player of the year, Winston, in the College Football Playoff semifinals on Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl. The winner will face Alabama or Ohio State in the national championship game Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in North Texas.

With his combination of speed and a strong arm, Mariota is a play of the day waiting to happen.

He set a Pac-12 record by accounting for 53 touchdowns, including 38 TD passes. He is the highest rated passer in the country (186.33) and has thrown for 3,783 yards and just two interceptions.

"He's an absolute competitor, an incredible perfectionist," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.


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It will be another full week before the NFL wraps up its regular season, which means at least as long before Michigan will name its next head coach.

Former Wolverine and current San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh remains the No. 1 target in Ann Arbor, but multiple reports point toward other coaches with an NFL background being on the Michigan wish list. Jason La Canfora from CBS Sports reported Sunday that Michigan has kept other NFL coaches on its radar, including Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, Buffalo’s Doug Marrone and Sean Payton from New Orleans.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPete Carroll has raised the Lombardi Trophy and the BCS national championship trophy.
Most current coaches who have left the NFL for a college program have found more success in school than on the pro level. If Harbaugh decides to join those ranks, he would be rare in that he would be leaving the NFL with a track record of success. Harbaugh is 43-19-1 as an NFL coach and led the 49ers to the NFC championship game in each of his first three seasons. Among the nine prominent coaches listed below who have been head coaches at both levels, only one left a professional league job for college on good terms. Here’s a look at how some other programs have fared after hiring men with NFL experience.

Jim Mora (UCLA): Mora spent his entire career in the NFL before he was hired to coach the Bruins three years ago. He had head-coaching jobs with Atlanta (2004-06) and Seattle (2009) and compiled a 32-34 record in that time. The Seahawks fired Mora after he went 5-11. He worked in broadcasting until 2012, when he went to UCLA. He has a 28-10 record so far in college and will face Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl on Jan . 2. He also has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the Michigan opening.

Pete Carroll (USC): Carroll replaced Mora in Seattle in 2010 after almost a decade of coaching a dominant USC program. Carroll was 33-31 as a head coach in the NFL. His was fired after three seasons in New England where he had big shoes to fill as the replacement for Bill Parcells. Carroll was seen as an NFL bust who went on to win the 2005 BCS Championship. He returned to the NFL and salvaged his pro-level reputation by winning a Super Bowl, which is a career path Harbaugh probably wouldn’t mind following.

Bill O’Brien (Penn State): O’Brien is the only man on this list who left a successful NFL team for college. The caveat is that he was an offensive coordinator, not a head coach, during his time with the Patriots. O’Brien spent much of his early career as a college assistant. His first head-coaching job came at Penn State when he won national coach of the year honors in 2012. He left after the 2013 season to take over the Houston Texans, where he has again found success.

Nick Saban (Alabama): Forty of the 42 seasons that Saban has coached have been in college football. He left LSU after winning a national title to coach the Miami Dolphins. Saban’s team had a disappointing 15-17 record before he returned to the SEC as Alabama’s coach in 2007. Rumors that Alabama – a blueblood program down on its luck – wanted Saban started during the regular season, and he had to dodge questions many times before saying outright that he wouldn’t go to Alabama. Harbaugh has thus far avoided the same potential trap this season. Saban did, of course, wind up in Tuscaloosa, where he has won three national titles and is in position to make a run at a fourth in the coming weeks.

Bobby Petrino (Louisville): Petrino had two stints in the NFL during his three decades of coaching. He was called an offensive genius by Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin during his three years there as an assistant. Reviews after less than a year as Atlanta’s head coach were not as kind. Petrino left Louisville with the promise of coaching Michael Vick and the Falcons in 2007. Vick was arrested before the season started and Petrino’s team stumbled to a 3-10 start. He bailed in December, accepting a job at Arkansas, and informed his players by leaving a note in their lockers. He won double-digit games in his last two seasons with the Razorbacks before he was fired for off-the-field shenanigans.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier again got the best of Georgia and showed that South Carolina will make noise in the SEC Eastern Division.
Steve Spurrier (South Carolina): Spurrier has been the Head Ball Coach somewhere since 1987 and has only three losing season during that time. Two of them came during his brief cameo in the NFL. He resigned in 2003 after two disappointing seasons with the Washington Redskins and planned to retire. The former Gators legend returned to the SEC a year later. While he never has reproduced the success he had at Florida, he is 83-45 as South Carolina’s coach since then.

Lane Kiffin (Alabama): Kiffin became the youngest coach in Oakland Raider history in 2007, but his tenure there was short-lived. He was fired a month into his second season during an ugly spat with owner Al Davis. Kiffin finished his Oakland career with a 5-15 record. Kiffin has since burned bridges at Tennessee and been fired at USC, but has a 35-21 record on the college level. He also helped Alabama with a major offensive reconstruction this season.

Mike Riley (Nebraska): One of the Big Ten’s newest additions has coached in a wide variety of leagues since 1975. His three years as a head coach in the NFL have been among his least successful. Riley went 14-34 as the San Diego Chargers’ coach. He was fired after a 1-15 record in 2001, when one of the team’s three quarterbacks was veteran Jim Harbaugh. Riley has since found relative success in his hometown at Oregon State. The Beavers were 93-80 during 12 years under Riley.

Dennis Erickson (Utah): Erickson is winding down a long coaching career as Utah’s running backs coach. He has twice jumped from the NFL back to college after being fired. He took a crack at the pros in Seattle in 1995 after winning two national championships. His Seahawks’ teams went 8-8 three times in four years, but he was fired. His second attempt, San Francisco in 2003 and 2004, was less successful. The 49ers fired him after a 2-14 year and he returned to the college ranks.

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