In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Jerry “Jaye” Howard, No. 76 in 2007 class

Howard was a longtime commitment to Florida before finally choosing the Gators for good on national signing day over Auburn and Florida State. He took official visits to all three following his senior season at Jones High in Orlando. Howard’s father played at Florida State, but the Seminoles didn’t put the full-court press on until after then-Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong zeroed in on Howard. Having his cousin, Eric Sledge, as a player at Florida helped Urban Meyer and Strong secure Howard’s commitment in April 2006. Howard was a member of the Gators' stellar 2007 class that included Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Cam Newton, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Chris Rainey, Aaron Hernandez, Torrey Davis, John Brown, Major Wright, Ahmad Black and others.

After a redshirt season in 2007, Howard played in nine games and recorded eight tackles on the Gators' national championship team in 2008. He played in 12 games and made four starts in 2009.

In 2010, he appeared in 11 games with eight starts, missing time with an ankle sprain, but still managed to rack up 10 tackles for loss. His best season in Gainesville was his senior campaign. He started all 13 games and recorded 65 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 55 sacks to finish his college career with 131 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 45 games.

Howard was selected in the fourth round (No. 114 overall) by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 NFL draft. He currently plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Honorable mention: Damian Swann, No. 76 in 2011 class. Swann, a cornerback, picked Georgia over offers from Alabama, Miami, Auburn and several others coming out of Grady High in Atlanta. He’s currently finishing his career at Georgia as a three-year starter, having made 161 tackles and seven interceptions in the last three seasons. He is expected to be selected in the draft next spring.

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November, 21, 2014
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SEC's top recruiting visits 

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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There aren't a ton of big games on the schedule this week in the SEC but there are still a few key prospects taking visits. Here is a closer look at a few games that are expected to bring in visitors this weekend.

Ole Miss at Arkansas

Mayday Minute

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:14
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Mark May discusses Will Muschamp getting fired at Florida, Northwestern winning two straight games over Notre Dame, Marcus Mariota on pace to set an NCAA record for lowest percentage picked and previews USC at UCLA.

UA jersey tour: Jeffery Holland

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
5:25
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Four-star outside linebacker Jeffery Holland was presented with their Under Armour All-America Game jersey Thursday afternoon in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance. Holland was joined by his teammates Kevin Toliver II and Kendrick Norton, who were also selected for the game. The ceremony took place in front of friends, coaches, teammates and media members at the Trinity Christian School auditorium in Jacksonville, Florida.

The No. 4-ranked outside linebacker and the 40th-ranked prospect overall in the ESPN 300 said he felt honored to be selected to one of the top All-American games in the country.

"It’s a dream come true," Holland said. "I watched it when I was younger, and it’s always something I’ve wanted to be a part of. It’s real big to me."

Holland, at one point, had Florida and Auburn as his leaders, but with Florida head coach Will Muschamp stepping down at the end of the season, things have started to change for Holland.

"It’s kind of up in the air right now. Florida State, they're in it now. Auburn they are still in it. I haven’t talked to them in a while -- but they are still in it. I’m starting to talk to Florida State a lot, I know they are in my top five right now."

Despite being open in his recruitment, Holland said he does have a top five list of schools.

"I’d say Florida, FSU, Auburn, UCLA and probably Alabama are my top five right now," he said.

.

Seven questions with Jeffery Holland

Who was the best player you ever saw play in the Under Armour game?

Holland: Jamie Harper is a guy I remember playing in the game because he went here and he did a flip in the end zone after he scored. I can flip, too.

If you could start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be?

Holland: Probably CeCe Jefferson. We played on the same little league team. That’s been my boy for a long time.

If you could go one-on-one with any other player in the country, who would it be?

Holland: I’d probably want to go against Martez Ivey. I’ve never gone against him, and I’d like to go against the No. 1 tackle in the country.

If you could take on a professional athlete in their sport, who would it be and why?

Holland: I want Cam Newton. I just want to sack him. He talked too much trash at that seven-on-seven event in Bradenton.

What would you like to improve on before you get to college?

Holland: I just want to improve on my technique. I need to add more moves to my tool belt. I know I got the speed rush, but I need to add the spin move and the club.

What are you looking forward to most about going to Orlando?

Holland: Just going and hanging out with some of the top players in the country. Just having fun and having a good game.

What is something about yourself that not many people know about?

Holland: I’m a top angler. I’m a fisherman.

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UA jersey tour: Kendrick Norton

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Four-star lineman Kendrick Norton joined five-star teammate Kevin Toliver II and ESPN 300 linebacker Jeffery Holland in being presented with their Under Armour All-America Game jerseys Thursday afternoon in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance. The ceremony took place in front of friends, coaches, teammates and media members at the Trinity Christian School auditorium in Jacksonville, Florida.

The 99th-ranked prospect in the ESPN 300 said he felt honored to be selected to one of the top All-America games in the country.

“It just really cool that I’m maybe one of like 100 guys that gets to participate in this event. It’s an honor to play in the game."

Norton at one time was committed to FSU, but has since backed off and is considering other schools such as Miami, Florida, Ole Miss and UCLA. Though ranked as an offensive guard, Norton prefers the defensive line and several teams are recruiting him as a defensive tackle.

“I’m basically wide open,” Norton said of his recruitment. "I’m going to take a second look at Florida but basically I’m wide open. Miami wants me on the defensive line. They’ve been recruiting me real hard. Al Golden, Jethro Franklin, they talk to me every day.”

So far the ESPN 300 lineman hasn’t taken any official visits but that will soon change.

"I haven’t taken any official visits yet but I might go to Ole Miss on Jan. 29 and I’ll probably go to UCLA after the season,” he said. "Probably Miami after the season too."

Seven questions with Kendrick Norton

Who was the best player you ever saw play in the Under Armour game?

Norton: I remember watching Jamie Harper (former Trinity Christian running back) growing up. I didn’t really know who he was until I got to Trinity and I found out he actually played here but I remember watching him in the game.

If you could start a team with any other player in your class who would it be?

Norton: I’d say my entire team. I think we have a great team.

If you could go one-on-one with any other player in the country who would it be?

Norton: Whoever's the No. 1-ranked offensive guard in the country. Whoever that is, I'd want to take him on.

What's your earliest football memory?

Norton: My ninth-grade year, it was the first time I’d ever been trap-blocked. He hit me and my helmet came flying off.

If you could take on a professional athlete in their sport, who would it be and why?

Norton: Kobe Bryant. He’s the first person that came to mind other than LeBron.

What would you like to improve on before you get to college?

Norton: Just make sure I’m in shape and work on my first step and pad level.

What’s something about yourself that not many people know about?

Norton: I’m a comedian.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – One major college football head coaching job is open at Florida. Another, at Michigan, could be open in a few weeks depending what happens with Brady Hoke.

And in Allen Park, Michigan, there is a guy who would fit in as a potential candidate for both.

[+] EnlargeTeryl Austin
AP Photo/Phil SandlinDetroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin spent one season as defensive coordinator at Florida, in Urban Meyer's final season as head coach in 2010.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin – who was a secondary coach with the Wolverines from 1999-2002 and was defensive coordinator with the Gators in 2010 – runs the top-ranked defense in the NFL.

So it made sense Thursday that he was asked about the job that's open at Florida.

“I’m thinking about this game right here. I haven’t even thought about it,” Austin said. “I hate it for all the guys who are down there; there’s a whole bunch of families that people who lost their jobs.”

The 49-year-old Austin would not say whether or not he wants to be a head coach down the road as he tries to focus on Detroit’s game Sunday against New England.

With the way the Lions are playing, though, there’s a possibility both Austin and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will be brought up as potential NFL or college head coach candidates as soon as this offseason.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, once himself in a position to move from a coordinator to a head coach, said he would support his coaches in pursuit for other jobs as long as it doesn’t affect the jobs they currently have.

“It depends on the situation,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been in a similar situation myself early on in my career. I’m supportive of whatever we have to do in order to get a guy into position to do well if that’s his heart’s desire. But we don’t let it interfere with what we’re doing.

“Our job is to win games and that’s what we’re doing. They understand that and the guys we have, have great focus in that regard. If you’re good and you plan well, you’re going to have teams and people that have interest in people on your staff. That’s the way it should be.”
Aaron Rodgers said it to Packers fans and LeBron James said it to Cavaliers fans. And whomever winds up taking over as the next head coach of the Florida football program would assuredly want the same message relayed to Gators fans when it comes to the 2015 recruiting class.

R-E-L-A-X.

[+] EnlargeByron Cowart
Tom Hauck for Student SportsFive-star Byron Cowart is not letting Florida's coaching change affect his decision.
Losses on the field cost Will Muschamp his job and his successor will inherit a class with just nine verbal commits -- the fewest of any Power 5 program. With all that, panic has assuredly set in with Florida fans. But not only is it premature to worry about how this class will finish, those fans don't need to look far into history for some significant reassurance as to how strong the Gators class could be when it crosses the finish line.

While Florida doesn't share much in common with USC -- opposite coasts, different conferences, public vs. private, etc. -- there's one thing they share that is the only thing that matters in this situation. It's something that only a handful of college football programs can take advantage of. Because Florida -- like USC -- is one of college football's most visible power programs, a coaching change can lead to immediate positive effects, especially on the recruiting trail.

After the second game of the 2013 season, the Trojans might have had the least recruiting clout in the Pac-12. Dozens of high-profile USC recruits had just sat through a sloppy 10-7 loss to Washington State, complete with loud boos and chants to fire the coach.

“It was kind of a letdown,” said one ESPN 300 prospect following the game. “It's really thrown me off of them."

USC kept Lane Kiffin at the helm until Sept. 30, when the decision was made to let him go. Steve Sarkisian took over on Dec. 2 and the recruiting impact was felt almost immediately.

That decision was met with immediate excitement from prospects and galvanized the recruiting efforts in a hurry. After sitting outside the ESPN class rankings for months, the Trojans made their way back among the top 40 recruiting classes just two weeks after Sarkisian's hiring.

When the recruiting class was finished, only three prospects who originally committed to Lane Kiffin remained. The Trojans finished with 19 commitments, including the three Kiffin landed and four former Washington pledges that followed Sarkisian to USC. The Trojans finished with the No. 14 group in the country, and not only did the Trojans eventually sign Adoree' Jackson -- the lone five-star prospect in the region -- they also wound up signing the aforementioned ESPN 300 recruit that was so down on the Trojans following the Washington State loss.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian's hiring jumpstarted USC's recruiting efforts in the final two months of the 2014 cycle.
When Florida fans look at USC carrying only three commitments from early December through signing day last year, the idea of having nine committed at this point -- including four ESPN 300 prospects -- should be rather reassuring (provided they don't take a glance at Florida State's class at the moment). What should be even more reassuring are the prospects still left on the board for Florida. ESPN 300 prospects Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey, CeCe Jefferson, Adonis Thomas and Jeffery Holland are just a few of the names in the region still looking at the Gators following the loss of Muschamp. The talent available is even greater than what the Trojans collected in sweeping ESPN 300 prospects Jackson, JuJu Smith and Damien Mama on signing day last year.

Cowart probably said it best when he told ESPN.com's Derek Tyson: "I’m still considering Florida. At the end of the day, they will pay top dollar for whoever the next head coach will be, so whoever they get will be a top coach."

Getting out in front as the first major program to announce a coaching change will be a significant benefit to Florida, as often the rumblings of a coaching change can be far more detrimental to a recruiting class than the coaching change itself. In addition, the Gators are likely guaranteed that whoever takes over as head coach will bring with him several recruits -- either because they are committed to whatever program he is coaching for right now, or his name recognition alone will be too much to turn down.

While mention of the 2015 recruiting cycle makes it feel like this class goes through just one fluid stage from first offers to signing day, the truth is that there are a number of separate recruiting seasons for these seniors. We're about to step into the two that matter most -- the months between the end of the season and the beginning of February, and the final 48 hours leading up to signing day. What matters most is the recruiting momentum that can carry a program through those periods, and Florida -- like USC last year, or a handful of programs including Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and a few others -- is one of those programs that has the ability to become a freight train on the trail with the right hire.
Over the next month or so, countless names will be floated as potential successors to Will Muschamp at Florida. Athletic director Jeremy Foley will have several factors to consider such as on-field success, offensive and defensive schemes, public image and financial obligations. With the Gators being right in the middle of a recruiting hotbed, Foley will also have to consider a candidate who can go head-to-head against powers such as Florida State, Alabama, Miami, Georgia and Clemson in recruiting.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has proven he can recruit -- bringing in the nation's No. 5 class in 2013 -- and this year, it has translated on the field. Based on recruiting alone, Freeze has the personality, image, knowledge and, maybe most importantly, the coaching staff that would help ease the transition to Gainesville.

[+] EnlargeOle Miss coach Hugh Freeze
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesWith a handful of assistant coaches with strong Florida ties, Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze would be a great fit at Florida.
Three Ole Miss assistants -- linebackers/special teams coach Tom Allen, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin and co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner -- have extensive ties to the state of Florida. Allen was the head coach of now defunct Temple Heights Christian School in Tampa in the early 1990s. He went on to be the defensive coordinator of Florida high school power Seffner (Fla.) Armwood under Sean Callahan, who is still at the school.

Allen has extensive knowledge of the Tampa area, which has produced talented prospects such as five-star defensive end Byron Cowart (Armwood) and ESPN 300 athletes Ray-Ray McCloud III and Deon Cain. All are still considering the Gators even though McCloud and Cain are committed to Clemson.

Kiffin, the younger brother of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, went to high school at Jesuit in Tampa and, like Allen, has extensive knowledge of the area. Kiffin was instrumental in helping Ole Miss land five-star offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who lived 40 minutes away from Gainesville, and Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1-ranked player in the country for the class of 2013.

Early in his coaching career, Werner was an assistant coach at Southridge High School in Miami. He went on to coach at the University of Miami in two different stints for a total of eight years. South Florida is an integral part of Florida recruiting and having a person on staff with knowledge of the area would is vital for any college recruiting one of the most fertile recruiting corners of the country.

Muschamp built a strong relationship with several top local targets, including five-star prospects Cowart, CeCe Jefferson and Martez Ivey, so getting a coach who doesn’t have to start from scratch would be critical for the Gators’ 2015 class -- which only has nine commits at this point.

Ivey and Cowart might not have had Ole Miss in their list of top schools but they still know Freeze and his staff very well. Jefferson, the nation's No. 9 prospect, has already taken an official visit to Ole Miss and is very familiar with the staff. In fact, when asked who he thinks would be a good fit at Florida, Jefferson had one name in mind.

“Coach Freeze,” Jefferson said. "I think he would be a great choice for UF. My visit with him at Ole Miss was great. He’s not only a great football coach but he’s a great man. What he can bring to the table can be pretty special if he were to go there and get the place figured out.”

Muschamp never had a problem landing top defensive talent such as Vernon Heargreaves III, Dante Fowler Jr., Jalen Tabor and Gerald Willis II, but it was a struggle to land top offensive playmakers. Freeze’s up-tempo spread offense would likely help the Gators catch the attention of offensive weapons around the region.

Does Freeze want to leave his home state of Mississippi? He might not, but Florida is one of the top jobs in the country, and based on his recruiting prowess alone, Freeze would make a lot of sense for the Gators.
video
The list of reasons why the Florida head coaching job is so attractive is awfully long, but the biggest reason is recruiting.

Texas might produce more Division I prospects, and you can find high concentrations of talent in California, but if you want to find difference-makers -- the kind you need to win the SEC and the national championship -- you head to the Sunshine State. The University of Florida sits in the heart of the highest quality and quantity of high school football talent in America, and to win big the Gators must hire somebody who can tap into that local pipeline. Will Muschamp’s replacement must beat Florida State and Miami regularly for these players and also keep Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Les Miles, Urban Meyer and others from poaching players away.

It’s a tall task indeed, but here are top 10 candidates who would make sense at Florida because they have the recruiting chops to be successful.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze has proven he can win recruiting battles against the SEC heavyweights.
1. Hugh Freeze
Head coach, Ole Miss

Freeze might be tough to pry away from Oxford because of his close ties to the state of Mississippi and the fact that he still has more time left with the vaunted 2013 top-five recruiting class he brought in to Ole Miss. But from a recruiting standpoint, it’s hard to think of somebody who would be in a better position to lure talent to Gainesville. Freeze already knows how to recruit in the cutthroat SEC and has recruited against the big dogs with a lot of success in Florida since he arrived at Ole Miss.

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SEC Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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Of all the weeks in the 2014 season, this is certainly one of them. While most of the conference takes it easy with FCS foes before rivalry week, there are a couple of big games on tap. Missouri looks to take control of the SEC East with a victory over Tennessee, while Arkansas hopes to build on last Saturday's win by knocking Ole Miss completely out of the playoff picture. It might not be the best day of games, but come April, you'll be wishing for a weekend like this one. With that in mind, let's get on with the picks.


Why Arkansas wins: Arkansas had been knocking at the door for weeks and the Razorbacks finally broke it down last Saturday when they shut out LSU to secure Bret Bielema's first SEC win. Now can they make it two in a row? Ole Miss is favored to record a key road win, but Arkansas' progress this season has impressed me. I'm tiptoeing out on a limb and rolling with the home team. Arkansas 20, Ole Miss 14 -- David Ching

Why Ole Miss wins: This is the definition of a trap game for the Rebels. They’re playing a hungry Arkansas team, fresh off its first SEC win, and they have the Egg Bowl next week. They can’t afford to start looking ahead. There’s just too much on the line for Ole Miss, though. I think the Landsharks defense will come out inspired and Bo Wallace will make just enough plays to win the game. Ole Miss 24, Arkansas 14 -- Greg Ostendorf


Why Tennessee wins: The Volunteers have played great on offense since inserting Josh Dobbs as the starting quarterback. In the last three games, he's averaging 263 passing yards per game and has thrown seven touchdowns and two interceptions, plus he's averaging 96 rushing yards per game and has rushed for four scores. Will that be enough for the Vols to notch just their second win against a ranked team under Butch Jones? Tennessee 24, Missouri 21 -- David Ching

Why Missouri wins: The Tigers haven't lost a road game in nearly two full years, a streak of nine in a row. Neyland Stadium holds quite the crowd, but so does Kyle Field, which drew more than 100,000 last week when Missouri beat the Aggies. And now that Markus Golden's nagging hamstring injury seems to be a nonfactor, the pass rush led by SEC-leading sacker Shane Ray and Golden is at full speed again, which will be a challenge for Josh Dobbs & Co. Missouri 31, Tennessee 27 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Unanimous picks

Mississippi State over Vanderbilt: The Bulldogs are coming off their first loss, but look for Dak Prescott & Co. to get back on track this week against the struggling Commodores, who are still searching for their first SEC win. Mississippi State 48, Vanderbilt 14

Alabama over Western Carolina: Alabama usually puts these games to bed quickly (and beat Western Carolina 49-0 when they last met in 2012) so expect the similar results here as the Crimson Tide get a tune-up before the Iron Bowl. Alabama 49, Western Carolina 7

Auburn over Samford: Auburn holds a 26-0-1 all-time series advantage over Samford, so don't expect the 28th meeting to buck that trend on the Tigers' senior day at Jordan-Hare. Auburn 52, Samford 6

Georgia over Charleston Southern: Georgia thumped Auburn at home last week to wrap up its SEC campaign, so now the Bulldogs must wait to see if Missouri loses. In the meantime, expect them to make quick work of this Big South foe. Georgia 49, Charleston Southern 3

Florida over Eastern Kentucky: Now that Will Muschamp's job status is clear, the pressure's off. The Gators still have bowl eligibility to play for and look to coast to a win over a quality FCS squad in Eastern Kentucky, which actually beat an FBS team this year: Miami (Ohio). Florida 42, Eastern Kentucky 7

South Carolina over South Alabama: The Gamecocks are looking to secure bowl eligibility. Expect them to build off the momentum of the comeback overtime win over Florida. South Carolina 45, South Alabama 10

Standings
Greg Ostendorf 77-17
Edward Aschoff 74-20
Chris Low 74-20
David Ching 73-21
Alex Scarborough 70-24
Sam Khan Jr. 69-25

National links: Expand the playoff? 

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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The first four teams to ever make the College Football Playoff have yet to be determined. But the backlash against the committee has been so intense, people already are suggesting ways to fix the system.

ACC commissioner John Swofford spoke Wednesday at a weekly Durham (N.C.) Sports Club meeting and said eight teams would be "ideal" in a playoff format.

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Will Muschamp: I want to coach

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
8:53
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp wants to coach next season.

The Florida coach said Wednesday he would "like to obviously be working next year."

Florida parted ways with Muschamp on Sunday, less than 24 hours after the team's sixth loss in its past eight home games.

Muschamp already has been rumored for potential openings at defensive coordinator with Auburn, Florida State, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Those teams rank 63rd, 57th, 98th and 100th, respectively, in total defense.

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier declined comment when asked specifically whether he would hire Muschamp. But Spurrier does believe that Muschamp will land somewhere.

"If he wants to coach again next year, I'm sure a lot of people will be after him," Spurrier said.

Under Muschamp's guidance, the Gators ranked eighth in total defense in 2011, fifth in 2012 and eighth last year. They rank 20th this season. He had similar success on that side of the ball at LSU, Auburn and Texas.

Muschamp will coach Florida's final two regular-season games -- against Eastern Kentucky and Florida State -- before deciding what the future holds.


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Trevor Matich and Todd McShay highlight teams that could cause chaos to the playoff rankings even with just a few weeks to go.

Potential playoff cockroaches

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
3:17
PM ET
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"They are like a cockroach. It isn't what he eats or totes off, but what he falls into and messes up."

Those were the words of Darrell Royal on Nov. 18, 1961. The legendary head coach was speaking of the TCU squad that had just knocked off his top-ranked Texas team, a 24-point favorite, by a score of 6-0 -- and on a trick play, no less. The upset ended the Longhorns' national title hopes and also dashed UT running back James Saxton's chances of winning the Heisman Trophy.

The '61 Horned Frogs posted a paltry 3-5-2 record, but two of those three wins were over top-ranked Texas and eighth-ranked Kansas, and one of those ties was against third-ranked Ohio State. Those tussles with TCU kept each from competing for a national title and damaged the Heisman hopes for players hailing from all three: Saxton, Buckeyes fullback Bob Ferguson and Jayhawks QB John Hadl.

That's some serious cockroaching.

These days feel an awful lot like those days. The era of the College Football Playoff, with an ever-increasing roster of one-loss beauty contestants and a selection committee that has thus far leaned toward "best/worst losses" as one of its most influential criteria, is an environment prime for growing some mighty big cockroaches -- insects much more troublesome than any mere fly in the ointment.

Who among this year's can't-be-in-the-playoff teams is in the best position to force a would-be playoff team to join it on the sideline this January? Forget Ole Miss, Auburn and even Kansas State. Their potential spoiler roles are obvious. Everyone knows the biggest, nastiest roaches are the ones that live in the places where they can't easily be seen.

Read ahead ... but you might want to grab a can of Raid first.

Minnesota Golden Gophers


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