If Jim Harbaugh takes the Michigan job, it could shake up the recruiting race in the Big Ten. Plus, Paul Chryst’s hiring at Wisconsin makes a lot of sense.

1. Two things regarding Bo Pelini's recorded tirade against Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst published this week by the Omaha World-Herald. 1) Is anyone surprised? It's not as if this is out of character. That's who Pelini has been when he isn't wearing his public face -- and sometimes when he is. 2) I don't think it hurts his career in the long run. He won't get tagged as a guy who can't work with anyone, because he will be fine in his next job. Pelini respects Youngstown State president Jim Tressel, and I bet Pelini will try very hard not to embarrass Tressel or make him regret this show of faith.

2. Oregon corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a serious knee injury this week that knocked him out of the playoffs and likely all workouts leading to the 2015 NFL Draft. In case he's wondering why he returned for this season instead of turning pro, let his own words remind him why he stayed at Oregon. Here's what he told me in April: “You always think about the what-ifs….Where I am now is the best place I can be at this moment in my life…I still wanted to be a college student and still experience this last year of college that you probably won't have a chance to ever do again.”

3. All 10 Big Ten bowl teams are underdogs, but before you mock the league, remember a couple of things. Only two league teams play a bowl in the Big Ten footprint, and I'm just not sure one of them, Rutgers, will have a home-field advantage in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. Most of the others have road games: Maryland versus Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl, Nebraska versus USC in the Qualcomm Holiday Bowl; Michigan State versus Baylor in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic; and, of course, Ohio State versus Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Bowls are not tailor-made for Big Ten teams, but we love them all the same, right?
Art Briles, Gary PattersonUSA TODAY SportsBaylor's Art Briles, left, and TCU's Gary Patterson can give the Big 12 a lift this bowl season.
When the inaugural College Football Playoff begins on New Year’s Day, the Big 12 will be the only Power 5 conference watching from home.

Though the Big 12 fell short in this season’s battle for the playoff, there will be another one to wage in 2015. The conference can take steps to ensure it doesn’t get left out again next season, notably by crafting a way to finally crown only One True Champion. But the Big 12 can also send a 2015 message to the playoff selection committee through a triumphant 2014 bowl season.

Though out of the playoff, the Big 12 is hardly devoid of high-profile matchups against name teams this bowl season. And a successful bowl record would cement national perception of the strength and depth of the Big 12 while setting the conference up for a run at the playoff next season.

"It won’t help us this year," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. "But it would help for next year."

That starts with conference co-champs Baylor and TCU, which play in the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls against opponents that were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season.

The Bears will face Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The defensive-minded Spartans went 10-2, with their only two losses coming against playoff teams Oregon and Ohio State. Michigan State won the Big Ten last season, and boasts the nation’s seventh-ranked defense.

"There's a statement to be made just for us nationwide," said Baylor safety Orion Stewart. "To show (the nation) that we really have one of the best programs in the country."

The same way the Bears’ loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl last season hurt Baylor’s standing, a win against Michigan State would solidify the Bears as a title contender again in 2015, even without quarterback Bryce Petty. Especially if the Bears can light up the scoreboard against Michigan State, which surrendered more than 31 points just twice all season (to the Ducks and Buckeyes).

"We're playing one of the greatest teams in America, Michigan State," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "There have been four football programs that have played in back-to-back BCS (level) games; you're talking to one of them (Baylor) and Michigan State is one of them, (along with) Florida State and Alabama. That's pretty good company in my book."

TCU will also be in good company in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. The playoff committee had Ole Miss in the top four in its first two playoff rankings before the Rebels stumbled against LSU and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Still, Ole Miss bounced back to hammer fourth-ranked Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Like Michigan State, Ole Miss features one of the best defenses in the country, with a unit that leads the nation in scoring defense with an average allowance of just 13.8 points per game. The Rebels flashed how dynamic they can be when they downed Alabama early in the season.

"(Our team) wanted to play somebody that was a caliber of a top-five team," said TCU coach Patterson, "and we feel like Ole Miss is that team."

In 2015, TCU will bring back quarterback Trevone Boykin and nine other offensive starters, meaning the Horned Frogs could be primed for another run at the playoff next season. A victory against a quality SEC West opponent would position TCU well for the start of 2015. And a Big 12 sweep in the Cotton and Peach bowls against top-10 competition would reaffirm that the best of the Big 12 can play with anyone in the country.

"Ole Miss is a team that was as high as third in the nation, that played at a very high level, that could have been in the playoffs, lost a couple heartbreakers," Patterson said. "We feel like this is a playoff game."

The two New Year's Six bowls, however, aren’t the only opportunities for the Big 12 to deliver statements.

In the Valero Alamo Bowl, Kansas State meets UCLA, a team that was in playoff contention until late in the season. Oklahoma takes on ACC power Clemson and college football's No. 1-ranked total defense in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

In the Autozone Liberty Bowl and Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, West Virginia and Texas have a chance to land wins against SEC West opponents Texas A&M and Arkansas, respectively.

Even Oklahoma State takes on a talented Washington team in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.

Sure, there are no easy bowl games for the Big 12. But every win will count toward forging the league’s reputation for 2015.

"I was shocked (the Big 12 was left out of the playoff) based on the strength of this league from top to bottom," Gundy said. "We can’t have this many good football teams in this league and not get one in the top four. We can’t allow that to happen again."

The Big 12 can take steps off the field to ensure it doesn’t happen.

But in the meantime, the Big 12 can take some big steps on the field this bowl season, too.
When Ole Miss players and coaches turn on the video of TCU’s tremendously explosive offense, they see something that conjures feelings of a terrifying threat that thwarted the Rebels in years past.

That threat mostly comes in the form of TCU All-American quarterback Trevone Boykin, who electrified the nation this season with 4,411 total yards of offense and 39 total touchdowns. Boykin’s on-field talents have been dazzling to watch, just like a quarterback who just left the SEC in 2014.

“Boykin, they’ve got great players around him, but he’s a different animal,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze told reporters this week.

“He reminds me of Johnny Manziel when we had to play and defend him. He’s very similar to that.”

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTCU quarterback Trevone Boykin reminds Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze of Johnny Manziel and how tough he was to defend in the SEC.
Oh yes, the same Johnny Football who averaged 395 yards of offense and directed Texas A&M to 71 points in two victories over Freeze and his Rebels. While Boykin isn’t exactly the amazing improviser Manziel was -- he only had 29 rushes of 10-plus yards this year compared to the 36 and 47 Manziel had the past two seasons -- Boykin does possess that game-changing gene that helped the Horned Frogs rise near the top of the college football landscape this year. Ole Miss players believe TCU’s offense looks eerily similar to the Manziel-led offenses of the Aggies.

“It’s always a red flag for a defense when you’ve got a quarterback is that caliber [of player],” Ole Miss All-American cornerback Senquez Golson said. “They have a lot of athletes; they make a lot of plays. It’s definitely one of the better offenses we’ll face this year.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge. I don’t think we could have had a better matchup. This is really going to put our defense to the test and see what we got.”

Added linebacker Serderius Bryant: “You think about it as you get to play Johnny again.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound firecracker helped push the sixth-ranked Horned Frogs (11-1) to the tip of the College Football Playoff behind the nation’s No. 4 offense (542.2 yards per game) and No. 2 scoring offense (46.8 points per game). TCU has scored 40-plus points eight times and hit 82 against Texas Tech, a game in which Boykin threw seven touchdowns.

Boykin and that spread offense are scary, but the Rebels present an equally as imposing defense for the Frogs to handle in this year's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31. Ole Miss owns the nation’s best scoring defense (13.8 points per game and 18 touchdowns allowed) and the No. 13 defense overall, allowing 321.2 yards per game.

The best defense TCU has faced this year? That would be Texas’ 26th-ranked defense (348.3) That isn’t bad at all, but the Horned Frogs piled on 34 points and gained a season-low 368 yards.

So how does Ole Miss’ defense, which spent the entire season near the top of the SEC, plan to stop Boykin and that fantastic offense? Bryant says the key is containing Boykin and combating speed with, well, speed – something Bryant says is the best he’s seen on Ole Miss’ defense during his four-year career.

The Rebels struggled with containing the middle of the field against Manziel when he took off under duress. Ole Miss collapsed the pocket well and took away his receivers at times, but they left themselves vulnerable up the middle, where Manziel absolutely gashed the Rebels, rushing for a combined 253 yards in those two games.

This season, Bryant said with increased speed at linebacker, the Rebels have been better equipped against running quarterbacks. The best rushing performances by QBs against Ole Miss this season were from Louisiana-Lafayette’s Terrance Broadway (59 yards) and Auburn’s Nick Marshall (50 yards and two touchdowns).

Boykin rushed for 642 yards and averaged 54.7 yards per game, but he likes to make a lot of plays outside the pocket, whether it’s running or throwing. That means the Rebels will have have to spy on him and collapse the pocket while being disciplined across the line of scrimmage and filling run gaps in order to take away potential big plays from Boykin’s arm and legs.

“As soon as he takes that step forward and tries to run, the defense is going to collapse on him,” Bryant said. “… If everyone knows that, it’s going to happen.”

Boykin is a special player, but the TCU offense can hurt teams in so many ways. Running back Aaron Green is averaging 7.7 yards per carry (854 rushing yards), and five players grabbed at least 29 receptions, including wide receiver Josh Doctson, who led the team in catches (59), yards (959) and touchdowns (nine).

There’s motion, space and quickness to frustrate a defense, and the Rebels know they’ll be on high alert.

“That’s how they put up big points,” Bryant said. “They put up points in all senses with throwing a lot of different things that confuse defensive coordinators. We have to get ready for that.”

But TCU also has to be ready for the Rebels, who held top SEC offenses at Alabama and Mississippi State to less than 20 points this year. The Rebels' defense has been impressive in its own right, and to Golson, he hasn’t seen a better defense face TCU.

“I’m really excited to find out, but I don’t think so,” he said. “… It might be even more exciting for us because we get to face this type of offense. It’s always exciting to play a team out of conference, so I’m just glad we’re playing a team like TCU.”
The Allstate Sugar Bowl featuring No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State could come down to unexpected players stepping up and making big plays. Earlier we looked at who could be the offensive X factors, and now we look at who could fill that role on defense on Jan. 1.

Alabama CB Tony Brown: Nick Saban and his coaching staff seem to find a way to make the most out of the extended bowl practices. Take last year, for example, when they brought along a true freshman by the name of Derrick Henry, who went on to obliterate Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. This time, don’t be surprised if it’s the rookie cornerback, Brown. He has seen the field his fair share this season, but been kept on a short leash because of his inexperience. Well, now the five-star talent has 13 games under his belt, and he could be the answer to Alabama’s struggles at cornerback.

Ohio State: LB Darron Lee: Considering that he’s only two years removed from playing quarterback and safety in high school, it’s pretty remarkable that the redshirt freshman was able to crack the starting rotation at linebacker so quickly for the Buckeyes. But Lee has done far more than just earn playing time this season, he’s rapidly developed into one of the team’s best playmakers and looks like a perfect fit in the mold left behind by first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier. He may not be a finished product yet, but with the ability to cover the entire field thanks to his elite athleticism, Lee stuffed the stats sheet with 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a pair of touchdowns during his first campaign as a starter. The Buckeyes may have bigger stars on the defense heading into the Sugar Bowl, but they’ll need Lee at his best to leave with a victory.
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 counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Leonard Williams, No. 50 in 2012 class

Williams was not a nationally talked about prospect through his junior season, but that all changed in the late spring of 2011 through his senior season. The Under Armour All-America Game alumni ended up signing with the USC, with the Trojans pulling the major upset over Florida, Florida State and Auburn for the Dayton Beach (Fla.) Mainland product. Williams was part of a Top 10 USC class that included Nelson Agholor, and offensive linemen Zach Banner, Max Tuerk, and Jordan Simmons.

Williams burst onto the scene as a freshman in Los Angeles. He not only appeared in all 13 games, but also started nine at defensive tackle. He had 64 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Following the season, he was named to various All-Pac 12 and Freshman All-American teams.

Williams moved to defensive end as a sophomore, and his dominance remained the same. In 13 starts, the 2013 All-Pac-12 first team selection recorded 74 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks.

In 2014, Williams' junior and likely final season at USC, he started 12 games making 71 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, again earning All-Pac-12 postseason honors. He was named AP All-American second team this week.

Should Williams forgo his final season of eligibility as expected, he is a near lock to be selected in the Top 10 picks of the 2015 NFL draft.

Honorable mention: LeSean McCoy, No. 50 in 2006 class. McCoy was originally headed to Miami (FL) out of high school, but the firing of Larry Coker led the explosive back to Pittsburgh to play for then head coach Dave Wannstedt after a year at prep school. He played only two years for the Panthers before heading to the NFL due to being three years removed from high school. After 3,365 all-purpose yards and 36 touchdowns in two seasons at Pittsburgh, McCoy was selected in the second round (No. 53 overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles. He has been selected to Pro Bowl’s following the 2011 and 2013 seasons. Two prospects ranked No. 50 that played at Florida -- Xavier Nixon (2009 class) and Jaylen Watkins (2010 class) -- currently play in the NFL. Ohio State sophomore safety Vonn Bell, No. 50 in 2013, is expected to be a high NFL draft choice in the next couple of years.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida State offensive line wasn’t scaring defensive coordinators through the first month of the season. A unit hailed as the country’s best during the preseason had struggled clearing space for a rushing attack that ranked 103rd at the end of September.

Four games ago, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher made a bold switch along the offensive line in the midst of an undefeated season. Before the Nov. 15 game against Miami, just as starting center Austin Barron was cleared to play after fracturing his forearm back in early October, Fisher moved all-conference performer Cam Erving from left tackle to center. That meant true freshman Roderick Johnson was being inserted at left tackle, the position responsible for Jameis Winston’s blind side.

Fisher’s roll of the dice worked. The Seminoles are averaging 146 yards rushing over their past four games -- not a sizable difference -- but they are averaging 4.8 yards per carry. They averaged less than four yards per rush in September. And in the ACC title game, FSU averaged 5.42 yards per rush, a stat that helped carry them to the No. 3 playoff seed and a date against No. 2 Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Orlando Sentinel via Getty ImagesFlorida State's offensive line has improved since a bold late-season move by coach Jimbo Fisher.
With this new starting five, Florida State might as well be Wisconsin South. Both Florida State and Wisconsin, whose offensive line’s girth is annually celebrated, have a starting five that averages 6-foot-5 along the line. The Seminoles’ combined weight across the group is actually greater than Wisconsin’s, and Florida State still has athleticism along the unit, too.

"We got great size," said Josue Matias, who is the link between Johnson and Erving at left guard. "We got intimidation off the bus. It just has a different attitude."

As early as this spring, Erving was being groomed as a potential center. Fisher originally said it was strictly for emergencies that Erving would play center, but as the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Johnson continued to hold his own in fall practice against a talented FSU defensive line, Fisher felt at some point during the season he would be able to move Erving to center.

At 308 pounds, Erving is the smallest player on the line, but he’s also maybe the most athletic. As the offensive line anchor, Erving has been effective firing off as a run blocker, but also when he’s pulling.

"Athletically you can see our difference, and in height and weight and you don’t really drop off with Rod at left tackle," right tackle Bobby Hart said.

Erving, one of the team leaders, praised the effort of Barron and fellow center Ryan Hoefeld, but he said the chemistry of this starting five just seems to be better.

"It’s all about chemistry on the offensive line," Erving said. "You got to know what each other is thinking and how you’re going to do each block. The chemistry is coming together better."

Through the first nine games, despite Florida State winning them all, there were legitimate questions as to whether the Seminoles could win a second straight national title without an effective running game. And the offensive line had struggled to protect Winston at times. The new structure of the offensive line potentially returns Florida State to its perch among football’s most talented groups as it hits its stride.

The lack of an effective run game and inconsistent offensive line play put the offense, and specifically Winston, in a weekly bind. Winston was forced to shoulder too much of the offense. Winston averaged 38.5 passing attempts per game in October. That number has dropped to 32 over the past four games.

"We’ve taken on a new identity," Erving said.

With the playoffs only two weeks away, the shift has come at the perfect time.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl featuring No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State could come down to unexpected players stepping up and making big plays. So who could fill that role on offense on Jan. 1? Alex Scarbrough and Austin Ward take a look:

Alabama: WR Christion Jones: Chances are that Alabama will need a receiver not named Amari Cooper to make plays. With several weeks to prepare, it stands to reason that the Ohio State staff will find a way to bracket Alabama’s Heisman Trophy finalist and force quarterback Blake Sims to look elsewhere. So pay attention to Jones. The senior has the moves to make people miss in the open field and the speed to get behind the defense. At 13.9 yards per catch, he can make Ohio State pay for focusing too much on Cooper. And for good measure, don't miss Jones on kickoffs and punt returns. Though he hasn't struck paydirt with a touchdown on special teams yet this season, someone with his athleticism is due to break free at some point.

Ohio State: WR Devin Smith: A pretty straightforward formula has emerged during the senior wideout’s career, and it hasn’t failed yet. When Smith catches a touchdown, the Buckeyes win. They are 20-0 when Smith has a TD reception. Is that any good? But this season Smith has taken it even further -- when he’s at his best, Ohio State’s already high-powered offense becomes downright unstoppable. In the two biggest matchups of the season, on the road against Michigan State and in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, Smith was a nightmare as a deep threat, unleashing his speed, incredible leaping ability and knack for making tough grabs all at once to kick the Buckeyes into their highest gear. He combined for 10 catches for 266 yards and 4 touchdowns in those wins, and Alabama’s secondary will have to account for him in New Orleans.

ESPN's Football Power Index: A look back

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
10:58
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Wire service photosAmari Cooper, left, and Marcus Mariota helped their teams meet preseason FPI projections.
With the regular season complete and bowl matchups set, it’s time to look back at the 2014 college football season. Just as teams reflect on their seasons to evaluate their performance, ESPN Stats & Information will do the same for its Football Power Index.

Below is a breakdown of how FPI performed throughout the year. Which preseason projections were correct? How accurate was FPI at predicting games? This is designed to be unfiltered and informative, so if you have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below and we will do our best to answer.

As a quick reminder, ESPN’s Football Power Index is a forward-looking system designed to order each FBS team by which is most likely to beat an average team on a neutral field. FPI is intended to measure team strength, not evaluate a team’s résumé for the playoff, to best predict future performance. Once team strength is captured, FPI can be used to go through each team’s remaining schedule to produce game and season projections (expected W-L, chance to win conference, chance to win out, etc.).

Preseason information
FPI was improved this season to allow for preseason projections. Factored into the preseason ratings were prior years’ efficiencies (offensive, defensive and special teams), recruiting data, coaching tenure and information on returning starters.

Where FPI was correct in the preseason
• Preseason top 3: The top three teams in preseason FPI -- Florida State, Oregon and Alabama -- performed as expected. Ohio State was ranked sixth until days before the season when Braxton Miller injured his shoulder and returning starter information was adjusted. The Buckeyes dropped to 12th.

• Preseason W-L projections: Team strength must be weighed with the difficulty of a team’s schedule to accurately predict win totals. The teams ranked fourth through sixth in preseason FPI -- UCLA, Auburn and Stanford -- had some of the toughest schedules in the nation. Therefore, FPI predicted that they would lose more than three games on average (and they did). The five teams that FPI projected for the highest win totals were the only five teams in the nation with 12 or more wins. Similarly, the top five teams from Power 5 conferences in projected win total finished the season as the top five teams in the final CFP rankings.

Along those same lines, FPI projected that Florida State had a 38 percent chance to enter bowls undefeated and no other FBS team had more than a 10 percent chance to win out. The Seminoles are the only undefeated FBS team. The second-most likely team to go unbeaten in the preseason -- Marshall -- had a great chance to accomplish that feat through 11 games.

• Conference projections: Seven of the 10 preseason FPI favorites to win a conference went on to do so, including four of the six that were given the highest chances. The three FPI favorites that didn’t win were in the Big 12 (Oklahoma), Sun Belt (Louisiana-Lafayette) and American (Houston). In the case of the Big 12, Oklahoma (35 percent) and Baylor (33 percent) were very close in the preseason. The Big Ten is an interesting case. FPI favored Ohio State to win the conference without Miller, despite most of the public picking Michigan State.

Where FPI was incorrect in the preseason
• Teams FPI underestimated: Georgia Southern, TCU and Georgia Tech

Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern was transitioning to the FBS, and FPI underestimated the explosiveness of its offense, which finished 23rd in offensive efficiency. FPI projected that the Eagles would finish about 4-8, but they ended the year with a 9-3 record.

After finishing 4-8 last year, TCU’s improvement in 2014 was a surprise to many. FPI had the Horned Frogs 36th in its preseason rankings, which was higher than most but still significantly below their current fifth-place ranking. FPI was high on TCU’s defense (seventh in the preseason) but did not envision its offensive improvement after it ranked 99th in offensive efficiency in 2013. Overall, FPI projected that the Horned Frogs would enter bowls with around seven wins, and they have won 11 games.

Georgia Tech lost 11 starters, including its quarterback, from last year's seven-win team. In the preseason, FPI projected that the Yellow Jackets would win about six games and had a 5 percent chance to win the ACC Coastal Division. Instead, Georgia Tech reached 10 wins for the first time since 2009, and the Yellow Jackets seek their first Orange Bowl win since 1951.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Michael C. Johnson/USA TodayNo defense in the Power 5 had a lower efficiency than that of Texas Tech and coach Kliff Kingsbury.
• Teams FPI overestimated: Michigan, Texas Tech and South Carolina

Michigan was returning 15 starters, including quarterback Devin Gardner, to a team that had four of its six losses come by a combined 11 points last season. The Wolverines were ranked 18th in preseason FPI and were projected to have the 16th-best defense in the country. FPI projected that the Wolverines would have about four more wins than they actually did, marking its biggest miss this year.

Texas Tech was supposed to have a top-10 offense this year, but injuries and turnovers stymied the Red Raiders' air attack. And no Power 5 team finished the regular season with a lower defensive efficiency than Texas Tech. It’s safe to say that preseason FPI whiffed on four-win Texas Tech.

South Carolina was ninth in the preseason Associated Press poll, so FPI was not alone in its overestimation of the Gamecocks. Since South Carolina had a favorable divisional schedule, FPI projected that it had the best chance to win the SEC East and the second-best chance to win the SEC. The Gamecocks finished with three conference wins, four fewer than SEC East champion Missouri.

In-season projections
While the preseason ratings served as the basis for FPI, an important part of the system is that it learns from each game during the season and adjusts appropriately as teams play better or worse than expected. This mechanism allows FPI to be fluid as the season goes on, which improves prediction accuracy from week to week.

The team FPI favored won 77 percent of FBS-only games this season, which is better than the win percentage of the Vegas closing-line favorite. There were 50 games in which FPI and the Vegas line differed on the favorite; FPI went 28-22 (56 percent) in those games, including 17-10 in the final eight weeks.

Interestingly, FPI exceeded expectations in games involving teams that finished the season ranked in the CFP Top 25. Most systems would be expected to correctly predict about 66 percent of such games, but the FPI favorite was 34-12 (74 percent), including 18-2 in the final five weeks.

There were certain teams that FPI had a grasp on and others that baffled the system. There were 10 teams, including Michigan State, Clemson, Washington, Florida State and Texas Tech, for which FPI correctly predicted all of their FBS versus FBS games. Add in another 28 teams for which FPI correctly predicted all but one game and the system had a very good understanding of about a third of the FBS.

Texas Tech is a great example of how FPI adjusts as the season progresses. As noted above, FPI was high on the Red Raiders in the preseason but quickly learned of their flaws and adjusted its in-season projections accordingly. FPI correctly identified the favorite in all 11 of Texas Tech’s FBS games.

On the other end, there were five teams -- Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Akron, Utah and Air Force -- where the FPI favorite lost in more than half of the games. Missouri and Texas A&M also were tough to predict with their fluctuating performances.

We have been able to retroactively apply FPI to the past 10 seasons. Since 2005, FPI has correctly predicted 75 percent of FBS games. It is on pace to have its second-best pick percentage in a season but will finish the year far from its 79.5 correct-pick percentage in 2013.

For those looking for a little bowl advice, FPI projects that Marshall (79 percent), Stanford (79 percent) and Georgia (77 percent) are the most likely teams to win their bowl games, and Navy (60 percent) is the Vegas underdog most likely to win.
Once again, the Big 12 has made news.

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck is leaving his post with the Mountaineers to join the NCAA as president Mark Emmert’s second in command.

The move leaves West Virginia in search of an athletic director. And, more importantly to the rest of the Big 12, the league in need of a new representative to the College Football Playoff selection committee.

The Big 12 has until the spring to figure it out. Most likely, it will be a sitting athletic director, and fortunately for the league, it has several competent ones to choose from.

But when it comes to finding the right man or woman for the playoff committee, one Big 12 name seems to stand out from the rest.

And that’s Kirby Hocutt.

The Texas Tech athletic director would be relatively young among playoff committee members at just over 40 years old. But as chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Recruiting Subcommittee, Hocutt is one of the most respected athletic directors in the country. And, despite being young, he would still bring a wealth of experience that would represent multiple corners of the Big 12.

In the early 1990s, Hocutt was a captain and linebacker for coach Bill Snyder during the advent of the “Manhattan Miracle” at Kansas State. Hocutt actually led the Wildcats in tackles during the 1993 season, which ended with K-State’s first bowl victory in school history. Hocutt’s background as a player would give him a distinctive perspective that would enhance the committee. And with K-State being his alma mater, he would bring a representation beyond his current school that would theoretically make the rest of the league comfortable.

Of course, K-State isn’t Hocutt’s only other Big 12 connection.

Before winding up at Texas Tech, he served on Joe Castiglione’s staff as an associate athletic director at Oklahoma from 1999-05. Hocutt was part of a massive capital fundraising effort there; he also received his master’s degree from Oklahoma. Hocutt remains so well thought of by some of the power brokers in Norman that he would be a candidate to take over as athletic director if Castiglione ever left the Sooners.

Yet, while Hocutt graduated from school in the Sunflower State and spent years working in the Sooner State, he’s a Texan first.

For that reason alone, putting Hocutt on the committee would seemingly also satisfy the demands of Baylor coach Art Briles, who has been clamoring for more committee representation from the state of Texas.

"Hopefully they'll get somebody that talks with a twang," Briles told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich on Wednesday. "Let's get somebody that understands what fixin' means. Let's get somebody from down in this part of the nation. Oliver was our representative, but last time I checked, West Virginia is a long way from Texas and Oklahoma. That's nothing to do with him, that's just the reality of the situation. I would certainly hope that we would influence the committee with somebody from this part of the nation.”

Hocutt’s twang is mild. But he was born in the northern Texas town of Sherman. He graduated from Sherman High. He’s also now athletic director of a university where Texas twang is common.

Besides wanting a Texan, Briles also told Dinich that he wanted somebody 35 years old or younger on the committee. Hocutt isn’t quite that young. But he’s closer to 35 than he is to the median age of the current committee.

“To me, college football is not just for people who are my age or older,” Briles said. “It's for everybody. It should be equally represented, but that's just me talking."

The Big 12 could go another direction, and it still would be a good decision.

Castiglione carries as much prestige nationally as any athletic director in the country. To serve on the playoff committee, he would likely have to give up his post on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. But football is where the money is, and the Big 12 could persuade Castiglione into swapping committees.

The Big 12 boasts several other young, energetic and accomplished athletic directors like Kansas State’s John Currie, TCU’s Chris Del Conte and Baylor’s Ian McCaw. Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger is a former player, who actually served as an assistant coach on Snyder’s staff at Kansas State before transitioning into an administrator.

Any of those would represent the conference well.

But nobody in the league would represent the Big 12 from more angles than Hocutt.

A North Texan who played under Snyder at K-State who worked under Castiglione at Oklahoma who now is back running an athletic department in West Texas.

It doesn’t get more Big 12 than that, which is why Hocutt should be the Big 12's next representative on the playoff selection committee.
A'Shawn RobinsonBrett Davis/USA TODAY SportsAfter a slow start to the season, A'Shawn Robinson and the Alabama defensive line are finally living up their billing.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A'Shawn Robinson has been a man among boys from the minute he arrived on Alabama's campus as a true freshman. The 320-pound defensive lineman with his shaved head and gangly beard had a look that made some question his age. One senior said he thought he was looking at 30-year-old that first practice in the fall of 2013.

Opposing coaches and offensive linemen have wondered the same thing: How could this guy be that young? Robinson had old man strength before he was allowed to purchase an adult beverage. As a rookie, he played in all 13 games and made two starts. Leading the team with 5.5 sacks, the former four-star prospect became a consensus Freshman All-American.

But progress comes in peaks and valleys, and Robinson's growth spurt didn't extend into the beginning of his sophomore season. He was still plenty powerful, but in the season-opener against West Virginia he was noticeably absent on the stat sheet with zero tackles. Through his first six games, the First Team Preseason Coaches All-SEC choice had just 14 total tackles, 2.5 of which went for a loss.

Robinson's slow start was, in fact, a symptom of a larger issue. The entire Alabama defensive line wasn't living up to the hype. The unit billed as the best in the Nick Saban era wasn't getting the kind of pressure it was expected to. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't all-time great.

As it turns out, it was just a matter of time. Week 8 against Texas A&M, the defense got going in the right direction with six sacks and nine tackles for loss. The next time out against Tennessee, Alabama had seven more tackles for loss. And when it came time for the SEC Championship Game, the defensive line was stifling, limiting Missouri to 41 yards on 18 carries. Robinson & Co. freed up Xavier Dickson and Ryan Anderson to rush the passer, and the two outside linebackers combined for seven quarterback hurries.

Robinson, in particular, stood out in Atlanta, putting together a career night that featured nine tackles. He had 3.5 tackles for loss coming into the game and walked away with three more. Whenever Missouri tried to run the ball, big No. 86 was consistently there at the point of attack.

Lineman Jonathan Allen would say of Robinson that night, "He played amazing" and "He's one of the best players we have."

Alabama center Ryan Kelly would know. Between Robinson and the rest of the line, he has had his hands full.

"You look at Dalvin Tomlinson go in the three-technique, [Brandon Ivory], Jarran Reed, A'Shawn, [Darren] Lake, all those guys are huge dudes," he said. "We play against the best defensive front every day in practice, so it makes it easier to go out there in games."

It also makes it easier for the back end of the defense.

"It stars up front with the line," said safety Landon Collins. "They get penetration, and once you get penetration, I mean, it messes up the whole scheme of what the offense is trying to do."

If Alabama is going to be successful against Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, it's going to come down to the battle of the trenches.

If the defensive line can take away the run and get in the face of the Buckeyes' rookie quarterback Cardale Jones, it could pay big dividends.

Robinson & Co. have the momentum. Now the question becomes whether they can maintain it.
UAB football is gone. And it isn't coming back anytime soon, if ever.

But the people at UAB still exist. They didn't just go away. There are still all of those folks who work in the athletic department who have experienced a miserable past month as the reality of the situation became clear and the anger spread and the tears were shed.

[+] EnlargeFBS Logos
Courtesy Brad WilliamsBennett didn't know anything about UAB before discovering its cool dragon logo this fall.
And then came a small ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak time on campus. And it came in the most unlikely of forms -- a 5-year-old from Dublin, Ohio, with no prior connection to the school.

It all started a couple of months ago when a little football fanatic named Bennett Williams had his parents print out a big sheet of the 125 FBS team logos so he could learn all of the nicknames and schools. He follows after his parents and is a huge Buckeyes fan, but one logo on the sheet really caught his eye: the colorful, fire-breathing dragon of UAB. Almost immediately, he said, "I really like that team, Dad."

And so it began -- his, as it turns out, short-lived fandom of Blazers football. Bennett would follow along at home on fall Saturdays and faithfully watch that ticker on the bottom of the TV screen to look for updates on UAB and catch a glimpse of that cool dragon.

And then, just like that, the school decided to ax its football program. And a preschooler in suburban Columbus took the news hard. Really hard.

So one day last week, while in the car quizzing his dad about the situation and being told it was a complicated money situation, Bennett came up with an idea.

"He looked at me and said, 'How much money do they need? Would a dollar help?'" his father Brad recalled to ESPN.com. "I said, 'Bud, that's about $22 million short, but why not, we can try.'"

So Bennett wrote a letter. And sent the only money he had -- a $1 allowance he had just made by doing some dishes and chores around the house.



What happened next, they did not expect. A longtime staffer at UAB named Reid Adair was alerted to Brad's tweet by a friend and reached out to the family via Twitter. Adair, an assistant AD in charge of athletic operations and facilities, wanted to make sure Brad had the right address and that the letter would end up in the right hands. In an email exchange with Bennett's dad, the 24-year veteran of the school's athletic department learned more about the backstory, and it touched him deeply, writing the following to Brad:
Please tell your son that people who work at UAB saw the picture and are very excited about his letter. We’ve had some rough times around here the last week. I’m e-mailing a picture of the letter to other staff so they can also have their day brightened. The outpouring of concern from all over the country has been overwhelming, but for a child to do this truly touches all of us. Thanks so much for sharing the picture, and we look forward to the letter.

"There's been so much negativity and people have been so disappointed and upset," Adair told ESPN.com. "So something like that -- a little kid in Ohio who knew nothing else but our dragon logo giving up his allowance to help us -- I think we all look at something like that and really appreciate what a bright spot it's been in a bad time."

Bennett's good deed came with a reward, too.

The folks inside the UAB athletic department were so impressed that they sent him all sorts of swag, including a game-used football, a signed picture of Blaze the Dragon, a couple of shirts and a variety of Blazers gifts.



"We just wanted to show a kid that looking out for others has its advantages," Adair said.

There was a note inside the care package, too.

"Bennett was happy about the gifts, but he was even more excited about the letter," Brad Williams said. "He was yelling, 'Dad, Dad, they told me they saw my message! They told me I was their No. 1 fan in Ohio!'"

On Tuesday, Adair shared the letter with everyone at an administrative staff meeting, including interim athletic director Shannon James Ealy, who was so moved by the gesture that he requested the note, the dollar and a picture of Bennett be framed and hung on the wall in the department's main conference room.

"As our AD said, it will be a reminder to us of the good people out there in the world -- and of our No. 1 fan in Ohio," Adair said. "All of us can look at it and remember the positive things that happen every day and that there are plenty of reasons to smile."

According to his dad, Bennett has been just about all smiles since.

"We were not expecting this [kindness from UAB] at all," he said. "The whole thing has been so amazing to us. Like all parents, my wife and I try to teach him to do the right thing, but then to see him do it on his own, it's special. We're so proud of him. He really wants that dollar to help. He really does.

"It would be nice if us adults could look at the world like 5-year-olds do."
Midterm junior college signing day winners are headlined by Ole Miss and Oklahoma, but they weren’t the only programs that improved Wednesday.

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Wisconsin knows exactly what it's getting in new head coach Paul Chryst, who played for the Badgers and served as an assistant for two different stints. And maybe more importantly, Chryst knows exactly what he's walking into with Wisconsin.

This is a guy who, as he told it in his news conference on Wednesday night, delivered newspapers as a kid to Camp Randall Stadium. If anyone understands the culture of Madison and the Badgers athletic program, it's Chryst. That should help him hit the ground running faster than many new coaches.

"You don't feel like you have to understand or learn the whole lay of the land," Chryst told ESPN.com in a phone interview. "We have our work cut out for us, and we look forward to rolling up the sleeves and getting to work.

"But you should be able to draw on some of the experiences we've had. I know a lot of the high school coaches and a lot of the people on campus, so hopefully that can kind of shorten the learning curve a little bit."

And it means that Chryst shouldn't be blindsided by some of the issues that have been blamed for Wisconsin unexpectedly losing its last two coaches -- Bret Bielema to Arkansas in 2012 and Gary Andersen to Oregon State earlier this month.

One of Bielema's chief complaints was the lack of competitive salaries for his assistants. Chryst was making a little more than $400,000 as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin in 2011 when he was hired as the head coach at Pitt. He hasn't officially hired any assistants yet with the Badgers but said he will meet with coaches on Thursday. Retaining current defensive coordinator Dave Aranda remains a distinct possibility.

"I'm really confident that we can put together a heck of a staff," he said. "There's no question in my mind that there is a commitment here, not just with the football improvements but throughout the whole athletic program. There's a true commitment.

"I don't know honestly if [the salary structure] has changed since I've been here. I just feel real confident about the support we have had and will have here."

Andersen was reportedly frustrated with Wisconsin's academic admissions standards that prevented him from bringing in certain recruits. Chryst said he's proud of his degree from the school and thinks the high standards should be viewed as an advantage.

"I think every place has its uniquenesses," he said. "I've got to learn and see what are the differences from when I was last back here. But there's been a history here for a long time that academics are important. I think recruiting is all about finding a fit, and I feel real confident that we're going to find guys that are great fits with this university."

And what of the rumors that athletic director and Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez casts too long of a shadow? Chryst coached under Alvarez once and then came back to join him for his final season. He views him as a mentor and vital sounding board.

"I learned a lot from Coach Alvarez," Chryst said. "One of the big reasons I came back in 2005 was him.

"He's a tremendous resource. He always shoots you straight and has had a lot of experiences you can draw on. And he also understands and knows who I am."

Chryst stopped short of calling Wisconsin his dream job or that it was even a destination job. "I think you've got to earn the right to stay that long," he said. But it was clear from his memories of Madison that the city and the school have a strong tug on him, and he said even many of his Pitt players understood why he had to make the move.

It remains to be seen whether Chryst's homecoming will turn out to be the fairy tale story it looks like. But one thing's clear: Both sides know exactly what they're getting.

NCAA's hiring of Oliver Luck a home run

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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1. The tenure of NCAA president Mark Emmert has been one misstep after another, from his gross mishandling of Penn State to his inability, despite his best efforts, to lead the organization out of the amateur model to one that allows members to provide more benefits to student-athletes. But the hiring of West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck to be the NCAA’s No. 2 is such an inspired move it makes me wonder how Emmert made it. Luck is a talented administrator with the ability to see and synthesize the bigger picture. That’s a hole the NCAA desperately needs to fill.

2. Alabama (formerly) and Michigan (currently) are examples of how chasing a head coach with ties to the university can send a football program spiraling toward oblivion. That cautionary note sticks in my head as Wisconsin hires former Badger and state native Paul Chryst to return home as head coach. Chryst’s coaching style in two seasons at Pitt came right out of the Barry Alvarez playbook: a physical, downhill running game. Chryst receives an Incomplete grade with the Panthers. He has a Midwestern sensibility, preferring hard work to the spotlight. His hiring makes sense. But will he win?

3. Now that Chryst is gone, Pitt will be hiring its 43rd head coach in the last five years, or something like that. If the university is craving stability as well as re-establishing its identity in the still-rich recruiting area of western Pennsylvania, then Pitt will hire West Virginia assistant Tom Bradley. No one has more respect with high school coaches. No one has a better track record as a defensive coach. Bradley spent nearly four decades at Penn State and a long time as Joe Paterno’s right-hand man. It’s hard to imagine Pitt finding a more qualified candidate. Not to mention, he still lives in Pittsburgh. In other words, duh.

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