SEC: Pittsburgh Panthers
Jan. 5, 1 p.m. ET, Birmingham, Ala. (ESPN)
Pittsburgh take from Big East blogger Matt Fortuna: The Paul Chryst era began with a 14-point home loss to FCS team Youngstown State. Five days later, it continued with a 24-point loss at rival Cincinnati.
But Pitt won its next two games, setting the stage for a season that consisted only of two-game losing and winning streaks, culminating with a home rout of Rutgers and a 27-3 win at South Florida that lifted the team to a 6-6 record and extended its season into bowl play.
A big reason for the turnaround has been fifth-year quarterback Tino Sunseri, who was a scapegoat last season under Todd Graham but has been much more efficient in Chryst's pro-style attack. None of Sunseri's final 270 pass attempts were intercepted, giving him the nation's longest active streak without getting picked off. He has 19 touchdown tosses and just two picks on the season, to go with a 66.5 completion percentage and 3,103 yards. Sunseri has been aided by the resiliency of senior Ray Graham, who overcame a right ACL tear midway through last season to notch his first career 1,000-yard rushing season.
Defensively, the Panthers boast the nation's No. 16 overall unit, surrendering just 325.83 yards per game. They held South Florida to a program-low 115 total yards of offense in their regular-season finale.
This is a team that has consistently played up or down to its competition, routing Virginia Tech for its first win of the season and coming within a missed field goal of knocking off No. 1 Notre Dame after blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in South Bend, Ind.
Ole Miss take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: What a start for first-year coach Hugh Freeze. After taking over a program that had a wealth of attitude and personnel issues, Freeze guided the Rebels to a bowl game for the first time since 2009 and watched his team win three SEC games after entering the season on a 14-game conference losing streak.
Ole Miss’ six wins matched the total number of wins the Rebels had in the final two years of Houston Nutt’s tenure.
The Rebels matched last year’s win total after their 2-0 start. What made the Rebels such a tough opponent for most of the year was how explosive the offense was. Behind playmakers Bo Wallace, Jeff Scott and Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss rushed for close to 170 yards a game and threw for 257 a contest.
Feeding Moncrief became the norm, as he was fifth in the SEC with 948 receiving yards and had 10 touchdowns.
The defense showed improvement from last year, but did have its issues. Texas piled on 66 points in Oxford and the Rebels surrendered 30 or more points in four SEC games (all losses).
Ole Miss also had its share of second-half failures in SEC games, but rebounded at the best time with a 41-24 win over archrival Mississippi State to capture the Egg Bowl for the first time since 2008. After being outscored 68-21 in the second halves of three straight losses leading up to the Mississippi State game, Ole Miss outscored the Bulldogs 24-7 in the final two quarters in order to become bowl eligible.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Former Tennessee coach John Majors was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987 as a player.
|Bernstein Associates/Getty Images|
|John Majors won 185 games in collegiate coaching career.|
He was a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1956 and a two-time SEC Player of the Year. For those SEC die-hards, it's no secret that the Majors name is as interwoven into Tennessee football as checkerboard end zones and the color orange.
And while it's rare for somebody to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, Majors has as good a case as anybody.
Steve Spurrier will no doubt pull it off when he's finished coaching. He's already been enshrined as a player.
But as it stands now, only Amos Alonzo Stagg, Bowden Wyatt and Bobby Dodd have been elected as both players and coaches.
One of the requirements to be elected to the Hall as a coach is a .600 winning percentage. Majors has a career winning percentage of .557 (185-137-10), which means he would have to be nominated through a special veterans committee.
It's not without precedent.
Hayden Fry, Jerry Claiborne and Grant Teaff have all been inducted as coaches within the last 10 years, and none of the three has a career .600 winning percentage.
In fact, had Majors, 73, not returned to Pittsburgh for those final four seasons after he was forced out at Tennessee in 1992, his career record would be a shade over .600.
This much is indisputable about Majors' work as a coach: He rebuilt three programs (Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee) that were badly in need of rebuilding, and he left all three in much better shape than he found them.
His 1976 Pittsburgh team, led by Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, finished 12-0 and won the national championship. The Panthers won all but one game that season by double-digit margins and had enough returning talent to perhaps win another title somewhere down the road.
But Tennessee called, and Majors couldn't tell his alma mater no.
It took him longer than anybody wanted to get Tennessee back to elite status in the SEC. But he won three SEC titles in his last seven full seasons in Knoxville.
His coaching résumé speaks for itself and is without question Hall of Fame material.
Now it's time that the right people take notice.