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NCAA POWER 15 – FINAL 2013

Better late than never! I’ve had my final 2013 NCAA rankings up on the sidebar for some time but I just finished writing the summary of the season now because I’m in the middle of researching the teams for 2014 previews that I should be writing shortly. The 2013 season marks the end of the BCS era and 2014 will usher in a playoff format which has it’s pros and cons. The pros of course is that it will give people a “true champion” because it will leave the polls and what not out of the equation, but it also brings up a smattering of other problems. The one incredible variable that makes college football so exciting is that every week truly is a season. That definitely loses some luster as 4 teams now have the opportunity to play for a championship rather than just the 2. At what point will 4 teams not be enough and we’ll see calls for 8 teams? For 16? For 32? Does letting a 9-4 squad into the playoffs really adding to the idea of crowning a true champion that is decided on the field?

If the BCS era had to end, it ended well. A 13-0 Florida St. squad was a no-brainer in the national championship game, and when Ohio St. fell to Michigan St. in the Big 10 title game, it all but guaranteed a 12-1 Auburn team the opposite spot after having dispatched Alabama & Missouri to claim the SEC crown. So here it is. The end. But it’s also a beginning. Let’s see how this whole playoff things works out.

RANK TEAM COMMENTS
#1 Florida St. put to rest the one knock on them in that most non-believers thought that the Noles got by on a weaker schedule and would be exposed by a more powerful SEC team. That almost happened. FSU took an early 3-0 lead over War Eagle, but then trailed Auburn for the entire game until late in the 4th quarter when a Levonte Whitfield KO return for 100 yards took brought FSU their first lead since 3-0 with a 27-24 advantage. It didn’t last as Auburn drove the field and scored on a Tre Mason TD giving Auburn a 31-27 lead, but Auburn’s defense gave FSU too much time and a fade route to the 6’6″ Kelvin Benjamin iced the game 34-31 giving FSU their first national championship since 1999 breaking the SEC’s streak of 7 straight BCS titles. This was an absolutely dominant team from start to finish in 2013. Their closes game before Auburn came in their 4th game against Boston College where they won 48-34. Jameis Winston won the Heisman. The team had 7 players drafted including 1st rounder Benjamin. This feels a lot like the Florida St. teams of the golden days of the Bobby Bowden era. A fantastic season & the clear #1 team in the nation!
#2 It’s easy to think the national title game was a disappointment because the Tigers seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but remember that Phil Steele predicted Auburn to finish dead last with Mississippi St. in the SEC West before the season even began! The fact that Auburn went 12-2, won an SEC Championship and played for the national title is a major accomplishment especially considering it was HC Gus Malzahn’s first year with the Tigers. The other take home point in Auburn’s season is just how many things have to go right for a team to reach the heights Auburn did. Auburn was 5-0 in close games before losing to Florida State. They needed the “immaculate deflection” to beat Georgia. They needed a FREAKISH end of regulation play to beat Alabama to win the SEC West. They needed 21 4th quarter points to beat Texas A&M. The game against Missouri wasn’t safe until the 4th quarter. Talent was never an issue with Auburn but how that talent would play in Malzahn’s first season was the question. We saw how that worked out & QB Nick Marshall returns along with a ton of talent so Auburn isn’t going anywhere. Great season!
#3 An amazing season for Michigan St., and if not for that 17-13 loss in South Bend to Notre Dame, it would have seemed likely that Sparty would have gotten a chance to play for a national title against Florida State. I said before the bowls began that I thought MSU losing and ending up 12-1 was a good thing because it put them in the Rose Bowl with a shot to win rather than getting a game against FSU which probably would have resulted in a loss. Who knows? What Michigan St. did to Stanford in the Rose Bowl was awesome. The Spartans started off a little shaky with Stanford going up 17-7 late in the 2nd quarter but Michigan St. adjusted well and instead of grinding down the game with RB Jeremy Langford, HC Mark Dantonio put the ball in QB Connor Cook’s hand a bit more often. Michigan St. wasn’t going to run against Stanford, but the passing game made some big plays and the defense clamped down in the 2nd half (allowed just 3 Cardinal points) ending with a 24-20 Rose Bowl win. Although MSU loses a few key guys on defense, the Spartans return A LOT for 2014! Incredible season & expect the Spartans back up here next season!
#4 South Carolina always seems to be hanging around the top-5 at year’s end. The Gamecocks ended the season 11-2 which makes it their 3rd straight year finishing at 11-2 showing remarkable consistency, but their calling card has been to end up 1 game short of an SEC title, win 10 games and then beat some poor Big 10 school in the Outback or Capital One bowl to finish up at 11-2. This past season, South Carolina lost at Tennessee 23-21 in a real head scratcher (SC was favored by 7) which cost SC a shot at the SEC East championship. In 2012 it was back-to-back road losses to LSU & Florida which SC could thank the scheduling gods for. In 2011 it was a 16-13 home loss to Auburn (SC was favored by 10). It is remarkable how the team rebounds though. Lose to Tennessee but win your last 6 including wins over Missouri, Clemson & Wisconsin! It’s interesting to note the end of the Jadeveon Clowney era. As a Gamecock, Clowney’s teams went 33-6 over 3 years and won 3 bowl games. That’s an impressive resume. Only Alabama is better at 36-4 with 2 national championships. Another wonderful season in Columbia to be sure.
#5 Like Auburn, Missouri had somewhat of a Cinderella season. Phil Steele picked the Tigers to finish 5th in the SEC East, but Missouri found a way to get by Georgia while South Carolina lost an extra game to Tennessee to get the 11-1 Tigers into the SEC Championship game as SEC East champions. As with Auburn, Mizzou is another good example of how teams need things to break right for them to win championships. The SEC East was considerably down in 2013 from its usual standards. Missouri also didn’t draw Alabama, Auburn or LSU from the SEC West. They did get Ole Miss & Texas A&M, but neither team lived up to preseason expectations. Missouri was +16 in TO margin & only had 2 close games. That isn’t to diminish the contributions of the players. James Franklin, Henry Jose, Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington, Andrew Wilson, EJ Gaines, Michael Sam, Randy Ponder & Kony Ealy had amazing seasons. Sam & Gaines were All-Americans. Ealy was a 2nd Rd. NFL Draft pick. Finishing 12-2 is amazing with their only losses coming to Auburn & South Carolina who I rank #2 & #4 respectively. They can’t possibly be lower.
#6 It’s weird to think of Oklahoma as being somewhat of an afterthought, but seeing him at #6 in the final Power Rankings has that feel to it. The Sooners started the season outside of the top-10 and couldn’t even crack that ranking despite starting out 5-0 with wins over Notre Dame & TCU. In the fight for his life Mack Brown & the Longhorns upended Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry 36-20 in a game Oklahoma was favored in by 12 points! That almost knocked them out of the top-20 and a 41-12 loss at Baylor secured the Big 12 title for the Bears. All wasn’t lost for Oklahoma however. They beat Oklahoma St. to end the season & the 10-2 record along with their considerable reputation landed Oklahoma a spot in the BCS Sugar Bowl where they beat #3 Alabama 45-31. So an 11-2 mark which is the best year they’ve had since 2010 where they went 12-2 and ended up….#6! In some ways Oklahoma’s run was similar to Missouri’s & Auburn’s but to a lesser extent. Nobody was betting on Oklahoma ending the year in the top-6 yet here they are, but it’s a season that seems odd because the national attention simply wasn’t on the Sooners in 2013.
#7 The truism that a lot of little bizarre things typically happen to make champions, the reverse is true in that those same little oddball things happen to remove teams from championship contention. The incredible FG attempt return TD with no time on the clock that Auburn used to beat Alabama was season changing for the Tide. Alabama started the season #1 and was 11-0 when they went into Auburn. The kicking certainly failed them there, but with that one loss, it not only cost Alabama the #1 spot but it also cost them the SEC West which prevented them from being in the SEC Championship game and ultimately the national championship game. It wasn’t the season senior QB AJ McCarron envisioned but you can’t be too made at a guy who already had won 2 national championships. Alabama finished the year in the Sugar Bowl losing to Oklahoma, but that game felt a lot like the 2008 Sugar Bowl where Alabama didn’t show up and lost to Utah in that year’s Sugar Bowl. It must be pretty nice to have a program at the point where only a national championship can satiate the fans appetite for winning. An 11-2 year? That’s a failure in Tuscaloosa.
#8 In some ways the year for the Quack Attack is much like Alabama’s season. It was a national title or bust for Oregon & 1st year HC Mark Helfrich. That sounds bizarre but Chip Kelly left the cupboards full in Eugene before setting out for Philadelphia with a road game at Stanford the only thing standing in the way of Oregon’s pursuit of the BCS Championship game. The game didn’t turn out. Despite being 10-point favorites, Stanford’s ability to slow the game down neutralized Oregon’s high flying attack & the Cardinal walked away with a 26-20 win. Amazingly enough Oregon wasn’t yet out of it because Stanford lost the following week to USC! This opened the door for Oregon to win the Pac 12 North, but alas, they lost to Arizona which meant not Pac 12 North title and settling for a 30-7 good-bye stomping of Mack Brown & Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Oregon averaged 46PPG and allowed fewer points than they have since 2010 when they went to the national championship game. Oregon was this close to getting to the Rose Bowl. Can you believe the 11-2 record is actually the worst record they’ve had in the past 4-years!? That’s insane.
#9 What I loved about Clemson’s year in 2013 is that they finished the job with beating Ohio St. in the Orange Bowl 40-35. Before that it was difficult to figure out what to do with Clemson. On the one hand they only had losses to Florida St. & South Carolina. From my rankings you could easily believe the Tigers should have finished #5 in the nation, but outside of those 2 teams, who did Clemson really beat? Ohio State!? An 8-5 Georgia team? A 7-6 Georgia Tech squad? Dabo Swinney has done an excellent job with this program. Clemson is 32-8 over the past 3 years and coming off of back-to-back 11-2 seasons. The season might feel a bit off because Clemson started out 6-0 & ranked #3 before falling 51-14 to Florida St., but the Seminoles were superior and Clemson didn’t let that get their season down. Tajh Boyd & Sammy Watkins had great years & the Clemson defense improved for the 2nd straight year. No it’s not a national championship but Clemson having another 11-2 season is fantastic and positions the program to try & take the next leap which is getting on par with a resurgent Florida St. program.
#10 Losing to Michigan St. 24-20 in the Rose Bowl shouldn’t be seen as too big a negative especially if you believe, as I do, that Michigan St. is the #3 team in the nation. Stanford represented what could have been a stinging thorn in the side of the SEC. The mid-season road loss to Utah was biting and cost the Cardinal a no-question shot at the national championship, but amazingly enough in retrospect the Cardinal could have managed it. The problem came when they laid an egg at USC. If Stanford would have beaten USC then they are playing, and likely beating Arizona St. in the Pac 12 Championship game which would have meant a potential 12-1 Stanford team against a 12-1 Auburn team for the right to play a 13-0 Florida St. squad for all the marbles. I think Stanford wins the battle. It’s a more compelling story & the contrasts in styles between Stanford & Florida St. would have made for compelling football. It’s an interesting question & given the losses, I wish Stanford would have had the chance. Still, the last 4 years they are 46-8. The 4 years before that? They were 18-31! An 11-3 record makes them a legit top-10 team.
#11 For all the embarrassment his hiring at Notre Dame, and subsequent firing before coaching a single game, you have to give credit to George O’Leary for being a helluva head coach. I don’t care where he went to school. The man can coach. When O’Leary took over the UCF program in 2004, he inherited a team that would finish 0-11 in his inaugural season! Last year the Knights won the AAC and the BCS Fiesta Bowl en route to a 12-1 season! The Knights have now won double digit games in 3 of the past 4 seasons & with Louisville moving to the ACC, UCF looks to dominate the conference for quite some time. Blake Bortles made a case for him being the best QB in college football & the 52-42 bowl win over Big XII champ Baylor was especially satisfying considering UCF didn’t back down and they were 16 point dogs going in! The naysayers will point to schedule, and while that may carry quite a bit of water, UCF was the only team that beat Louisville & did it on the road! Their only loss was by just 3 points to South Carolina. And they have the Baylor win. UCF deserves to be here & it was a great season for Bortles to go out on. Good program here.
#12 You simply can’t play the “what if” game for Baylor in 2013. This was probably the greatest year in Baylor football history so pretending the Oklahoma St. loss prevented Baylor from playing for a national championship makes this a “what if” year is ridiculous. Baylor won their first outright Big 12 title in school history. They got to their first ever BCS bowl. They got to their first major bowl of any kind in the past 33 years. Their offense set a record for most points scored in NCAA history (13 games) and the defense was pretty good too. Another thing to keep in mind is that this was also a year in which Baylor was favored in every one of their games! Has that ever happened? What was most memorable for me about this team is the game against Texas. When Oklahoma beat Oklahoma St., Baylor knew about it. Texas & Baylor were tied 3-3 at the half, but Baylor exploded for 27 in the 2nd half en route to a 30-10 convincing win in the de facto Big XII championship game that might have been the final nail in Mack Brown’s coffin in Austin. Sure they lost the Fiesta Bowl, but Art Briles has this team primed to make a repeat run. Incredible season.
#13 With the SEC West dominated by Auburn, Alabama & Johnny Manziel, all LSU did was quietly go about winning 10 games and another bowl. Anything less than a national championship is failure at LSU, and rightly so, but this is another example of little things going right for LSU. Knowing what we know now about Alabama’s loss to Auburn, if LSU hadn’t lost to Georgia & Ole Miss by a combined 6 points (both were road games) then we would have had Auburn, Alabama & LSU all tied at 7-1 in the SEC. It’s good to remember that LSU was the only team to beat Auburn in the regular season, and did so in convincing fashion 34-21 in Baton Rouge. How bad can you be when you beat the #2 team in the nation & lose 3 road games to Georgia, Ole Miss & Alabama? I’m not sure Florida St. goes 13-0 against LSU’s schedule. It’s interesting to note that LSU is 44-9 over the last 4 years. Those 9 losses have come by a combined 76 points! Take away the 38-17 & 21-0 losses to Alabama then you get 7 losses by 34 points! Great years by Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry & Odell Beckham. All NFL draftees and worthy of the honor.
#14 Looking at the season on the whole, some might argue that UCLA isn’t a top-15 team, but to me I thought they were playing like one of the best 10 teams in the nation by season’s end. The 38-33 loss to Arizona St. was tough because it would have sent UCLA to the Pac 12 Championship game against Stanford & given the Bruins an opportunity to avenge the 24-10 earlier loss at Stanford. That didn’t happen, but UCLA followed up the ASU defeat with a 35-14 hammering of arch rival USC and then destroying Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl 42-12! The 10-3 finish was the best season they’ve had since UCLA went 10-2 in 2005 under Karl Dorrell. The defense was solid allowing just 23.2PPG while the offense exploded for 36.9PPG which is the most UCLA has averaged in a season since the 2005 team averaged 39.1PPG. Rick Neuheisel couldn’t get things moving in Westwood but Jim Mora seems to be doing an incredible job. How much of that is a result of USC being regarded as “down” is up for debate, but there is no denying that UCLA was playing great football at the end of the season and the 10-3 mark could be a harbinger of things to come.
#15 Louisville & Ohio St. are basically one and the same except I’m rating Louisville here because they didn’t go out losing their last 2 games the way Ohio St. did. Granted, Louisville blew their chance at a BCS Bowl when they lost to Central Florida at home, but the followed that up with 6 wins including a 36-9 mauling of Miami-FL in the Russell Athletic Bowl. That wasn’t Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes, but the reputation is still there and beating “THE U” by 27 points is something to hang your hat on. Charlie Strong & Teddy Bridgewater went out on top with their last 2 seasons being a combined 23-3. Bridgewater is now in Minnesota while Strong takes over for Mack Brown at Texas. I could argue all day about Louisville not playing a tough enough schedule to enjoy this ranking, but the 12-1 mark was the best record Louisville has had since 2006 and the defense allowed a miniscule 12.2PPG! There was A LOT to like about this football team. The Cardinals wouldn’t have been in the national championship talk had they finished the season undefeated so ending the year 12-1 isn’t a bad thing. Now fans can await the return of Bobby Petrino!
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July 7, 2014 - Posted by | Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Clemson, Florida St., Louisville, LSU, Michigan St., Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, Power 15, South Carolina, Stanford, UCF, UCLA

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