Florida State has been on an incredible run this season, as evidenced by a 13-0 record, a No. 1 ranking and a matchup with Auburn for all the marbles Jan. 6 in the BCS National Championship.
On the offensive side of the football, freshman quarterback Jameis Winston—the school's third Heisman Trophy winner—directs an attack that is currently second in the country in points per game (53.0) and fifth in total yards (529.4), plus FSU's 90 touchdowns lead the nation. Defensively, senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and Co. are the stingiest unit on the scoreboard (10.7 points allowed) and against the pass (152.0 yards allowed) on a per-game basis, with their 17 TDs allowed tying Alabama for the fewest in FBS.
The Seminoles, by the way, have played one more game than the Crimson Tide.
Fourth-year coach Jimbo Fisher has now emerged from the considerable shadow cast by his predecessor, two-time national champion Bobby Bowden, as the 'Noles finally played like a program loaded with 4- and 5-star signees—there were no head-scratching losses to an undermanned Wake Forest team or an outclassed Virginia squad. Say what you will about a relatively weak schedule, but aside from a spirited effort Sept. 28 by Boston College in Chestnut Hill, no opponent managed to stay within 27 points once the final gun had been fired.
With a week to go before the Garnet and Gold suit up opposite the SEC-champion Tigers in Pasadena, here are 13 particularly memorable moments we witnessed in 2013, one from each of Florida State's baker's dozen of victories.
Florida State 41, Pittsburgh 13 (Sept. 2)
The Panthers started strong and drove all the way down the field on their opening possession to take an early 7-0 lead, but Winston responded in the opening quarter with the first of his 38 touchdown passes on the season: a 24-yard beauty to junior tight end Nick O'Leary. Showing the savvy of a fifth-year senior, the 19-year-old felt pressure from the right and slid to his left, saw the free safety vacate the middle of the field and launched a perfect throw down the hash mark before O'Leary had even made his break to daylight.
Not only did Winston have the prototypical size and arm talent necessary to be a difference-maker at the game's most important position, but he also quickly proved to possess the schematic understanding and mental awareness usually set aside for the all-time greats.
Florida State 62, Nevada 7 (Sept. 14)
A disappointment for two years considering the raw physical ability he brings to the table, junior Karlos Williams was switched from safety to running back and given third-string duties behind junior ball-carriers Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. The 6'1", 223-pounder responded with a 65-yard touchdown blastoff in the third quarter—on his first career carry, no less—to push the advantage to 31-7.
Williams seemingly became a bigger part of the game plan week after week, to the point where he's expected to be first relief for Freeman off the bench in the title game ahead of Wilder.
Florida State 54, Bethune-Cookman 6 (Sept. 21)
With the overmatched Wildcats putting together an impressive drive to start the game, senior linebacker Telvin Smith put an end to any Appalachian State-like thoughts by intercepting a pass and returning it 68 yards for the initial points. BCU didn't dent the scoreboard until the midway point of the third quarter, when it was already 40-0 and the Seminoles had fielded second- and third-teamers.
A linebacker in a safety's body, Smith went on to be a first-team All-ACC pick and presently projects as a second- or third-round selection in the NFL draft.
Florida State 48, Boston College 34 (Sept. 28)
With the game all knotted up at 17 and FSU in the middle of a dogfight it didn't anticipate, Winston closed the first-half festivities by connecting with senior receiver Kenny Shaw on a 55-yard touchdown strike to give his team an unexpected lead heading into the locker room. Winston evaded two pass-rushers and got popped in the mouth by a third just before letting go of the football, as it landed safely in the arms of Shaw behind one-on-one coverage.
The 'Noles went on to outscore the Eagles 14-10 in the third quarter and then 10-7 in the fourth to escape an upset bid at Alumni Stadium.
Florida State 63, Maryland 0 (Oct. 5)
With the Terrapins undefeated and ranked 25th in the country, due in large part to dual-threat senior quarterback C.J. Brown leading the ACC in total offense at the time, an FSU defense that looked vulnerable seven days prior at BC would be put to the test. But Brown ended up taking more punches at Doak Campbell Stadium than he threw, as he was sidelined in the second quarter with a concussion—senior defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel hit him high, while senior linebacker Dan Hicks hit him low.
The Terps were held to 234 total yards and never sniffed the AP poll for the rest of the season.
Florida State 51, Clemson 14 (Oct. 19)
Arguably the biggest showdown in conference history couldn't have started better for the Seminoles, as a 22-yard touchdown pass from Winston to sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin and a 28-yard field goal from freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo resulted in a quick 10-0 lead. If Memorial Stadium was relatively quiet then, it was downright silent following a 37-yard fumble return to paydirt by sophomore defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. on the ensuing Tigers possession.
A would-be brawl turned into a ho-hum beatdown, with Winston performing like a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender and Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd struggling like a wide-eyed freshman.
Florida State 49, North Carolina State 17 (Oct. 26)
A letdown would have been forgivable considering the mental energy expended the week before in Death Valley, but instead the 'Noles sprinted out to a ridiculous 35-0 advantage in the first quarter against the overwhelmed Wolfpack. Winston fired TD tosses to Benjamin, O'Leary and junior receiver Rashad Greene, while both Williams and Freeman found the end zone on the ground.
FSU extended the lead to 42-0 in the second frame and put it on cruise control the rest of the way, with myriad backups and reserves again seeing considerable action after intermission.
Florida State 41, Miami 14 (Nov. 2)
Freeman, a Miami native determined to harass his hometown Hurricanes every chance he got, scored the last of his three touchdowns on a 12-yard scamper with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter. While UM hung with the Seminoles for the better part of two-and-a-half periods, Freeman's hat trick pushed FSU's edge to 35-14 to essentially put away the bitter state rival for good.
The 5'9", 203-pounder only averaged 3.4 yards per carry on the ground but continually moved the chains and added a team-leading 98 yards on six grabs out of the backfield.
Florida State 59, Wake Forest 3 (Nov. 9)
FSU's offense put on a fireworks display in the first quarter, producing touchdown runs by Wilder and Freeman and a TD catch by Benjamin, but it was the Seminole D that stole the show in the second frame. Freshman cornerback Nate Andrews returned an interception 56 yards for a score, and then freshman safety Jalen Ramsey visited the painted area courtesy of a 23-yard fumble return to make it 35-0—the two plays happened on back-to-back offensive snaps by the Demon Deacons.
The 'Noles were starting to feel every bit as scary on defense as they'd been all season long on offense, limiting Wake to eight first downs, 166 total yards and an anemic 2.6 yards per play.
Florida State 59, Syracuse 3 (Nov. 16)
As if the three-headed monster of Freeman, Wilder and Williams wasn't enough for opponents on the ground, freshman receiver Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield took a toss sweep from Winston in the first quarter and weaved his way on a crazy 74-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0 less than five minutes into the contest. The rout was on, as the 'Noles led 28-0 after one, 38-0 after two and 59-0 after three—the 'Cuse booted a 32-yard field goal in the final stanza to avoid being blanked.
Auburn has more than likely watched that play on film several times and dedicated some practice reps to help defend it if Whitfield happens to line up behind Winston at Rose Bowl Stadium.
Florida State 80, Idaho 14 (Nov. 23)
Freshman linebacker E.J. Levenberry, a potential star in Tallahassee relegated to mop-up duty most of 2013, intercepted a Vandals pass and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown with 4:19 remaining in the fourth quarter. Once Aguayo split the uprights on the extra point, the Seminoles had cracked the 80-point barrier for the first time ever.
With the likes of Levenberry and fellow freshmen Ukeme Eligwe and Matthew Thomas on the roster, the 'Noles appear to be loaded at the linebacker position for the foreseeable future.
Florida State 37, Florida 7 (Nov. 30)
The Seminoles woke up from an early 3-0 deficit in the second quarter when Winston connected with Shaw on a skinny post for 27 improbable yards on 3rd-and-26, but it was four snaps later when the hated Gators began to realize they were in a heap of trouble. Winston found Benjamin over the middle and watched in amazement as the 6'5", 234-pounder bounced off a handful of UF defenders on his way to the end zone and a 7-3 lead.
It was the first of three TDs for Benjamin, as he wrapped up his afternoon with nine catches for an eye-popping 212 yards—and he should have had even more since he dropped one or two easy ones.
Florida State 45, Duke 7 (Dec. 7)
With 2:38 remaining in the third quarter and FSU already comfortably ahead 31-0, Winston put one last highlight on tape for Heisman Trophy voters when he hurdled into the end zone on a 17-yard scoring scramble. While the pride of Hueytown High School in Bessemer, Ala., was picked off twice by the Blue Devils, he threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns to bring his season totals to 3,820 and 38, respectively—a week later he was awarded the game's most coveted individual honor by a healthy margin.
The Seminoles wrapped up a spot in the national championship game as the lone unbeaten in the land, with an unprecedented 14-0 record and third crystal football on the line next Monday in prime time.
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In Bill O'Brien's second season as head coach, the Penn State Nittany Lions certainly had their fair share of ups and downs in 2013.
There were the memorable games like Michigan and Wisconsin; moments that seemed to put Penn State back on the map. Then there were the frustrating times—like Indiana and Minnesota—that fans longed to forget.
A 7-5 record to finish the season was a slight step back from the 8-4 campaign of 2012. But considering what the program has been through the last two years, it's still something to be proud of.
After every year, it's nice to look back on some of the top plays that were made. Without further ado, here are the five best moments from Penn State's 2013 season.
With the Irish having trudged through their 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers, Brian Kelly can get onto the task of replacing both of his coordinators. In his postgame press conference, the Irish head coach said he's still thinking about what to do with his offense after Chuck Martin left for the Miami (Ohio) head coaching job. But he revealed that the hiring of a defensive coordinator from outside the program is imminent.
Multiple reports have that hire being New York Jets linebackers coach Brian VanGorder. The 54-year-old coach has spent 24 years in college or professional football, working with Kelly at Grand Valley State from 1989 to '91. VanGorder served as Kelly's first defensive coordinator before leaving for the head coaching job at Wayne State, his alma mater.
That move was the first of many for VanGorder and his family, with the potential move to South Bend his 11th since leaving Grand Valley. But for Irish fans desperately wondering if VanGorder can keep the Irish defense moving forward, two successful stints at both the college and NFL level should have Domers breathing easy.
VanGorder became one of the SEC's premiere coordinators while orchestrating Mark Richt's Georgia defense. Over four seasons, he helped the Bulldogs finish three years in the AP top ten, while putting together three units that ranked in the top ten in scoring defense. For his work in Athens, VanGorder won the Broyles Award in 2003, the same award given to Diaco in 2012.
VanGorder left Georgia to test himself in the NFL, joining Jack Del Rio's Jacksonville staff. After a short stint as the Georgia Southern head coach, he landed with the Atlanta Falcons, eventually coordinating Mike Smith's defense between 2008-11. The Falcons posted four consecutive winning seasons with VanGorder calling the defense (the first time in franchise history), winning 43 regular season games over that period.
But when Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs matched Kirby Smart's contract and made VanGorder the highest paid assistant in college football, he returned to the SEC, working the 2012 season at Auburn before Gene Chizik and his staff were fired.
Notre Dame has yet to confirm what multiple credible media outlets call a done deal. But Kelly's comments after the game make it seem like the only thing left is red tape. Let's take a look at the direction VanGorder could take the Irish.
One of the biggest differences between VanGorder and Diaco is their base defense. As VanGorder confirmed in his introductory press conference at Auburn, his preference is to play a four man front, the opposite of Diaco's base set.
All that being said, both coaches believe in being multiple up front, with the Irish running splitting their looks almost 50/50 the past two seasons.
"I'm a 4-3 guy," VanGorder said in January, 2012. "Having said that, we consider ourselves basing off the 4-3, but multiple in its makeup. That's today's football. I think you have to be able to do that, but we'll base out of the 4-3."
VanGorder spent this season coaching under Rex Ryan, one of the foremost innovators in the 3-4 defense. That experience will likely come in handy as VanGorder gets set to work under another head coach that prefers basing out of a 3-4 set.
If there's one change that Irish fans will welcome most it's VanGorder's preference to attack. With the Falcons, VanGorder ran more zone blitzes than any other team in the league. While Diaco put much of his focus on point prevention and staying away from the big play, VanGorder's hallmarks seem to be blitzing, attacking and creating confusion.
As the Irish defense showed early this season, when they gambled in man coverage or with exotic blitzes, they often got hurt by big plays. It happened in Ann Arbor, when Michigan's offense continued to win one-on-one battles, and continued against Oklahoma, when a slant route broke for a long touchdown.
VanGorder might also give the Irish an edge schematically. Known as an innovator throughout his time at both the college and professional level, a defense that was sometimes tagged as vanilla could take advantage of a few new schemes after four seasons of a focus on the fundamentals under Diaco.
Where both VanGorder and Diaco are aligned is their energy level and their commitment to excellence. While interim defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks seems to exude calm and cool, VanGorder will bring the same frenetic energy that Diaco showed on the practice field.
"I saw a coach who I think can make that transition being a defensive coordinator at the college level from where he was in the NFL, because he’s got energy, he’s enthusiastic," Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer told the South Bend Tribune. "He’s the guy when the pack is running from one station to another in training camp, he’s the first one there. He’s not walking there. He’s running. He’s leading by example."
One of the big reasons that the media hasn't had access to assistant coaches much these past few seasons is Kelly's preference to have the staff speak as one voice. While it's taken away our access to characters like Diaco and Martin, it's something that Harry Hiestand appreciated when arriving in South Bend.
VanGorder understands that part of the business. Having spent stints in the NFL and the SEC, he knows football at the highest level. But VanGorder also seems comfortable with the role he has on a coaching staff, understanding what it is the coordinator does for the head coach.
While they may see defenses differently, both VanGorder and Diaco understand exactly how Brian Kelly wants to operate his football program.
Want proof? Here's an interesting snippet from VanGorder's introduction at Auburn, where he details his job, and the work he'll do to make sure the head message is understood completely.
"I think philosophically as Gene [Chizik] sets the table with that, and then I carry that message to the guys," VanGorder said. "It has to be very clear that as a football team, this is the mission and the things that have to follow in making that mission work. That is the commitment part of it that is so crucial."
Match those comments up with those from Diaco to Irish Illustrated last week:
"I fit with the boss. Whether it was articulated to me game-to-game or season-to-season, I just did it," Diaco told Irish Illustrated. "We did it as a defensive staff. We knew that to win games, we were going to have to do our business a particular way."
Heading into the fifth year of Kelly's tenure at Notre Dame, the head coach is looking for ways to push the program forward. On paper, the hiring of VanGorder looks to do it.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes gathered firsthand. Follow @KeithArnold.
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LSU fans predicted before the season began that the Tigers would play Iowa in the Outback Bowl, right?
Most fans figured the Tigers would lose some games due to an arduous schedule and their high roster turnover, so playing in a New Year's Day Bowl is not the worst consolation prize.
The Tigers will look to give Les Miles his seventh 10-win season in Baton Rouge with a win over the Hawkeyes while Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz will attempt to defeat an SEC opponent in the Outback Bowl for a second time after beating South Carolina in 2009.
Expect old-school smash-mouth football when the Tigers and Hawkeyes meet. Miles and Ferentz would not have it any other way.
LSU and Iowa have only faced each other once before, when the Hawkeyes snuck by the Tigers in the 2005 Capital One Bowl, thanks to the late heroics of quarterback Drew Tate.
Here are a few helpful details for this season's Outback Bowl:
Time: 1 ET
Place: Raymond James Stadium
Spread: LSU by 7, via Scores and Odds
The 2013-14 football season was disappointing in many ways for Bronco Nation.
The Broncos finished the year 8-5 overall, which was their worst record since 1998 when they finished 6-5 as members of the Big West.
They also had to endure season-ending injuries to several key players, including excellent backup running back Aaron Baltazar, offensive spark plug Shane Williams-Rhodes and starting quarterback Joe Southwick.
The season seemed to go from bad to worse as Boise State lost crucial games, including one to San Diego State. It was not only the first time in a long time the Broncos lost to a conference opponent two seasons in a row, but the 34-31 heartbreaking overtime loss also hindered them from earning a spot in the first-ever Mountain West title game.
The biggest loss for Boise State, however, was in early December when the team would lose its head coach Chris Petersen after he decided to leave Boise to become the new head man for the Washington Huskies.
Not long after that, promising freshman running back Aaron Baltazar decided to leave the team for undisclosed reasons.
But, the difficulties didn't stop there.
It was, without much doubt, the worst season in over a decade for the team that has made winning look so easy.
However, adversity has never kept Boise State football down for long. Helen Keller once said:
Be of good cheer. Do not think of today's failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.
Even if this season brought difficulty and hardship for the Broncos and their fans, the truth is that all of the blood, sweat, tears and hard work will not be wasted. This is a program that has never rolled over and played dead.
And, if history is any indication, this team will rise from the ashes of this season and continue its ascension in the college football universe.
Of course, the 2013-14 season was not without some high points for the Broncos either.
There were some very impressive and excellent moments along the way. Let's look at five such moments in a celebration of the things that did go right for Boise State in 2013 and what it might mean for this program going forward.