Four is the magic number for CFB


The best things in life seem to come fours. There are four bars in a Kit Kat and four presidents on Mount Rushmore. There are four seasons, four cardinal directions and four suits of playing cards.

Many of the greatest rock and roll bands were quartets: The Beatles, Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Kiss and Pink Floyd.

Three never seems to be enough, and five always seems to be too many.

College football has four downs, four quarters, four years of eligibility and, of course, the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. There's the 4-3 defense or the 3-4, and the most coveted measurement of any player might still be a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.

Finally, this coming season, the sport will have a four-team playoff to determine its national championship.

While the new system probably won't rid the sport of controversy, it gives two more teams a chance to win a national championship and finally settles the debate on the field.

Here's a look at what to expect this coming season, in fours, of course:

Four reasons FSU will defend its crown

1. Jameis Winston

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner completed 66.9 percent of his passes with 40 touchdown passes in 2013 -- in his first season as a starter. With another full offseason under his belt, Winston might be even better in Year 2.

2. Offensive line

The Seminoles will have to replace Bryan Stork, the 2013 Rimington Trophy winner as the country's top center, but they'll bring back four starters up front. The Seminoles expect to start five seniors on the line, including a dominant left side of tackle Cameron Erving and guard Josue Matias.

3. Roberto Aguayo

Legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden is probably still having nightmares about kickers, but Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award as the country's top kicker in 2013. He converted 21 of 22 field goals and an ACC record 94 extra points without a miss.

4. Karlos Williams

The former safety moved to tailback two games into the 2013 season and finished with 730 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns, averaging 8.0 yards per carry. The senior from Davenport, Florida, takes over as the No. 1 tailback after Devonta Freeman left for the NFL.

Four reasons FSU won't defend its crown

1. Defensive attrition

FSU lost a ton of leadership on defense, including nose guard Timmy Jernigan, linebacker Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. Plus, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt unexpectedly left for the same job at Georgia.

2. Schedule

The Seminoles might still have the easiest path to the playoff of any team in a Power Five conference, but their nonconference schedule is more demanding this season. The Seminoles open the season against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, and play home games against Notre Dame on Oct. 18 and Florida in the regular-season finale.

3. Pruitt was really that good

The Seminoles' transition from former defensive coordinator Mark Stoops (now Kentucky's coach) to Pruitt was nearly seamless in 2013. This coming season, FSU will have its third defensive coordinator in as many years, after coach Jimbo Fisher promoted linebackers coach Charles Kelly to coordinator.

4. More off-field troubles

Winston's off-field troubles have been well documented, from a lengthy investigation into an alleged sexual assault to shoplifting crab legs from a grocery store. At least we know he won't be spending a lot of time answering questions on Twitter.

Heisman favorites

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

If Winston is as good as last year (or better), he might become only the second two-time Heisman Trophy winner, joining Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, who won the stiff-arm trophy in 1974-75.

2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

As a sophomore, Mariota completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 3,665 yards with 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also ran for 715 yards with nine scores.

3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

When Gurley is healthy, he's the most explosive player in college football. He ran for 1,385 yards with 17 touchdowns as a freshman in 2011, then had 989 yards with 10 scores last season, despite missing most of four games with injuries.

4. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

The triggerman in Baylor's fast-paced offense, Petty passed for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions in 403 pass attempts -- in his first season as a starter. Baylor coach Art Briles expects him to be even better in 2014.

Quarterback terrors

1. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson

A former high school running back, Beasley had 64 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 21 sacks and 20 quarterback pressures in his first 35 games.

2. Leonard Williams, DE, USC

After moving from tackle to end as a sophomore, Williams had 74 tackles, 13 ½ tackles for loss and six sacks for the Trojans in 2013. He's expected to play both positions this coming season.

3. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

Calhoun looks to be MSU's next defensive star, after scoring a school-record three defensive touchdowns in 2013. He also had 7 ½ sacks, four fumble recoveries and 14 tackles for loss last season.

4. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State

Perhaps the best player on the country's best defensive line, Bennett had 44 tackles, 11 ½ tackles for loss and 7 ½ sacks last season. The son of two West Point graduates, he's the undisputed leader of OSU's defense.

Fabulous freshmen

1. Leonard Fournette, LSU

It might not take the country's No. 1 recruit very long to become LSU's every-down tailback. He ran for more than 7,600 yards with 88 touchdowns at Saint Augustine High School in New Orleans.

2. Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

The Aggies have to replace quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans, but offensive coordinator Jake Spavital is already comparing Noil to Tavon Austin, whom he coached at West Virginia.

3. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

A two-time state champion in both the 100- and 200-yard dash in his native New Jersey, Peppers is already being called Michigan's best defensive back since Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson.

4. Cam Robinson, Alabama

Robinson, the country's No. 3 overall prospect according to ESPN RecruitingNation, might end up starting at left tackle on Alabama's offensive line. He'd be the first true freshman to start there for the Tide since Andre Smith in 2006.

Hot offensive coordinators

1. Philip Montgomery, Baylor

Briles gets much-deserved credit for Baylor's dramatic turnaround, but Montgomery dials up the plays for its high-flying offense. The Bears averaged an FBS-high 52.4 points per game last season.

2. Chad Morris, Clemson

The fact that Morris, a former Texas high school coach, isn't already a college head coach is a major coup for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring (40.2 points) and passing (333.1 yards) in 2013.

3. Tom Herman, Ohio State

Before directing Urban Meyer's spread offense, Herman produced high-scoring offenses at Iowa State, Rice and Texas State. The Buckeyes were No. 3 in scoring (45.5 points) and rushing (308.6 yards) last season.

4. Mike Bobo, Georgia

The former UGA quarterback rarely gets enough credit from his alma mater's fickle fan base, but his offenses have broken nearly every record in school history. He also helped recruit Gurley, tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Malcolm Mitchell to UGA.

Hot defensive coordinators

1. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State

Along with Spartans coach Mark Dantonio, Narduzzi has built one of the country's most menacing defenses at Michigan State. He'll be at the top of the list for most head-coaching vacancies by season's end.

2. Kirby Smart, Alabama

It might be a surprise that Smart hasn't left Alabama for a head-coaching position, but why leave when you're making more than $1 million with more job security than any other coordinator in America?

3. Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia

Pruitt's stingy defense helped Florida State win a national championship last season. Now, he'll have to rebuild a UGA defense that might be short on talent and depth.

4. Ellis Johnson, Auburn

The longtime coordinator worked a miracle on the Plains last season, rebuilding a defense that helped the Tigers win the SEC and reach the BCS National Championship.

Coaches on the hot seat

1. Will Muschamp, Florida

Muschamp led Florida to an 11-2 record in 2012, but its 4-8 finish last season was one of the worst in UF history. He's confident the Gators will rebound in 2014.

2. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Since a 5-0 start in 2012, the Mountaineers have dropped 14 of their last 20 games. WVU's defense can't seem to stop anybody, and Holgorsen's once-electrifying offense even sputtered last season.

3. Charlie Weis, Kansas

The Jayhawks have gone 4-20 in Weis' two seasons, including a 1-11 mark in 2012. At least he's still receiving paychecks from Notre Dame and Kansas.

4. Mike London, Virginia

London was hired to shore up Virginia's instate recruiting, which he has largely accomplished. But the Cavaliers are 18-31 under his watch, including a woeful 8-24 in ACC games.

Steve Spurrier's best offseason quotes

1. "Dabo probably thinks there's only, what, nine planets out there. I think I read where Pluto may not be considered one now." -- On Swinney, who suggested Spurrier was from Pluto and he from Mars

2. "How many SECs has [Saban] won there in eight years? He's won two. He's won three nationals, but he's only won two SECs in eight years. Now, if you had the No. 1 recruiting class every year and so forth, I don't know if he has maxed out potentially as well as he could." -- On Nick Saban's success at Alabama

3. "Kevin Sumlin is a good coach. He's a good negotiator, too. We know that. He's got a good deal." -- On Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who signed a six-year, $30 million extension in December

4. "I'm actually from Tennessee, and I always was taught the hero of the Alamo was Davy Crockett. Bonham, it's a good story, and he did some good things. I always thought Crockett and those 33 Tennessee guys was the hero." -- On a trophy being given to the Texas A&M-South Carolina winner every season, which will reportedly depict James Bonham, Alamo hero and USC alumnus

Best comeback candidates

1. Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame

Golson guided Notre Dame to a spot in the 2013 BCS National Championship, but then missed all of last season because of an academic suspension. He spent his time working with quarterback guru George Whitfield and improved as a passer.

2. Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State

Thomas nearly backed out of his letter of intent with the Seminoles, and then missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. He'll be counted on heavily to help replace Telvin Smith and departed linebacker Christian Jones.

3. Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M

Jones scored on a 71-yard catch-and-run against Rice in last season's opener, but injured his knee on the play and missed the rest of the season. He's a big target and is athletic enough to work out of the slot.

4. Austin Hill, WR, Arizona

Hill caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2012, but then blew out his knee in spring practice last year. He's fully healthy and might be poised for a huge senior season.

Best offseason pranks

1. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini led the Cornhuskers through the tunnel for their spring game carrying a cat, poking fun at the @FauxPelini Twitter account.

2. Washington coach Chris Petersen unveiled hideous new uniforms to the Huskies on April Fools' Day.

3. Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt dressed as a mannequin wearing a football uniform and spooked his teammates as they walked into the school's football building.

4. Pelini secretly modeled Nebraska's new "Red Rising" uniform for players at a team meeting at the start of two-a-days.

Top transfers

1. Jake Coker, QB, Alabama (from FSU)

FSU's coaches continue to say that Coker narrowly missed beating out Winston for the starting job last season. At Alabama, he'll have the unenviable job of replacing AJ McCarron, who had a 36-4 record as the Tide's starter.

2. Michael Brewer, QB, Virginia Tech (from Texas Tech)

Brewer was supposed to be Texas Tech's starting quarterback last season, until a back injury forced him to sit until October. After throwing for 440 yards with five touchdowns in 13 games in two seasons, he's the favorite to replace Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech.

3. Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois (from Oklahoma State)

The former four-star recruit passed for 1,108 yards with six touchdowns in six games for the Pokes in 2012, but then transferred back to his home state and sat out last season. He has a big arm and seems to be a good fit for coordinator Bill Cubit's offense.

4. Gunner Kiel, QB, Cincinnati (from Notre Dame)

Things didn't work out for Kiel at Notre Dame, where his uncle Blair was a starting quarterback. He'll try to revive his fledgling career with the Bearcats, who have to replace departed starter Brendon Kay.

Potential spoilers from non-Power Five conferences

1. Marshall Thundering Herd (Conference USA)

Quarterback Rakeem Cato is back after throwing for 3,916 yards with 39 touchdowns last season. The Thundering Herd might be the best bet to go unbeaten -- they don't play an opponent from a Power Five conference.

2. Cincinnati Bearcats (AAC)

If Kiel or Munchie Legaux, who is coming back from a bad knee injury, provides stability at quarterback, the Bearcats are probably the team to beat in the AAC. They'll get two chances to make some early noise with road games at Ohio State on Sept. 27 and Miami on Oct. 11.

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Independent)

The Fighting Irish get back Golson and they're really excited about redshirt freshman tailback Greg Bryant, who missed most of last season with a knee injury. But ND's schedule is again a bear, with road games at FSU, Arizona State and USC and home games against Michigan, Stanford and North Carolina.

4. Houston Cougars (AAC)

The Cougars lost four of their last five games in 2013 (three to ranked opponents), but an 8-5 finish was a nice turnaround in coach Tony Levine's second full season. With quarterback John O'Korn and receiver Deontay Greenberry coming back, Houston's offense will be difficult to stop.

Programs rising

1. UCLA Bruins

The Bruins have a hot coach (Jim Mora) and a Heisman Trophy contender (quarterback Brett Hundley). With USC still fighting the effects of scholarship reductions from NCAA probation, UCLA has suddenly become the hot team in L.A.

2. Florida Gators

After a 4-8 disaster in 2013, in which the Gators lost to FCS foe Georgia Southern at the Swamp, Muschamp needs a big year. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper might be just what the doctor ordered -- if quarterback Jeff Driskel stays healthy.

3. Kansas State Wildcats

After winning a Big 12 title in 2012, the Wildcats took a step back last season, losing four of their first six games and finishing 8-5. Coach Bill Snyder won't let complacency and entitlement be factors this season.

4. Penn State Nittany Lions

Former Penn State coach Bill O'Brien kept the program afloat through NCAA sanctions, and now James Franklin seems poised to make it a Big Ten contender again. If quarterback Christian Hackenberg sticks around for four years, the Nittany Lions' future looks really bright.

Programs falling

1. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

It's hard to believe that it has been only three years since Greg Schiano was chopping wood at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have fallen off the map without him, going 15-11 under Kyle Flood. It won't be any easier in the Big Ten.

2. Texas A&M Aggies

It's hard enough to move on without Manziel and Evans. The Aggies will also have to try and survive in college football's toughest division without an SEC-caliber defense. They might take a big step back in 2014.

3. Louisville Cardinals

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and coach Charlie Strong are gone. Sure, Bobby Petrino is a heck of a football coach, but can the Cardinals survive without Bridgewater in their first season in the ACC?

4. Utah Utes

After winning 33 games from 2008 to 2010, the Utes combined to win only 18 games in their first three seasons in the Pac-12, including a woeful 9-18 mark in conference games. The Utes get back quarterback Travis Wilson this season, but they play road games at Michigan, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State and Stanford.

Best nonconference games

1. Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6

Offense vs. defense. Pac-12 vs. Big Ten. Nike vs. the Rust Belt. The Spartans and Ducks might both be contenders for a spot in the four-team playoff, but the loser is going to be reeling after Week 2.

2. Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6

Sure, the Wolverines and Fighting Irish are coming off disappointing seasons. But it's the last matchup between the traditional powers for a quite a while. The winner claims bragging rights for a long, long time.

3. Texas vs. UCLA, Sept. 13 (Arlington, Texas)

Strong, who replaced Mack Brown at UT, could go a long way in silencing his critics with an early-season victory over the Bruins, who have aspirations of winning the Pac-12. UT's defense will be a difficult test for Hundley and UCLA's offense.

4. South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29

Spurrier loves nothing more than beating Clemson, which the Gamecocks have done in each of the last five seasons. With the way Spurrier and Swinney trade verbal jabs, it might be college football's hottest rivalry outside of the Iron Bowl.

Worst nonconference games

1. NC State vs. Presbyterian, Sept. 20

The Wolfpack must be pretty desperate to improve on a 3-9 finish in 2013. The Blue Hose haven't had a winning season since 2007 and have won 15 games the last six seasons combined.

2. Marshall vs. Rhode Island, Sept. 6

The Thundering Herd will play arguably the country's softest schedule and their home game against the Rams is the biggest cupcake. The Rams went 3-9 last season, losing their last two games by a combined score of 86-0.

3. Alabama vs. Western Carolina, Nov. 22

The Catamounts are this season's pre-Iron Bowl sacrifice for the Crimson Tide. Western Carolina went 2-10 last season, losing badly to Virginia Tech (45-3) and Auburn (62-3).

4. Grambling State at Houston, Sept. 6

The Tigers' problems have been well documented, as Eddie Robinson's once-proud program has fallen on hard times, on and off the field. Grambling State went a combined 2-21 the last two seasons and dropped its last four games against Power Five foes by a combined score of 194-23.

Best revenge games

1. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29

Crimson Tide fans might never get over Auburn's Chris Davis returning a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown on the final play of a 34-28 loss to the Tigers in last season's Iron Bowl. Saban's decision to try a field goal might have cost the Tide a chance to play for a third straight BCS championship.

2. Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8

The Spartans knocked the Buckeyes out of the BCS Championship game with a 34-24 upset in the Big Ten championship game, which ended OSU's 24-game winning streak. This year's matchup might decide which team wins the Big Ten's East Division.

3. Auburn at Georgia, Nov. 15

Georgia's 43-38 loss to Auburn last season was just as devastating as Alabama's stunning defeat in the Iron Bowl. Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall, a former UGA defensive back, threw a 73-yard touchdown to Ricardo Louis -- after two Bulldogs defenders knocked the ball into the air with 25 seconds left.

4. BYU at Texas, Sept. 6

Last season, the Cougars ran for a school-record 550 yards in a 40-21 victory over the Longhorns. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill ran for 259 yards with three touchdowns, second most by an FBS quarterback in the last 10 years.

Four things we won't miss from 2013

1. Legends and Leaders

The Big Ten's ill-fated attempt at marketing ended after only three seasons, as the conference realigned its divisions and renamed them "East" and "West" with Maryland and Rutgers joining the league this season.

2. Fraudulent "targeting calls"

A rules change allows officials to not only overturn ejections on "targeting" personal fouls, but also the accompanying 15-yard penalty, which stood even if overturned by instant replay last season.

3. Low hits on quarterbacks

A new rule will prevent defenders from hitting players in a passing motion -- or with one or two feet on the ground -- at or below the knee. Essentially, players have to hit opponents below the neck and above the knees.

4. AT&T Park

The San Francisco Giants' home seemed awkward for hosting a college bowl game from the start, especially with both teams having to share the same sideline because of the baseball configuration. The Fight Hunger Bowl moves to Levi's Stadium, home of the 49ers, this coming season.

New gameday traditions

1. Sailgating at Baylor

Tennessee's "Vol Navy" and Washington's "Husky Harbor" will have some company this coming season. Baylor's new McLane Stadium is located on the Brazos River, and the school plans to construct 16 boats slips and more tie-up posts outside the stadium.

2. Razorback Rooftop

Arkansas officials have set aside an area of Reynolds Razorback Stadium for students to sit and socialize while watching the Razorbacks play. The club area, located above the south end zone, will include a live DJ, couches, TVs, high-top tables and grab-and-go concessions.

3. Web surfing

Many schools across the country have added Wi-Fi service to their stadiums for fans' convenience. Wisconsin spent $6.2 million to add Wi-Fi at Camp Randall Stadium, and Nebraska spent $12.3 million to outfit Memorial Stadium with Wi-Fi and an improved sound system.

4. Pitt rifles

For the first time in its history, the Pitt Band will include rifles during its halftime shows. The color guard rifles are "mock wooden rifles that are descended from traditional military color guards," according to the band's Twitter account.

Stadium foods

1. Smoked 'n' Fried Bacon Rings

Baylor's new concession menu will include these salty delectable bites: thick-cut onion rings dipped in Sriracha and wrapped in bacon, smoked for an hour and then deep-fried.

2. Buckeye O'wich

Last season, Ohio State introduced this sweet concoction: melted chocolate and peanut butter served warm between two French toast slices.

3. Walking Taco

A fan favorite at Missouri's Faurot Field, the Walking Taco is a bag of Doritos, topped with taco meat, lettuce, salsa, sour cream and cheddar cheese.

4. Badger Stack

A favorite before Big Ten noon games, the Badger Stack is a not-so-healthy snack of a Johnsonville brat served with an egg patty and slice of American cheese on a fresh bun.


1. Helmet cams

Schutt Vision helmets are equipped with a 720 p HD video camera that allows coaches to watch action from a player's birds-eye view. Auburn, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon, Texas and a handful of other teams are using the helmets in preseason camp. NCAA rules prevent the schools from using the helmet cams in games, though.

2. GPS

FSU will continue to use a GPS system to monitor players' acceleration rates, heart rates and speed. Chris Jacobs, an actual rocket scientist, monitors the Seminoles' movements during practices and workouts.

3. Field Turf

OK, so it's not an entirely new innovation, but Notre Dame has finally installed Field Turf at Notre Dame Stadium after having (really, really tall) natural grass for 84 years. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly hopes the new surface will help his team run faster.

4. Scratch-and-sniff tickets

Oregon, thanks to Nike founder Phil Knight's fat checkbook, has been a leader in innovation. The Ducks are introducing scratch-and-sniff tickets to fans this coming season -- that will smell like Carl's Jr.'s fresh-baked buns. When Oregon revealed the aromatic tickets, Stanford officials immediately Tweeted that their tickets will smell like roses. Ouch.