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College football's top trends of 2013

12:18 PM, Dec 23, 2013   |    comments
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To recap the 2013 regular season, USA TODAY Sports is counting down some of the year's memorable moments, significant stories, noteworthy trends, biggest surprises and biggest disappointments. Today, we look at the regular season's five most noteworthy trends.

1. Growth of the Pac-12

The best league in college football wasn't the SEC, believe it or not, but rather the Pac-12. The league saw the investment of time, money and resources pay off in fantastic fashion - even if the conference didn't send more than one team to the BCS. The Pac-12's growth has roots in the money earned in its recent television contracts, which in turn led to schools being able to invest heavily in facilities and upgraded coaching. Only one coach in each division has spent more than three years in their current position: Mike Riley at Oregon State and Kyle Whittingham at Utah. By changing things up, by creating new construction across the board, by hiring top-flight coaches and by going toe-to-toe with the nation's best, the Pac-12 stands as a conference with a bright present and an even brighter future.

2. The Heisman is for freshmen

What's amazing is that it took until 2012 for a freshman to win the Heisman - since before Johnny Manziel, freshmen like Herschel Walker, Michael Vick and Adrian Peterson deserved better than merely a top-five finish. With Florida State's Jameis Winston following in Manziel's footsteps, the floodgates are now open. Two takeaways from Winston's follow-up to Manziel's breakthrough: one, that this could become a normal occurrence, finally; and two, recruits are arriving on campus better prepared for the grind of college football than ever before.

3. Quiet silly season

It's been quiet - too quiet, perhaps. While the Texas opening could lead to dominoes falling across the FBS, only 13 jobs have come open since September: USC, Connecticut, Arkansas State, Army, Boise State, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Miami (Ohio), Texas, Wake Forest, Washington and Wyoming. Of the 13 openings, four came open due to a coach's decision to move up the ladder - as at Arkansas State, Boise, Bowling Green and Washington. As of today, only two remain open: Army and Texas. In comparison, 31 FBS teams hired a new coach heading into the 2013 season. Not since 2006, when 11 teams made moves, has the hiring season seen so few changes.

4. A pair of BCS busters

The last year of Bowl Championship Series existence saw two teams from different conference make a push for an at-large bid. This was very rare: While two non-AQ teams have made simultaneous runs at the BCS, not since 2009 have the two challengers come from different leagues - as in 2009, when Boise State and TCU ended up meeting in the Fiesta Bowl, Northern Illinois and Fresno State spent much of the season with one eye on the other. Unfortunately, both slipped up down the stretch: Fresno lost to San Jose State on Nov. 29, and NIU lost to Bowling Green in the MAC title game a week later.

5. SEC's offensive explosion

One game can encapsulate the SEC's move towards offense after a decade of defense-first dominance: Alabama meets LSU on Nov. 10, and both enter that Saturday averaging at least 40 points per game. Yes, things have changed. As the SEC enters the postseason, nine teams average at least 426.2 yards per game; as recently as 2011, only two SEC teams - Arkansas and Alabama - averaged that many yards per game. Six teams rank among the nation's top 26 in yards gained per game, with two in the top 11, while only five sit in the top 25 in total defense. The shift toward offense, which began in 2012, took full flight in 2013.


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