Category Archives: Custom Jerseys

Holy Spirit football star E’Lijah Gray chooses D-I Merrimack College

E’lijah Gray had a familiar feeling the first time he stepped onto the campus of Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts.

“It was just like Holy Spirit,” Gray said. “Everybody there is to do one job and one job only — win a championship.”

The Holy Spirit High School senior running back will continue his football career at Merrimack on an NCAA Division I scholarship.

“It’s just amazing,” said Gray, of Somers Point. “I don’t have to worry about mom paying for college at all. It’s just great.”

Merrimack is a Football Championship Subdivision program that competes in the Northeast Conference. Under seventh-year coach Dan Curran, the Warriors finished 6-5 last fall.

Gray plans to major in health science and minor in business. He wants to own a training facility for younger football players when his playing days are over.

The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Gray led the Spartans to the state Non-Public II title last fall, rushing 168 times for 1,203 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was a first-team Press All-Star.

Gray may not be the biggest or fastest running back, but few high school athletes can match his career. Gray ran for 1,223 yards as a junior and 1,479 yards as a sophomore.

“E’lijah kind of has a chip on his shoulder right now,” Spirit coach A.J. Russo said. “That’s going to bode well for him. I’m not doubting him in one way shape or another.”

Gray was bit overlooked by some schools during the recruiting process, according to Russo.

“A lot of the college coaches look at (physical) measurables,” Russo said. “E’lijah doesn’t have a lot of the measurables that some of the bigger schools are looking at, but when steps on that football field, he has a lot of heart, and he’s a tremendous football player. Sometimes kids like that get missed. and they end up having great careers at other schools.”

ACC basketball rankings: Virginia slides, Syracuse moves up, Clemson won a game and North Carolina is deplorable

Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, we welcome you back to another edition of the proud and preeminent TNIAAM ACC basketball rankings.

It’s been another interesting week of basketball in the conference as Duke continues to roll, North Carolina continues to play anything but basketball and Virginia Tech fans are so pissed that I ranked Cassell Coliseum No. 1427 in ACC venues they actually think I give two sh*ts about their team beating Syracuse.

To make amends, I will say this: If there were a fourth NCAA Tournament team in the conference right now, it might be that one team in the state of Virginia. THAT’S RIGHT (Dickie V voice), I’M TALKING ABOUT THE HOKIES, BABY! That, and Mike Young has already locked up the ACC Coach of the Year award. How’s that?

Anyway, let’s dive into the rankings below. You’ll have to do some scrolling to find the ACC basketball trivia question this week. As always, these rankings are backed by an undisclosed methodology.

1. Duke (15-1, 5-0)

Last week: Wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest

Duke struggled somewhat earlier in the week against Georgia Tech, but edged the Yellow Jackets on the road and rolled Wake Forest at home. Jordan Goldwire was out there defending like he was Gary Payton or something.

Tre Jones read my comment last week on how he could post single digit points in every game from here on out and still be in consideration for ACC POTY. That was clearly the motivation he needed to go out a record 39 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds and 8 steals in two games.

Aside: Yay or nay on the black Duke jerseys?
2. Florida State (14-2, 4-1)

Last week: win over Wake

Florida State was off Saturday, but the Seminoles took down Wake earlier in the week. Ham Sauce rolled out the balls and played 11 guys in the win. The big three of Devin Vassell, Trent Forrest and MJ Walker combined for 46 points. Forrest hauled in 10 boards, too.

All Leonard Hamilton does is stack wins.
3. Louisville (13-3, 4-1)

Last week: wins over Miami and Notre Dame

Jordan Nwora had a heck of a week. It’s going to be fascinating to watch he and [insert Duke player here] jockey for ACC POTY honors.

Dwayne Sutton was just one point shy of posting two double-doubles. Sutton is the ultimate glue guy and one of the most underrated players in the conference.

Ryan McMahon tied Nwora in made 3s (seven) last week too, by the way.
4. Virginia Tech (12-4. 3-2)

Last week: wins over Syracuse and NC State

Congratulations to Virginia Tech fans. Your team is now No. 4 in the conference after your in-state rival sh*t the bed.

Jalen Cone came into the Carrier Dome and gave Syracuse buckets. He continued his play against NC State by scoring 10 points.

Oh, and Landers Nolley posted 29 points and 7 rebounds against the Wolfpack. Nolley and Vernon Carey will both compete for Freshman of the Year, but Nolley should be getting more recognition on the POTY front.
5. NC State (11-5, 2-3)

Last week: win over Notre Dame, loss to Virginia Tech

NC State earned an important victory over Notre Dame last week, but couldn’t generate enough offense to take down VT.

The Wolfpack got half of its scoring off the bench against the Hokies and Kevin Keatts only played seven guys. That’s not going to get it done on most nights.

6. Virginia (11-4, 3-2)

Last week: losses to Boston College and Syracuse

Virginia somehow only slides down to six due to Notre Dame taking two losses and all other teams being absolutely deplorable beyond that.

Virginia seems destined to finish as the worst 3-point shooting team in the league. Nothing is standing in its way and by that I mostly mean that Virginia can’t get out of its own way. The Hoos had many open looks last week but they just can’t make shots!
7. Notre Dame (10-6, 1-4)

Last week: losses to NC State and Louisville

Nothing to see here, but John Mooney posts double-doubles like nobody’s business. He’s easily on my first-team ACC Guy I’d Like to Have a Beer With.

Mooney put up 14 and 14 against NC State and 15 and 19 against Louisville.

Did I mention John Mooney?

8. Miami (10-5, 2-3)

Last week: Loss to Louisville, win over Pittsburgh

Miami didn’t put up much of a fight against Louisville, but it did secure an important win at home over Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

Miami’s role players are working through some injuries, though Chris Lykes and Kam McGusty are playing at a high level.

As I am legally obligated to say in every rankings post: DJ Vasiljevic is the best shooter in the ACC.
9. Pittsburgh (11-5, 2-3)

Last week: win at North Carolina, loss at Miami

North Carolina let an awful shooting Pittsburgh team make 40 percent of its shots from deep inside the Dean Dome last Wednesday. That’s hard to fathom when considering the Panthers followed that up with an 18 percent shooting effort from range at Miami last night.

Still, Jeff Capel has forged an identity for his Pittsburgh team as a tough, gritty team that isn’t afraid to play in the mud. That’s how Pitt is going to win games in the ACC.

Trey McGowens is one of the toughest guards in the league.
10. Syracuse (9-7, 2-3)

Last week: loss to Virginia Tech, win at Virginia

Syracuse gonna Syracuse.

Orange fans everywhere now think their team can make an NCAA Tournament appearance.
11. Boston College (9-7, 3-2)

Last week: Win over Virginia, loss to Georgia Tech

Big thanks to Virginia for extending Jim Christian’s tenure at BC.

Mark my words. There is absolutely no chance that Boston College wins at Syracuse this Wednesday. What could go wrong?
12. Georgia Tech (8-8, 3-2)

Last week: Loss to Duke, win at Boston College

Georgia Tech looks like a different team with Jose Alvarado back in the fold. Don’t be surprised to see them start to climb in the rankings.

We interrupt these rankings to bring you ACC basketball trivia, brought to you in part by Bojangles sweet tea and every milkshake offered at Back Yard Burgers.

13. Clemson (8-7, 2-3)

Last week: win at North Carolina

Clemson basketball picked up its first ever win in Chapel Hill against North Carolina. That says a lot more about the season the Tar Heels are having than it does the Tigers.

Clemson was still celebrating that victory in the Dean Dome like they a National Championship in football or something.
14. Wake Forest (8-7, 1-4)

Last week: Loss at Florida State and at Duke

No real shame in losing a pair of road games to the two best teams in the conference, but the margin at Duke left much to be desired.

What’s a Wake Forest fan to do?
15. North Carolina (8-8, 1-4)

Last week: losses to Pittsburgh and Clemson

Is that right? After all these years at the top, North Carolina has plunged all the way to the conference basement? When did UNC become a cellar dweller?

The Tar Heels lost back to back games at home this week to Pittsburgh and… Clemson.

Roy’s team had a seven point lead over the Tigers with 90 second left but still found a way to let a team led by a guy whose mother dresses him force OT.

I’m not saying the rest of the league is reveling in North Carolina’s failures this season, but what I will say if there ever were a time to insert this video below, now would be that time.

First Look At LSU’s National Championship Jersey

LSU, the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, will wear its traditional white uniform tops with gold and purple trim for Monday night’s national championship game against Clemson.

Today, we got a first look at the jerseys, which will once again have “One Team One Heartbeat” stitched inside the collar. The 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship patch is over the right side of the chest, even with the SEC and Nike logos.

Here’s a look at the tops.

LSU has shown it is willing to deviate from its traditional uniform (white tops, gold pants) in recent years. The program has worn purple jerseys, white helmets and white pants and even gold alternates on occasion.

However, there is no doubt that the jerseys shown above are the best ones the Tigers own. We’ll see them in primetime on Monday night.

Former Tomahawks ready for Johnstown homecoming in College classic

The line of Luke Lynch, Cameron Hebert and Roman Kraemer skated into the offensive zone at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial on Friday afternoon.

The trio, wearing red jerseys and dark blue helmets made a few passes and took a shot on the net.

The scene was similar to many that unfolded over the past few seasons at the War Memorial.

Only this time, the three players wore the Colonials logo of Robert Morris University across the front of their practice jerseys instead of the familiar Johnstown Tomahawks threads.

“These three guys meant so much to our program,” Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia said after the Colonials concluded a practice session in preparation for Saturday’s College Hockey Classic game against Ontario Tech at 7 p.m. at the War Memorial.

“They’re at various stages of their careers,” Letizia said. “To see them first-hand back at the arena is really a special moment for me as a coach.

“They were a big part of the community and everyone is excited to see them back.”

All three former Tomahawks used their time in Johnstown to earn a spot with the Colonials coached by Derek Schooley, who also is familiar with 1st Summit Arena from his time as an ECHL player with the Huntington (W.Va.) Blizzard team that played against the Johnstown Chiefs in 1994-95.

Because of the Tomahawks connection, the Pittsburgh-based Colonials program saw an opportunity to play in front of a different hockey-loving audience. The Tomahawks are billing the game as “the first NCAA Division I game played on the ice since the doors opened in 1950.”

“Having three Tomahawk alumni here and with college hockey really on the rise, we wanted to expose central Pennsylvania with another game with Robert Morris and get our brand out there to this neck of the woods,” Schooley said after Friday’s practice.

“We feel we have a really good college hockey program and we wanted to take it on the road to the rest of the state.”

Robert Morris plays in Atlantic Hockey.

The Colonials are 7-5-3 in the conference and 7-8-3 overall.

Lynch is a senior from Pittsburgh who has played in all but one game since his arrival at the Moon Township campus. This season he has a goal and six assists in 18 games.

“It was pretty surreal coming back,” said Lynch, who has 36 career goals and 95 points with the Colonials.

“It’s the only way really to explain it.

“Nobody really gets to play their college games in their junior hockey home arena.”

Hebert and Kraemer were two offensive catalysts on last season’s record-breaking Tomahawks team that produced 47 wins and 98 regular-season points while advancing deep in the Robertson Cup playoffs.

Hebert has a goal and two points in 12 games as a freshman at Robert Morris. Similarly, Kraemer has adapted to college game with one goal in 16 games.

“It’s been a pretty big adjustment,” said Kraemer, who is from Moon Township and is quite at home on campus. “The speed was hard to get used to.

“The game was a lot faster.

“The guys are older. Everyone is stronger now.”

Hebert is from St. Andrew’s West, Ontario, Canada.

But he has enjoyed a family reunion at Robert Morris, where his brother Grant and sister Ally are part of the Colonials men’s and women’s programs, respectively.

“I see my brother every day,” Hebert said. “It’s fun having my sister around too.”

Hebert said the speed and physical side of the game has been elevated at the college level.

“It’s been a big adjustment,” Hebert said. “The biggest part is the strength of all the older guys. Even the first practice instead of going against 18-year-olds, you’re going against 23- and 24-year-olds.

“That was the biggest adjustment for me.”

The former Tomahawks won’t have to adjust to the reception they’re likely to receive on Saturday night.

“Crazy excited,” Hebert said.

“The way it ended last year, with all the fans, who were crazy. They’re the best fans in junior. I’m excited to be back.”

Kraemer said even the practice session stirred emotions.

“I kind of got goosebumps pulling back into the rink,” Kraemer said. “Being here for the past two years, it’s amazing playing here. It’s fun playing here as a kid and it’s fun playing here as a college player too.”

Detroit Mercy to retire jersey of former Pistons player Earl ‘The Twirl’ Cureton

Earl Cureton, who helped get Detroit Mercy to the NCAA tournament in the 1978-79 season and played three seasons with the Pistons, will have his jersey retired by the Titans on Jan. 23.

Cureton, whose nickname was “The Twirl,” will be honored at halftime of the 7 p.m. game against IUPUI.

The 6-foot-9 center/forward is a Detroit native and attended Finney High School (since closed). He played two seasons at Robert Morris before transferring to Detroit Mercy, where he played from 1978 to 1980.

“This is a long time coming to honor Earl with this great moment of appreciation for everything he has done, as a Titan, as a professional and, more importantly, as a great member of the community,” athletic director Robert C. Vowels Jr. said in a news release. “His career speaks for itself, helping get the Titans back to the NCAA Tournament and then as a member of two NBA championship teams, but his work in the community and his commitment to earn his college degree speaks to his high morals.”

The 76ers took Cureton in the third round of the 1979 NBA draft, but he did not play his first pro game until 1980. He spent 12 years in the NBA, winning a championship with them in 1983 and with the Houston Rockets in 1994.

He was with the Pistons from 1983 to 1986.

Cureton averaged 11.7 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds with 1.3 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals per game in 1978-79. The next season, he led the team in scoring (20.0) and rebounding (9.1).

Cureton has been a Titans game analyst for more than 10 years, and also is the Pistons’ community ambassador.

Cureton also was an assistant coach in the WNBA (Charlotte Sting, Detroit Shock and Phoenix Mercury).

D.J. Durkin hiring shows coaches care more about each other than players

We go through this strange dance every time a football coach feels compelled to rehabilitate one of his disgraced colleagues: The surprise hiring, the pop of social media outrage, the prepared statement touting the “thorough background check” and the hope that fan tribalism will trump common sense and the truth.

In this case, new Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter even tossed in a reference to D.J. Durkin being a “proud and committed family man,” in announcing the hiring of Durkin as assistant coach.

Carter’s statement Thursday attempting to diffuse criticism of Ole Miss adding Durkin, who was fired from Maryland in 2018 amid dual investigations into the death of a player during a workout and accusations of a toxic culture in the program, is loaded with so many laudatory clichés that by the end of it you might halfway believe Durkin would be more suited to sainthood than coaching football.

And because Ole Miss fans are so energized about recently hired coach Lane Kiffin, they are more than willing to provide cover for a football coach who can’t help himself from reaching into the fire and a young administrator who is too much of a novice to pull his hand away.

In a sense, it’s hard to blame them for going down this path. In a world where athletic department decisions are largely fueled by social media comments, Kiffin and Carter are saved by the insular nature of a fan base that is so starved for relevance that it would find a way to justify hiring anyone short of Art Briles on the scale of coaching miscreants (and maybe even him, too).

But let’s be clear about why Ole Miss’ decision to recycle dysfunction and hope for a different result here is so problematic: Football isn’t going to change until coaches like Durkin are out of the sport and the tactics he allegedly used at Maryland are placed into the trash bin of history.

If you believe what some players told investigators and journalists in the wake of Jordan McNair’s death, it is clear Durkin should not be entrusted with the care of the most precious resources in college athletics.

Even though Durkin was technically fired because of public relationships backlash and not the explicit contents of the investigative reports commissioned by Maryland, their contents were still damning. At minimum, it’s clear that Durkin oversaw a program that empowered his strength coach Rick Court to use humiliation and bullying as motivational tactics and consistently engaged in outdated methods that most people wouldn’t want their son subjected to.

From homophobic slurs and fat shaming to showing serial killer videos at team meals, it was all over the line — even if the culture wasn’t directly responsible for McNair pushing himself through a workout to the point where he suffered from heatstroke that wasn’t recognized and treated quickly enough, which ultimately caused his death.

Though some Maryland players certainly backed Durkin, an ESPN report in August of 2018 detailed several disturbing episodes, including one former player who claimed that they were called “thieves” for being on scholarship, another who allegedly was forced to watch workouts while eating candy bars because he was overweight and another who said he was belittled for passing out during a drill.

Did Ole Miss’ super duper thorough background check into Durkin talk to any of those players, or was it fashioned to fit the conclusion that he needed to be hired because Kiffin wanted him? You can probably figure that out for yourself.

And there’s no doubt Durkin has his fans. One of them, former Congressman and current Lead1 Association president and CEO Tom McMillen, e-mailed Thursday to tout what a “decent person” Durkin is. (McMillen, it should be noted, was a member of the commission that cleared him of overseeing a “toxic culture.”)

You’ll find that sentiment throughout the football world. Last year, Nick Saban brought Durkin to Alabama as somewhat of a consultant before the College Football Playoff. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who previously employed Durkin as the defensive coordinator at Florida, immediately defended him after the damning stories at Maryland surfaced. Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who had Durkin with his staff as an intern this year, relied on his first-hand knowledge of Durkin’s character in making a decision he felt was best for the team.

But this is sort of the fundamental problem with the structure of college football: Millionaire coaches vouching for their buddies while the damning words of the powerless amateur players go unheeded.

In a sport where there’s no union that sets the standards for how players are treated, no recourse for violating best practices and real fear that speaking up will cost a player his scholarship, the dynamics are forever tilted toward those coaches like Durkin.

In a sane competitive environment, Durkin would be a bad hire just on the merits. Everything we know about his time at Maryland suggests his philosophy on how to run a program is bad. Instead, the decision whether to hire him is just a game about how much political capital a coach and an athletic director have to get away with it.

Because Kiffin has that kind of stroke right now, it would be difficult for Carter to say no. As long as the positive tweets keep flowing, Kiffin will basically be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Carter created that monster, and now he has to feed it.

It may not be a healthy way to run an athletic department, but it’s very much how college football operates. Everyone is so wrapped up in how to sell a second chance they don’t even consider the idea that someone like Durkin just doesn’t deserve it.

Josh Allen wears Buffalo Braves jersey to Bills’ season finale

Make sure to file this under ‘things you didn’t expect to see in 2019.’

Ahead of the Buffalo Bills’ Week 17 matchup with the New York Jets, quarterback Josh Allen rolled into New Era Field rocking a Buffalo Braves jersey.

One could say that he’s exiting the 2019 season in (literal) style.

If the jersey seems a bit foreign to you, don’t worry, you’re likely not alone. The Braves, Buffalo’s sole foray into the world of professional basketball, played in the NBA from 1970-1978, bolting for the sunny beaches of San Diego a full 18 years before Allen was born.

The team rebranded as the Clippers after moving to Southern California, ultimately moving 120 miles up the coast to Los Angeles in 1984.

Though the Braves only played in Buffalo for eight seasons, the team was relatively successful. They made the playoffs on three separate occasions and even employed a league MVP, with franchise player Bob McAdoo winning the prestigious award in 1975.

Despite league-average fan support and relative financial stability, the Braves left the City of Good Neighbors in 1978 after they were unable to achieve higher priority at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium.

The team had long been an afterthought in the basketball zeitgeist, an answer to trivia questions such as ‘Where did the Los Angeles Clippers originate?’ and ‘Which team did Hall of Fame forward Moses Malone play two games for in 1976?’

It regained some notoriety earlier this year when the Clippers introduced a vintage Braves jersey as an alternate uniform for the 2019-20 season. Los Angeles has worn the jersey a few times this season, giving Buffalo basketball fans the opportunity to see players like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in Braves’ uniforms.

It was this jersey that Allen wore to the Bills’ 2019 season finale. In a time in which Buffalo’s other professional sports team, the NHL’s Sabres, consistently finds ways to disappoint, perhaps reminding Western New York that it once had a professional basketball team is the pick-me-up the region needed.

UCLA-North Carolina matchup in Las Vegas is marquee in name only

Consumers who expect filet mignon to taste like filet mignon and a Mercedes to drive like a Mercedes could be confused by what they see Saturday afternoon when UCLA plays North Carolina.

Neither team has looked anything like a college basketball blueblood, the status that their combined 18 national championships automatically confer upon whoever slips on one of their revered jerseys.

UCLA hasn’t been able to stay in front of anyone on defense and botched one play out of a timeout last weekend against Notre Dame when two players whiffed on screens that were supposed to free guard David Singleton for a three-pointer.

North Carolina recently lost at home to Wofford and has dropped four consecutive games for the first time in a decade, leading coach Roy Williams to seek colorful solutions.

“I’ll play in a damn Red Forest if we play a lot better and be a lot happier,” Williams said after the defeat against Wofford, North Carolina’s first game inside old Carmichael Auditorium since 1986.

The Bruins (7-4) and Tar Heels (6-5) might prefer their showdown as part of the CBS Sports Classic be confined to one of those secret closed scrimmages with only coaches watching, but it will instead be held in the 18,000-seat T-Mobile Arena while also being nationally televised.

That means every blown defensive assignment, badly missed jumper and silly foul will be seen by the masses who have come to expect greatness from these teams.

UCLA fans in attendance might scan the crowd in hopes of spotting Daishen Nix, the star point guard from Las Vegas Trinity International School who has signed with the Bruins and is expected to attend the game. He’ll get to see just how far the Bruins remain from respectability nearing the midpoint of coach Mick Cronin’s first season.

Cronin might feel like he’s coaching the Brubabes, as the team’s freshman squad under coach John Wooden was known, given his players’ youth and repeated mistakes. UCLA tried a matchup zone against Notre Dame to hide some of its weaknesses but discovered it was like trying to put out a kitchen fire with a tissue. The Bruins missed layups and free throws while losing their man in transition defense for a three-pointer on three occasions.

“We had breakdowns no matter what,” Cronin said.

UCLA could play a second consecutive game without sophomore guard Jules Bernard, who is recovering from a shoulder injury that forced him to put his right arm in a sling.

North Carolina will be missing significant star wattage with freshman sensation Cole Anthony sidelined by a knee injury that is expected to keep him out for at least the next month. The Tar Heels were subjected to the dreaded “NIT!” chants Wednesday during a 94-81 loss at No. 2 Gonzaga that gave them their longest losing streak since the 2009-10 season, the last time they missed the NCAA tournament.

Coincidentally, that also was the last time Cronin failed to make the tournament while coaching at Cincinnati. He eventually turned the Bearcats into consistent winners using the same formula that has imbued his new players with optimism despite their ragged start.

“I feel like we can be really good,” UCLA forward Cody Riley said. “I know it’s early right now, so I don’t get too crazy. Just take the hits and learn from it. But it’s early and we got a lot of season left and I feel like we can be really special.”

Cronin expressed concern about his team’s ability to match up with North Carolina’s interior size, but rebounding has been one area in which his team has thrived. The Bruins have outrebounded all but one opponent and their plus-8.8 margin ranks first among Pac-12 teams.

Of course, what they have done with those rebounds is another matter. UCLA had three offensive rebounds on one possession against Notre Dame, only to miss the putback each time. Riley and forward Jalen Hill combined to make only three of 16 shots, with Cronin saying this week that his big men needed to do a better job of reading defenses and moving the ball to the open player.

Cronin repeatedly mentioned how he has a new cast of players growing into expanded roles, as if to remind himself that UCLA can, one day, become UCLA again.

“The work we’re putting in now will pay off,” Cronin said. “Sometimes it’s painful in the interim.”

USA TODAY Sports college football staff picks for every bowl game

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for college football fans. You have holiday season to celebrate and a plethora of bowl games to conclude what was another memorable season.

After 15 weeks, the College Football Playoff field emerged with LSU and Oklahoma heading to the Peach Bowl and Clemson and Ohio State facing off in the Fiesta Bowl.

This will be the first appearance in the field for the Tigers, led by Heisman winner Joe Burrow. It’s the the third consecutive trip for the Sooners and fourth overall. Their still waiting for their first win in the semifinals.

The Tigers and Buckeyes met in the playoff three years ago in Glendale, Arizona. In that one, Clemson cruised to a 31-0 victory en route to the national title. The defending champions likely won’t have it so easy in this matchup of unbeatens.

Chris Petersen leads Washington against his former school Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl before stepping down. Memphis will carry the Group of Five banner against Penn State in the Cotton Bowl. And Alabama and Michigan – two of the traditional powers in the sport – meet in the Citrus Bowl.

ESPN ranks the top college football coaches of the modern era

Who are the best coaches in college football? It’s a question that can fire up any number of fanbases who feel like their coach is a major part of the answer.

Add in the word “history,” and it creates an even bigger debate. It’s a debate ESPN attempted to solve this week when the network released its list of the 150 greatest coaches of all time. The list, which was the result of voting from a “blue-ribbon panel of 150 media members, administrators and former players and coaches,” honored coaches from more than a century, with a few present day coaches overlapping with coaches like Knute Rockne, who started his career in 1918.

We took things a step further, narrowing ESPN’s list to the best coaches who spent at least one year at the helm of a program this millennium (2000-on). That also largely overlaps with the recruiting database era, when how fans felt about a coach could be determined largely by how they fared off the field based on recruiting rankings, and comes in just after the start of the BCS and catches right around when spread offenses began blowing up college football.

So how did ESPN rank the best modern day coaches?

21. Mack Brown
One of the greatest recruiters of all time, Brown drew a fence around “the great state of Texas” in helping the Longhorns win at least 10 games every year from 1999 through 2009. That included national title game appearances after the 2005 and 2009 seasons, with the Longhorns capturing the former under Vince Young. Brown helped guide North Carolina to prominence from 1988-97 and just finished the first regular season of his second term with the Tar Heels, improving North Carolina to 6-6 and a bowl game. Brown also had stints at Appalachian State and Tulane before landing the North Carolina job the first time. Brown is 250-128-1 over his coaching career, and was No. 59 overall on ESPN’s rankings.

20. Chris Petersen
The soon-to-be retired Washington coach came in at No. 58 after helping to build the Boise State program, first as offensive coordinator, then as head coach from 2006-13, then winning big at Washington. Boise State won two BCS games while he was there, while his Washington squads won two conference titles and reached the College Football Playoff.

19. Jerry Moore
They say the third time’s the charm, and after going 11-11 at North Texas and getting fired at Texas Tech, Moore found a home at Appalachian State, where he went 215-87, won three FCS national championships and oh yeah, knocked off Michigan in Ann Arbor in one of college football’s great all-time upsets. That alone is worth the No. 57 spot.

18. Bill Snyder
This could be too low for Snyder, who engineered probably the greatest turnaround in FBS history. Kansas State was laughably bad when Snyder took over, and yet he won there twice, turning the Wildcats into a powerhouse in the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s, then coming back after Ron Prince failed in Manhattan, turning the program around again and leading Kansas State to a BCS bowl in his second go-round. No. 55 of all time seems way off.

17. Lloyd Carr
Few programs boast the winning history that Michigan does, and yet when Carr piloted Michigan to a share of the 1997 national title, it marked the Wolverines’ first title in 49 years, and Michigan hasn’t won one since. That would probably be enough to land at No. 50, except that he also won more than 75 percent of his games and five Big Ten titles from 1995-2007.

16. Urban Meyer
No. 46 overall seems way too low for Meyer, who went a combined 39-8 at Bowling Green and Utah before landing the jobs that everyone links to him, Florida and Ohio State. He guided each of those programs to national championships, winning two at Florida and another at Ohio State, and ESPN noted that his 187 wins in 17 seasons leading FBS programs are more than any other coach over that length of time.

15. Frank Beamer
A coach so effective that his style of play earned the nickname of “Beamer Ball” (particularly for Virginia Tech’s dominance on special teams), Beamer came in at No. 45 on ESPN’s list. He was a strong coach at Murray State, but truly helped turn Virginia Tech into a special football program, winning seven conference titles, boasting 13 seasons of 10 wins or more and reaching the national championship game after the 1999 season.

14. Frosty Westering
The average college football fan might not be overly familiar with ESPN’s No. 39 coach, but it’s not for lack of accomplishment. Westering started his career at Parsons and Lea, but he’s best known for building a terrific program and winning four national championships at Pacific Lutheran from 1972-2003, three NAIA Division II championships and an NCAA Division III title in 1999.

13. Pete Carroll
Few coaches seemed to have more fun at their jobs. At No. 37 overall on ESPN’s list, Carroll stockpiled talent to USC from 2001-09 in absurd amounts, leading to a share of the 2003 national championship, the 2004 title outright and even the tag of “greatest team ever” before USC’s loss to Texas in one of the greatest college football teams ever played. ESPN noted that USC was ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll for 33 straight weeks, and won 97 games, though 14 were later vacated.

12. Jim Tressel
Most college football fans are familiar with Tressel’s Ohio State teams, which won 94 games from 2001-10 and the national championship following the 2002 season. But before Tressel set about owning Michigan — he went 9-1 against the Wolverines — he earned the Ohio State job by coaching some dominant squads at Youngstown State, where he won 135 games and four Division I-AA (now FCS) national championships. He came in at No. 35 overall.

11. John Robinson
The No. 33 overall coach on this list, Robinson just made the cut because of his ill-fated time at UNLV from 1999-2004, when he went 28-42. But he coached some excellent USC teams, including one that had two Heisman Trophy winners in the backfield in Charles White running behind a sophomore fullback in Marcus Allen. His USC teams — he coached the Trojans from 1976-82 and from 1993-97 — won 104 games and a piece of the 1978 national championship.

10. Dabo Swinney
Don’t be surprised if Swinney shoots up this list in future years; he’s only been Clemson’s head coach since 2008, and has turned the Tigers into arguably the preeminent power in college football, winning two of the last three national championships and reaching the College Football Playoff in each of the last five years. With a record of 129-30, he doesn’t figure to be outside the top 20 overall — he came in at No. 31 on ESPN’s list — for long.

9. Bob Stoops
Stoops, who came in two spots ahead of Swinney at No. 29, earned an early reputation as “Big Game Bob” for the way his teams showed up in massive contests, including the national championship game in just his second season in 2000. And while critics would later use that as an insult when he didn’t win another national title, he played in championship games after the 2003, 2004 and 2008 seasons and reached the 2016 College Football Playoff. His teams dominated the Big 12 from 1999-2016, winning 10 league championships over that period.

8. Larry Kehres
Few (no?) coaches at any level won the way that Larry Kehres did at Mount Union from 1986-2012, which is why Kehres came in at No. 28 overall on ESPN’s list. Kehres’ Mount Union teams captured an incredible 11 Division III titles in 27 years, with 23 conference championships, and ESPN noted that his 92.9 winning percentage is “the best among any ccoach at any NCAA level.”

7. Steve Spurrier
There wasn’t much old about Ol’ Ball Coach when he took over at Florida, fresh off guiding Duke to an ACC title, with Florida embracing his Fun ’n’ Gun offense like a Wild West gunfighter. That led to Florida’s first-ever national championship in 1996, and Spurrier won six SEC titles with the Gators. He also experienced tremendous success at South Carolina after returning to the college game, winning 86 games over 11 years. One thing about Spurrier—with him coming in at No. 27, one can be he’d be teasing No. 28, 29 and everyone who came in after him.

6. Tubby Raymond
Those who love X’s and O’s are likely to love the inclusion of one Harold “Tubby” Raymond at No. 25, with Raymond helping to perfect — it was actually created by the Delaware coach in front of him, David M. Nelson — the “Delaware Wing-T.” Raymond won 300 games with the offense from 1966-2001, winning three national titles, and one can see sprinklings of his offense — if not outright repackaging — in all kinds of spread and running game concepts to this day.

5. Lou Holtz (No. 23 overall)

Holtz is known as much for his quirks and his quotes as he is for his success as a coach, but sleeping on his accomplishments would be a major mistake. He won at NC State, then Arkansas, and after a brief tenure at Mississippi State, landed the head coaching job at struggling Notre Dame for the 1986 season. Two years later, Notre Dame won the national championship, and the Fighting Irish had a strong argument to have won the 1993 national title as well. Holtz rebooted the talent in South Bend, made Notre Dame relevant again, then left after the 1996 season. From 1999 to 2004 he laid the groundwork to rebuild South Carolina; a foundation Steve Spurrier used to take the program to new heights. For his career, over six different stops, Holtz went 249-132-7.

4. LaVell Edwards (No. 22)

A coach who probably made this list as much for his innovation as his winning, Edwards nonetheless has plenty of the latter, capturing 19 conference championships and winning the 1984 national title. Along the way, BYU became the must-watch school for anyone interested in modernizing their passing attack, as ESPN pointed out, Edwards coached five first-team All-America quarterbacks from 1972-2000. Edwards’ influence can be seen today in the proliferation of Air Raid offenses across the country; his passing game was one of the building blocks for the offense built and made popular by Hal Mumme, Mike Leach and company.

3. Bobby Bowden (No. 8)

One of just three coaches who have coached from 2000-on to reach the top 10 of ESPN’s list, Bowden had success at Howard (31-6) and West Virginia (42-26) before moving on to the school everyone associates him with, Florida State, in 1976. And he churned the Seminoles into a brand name in college football, finishing in the top five in the nation every year from 1987-2000. And when Miami started to fall off just a bit, Bowden was waiting with open arms, churning out some of the most talented teams college football has seen from the mid-to-late 1990s and winning national championships in 1993 and 1999, while playing for titles in 1996, 1998 and 2000. From 1976 to 2009, he won 304 games, and his Seminoles captured 12 of 14 ACC championships after joining the league in 1992.

2. Joe Paterno (No. 7)

Paterno’s tenure at Penn State was marked by his old-school approach. As ESPN wrote, “Paterno called his plan the Grand Experiment, believing that Penn State could be a national power without sacrificing academics.” Academics, no names on the back of the jerseys (much less alternate uniforms) and a whole bunch of wins. Paterno’s teams won two national championships in the 1980s, and his 1994 team is considered one of college football’s great teams not to win the title after an undefeated season. Paterno won 409 games in his Penn State tenure before he was fired in November 2011 after the Jerry Sandusky scandal hit Happy Valley, and he died just two months later.

1. Nick Saban (No. 2)

Perhaps the greatest mix of elite recruiting and X’s and O’s ever to hit college football, Saban came in at No. 2 just behind the Alabama coach whose accomplishments he’s been chasing, Bear Bryant. Saban is perhaps known best for “The Process,” which has come to symbolize the day-to-day way his Crimson Tide have somehow avoided complacency and become a mainstay in the national title race. Speaking of titles, Saban has six of ‘em, one at LSU and five in his 13 years at Alabama, though the more impressive part might be just how often Alabama has competed at a national championship caliber level. Alabama reached the College Football Playoff every year of its existence until this year, and it took a catastrophic injury to the Tide’s Heisman Trophy caliber quarterback to keep ‘em out.