Oops & Helmets: Worst Combination | Hoops & Helmets
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Which schools had the best combination of college basketball and college football this season? Whose fan bases got to have the most fun over the last year?
2016 Hoops & Helmets: College Football, Basketball Top Combinations
Spring is just around the corner, meaning it’s once again time to rank the country’s athletic programs, with both Hoops and Helmets serving as the measuring stick.
If you’re an alum, student, or avid supporter of a particular university’s football program, it’s a safe bet that you’re investing discretionary time and income into the basketball team as well. The latter is especially true when the month on the calendar reminds you it’s March.
If that program happens to be Oklahoma or Michigan State, for instance, chances are even better that you haven’t frowned much since Labor Day. As a fan, your school has given you plenty of reasons to grin, belt out fight songs and celebrate over the past six months.
However, some universities, such as TCU and Alabama, have had little to crow about since the bowl season ended. Countless others, like Purdue, Kansas and Virginia, couldn’t wait until the football season ended and Midnight Madness kicked off. Only the truly fortunate fans have feasted their eyes—and their emotions—on quality products in both sports.
As in the past, the focus of this unconventional rankings amalgam is on those fans who’ve had their cake and dunked it, too. They bowled near the holidays and are now preparing to dance into the NCAA Tournament for at least one more game of a memorable winter of athletic patronage.
*Only schools that received a bowl bid (or FCS playoff berth) and an NCAA Tournament berth were considered
The Trojans needed Akron and San Diego State to lose this weekend to land this No. 16 seed. The Zips and Aztecs obliged, creating an opening for Troy.
It was obviously an up-and-down year for USC. There was the untimely dismissal of football coach Steve Sarkisian on Oct. 12 before Clay Helton was able to steady the ship with wins over Utah and UCLA that led to a Pac-12 South title. This year’s huge surprise out of L.A. was Andy Enfield’s basketball squad, which is tournament bound for the first time in five years. After back-to-back seasons in the Pac-12 basement, the Trojans went 9-9 in league play to cop a No. 8 seed.
The Bears are a No. 4 seed, with a very talented roster. But this H&H return would not have been possible without a football resurgence.
Spearheaded by the passing of NFL-bound QB Jared Goff, Cal won eight games and cracked the Top 25 for the first time in six years. The Bears closed the year by routing Air Force, 55-36, in the Armed Forces Bowl. Freshman F Jaylen Brown has been as good as advertised in 2015-16, earning First Team All-Pac-12. He’s one of five double-digit scorers for a team that boasts wins over Oregon, Utah and Arizona.
When the Canes were thumped by Clemson, 58-0, on Oct. 24, the mere suggestion of a Sweet 16 ranking here would have seemed silly. But the university has rallied back ever since that Week 7 debacle that cost Al Golden his job.
Larry Scott did a nice job on an interim basis, getting Miami to eight wins and a Sun Bowl berth. And in hiring Mark Richt in December, the team took a big step toward a brighter future. But it’s been Miami basketball that has really solidified this placement. Fueled by the shooting of former Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan, the Canes are 25-7, with their third highest seeding in school history.
13. Texas A&M
In a role reversal for Aggie athletics, basketball, not football, was the driving force this past year.
Under Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M won a regular season conference championship for the first time since 1986. Behind Danuel House and Jalen Jones, the 26-8 Aggies are seeded as high as No. 3 for just the second time in school history.
The football team, on the other hand, started 5-0, yet ended with a whimper. A&M went 3-5 down the stretch, and the high-profile transfers of quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray dictated the December narrative around College Station.
The Owls have always been Temple tough in basketball. Football, though, was the face of the university this past year.
Matt Rhule has something special brewing in Philadelphia. His blue-collar Owls attracted unprecedented national attention by delivering their first-ever 10-win season and cracking the Top 25 for the first time since 1979.
Owl hoops made plenty of noise, too. Predicted to finish sixth in the American before the season began, Temple won the regular season title by handling the likes of UConn, SMU and Cincinnati at home and on the road.
11. West Virginia
The Mountaineers were unranked in the AP Top 25 before the hoops season began. They’ll begin the NCAA Tournament No. 8 in the country and No. 3 in the East region.
Bob Huggins has done another terrific job in Morgantown, getting plenty of help from F Devin Williams and G Jaysean Paige. West Virginia didn’t suffer a bad loss all season, while boasting wins against Kansas, Oklahoma and twice apiece over Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech.
Signature moments were far less frequent in the fall. However, the ‘neers did finish well in football, capped by a wild 43-42 victory over Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl.
Hoops … and helmets … and Harbaugh.
Jim Harbaugh’s impact on Michigan football was immediate and profound. The Wolverines were a completely different team last fall, doubling their win total from Brady Hoke’s finale. They went 10-3, competed in the Big Ten East and finished with a Citrus Bowl blowout of Florida.
On the contrary, it was a rocky year for John Beilein, who was fortunate to land an No. 11 seed after losing Caris LeVert to a leg injury. Michigan was tough to figure—good enough to defeat the likes of Texas, Indiana, Purdue and Maryland, but just 4-12 overall versus opponents with an RPI in the top 100.
A vintage winter in Madison it was not. Still, this athletic program has the hoops and helmets muscle memory and deep roots to overcome a down year.
Last year, the third-ranked H&H program won the Big Ten title and was the NCAA Tournament runner-up to Duke. It was the greatest season in the modern era of Wisconsin basketball. This year, though, the Badgers rebuilt by their recent high standards, earning a No. 7 seed in a season that saw legendary coach Bo Ryan step away from the game. Wisky tailed off ever so slightly in football as well, going 10-3 but failing to defend its West Division crown and losing all three of its games versus ranked opponents.
8. Notre Dame
Basketball was predictably unable to match last year’s stellar campaign, but football picked up the slack. The result? A similar overall ranking as a season ago.
The Irish are now regulars in this space, fueled by the solid coaching combo of Brian Kelly and Mike Brey. Kelly delivered one of his best seasons in South Bend, overcoming a number of crushing injuries to lose just two regular season games to two terrific teams, Clemson and Stanford, by two points apiece. Brey’s sixth-seeded squad was a vexing dichotomy that could beat Carolina and Duke—twice—yet also bow to Monmouth, Georgia Tech and Alabama.
Since neither Bear program matched last season’s results, it’s no surprise that the school dropped from No. 2 a year ago to this spot in 2015-16.
Quarterback injuries hamstrung Art Briles’ football team, which still had visions of a Big 12 and national title when November began. The 10-3 Bears dropped three of their final four regular season games, appearing in a Russell Athletic Bowl that was well below their potential and talent level.
Indoors, there was nothing particularly special about Baylor, which handled the average opponents, yet fared poorly versus ranked teams. The fifth-seeded Bears occupied the tail end of the Top 25 for much of the winter.
There was a common theme that ran through Hawkeye football and hoops the past six months—both shots past preseason forecasts.
Iowa football wasn’t even ranked in the summer, yet by the beginning of December it was one of only two unbeaten teams in the country. The Hawkeyes lost a heartbreaker in the Big Ten title game, but still earned a spot in their first Rose Bowl in a quarter-century.
Ditto Fran McCaffery’s kids, who were picked to finish ninth in the Big Ten, yet wound up in a third place tie behind high-scoring F Jarrod Uthoff. The Hawkeyes have earned a No. 7 seed for their surprising campaign.
For the second year in a row, it’s been good to be a Ute.
Utah was rock-solid in both sports, thanks in large part to the coaching of Kyle Whittingham (football) and Larry Krystkowiak (basketball). Krystkowiak lost a star—Delon Wright—to the first round of the NBA Draft, yet still went 26-8 and finished second only to top-seeded Oregon in the Pac-12.
Ute football won 10 games for the first time as a member of the conference, climbing as high as No. 3 nationally before losing to USC on Oct. 24. Utah’s final win was a special one, knocking off hated rival BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Ducks sure know how to finish.
In basketball, Oregon rode an eight-game season-ending winning streak to a Pac-12 Tournament title and the first No. 1 seed in school history. This squad, which pounded Utah by 31 Saturday, is primed for a long run behind rookie G Tyler Dorsey and Canadian-born forwards Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher. Football finished with a flurry, too.
After bottoming out at 3-3 to spur talk of the end of a dynasty, the Ducks won their final six regular season games, including an upset of Stanford and a blowout of USC. They wound up 9-4 and No. 19 nationally.
3. North Carolina
For a change in Chapel Hill, football carried more of the weight in these parts than it has in the past.
The Tar Heels won 11 games for the first time since 1997, while capturing the ACC Coastal Division with one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses. Carolina did lose their final two games to Clemson and Baylor, but still made a national statement in Larry Fedora’s fourth season as the head coach.
Hoops are still king on Tobacco Road. Roy Williams’ kids won the league regular season and tourney titles behind balanced scoring and the all-around efforts of senior F Brice Johnson.
Buddy Hield and the Sooners met expectations. Baker Mayfield and the Sooners exceeded them.
Not a whole lot was expected from OU football, which went 8-5 in 2014 and began this fall No. 19 in the preseason AP poll.
But the Sooners were a different team with Mayfield behind center, overcoming an early loss to Texas by tearing through the final seven regular season games, winning the Big 12 and facing Clemson in the playoffs. Hield has been predictably dynamite, averaging 25 points per game. However, he has not been a solo act, as Oklahoma won 25 games en route to a No. 2 seed in the West.
1. Michigan State
One of the nation’s most consistent athletic programs has once again proved its prowess over the past six months.
In the fall, the Spartans dropped just a single regular season game by a single point, winning the Big Ten championship to earn a playoff spot opposite eventual champ Alabama. Michigan State upset Ohio State on Nov. 21, ending the Buckeyes’ 23-game win streak.
True, Tom Izzo’s team didn’t receive a No. 1 seed, but the Spartans are as poised as anyone this side of Lawrence, Kans. of winning the NCAA Tournament. Fueled by G Denzel Valentine, MSU is 29-5, with a Big Ten Tournament crown in the trophy case.