NCAA Football

Newest Baylor Commit, 5-Star QB Jarrett Stidham, Has Serious Heisman Potential

Dual-threat quarterback Jarrett Stidham has committed to the Baylor Bears, according to Chuck Carlton of TheDallas Morning News. The 5-star QB shocked the recruiting world when he decommitted from Texas Tech earlier this month. 

This is a huge get for the Bears, who are looking for Bryce Petty's replacement in the 2015 class. 

Check out Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder break down just how big Stidham's impact will be at Baylor. 

 

Recruiting information from 247Sports.

Highlights courtesy of Hudl.

 

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Notre Dame Football: Can the Irish Really Beat LSU?

Most Notre Dame fans don't need the reminder. But the last time the Irish took on LSU, one of the most talented Irish rosters of the last decade got run out of the Sugar Bowl. 

And Charlie Weis' team didn't lose to Northwestern. 

Sure, Les Miles' 8-4 team isn't the same juggernaut that steamrolled the Irish and turned JaMarcus Russell into the No. 1 overall pick. But they're a lot closer to an elite outfit than the team Brian Kelly trotted out in November. 

The Irish need a victory. Desperately.

Can they get one? Not without using a handful of December practices to transform back into the squad we saw in September. 

Injuries make that next to impossible. Sheldon Day doesn't look like he's going to be able to answer the bell, meaning Notre Dame's two best defensive linemen will be in warm-up suits when the Tigers start running the football. They'll join team MVP Joe Schmidt on the sidelines hoping the "next man in" (A Kelly credo on roster development) isn't run over by LSU's ground game. 

But the struggles defensively don't even begin to explain what happened to this team down the stretch. Quarterback Everett Golson embodied this team's descent, giving away a promising season through self-inflicted mistakes that turned a 6-0 start into a 7-5 finish.

Golson's 22 turnovers in the season's final nine games turned Notre Dame's highest-flying offense since Charlie Weis was on the sidelines into its own worst enemy. It's also forced Brian Kelly to bring in sophomore Malik Zaire against USC, putting the quarterback job up for grabs heading into a long and unsettling offseason. 

After a 6-0 start, the failures have been widespread. Throw in special teams for good measure, too. Kyle Brindza is ending a record-setting career with a field-goal unit that at best looks like a 50-50 proposition every time it trots onto the field.

Sprinkle in a confounding head-coaching decision (a failed two-point try against Northwestern kept the Wildcats in the game), and perhaps the best thing that can be said about the Music City Bowl is that it's the last game this group has to play before getting a chance to recover both mentally and physically. 

Las Vegas sees the Tigers as a 7.5-point underdog, the fifth-widest margin of the non-playoff games. Only four games with Power Five conference matchups predict a scoring total lower than the 52 expected in the Music City Bowl. (The Irish alone have given up more than 30 in seven-consecutive games.)

On paper—and after watching the Irish play recently—the odds don't look good for the Irish. But after watching Les Miles' team sleepwalk through some recent bowl performances, Kelly and his team have a chance to pull off an incredible salvage job if they can find a way to beat LSU. 

It's a leap of faith. Finding a way for the Irish to stop LSU's ground game with a front seven built of underclassmen and leftovers doesn't look good. And getting a convincing performance from an Irish offense that has only outscored Navy since early October doesn't bode well for a matchup with the SEC's best statistical unit. 

Kelly talked about the challenges his team faces on both sides of the ball earlier this week. 

"They want to win. I think defensively, they know they’re a little short-handed and they’ve gotta find ways to come up with some plays," Kelly said. "They clearly know that from their standpoint that they’ve got to find a way to slow down LSU. I think our offense knows that they’ve have to play better. And probably understand how important it is to control the flow of the game."

But Kelly also pointed to the fact that this football team needs to get out of its own way. A young roster that's put in the work needs to stop making critical mistakes on game day. 

"I told them this. They’ve practiced well all year. We just haven’t translated that consistently," Kelly said. "That’s through a number of different things. Primarily, they’ve got to trust their technique, they’ve got to trust themselves. If they do that, they’ll find a way to beat LSU."

A victory could change everything. While there will be no parade for an 8-5 season, a win over a quality SEC opponent gives the Irish momentum as they hope to finish out recruiting strong.

It'll also put back on track the high hopes for 2015. Nearly 20 starters will return, with suspended KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams back as well. A victory over Les Miles' Tigers would help Kelly bury the embarrassing blowout defeat to USC by sending a message both in and out of the program that November's slide was personnel related—not personality. 

Brian Kelly ended up in South Bend by showing an uncanny knack to win football games. He's going to need to rediscover that talent—and fix a team that sure looks broken—if the Irish have any hope to leave Nashville victorious. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

 

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What Versatile 4-Star Nyheim Hines Brings to N.C. State

Dave Doeren and the North Carolina State Wolfpack scored a huge win on the recruiting trail by landing a commitment from 4-star all-purpose back Nyheim Hines on Friday, according to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

The 5’9”, 187-pounder committed to the Wolfpack over offers from Duke, Florida, Virginia Tech and West Virginia among others.

Landing a pledge from Hines—who is rated as the No. 2 all-purpose back in the 2015 class and the No. 123 player overall—gives N.C. State their highest-ranked offensive commitment in their 2015 class.

But what will Hines bring to the Wolfpack’s offense?

For starters, he’s also a track standout who ranks as one of the fastest players in the country for the 2015 class.

His listed time in the 40-yard dash is 4.34 seconds.

According to Evan Watkins of VTScoop (subscription required), Hines has a twin sister who is also a budding track star.

Hines admits he grew up a fan of the Wolfpack, and the fact that they offered his sister likely played a role in his decision to head to Raleigh for college.

“I think [NC State] is a great school and they are one of my top favorites. I grew up a fan there so I am happy about my offer and they offered my sister,” Hines told Watkins.

As a junior, Hines racked up absurd totals of 3,137 rushing yards and 49 touchdowns while averaging more than 10 yards per carry.

Per MaxPreps, he rushed for 2,118 yards as a senior.

Given that Hines is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield, Doeren can also utilize his talents in the passing game in an effort to create mismatches against linebackers and safeties in space.

The Wolfpack also have a commitment from 3-star running back Reggie Gallaspy—who, at 205 pounds, is a bigger back that is the perfect complement to a back such as Hines.

Just as big as his commitment was for the Wolfpack’s on-field efforts, it’s also huge from a momentum standpoint in helping rebuild the program as a potential ACC contender.

In keeping Hines close to home, Doeren and his staff’s push to keep the state of North Carolina’s top talent within state borders is gaining steam.

Hines is the third in-state pledge to be ranked among North Carolina’s Top 10 prospects—which is the first time the Wolfpack have landed as many top homegrown prospects since the 2010 class.

Considering that Hines is one of the most explosive playmakers in the 2015 class, he now becomes a candidate to step in and give the Wolfpack’s offense an immediate boost next fall.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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Nyheim Hines to N.C. State: Wolfpack Land 4-Star RB Prospect

The 2015 recruiting class is down one key member after 4-star running back Nyheim Hines has reportedly made his college intentions known. 

According to Ryan Bartow of 247 Sports, Hines will attend N.C. State: 

Hines, who is the second-ranked all-purpose running back in this year's class and a track star according to 247Sports.com, has true impact potential. His 40-yard dash time, per the recruiting site, is 4.34 seconds. 

According to D. Clay Best of The News Observer, Hines had 2,261 rushing yards, 250 receiving yards and 40 total touchdowns before the playoffs were finished. 

Considering all the hype around him as a senior, Hines talked about how he stays sharp in all facets of his life with Best in a separate post for The News Observer:

It’s important for me to take some time out for myself and relax. I know the work that’s there for school, football and recruiting, but I have to take some time away. It needs to be done.

...

Anything I can get done during the school day, when I have a few minutes, I’d try to get it done before I get home.

Coming from North Carolina, it's no surprise Hines attracted a lot of attention from ACC schools. He had offers from North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Duke, among others.

There are so few difference-makers available every year, so Hines can make an entire recruiting class. He's got game-changing speed and a knack for finding the end zone. There's still room for the running back to fill out his 187-pound frame, but the starting package is something coaches dream about. 

Hines also comes with the ability to play multiple positions if necessary. He can be a lesser version of Reggie Bush, moving from running back to wide receiver to special teams. That versatility is what made him such a sought-after commodity. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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10 College Football Rosters That Will Look Completely Different in 2015

As if you needed another reason to devote the next two weeks to bowl games, here's this sobering reality: Many of the teams you'll be watching won't look anything like this next season.

The combination of outgoing seniors and standout juniors (who either have declared or are projected to declare for the NFL draft) means that the rosters of several top teams will have a very different look when the 2015 campaign begins next September.

With that in mind, these bowl games will serve as a going-away party for many of the best players in the country, and where that talent is lumped together, it also may mean the end of an era of prosperity for their teams.

Here's a look at 10 schools whose 2015 rosters figure to have the biggest shakeup.

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4-Star Donte Jackson Reveals Top 3, Decision Date: Where Does He Fit Best?

New Orleans standout Donte Jackson is ready to work his way toward a collegiate commitment. The 4-star recruit revealed his intentions to announce a decision on January 21, sharing those plans on Twitter:

Jackson, rated seventh nationally among "athletes" in 247Sports' composite rankings, is projected to play cornerback at the next level. Georgia, LSU and USC are all in the mix five weeks away from a decision.

The 5'11", 175-pound Riverside High School senior is among the most coveted prospects in another talent-laden Louisiana class. He was one of 16 players nominated for U.S. Army All-American National Player of the Year honors and is expected to compete in the All-American Bowl on January 3 in San Antonio.

Aside from his strong play in the defensive secondary, Jackson served as an explosive offensive weapon at Riverside. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 18 touchdowns this fall, per Amos Morale III of 247Sports.

Now that Jackson has shared his final three, let's explore each option.

 

Georgia

Jackson joined the Bulldogs on campus multiple times this summer, and a return trip to Athens now appears likely. Georgia certainly has a need at cornerback, especially since Rico McGraw flipped his commitment to Alabama in July.

Mark Richt narrowly missed on 5-star target Tarvarus McFadden earlier this season. The coveted defender decided to head to Florida State following serious flirtations with Georgia.

The Bulldogs helped address the issue this season by beating out several suitors for in-state defensive back Rashad Roundtree, but he's likely to land at safety in college. Deandre Baker, a 3-star Miami product, is currently the only Georgia commit listed as a cornerback by 247Sports.

Jackson would be a clear-cut top player at the position for Georgia in this class. A redshirt season seems unlikely anywhere, given his ability to at least make an impact on special teams, but an immediate role within the defense may be easiest to earn in Athens.

If Georgia fails to find a top-tier cornerback in this class, it may force Richt's hand when deciding whether 5-star athlete Terry Godwin belongs on offense or defense next season. A player like Jackson would likely allow Godwin to wreak havoc at receiver.

 

LSU

The Tigers have done an excellent job taking care of business on home turf when it comes to recruiting. Jackson is the latest in-state star to land on Les Miles' radar.

His most recent LSU visit occurred earlier this month. Jackson journeyed to Baton Rouge alongside fellow New Orleans prospect Tyron Johnson, a 5-star receiver who also lists the Tigers in his top three.

The duo are friends who've remained close throughout the recruiting process, so there's certainly a chance they could influence each other's decision. Johnson is expected to announce his collegiate intentions January 2 at the Under Armour All-America Game, setting the stage for Jackson to keep that choice in mind during the final stretch of his recruitment.

LSU already holds a commitment from 5-star Jacksonville cornerback Kevin Toliver, who rates second nationally among players at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings. The Tigers are prepared to pair him in the backfield with 4-star Louisiana native Xavier Lewis.

Jackson could become yet another dynamic element of the LSU secondary, which may still potentially add 5-star cornerbacks Iman Marshall (California) or Kendall Sheffield (Texas). There's a chance this becomes a rather crowded situation, which is a great problem to have for Miles.

 

USC

This is an obvious outlier among Jackson's final group, given the Trojans' proximity to his home region. Still, we've seen USC snag premier prospects from every part of the country in years past, and a return to that success is key in Steve Sarkisian's efforts to return the program to prominence.

The Trojans, also a main contender for Marshall, already reached into Georgia this spring for 5-star offensive tackle Chuma Edoga, and a pledge from Jackson would provide further evidence that USC is on the rise after several years of scholarship sanctions.

Cornerback Isaiah Langley is among the headliners in a class that currently sits atop Pac-12 recruiting rankings. Sarkisian also secured a commitment from underrated Los Angeles County cornerback Taeon Mason.

USC has shown plenty of willingness to play freshman this year, due in large part to previous roster limitations. Adoree' Jackson, a top 2014 signee who possesses similar physical attributes to Donte Jackson, saw substantial playing time throughout his first season.

A commitment to USC would require Jackson to sacrifice his ability to frequently see family and friends on campus, but that thought is actually refreshing to young athletes sometimes. How he handles the idea of relocating across the country is at least as big a factor as what USC can provide him on the football field.

 

The Verdict

It's always tough to envision a heavily pursued prospect departing SEC territory, so USC is a definite underdog in this group. Most onlookers, including us, expect the recruitment to center on Georgia and LSU.

Miles and the Tigers have made Baton Rouge a welcoming destination for local recruits. Jackson would join a secondary that consistently sends talent to the NFL under the direction of defensive coordinator John Chavis.

However, if Jackson is looking for the right fit strictly from a football standpoint, it's hard to top Georgia. The Bulldogs have made defensive backs a priority during this cycle, and results have been mixed.

Jackson would join the class as its top cornerback commit, viewed as an immediate asset in Athens. It may not be his ultimate destination, but Georgia is an ideal place for Jackson to embark on his college career.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Predicting the 10 Biggest Performances in College Football Bowl Season

It is hard but not impossible to predict where the biggest performances of college football bowl season will come from.

Some of the biggest names in the country stole the show in 2013, chief among them Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (427 passing yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions against Miami) and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (16 catches, 227 yards, two touchdowns against Ohio State).

But bowl season isn't just about the big boys. It's also about the little guys. It was just as fun to watch Adam Muema rush for 229 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo as it was to watch Bridgewater, Watkins and the other All-America candidates go to work.

But who will post the biggest numbers this season?

To answer that, we have taken a look at the players and matchups of every game on the schedule. We did not dock points for strength of opponent—e.g., 400 passing yards against Rice would be considered a "bigger performance" than 398 passing yards against Alabama—and ended up with a solid mix of big and small bowls.

Sound off below and let us know whom you would add.

Begin Slideshow

LSU Football: How Tigers Should Prepare to Face 2 Notre Dame QBs

Les Miles and Brian Kelly will both be stuck in the quarterback blues leading up to the Music City Bowl on December 30. 

LSU had a rough close to 2014. The Tigers' November losses included two games of under 100 yards passing from Anthony Jennings. Fans badly want to see Miles give true freshman Brandon Harris another chance under center.

But at least the Tigers have had inept quarterback play all season. The free fall of Notre Dame's Everett Golson has put Kelly in a rut.  

The Fighting Irish dropped five of their last six games after starting the season 6-0. Their last loss was a brutal 49-14 beatdown at the hands of USC.  

Notre Dame's inept offense has been the biggest concern for Irish fans. Golson was once considered one of college football's elite signal-callers, but his seven interceptions in the final four games has caused Kelly to rethink the direction of the position. 

Sophomore backup Malik Zaire saw his first meaningful action of 2014 against the Trojans. Zaire looked promising, going 9-of-20 through the air for 170 yards. 

Kelly said earlier this week he will use both Goslon and Zaire against the Tigers, per Keith Arnold of NBC Sports: “I think both of them can help us win...I want to play them both because I think both of them have different traits and we need to find a way to win the game. I think both of them can help us win.”

Arnold, who also writes for B/R, said via email that Zaire's legs add an extra dimension to Notre Dame's offense. 

"Zaire's an upgrade as a runner, not as a passer," said Arnold. "He's genuinely smooth in the read-option game, and is a better athlete than Golson, who is no slouch either. He is just not fast enough to run his way out of certain situations." 

Though Notre Dame's offense is struggling, here are three things the Tigers must do to prepare for Kelly's two-quarterback system. 

 

Keep Contain

LSU's outside rushers must keep contain. If they don't, Notre Dame will have major success offensively. 

Golson and Zaire are both mobile, with Zaire, as Arnold said, being the faster of the two. They can inflict significant damage with their legs. LSU defensive ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter must keep lane discipline. 

LSU's blitzers must do the same. Linebacker Kwon Alexander and safety Jalen Mills allowed Alabama's Blake Sims to get outside the pocket late in the fourth quarter, and it cost the Tigers the game.

LSU's secondary will be the best Notre Dame has faced all season. But if Kelly's quarterbacks can extend plays with their legs, receivers William Fuller and Corey Robinson are talented enough to eventually get open. The key to stopping that is by keeping them in the pocket. 

Do not be surprised if LSU's defensive ends approach this game the same way they faced former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. They will be cautious with their rush in an effort to keep contain. 

 

Stop the Run

Notre Dame's running game has been good but not great.

Running back Tarean Folston leads the charge with 816 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The numbers sound fine, but Folston and the rest of Irish backs lack some explosiveness. None of them have registered a run of 30 yards or more. 

Defensive coordinator John Chavis is at his best when his defense stops the run on early downs. This forces offenses into passing situations, which allows him to insert his 3-2-6 "Mustang" package. The defense can be confusing for quarterbacks, as they are not accustomed to seeing six defensive backs on the field at once.

The Tigers must also be prepared for the zone read. They were eviscerated by Auburn and Mississippi State on designed quarterback options. 

Kelly said, per Arnold, the zone read will be in play for Zaire. It could provide the success he needs on the ground against LSU. 

 

Mix Up Coverages

Chavis loves to trust his defensive backs in man coverage, as he should. Cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Jalen Collins have had terrific seasons. 

Chavis gave himself more freedom when middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith and safety Jamal Adams were inserted into the starting lineup at the midway point of the season. Beckwith and Adams' tackling in the open field and blitzing ability has transformed the defense.

LSU should run mostly man coverage and blitz aggressively. But in man coverage, defensive backs have their backs turned to the quarterback. This opens up massive running lanes for quarterbacks to run through. Also, Fuller and Robinson are a fantastic receiving tandem that would be tough to guard for the entirety of a game. 

LSU prefers not to play zone coverage, but some of that must be mixed in Chavis' game plan. Kelly is too good of an offensive mind to see the same defensive schemes over and over.

Chavis understands that. Expect him to throw a variety of looks at Notre Dame to keep Zaire and Golson guessing. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.comESPN.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 5-Star DT Daylon Mack Decommits from Texas A&M

Daylon Mack, one of the top recruits in the Class of 2015, announced he's no longer committed to Texas A&M. The defensive tackle plans to provide an update on his future this weekend.

The coveted prospect passed along word of the decision on Twitter:

Mack is a 5-star prospect who rates inside the nation's top 20 incoming players for the 2015 season, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The Gladewater High School (Texas) star also ranks inside the top five at his position and among Texas recruits.

He was expected to provide an instant boost to the Aggies defense. Instead, 247Sports lists LSU, TCU and Texas as the likely leading contenders following his choice to reconsider his options. All three of those programs received a "warm" distinction for the level of interest.

Earlier in the day, Max Olson of ESPN passed along comments from fellow recruit DeAndre McNeal, who committed to the Longhorns:

Dan Wolken of USA Today noted the trend toward Texas:

Mack is a highly impressive athlete with a rare combination of power and short-area quickness. His athleticism is outstanding for a player of his size. He should be able to make a pretty smooth transition to the collegiate level, making a rotational impact early before developing into a high-impact lineman.

Now, the only question is where he'll play after spurning Texas A&M. The outlook should become more clear after he provides the top two Saturday.

 

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​Can Alabama O-Line Contain Terrifying Ohio State All​-American Joey Bosa?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — This type of game plan has helped Alabama in the past this season.

"We're going to do what we do," Mississippi State cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend told reporters when asked how the Bulldogs were going to contain Amari Cooper. "This week, it's just another guy. (Cooper is a) really great player, has a lot of catches, and the challenge always comes to us on the back end.”

Cooper caught eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.

Two weeks later, Cooper torched Auburn to the tune of 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. After the game, Auburn safety Johnathan Ford told reporters, "We just play him as any other person.”

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was fired shortly following the Iron Bowl.

The just-another-player line sounds good, but actually going through with it can have serious consequences, as several defenses that faced Amari Cooper this year found out.

So it’s somewhat curious when Crimson Tide players say they’ll employ a similar strategy in the Sugar Bowl.

When Alabama takes the field with Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on January 1, it will face an almost identical situation on the other side of the ball.

Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa has been a one-man wrecking ball this season. He ranks fourth in the country in sacks (13.5) and fifth in tackles for loss (20). Plays like this have defined his season, where he can take over a game on his own:

But Alabama players say they aren’t changing a game plan for one player.

“We don’t change our scheme around nobody,” said quarterback Blake Sims, who could be forced to use his feet a little bit more if Bosa can run free. “We play the way we play. He’s an awesome guy. We know he’s going to make plays. All we’ve got to do is erase it and try to make the next play very explosive.”

Senior right tackle Austin Shepherd will be shouldering a lot of the load against Bosa, who primarily plays on the left side of the defensive line.

He didn’t seem phased when asked about playing across from Bosa.

“I don’t really think about who I’m playing against,” Shepherd said. “I kinda approach everybody the same way, so I’m really thinking about the accolades. I’m just trying to look at how I can beat him every play.”

Will this sort of approach work in Alabama’s favor? If its past offensive line play this year is any indication, it very well could.

The Crimson Tide have only allowed 13 sacks this season, tied for first in the SEC this season with Arkansas, which has played one fewer game.

Individually, Alabama has faced seven of the SEC’s top eight sack leaders (the Crimson Tide’s Xzavier Dickson ranks No. 7). Those seven rushers combined for just 2.5 sacks against Alabama.

Here’s a full breakdown:

Alabama has more or less slowed down top individual performers as well. 

Nationally, though, none of those rushers are getting to the quarterback more than Bosa is this season. And only Ray has more tackles for loss than Bosa.

So while Alabama has had success protecting its quarterback this year, it hasn’t seen a force like Bosa up front yet.

That may require a little extra attention.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Tennessee Continues to Land Top Talent, 2015 Class Will Finish in Top 10

Butch Jones and his Tennessee Volunteers have hit the recruiting trail hard thus far, scooping up top-tier talent to address some of their pressing needs.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer break down the class and what type of impact these recruits will have on the Tennessee program.

Which recruit should Tennessee be pushing for the hardest?

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014-15: Odds, Schedule and Predictions for Semifinals

For the first time in history, four teams remain in contention for the national championship as bowl season approaches thanks to the inaugural College Football Playoff. Many of us had been hoping for this kind of change for quite some time, and with plenty of compelling storylines surrounding both the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl, the playoff appears to have been worth the wait.

The Alabama Crimson Tide are led into the Sugar Bowl by coach Nick Saban, who has a career record of 182-58-1, and they will face off against the Ohio State Buckeyes, led by coach Urban Meyer, who is 140-26-0 for his career. Needless to say, neither coach is used to losing.

The Florida State Seminoles and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston will take on the Oregon Ducks and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl. Winston won the national title during his Heisman season, and Mariota will be aiming to accomplish that same feat.

As we impatiently await for New Year's Day to roll around so we can watch these storylines unfold, let's take an updated look at the odds, the schedule and predictions for each semifinal clash.

 

Sugar Bowl

Who: Alabama vs. Ohio State

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana

Time: 8:30 p.m. EST

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 58.5
  • Spread: Alabama -9.5

 

Prediction

The funny thing about this contest is the fact that the most talked-about player is sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, who is making just his second career start. However, when a player leads his team to a 59-0 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game, that's likely to happen.

Having Jones at the helm may seem like a huge disadvantage to Ohio State, but it's actually been quite troublesome for Alabama due to a lack of tape to study. Saban gave his first remarks about the quarterback during a press conference:

I think this guy is very capable. He's a good passer, big, strong, athletic guy who can really do all the things the other guy (J.T. Barrett) could do in terms of quarterback runs. It's just different styles.

The one thing he did really well was pass the ball. He made some good throws in the Wisconsin game, some big plays downfield. We feel like philosophically, they're going to run their offense, it's just what part of it they might feature a little differently, that's the part we're not sure about.

Due to Jones' dual-threat ability, the Buckeyes can keep Alabama's defense guessing. However, let's not discount the tremendous defense of the Crimson Tide.

Coming into this game, Alabama's defense is ranked second against the run, 59th against the pass, 11th in total defense and fourth in points allowed. Some of those numbers don't exactly do the team justice, as one big game by Auburn in the Iron Bowl sent Alabama significantly down the rankings.

After that contest against the Tigers, the Crimson Tide stiffened up again, holding Missouri to just 10 first downs and 13 points in the SEC Championship Game. 

It's very easy to like what Jones did against Wisconsin, but did he catch lightning in a bottle? There's no certain answer to that question, so the pick has to go with the more stable and consistent team, and in this case, that's Alabama.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 20

 

Rose Bowl

Who: Oregon vs. Florida State

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

Time: 5 p.m. EST

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 72
  • Spread: Oregon -9

 

Prediction

We all know Mariota's numbers by now. They've been regurgitated over and over due to his Heisman campaign. There's no doubt he was college football's most prolific player in 2014; however, one player can't win a game—it must be a team effort.

That's why we must look at the strengths and weaknesses of Oregon's defense to decide if the Ducks can take down the undefeated defending champions. Mariota will put points on the board, but will Oregon's defense be able to contain the Seminoles enough to preserve a win?

Coming into the Rose Bowl, Oregon's defense is ranked 48th against the run, 100th against the pass, 81st in total defense and 29th in scoring defense. That last statistic is the most important. Even though the Ducks are giving up an average of 413.8 yards per game, they are holding opponents to just 22.5 points per game. That's what we call bend-don't-break defense.

So, why have they been successful in that department? Much of it has to do with a very good pass rush and a ball-hawking secondary. On the season, Oregon has accumulated 34 sacks and 25 takeaways in just 13 games. That leads us to the next question: Will Florida State's offensive line be able to hold up and protect Winston?

According to Jared Shanker of ESPN.com, the Seminoles offensive line may be the key to their playoff success. Here's what he wrote about the recent changes within the unit:

The Seminoles are averaging 146 yards rushing over their past four games—not a sizable difference—but they are averaging 4.8 yards per carry. They averaged less than four yards per rush in September. And in the ACC title game, FSU averaged 5.42 yards per rush, a stat that helped carry them to the No. 3 playoff seed and a date against No. 2 Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

That's a good sign, as a better running game is more likely to limit Winston's passing attempts. After all, he's thrown 17 interceptions this season despite getting relatively good protection from his offensive line.

But here's the problem for the Seminoles: They won't be able to keep up a consistent running game against an Oregon team that gets points on the board early and often. Florida State hasn't faced an offense nearly as well-rounded or prolific as Oregon's this season, and it may have trouble staying with the Ducks without relying on the passing game to move the ball.

If we're about to see an aerial shootout, the smart money is on Mariota.

Prediction: Oregon 42, Florida State 31

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 18.

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Georgia Lands UAB's Jake Ganus, Immediately Strengthens Defense

Former UAB linebacker Jake Ganus will transfer to play his senior year at Georgia.

Ganus was UAB's leading tackler the past two seasons and is eligible to play immediately following the folding of the Blazers program Dec. 2. He announced the news on Twitter:

Georgia is set to lose inside linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson next season. Outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd are both expected to return, per Genry Estes of 247Sports, but the Bulldogs could still use depth at the position.

Ganus began his career at safety before moving to linebacker as a sophomore. He had 16.5 tackles for loss in 2014, tying him for No. 16 in the country. He is 6'2", 225 pounds and played on the weak side at UAB, so it's doubtful he could handle playing inside in the SEC.

Herrera (245 lbs) and Wilson (237 lbs) both make Ganus look small.

Still, Ganus made the All-Conference-USA second team in 2014 and has three years of game experience under him. He was one of the most attractive "free agents" on UAB's roster and gives Georgia depth at multiple positions—safety included.

Jake Reuse of Rivals.com explains how Ganus was courted by Georgia coaches and his effect on the scholarship numbers:

[Ganus] was put in contact with Georgia coaches when the relocation process began and the relationship appeared to bloom from there.

Ganus committed to the Bulldogs over the Marshall Thundering Herd, upon finding out that he would be granted official visits over the dead period and that his eligibility would not count toward the mid-year scholarship numbers.  Instead, Ganus will be counted toward the final spring count of 85.

Ganus played his best game of the 2014 season against Arkansas, one of the most physical offenses in the SEC. The Razorbacks won with ease, 45-17, but Ganus had 11 total tackles including one 12-yard sack. He tackled Jonathan Williams for a one-yard loss on the first play of the game and finished with five tackles in the first quarter.

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt could go a number of different ways with Ganus. He could try to beef him up and play him on the inside. He could try to slim him down and play him at safety. He could leave him as he is and let him back up Floyd and Jenkins.

That Ganus doesn't fit one role concretely is what makes him such a valuable addition. Georgia has a ton of holes on defense, and a new one opened Dec. 8 when cornerback J.J. Green announced he will transfer to Georgia Tech. If the past few offseasons were any indication, that will not be the only player lost to transfer or dismissal before next fall.

Ganus gives the Bulldogs options at multiple spots. He is an experienced FBS player who can paper over some of their holes.

No matter where he lines up, this defense just got better.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

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Auburn Football: How Will the Tigers Stop Melvin Gordon?

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn's defense returned to the practice field without its coordinator from the entire regular season, under the direction of an interim coordinator whose future with the program is unclear and with its next coordinator observing off to the side.

And, through all of those drastic changes, the Tigers are having to prepare for the nation's best running back.

Melvin Gordon, who leads the country with 180 rushing yards per game this season, will lead a Wisconsin offense, undergoing an abrupt coaching transition as well, against an Auburn defense that struggled mightily to end the season in the Outback Bowl.

"He has a lot of moves in his arsenal," junior linebacker Kris Frost said. "He can get free. He has a lot of breakaway speed. He has a lot of power to his game. It makes him tough to bring him down.

"But it's something that we're up for the challenge, and we'll be ready when it comes time to play."

Slowing down Gordon will be a challenge for Auburn's defense, but it shouldn't be viewed as an impossible task, if it takes a page out of the Ohio State playbook.

Although the Heisman finalist ripped through opponents throughout the regular season—even breaking LaDainian Tomlinson's 15-year FBS record for most rushing yards in a single game against Nebraska—he is also coming off one of the worst performances of his illustrious Wisconsin career.

Ohio State held Gordon to just 76 yards on 26 carries in an eye-popping 59-0 rout in the Big Ten Championship Game, a victory that helped the Buckeyes make the inaugural College Football Playoff.

"We couldn’t make any explosive plays," Gordon said after the loss, per the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot. "They really got after us with blitzes and with everything. Our offense as a whole couldn’t get things rolling."

While Ohio State's defense had more success than Auburn's in 2014, its performances against rushing attacks weren't all that different:

But the Buckeyes shut down Gordon and Wisconsin's power-running offense thanks to sound fundamentals and a fierce attitude.

"We leveraged the ball, we were aggressive and we were gap sound," Ohio State linebacker Josh Perry told Cleveland.com's Bill Landis. "Guys came out with a chip on their shoulder and got after them early."

On Thursday afternoon, Frost echoed Perry's keys to stopping Gordon.

"Gap fits and making sure everybody is in the right spot at the right time," Frost said. "Really just bringing your feet on every tackle, never expecting him to just go down and knowing that he's always going to keep his legs moving. So we're going to have to keep our legs moving. When you hit, you have to continue to run."

That, of course, is easier said than done, especially for an Auburn defense that struggled to make sure tackles and stay true to assignments throughout the year.

But, according to Frost, the extra practices between the end of the regular season and the Iron Bowl have been beneficial in getting ready for a runner like Gordon.

"The main focus is winning the game and stopping their offense as a whole—the run, as well as the play-action pass and the dropback pass," Frost said. "With how much we're polishing things up and getting after it in practice, I'm sure we'll be ready for it when the time comes."

While Frost called playing against a run-first Big Ten team like Wisconsin "a linebacker's game," his teammates said stopping Gordon would be a total team effort.

"We're going to execute, just make sure all our run-stops are correct, and we're going to be ready for anything that comes by," sophomore safety Johnathan Ford said. "We're going to be ready to stop the ball, defend passes. We're getting ourselves ready. As DBs, we're going to be ready to defend passes, we're going to be ready to stop the run."

As for the attitude the Buckeyes had, Auburn's defensive stars said that has already been created by the presence of future coordinator Will Muschamp.

Outback Bowl practices and the game itself can be viewed as one big audition for Auburn's defense, which will be under the former Florida head coach after the New Year's Day showdown with Wisconsin.

The Tigers know that playing a huge role in stopping the nation's top running back would look great in the eyes of their new coordinator.

"It's going to be competition each and every day, but we've just got to go out and execute," Ford said. "You want to show your new defensive coordinator what you can do. ... Whenever you put stuff on film, people are going to evaluate you."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Treon Harris Cited for Driving Vehicle Without License: Latest Details, Reaction

Florida Gators quarterback Treon Harris has gone through an up-and-down season both on and off the field, but the freshman once again finds himself in trouble with the law.

According to Robbie Andreu of GatorSports.com, the 19-year-old Miami native is facing a second-degree misdemeanor for operating a vehicle without a license.

Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel reports that "Harris is scheduled to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 15 for the misdemeanor charge."

Scott Carter of GatorZone.com has a statement regarding the incident:

Harris was reportedly stopped by police for speeding on Dec. 13, per Andreu:

Marijuana was found upon searching the car, although Harris is not facing marijuana charges since he doesn't own the car that was pulled over:

According to Andreu, Harris was accompanied by two other Gators players in freshman defensive backs J.C. Jackson and Jalen Tabor:

Per Richard Johnson of Jacksonville.com, Harris plans to plead not guilty to the charge against him:

Harris' attorney, Huntley Johnson, believes the charge will ultimately be dropped, according to Andreu.

"I think as soon as he gets his license, the charge probably will be dismissed," Johnson said. "That's the way it's usually handled in a case like this for a citizen, and he's a citizen."

Harris was accused of sexual battery by a female student earlier in the season, but she decided against pursuing criminal charges.

The Gators are set to face East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3, and Harris is expected to start under center.

That could potentially change if the school decides to pursue further discipline, although there hasn't been any indication of that to this point.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Texas May Not Play Texas A&M, but Rivalry Is Still Heated on Recruiting Trail

The rivalry between the Texas Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies may no longer be played out on the field, but it is as heated as ever on the recruiting front.

The head-to-head battle between Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Texas head coach Charlie Strong has been fairly one-sided in the Aggies' favor. However, Strong may have leveled the playing field Friday.

According to 247Sports' Colt Barber, 2015 5-star linebacker and No. 1 player in the state of Texas Malik Jefferson announced his commitment to the Longhorns early Friday morning. Texas also received the commitment of Jefferson's high school teammate, 4-star wide receiver/linebacker DeAndre McNeal.

Numerous recruiting experts, including the "Crystal Ball" pundits at 247Sports, predicted the Aggies were all but locked in for both Jefferson and McNeal. Those predictions proved to be wrong.

Texas A&M not having named a defensive coordinator could have been the straw that broke the Aggies' back with Jefferson, which allowed Strong to swoop in and take the lead.

Regardless of the reason behind Jefferson and McNeal's decisions, Strong landed two coveted recruits over in-state rival Texas A&M.

What happened Friday goes to show the battle between the Longhorns and the Aggies may never die. In fact, Strong and Sumlin's fight on the recruiting front has only just begun.

Texas has needed a big break in recruiting, and Friday's commitments give the Longhorns significant momentum on the recruiting trail.

What will be interesting to watch is if the momentum can continue through national signing day.

A variety of top recruits are still on the table, most notably wide receiver Ryan Newsome as well as defensive backs Kris Boyd and Holton Hill. Of those three main targets for Texas, Boyd has high interest in both the Longhorns and the Aggies.

Jefferson and McNeal's commitments could be exactly what Strong and Texas needed to reel in some more top talent in the 2015 class.

The events that occurred Friday will be far from the end of the battle between Texas and Texas A&M on the recruiting trail. As it stands, the Aggies' 2015 class ranks No. 4 compared to the No. 14 Longhorns.

Texas still has a lot of catching up to do, but Jefferson and McNeal's commitments are the first significant step in Strong's recruiting in the state of Texas.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Why Michigan's Next Coach Should Keep Greg Mattison

Michigan is currently waiting to see whether its massive offer to San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is enough to lure him back to Ann Arbor. As Harbaugh contemplates his next move, conjecture turns to whether or not any of Brady Hoke’s assistants will be retained.

While it’s hard to make a case for anyone on the offensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is the best candidate to return.

Mattison was extremely loyal to Hoke, but it’s unlikely that he’d follow him to another university. He repeatedly defended Hoke’s handling of the program but still argued with him on the sidelines this season.

Mattison’s defense ranked 10th nationally this season despite getting very little help from an anemic offense which ranked 111th.

Could Mattison be tempted to continue working with the players he recruited and see how well they work with a better offense?

Whomever replaces Brady Hoke should retain some of the previous coaches in order to help the current players transition to the new staff. Even Rich Rodriguez, who famously purged most of Lloyd Carr’s staff, retained running backs coach Fred Jackson. Jackson was also retained by Hoke after Rodriguez’s dismissal, although it’s unclear if he will be retained by the next coach.

Mattison’s experience in the NFL and success at Michigan makes him a top candidate for any opening, although his age (65) does raise the question of how long he plans to keep coaching.

An interesting connection exists between Mattison and potential new coach Jim Harbaugh. Mattison has worked with both Harbaugh’s father, Jack, at Western Michigan his brother, John, at Baltimore in the NFL. He would undoubtedly have the support of Jim’s family, and his loyalty to both Michigan and his players might be enough for him return.

If Harbaugh passes on the job, Mattison also has ties to Les Miles, whose stealth campaign for the job  continues even as he publicly denies it. Miles recently told MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner that, "The only thing I can tell you is that I'm so for Michigan. They have a process, they're going to go through it. They're going to get a great coach.”

Miles’ current offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, worked with Mattison in Baltimore and previously worked at Michigan as an assistant. It's conceivable that he might try to convince Mattison to stay.

Whomever replaces Hoke should consider retaining Greg Mattison. He was Hoke’s best coach and deserves a shot to keep building his defense.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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@PCallihan

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How Oregon Can Coach Around Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's Absence in Rose Bowl

Oregon knows what it will get out of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl against Florida State. What it will get out of its pass defense now that star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is sidelined is an uncertainty.

In any case, Ducks coach Mark Helfrich may have to make some major adjustments on the fly.

According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, Helfrich confirmed on Thursday that Ekpre-Olomu would miss the bowl game with a knee injury:

The news confirmed a previous report from Paul Myerberg of USA Today of the same variety.

It's a potentially game-changing blow for Oregon. Ekpre-Olomu was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and Associated Press All-American. He finished second on the team with two interceptions—one of which came in spectacular fashion against Michigan State—and nine pass break-ups on 11 passes defended.

In all likelihood, Ekpre-Olomu was going to be matched up against Seminoles receiver Rashad Greene on January 1. Outside the hash marks, that was going to be the most important, and most watched, matchup on the field.

Greene, who leads the team with 93 receptions for 1,306 yards and seven touchdowns, has been the cornerstone of the Seminoles' passing game.

Numbers aside, Ekpre-Olomu would have given Oregon confidence in covering Greene. Athletically, Ekpre-Olomu matched up well, but Tyson Alger of The Oregonian also called the senior corner the "emotional leader of the secondary."

With Ekpre-Olomu out, the Ducks will promote redshirt freshman Chris Seisay into the starting lineup. Whether Seisay, senior Troy Hill or some other combination cover Greene remains to be seen.

Ideally for Oregon, it could put someone on Greene in man-to-man coverage—the "next man up" mentality—and not miss a beat.

However, Seisay knows that Florida State will target him early and often regardless of whom he covers. He's the new blood.

"They don't know me, they're going to pick on me because I'm the new corner," Seisay told Alger. "I just have to show them what I can do."

That's where Florida State could do its damage in the passing game. It's not necessarily about targeting Greene now that Ekpre-Olomu is out. It's about finding other weaknesses if Oregon is forced to bracket Greene in Ekpre-Olomu's absence.

Blitzing only puts more pressure on the Ducks' pass defense and some of its young defenders.

It's an interesting situation for Florida State, too. If Oregon devotes extra bodies to Greene, will Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston look elsewhere? Other than tight end Nick O'Leary, the next best receiver is freshman Travis Rudolph with 32 receptions.

Oregon's secondary is a mix of veteran guys like Hill and Erick Dargan, and younger players like Seisay. Several young faces are going to be thrown into important roles in the biggest game of their young careers. Helfrich hopes they're going to be ready.

How he adjusts if they're not is going to be the coaching decision to watch.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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How Oregon Can Coach Around Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's Absence in Rose Bowl

Oregon knows what it will get out of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl against Florida State...

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UCF Is Home to College Football's Biggest Pond Party

We have heard about Ohio State's Mirror Lake Jump, but UCF takes their pond and turns it into the biggest party of the year with Spirit Splash.

Check out what this fun UCF tradition is all about.

A special thanks to the Ideas United group for all their hard work on this piece.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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