NCAA Football

Tennessee Football: Offseason Goals for Volunteers Offense

With Thursday's news that offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is parting ways with the Tennessee football program, question marks suddenly became abundant for the Volunteers offense.

Bajakian's departure—first reported by FoxSports.com's Bruce Feldman—leaves UT without a clear direction two weeks before national signing day and two months before the start of spring practice.

Head coach Butch Jones needs to make the right hire to facilitate his offensive philosophy into a brighter, more talent-laden era in Tennessee football.

But with plenty of playmakers in place, the goals for this Vols offense don't stop with the new hire. As a matter of fact, the person whom Jones brings in will be charged with the task of doing much better than Bajakian's two rocky seasons on Rocky Top.

With potential stars in place such as quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, the foundation is there for this group to make a major step forward.

Yes, the hire will be vital, but it's also exciting to think of who UT could lure because of all the elite players on campus.

Between the promise of some new play-calling chops (despite the swirling uncertainty) and the brimming pool of prospects ready to break out, this offseason could be a springboard.

Let's take a look at some important steps the unit must take before a 2015 season that will carry elevated expectations with it.

 

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Kris Boyd Tweets Top 2 Schools: Does Texas or Texas A&M Need 4-Star More?

The recruitment of Kris Boyd appears headed for a Lone Star State shootout, as the 4-star defensive back has narrowed his list down to two in-state schools. He made this announcement Thursday afternoon via Twitter:

Boyd, a 5'11.5", 185-pound cornerback from Gilmer, Texas, had previously included Texas and Texas A&M among his top four, along with Alabama and Baylor. He is coming off a visit to Texas last weekend and has a trip to A&M scheduled for Friday.

A planned trip to Baylor was canceled earlier this week, per Brian Ethridge of 247Sports.

Rated as the No. 98 overall player in the 2015 class and the 11th-best corner in the country, according to 247Sports, Boyd had two interceptions and 43 tackles as a senior while also amassing 1,860 all-purpose yards and 31 touchdowns as a running back and receiver for Gilmer. He helped the Buckeyes go 16-0 in the fall en route to winning Texas' 4A Division II state title.

"There are things you see from Boyd as a running back that project very well to corner," wrote Jamie Uyeyama of SonOfACoach.com. "He catches the ball very well out of the backfield and has the speed to run away from defenders. His overall athleticism that he shows with the ball in his hands really stand out."

Boyd would be the highest-rated defensive back for either Texas or A&M for 2015, depending on where he ends up landing. His value to each school is different, though, based more on what they already have on the roster.

A&M graduated cornerback Deshazor Everett, but that opening could end up going to Nick Harvey, a 4-star signee from 2014 who played in all 13 games last season while logging 14 tackles. Other reserves who figure to challenge for that spot include Victor Davis and Tavares Garner.

At Texas, the departure of seniors Quandre Diggs and Mykkele Thompson (who started at safety but also played corner in nickel packages) leaves more of a hole to fill. The Longhorns also have fewer likely replacements on the roster. The top candidates would be Bryson Echols, who had 18 tackles as a sophomore last year, sophomore-to-be Antwuan Davis or Jermaine Roberts, a 3-star prospect from the 2014 class who redshirted.

Though he's been targeted as a defensive back in college, if Boyd has any ambitions of being able to contribute on offense as well, then Texas becomes even more enticing. Unlike A&M, which seems to be overflowing with skill-position talent, the Longhorns are short on wideouts and thus are going hard at receiving prospects in this recruiting class.

247Sports' crystal ball predictions have Texas as the favorite, with a 66 percent chance to grab Boyd. Of the last 19 experts to weigh in, 17 have picked the Longhorns as his future team.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Should Worry That 4-Star QB Zach Gentry Is Visiting Michigan

A visit from 5-star Texas A&M commit Kyler Murray may have fired up Longhorns fans Wednesday, but he isn't the only quarterback who warrants attention moving forward. 

Zach Gentry is reportedly reconsidering his commitment to Texas.

Michigan has mounted a late push for the New Mexico product, who received an in-person visit from Jim Harbaugh on Monday, per James Yodice of the Albuquerque Journal. The Wolverines' new head coach, attempting to salvage a depleted 2015 recruiting class, quickly identified Gentry as a top target.

The 4-star prospect pledged to Texas last spring, but quickly reciprocated interest from Michigan. He is suddenly set to spend this weekend on an official visit in Ann Arbor, according to Steve Lorenz of 247Sports.

Gentry—a 6'7", 230-pound Eldorado High School standout—has also provided other signals that suggest his time in the Longhorns' class is approaching a conclusion.

He cancelled an in-home visit with members of the Texas coaching staff and removed any mention of a Longhorns commitment from his Twitter bio.

Clint Brewster of 247Sports succinctly summarized the situation:

Gentry, rated eighth nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, was named New Mexico's 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year. He displays dual-threat capabilities with a physical frame that's rare for the position.

His senior campaign included 2,978 passing yards, 1,057 rushing yards and 48 touchdowns, per Gatorade. Gentry registered 38 scores on the ground as an upperclassman and tallied at least three total touchdowns in 11 of 12 games last season. 

Gentry may have been overlooked at times during this recruiting cycle due to his home state, but college scouts took notice by the end of his junior year. He's assembled an offer list that includes Alabama, Louisville, Oklahoma State and Tennessee. 

Michigan offers him an opportunity to become the only quarterback on campus recruited exclusively by the new coaching regime. Alex Malzone, a 4-star early enrollee, was one of six holdover commits from the Brady Hoke era. 

Harbaugh has compelling quarterback talent to work with in Ann Arbor, notably redshirt freshman Wilton Speight, but he inherited each of those options.

Gentry is a player he has specifically targeted. Harbaugh displayed legitimate admiration by traveling to a faraway state with no other potential Michigan prospects just to sit down for a conversation. 

It wouldn't be a surprise if Gentry became a member of the Wolverines' class this weekend before boarding his flight home.

This development puts immense pressure on Charlie Strong to identify a solution in Austin. A disastrous end to his first season at Texas put emphasis on the fact that he has substantial work to do on roster development.

Starting quarterback Tyrone Swoopes didn't win over many Longhorns supporters down the stretch. He averaged just 4.4 yards per pass attempt in losses to TCU and Arkansas, throwing five interceptions in the process.

Many foresee an eventual position change for Swoopes, but further reinforcements at quarterback are needed to facilitate that move. Strong must add legitimate alternatives on national signing day. 

Jerrod Heard was a 4-star signee last February and should step up to challenge for the job this spring. Commit Matthew Merrick, rated 57th nationally among pro-style quarterbacks, is destined for grayshirt status that would eliminate him from the equation in 2015.

Murray set social media ablaze with his Twitter post from Austin on Wednesday, but there's a vast difference between visiting a campus and flipping your commitment:

He remains entrenched as the catalyst of Texas A&M's 2015 class, which also features close friend and 5-star wide receiver Christian Kirk.

His father, Kevin Murray, was a star Aggies quarterback and eventual Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame inductee. 

You better believe Kevin Sumlin and his staff have already mounted a response to Murray's trip with their own recruiting tactics. He likely received several assurances from College Station about his future.

Simply put, it wouldn't be wise for Strong to place all of his eggs in Murray's basket. 

With Gentry inching toward the exit door less than two weeks shy of national signing day, concern should run rampant in Austin.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 Recruits Notre Dame Must Land to Get Back to the Top of College Football

Notre Dame is looking to rebound after a subpar 2014 season, and it all starts with Brian Kelly's incoming freshman class. 

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson sits down with Notre Dame beat writer Keith Arnold to discuss the players the Fighting Irish need to land for next season. 

Who is a must-have recruit for ND?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star WR Ryan Newsome 'Still Torn' About Texas, UCLA; Will Decide Friday

The biggest decision of Ryan Newsome's life will take place around 4 p.m. ET Friday. The 4-star wide receiver from Texas will announce at Aledo High School where he'll play college football next season.

The decision will come down to Texas and UCLA. As of Thursday, the decision is still between Texas and UCLA.

"I'm still torn," Newsome said. "I'll definitely know something by tonight."

A quick chat with Newsome will confirm that his words are not smoke and mirrors. While Newsome has a genuine passion for both programs, he knows he'll have to make a tough decision.

Both programs could use a talented athlete like Newsome. In addition to lining up in the slot receiver position, Newsome also can serve as a dependable punt returner and kickoff returner. He tied a national record with seven punt returns for touchdowns as a junior, and he chased the career punt returns record but fell just short.

Texas fans are hoping he'll join a class in need of a receiver commit or two. Florida WR talent Gilbert Johnson is committed to the Longhorns, and multifaceted in-state athlete DeAndre McNeal has a desire to play receiver at the next level. But Newsome would be a welcomed addition at a needed position.

UCLA also could use a couple of receivers. California WR L.J. Reed is committed to the Bruins, and while fellow Californian Octavius Spencer can be effective on both sides of the ball, he is projected by 247Sports to play cornerback at the next level.

Decisions, decisions for Newsome, who said everything will come down to comfort level within himself.

"The process has been long, and it gets tiresome," Newsome said. "Sometimes, your mind just wants to take a break, but it's really all about how you handle it. I'm blessed to be in the position I'm in. With all of it comes a lot of humility. When those [recruiters] call, I'm always answering."

The 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions have Newsome headed to Texas (85 percent) with only UCLA receiving 2 percent of the votes. Newsome said there's a genuine love for UCLA, as the school would give him a new start in a new environment. Plus, playing in the Pac-12 would be an opportunity for him to play in a productive offense under Jim Mora.

And speaking of Mora, Newsome said Mora's been his primary contact. He's built an outstanding relationship with Bruins receivers coach Eric Yarber, but Newsome said Mora has been the guy he hears from repeatedly—an important fact entering Friday afternoon.

With Texas, the triple threat of running backs coach Tommie Robinson, recruiting coordinator Brian Jean-Mary and new receivers coach Jay Norvell has been working on Newsome. Norvell, who recently came to Texas from Oklahoma, recruited Newsome to Oklahoma.

Jared Christopher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram provided this classic tweet:

Newsome said his decision will be difficult, but his pick will be one "steered by faith."

"I think it's whatever the best place for me. It's best place that God will lead me to," he said. "At the end of the day, a lot of people probably won't understand that, but to me, that's what it'll come down to."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst with Bleacher Report. All quotes were retrieved firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Are Two-Way Football Stars Like Adoree Jackson, Myles Jack Wave of the Future?

A wave of two-way players in the Pac-12 Conference just might be ushering in the future of college football—and doing so with a nod to its past. 

"The history of football, you go back decades and it was almost the norm that guys were playing both [offense and defense]," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Then, that really quieted down."

Thanks to USC cornerback, wide receiver and returner Adoree' Jackson, and across town with UCLA linebacker and running back Myles Jack, buzz for two-way play is gaining volume. 

College football went almost four decades between two-way Heisman Trophy winners, from Syracuse legend Ernie Davis winning the game's top individual honor in 1961, to Charles Woodson doing so at Michigan in 1997. 

But rather than Woodson launching a new era of two-way stars, he was an outlier—or at least, ahead of his time.

Eighteen years after Woodson's exploits, Jackson is a throwback to the former Heisman winner, excelling as a cornerback, wide receiver and kick returner. And Jackson is just one in a club of burgeoning, two-way playmakers around both the conference and nation. 

UCLA-USC being the heated rivalry it is, any good Bruins fan will tell you that head coach Jim Mora beat the Trojans to the punch on two-way stars. 

Jack was already a standout on defense his freshman season, starting from Week 1 of the 2013 season and contributing as both a dynamic run-stopper and pass-rusher at linebacker. 

But he did not command national attention until he carried for 120 yards, 66 of which came on a game-sealing touchdown run at Arizona on Nov. 9, 2013. 

Jack may have indirectly opened the door for Pac-12 counterpart Shaq Thompson.

Facing a situation similar to that of UCLA in 2013, first-year Huskies head coach Chris Petersen turned to the junior linebacker, Thompson, as a ball-carrier.  

"We had some backs that were a little bit banged up," Petersen said in October. "We needed to get something going there so that’s why I did it."

All Washington got from Thompson was a three-game stretch of 98, 174 and 100 yards rushing. 

"Every situation is different and unique, depending on your team and who is playing and where you need a spark," Petersen said.

Washington needed a spark in the secondary as well as the backfield last season, and wide receiver John Ross obliged by playing cornerback. 

Coincidentally, Thompson and Ross were both recruits of Sarkisian's in his tenure at Washington. Given their success and the outstanding season Jackson had for USC, it would seem Sarkisian has an eye for such players. 

It doesn't hurt that he's seeing more of those players who are willing and able to take on offensive and defensive roles. 

"The guys in high school football are doing it more," Sarkisian said. "It makes the transition [to two-way play in college] easier." 

Indeed, among USC's committed recruits for 2015 is Ykili Ross, a 4-star wide receiver and cornerback. 

The Trojans are also pursuing Iman Marshall, a 5-star prospect from Long Beach Poly in Long Beach, California. This past season, Marshall recorded 85 tackles and 16 pass deflections as a cornerback for the Jackrabbits and 19 catches for 315 yards and eight touchdowns as a receiver, per MaxPreps.com.  

Marshall is a product of the same prep powerhouse that produced USC's second-leading receiver in 2014, John "JuJu" Smith. 

Smith ended his stellar freshman campaign not with a reception from quarterback Cody Kessler, but in pass coverage on USC's defense of a Nebraska Hail Mary attempt. 

Smith was a star safety in 2013 at Long Beach Poly, after all. 

 

Big Men on Campus (and on Offense and Defense)  

Two-way opportunities are not limited to the speedsters like Jackson, or "running backers" such as Jack and Thompson. 

UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is fond of packages that use big bodies. Shortly after Jack's attention-grabbing performance at Arizona, Mazzone used defensive linemen Eddie Vanderdoes and Cassius Marsh in short-yardage and goal-line situations. 

Vanderdoes isn't quite a regular on the UCLA offense, but his appearances are not sporadic either. 

Football fans in the 1980s are well aware of the exploits of Chicago Bears great William “Refrigerator” Perry, the All-Pro defensive tackle who put the “jumbo” into Jumbo formation sets on the goal line.

Vanderdoes has kept the Fridge’s spirit intact—right down to a classic nickname. 

Mazzone said formations utilizing Vanderdoes are dubbed, "Big Panda."  

Vanderdoes has a touchdown carry in each of his first two seasons at UCLA. He also caught a pass from quarterback Brett Hundley against Arizona State in 2013—on fourth down, no less.

The Panda formation also utilizes Vanderdoes' 305-pound frame as a lead-blocking fullback. Whether it's Pac-12-leading rusher Paul Perkins or Jack following him, that's a whole lot for any defense to handle at the goal line. 

Oklahoma State featured its own such package in the Cowboys’ 30-22 Cactus Bowl win over Washington, giving the ball to defensive lineman James Castleman in critical situations. 

“It's called 'lahi,' which means big in Polynesian,” Castleman said in the postgame press conference.

Castleman's success in the Cactus Bowl is likely to spur more defensive linemen to seek offensive opportunities. Utah All-American end Nate Orchard touted his wide receiver skill set at last July's Pac-12 media days. 

"High school I went receiver and defensive end," Orchard said, launching a facetious campaign to line up as a red-zone receiver. "Catching the football's my favorite thing."

When asked how he felt seeing defensive players make plays on offense, Orchard said: "Envy." 

Orchard did not get his red-zone opportunity, but who knows? Maybe the success of Vanderdoes and Castleman on the offensive end will sway coaches for other defensive linemen looking to make an offensive splash.  

 

Benefits of Two-Way Play 

Intimately understanding the nuances of a particular position—say, linebacker—can translate to how a player approaches taking on a different position.

Like running back.  

"I play linebacker, so I have the linebacker mentality," Thompson told Pac-12 Networks after his career-high, 174-yard day against Colorado. "I was just looking at the linebackers, seeing which way they were going, and if they weren’t there, I just attack the hole."

Furthermore, the aggression typical of a linebacker can add a little something extra on a running back's stiff arm. 

Likewise, Jackson's speed allows him to keep pace with most any receiver, and that same quality poses a difficult matchup for cornerbacks. 

Two-way players can present matchup problems for which opposing offensive and defensive coordinators are not prepared. 

And even when they are, as Arizona was Jack—Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez recruited Jack to play running back, per ArizonaWildcats.com—the truly elite two-way stars will shine regardless. 

 

Double the Challenge

Playing two positions means shouldering two workloads, both on game day and in weekly preparation.  

"In practice, you get a lot of reps [playing two-way]," Jackson said. 

It's not just practice, but also film study where two-way players are taking on added repetition. 

"There’s a lot of sophistication to what we’re getting on both sides," Petersen said. "To just throw a guy out there without having a tremendous attention to detail is a really hard thing to do. So what meetings do you put him in? What walkthroughs do you put him in?"

Modern offenses have helped facilitate the rise of two-way players, Sarkisan explained. 

"The uptempo offense helps guys, because it’s not a bunch of verbiage," he said. "It’s a little bit more of a simplistic play-calling mechanism for everybody. That allows guys to do it a little bit more."

Once a player is up to speed, the next question a coaching staff must face when using a player on both offense and defense is how evenly is his time distributed? 

This is an internal question USC debated with Jackson. 

"I keep battling Justin Wilcox because I want him on offense," Sarkisian joked after last month's Holiday Bowl. "He probably would have scored four touchdowns if he was an offensive player tonight."

It's not that much of a battle; Jackson primarily plays cornerback because he proved to be USC's best option at the position, not surrendering a touchdown until the final game of the season.

Diverting too much of Jackson's attention away from defense would have left a hole on defense, which is precisely the care with which Mora had to handle Jack at UCLA.

"Coach Mora recruited me as a defensive player," Jack told me before the season. "He's going to make sure my offense doesn't sacrifice my defensive production."

Twice as many repetitions mean twice as much contact being sustained, and the buildup of wear on a player at two positions can render him ineffective at both.  

"It’s hard if you’re going to major in one side…especially at that running back/linebacker position," Petersen said. "That’s hard. Those running backs take such a pounding, then to go out at linebacker is tough."

There's certainly no guarantee of two-way opportunities paying off either. 

Though Jack ran wild from the outset of his time at running back, Washington's initial results with Thompson were hit-and-miss. 

Beyond a 57-yard touchdown run against Eastern Washington, Thompson's first eight carries of the season yielded just 27 yards. 

"We had a little package for him and got him a few plays," Petersen said. "Just kind of dabbled it in and got mediocre results. Shaq did some good things, but you’ve got to give guys, especially at that position, a chance to get into a rhythm."

And as Thompson found his rhythm at running back with that strong, three-game stretch, he was limited to five tackles on defense.

Using a two-way player forces coaches to strike an absolutely ideal balance—and have the ideal player with him to do it.  

"It does take a unique person, a unique player to really excel at it," Sarkisian said. 

The two-way life may not be for every college football player. But for those who fit the mold, it's a great way to pursue the ultimate goal, as described by Jack. 

"If it helps us to win games, I'm all for it," he said. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Ohio State Won't Repeat as Playoff Champs Next Season

It seems almost a given that Ohio State will begin the 2015 season ranked as the No. 1 team in the country. Ending the year in that same spot isn't so certain, not in this new playoff era that we've leaped into in college football.

As good as the Buckeyes are projected to be as defending national champions, the odds are not in their favor to repeat. This isn't a prediction based on ability as much as it is circumstances, that all-encompassing word that seems like it shouldn't matter but far too often does when dealing with 18 to 22-year-old athletes competing in an increasingly professional-level sport.

Even before OSU completed their amazing run to the title earlier this month, I tabbed the Buckeyes as the most likely of the first College Football Playoff semifinalists to make a return trip to the playoffs. Nothing about that prediction has changed in the past two weeks, though now that they are champions the more pressing question is whether they can do it again.

"I've got a bunch of really good players, and I love our coaching staff," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said the day after beating Oregon 42-20 for the title, via the Times-Picayune. "The word repeat, we'll have that conversation, certainly not today."

Meyer may want to hold off on talking about the "R" word yet, but the question is still out there, and here's our answer: Nope.

Too much has to go perfectly for that to happen, and not enough of it is completely in the control of Meyer, his staff and his talented roster.

Here are some factors that will dictate why Ohio State will not be the 2015 national champions.

 

The Florida State Factor

To determine the future, one must first look into the recent past. Florida State was the first team to get a chance to repeat as champions in the new playoff era, albeit doing so after winning a title under the old BCS format beforehand. Yet the Seminoles serve as a succinct cautionary tale for how difficult it is to do it again.

On paper, the talent and skill of the 2014 FSU team wasn't much different than the one that blazed through the 2013 season and then outlasted Auburn for the championship. Yes, there were some holes that had to be filled, but with Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, a veteran offensive line and key defensive stars all still around, it wasn't like the Seminoles were rebuilding.

FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher tried to focus more on repeating than defending, telling 247Sports' Tim Linafelt last summer that "you're not competing against the past. You're playing against the opponent that's on the field at that time. Stay in the moment, practice in the moment, and live in the moment."

And yet, as each week went on and FSU kept winning, eventually running its win streak to 29 games, it seemed like more discussion about the Seminoles was related to what they were doing wrong—compared to the results of 2013—and how they were on the brink of failure rather than laud their accomplishments.

Ohio State should expect nothing less than this. It's an unofficial part of the package that comes with being defending champions, the assumption that the sequel has to be better than the original despite getting evaluated in a completely different light.

 

The Heat of the Spotlight

As one of the most followed programs in the country, Ohio State's players and coaches should be used to bright lights and rabid fans. But the national interest in the Buckeyes hit some of its lowest levels in years early last season after the home loss to Virginia Tech made it seem like any chance of a postseason bid was dead in the water.

The fascination with OSU's comeback and constant improvement grew as the season went along, but it paralleled the increase in confidence that the team itself showed as it kept getting better. The Buckeyes, the media and fan interest all grew together, organically, eliminating the chance that the spotlights would get too warm too quickly.

That won't be the case this time around, as those lights will be dialed up to 10 from the outset. And they'll be so bright that if any stumbles happen similar to early in the 2014 season, they will end up standing out even more as the lights reveal any and all blemishes.

 

The Quarterback Quagmire

Ohio State loses eight starters or key reserves from the 2014 team, but the biggest personnel issue involves returning players. Three of them in fact, all of whom play the same position.

Dozens of FBS programs will be trying to find a quarterback that fits into the offense they want to run this fall, while the Buckeyes have to figure out how to sort out the rare situation of having three passers who have each shown the ability to handle the job in Columbus, and done so with flying colors.

But OSU's offense isn't one where shuffling quarterbacks makes sense, so only one from the lot of senior Braxton Miller, junior Cardale Jones and sophomore J.T. Barrett will end up starting. The others will be relegated to backups or end up going elsewhere.

How Meyer handles his quarterback situation is going to be the most intriguing storyline of the offseason, writes Brian Bennett of ESPN.com: "The situation is so fascinating, and the skills of the quarterbacks are just different enough, that everyone is anxious to find out what happens."

In many ways, this is one of those "good" problems that all teams would love to deal with, at least in theory. Instead, it has the strong likelihood of becoming its own reality show, especially once Miller (shoulder) and Barrett (leg, ankle) return from the injuries that led to OSU using three quarterbacks this past season.

It will make for great copy and huge ratings, but the participants in this show aren't likely to be as excited as everything plays out.

 

The Herman Effect

Meyer is one of two FBS coaches to win national titles at two different schools, joining Alabama's Nick Saban. The head coach gets the lion's share of the credit for such feats, and deservedly so, but it's in no way a one-man effort to lead a team to a championship.

Coaches like Meyer and Saban understand the importance of having a top-notch coaching staff around them, and trying to replace those assistants when they inevitably leave for better opportunities is just as critical.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who managed to make the transition between three quarterbacks seem completely seamless, is now the head coach at Houston. He's been replaced by Ed Warinner and Tim Beck, the former elevated from offensive line coach and the latter coming over from Nebraska.

Both should fare well, but past history shows that such significant changes to a staff have an impact on the ensuing season for a defending champion.

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left Florida State after the 2013 season and the Seminoles defense struggled to match the previous results; the same thing happened when Pruitt stepped down as Alabama's secondary coach to go to FSU after helping the Crimson Tide win the 2012 title.

 

Final Thoughts

When asked about the concept of repeating less than 24 hours after accepting the championship trophy, Meyer indicated that his players have the mindset to make it happen because of the way they've been taught. They were given a three-step process to handling what he called "missions."

At his press conference the day after the title game, Meyer said, via the Times-Picayune:"When they accomplish a mission they can celebrate, the next thing they do is learn from it and then the final thing is they look forward to the next mission that's assigned to them."

This setup makes it possible for the Buckeyes to approach defending their title in a manner that could lessen the impact of many of the factors listed above. But nothing can prepare them for the uncertainty of the unknown and the tendency in today's sports world to overanalyze and overreact to every piece of potentially bad information.

It's one of many wild cards that will prevent Ohio State from repeating as champions in 2015.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

11 2016 College Football Recruits Already Piling Up Monster Offers

National signing day 2015 is less than two weeks away, which means national signing day 2016 is roughly one year and two weeks away. GET HYPE!

Seriously, though, if you think it's premature to talk about this, you've never paid attention to recruiting. 247Sports uses "247" for a reason: because the recruiting cycle never stops. A more accurate (but understandably less catchy) name would be 247365Sports.

On that note, let's look at the players drawing the most interest in the 2016 class. Eleven of the top 50 players on 247Sports' composite rankings already have 26 or more scholarship offers, which is crazy for a group of high school juniors. And that group doesn't even include the No. 1 overall player, offensive tackle Greg Little.

Sound off and let us know where you think these guys will play.

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Incoming Freshmen Running Backs Poised to Break out in 2015

The 2015 group of running backs has some big shoes to fill because the 2014 freshman class was arguably one of the best in history. 

Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate which RB will have the biggest impact next season.

Which incoming freshman RB will make the biggest impact?

Check out the video, and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Does College Football Have an Academics Problem?

Does college football have an academics problem—or do academics have a college football problem? However you want to phrase it, the fact that the question could go either way indicates there's a rift in the athletics-academics marriage. 

The next question, for which there is no clear answer, is when that marriage is headed for divorce.  

Brad Wolverton of The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Wednesday that the NCAA is looking into 20 cases of potential academic misconduct, from Division I to Division III: 

The cases are at various stages, from preliminary inquiry to awaiting a hearing with the Division I Committee on Infractions, and they involve a variety of missteps, including allegations that players received impermissible assistance from professors, academic advisers, or people outside of an athletic department. Eighteen of the cases are in Division I, one is in Division II, and one is in Division III. The official declined to name any of the colleges.

Academic misconduct allegations (and violations) aren't new to college athletics. There have been several reports just in the last couple of years about academic fraud, from the scandal at North Carolina to Sports Illustrated's expose on Oklahoma State in 2013. (Oklahoma State has since responded with its own inquiry into the allegations.) 

However, Wolverton does write that such cases "are on the rise in college sports."

To be abundantly clear, there's no information in Wolverton's article suggesting that football is the primary offender. That said, football is far and away the most popular college sport, and television contracts have turned it into a multibillion dollar business. With that comes the pressure to keep the most important assets—the players—eligible. 

One of the easiest narratives to buy into, true or not, is that everyone in college football bends or otherwise breaks the rules in some form, both on and off the field. It doesn't have to be blatant either; it can be something as simple as steering a player toward an easier major with classes that fit the practice schedule. That was an accusation made by former Missouri wide receiver Sean Coffey in 2012

(Of course, schools may counter that some students aren't cut out or don't meet the requirements for certain majors.)

Or, as Wolverton notes, academic misconduct can be of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge variety: 

Coaches are also involved. In some cases, head coaches have urged members of their staff—secretaries, athletic trainers, people in the weight room—to "get this young man or woman eligible," Ms. Sulentic said.

"It’s not necessarily a directive about what to do—‘I need you to write this kid’s paper,’" she said. But she said coaches were making "proclamations" to a broad network of people, encouraging them to cheat on behalf of current players or recruits.

How much of an issue is this? It depends on your point of view.

Using the numbers provided by The Chronicle, 20 NCAA members are being investigated for academic misconduct. That's about 16.67 percent of the 120 separate cases that the NCAA is reportedly investigating. Furthermore, there are 351 Division I programs in the NCAA. About 5 percent are being investigated for academic reasons.

Without context, those numbers appear low—and, again, incidents involving football may be even lower. However, the NCAA would probably tell you that 1 percent is too high, even if such a number is unobtainable.

The irony of it all is that the schools allegedly breaking the rules, created by them, make up the NCAA. It's a classic case of "why are you hitting yourself?" 

If you're looking for an example of how the football-academics juxtaposition impacts the sport, look no further than head coach Gary Andersen's move from Wisconsin to Oregon State. According to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, Andersen was frustrated with Wisconsin's admissions standards, particularly in the cases of junior college transfers: 

Admissions was probably the reason the 50-year-old Andersen arguably caused the biggest stir of the coaching silly season.

"That's not Wisconsin's fault," Andersen added. "That's Wisconsin's deal ... I want to surround myself with those kids I can get in school."

None of that is to suggest that Andersen wanted to cheat, but clearly he and athletic director Barry Alvarez weren't on the same page about the school's admissions process. That brings up an entirely new conversation about the "privilege" of going to college vs. providing the opportunity for those who don't have the greatest means to go. 

There's a distinct difference. Having the grades to get into a good school could very well have as much to do with the resources provided to students as the students themselves. 

The tricky part about academics in the college athletics arena is that metrics like Academic Progress Rate and terms like "value of an education" are trumpeted by admins, but they don't tell the whole story. Athletes can just as easily get a 3.0 GPA in a major chosen for them as they can get a 2.0 GPA in a more difficult major of their choosing. 

Take Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, who said in a nationally televised press conference last week that he 1) was staying in school and 2) wanted to be a financial planner after football. As B/R's Ohio State lead writer Ben Axelrod opined, that type of path should be encouraged. How it fits into Ohio State's APR seems far less important. 

Furthermore, the value of education can't solely be measured in a test score. Some of the most important learning in college happens outside of the classroom—in guest lectures, office hours, internships and interactions with other classmates. As a busy student-athlete, balancing practice, games, travel, homework and the like makes it easy to miss out on those opportunities. 

As long as a school gets the stats that matter, though, it won't get in trouble with the Association and risk penalties like scholarship losses, which take opportunities away from future athletes. 

In one way or another, that cheats an athlete long-term. But the business model college football has adopted is too far along now to go back. The only thing that means is that the NCAA and its members have to evolve in how they look at academics and athletics. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Fact or Fiction with National Signing Day's Biggest Remaining Questions

With national signing day just weeks away, there are some burning questions that remain on the recruiting trail. Where will the Florida Gators finish? Will Chris Clark sign with Michigan?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee answer all of the remaining national signing day questions.

Where will Florida State finish? Check out the video and let us know! 

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If the NFL Came Calling, Could Urban Meyer Be Successful at Next Level?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The question seemed out of place, as if the reporter knew something the rest of the room didn't.

The noncommittal nature of Urban Meyer's answer only lent credence to that theory.

Meyer was no fewer than 10 hours removed from having led Ohio State to the College Football Playoff championship and was dutifully participating in a follow-up press conference the morning after. Following questions pertaining to Cardale Jones' NFL future and the game from the night before, Meyer received a question that seemingly came from out of left field.

"You've mentioned your players' potential for the NFL," the reporter prefaced. "Is there a time in the future potentially down the road where you think that's a challenge you might want to take on? What would that take, and what would you think about it?"

Meyer sought clarification as to whether the question was pertaining to him or his players before responding.

"Not right now. Not right now," Meyer said. "I've got a commitment to Ohio State and these players. I love what I'm doing and—not right now."

For the most part, Meyer's answer was a non-answer. In fact, it was exactly the type of "never say never" response that you'd expect from a veteran coach who's learned not to make a sound bite that could one day come back to bite him or cause a distraction.

But Meyer's answer/non-answer was notable in that it was a departure from a more cement response that he gave to a similar question a year prior. Asked about his prospects of heading to the NFL as the Buckeyes prepared for the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2013 season, Meyer claimed that door was shut.

"I'm a college coach. I like being around college players," Meyer said. "I have a lot of respect for the NFL, but it just never seemed to work out."

Meyer revealed that he had been approached for NFL openings as an up-and-coming coach in the mid-2000s, but his wife Shelley "vetoed" the idea. In the aftermath of an HBO Real Sports piece on Meyer that aired last September, reporter Andrea Kremer said that Meyer had previously been vetted by the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys, and that his name has also previously been linked to the Miami Dolphins.

Nothing ever came to fruition between Meyer and the NFL, and as far as the immediate future goes, it appears nothing will. Still, that hasn't stopped websites like ProFootballTalk.com from promoting the three-time national champion as a premier professional candidate in the wake of his recent success in Columbus.

Should Meyer ever decide to make that jump—with Shelley's permission, of course—there's no guaranteeing his success at the college level would translate to the NFL. But it'd certainly make for an interesting "case study," as Meyer likes to say, with the college-to-NFL coaching pipeline seeing an uptick in success in recent years.

Take for example this year's Super Bowl, which will see Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks attempt to win their second consecutive Lombardi Trophy. Carroll cut his teeth in the college coaching ranks in the late 70s and early 80s before less successful NFL stints with the New York Jets and New England Patriots led to his starting a mini-dynasty of sorts at USC. Since taking over the Seahawks in 2010, Seattle has made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons.

And then there's former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Meyer's friend who has been at the helm of the Philadelphia Eagles for the past two years. Kelly might be the best coach to compare Meyer's pro prospects with given that each run similar spread offenses, departures from the traditional pro-style systems.

Thus far, Kelly's style has found success in the NFL, with the Eagles accumulating a 10-6 record in each of the past two seasons. Philadelphia ranked second in yards per game in 2013 (417.3) before dipping to fifth (396.8) this past year.

But perhaps more relevant than anything else pertaining to Meyer is the seamless transition Kelly has enjoyed while transferring his culture from Eugene to the City of Brotherly Love. Meyer has raved of Kelly's emphasis on program alignment, going as far as to set Ohio State's sights on becoming the "Philadelphia Eagles of college football," according to Sports Illustrated (h/t The Philadelphia Inquirer).

That strategy worked well for the Buckeyes this past season, who bounced back from the loss of two Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterbacks and an early-season defeat to Virginia Tech to beat Alabama and then Oregon in the College Football Playoff. For 13 seasons, Meyer has proven to be a master motivator of college kids, and as Kelly has proven, those tactics can work in the NFL as well.

That's not to say that hiring Meyer would be a slam dunk in the NFL.

After all, Alabama's Nick Saban has won one more national title in the college ranks and possesses an NFL background as a coordinator. But Saban went just 15-17 in his two years as the Miami Dolphins' head coach from 2002-03, missing the playoffs in each of his two seasons.

Steve Spurrier didn't seem to be a fit in the NFL either, going 12-20 with the Washington Redskins from 2002-03. Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis and even Meyer's mentor, Lou Holtz, are all examples of successful college coaches who appeared to stray too far from their lanes in the NFL, whose stories could give Meyer pause when it comes to a potential jump to the pros.

But given Meyer's ability to adapt to his personnel and the lessons he's learned from Kelly, it's hard to imagine that he wouldn't find some level of success in the NFL, just as he has at every stop he's made in his coaching career. Whether he'd ever want to do so is a different story, but as he stated at his post-championship press conference, don't expect such a move to be made anytime soon.

With the three remaining years of star quarterback J.T. Barrett's eligibility coinciding with his son Nate's final three years of high school, it's a pretty safe bet Meyer will be in Columbus through the 2017 season. After that, Meyer will be 54 years old and could be looking for the next challenge in his coaching career, depending on how the next three seasons play out.

"Not right now," Meyer repeated no fewer than three times throughout his answer.

With what he's built at Ohio State, there's good reason behind that answer. But unlike a year ago, Meyer certainly seems to be open to the idea—just not at the moment.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com, and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Miami Football: Updating Former Hurricanes at All-Star Events

Six former Miami Hurricanes showcased their skills at the Medal of Honor Bowl, NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and East-West Shrine Game, while four more are currently at the Senior Bowl.

Most of the players occupied significant roles during the 2014 campaign, and the common reaction to their respective performances is a positive one.

Al Golden and his coaching staff have been blasted for lack of player development, but the All-Star events are showing the problems lie more toward utilization and execution.

But that's another story for another day because the ex-Hurricanes and reactions from scouts are the main focuses.

 

Medal of Honor Bowl

Ryan Williams tore his ACL in April, and that unfortunate injury opened the door for freshman Brad Kaaya to snatch the starting job. Williams returned midway through the season but was merely the No. 2 option at that point.

But the 6'6" gunslinger was anything but a reserve at the Medal of Honor Bowl, which took place Jan. 10 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Williams earned MVP honors, completing seven of 15 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown—one that was ultimately the game-winning score.

"It was definitely fun to get back out there on the field and play again," Williams said, per Pete Iacobelli of The Associated Press. "I've been waiting to get out there. I hoped to get a chance at Miami, but I got a chance today."

In an NFL draft stretched remarkably thin at quarterback, perhaps a franchise will hold out to sign Williams as an undrafted free agent. A professional career is certainly not guaranteed, but it's not completely unrealistic either.

Thurston Armbrister also played in the Medal of Honor Bowl, managing one assisted tackle for the game.

 

East-West Shrine Game

Anthony Chickillo never lived up to his 5-star billing, but his performance at the East-West Shrine Game supported the notion he was misused at Miami. The defensive end tallied a pair of sacks during the event.

B/R's Dan Hope noted Chickillo's production was a result of more than a different scheme, but that shouldn't take away from the defensive end's outstanding week.

"I think playing in a 4-3 at the Shrine Game gave Chickillo a greater opportunity to showcase his pass-rushing skills than he had in Miami's 3-4," Hope said. "Bluntly, I think part of his success in the game itself was a result of the West's offensive tackles being badly overmatched. Nonetheless, I thought he was the most impressive player in the game, and overall, I thought he had a solid week."

As NFL.com's Mike Huguenin notes, NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah considered Chickillo one of the Shrine Game's four most impressive prospects in drills, along with Miami teammate Jonathan Feliciano.

An important cog on the offensive line, Feliciano racked up 46 starts at a couple of spots up front while with the Hurricanes. His combination of experience and versatility makes him an intriguing prospect as a reserve lineman in the NFL, though he did leave the All-Star event due to injury.

"I think Feliciano is best suited to play guard at the next level," Hope said. "That is where he spent most of the week at the Shrine Game, and it makes the most sense given his measurables (335 lbs, 31.5-inch arms at Shrine Game, according to Optimum Scouting).

"That said, I ultimately think his versatility is his calling card to success; he's probably not going to be an NFL starter, but his ability to play all over the line significantly increases his value as a backup, and as a potential Day 3 pick."

Shane McDermott contributed to the East Team's 19-3 victory as the long snapper.

McDermott was Miami's starting center for the past three seasons, missing just two games due to injury. He's not a highly touted prospect, but again, there's potential for McDermott to be a late Day 3 pick.

 

Senior Bowl

Phillip Dorsett is fast (4.21 40-yard dash). Fluff that up with any adjective you'd like, but Dorsett is undeniably a burner. For that reason, however, the receiver can raise his proverbial draft stock if he shows something more than elite straight-line speed.

"I think it's important that Dorsett catches the ball consistently this week and shows some ability to run diversified routes," Hope said. "Like you said, we know how dangerous he can be on a go route—he might clock as the fastest player at the NFL Scouting Combine—but is he a one-dimensional player? This week is his chance to prove he's not."

B/R's Luke Easterling said, "So far, Dorsett has been fantastic. The speed is there, but his quickness and sharp routes have been impressive, and he hasn't struggled with catching the ball as much as I had expected. He was easily one of the top performers on Day 2."

But Dorsett isn't the only Miami pass-catcher turning heads. Clive Walford, who Hope said has a strong case to be considered the best senior tight end in the class, has also shined.

"[Walford is] big, physical, created separation with great technique and used his body well," Easterling said. "Caught the ball well at different angles. He and Dorsett stole the show at South practice [on Day 2]."

Walford amassed a career season in 2014, largely due to the rapport he built with Kaaya as the go-to late-down and red-zone target.

B/R's Matt Miller ranks Walford as the second-best tight end and No. 81 player overall, so he's definitely one of the more appealing talents. However, the 6'4", 258-pounder must improve one specific area of his game to rise on draft boards.

"To solidify himself as a top prospect at the position, I think he needs to prove that he can also be an effective in-line blocker," Hope said. "If he can do that, I think he's a third-round pick."

Though Denzel Perryman missed one day of practice, the middle linebacker is a candidate to end the Hurricanes' seven-year first-round drought. The biggest perceived negative is his stature, but Hope noted Perryman's height and weight (5'11", 242 lbs) should be assessed individually.

"Bigger question, in my opinion, is how much does his lack of height really matter? Look at how well Chris Borland (also 5'11") played as a rookie—it's one of those things we overanalyze in the draft process, and it certainly might cause [Perryman's] draft stock to fall, but I don't think it will stop him from being a productive player."

Perryman was named first-team All-ACC twice, a Butkus Award finalist, a third-team All-American and the team's 2014 defensive MVP.

Ladarius Gunter entered the Senior Bowl as the Miami's relative unknown, but the corner has also impressed scouts—most notably B/R's Matt Bowen, a former NFL defensive back.

"Gunter displayed the best technique on the field Wednesday at the cornerback position during the South practice when looking at his footwork, hands and transition speed to break on the throw," Bowen said, adding that he loved the way Gunter finished on the ball.

The 6'1", 200-pound defensive back saw some action at safety, but Hope believes Gunter will most likely stay at cornerback because of his size.

Although Miller currently lists Gunter as the No. 24 corner, don't be surprised if he—or any of the Hurricanes for that matter—rises following a strong performance at the Senior Bowl.

 

Note: Defensive tackle Olsen Pierre participated in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and logged two tackles. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information via 247Sports.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Roquan Smith Finalizes Visit Plans: Who Has the Edge in Race to Land 4-Star OLB?

The nationwide recruitment of 4-star linebacker Roquan Smith has come into focus this week as he plans his final stretch toward national signing day. 

Smith shared a list of three finalists—Michigan, Georgia and UCLA—Tuesday with Steve Lorenz of 247Sports. Just a day later, ESPN analyst Gerry Hamilton broke news of his remaining official visit plans:

The latest development would appear to thrust Texas A&M into the mix, presenting Smith with four viable options and limited time to make a choice. There will be less than 50 hours remaining until signing day by the time he returns from his visit to UCLA.

Smith, a senior standout at Macon County High School in Georgia, carries more than two dozen offers. He collected scholarships from Ole Miss and UCLA as a sophomore, setting the stage for a whirlwind recruiting process. 

The Under Armour All-American is rated fifth nationally among outside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings and is considered the 47th-best overall prospect in this 2015 class.

Smith tallied 79 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions in just six games as a senior, per Ethan Levine of SaturdayDownSouth.com. His effort included a virtuoso performance—24 tackles, 263 rushing yards and three touchdowns—in a regional title-clinching victory, according to Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

His accomplishments, skill set and 6'2", 205-pound frame indicate Smith provides potential as a multiyear collegiate starter who could challenge for a role on the two-deep as a true freshman.

With four teams reportedly vying for his commitment, let's take a look at how each factor into the decision.

 

Georgia

The in-state Bulldogs extended an offer immediately after Smith's junior season and welcomed him to campus for the 2014 season opener against Clemson. He returned to Athens in December for an official visit.

There are vast temptations to leave home, but like many Georgia products, Smith developed a fondness for the program during his youth.

"That has always been his dream school," Macon County coach Larry Harold told Carvell. "Guys on the defensive staff—Roquan is excited about them as well as the other UGA commits that he played with at the RisingSeniors junior all-star game. Guys like Terry Godwin, Trent Thompson and D'Andre Walker."

Those three commits are key components of a Bulldogs class that currently rates sixth nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Mark Richt and company have stockpiled talent along the defensive front, headlined by Thompson (No. 1 overall national prospect). That group should free things up for linebackers to roam freely in the future. 

 

Michigan

Michigan has made a major push for Smith since the arrival of Jim Harbaugh. His hiring of former Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is expected to pay dividends on the Southeast recruiting trail.

Durkin formerly pursued Smith on behalf of the Gators and continues that hunt with the Wolverines.

"Roquan and Coach Durkin have a really good relationship from when he was at Florida," Harold told Carvell.

Smith spent this past weekend at Michigan, where Harbaugh is looking to sell 2015 recruits on a new vision and the possibility of early playing time. The Wolverines hold just six commitments in the wake of a disastrous 2014 campaign, but the program has started a new chapter that's clearly appealing to Smith.

 

Texas A&M

You can chalk this one up to the presence of new defensive coordinator John Chavis, who previously sought to bring Smith down to LSU. That recruitment progressed to the point where he was scheduled to spend an official visit in Baton Rouge.

Instead, he's headed to College Station this weekend. 

"Coach Chavis was all over Roquan when he was at LSU," Harold told Carvell. "Coach Chavis has contacted him since the move, and we had an extensive talk last weekend."

Texas A&M whiffed on coveted in-state linebacker targets Malik Jefferson and DeAndre McNeal last month when the duo committed to Texas. Daylon Mack, a 5-star defensive tackle, decommitted from the Aggies shortly after.

Issues must be addressed on that side of the ball if head coach Kevin Sumlin hopes to elevate the Aggies in the SEC standings. The addition of Chavis was a serious step in the right direction, and he's already proved valuable by securing a visit from Smith.

 

UCLA

The Bruins beat everyone else to the party by offering Smith a scholarship in April 2013. Fittingly, UCLA will also cap things off as the last team to host him before signing day.

Jim Mora reached into the Southeast last year, securing a signature from 4-star New Orleans linebacker Kenny Young. He aims to duplicate that success with Smith, who would bolster a Bruins defensive haul highlighted by 5-star defensive end Keisean Lucier-South.

Despite a disadvantage in proximity, the program has maintained Smith's interest. A longstanding relationship with the defender sets the stage for UCLA to steal him away from the East Coast.

"They've been on him since day one, and they've always been a serious contender," Harold told Carvell. 

 

The Leader

Visits to Texas A&M and UCLA loom large, particularly as Smith develops a better understanding for Chavis' defensive outlook in College Station. Both teams will need to impress because, at this point, we give a slight advantage to Georgia and Michigan.

Harbaugh is selling the program hard and carries immense clout among college recruits following his success in San Francisco. He's made inroads with Smith by using Durkin as a facilitator, luring him to campus last weekend.

While we respect the Wolverines' late surge, this remains Georgia's race to lose. The Bulldogs must withstand sales pitches from three strong alternatives, but the opportunity to join his home state's top 2015 talent in Athens gives Richt an edge.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Who Will Replace Aggies' Top 2015 NFL Draft Prospects

The Texas A&M Aggies have a number of seniors and one junior who should be selected in the 2015 NFL draft. The team is going to have a hard time replacing some of the talent that is leaving to play on Sundays.

The range of draft prospects for the Aggies spans from likely first-round selection left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to borderline seventh-rounders like kicker Josh Lambo. Draft-eligible Aggies will need to improve their positions on the draft boards through the scouting combine and all-star games.

Players who should expect to hear their names called at the draft include Ogbuehi, Jarvis Harrison, Trey Williams, Lambo and Deshazor Everett. How well the Aggies can replace these players will go a long way toward determining what kind of season they have in 2015.

Here's a look at who will replace the Aggies' top 2015 draft prospects next season.

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Potential Replacements for All of Alabama's Coaching Vacancies

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — While Nick Saban and his assistant coaches are out on the road, trying to persuade the country’s top prospects to join his Crimson Tide, Saban will also be trying to do some persuading of a different set of people.

With Kevin Steele hired by LSU to be its defensive coordinator and Lance Thompson to Auburn as linebackers coach, Alabama now has two vacancies on its defensive coaching staff.

The way the staff was set up in 2014, Alabama had two linebackers coaches—Steele coached inside, Thompson outside—while defensive coordinator Kirby Smart worked with the secondary.

Smart has previously coached linebackers, so we could see some more shuffling of duties this offseason. Still, Alabama has two spots to fill, however that shakes out.

Here are five potential new hires for these two open spots.

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Brandon Allen Is the Perfect QB to Deal with Lofty Arkansas Expectations

Three years ago, Arkansas was the toast of the SEC. Former head coach Bobby Petrino was the toast of the SEC, the program had established itself as a contender in the SEC West and was being mentioned in the national title discussion heading into spring practice.

Then, Petrino wrecked his motorcycle and covered up an inappropriate relationship with a staff member, sending the program spiraling into a pit of anonymity.

It stayed there for two-and-a-half seasons, before head coach Bret Bielema—in his second season as the Razorbacks head coach—led the Hogs back into the conversation.

Part of that resurgence was quarterback Brandon Allen.

Allen completed 190 of 339 passes (56 percent) for 2,285 yards, 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions for the Hogs, and he proved that, at the very least, he can manage the game in a way that Bielema wants for the offense to be successful.

The best is yet to come.

Allen will enter his senior season as the unquestioned leader of an offense that returns star running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, four starters on the offensive line, leading receiver Keon Hatcher and versatile safety valve Hunter Henry at tight end.

He's the perfect player at the perfect time to lead Arkansas back.

"When you see a kid who's going into his senior year who has been through so many trials and tribulations and there are so many good players coming back around him, that gets me excited," Bielema told B/R. "I think he's going to be bigger, faster and stronger. I know that may not seem to carry a lot of weight with quarterbacks, but it does. He'll be more physical and allow him to take those hits through a 12-game season."

That's been the issue with Allen in the past. 

He injured his shoulder in the third game of the 2013 season diving into the end zone, and he fought through it for an entire season. Last year, Allen injured his ankle against Ole Miss in late November, which forced him out of the second half of the win over the Rebels. The next week against Missouri, Allen fought through pain and constant pressure from the Tigers to keep his Hogs in the game until the end.

His toughness is something that impresses Bielema.

"There's three things I can't wait to see come out of his senior year," Bielema said. "He's incredibly tough, he's a very smart football player, and the biggest person who wants to have success in our football program is Brandon Allen."

Success might be coming, too.

After shutting out Ole Miss and LSU in November, and following it up by holding Texas to a lob wedge worth of total offense (59 yards) in the win in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Arkansas has vaulted into the SEC West discussion. 

The Sporting News went so far as to rank the Hogs fourth in the country in its way-too-early Top 10. That preseason hype is something Bielema addressed head-on when he met with the players once they returned to campus.

"There's nobody that ended the season any stronger than we did, but is that going to be our ending point? Are you happy at 7-6?" Bielema asked his players. "Their answer was a resounding 'no.'"

Allen is the most important piece of that puzzle.

 

He has already proven that he's resilient, tough and can manage the offense. Now, he has the weapons to transform himself from a game manager to a difference maker.

What's more, new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, while a pro-style coach, has produced 3,000-yard passers in four of the last five seasons at Central Michigan.

Don't sleep on Allen taking another massive step forward in 2014.

He has experience and continuity working in his favor, and the change to Enos should only accelerate his progression.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every College Football Power 5 Team's Worst Offseason Nightmare

Welcome to college football's offseason, where anything can happen, but most of it ends up being bad.

Between the end of the 2014 season and the start of the 2015 campaign, teams and their fans must stress over early NFL departures, national signing day and spring practice while also worrying about off-field incidents getting in the way of on-field progress. So much can go wrong, and the impact of these issues can have a major effect on how the upcoming season goes.

While much of this is general, every power-conference team has at least one specific concern it's hoping doesn't pop up during the offseason. We've listed what these potential nightmares are, as well as what they would mean for the program.

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Top Candidates for Tennessee's Next Offensive Coordinator

According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, Tennessee's offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is leaving the Volunteers coaching staff, creating a vacancy. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee breaks down the possible candidates to replace Bajakian.

Who should be the next offensive coordinator at Tennessee?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Kyler Murray Should Flip from Texas A&M to Texas

Let’s be clear: Kyler Murray is a Texas A&M commit, and a strong one, at that. The chances of the 5-star quarterback signing with another college football program are slim.

But Wednesday's random trip to Texas—an unofficial visit—cannot be avoided. Neither can this photo he tweeted.

Aggies fans are calling Murray's mid-week visit a trolling move, just an opportunity to give Longhorns fans false hope in the race for one of the nation's best quarterbacks. Texas fans, on the other hand, are trying to defend the argument that trips like Wednesday's aren't just made matter-of-factly.

Add in the fact that the visit was made with uncommitted 4-star wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge, and you have to wonder what they're thinking. Both have said in previous conversations that they'd like to be college teammates.

But where?

Texas A&M is still expected to be Murray's home, but there are definitive arguing points as to why he would fit better in Charlie Strong's offense. For starters, Murray can come on the Texas campus and be considered an instant contender for the starting job.

Tyrone Swoopes was hot and cold most of last season, highly touted Jerrod Heard was redshirted his freshman year and 2015 QB commit Zach Gentry has yet to take a snap wearing burnt orange.

And then there's what’s going on at Texas A&M. Kyle Allen established himself as a reliable starter in Kevin Sumlin’s offense. His Liberty Bowl performance against West Virginia—four touchdown passes and a fifth score on a 14-yard, second-quarter run—showed that he's matured since taking over duties earlier in the season, replacing Kenny Hill. He shined as a freshman who only made five career starts.

Murray is the type of player who isn't used to being a backup. He's a winner. In three years as a starter for Allen High School, he went 43-0 and won three consecutive state championships at Texas high school football’s highest level. He silenced all critics regarding his 5'10", 180-pound frame by playing larger than giants in big-game situations.

Would Murray immediately replace Allen at Texas A&M? Probably not, since Allen's a worthy incumbent. Would Murray be an automatic potential starter in Austin? There's a good chance of that—assuming Strong doesn't redshirt him a la Heard, who won two Texas state championships of his own at Guyer High School in Denton.

Murray is talented enough to be an all-conference signal-caller for four years—or sooner if he ultimately gets drafted in the NFL. You want his talents on the field the minute he arrives at college. The Aggies will have a big decision to make in time for the start of the 2015 season.

Here's the best part about Murray’s recruiting process: His father, former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray, has groomed him to be silent with every action. In short, only Murray really knows what he wants to do. Well, him and his father.

And let's not forget that as good of a quarterback as Murray is, he's equally talented as an infielder. There is talk of him being drafted high in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft. He made history by becoming the first player to play in both the football and baseball Under Amour All-America Games.

Murray will have a decision to make come national signing day. While it appears to favor the Aggies, the world will wait to see his official move. He'll sign on the dotted line, but we're not sure if the fax will go to College Station, Austin or somewhere else altogether. 

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