NCAA Football

Oregon Ducks Looking to Shed 'Soft' Label with Physical 2015 Class

Oregon is doing its best heading into 2015 to shed the "soft" label by getting some tough-nosed recruits that can make an immediate impact...

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Mark Fields to Clemson: Tigers Land 4-Star CB Prospect

The Clemson Tigers football program scored a major coup late Monday night as it landed coveted cornerback recruit Mark Fields.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, head coach Dabo Swinney secured a commitment from the skilled North Carolina native:

Per 247Sports, Fields is a four-star prospect who rates as the No. 10 cornerback and No. 95 overall player in the recruiting class of 2015.

The Tigers had major competition when it came to nabbing Fields as Alabama, Georgia and LSU all made offers, according to 247Sports. In the end, though, Clemson managed to keep the William Amos Hough High School standout in the Carolinas.

Per Nikki Steele of TigerNet.com, Fields believes that Clemson offers him the best chance to succeed on the field and in the classroom.

Clemson just offers everything that I want as far as academics, athletics and me accomplishing what I want to get done in three to four years. I just felt like it was a perfect fit and a chance for me to grow as a football player and an individual. I just wanted to make it happen.

Clemson now boasts one of the top cornerback prospects in the country, which should help it compete in what looks to be a wide open ACC.

It remains to be seen how long it will take for Fields to make an impact with the Tigers, but his skill set and overall makeup suggest that Clemson has brought in a potential superstar.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFB Recruiting 200: Top 23 Cornerbacks

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report recruiting analysts Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports Composite Rankings and provided in-depth analysis. As national signing day draws near, Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Today, we present the Top Cornerbacks. 

Other Positions 

The latest position unit to be featured in our CFB 200 series will focus on one of the deepest position groups in the 2015 class: corner.

The top prospect from the state of California, 5-star corner Iman Marshall, headlines an athletic corner group filled with versatile athletes whose abilities have attracted attention from the nation's top colleges. 

Bleacher Report has evaluated each corner rated among the nation's top 200 prospects and scored them on attributes such as speed (20 points), ball skills (20 points), run support (20 points) and pass coverage (40 points). The cumulative figures from those traits resulted in our overall grade of each prospect. 

Here's a look at the best cover corners in the 2015 class and how their abilities translate to the next level.

*All analysis from Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani. All rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite Rankings

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Senior Bowl 2015: Full Team Rosters and Most Intriguing NFL Prospects to Watch

The 2015 Senior Bowl is upon us, which means NFL types will get a valuable early look at some of the top prospects entering the upcoming draft.

Of course, all 32 teams have done extensive scouting work throughout the college football season and have hammered down short lists of prospects to look out for. But without fail, there appears to be significant movement at the top of draft boards in the pre-draft season every year.

Players can either play their way from late-round afterthoughts to early-round sleepers or do the exact opposite. For some of the top seniors in the land, the Senior Bowl is the first chance to set the tone.

While there are can't-miss prospects in the draft, such as offensive tackles La'el Collins (LSU) and Tyler Sambrailo (Colorado State), let's focus on some of the more polarizing and intriguing players below after a quick look at the team rosters.

Note: Team rosters are courtesy of the Senior Bowl official website.

 

Most Intriguing Prospects

South QB Nick Marshall (Auburn)

Perhaps the seemingly inevitable position switch for Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall as he looks to find a place in the NFL won't be happening after all—not officially at the Senior Bowl, at least.

Marshall is bound to get his first valuable repetitions in front of NFL scouts outside of the Auburn offense he was so comfortable in. He made the cut at quarterback for the South team, although even Phil Savage—the head director of the Senior Bowl—seemed to prefer his inclusion as a defensive back.

John Zenor of The Associated Press reported as much:

Brandon Marcello of AL.com added more criticism from Savage: "If he stays at quarterback it will limit the number of teams that will really have a sincere interest in him. It's just my own take on it coming into the week, so we'll see if he can increase that."

Despite leading Auburn to the doorstep of a national championship in 2013, he needed to make big strides as a passer to show the running threat could make the jump to the pros. Marshall did just that, throwing for 2,532 yards and 20 touchdowns while showcasing much-improved accuracy and arm power.

Marshall didn't want to play defensive back at Georgia, and it helped lead him to the greener pastures of The Plains. If he hopes to follow suit heading into the NFL, a standout performance at the Senior Bowl would be well-received.

 

North DE Nate Orchard (Utah)

If you're going simply by the numbers, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard might be one of the hottest names in the 2015 draft class. Unfortunately for him, that's not always the case.

The Utes' star pass-rusher wreaked absolute havoc on the Pac-12 his senior season, amassing a nation-leading 1.46 sacks per game—18 on the season. He also ranked second on the team in tackles with 81 (51 solo).

But questions remain about how the 6'4", 255-pound edge-rusher would fit into that same position in an NFL scheme. It's also apparent to many around the league, per NFL.com's Albert Breer, that his immense production might be a bit overstated:

The way one NFC GM sees it, "He may go late Friday night (on draft weekend) if a 3-4 team approves, but he's more likely to go sometime Saturday. Better production than traits that project to the NFL." An AFC college scouting director added, "He's a solid athlete, he runs well, and he's an effort player from a standup OLB or DE position -- and a good rusher. He'll be a (nickel) rusher and special teams player that can work his way into being a full-time starter." 

There's no questioning Orchard's impact in college football, not after Pac-12 offensive linemen voted him the conference's best pass-rusher. But he'll enter the Senior Bowl with more than his fair share of critics who doubt he will come close to copying that impact in the NFL.

 

South TE Nick O'Leary (Florida State)

Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary has more than college exposure and a world-famous grandfather on his side as he enters the Senior Bowl and the 2015 draft.

Yes, O'Leary benefited greatly from playing in the Seminoles' high-powered offensive attack led by Jameis Winston. It also doesn't hurt that he's a close relative of Jack Nicklaus. But that's only the start of what O'Leary brings to the table.

His accomplishments—nearly 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns over the last two seasons, a BCS title, the Mackey Award—pale in comparison to what he could bring to an NFL roster. Along with an athletic skill set that can make plays down the field, O'Leary is also an intelligent player capable of making an impact wherever need be—whether it's special teams, run blocking out of the backfield or protecting the passer.

Count Bleacher Report's Matt Miller among those who are high on O'Leary's potential:

Playing in a potent system can catapult a player above his potential, but that's not the case with O'Leary. While he benefited from going under the radar in 2013, he was arguably Winston's favorite target in 2014 and made an impact despite being a focal point of the scouting report.

Making the jump to the NFL is an impossibly difficult task, but O'Leary seems up for the challenge.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which College Football Teams Spend the Most and Least on Recruiting

Did you know that FBS schools spent an average of $700,000 last year on men’s team recruiting expenses?

That's according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, which accumulates and reports athletic revenues and expenses by institution, including recruiting spending for men’s and women’s team sports.

Recruiting expenses are defined by the Equity in Athletics Disclosure as:

All expenses an institution incurs attributable to recruiting activities.  This includes, but is not limited to, expenses for lodging, meals, telephone use, and transportation (including vehicles used for recruiting purposes) for both recruits and personnel engaged in recruiting, and other expenses for official and unofficial visits, and all other expenses related to recruiting.

The “Cutting Tool” includes data from the 2013-14 fiscal year for every FBS school with the exception of Air Force, Hawaii and Navy.

Though it doesn’t provide a football-only recruiting spending figure, it does give us a gauge for which departments spend the most and the least from an overall perspective.

 

The Top 10 Spenders

Though it’s no surprise that three of the top five spenders hail from the SEC, it’s intriguing that five are from the Big Ten. 

Missing completely are the Big 12 and the Pac-12.  The Big 12’s biggest spender, Texas Tech, comes in at No. 11 nationally with a cool $1.29 million.  For the Pac-12, it’s Oregon at No. 19 with $1.14 million.

What may at least partially explain the Red Raiders’ shocking outlay is their geographic isolation in the Texas panhandle.  Still, you have to wonder how Tech managed to spend $314,158 more than the University of Texas.

Duke’s powerhouse basketball program is likely the reason for its No. 1 rank among ACC schools, outspending its nearest competitor North Carolina State, shelling out $1.10 million for the No. 21 rank overall.

 

The Bottom 10 Spenders

The MAC and the Sun Belt both have four representatives in the bottom 10.  Of note is Northern Illinois at No. 8, a program that has posted five consecutive double-digit-win seasons, earning a 57-13 record since 2010.

Also worth mentioning is the state of Louisiana, with three of its five FBS schools in the bottom 10.  Add in Tulane, at No. 89 nationally ($383,573) and LSU at No. 10 of the 14 SEC programs ($892,996), and Louisiana wins the battle for the most frugal state. 

The Power Five program that spent the least on recruiting expenses in 2013-14 was Oklahoma State, reporting a mere $491,511.  This means the Cowboys spent less than South Florida ($495,496), Old Dominion ($507,018) and New Mexico ($509,501).

The next-most frugal Power Fives are Maryland ($524,021), Washington State ($563,478), Colorado ($607,407) and TCU ($608,804).

 

Average Spending by Conference

Here’s a look at recruiting expenses by conference, including the number of member schools that spent more than $1 million and the number below the national average of $700,000.

The only SEC school under the FBS average is Mississippi State ($683,487).  For the Big Ten, it’s Rutgers ($673,523), Wisconsin ($631,243) and Maryland ($524,021).  It’s worth remembering that the Scarlet Knights and the Terrapins were still members of the American Athletic (formerly the Big East) and ACC respectively when the reporting began in 2013.

In the Big 12, TCU ($608,804) and Oklahoma State ($491,511) are under the average, while in the ACC it’s just Syracuse ($640,519).  In the Pac-12, Oregon State ($699,144), Utah ($697,175), Colorado ($607,407) and Washington State ($563,478) each spent less than the average.

Not only did the Pac-12 underspend the other Power Five leagues by an average of $225,000, it has only one million-dollar spender: Oregon at $1.14 million. Traditional powerhouses USC ($888,232) and UCLA ($852,521) spend more like West Virginia ($881,260) and Virginia Tech ($845,535) than Georgia ($1.14 million) and Ohio State ($1.03 million).

Whether it’s due to the geographic isolation of the conference, causing teams to conduct their searches closer to home, or a lack of national media coverage making going further afield not worthwhile, the Pac-12 spends far less on recruiting.

Also highlighted is another clear dividing line between the haves and the have-nots in major college football:  The Power Five conferences are spending more than twice what their counterparts in the Group of Five leagues are.

 

Return on Investment

Though the reported expenditures are compelling on their own, when combined with recruiting results, they provide a gauge for which programs get the most bang for their buck.

Utilizing Rivals’ average team recruiting rankings from 2011-14, here are the FBS programs, or athletic departments, which have managed to get the biggest return on their investments.

Oklahoma State earned, on average, a top-30 rank in recruiting from 2011-14 despite spending well under the FBS average. Compare that to Kansas State, which spent a whopping $962,268—or double that of the Cowboys—for an average ranking of No. 59.

The biggest winners are LSU and USC, each spending less than $900,000 and averaging a top-10 rank in recruiting.

Stack those results up with Auburn, which spent $2.06 million ($1.16 million more than LSU) for a No. 6 average rank and Notre Dame at $1.53 million ($647,000 more than USC) for a No. 9 average.  

On the flip side of the equation, take a look at the programs who have made a sizeable financial commitment to recruiting but don’t have much to show for it.

Duke, Indiana and Kansas deserve further consideration here because of their big-time basketball programs, a difference-maker when dealing with men’s team recruiting expenses versus football-only numbers.

That said, other schools like Ohio State, Louisville and Arizona also field great basketball teams (and better football teams than the Blue Devils, Hoosiers or Jayhawks) and still manage to get more value for their recruiting dollar.

The Buckeyes spent $1.03 million on men’s team recruiting expenses during the 2013-14 fiscal year, averaged a No. 5 rank in football recruiting from 2011-14 and also have a men’s basketball team that hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament since 2008.

The program that really stands out is Illinois, a Big Ten school that is ranked No. 8 in the FBS in recruiting expenses.  All this for a football team that has managed a No. 56 average ranking in recruiting and hasn’t produced a winning record since going 7-6 in 2011. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Breaking Down the Bulldogs' QB Contenders for the 2015 Season

The Georgia Bulldogs will enter the 2015 season as one of the favorites to win the SEC East because of guys like Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter and Leonard Floyd.

However, the one thing that could hold them back is the quarterback position because Hutson Mason will not return, and the Bulldogs will have to break in another new starter.

Brice Ramsey was the backup for Mason last season, and he was able to be productive in limited action. Faton Bauta was the third-string quarterback, and like Ramsey, he was solid in mop-up duty.

But then there’s Jacob Park, who redshirted last season. Park was a blue-chip recruit in 2014, and he has a good chance of being the No. 1 guy when it’s all said and done.

So the quarterback position will be something to watch during spring ball and fall camp. And because of that, here’s a breakdown of the Bulldogs' quarterback contenders for the 2015 season.

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Clemson Football: 5 Things That Must Change for the Tigers to Improve

It was another successful season for Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers with 10 wins and a victory in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Oklahoma. The Tigers have established themselves as a consistent program over the past few seasons, but what exactly will it take for them to get over the hump?

There are areas in which the Tigers could improve, and taking steps forward with these issues could be what they need to get to that next level and start competing for championships.

Here are five ways in which the Tigers can improve heading into the 2015 season.

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Virginia Tech Football: Breaking Down Hokies' QB Contenders for 2015 Season

For the Virginia Tech Hokies, it's all about the quarterback. For the past three seasons, Tech has struggled on offense. It's no coincidence that the Hokies have struggled at the quarterback position.

Former starter Logan Thomas was a physical marvel. He was an outstanding runner and possessed a howitzer of an arm. However, he struggled reading coverages and anticipating receivers' routes, and he often held onto the ball too long. 

Last year's starter, Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, got off to a strong start. Brewer played very well in Tech's Week 2 upset of eventual national champion Ohio State. Unfortunately, that was his only shining moment of the 2014 campaign.

He struggled with turnovers, which led him to be more skittish in the pocket. One of Brewer's biggest strengths before was his ability to put bad plays behind him quickly. He didn't trust his own decision-making or the offensive line, so his hesitancy in the pocket led to more sacks late in the season.

Brewer has one more year of eligibility remaining and will surely be in the mix in 2015. But, unlike last year, he will face several capable competitors beginning this spring.

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50 Most Anticipated College Football Games for 2015 Season

Finally, something to fill up those 2015 calendars you got as holiday presents.

While all schedules aren't final, we do know most of the dates of next season's biggest college football games. Others have a pairing and a locale, just not a set appointment. Either way, it's something to help us get through the long hiatus between one of the best seasons ever and what figures to be another stellar collegiate campaign.

Listed chronologically—with those yet to be given a set date listed at the end—we've compiled 50 of the most eagerly awaited games of 2015. These include traditional rivalries that have built-in anticipation, rematches of 2014's best games and some of the most notable nonconference tilts between power-conference programs.

Get those calendars ready for marking as you check out the 50 most anticipated college football games of the 2015 season.

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Nebraska Football: 5 Things That Must Change for the Huskers to Improve in 2015

The offseason is officially here for Nebraska football. With a new head coach and a majority of the new assistants in place, it's time to get prepared for the 2015 season.

During former head coach Bo Pelini's tenure, he never lost more than four games in one season. While that's actually pretty good in the big scheme of the college football landscape, it wasn't enough for Husker fans. It also was about more than the wins and losses.

Nebraska isn't necessarily in a rebuilding year, but there are some things that need to be worked on. If the Huskers wish to be competitive in the Big Ten, the offseason will have to be extremely productive. From the quarterback controversy to the overall attitude of the team, there's plenty to work on before the next season rolls around.

Here are a few areas that must change in order for the Huskers to improve in 2015.

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Way-Too-Early College Football Playoff Predictions for 2015-16 Season

The first College Football Playoff was chalky. It had a field one could have reasonably predicted last January. All four playoff teams were ranked in the preseason Top Five, after all.

It's not like any one of them came from nowhere.

I for one predicted three of the four teams in April. The only place I whiffed was with UCLA over Oregon (and, of course, with Alabama beating Florida State in the national title game). I was punished for the one place I didn't go chalk and rewarded for the places I did.

Instead of going chalk in 2015-16, however, my reaction to that makes me want to pick upsets. We can't have all chalk two seasons in a row, can we?

A team like TCU should crash the field this year—and if not a team as off the grid as the Horned Frogs, at least some teams expected to fall outside the preseason Top Five or Ten.

I went with my gut for a lot of this. I picked the teams whose direction I feel best about. They have the talent, coaches and schedules to win their conference and make the CFP.

Sound off with your own way-too-early predictions below!

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College Football Rankings 2015: Top 25 Post-NFL Draft Announcements

After the confetti dropped in AT&T Stadium following Ohio State’s win over Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the speculation began anew. We had a rush of “way too early” top 25 polls, like this one from Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel, with every pundit rushing to stake their claim on how the 2015 season will unfold.

Now that the NFL draft declaration deadline has passed, we can get a more complete look at the national landscape, and we’ve done our own top 25. Quality of returnees, coaching changes and draft losses were all considered. Stats were taken from individual schools’ websites. Here we go!

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Texas Football: Who Will Replace Longhorns' Top NFL Draft Prospects?

2014 was a year of firsts for the Texas Longhorns. The football program hired a new head coach for the first time since 1998, which also marked the first time an African-American was hired to become the head coach of a major sport in the history of the university.

It was also the first time since 1938 that Texas was shut out of the NFL draft.

And Longhorns across the nation are hoping the latter does not repeat itself.

It would be unlikely for the NFL to snub Texas for the second consecutive year because the talent leaving the 40 acres will not go overlooked.

The 2014 Longhorns finished the season with a losing record for only the second time in 17 seasons, and while that may not have been the type of start head coach Charlie Strong envisioned for his first season in Austin, the Longhorns made significant strides to help improve the team.

The end of the season means players will be leaving to pursue their dreams of playing at the next level. Putting players in the NFL is a positive step for any football program, and the Longhorns have a variety of players who will likely be selected in the 2015 NFL draft.

The negative of having players leave for the NFL is the program will be left to replace the departing talent. In the Longhorns' case, Strong will need to find players to fill the shoes of those leaving the program.

Here's a look at five Longhorns who will likely be selected in the NFL draft and will need to be replaced in 2015.

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CFB Recruiting 200: Top 6 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report recruiting analysts Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports Composite Rankings and provided in-depth analysis. As national signing day draws near, Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Today, we present the Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks.

Mobility in the passing pocket and beyond can take quarterbacks to another level when directing collegiate offenses. Spread schemes and option-read attacks in the college game now require an element of versatility from the quarterback position, and a new wave of playmakers is set to join the mix next season.

We continue our breakdown of the top 200 prospects in 247Sports' composite 2015 rankings by focusing on dual-threat quarterbacks. Here's a look at the six players who landed on that list in order of appearance, complete with insight and a 100-point grade scale based on accuracy, arm strength, pocket presence, mobility, leadership and football IQ.

 

*All prospects studied and graded by Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue

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USC Football: 5 Biggest Offseason Goals for Trojans

USC football head coach Steve Sarkisian is wasting little time getting the Trojans ready to meet their goals for the 2015 season. 

In fact, as USC was finishing its 2014 campaign, Sarkisian talked of parlaying a strong finish to the season into the next.

"It’s always great to close out the season on a high note, to build momentum into the offseason conditioning program," he said. "It’s all part of the formula. It’s a piece of the puzzle to have a really successful next 12 months, which is what we’re all striving for."

Those "next 12 months" are well underway, and the process of hitting milestones necessary for USC to win a Pac-12 Championship is afoot.

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USC Football: 5 Biggest Offseason Goals for Trojans

USC football head coach Steve Sarkisian is wasting little time getting the Trojans ready to meet their goals for the 2015 season...

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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Meeting That Changed College Football

On December 6, tucked away in the privacy of the Bluebonnet Boardroom at the Gaylord Texan Resort, a group of athletic directors, politicians, NCAA employees, former coaches and one interim bowl coach to be named later watched an unfamiliar quarterback by the name of Cardale Jones lead Ohio State to a decisive 59-0 victory over Wisconsin.

They huddled around flat-screen TVs propped up on makeshift tables. They sat in chairs that were comfortable enough. They enjoyed modest food options. They guzzled coffee and bottled water, fighting off exhaustion.

Before Ohio State could complete the unlikeliest of national championship runs, it first needed a spot at the table. And so, with the college football world immersed in speculation, the College Football Playoff selection committee—a handpicked group of 12 granted incredible power—watched, talked and decided.

“It certainly wasn’t like being at Buffalo Wild Wings,” committee chairman and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long told Bleacher Report. “We weren’t watching the games on the big screens, eating and drinking. It was intense, and everybody was focused on the different things happening in those games.”

Unlike the committee’s previous gatherings, this carried much more significance. Each week the committee met in Texas prior to the Tuesday night release of its updated Top 25, it collected another valuable bit of intel.

Prior to meeting, each committee member would review their notes and draft their personal rankings. The group would then collectively achieve a consensus. As committee chairman, it was up to Long to justify the updated rankings for a few minutes on ESPN every Tuesday. Once that was complete, each member would go their separate ways and reboot the process the following week.

A routine had been established, but the December 6 meeting was certainly unique given the timing. Out of games and out of time, the selection committee had approximately 12 hours to craft its final ranking—and more significantly, the top four teams—once the Big Ten Championship Game concluded.

There would be no re-ranking; there would be no more adjustments. The final tweaks were the only ones that mattered.

“It was different. The finality of the season was upon us,” Long said. “We knew at the end of the evening we were going to have all the factors, and all the resumes were going to be complete. We had all the pieces to the puzzle.”

One piece had already fallen into place. Oregon’s win over Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game on December 5 made the Ducks a lock for the postseason, meaning there were three vacancies and five teams to fill them.

So that Saturday, December 6, each member of the committee found his or her seat and dug in. The day began with TCU—the No. 3 team at the time—taking on and eventually dismantling Iowa State. For a team granted access to the top four before the day began, it was a compelling final statement to begin the day.

Early Games are progressing ... View from @CFBPlayoff room pic.twitter.com/uItEWXTbay

— Jeff Long (@jefflongUA) December 6, 2014

Attention then shifted to the SEC Championship Game, where Alabama eventually pulled away from Missouri and locked up another vacancy. There was no debating the Crimson Tide’s place in the playoff. They were in.

Two down. Two to go.

As more games kicked off, more televisions were put to work. The ACC Championship Game, the Big Ten Championship Game and Baylor’s regular-season finale against Kansas State all overlapped, forcing the committee to focus on a handful of developments.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of conversation,” Long said, recalling the vibe in the room. “We were all pretty much intently watching.”

As the committee members looked on in silence, a flurry of results gave them plenty to eventually discuss. Florida State wrapped up its perfect regular season with another nail-biting victory over Georgia Tech. As the only undefeated team in the nation, the Seminoles—despite the imperfect nature of their perfect regular season—felt like another playoff lock.

With one spot left and three teams remaining, Baylor conquered No. 9 Kansas State by double digits, delivering the most interesting—but not necessarily surprising—development of the day. Another compelling resume was filed.

Then Ohio State and Wisconsin teed up in the Big Ten Championship Game.

A day of unique circumstances took yet another turn, as Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin's athletic director, watched his Badgers take on the Buckeyes with a potential playoff spot on the line. Less than a month later, he would coach Wisconsin to a bowl victory over Auburn. In that moment, however, he wore two hats: school administrator and committee member.

It was unusual, but then again, nothing about this process was usual. Nothing about the game was, either.

Alvarez watched what you watched. He saw his program fall in tremendous fashion to a superior football team with a third-string quarterback who looked nothing like a third-string quarterback. He saw a storied program that spent precisely zero days in the top four leading up to that moment state a persuasive case to crash the playoff after a 59-0 victory.

More significantly, Alvarez and the rest of the selection committee watched the final second of the college football regular season.

“It was decision time,” Long said.

The silence gave way to intense discussion. That night, the group worked “officially” until about 1 a.m. For the next hour, however, many committee members hung around to regurgitate what they had just watched.

“It was a short night,” Long said. “We wanted to rehash some things while the games were fresh, before we went to bed.”

With a decision needed by late morning, the committee reconvened at 7:30 a.m., operating on only a few hours of sleep. The brief time away allowed each committee member to collect and interpret their football thoughts. The passionate conversations from the prior evening—and they were the most “spirited” of the year, according to Long—were centered.

“The committee always found that a night’s sleep helped us get to the final determination,” Long said. "We did that on Monday nights during the season as well. It gave us a fresh look at things.”

Somewhere between 10 and 10:30 a.m.—just a shade over an hour before Long was schedule to make his lengthiest television appearance to date, his least favorite part of the process—the committee finished up its final Top 25 rankings, paired up other bowl games and reached a consensus on the top four teams.

Although Long had grown accustomed to the strong, negative backlash of certain fanbases over the course of the season, this final reveal generated far different emotions. Seemingly equipped to cope with the reasonable and unreasonable responses generated by fans—look no further than his Twitter feed for a spectrum of responses—Long felt the intensity of the finale.

“There was a weight and gravity to this,” Long said. “You knew you were going to make four programs very happy. And in this instance, we had two programs that were very close. That was not easy for the committee.”

At 11:45 a.m., Long appeared on your television screen. The meetings were over. All debates had been decided. The committee’s work was complete.

Long had just spent the previous hour finding words to represent the collective thoughts of the group, though not necessarily his own. With the playoff teams revealed, Long justified the four teams with the world tuning in. More specifically, he outlined why Ohio State was tabbed as the No. 4 seed over Baylor and TCU.

“Ohio State was clearly No. 4 by the committee. It wasn’t even that close,” Long said. “That doesn’t mean it was unanimous, and not everyone saw it that way, but Ohio State was a clear selection on Sunday morning.”

Following the final, master reveal, debate ensued as expected. While Baylor and TCU made compelling cases for their inclusion, the backlash was not as loud and boisterous as anticipated. As the Internet discussed the committee’s work, Long met with the media following his final television cameo.

From there, he hopped on a commercial flight and headed back to Arkansas—back to his life as athletic director, husband and father. The first reviews Long heard of the committee’s work—and his television appearance—came from his daughters.

“They’re pretty tough on Dad,” Long said. “They thought I handled it well, so they gave me a good endorsement."

Less than one month later, the work was put into motion. The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl took place on New Year’s Day, posting enormous television ratings comparable to national championships from previous years.  

The national championship that followed a week later posted the largest television rating in cable history, a number that was aided by a No. 4 seed, Ohio State, capping off a historic stretch with its new star quarterback.

“I think it raised the level of interest, excitement and passion for college football a step further than we thought it could go,” Long said. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to move the needle, but it did. We had a successful first year.”

The tables that propped up the televisions in the Bluebonnet Boardroom have long been put away. All chairs have been repurposed. Each member of this group is back at home and back to their normal lives, whatever such lives entail.

In April, the committee will meet again, at which point tweaks to the process will be suggested and discussed. The management committee will then decide how similar or different the selection process looks moving forward, and the focus will turn to next season.

Even though the selection committee’s work is complete—and December 6 feels like a distant memory of another time—it never truly stops. Not when there’s more history to write.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Quarterback Consistency Critical to UCLA Football Success

The most successful three-year stretch in UCLA football history coincided with three years of consistency at quarterback, thanks to Brett Hundley.

But Hundley leading the Bruins to 29 wins since 2012 is no coincidence. Likewise, it's no coincidence that in the six seasons before Hundley took over, UCLA won just five games more than that and never won more than seven times in any of those campaigns. 

Over that time frame, the Bruins never had a consistent, reliable starter. Injuries, transfers and shaky performance created a revolving door behind center—six different starters in six seasons—that only stopped turning when Hundley first lined up.

Indications that UCLA had entered a new era once Hundley became the starter were evident from his very first snap.  

With Hundley bound for the NFL, UCLA is at a watershed moment. 

Head coach Jim Mora returns a substantial corps of starters and major contributors from this past season's 10-win team, which he noted following UCLA's regular-season finale vs. Stanford. 

"We're an extremely young football team," he said. "There were six scholarship seniors out there for Senior Day, so we're very young and we will get there." 

In this case, "there" is that elusive Pac-12 championship that UCLA has approached but been unable to secure in Mora's three years in the program—all of which were spent with Hundley at quarterback. 

However, as the Bruins' inconsistency from 2006 through 2011 proves, they can only be as successful as their quarterback play allows. 

Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone face a critical decision in this offseason, one that could determine if UCLA continues its current, historic run of success, or if the Bruins take a step backward in an increasingly competitive Pac-12 South.  

Three quarterbacks are most likely to vie for UCLA's vacant starting job: Asiantii Woulard, Jerry Neuheisel and Josh Rosen.

All three have qualities that could continue UCLA's recent run of consistency, but there are lingering question marks each must address to win the starting job in 2015. 

 

Jerry Neuheisel 

Of the trio, only Neuheisel has collegiate game experience. He replaced an injured Hundley in UCLA's Week 3 win over Texas, connecting with wide receiver Jordan Payton in the waning moments for the go-ahead score.  

"Jerry is always prepared," Mora said when I asked him about Neuheisel's performance against Texas in September. "He's a very smart young man, and he has a great feel for the game."  

Mora said Neuheisel's smarts translated to the quarterback knowing the entire playbook, and having the same options open to him as were open to Hundley. 

Neuheisel may be the most experienced, he but could be at a physical disadvantage against either Woulard or Rosen. 

Woulard is the best equipped to run the zone-read scheme Mazzone implemented with Hundley behind center, while Rosen's pocket presence and arm give him the look of a future NFL quarterback. 

 

Asiantii Woulard 

Woulard is something of a hidden X-factor in UCLA's quarterback competition. He has yet to play in a game, but he has spent two years preparing alongside Hundley.

Surely UCLA's three-year starter had wisdom to impart to Woulard in that time, which could translate well to the team's offense. 

Woulard already helped the UCLA defense in the last two years, operating as the Bruins' scout-team quarterback. He put qualities comparable to those of Pac-12 standouts Marcus Mariota and Taylor Kelly to use, and could do the same on game days this year. 

"We've got a young freshman here named Asiantii Woulard, who's about the same height and probably about the same weight and extremely athletic like Marcus," Mora said in October of 2013 when I asked about UCLA readying for Mariota. "Put [Woulard] back there and just kind of tell him to do his thing." 

After working with Hundley and emulating Mariota in practices, 2015 could be Woulard's turn to develop into a playmaker akin to either.  

 

Josh Rosen 

Rosen is one of the nation's most highly rated quarterback prospects in the 2015 signing class, earning 5-star billing from 247Sports.

There is no shortage of hype following the standout from nearby St. Johns Bosco in Bellflower, California, on his way to Westwood. 

As Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times writes, Rosen already has the nickname "Chosen Rosen." 

Talk about a lofty billing before ever even participating in a collegiate practice, much less a high-profile Pac-12 game. But the freshman Rosen is aware of the expectations, as he told Foster: 

Everyone is going to be looking at me to see how I react to the first time I get yelled at. They are going to want to see how I react to the first time I get told to do something. If I put effort into everything I do around the team, I can earn their respect.

Rosen can earn both respect and the starting job in short order. He enrolled at UCLA earlier this month and will participate in spring practices. 

He may lack collegiate experience, but as Hundley proved, sometimes all it takes is one snap to begin a consistently successful career. 

 

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

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Quarterback Consistency Critical to UCLA Football Success

The most successful three-year stretch in UCLA football history coincided with three years of consistency at quarterback, thanks to Brett Hundley . But Hundley leading the Bruins to 29 wins since 2012 is no coincidence...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Why Alabama Can't Afford to Lose Lane Kiffin

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — We figured this was coming, it just might be coming a little sooner than we thought.

The Lane Kiffin era in Tuscaloosa wasn’t going to be a long one like defensive coordinator Kirby Smart’s has been. Kiffin is too talented of a football mind to not get snatched up, especially coaching under the watchful eye of Nick Saban, who has largely kept him out of the public spotlight and let the focus be on his offense.

But not very many expected his departure would be after just one year.

That could be the case, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter:

Kiffin’s home is on the West Coast. This wouldn’t be an unprecedented move. The last time Kiffin had an SEC job (head coach at Tennessee in 2009), he left after just one year to become the head coach at USC.

ESPN’s Chris Low and The Tuscaloosa News’ Cecil Hurt think Kiffin would make the move, should he get an offer:

Schefter is not the first credible source to broach the possible move, either. The San Jose-Mercury News’ Cam Inman wrote on Friday that Kiffin “might consider returning to the NFL” and could be a candidate for the job, along with former Washington head coach Mike Shanahan.

These are more than just rumblings.

Kiffin seemingly got ahead of potential rumors like this in New Orleans, while Alabama was prepping for the Sugar Bowl, saying he would be returning to Tuscaloosa next season.

"Yes, definitely," Kiffin said, according to al.com’s Michael Casagrande. "I think that we still have a lot of stuff that we can do better. Working with a new quarterback, that will be exciting. To me, the excitement of the unknown when you have the quarterback, to see if we can do this again, if we can perform really well and obviously coach has recruited very well year in and year out.”

There have been no indications that Kiffin has been or will be offered the job. He is still performing his duties as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, which right now are focused on recruiting.

Al.com’s Drew Champlin writes that Kiffin was in Tuscaloosa this weekend as Alabama hosted official visits from top recruits.

TideSports.com’s Aaron Suttles said that Kiffin was also out on the road last week:

Losing Kiffin, though, would be a major blow to a Crimson Tide offense that sported a new look than we’re accustomed to seeing at Alabama and set records for most yards in school history.

 

Recruiting

Kiffin has played a major role in recruiting Alabama in his year since joining the coaching staff.

247Sports lists Kiffin as the primary recruiter on 2015 commits and early enrollees Blake Barnett and Dallas Warmack.

Barnett, in particular, seems to be a tailor-made Kiffin prospect. He is a quarterback from the West Coast, has a live arm and is a good runner—something that Kiffin had success this year with Blake Sims.

Kiffin is also listed as the primary recruiter on several more remaining 2015 targets like Byron Cowart and Iman Marshall.

Wide receiver Lawrence Cager told al.com’s Drew Champlin that Kiffin and Alabama are still hard on the Miami commit.

"They still want me at 'Bama," Cager said, per Champlin. "Coach (Lane) Kiffin and Coach (Billy) Napier are recruiting me hard. I thought the visit was great. Another great visit to Alabama. I really enjoyed spending time with Coach (Nick) Saban a lot and the fellow recruits."

Losing Kiffin right now could have a few ripple effects for Alabama before 2015’s national signing day.

 

Quarterback

Kiffin's success at Alabama this year was in large part because of what he was able to do at the quarterback position.

He took Blake Sims from career backup to Alabama record-holder. His track record of quarterback development extends beyond Alabama, where he worked with talent like Matt Leinart at USC and made Jonathan Crompton an SEC-caliber starter at Tennessee.

The Crimson Tide will need him to work some of that magic again this offseason.

The only sure thing about Alabama’s 2015 quarterback battle is that there is no sure thing. The Crimson Tide doesn’t have a quarterback on its roster with more than a year on campus and a pass attempt in a game.

With Kiffin leading the charge, Alabama fans could be a little less anxious about that process, given his history at the position. If he goes, Saban will need to find another quarterback-minded coordinator to make sure there isn’t much drop-off under center.

 

Another Scheme Change

It’s not a stretch to say Kiffin gave Alabama an entirely new identity on offense.

Part of that was personnel-wise. He tailored his system to a roster that had a mobile quarterback with a strong arm, an electric wide receiver in Amari Cooper and a run game that was less power and more finesse than in years past.

It speaks to Kiffin’s acumen that he was able to squeeze just about all of the potential out of an offense with a first-year quarterback and the weapons around him.

Alabama also needed an offense that could keep up with the high-scoring trends of the SEC and college football, and Kiffin provided that, too.

If Kiffin leaves, Alabama will need to find that again, after the dust from the coaching carousel is largely settled. To complicate things further, Alabama will already be nearly starting over on offense, with just two starters returning.

High-profile offensive coordinators like Ohio State’s Tom Herman and Clemson’s Chad Morris have already moved to head-coaching jobs.

Saban would have to dig deep to find his next offensive coordinator, and Alabama will be looking at its third coordinator in as many years.

 

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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