NCAA Football

College Football Championship 2015: TV Info, Predictions for Title Showdown

As the television commercial for the inaugural College Football Playoff consistently mentions—this is what we asked for all those years. No longer do we have the BCS and all of its problems.

Instead of automatically putting the SEC winner in the title game against whichever power conference team was undefeated that given year (Florida State in 2014), college football set up a small four-team bracket. The result is an impending championship game showdown between Ohio State and Oregon in a game that is rife with storylines and intriguing matchups. 

It is the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Marcus Mariota against the third-stringer in Cardale Jones. It is one of the most dominant programs in college football history in Ohio State against a resurgent Oregon program that has become one of the best teams in the last 10 years. It is coaching stalwart Urban Meyer against Oregon’s underrated and unheralded Mark Helfrich.

Here is a look at the preview and essential information for the national title clash.

 

College Football Championship Game

Matchup: Ohio State vs. Oregon

Date: Monday, Jan. 12

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview/Prediction

Any game that involves Oregon will likely feature some scoring with its offense. Mariota is the Heisman quarterback, but it is the rushing attack that should have Ohio State most concerned.

The Ducks put up 301 yards on the ground and a ridiculous five rushing touchdowns against Florida State in the Rose Bowl thanks to the combined efforts of Mariota, Freeman and Thomas Tyner. The often-overlooked Tyner posted the breakout performance of the game with 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns after dealing with injuries for a portion of the year.

The Ducks are 18th in the country in rushing yards per game and often use the ground game to set up passes down the seam on read-option fakes.

Ohio State counters with a potentially dominant defensive line that features superstars Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett. The Buckeyes had 40 sacks entering the College Football Playoff, and Bosa earned first-team Associated Press All-American status with a Big Ten-best 13.5 sacks.

Oregon’s offense is predicated on reading the defense and dominating along the line so it can establish the run first and give Mariota time to throw later. If Bosa and Bennett, who was a third-team All-American himself, can both push their way into the backfield and occupy blockers, it will open up the linebackers to make plays in space.

Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated discussed this matchup within the matchup:

Ohio State's defensive front boasts an embarrassment of riches, and defensive end Joey Bosa, the program’s first unanimous All-America selection since linebacker James Laurinaitis in 2007, is just the tip of the iceberg. Tackle Michael Bennett tallied a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss against Alabama. Linebacker Darren Lee had three tackles for loss and two sacks. Can Oregon’s offensive line, which has struggled with injuries this year, protect Mariota from the Buckeyes' defensive talent?

If there is one player in America who can deal with that defensive front, it is Mariota. He torched Florida State for 400 total yards of offense and three touchdowns and will look to cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats in college football with a national title.

On the other side is Jones, who will be making just his third career start. Still, he destroyed Wisconsin to the tune of 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game and then knocked off mighty Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in those two starts. The moment has not been too big for him yet.

The Ohio State offense converted 10 of 18 third downs against the Crimson Tide, and the vast majority of those were Jones using either his legs or his arm. He is certainly not as fast as Braxton Miller or even J.T. Barrett, but he is a wrecking ball in the open field, which gives Oregon another thing to worry about.

However, Elliott is the key to the Buckeyes’ attack, as he proved in the Sugar Bowl with 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He was the best player on the field in a game that featured a number of future pros and will be a problem for the Ducks defense that is 51st in the country against the run.

Meyer discussed his running back, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "He's probably the most underrated back in the United States.”

If Oregon has to devote extra defenders to the box to deal with Elliott, that will open up the passing game for Jones and company. The Ducks are 111th in the country against the pass and give up large chunks of yardage between the 20s. Look for Devin Smith, who burned Alabama and Wisconsin deep on a number of occasions, to make a couple of big plays in this one.

What’s more, Oregon’s top corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is still out, so Smith, Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall should find some holes in the secondary.

Ultimately, this may be the story of the game.

Yes, the Ohio State defense will pose a threat to Mariota and the Ducks, but Oregon is second in the country in scoring offense. It is going to score some points in this game, and the question is whether the Buckeyes can respond against a potentially vulnerable Ducks defense.

Jones may be a third-stringer, but he has proven his mettle. Florida State had plenty of success moving the ball against Oregon but failed to convert on a number of chances because of devastating turnovers and poor play-calling. Ohio State and the nation’s fifth-best scoring offense will find the end zone on more of those chances, which is trouble for the Ducks.

The Buckeyes will take care of the ball and take advantage of Oregon with the same deep balls that they used against Wisconsin and Alabama. Look for Smith to haul in a late touchdown catch to win the game and title for Ohio State. 

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Oregon 31

 

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CFP Championship 2015: Preview, Prediction for Ohio State vs. Oregon

The quarterbacks on opposing sidelines couldn't be more different. One is among the greatest signal-callers in college football history. The other will be making his third start. 

The head coaches on opposing sidelines couldn't be more different. One is among the most decorated of his generation, on the verge of becoming the second head coach in the sport's history to win national titles at two different schools. The other is anonymous on the national stage, believed by some to have merely inherited a title roster from his predecessor.

So when the proven Urban Meyer takes unproven quarterback Cardale Jones and the proven Marcus Mariota takes unproven coach Mark Helfrich into next Monday's national championship game, expect all eyes to be fixated on those two relationships.

Meyer has proven an unbelievable cultivator of talent under center. Dating back to his run at Utah, where he turned Alex Smith into a No. 1 overall pick, Meyer has coaxed the maximum possible performance of his quarterbacks.

Nowhere has that been more evident than this Ohio State team. Heading into the preseason, Meyer seemed to have his best situation since the Tim Tebow era at Florida. Braxton Miller was a returning senior whom many viewed as the Heisman favorite, even over reigning champion Jameis Winston and eventual winner Mariota. Miller, of course, never took a regular-season snap after suffering a shoulder injury during camp.

Up next was J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman who hadn't yet taken a collegiate snap. At first, he looked it. Ohio State's home loss to Virginia Tech in September looked like a terrible omen and nearly kept it out of the College Football Playoffs. Ten wins later, Barrett was a Heisman candidate in his own right before going down with a season-ending injury against rival Michigan.

And, yet again, Meyer reached into the well and pulled a guy who could've started for the Arizona Cardinals this weekend. Jones has been mostly excellent in wins over Wisconsin and Alabama, compiling 500 passing yards with four touchdowns against one interception. While he doesn't bring the burst outside on the ground, the sophomore has been a willing ball-carrier in short-yardage situations, throwing his 6'5", 250-pound frame into defenders to keep the chains moving.

Alabama coach Nick Saban even went so far as to insinuate Ohio State is actually better with Jones—a more naturally gifted passer—taking snaps than Barrett. 

“The one thing that the new quarterback does is he has a tremendous arm,” Saban told reporters. “And they have some very talented receivers. And the two things that were very apparent is those things became very apparent in the last two games because of the quarterback."

Jones has no doubt been helped immensely by running back Ezekiel Elliott, who chose the perfect time to emerge as a superstar. Elliott rushed for 450 yards and four touchdowns over the last two games, breaking off runs of 80 yards or longer in both contests and making life far easier on Jones. It'll be interesting to see if Elliott can keep his hot streak going against a Ducks front seven that has struggled all season to get penetration against the run.

When and if Elliott struggles is when we'll likely get any real questions answered about Jones' acumen. 

On the other sideline, there are few (if any) questions of what the quarterback can do. Mariota continued one of the single best seasons for a quarterback in college football history Thursday, throwing 338 yards and two touchdowns while adding 62 and a score in Oregon's 59-20 thumping of Florida State. An uncharacteristic interception brought his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 40:3 for the season, but his struggles were minor.

The Ducks outscored the Seminoles 41-7 in the second half, the type of performance that makes the current seven-point spread (per Oddsshark) not seem surprising. Monday could be something of a full-circle moment for Mariota, who had been held out of the title picture two straight seasons due to disappointing upsets.

As for Helfrich, January could prove to be his national coming-out party. For someone with a combined three losses over his two seasons as a head coach, Helfrich remains nationally anonymous. Many view him as the Barry Switzer to Chip Kelly's Jimmy Johnson, taking over a ready-built program because of the comfort he provides rather than his own skills. May media members and fans came into 2014 talking of the "pressure" on Helfrich to continue Kelly's legacy.

But to those in the locker room, Helfrich has never been a placeholder. Players on both sides of the ball speak about the 41-year-old Medford native in reverential terms, almost to the point you wonder if they're happier with Helfrich than they were under the more controlling Kelly.

“You know, coach Kelly, I think he was very…I wouldn't say stubborn, but he was always finding ways to manipulate our offense into running the same plays over and over again,” Mariota told Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News. "I think coach Helfrich really uses different concepts and allows us to get in different situations.”

Linebacker Tony Washington saying Helfrich "treats us like men" could also be construed as a subtle jab—or at the very least a contrast—against Kelly, who recently had his own bout with control issues with the Eagles.

With a win, Helfrich can do the only thing Kelly didn't at Oregon: give the school its first national championship. Oregon has become a national power not just because of the change Kelly brought to the school but also by the big backing of high-profile donors, most notably Nike's Phil Knight. A Ducks national championship would affirm Helfrich's place among the nation's best coaches and continue to prove the real strength in college football remains in the bank account.

At the very least, it should be fun to watch.

Score Prediction: Oregon 42, Ohio State 31

 

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College Football National Championship 2015: Early Storylines to Watch

The inaugural College Football Playoff produced a disappointment of a duel between Heisman Trophy winners and a gritty cross-conference showdown with an unexpected winner, but it is hard to complain about the resulting title game matchup...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football National Championship 2015: Early Storylines to Watch

The inaugural College Football Playoff produced a disappointment of a duel between Heisman Trophy winners and a gritty cross-conference showdown with an unexpected winner, but it is hard to complain about the resulting title game matchup. 

It is scary to think just how great Ohio State and Urban Meyer are now that the program is on its third quarterback and still outlasting an SEC powerhouse such as Alabama in the CFP semifinal.

Ditto for Marcus Mariota and Oregon. For the first time, these Ducks are yet to have wings clipped by injury or a shocker of a matchup. Instead, this year's Heisman winner sent Jameis Winston and Florida State home with their tails between their legs.

Oregon-Ohio State is not what most had in mind even a few weeks ago, but it would be a lie to suggest it is not a dream matchup only befitting of the very first CFP.

 

College Football Playoff National Championship Odds and Schedule

 

Storylines to Watch

Oregon's Ability to Stop the Run

Look, Oregon's defense will always come under fire. So it goes for an offensive-minded team.

Never mind those who believed the unit would be too small to play with the big boys. Observers who did their homework knew this was never the case, as Oregon's speed and size matches well with the best of the best.

The only problem going into the matchup with the Buckeyes is run defense. In the semifinal, Florida State's Dalvin Cook ran for 103 yards while the Seminoles as a whole rushed for 180 yards and a score on 4.6 yards per carry.

Now, it is important to understand that the Oregon defense in large part yields big numbers on the ground because it commits extra bodies to stopping the pass. Most teams find themselves down early against the Ducks and go with one-dimensional passing attacks.

With that said, Ohio State will not waver from its balanced attack and will control the game if Ezekiel Elliott gets going. Against the Seminoles, he ran for 230 yards and a pair of scores on just 20 carries.

Meyer will want to run to take pressure off inexperienced quarterback Cardale Jones. Should the Ducks give Elliott room early, the Buckeyes can control things.

 

Injuries Galore

The hits keep coming.

Oregon is already without top corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu against an elite offense due to injury.

Now the team will be without star wideout Devon Allen, too, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.

"Devon Allen, the fastest man in college football and the player Oregon coaches have called their most consistent wideout, is expected to miss the national title game, a source told FOX Sports after the Rose Bowl Thursday night," he wrote.

Allen, the owner of 41 catches for 684 yards and seven touchdowns this year, is also a key component on special teams as a returner.

Both facets of the Ducks' approach now change. The onus of production will continue to fall on the shoulders of freshman Darren Carrington as a result, although his seven grabs for 165 yards and two scores against Florida State suggest he is ready for the task.

 

The Mimic Game 

Meyer's ability to squeeze the absolute most out of whoever lines up at quarterback centers on a simple, familiar strategy.

Chip Kelly's, of course.

Meyer recently spoke about lessons learned from Kelly, the former Oregon coach who now holds the same position with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I just like their approach," Meyer said, per George Schroeder of USA Today. "When I went out there, I brought back with me that there's an unbelievable culture. This is the way they do their business. Everyone is aligned. I brought that back to our place."

Thanks to sheer talent, groomed by Meyer's infatuation with speed, tempo control and balance, Ohio State boasts an offense that can play from behind or jump out in front of the Ducks and never look back.

Look at the game against Alabama. Elliott put on a show with his 20 totes, but Jones still attempted 35 passes and ran another 17 times against the nation's sixth-ranked defense. Meyer's offense even turned the ball over three times and posted 42 points.

It should not come as a surprise considering Meyer's offense ranks fifth nationally in scoring (45.0 points per game), just three spots behind Oregon (47.2 PPG).

The inspiration behind the attack is noteworthy, though. Any notion that Oregon is the only offensive powerhouse in the title game needs to go out the window in a hurry.

 

Betting information courtesy of Odds Shark. Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

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Army All-American Bowl 2015: Analyzing Top Commitments from All-Star Game

One of the biggest weekends in college football recruiting has come and gone with two games featuring some of the top prospects in the country. The latter was Saturday's Army All-American Bowl, which saw several programs strike gold weeks before national signing day. 

There is obviously a lot of time left for schools to make an impression on their recruits, but being able to get a commitment early certainly takes some of the anxiety away. The Army All-American Bowl also let the prospects show off their skills to those programs on the fence about how hard to keep pursuing a player. 

Given all the high school talent that's been on display in the last 48 hours, it's no wonder college football is in such a strong state. These are the commitments from the Army All-American Bowl that had a profound impact on this year's recruiting. 

 

Marvell Tell, DB (4-Star Recruit Commits to USC)

Saturday was a good day for USC, which got two strong commitments from 4-star defensive backs. Marvell Tell is the standout, while also taking a bite out of Pac-12 rivals like Oregon and Arizona State, who were also in on the California native. 

As you can see in the tweet from Scott Schrader of 247Sports.com, Tell and his family left no doubt about where his heart lies moving forward:

In an article by Gerard Martinez of Scout.com, Tell said that it was an unofficial visit to USC in June that wound up making the difference:

It was just as I started coming around more often, I kind of got a feel for the school and everyone around it. I was attracted to it basically and I just kind of fell in love with it almost. (Defensive backs) coach Keith Heyward really gave me a vision for where I would play and how I would contribute too. We have a good relationship and that was when we really started to get to know each other more.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian is still adding his own personal touch to the roster that was built by Lane Kiffin. Tell isn't the game-changing piece to reshape the defense, but along with Ykili Ross, Coach Sark is keeping more California talent at home. 

Adding depth in the secondary is essential for the Trojans, who were burned for 381 yards and three touchdowns against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. They also allowed 265.7 passing yards per game in 2014. per Yahoo! Sports

Tell is an imposing figure at 6'2", though he's slight right now at 185 pounds. His biggest strength is reading the quarterback and finding the ball. He's a heavy hitter who understands how to tackle and will get better with more muscle. 

Even though his aggressiveness makes him stand out, Tell can commit too early and get beat. It's not a huge knock right now, just an area that needs time to improve. 

 

Devonaire Clarington, TE (4-Star Recruit Commits to Texas)

To say that Charlie Strong had a tumultuous first year in Texas would be an understatement. His method of coaching and personality seemed to be directly at odds with what Longhorns fans wanted, or at least what they were accustomed to. 

The good news for fans in Austin is that Strong is making his mark this recruiting season and has the Longhorns headed in the right direction. His first major commitment on Saturday was 6'5", 222-pound tight end Devonaire Clarington, via Jeff Howe of 247Sports.com: 

A 4-star recruit out of Florida, Clarington instantly improves Texas' passing game. He's not a great all-around tight end yet, but there may not be a better receiving player at the position in the 2015 class. 

TJ Gaynor of SportingNews.com raved about Clarington's ability to make catches in any situation because his hands are so strong:

Clarington owns the ball in the air so consistently the referees might as well go ahead and affix his name on the title prior to the opening kick. Superior hand-eye coordination and tremendous hand and forearm tensile strength are his calling cards. Perhaps the greatest "hands" catcher or ball snatcher in this year's class, Clarington isn't going to lose many jumpballs regardless of the caliber of defender matched up against him. 

Texas needs all sorts of help on offense after ranking 90th or worse in passing yards, rushing yards and scoring in 2014. If the Longhorns had any kind of production on that side of the ball, they would have won at least nine games because the defense finished 32nd with 23.8 points allowed per game. 

The Longhorns need to find playmakers capable of stretching the field and making plays in traffic. Clarington solves both problems with his size, hands and awareness. He's got to get better in the running game to be an every-down player, but right now Texas has to be very happy with its future at tight end. 

 

Stanley Norman, Athlete (4-Star Recruit Commits to Arizona State)

In three years as head coach at Arizona State, Todd Graham has transformed the Sun Devils from a borderline bowl team into one of the Pac-12's best programs. They have won 10 games each of the last two years and 28 since 2012. 

The only Pac-12 schools with more wins over the last three years are Oregon (36), Stanford (31) and UCLA (29). In order for Arizona State to keep pace with those schools, it has to get elite athletes. 

Stanley Norman is the jewel of Graham's 2015 recruiting class so far, via Doug Haller of AZCentral.com:

Norman has the ability to play cornerback in college but expects to line up on offense at wide receiver. He's 6'0" and 180 pounds with good speed, likely playing more in the slot, where he can catch short passes and create yards in space. 

When you play in the Pac-12, you have to play fast on offense and stop the pass on defense. The Sun Devils struggled down the stretch with two losses in the final three weeks of the regular season to because the defense allowed 77 total points to Oregon State and Arizona. 

Pass defense was average, at best, allowing 19 touchdowns and 261.8 yards per game, per Yahoo! Sports. Norman doesn't directly solve that issue, but he does give Graham versatility. The California native can start in the slot as a freshman and get acclimated to the system before possibly moving into a more versatile role later in his career. 

Norman does have a gigantic red flag, tearing his ACL during the high school season and being unable to play on Saturday, but his burst when healthy is electric and he's a tremendous athlete who should have no problems regaining that explosiveness in 2015. 

 

Note:  Recruiting information via 247Sports.com 

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Oregon vs. Ohio State: TV Info, Key Players in College Football Championship

Just when it seemed the games couldn't get any more exciting than the Sugar Bowl, the College Football Playoff now comes to a close with the national championship game.

Oregon routed Florida State in the Rose Bowl prior to Ohio State's comeback win over Alabama. Both games were intriguing going in, but Oregon came away looking like the stronger team for the national championship.

The deciding factor, of course, will be which players show up on the big stage. There is no shortage of star power between a Heisman winner and a breakout running back that has carried the Buckeyes late in the season.

Before the final game of the season kicks off, here's a look at the viewing info and players to watch on Jan. 12.

 

Game Information

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Monday, January 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Players to Watch

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

All season long, Marcus Mariota has done it all for the Ducks. Whether it's been with his arm or legs, the Heisman winner has throttled nearly every opponent this season en route to the title game.

After replacing Jameis Winston as the reigning Heisman winner, he promptly dismantled Florida State. It was just another huge accomplishment for Mariota on what has already been a special season, as SportsCenter notes:

Heading into the title matchup, Mariota has contributed 56 total touchdowns with just six turnovers (three fumbles, three interceptions). He threw one during a slightly shaky start to the FSU game but bounced back after his running game started rolling.

Expect Mariota to once again have a huge role in the championship game to lead the way for the Ducks. Depending on how well he plays under pressure, Oregon might be hoisting its first-ever national championship trophy in the same year Mariota won the first Heisman for the program.

 

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Over the course of the last several games, many have heralded Cardale Jones as the catalyst for the Ohio State offense. While he's been a solid signal-caller for the Buckeyes, it has been Ezekiel Elliott that has paced the team.

In his last two games, Elliott has recorded over 200 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports put the two phenomenal performances in perspective:

Even against two Heisman finalists in the Big Ten Championship and Sugar Bowl, Elliott was able to steal the show. In fact, he was named the MVP in the semifinal, via Ohio State's official account:

Having Jones and Devin Smith in the passing game, the Buckeyes have the weapons on offense to compete. If the Buckeyes plan to take home a crystal football, however, they will need a certain crop top-wearing tailback streaking down the field for several huge gains.

 

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Even when held in check at times during the Rose Bowl, Royce Freeman still showed out despite receiving only 14 touches. The freshman finished with 63 total yards and two touchdowns, including one that saw him go through one of Florida State's biggest defensive players at the goal line.

His relentless approach in the Oregon running game has been evident throughout the season with eight straight 100-yard games prior to the semifinal. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com actually made a comparison to a current NFL running back: 

On the other side is an Ohio State rush defense that allowed 170 yards and three touchdowns on the ground against Alabama. If Freeman and Thomas Tyner can find success against OSU, the Ducks will run away in the national championship game—literally.

 

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Under Armour All-American Game 2015: Results and Top Recruits from Showcase

Every fan of college football has been glued to the TV over the past several days for myriad bowl games. While showcase games typically get overlooked in the shuffle, the Under Armour All-American Game is one of the most prestigious.

Team Highlight came away with a 46-6 win, but recruits who got the invite showed up and showed out on the national stage. Several also announced their commitment to prestigious programs all across the country. 

Players like Jadeveon Clowney and A.J. Green made a name for themselves on the massive stage. The future looks bright for all of the players in attendance for this year's version, but nothing is promised for even the best prospects.

5-star recruits from all over gathered for the huge game but only a select few came away living up to the huge hype. Here's a look at some of best performers from the Under Armour All-American Game.

 

Byron Cowart, DE, Uncommitted

Pass-rushers like Clowney and others have proved they belong in the elite programs. The latest during the UA showcase was Byron Cowart, who showed off his immense strength and athleticism.

His play was also good enough to earn him the honor of being named one of the MVPs, via Derek Tyson of ESPN.com:

The 6'4", 250-pound lineman hasn't yet made his intentions clear about which school he wants to attend. Now that he has come away with some of the biggest plays in the game, he is even more highly coveted by the top programs.

Cowart did discuss the likelihood of him going to a familiar school with an elite class already, via Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel:

“I would love to play with some of my teammates...playing with guys I know," Cowart said. "Being where I am going to be happy, that’s a big thing. ... A lot of my guys are already established and committed to Florida State."

Depending on where he goes from here, Cowart has a chance to completely change the landscape of college football.

 

Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State

Earlier in the year, Deondre Francois excelled during the Elite 11 competition. During the Under Armour All-American Game, the 4-Star quarterback balled out again with several huge plays.

He wasn't the only star committed to Florida State shining, but he was certainly the brightest. In fact, Tyson noted one of his deep passes went to a fellow commit for FSU that might be his option in the future:

Even if Jameis Winston does decide to leave FSU early, the Seminoles appear to be in good hands. Francois is one of three quarterbacks in the Noles' 2015 class, along with 4-star Kai Locksley and 3-star De'Andre Johnson.

Prior to Francois' commitment, Johnson made it clear what he thought about the competition, via Rivals.com:

Even after showing out during the showcase game, Francois still has quite a bit of work to do to replace Winston in the future. Whether it's next year or a few years down the road, Francois has a chance to be special for FSU.

 

Kendall Sheffield, CB, Alabama

His day on the field didn't particularly stand out, but Kendall Sheffield left fans of Alabama exuberant after the game.

A 5-star cornerback, Sheffield announced his intentions to join the Crimson Tide next season. Like several other top recruits, he made the decision during the game with plenty of fanfare, as ESPN College Football passed along:

Facing off with some of the best quarterbacks and wide receivers in the country, Sheffield still showed why he's highly regarded. Heading to a program where he can help shore up the sub-par secondary, look for Sheffield to prove his worth in the next several years.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted. 

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College Football Championship 2015: Oregon vs. Ohio State Is Ideal Final Matchup

Any critics of college football's new playoff system were silenced on New Year's Day. 

Under the old BCS system, we still would have been given a matchup between Oregon and Ohio State. Only it would have happened in the Rose Bowl, and it wouldn't have mattered beyond determining the 101st champion in the Granddaddy of Them All. At the same time, Alabama and Florida State would have met in the national championship. And that would have been that. 

Instead, America got two endlessly entertaining playoff matchups—albeit for two very different reasons—on Thursday. And its going to get another one—the right one—in the national championship. 

Before Thursday, you probably weren't going to find many arguments that Oregon didn't belong in the title game. But the Seminoles were the defending champions. They had won 29 games in row and hadn't lost with Jameis Winston under center. Doubt that Oregon was actually the better team still lingered. 

Well, not anymore. After a fairly even first half, the Ducks used a handful of takeaways and their typical dizzying offensive attack to turn the Rose Bowl into an historic 59-20 beatdown. Urban Meyer's reaction pretty much says it all, via C.J. Fogler:

If there was someone who believed Oregon didn't belong in college football's penultimate battle, someone who still thinks the Ducks are all gimmick and speed, they no longer have an argument to back it up. 

As for the Buckeyes, they had more convincing to do. Down two legitimate Heisman talents at quarterback, Meyer had to turn to Cardale Jones, who entered the Sugar Bowl with just 34 pass attempts on the season. 

They were underdogs against Wisconsin. They routed Wisconsin. They were underdogs against No. 1 Alabama. They scored 42 points against an NFL-prospect-laden roster, limited superstar Amari Cooper to 7.9 yards per catch and beat No. 1 Alabama. 

No, there's no question. Ohio State belongs. 

“Obviously we're really thankful for the playoff system," running back Ezekiel Elliott said, via Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel. "[The committee] gave us a chance to go out there and show that we're one of the better teams in the nation and we deserve to be in the national championship.”

Now, it's Oregon vs. Ohio State. Two electrifying offenses that would have no trouble putting up 100 combined points. A Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback vs. a quarterback trying to replace a phenom. Two creative coaches with a week to game-plan. 

This is the matchup we want to see in the national championship. And we know that thanks to the playoff system. 

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Tennessee Football: 5 New Year's Resolutions for the Vols

2015 couldn't have started off any better for the Tennessee Volunteers.

A dominant win over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the TaxSlayer Bowl in front of a crowd almost exclusively decked out in orange and white showed that better times are ahead for the Vols.

But while Tennessee easily dismantled its Big 10 opponent, next season's slate of games won't be so easy. All the usual suspects are there: Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri. All of those teams hold multiyear win streaks over the Vols and want nothing more than to keep those streaks alive for another season.

The Vols will be an improved team in 2015 for sure, as they return 18 total starters, including 10 on offense.

But many of those starters are true freshmen who will still only be true sophomores in a league dominated by fourth- and fifth-year players.

Make no mistake—there is still a lot of work to be done for Tennessee to finally turn the corner and go from hoping for bowl eligibility in late November to having its eyes set on an SEC crown.

Accomplishing these five New Year's resolutions will go a long way toward proving that Tennessee's winning season was no fluke and that the Vols are truly on the up and up.

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Ohio State Football: Even Brighter Days Ahead for Buckeyes

Coming into the inaugural College Football Playoff, Alabama was the favorite to win it all.  And in the Sugar Bowl, nobody really gave Ohio State a chance against the winner of the mighty SEC West.  Alabama was a 7.5-point favorite, according to Odds Shark, and seemingly every analyst was picking the Crimson Tide.

That is how it has been for Ohio State for the duration of Urban Meyer’s tenure.  The Buckeyes have always been perceived as second-tier regardless of their performance. 

According to the skeptics, when the Buckeyes went a perfect 12-0 in 2012, it was because they weren’t facing any pressure, as they couldn’t participate in the postseason due to NCAA sanctions.  And in 2013, when they won their first 12 games, it was only because they were playing against weak Big Ten competition.  That claim was made stronger when Ohio State lost their final two games, falling to Michigan State in the conference championship game and then to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. 

In 2014, it was a different story.  The Buckeyes were highly touted before the start of the season, ranked fifth in the AP Preseason Poll, but their title hopes went bleak in a hurry when Braxton Millertore his labrum in practice the week before the team’s season opener against Navy.

The doubt became greater as J.T. Barrett struggled in his first few starts.  The Buckeyes lost their first regular-season game of the Urban Meyer era, a rough defeat to Virginia Tech, but once Barrett got a little experience under his belt, he was phenomenal.  The sense of doubt did not begin to abate until Barrett scored five touchdowns against then-eighth ranked Michigan State in a convincing 49-37 victory over the Spartans.

He accounted for 45 touchdowns on the year but suffered a gruesome ankle injury against Michigan in the last game of the regular season.  In stepped Cardale Jones, who led the Buckeyes to a dominating 59-0 win in the Big Ten Championship Game and then found a way to beat Alabama in a hard-fought playoff victory.

That’s how it’s been for Meyer so far in Columbus.  Even as his team continues to win boatloads of games, the Buckeyes haven’t gotten much respect due to the perceived inferiority of the Big Ten conference. 

However, that is going to change soon. 

The Buckeyes have a very young team, and they are only getting better.  Of the team’s top offensive playmakers, only receivers Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are seniors.

Running back Ezekiel Elliot, who torched the Tide for 230 rushing yards, is a sophomore.  Michael Thomas, the team leader in receptions, is a sophomore.  Speedster Dontre Wilson is also a sophomore, and receiver Jalin Marshall is only a freshman.

On the defensive side of the ball, it’s much of the same.  Of the Buckeyes’ top 10 tacklers, only Curtis Grant and Doran Grant are seniors.  Safety Vonn Bell, who made a pivotal interception against Alabama, is a former 5-star athlete who has turned into a terrific player as a sophomore.  Linebacker Darron Lee, who is second on the team with 16.5 tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks, is a freshman.  And first-team All-American Joey Bosa, who is fifth in the nation with 13.5 sacks, is only a sophomore. 

When Meyer got to Ohio State, it wasn't exactly stocked with dynamic players.  The Buckeyes were coming off of a disappointing 6-7 season, but like he has done everywhere he has been, Meyer found a way to quickly turn them into winners.

Using a blend of superb recruiting, a new offense and a culture change, Meyer has gone 37-3 in his three years in Columbus.

And now, with the Buckeye players heading into the biggest game of their lives, those recruits are starting to blossom.  Ohio State’s recruiting hauls have ranked fifth, second and third in the past three years.  Each of those classes were the best in the Big Ten, and it was that top-tier talent that allowed the Buckeyes to knock off Alabama.

But while the OSU roster is loaded with young talent, their inexperience is not hindering them.  2014 was not supposed to be their year, especially when Braxton Miller went down, but they are in the national championship game nonetheless.  The fact that they can compete on college football’s highest level with so many freshman and sophomores logging significant playing time is a testament to Meyer’s coaching ability.

He has found a way to mold his players into winners, and what is scary is that there are even brighter days ahead.  Those players are going to continue to improve, and more and more top recruits are going to flood into the program.

The Buckeyes’ current recruiting class ranks sixth in the nation and best in the conference, according to 247Sports.com.

So even if they cannot find a way to slow down the potent Oregon offensive attack and they end up losing, it will still be a tremendously successful season.  Because if they can make it so far with inexperienced quarterbacks, just imagine what they can do with a seasoned signal-caller.

Whether it’s Miller, Barrett or Jones, it will be an improvement over the 2014 quarterback play.  If it’s Miller, he will be playing because Meyer feels he is better than the other two.  If it’s Barrett behind center, he will undoubtedly perform better with a full offseason of practice with the first-stringers.  And if it happens to be Jones, he will have grown immensely as he learns the offense and continues to hone his craft.

Whatever the case, Meyer will make it work.  Barring any catastrophic setbacks, the Buckeyes are my early selection to be the top-ranked team in next year’s preseason poll. 

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Jeff Driskel Released from Scholarship by Florida: Latest Details and Reaction

The University of Florida released quarterback Jeff Driskel from his scholarship on Saturday, which will allow the junior quarterback to freely transfer to another school, per Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com.

"That's up to him," said the Gators' new head coach, Jim McElwain, regarding whether Driskel will leave Gainesville, Florida, per Ostendorf. "We all have choices, and I'm not going to hold him hostage."

Although the news broke early in the day, Driskel still played in what was a 28-20 win for the Gators over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. He threw for 48 yards on 8-of-17 passing.

Since he's already graduated from Florida, Driskel can swap schools without restriction with one more year of eligibility.

Bob Redman of FightinGators.com reported that Louisiana Tech might be in the mix:

Laura Keeley of The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote last week that Duke could be a potential suitor for Driskel:

With [senior QB Anthony Boone] graduating, Duke’s current quarterback roster is short on experience. Backups Thomas Sirk and Parker Boehme have attempted a combined 16 passes in their college careers (14 for redshirt sophomore Sirk and two for redshirt freshman Boehme).

Even when Boone was struggling with his accuracy this year, coach David Cutcliffe never turned to Sirk.

So it makes sense that Duke would be interested in Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, who has graduated and has one year of eligibility remaining. According to two people familiar with the situation, Driskel has sent a release to Duke, allowing the Blue Devils to contact him. Duke is one of several schools he is considering.

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Driskel was the top dual-threat quarterback in the 2011 recruiting class. He looked like a great fit for then-head coach Urban Meyer's offense. But after the 2010 season, Meyer abruptly left, while Driskel stayed committed to Florida.

In retrospect, Driskel might have liked a do-over there, as he never excelled under Will Muschamp and lost his starting job to freshman Treon Harris this past year.

Russell Wilson is one of the more noteworthy examples of a quarterback transferring schools for his final season. The Seattle Seahawks star moved from North Carolina State to Wisconsin in 2011, and the rest is history.

Admittedly, Wilson was much more successful at his first stop than Driskel was at Florida, but in the right situation, Driskel might be able to prove some of the skeptics wrong and close out his college career in style.

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Will Muschamp Bringing Coaches from Florida to Auburn Should Have SEC Scared

Will Muschamp is rounding out his defensive staff at Auburn, and he's doing it with some important ex-Florida coaches that should have the rest of the SEC West—as well as every major program in the country—shaking in their cleats.

Specifically, the Tigers' new defensive coordinator has lured defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson—a former Auburn safety and All-SEC selection in 2002—from Gainesville to the Plains.

"I'm very excited about returning to Auburn where I played, received my degree, and was a graduate assistant," Robinson said in statement released by the university. "Auburn has provided me so many opportunities and I'm excited to be able to give back to a place that has meant so much to me."

Robinson and Muschamp crafted some of the best pass defenses in the country during their time with the Gators. Florida finished No. 2 in opponent quarterback rating in 2012, No. 8 in 2013 and was No. 11 before Saturday's Birmingham Bowl in 2014.

More than that, though, they proved capable of recruiting the state of Florida, where Robinson, a Miami native, has deep ties.

Former UF safety Josh Evans spoke with GatorCountry.com after Muschamp was fired and said that keeping Robinson—the recruiter who landed 5-star cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor the past two seasons—was the key to sustaining success under new head coach Jim McElwain.

"He’s a great coach, young coach, understands the game," Evans said of Robinson. "It’s just great to have somebody like him who played in the NFL, understands the position and [is] fundamentally sound."

Robinson will coach cornerbacks at Auburn, replacing incumbent Melvin Smith. He is tasked with reforming a group that struggled under Smith and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who was fired to make room for Muschamp.

But Robinson and Muschamp have always squeezed the most out of their roster. The Gators were "supposed" to take a big step back after Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins, Loucheiz Purifoy and Cody Riggs all left the program in 2014.

Instead, they were about as good as ever.

Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee have established an offensive culture at Auburn, a system on par with that of any program in the country. The Tigers are Oregon- and Ohio State-esque in terms of pace, creativity, player development and scheme. The pieces are in place for them to score 35 points per game again next season.

If Robinson can cobble together a half-decent secondary, this team should be a favorite in the SEC West. Alabama is losing Blake Sims, DeAndrew White and (one has to think) Amari Cooper, and LSU still doesn't have a quarterback.

The traditional divisional powers will have to rebuild their passing offenses next season. That is something the Tigers can take advantage of. And if they can't do it now, one has to think they can once Muschamp and Robinson have had a chance to land their own recruits.

This Malzahn-Muschamp marriage is looking better by the day.

Unless, of course, your team has to play against it.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35.

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Insane Recruiting Day Has Charlie Strong's Texas Turnaround Ahead of Schedule

Texas fans dismayed when Charlie Strong's first campaign concluded in an embarrassing bowl loss, but things are already looking up for the Longhorns in 2015. The team landed commitments from All-Americans Tim Irvin and Devonaire Clarington on Saturday, continuing Texas' rapid climb in national recruiting rankings, per Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt:

Both prospects are composite 4-star recruits from South Florida, a region Strong has successfully tapped into during this cycle. Irvin and Clarington join fellow Sunshine State standouts Davante Davis and Cecil Cherry, who each pledged during the past three weeks. 

Those four pickups represent a major sign of the philosophical switch Strong has brought to Austin. A program once content to build its foundation with homegrown talent is now reaching into one of America's premier recruiting hotbeds for impact players.

Clarington, rated fourth nationally among tight ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, considered committing to Miami and Florida. Irvin, a scintillating two-way playmaker, could have followed in his famous Uncle Michael's footsteps to the Hurricanes locker room. 

Instead, they continue an upward trend for Texas.

Despite being outscored, 79-17, by TCU and Arkansas in its final two contests, the team is quickly gaining traction with many of the country's top uncommitted recruits. An influx of Florida athletes coincides with promising recruiting strides on home turf.

Anthony Wheeler, a 4-star Dallas linebacker, hopped on the bandwagon Friday while taking part in Under Armour All-America Game action. He adds to a defensive group that could change the identity of Texas' attack in coming years.

The Longhorns secured a commitments from two of its top in-state targets on Dec. 19, adding Poteet High School teammates DeAndre McNeal and Malik Jefferson. Both could end up in the linebacker corps, though, McNeal is also a candidate to play wide receiver.

Jefferson, rated No. 1 overall among outside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings, gave Texas a major boost when he chose the Longhorns over former favorite Texas A&M. The Aggies gained an upper hand in the ongoing recruiting battle between these two programs during the past two cycles, but Kevin Sumlin is suddenly looking over his shoulder.

The Longhorns soared to ninth in 247Sports' national class rankings Saturday and now sit just one slot below Texas A&M. The Aggies missed out on key All-American targets Kendall Sheffield (Alabama) and Ykili Ross (USC) this weekend, who announced his commitment during the game.

Strong could still send a mighty big message by signing 5-star Texan Daylon Mack. The defensive tackle decommitted from Texas A&M last month and is expected to visit campus, though, he named TCU his top in-state option.

Mack may not ultimately be in the cards for Texas, but there's plenty to be excited about in Austin at the moment.

An underwhelming season finale has swiftly given way to hope in the form of future Longhorns from near and far.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports. 

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U.S. Army All-American Bowl 2015: Complete Box Score and Recruit Analysis

The West held off the East to win the 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl 39-36.

The annual showcase between some of the best high school prospects in the country is often more about the players than the teams or the score, but Saturday's affair turned into a fun one. The East scored four fourth-quarter touchdowns, but their comeback bid fell short when quarterback Torrance Gibson was stopped on a 4th-and-9 with less than a minute to play.

Future LSU running back Derrius Guice was named the game's MVP after catching a pair of long touchdowns in the second quarter, both of which helped the West stake an early 33-3 lead.

Here is how the rest of the final box score shook out.

 

Line Score

 

Scoring Summary

The West broke things open with a trio of huge plays in the first half: a 92-yard pass from Oregon commit Travis Waller to eventual game MVP Guice, a pick-six from uncommitted linebacker Porter Gustin and a pick-six from Duke commit Ben Humphreys.

Those pick-sixes came on consecutive plays from scrimmage.

But the East rallied back with a a pair of touchdowns from Duke commit TJ Rahming, a long touchdown catch from Clemson commit Deon Cain and a kick return from Florida State commit Tarvarus McFadden.

In the end, though, a 25-yard field goal from West kicker Kevin Robledo with less than two minutes on the clock proved decisive.

Robledo doesn't hold a single FBS scholarship offer, per 247Sports.

It might be time for that to change.

 

Passing Stats

No one quarterback stood out on Saturday, with Arizona State commit Brady White probably playing the best of the group.

USC commit Sam Darnold looked sharp as well, outplaying his (higher-regarded) future teammate Ricky Town.

Waller showed more with his legs than his arm, but his one completion was a 92-yarder to Guice in which he showed great footwork in the pocket to step up and deliver the throw.

Gibson also had a nice day with his legs, extending numerous plays outside the pocket and completing passes from tricky angles.

  

Rushing Stats

Both teams threw more than they ran, and neither team found consistent success on the ground, although Ohio State commit Michael Weber had some flashes after a strong week of practice.

Arizona State commit Jaason Lewis averaged 10 yards per carry, and Waller showed some great mobility outside the pocket. The latter will fit in perfectly when he gets to Eugene, Oregon, next season.

But the real run of the day was hardly a run at all. Rahming took a "Mayhem" play 41 yards for a score in the fourth quarter, catching the ball after a series of reverses and a throwback from Drew Lock.

Only in an all-star game…

 

Receiving Stats

Cain is the No. 3 receiver in the class, and he lived up to his billing (in more ways than one) in the Army Bowl. He caught a 50-yard touchdown during the East's fourth-quarter rally and threw a 54-yard touchdown to Lawrence Cager on a trick play.

But the real star was Guice, who only needed two touches to rack up 163 yards of offense. The charming future LSU running back used his speed to beat man coverage over the top, showing he could work out of the slot and become a home run threat at the next level.

Florida commit Derrick Dillon also had a nice day for the West, although the Gators will have to work hard to keep him without Will Muschamp. Even more teams will be on Dillon's trail after how he played Saturday.

  

Notable Defensive Stats

Humphreys stole the show on defense, returning an interception for a touchdown and also forcing and recovering a fumble. The future at Duke looks brighter than it has in a long time, and the way Humphreys and Rahming played in San Antonio was a reinforcement.

The other biggest star was Kyle Phillips, who committed to Tennessee in the first quarter and promptly showed the Vols what kind of player they were getting. He led the game with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks and constantly made his presence felt in the backfield.

USC had a big day in terms of commitments and also watched a pair of its biggest targets—linebackers Osa Masina and Gustin—ball out with sound tackles and big plays. If the Trojans continue their momentum and land Masina and/or Gustin, they should make quick work their rebuilding project under Steve Sarkisian.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Army All-American Bowl 2015: 5 Lessons We Learned

There was no shortage of fireworks in the 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a high school exhibition game that turned into a nail-biter and was won by the West, 39-36.

But the real story of the game—as always—was the performance and commitments of the individual players, many of whom will make an impact at some of the biggest college football programs in the country next season.

One can only learn so much from an all-star game, but the Army Bowl provided a good enough glimpse into the future to derive some important takeaways. Some had to do with new commitments; others had to do with previously committed players going off.

But all of them will have an impact on the 2015 season.

Here are five things we learned from San Antonio.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

Begin Slideshow

Birmingham Bowl 2015: Game Grades, Analysis for Florida's Win vs. East Carolina

The Florida Gators used a defense that has carried them all season to hold off a pesky East Carolina team to win 28-20 in the Birmingham Bowl.

Playing for interim coach D.J. Durkin, the former defensive coordinator, the Gators defense played with passion the entire game. Despite being on the field for 101 plays, the unit allowed just 20 points and clinched the game when Vernon Hargreaves III intercepted Shane Carden in the end zone.

UF (7-5) was offensively impotent for much of the season half when quarterback Treon Harris was lost to injury. But the defense was strong enough to outlast the Pirates (8-5).

Pass Offense: Treon Harris completed just five passes before leaving the game with an injury. Thankfully for the Gators, one of those was to speedster Ahmad Fulwood, who raced 86 yards for his first touchdown of the year. Demarcus Robinson had a few catches, but there were too many drops and too much inconsistency in the passing game. Once Jeff Driskel replaced Harris, the offense could generate nothing.

Run Offense: With Matt Jones not playing, Florida needed to find a spark, which they did in redshirt freshman Adam Lane Jr. Though he had just seven carries all year, Lane was awesome in winning the bowl game's MVP. His performance left many UF fans wondering why he didn't get more touches this season. Lane wound up with 109 yards and a touchdown. He did have a costly fumble.

Pass Defense: This grade may seem a little high (or a lot high) for any team that allows 427 yards through the air. But that's Ruffin McNeill's offense with Shane Carden at the helm. They put so much pressure on defenses, and many times, you just have to weather the storm. The Gators did that and more. Needing big plays, Florida got two massive ones. On the first, Brian Poole intercepted Carden and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown for UF's first score of the game. Then, Vernon Hargreaves III picked off Carden to seal the game.

Run Defense: With ECU missing its top two rushers, the Pirates didn't figure to be much of a threat on the ground—and weren't. Carden was arguably the most effective runner once plays broke down. UF's front seven was strong, even when it was riddled with injuries. They held ECU to 109 rushing yards, and there never really was much of a concern that the Pirates would break one on the ground.

Special Teams: There really wasn't much to speak of from a special teams standpoint. Austin Hardin didn't attempt a field goal. Punter Kyle Christy averaged a respectable 42.9 yards over his eight punts. Chris Thompson and Brandon Powell provided a bit of a spark in the return game, but all in all, this was just a ho-hum game.

Coaching: This would have been very easy for Florida to just mail in. The Gators' former coach is gone, and their new coach wasn't coaching them. Instead, UF's defense rose to the occasion for the man who led them during the season, coordinator and interim coach Durkin. The makeshift UF staff didn't do a poor job calling plays, and the game-clinching quarterback draw was vital to making sure ECU's strong offense didn't get back on the field. The only real head-scratcher was inserting Driskel in the first half just when it looked as if Harris were getting into a rhythm.

 

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Army All-American Game 2015: Grading the Top 10 Recruits

Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American game was another showcase that featured some of the elite talents in the 2015 class competing against one another.

Despite touted recruits such as 5-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson and 5-star linebacker Justin Hilliard missing the game due to injury, Saturday’s game at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, featured eight 5-star prospects in action and 12 of the nation’s Top 50 players overall. 

In particular, the action in the trenches was worth watching considering that the East featured a trio of 5-star offensive linemen trying to contain a pair of touted 5-star defensive linemen on the West squad. 

After jumping out to an early lead, the West held on to defeat the East, 39-36.

How did the Top 10 players squaring off the Army All-American Game fare?

Begin Slideshow

Bowl Win Shows Jim McElwain Will Have Talent to Turn Florida Offense Around

In spite of struggles that saw Florida finish with the third-worst offense in the SEC (370.2 yards per game), several stars did emerge in 2014, including running back Kelvin Taylor and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. They'll be around next season for new head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, as the duo looks to turn around a program that has been offensively challenged since 2010.

What McElwain saw in the 28-20 Birmingham Bowl win over East Carolina, though, were several other under-utilized Gators impress on offense and announce to the new coaching staff that the future is bright.

Freshman Adam Lane was the most notable of those players, as he finished the afternoon with 16 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown, while earning Birmingham Bowl MVP honors. As Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun noted, that was part of the plan:

McElwain and Nussmeier now know that, in addition to Taylor, Lane can carry the load. That's huge for an offense that will still be struggling to find a way to stretch the field in the passing game this offseason under the new regime.

How exactly will they do that?

Rising junior Ahmad Fulwood could help.

Fulwood, a former 4-star prospect from Jacksonville, caught one pass Saturday and made it count, as he turned on the jets for an 86-yard touchdown on a screen pass. It was Florida's longest offensive play of the season. Fulwood only had 11 catches this season, but the 6'5" monster showed that he's more than just a big body. 

As Jeff Barlis noted, it was about time he made his presence felt.

Add in freshman running back Brandon Powell, who made a tremendous touchdown catch on an under-thown pass from Treon Harris, and the story of the Birmingham Bowl evolved into the show for players who have been missing for the majority of the season.

Is that an indictment of former head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper? Absolutely.

But it also should give Florida fans hope for 2015 and beyond.

Is everything rosy in Gainesville? Of course not.

Harris left the game with an injury, and interim head coach D.J. Durkin was forced to turn to much-maligned former starter Jeff Driskel. Driskel did ice the game away with a quarterback keeper on third down with less than a minute to go, but he could be moving on elsewhere. According to Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com, McElwain has granted Driskel a release to transfer if he chooses to do so.

When Harris was healthy this season, it's not like he was setting the world on fire. He only completed 49.5 percent of his passes (55-of-111) this year, and needs some work in order to solidify the starting spot. One player who could challenge him is redshirt freshman Will Grier, who was a 4-star prospect in last year's recruiting class.

Is the offensive future bright in Gainesville? That'd be a stretch, but at least more options emerged in Birmingham on Saturday afternoon.

That, at the very least, should give McElwain, Nussmeier and Florida fans hope, which is a step in the right direction.

 

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.

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Army All-American Bowl 2015: Score, Recruit Commitments and Twitter Reaction

In a wildly exciting 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the West held off a frantic comeback by the East to win 39-36 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

The West led by as many as 27 points, but the East made things interesting in the fourth quarter. The deficit was ultimately too much to overcome, however, thanks to the contributions of running back Derrius Guice.

The LSU commit had a monster game as a pass-catcher, which resulted in him being named MVP, according to Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue:

Here is a full recap of how the U.S. Army All-American Bowl played out, along with a rundown of the recruits who announced commitments throughout the game.

 

Game Recap

The game got off to an unassuming start, as Georgia commit Rodrigo Blankenship gave the East a 3-0 lead with a 34-yard field goal, but the action truly started to pick up on subsequent drives.

Guice is a running back by trade, but the future LSU Tiger showed his receiving chops by burning the East secondary and securing a 92-yard touchdown reception to put the West ahead 6-3.

The West didn't convert on the extra point, but it was able to build upon that lead when quarterback and Arizona State commit Brady White fired a 25-yard scoring strike to soon-to-be Florida Gator Derrick Dillon.

White looked extremely smooth on the touchdown drive, and Doug Kimmel of Scout.com believes he has an extremely bright future with the Sun Devils:

With the West offense firing on all cylinders, the defense decided to get in on the act as well. Utah commit Porter Gustin read future USC quarterback Sam Darnold like a book and returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown.

While it was an excellent play by Gustin, Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com placed the blame on Darnold for a poor read:

That put the West up 20-3, but it was far from done. On the ensuing drive, the East was intercepted again when Missouri commit Drew Lock had his pass tipped into the hands of Duke linebacker commit Ben Humphreys.

The California native took the interception to the house, which prompted Greg Biggins of Scout.com to comment on Humphreys' uncanny nose for the ball:

It appeared as though the rout was on, with the West leading 27-3, and it continued to pour it on, as USC commit Ricky Town threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Guice. That marked the second touchdown reception of the day for the electric running back, and he had a simple explanation for why he was able to burn the defense, per Chris Kamrani of The Salt Lake Tribune:

The West hoped to enter the locker room with a commanding 33-3 advantage, but the East found the end zone late in the opening half. Wide receiver Lawrence Cager caught a deep touchdown shortly after announcing his commitment to the University of Miami (Florida), according to InsideTheU.com:

That made the score 33-9 in favor of the West at halftime. The West's lead grew a bit more late in the third quarter when a field goal made it 36-9.

A scary moment occurred late in the third quarter, as East offensive tackle and Ohio State commit Matthew Burrell went down with an injury. As pointed out by Helmholdt, he appeared to be favoring his leg:

Burrell's status is unclear, although he did manage to leave the field under his own power, per Andrew Lopez of NOLA.com:

The East made things interesting in the fourth quarter when Darnold found future Duke wide receiver T.J. Rahming for a 63-yard touchdown to cut the West's lead to 36-15.

Rahming is diminutive at 5'8", according to 247Sports, but that didn't stop him from making a big play, per Helmholdt:

The East then managed to recover an onside kick, and Rahming struck again soon after. The East ran an exciting trick play that featured a reverse, a handoff back to Lock and an across-field screen to Rahming before he finished the play off with a long run down the sideline for a touchdown.

Rahming's touchdown drew heavy praise from Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com:

That cut the deficit to 36-22 with just under eight minutes remaining, but the East wasn't lucky enough to recover a second onside kick.

Its fortunes changed quickly, though, as Town threw an interception while under pressure on the first play of the West's drive. The East wasted no time taking advantage, as Lock found a wide-open Deon Cain for a 50-yard touchdown to suddenly make it 36-29 in favor of the West.

With the momentum firmly in its favor, the East attempted another onside kick, but the West was once again able to secure it.

The West tacked on another field goal with less than two minutes remaining to take a 10-point lead. That seemingly iced the game, but the East showed its resiliency once again on the ensuing kickoff.

Florida State commit Tarvarus McFadden took the kick to the house by virtue of his blazing speed and the West's terrible coverage.

The East still had life and appeared to recover another onside kick when 247Sports' No. 1 overall recruit, offensive tackle Martez Ivey, pounced on the ball.

The ball didn't go 10 yards, though, so the East was whistled for illegal touching, according to Helmholdt:

That gave the West an opportunity to run out the clock, but it was stopped on fourth down with 36 seconds remaining, which gave the East one last chance to complete the comeback.

The East could not move into field-goal position, though, and the West preserved the victory.

 

Recruit Commitments

One of the most exciting aspects of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is the fact that so many top recruits announce their commitments during the game. That was once again the case this year, as nine prospects made their collegiate decisions.

It started with defensive end Kyle Phillips, who decided to remain in state. The Nashville, Tennessee, native committed to the University of Tennessee, according to Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee:

Phillips is the 110th-ranked recruit, per 247Sports, and staying close to home was an important part of his choice, according to Teran Johnson of 1180 AM VLZ:

Defensive tackle Neville Gallimore also made his announcement during the first quarter. The Canadian defensive tackle was a highly sought-after recruit, as he is ranked as the No. 10 player at his position, per 247Sports.

In the end, it was Oklahoma that managed to land the 6'3", 300-pound lineman, according to ESPN.com's Tom VanHaaren:

One of the most versatile players in the class of 2015, Devonaire Clarington from Miami, Florida, announced his choice as well. He has played both tight end and defensive end, although he projects primarily at the former position.

He is listed as the No. 4 tight end recruit in the nation by 247Sports, and he committed to the University of Texas, per Ryan Autullo of the Austin American-Statesman:

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports gave Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong a great deal of credit for branching out beyond the Texas area to land a big prospect:

Stanley Norman is a 4-star athlete from Gardena, California, but rather than remaining in the Golden State, he committed to Arizona State, according to Doug Haller of AZCentral.com:

Norman is a speedster who excels at both wide receiver and cornerback, and while it is unclear what role he will play for the Sun Devils, he certainly has the ability to thrive on either side of the ball.

Lawrence Cager was the only pure wide receiver set to make an announcement Saturday, and he certainly made a big splash.

The 6'5", 202-pound wideout is ranked No. 42 at his position by 247Sports, and he intends to play at the University of Miami (Florida), per Radi Nabulsi of UGASports.com:

Nabbing the Maryland native was a major coup for the Hurricanes, as they beat out Alabama and seemingly came from out of nowhere to secure the big pass-catcher, according to Donohue:

The versatile Ykili Ross was the first player to announce his commitment in the second half. He is rated highly as both a wide receiver and cornerback by 247Sports, and he decided that he will play for USC, per Jason Howell of Rivals.com:

He also may have revealed that he doesn't intend to spend all four years with the Trojans, according to Feldman:

It could have been a slip of the tongue, but USC fans are undoubtedly happy to have him regardless of how long he stays in school.

After securing Clarington earlier in the day, Strong and Texas struck again when 4-star athlete Tim Irvin from Miami committed to the Longhorns, according to Corey Bender of Scout.com:

Irvin is the nephew of Dallas Cowboys legendary wide receiver Michael Irvin, and while he could follow in the footsteps of his uncle as a wide receiver, he is also skilled at running back and safety.

USC entered the day with an already impressive recruiting class, but it continued to build upon something special. 

Shortly after Ross announced that he would play for the Trojans, safety Marvell Tell did the same, per Howell:

Tell is the No. 4 safety recruit in the nation, according to 247Sports, and he could help form an elite secondary at USC down the line if Ross is utilized as a defensive back as well.

The final commitment of the day was made by defensive end D'Andre Walker, whom 247Sports rates as the No. 10 player at his position.

While the Fairburn, Georgia, native had no shortage of options, he decided to stay close to home by committing to the University of Georgia, per Nabulsi:

Although plenty can happen between now and national signing day, several college football fanbases are extremely excited about what the future holds for their favorite teams.

USC and Texas were clearly among the biggest winners, but since many of the players who competed in Saturday's game are still undecided, there will be plenty of opportunities for other programs to beef up their recruiting classes in the coming weeks.

 

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ECU vs. Florida: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2015 Birmingham Bowl

Despite a tumultuous year, Florida had no trouble finding motivation in its season finale. 

The fired-up Gators, playing under interim head coach D.J. Durkin, put together a gutsy effort and beat East Carolina, 28-20, in the Birmingham Bowl Saturday afternoon, finishing with a 7-5 overall record.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy noted an unexpected stat from the bowl season: 

Before the game, Florida center Max Garcia talked about the Gators' unyielding disposition, via the Associated Press:

We just decided we wanted to play for each other, no matter what the circumstances were. That's really what it's all about, just playing for the guy next to you and just being unselfish. Just locking arms and circling the wagon. That's what we talked about when Muschamp was here and that's what we're talking about now.

It wasn't a perfect outing from Florida, which was on the field for 101 defensive plays, allowed 536 total yards and turned the ball over three times. But the Gators showed their toughness. Adam Lane ran for 109 tough yards and his first career touchdown, Dante Fowler had three sacks and the defense made a number of game-changing plays at critical moments.  

Two of those plays came in the opening half. 

Late in the first quarter, Brian Poole picked off Shane Carden and returned it 29 yards to the end zone, tying the score at seven. SportsCenter's Twitter feed gave a look at the crucial play:

After the Gators added touchdowns on their next two drives, the Pirates would march 68 yards down the field to the Florida 1-yard line, only for running back Kurt Benkert to cough the ball up. Once again, it was Poole finding himself with the ball in his hands, as he recovered the fumble forced by true freshman Gerald Willis. 

Despite gaining nearly 300 yards of total offense in the opening half, East Carolina had dug itself into a 21-7 hole at the break. 

But it took barely two minutes to cut that deficit in half. After an interception from Treon Harris, Carden tossed a quick-hitter to Justin Hardy, who 66 yards down the sideline to set up a four-yard fade to Cam Worthy in the back of the end zone. 

It was an impressive exhibition of explosion from Hardy and size from Worthy, and as Bleacher Report's Jeff Risdon noted, each wideout has the talent to be playing on Sundays: 

Carden finished with 427 yards, two touchdowns and a two interceptions, while Hardy (11 catches, 160 yards, one touchdown) and Worthy (eight catches, 130 yards, one touchdown) each proved extremely difficult to cover. 

East Carolina seemed ready to take the game over, but then Ahmad Fulwood happened. The sophomore took a screen on 3rd-and-5, passed the first-down line and sped away from the entire Pirates defense for a 86-yard touchdown. 

As the Orlando Sentinel's Edgar Thompson pointed out, it was new territory for Florida's inconsistent offense:

However, when Harris, who was dealing with discomfort in his right elbow, was replaced by Jeff Driskel, the Gators became completely stagnant on that side of the ball. They went three-and-out on four consecutive drives, leaving it up to the defense. 

Florida responded with a bend-but-don't-break strategy. The Gators stopped two East Carolina drives inside their own 10-yard line, holding the Pirates to a pair of 24-yard field goals to keep an eight-point lead. 

East Carolina had several opportunities to tie the game, but Florida's stars rose to the occasion. Fowler came up with a couple of crucial sacks and Vernon Hargreaves picked off Carden in the end zone with less than two minutes remaining. 

USA Today's Dan Wolken put it simply, applauding Florida's electrifying defense, which has been terrific all season:

Florida still has work to do, and no one should be boasting about a win in the Birmingham Bowl. But for the Gators to endure such a turbulent season and still finish with eight wins is promising. 

With an intriguing core of talented young players, especially on defense, and a new coaching staff led by Jim McElwain, it shouldn't take long for the Gators to erase a run of disappointing campaigns. 

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