NCAA Football

Daron Payne to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Alabama added another major piece to its 2015 recruiting class by landing coveted defensive tackle Daron Payne.

JC Shurburtt of 247Sports has the report:

Payne is a 4-star prospect who ranks inside the top 50 overall nationally and the No. 6 player at the defensive tackle position, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He's also rated as the second-best recruit in the state of Alabama after dominating at Shades Valley High School.

Back in March, Wesley Sinor of AL.com spoke with the highly touted prospect about the recruiting process. He explained how difficult making the final decision would be, especially since two programs like Alabama and Auburn were heavily involved:

It's going to be hard. I'm going to have to sit down, pray about it and talk to my family and coaches.

I grew up an Auburn fan. I've just been wanting to play with them all my life, but then I got the Alabama offer and everybody wants to play with Bama. It's really hard.

The facet of Payne's game that stands out most is his raw power. At 6'2" and 325 pounds, the amount of strength he shows while pushing opposing offensive linemen into the backfield is a sight to behold and is probably what pushed him near the top of many wish lists among coaching staffs.

Beyond that, Payne has shown good athleticism for his size and has solid short-area quickness that helps him make plays once he does break through the line. In other words, he has all the tools necessary to become a major force at the collegiate level.

In terms of areas Payne needs to improve, it starts with technique.

At the college level, and definitely at the NFL level should his career continue to trend in that direction, simply having raw talent isn't good enough. A player must learn to use that natural ability effectively through practice and experience.

The other thing the high-upside defensive tackle can continue to improve is getting off the ball at the snap. When he can showcase a quick first step, his leverage and power then become almost unblockable. But there's certainly still work to do.

Ultimately, it would be good to get him on the field in game situations right away as a freshman. He won't be as dominant as he looked against high school competition, but that experience is necessary for him to start learning and testing an improved technique, even in a rotational role.

There's no reason to believe he won't eventually become an elite college defensive tackle. Fans just shouldn't expect it to happen right away.

 

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Iowa's Jonathan Parker Throws Ball While Falling out of Bounds on Kickoff Return

This might go down as the biggest brain fart from the college football season.

Iowa Hawkeyes kick returner Jonathan Parker was falling out of bounds with his team already down 28-0 against the Tennessee Volunteers in the Taxslayer Bowl. Trying to avoid bad field position, Parker decided to try to throw the ball back inbounds.

Here's another angle of the play.

Parker tossed the ball before stepping out, and the Volunteers recovered it. However, the play was ruled an illegal forward pass, not a fumble. The penalty pushed the Hawkeyes even closer to their own end zone.

Maybe next time he should just hold on to it.

[Vine]

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Tim Settle to Virginia Tech: Hokies Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Defensive tackle was one of the deepest positions in this year's recruiting class, so Virginia Tech didn't have to settle for an inferior talent at the position. It did Settle, however, by landing 4-star recruit Tim Settle, one of the top prospects in the 2015 class.

Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times has the news:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Settle is a 4-star recruit from Stonewall Jackson High School in Virginia. Standing 6'3" and weighing 318 pounds, he is already a mountain of a man. He's considered the No. 3 prospect in the state of Virginia, the No. 11 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 78 prospect overall. 

Settle was named to the MaxPreps Junior All-American second team and the All-Met first team. In his sophomore season, he accumulated 72 tackles, three sacks and five pass breakups. Last year, he had five sacks and a whopping 32 tackles for loss. 

ESPN Insider (subscription required) provided the following scouting report on Settle:

Strong, physical presence on the inside who can move and penetrate. Big bodied defender who demonstrates very good short-area quickness and long speed burst for an interior lineman. Flashes dominant upper and lower body strength and is very explosive off the ball. Has a nose for the football, particularly on the move. Gets down the line quickly and shows high pursuit effort. Very productive versus the run and pass showing good technique; he's sound yet disruptive.

His head coach, Mike Dougherty, offered his own scouting report on Settle, via Wesley Sinor of AL.com:

His explosiveness off the ball and his ability to disrupt are what makes him special. He's like a hand grenade going off when he comes out of his stance. For a kid with his size to be that athletic... there's only 10 kids across the country who can do what he does. That's what the recruiters keep telling us.

Of course, you can always see him in action for yourself.

Settle is a man amongst boys at the high school level, at least physically. He's powerful enough to play the nose tackle position in the 3-4, explosive enough to play defensive end in that same scheme and could easily slide into the defensive tackle role in a 4-3. 

While he'll certainly add strength and power as he gets older, keeping his weight about where it is now will be important. But it's rare to find a player who can both completely disrupt the running game and collapse the pocket when the quarterback goes back to pass, which will make his development as a college player so fun to track.

Settle is a huge addition for Virginia Tech. While he'll need some fine-tuning like most college athletes, his adjustment to the college game should be pretty swift, and it shouldn't be long before he makes an impact.

No need to settle when you have Settle, after all. 

 

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Why Everett Golson Should Not Transfer from Notre Dame

As Malik Zaire ran his way to the MVP trophy of the Music City Bowl and into the hearts of Notre Dame fans everywhere, an unlikely quarterback controversy began to come into focus.

With the Irish's long-awaited eighth victory in hand—and the book closed on 2014—the largest question of the offseason is now upon us: What will Brian Kelly do with Zaire and Everett Golson in 2015? 

While both played in the win over LSU—Golson completed some clutch passes on the game-winning drive—the Irish offense looked transformed with Zaire behind center. And that led to some questions after the win that Notre Dame's head coach wanted absolutely nothing to do with. 

"This really was just about this game," Kelly said after the win. "Playing both of them, my focus was about winning this game, and we’ll figure out the quarterback situation in January. This was just utilizing both of their skills to get a win today."

Inevitably, whispers about Everett Golson's status with the team turned into talking points during ESPN's broadcast. With every big play Zaire made, you got a look at Golson's reaction—a soap-opera subplot emerging to the delight of the production crew. 

But as the surprise of Notre Dame's upset victory fades, and Zaire's play is put into proper context, it'll become more and more clear that Everett Golson shouldn't transfer anywhere. 

Right now, there's no immediate plan. Per Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com, Golson will return to campus for the spring semester, and he will be on track to graduate this May. But if spring practice ends with Golson's status as a starter still up for grabs, earning his degree also gives him a free pass to transfer to any program that'll take him. 

Golson isn't the only high-profile quarterback weighing those options. Ohio State's Braxton Miller is likely looking for a new home after the Buckeyes appear to be set at quarterback with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones.

And Golson will certainly find suitors. Considering the successful transition Clint Trickett made in his one season at West Virginia—not to mention Tyler Murphy's brief stint at Boston College—Golson could immediately improve the quarterback position at some elite programs (especially after watching Texas and Ole Miss this bowl season). 

Yet Golson's connection to his head coach and his place in the Irish offense make a move a large decision. This isn't a career backup looking for a lifeline. This is Everett Golson, the first quarterback to fit Kelly's system throughout his tenure in South Bend. Golson is the guy who makes quarterbacks—Andrew Hendrix and Gunner Kiel—transfer, not the other way around. 

He's also the same quarterback who dutifully sat out a season for an academic indiscretion that might have cost him a quarter or two in other programs. That he came back to finish what he started and didn't transfer then is telling. It wouldn't fit the fact pattern if Golson hightailed it now after being challenged on the depth chart.

Many have brought up Russell Wilson's single-season detour to Wisconsin when discussing Golson. Wilson was able to successfully transition to the Badgers offense after joining the team in June, throwing 33 touchdown passes against just four interceptions while leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl. 

As we saw down the stretch this season, Golson isn't Wilson. And while his 22 turnovers were the second most in the FBS, if Golson is trying to do the best thing for his professional career moving forward, it's hard to argue that learning a new offense in 90 days will help him cut down on his mistakes. 

Golson will have 15 practices during the spring to earn back his spot in the starting lineup. He'll also have a coaching staff that understands how much better the team will be with Golson on the roster, even if there's a platoon structure Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock need to figure out.

(Go dig out some old Florida tape, guys. Urban Meyer, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow could give you a few pointers.)

For as good as Zaire's Music City Bowl game was, he produced fewer than 200 yards of total offense. Golson did that in every start he made this season—minus the USC game, where he was yanked in the second quarter. But the first-time starter didn't turn the ball over, improving the Irish to 16-0 under Brian Kelly when Notre Dame holds onto the football.

Zaire's impressive debut makes for a fun offseason. But, ultimately, Golson's best bet is staying in South Bend to finish what he started.

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Ronald Jones II to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star RB Prospect

About three weeks after decommitting from Oklahoma State, Ronald Jones II has a new home. The 4-star running back announced his decision to attend USC at Friday's annual Under Armour Game, spurning rival Notre Dame in the process.

Jones announced it via Twitter:

Jones, who verbally committed to Oklahoma State in April, re-opened his commitment on Dec. 14. The decision came after official visits to Notre Dame and USC, each national power impressing him enough to move into his top two. 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions gave the Trojans a 38 percent chance of landing the McKinney North product, while Notre Dame came in at 25 percent.

Jackie Dockery-Jones, Jones' mother, told Bryan Driskell of IrishSportsDaily.com that Notre Dame's tradition stood out when taking his visit.

“With Notre Dame he told me about the solid football history,” she explained.  “He could tell you all the good offensive linemen they have, the education and the academics.  He knew that was strong and the potential to play early.  He’s really bragged about the offensive line.”

Listed at 6'0" and 185 pounds, Jones emerged as one of the nation's top running backs. Composite rankings at 247Sports list him as the ninth-best player at his position and No. 11 overall in the state of Texas. He's rushed for more than 2,000 yards each of the last two seasons and has 73 career touchdowns, per MaxPreps. Still just 17 years old, Jones runs in the 4.4 range in the 40-yard dash.

“He’s a home run hitter,” McKinney North coach Mike Fecci told John Helsley of The Oklahoman. “If you can get him to the second level, the linebacker level, he’s got a chance to take it all the way. He’s got an uncanny ability of knowing how to make that one cut, and then go full speed when other people are just trying to catch up."

While he's a home-run hitter, Jones will have to fill out a little bit more to withstand major college punishment. His build is a little on the slighter side than you'd hope, and it'll be interesting to see if his explosion can continue with a weight gain.

If he's able to add 20 pounds and keep the booming speed, TEAM X may have a superstar on their hands. Jones possesses nearly every trait you could want as a rusher. He has above-average vision to go with his speed and doesn't overly rely on his physical advantages. Polished is a trait given to few high school running backs, but Jones fits the bill.

McKinney North almost never had him catch passes out of the backfield, so his hands are a question mark as well. That said, there's much reason for celebration in Los Angeles.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter


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Ohio State Coach Does 'The Whip' While Celebrating After Sugar Bowl Win

Few expected the Ohio State Buckeyes to pull out a win in the Sugar Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide, so OSU was pretty pumped up when it came away with a 42-35 victory on Thursday.

While celebrating in the locker room, the players began to dance. One of the Ohio State coaches got into it as well, pulling out "The Whip," which New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made popular of late.

The Buckeyes will play the Oregon Ducks on January 12 for a shot at their first national title since 2002.

[Vine]

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Expect Jim Harbaugh to Have Instant Impact for Michigan Recruiting

The Jim Harbaugh to Michigan news made major headlines in the world of sports as one of the best coaches in football returns to his alma mater. But the real impact for the Wolverines will be felt on the recruiting trail as Harbaugh's accolades will gain the attention of the top talent. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the significance of Harbaugh and his recruiting muscle. 

How quickly will Harbaugh turn the tide in Ann Arbor? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Houston's Joey Mbu Dances as Referee Gets Set vs. Pittsburgh

The Houston Cougars won 35-34 in a thrilling comeback on Friday against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Armed Forces Bowl, but one player was pumped up before the game was even over.

Playing in his last college game, senior defensive lineman Joey Mbu began to dance after a referee blew a play dead to ensure that everyone was ready.

We don't know why he danced, but at least Mbu enjoyed his final game with the Cougars.

[Vine, h/t Twitter]

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Under Armour All-America Game 2015: Commit Tracker and Recruit Highlights

We cap off a week filled with college football bowls by taking a close look at the sport's future stars. Premier high school prospects from across the country are set to compete Friday afternoon at the Under Armour All-America Game. 

The event, held in St. Petersburg, Florida, has featured several eventual NFL standouts, including Julio Jones, Jadeveon Clowney and A.J. Green. This year's matchup is filled with elite 2015 recruits who are ready to make an impact on the FBS championship chase next season.

Along with offering an early glimpse at these players, we'll also learn the collegiate intentions of several coveted athletes. Some prospects are set to commit during the game. 

Stay tuned right here for live updates on long-anticipated commitment announcements.

Begin Slideshow

Houston vs. Pittsburgh: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2015 Armed Forces Bowl

Houston stormed back from a 25-point deficit in the fourth quarter to come away with a miraculous 35-34 victory over Pittsburgh in the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl on Friday.

It was a unique clash given the fact both teams were without the coaches who led them to this point. The Cougars relieved Tony Levine of his duties last month, while the Panthers watched Paul Chryst leave to take over the Wisconsin program.

That left David Gibbs (Houston) and Joe Rudolph (Pitt) to coach the bowl on an interim basis. Here's how the wild encounter played out from Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas:

The coaching situation was obviously a major talking point leading up to the contest. Yet, Pittsburgh quarterback Chad Voytik told Jerry DiPaola of Triblive.com that the team's second change at the top in three years didn't have a major impact on the squad.

"You come to expect anything," he said. "You never know what's going to happen in college football."

The Panthers showed off that carefree attitude right away. Facing a fourth down from their own 30-yard line on the opening drive, they made the call for a fake punt—and it worked. Matt Galambos powered forward for five yards and a first down.

Dr. Saturday summed up the decision:

The only disappointment for Pitt was that the bold move didn't lead to points. It was forced to punt—for real this time—four plays later.

It was the highlight of an otherwise mundane first quarter that came to a close with the score still deadlocked at zero.

The Panthers got the scoring started early in the second. James Conner capped off a terrific 15-play, 92-yard drive that ate up more than seven minutes of clock with a touchdown plunge from one yard out to grab the lead.

As ESPN Stats and Info noted, that score allowed Conner to extend his new school record for rushing touchdowns in a season:

Houston was able to match that effort a couple drives later. It used 15 plays to go 76 yards before scoring a touchdown it thought would tie the game. Alas, the extra-point attempt from Kyle Bullard came out low and was blocked.

ESPN passed along video of the score, which sees Kenneth Farrow get a little help from his offensive line friends to cross the goal line:

The special teams highlight seemed to fire up the Panthers. They proceeded to go on a quick 10-0 spurt over the final six minutes of the half.

First, they put together another touchdown drive. They pushed down the field with a trio of completions by Voytik and help from a pass-interference call on Houston. Once they got in the red zone, it was Isaac Bennett who finished the job from 12 yards out.

Then, following a quick defensive stop, the Panthers were able to get into fringe field-goal range for Chris Blewitt. He proceeded to connect from 52 yards to give them a 17-6 halftime edge.

The Panther Pitt pointed out that it was a career long for the Pitt kicker:

Unfortunately, the team also found out it would be without Bennett in the second half due to a knee injury, as reported by Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

That didn't stop Pittsburgh from continuing to build on its lead in the third quarter.

It put together its second drive of over 90 yards to make it 24-6. Voytik showed off his running ability on the drive, carrying the ball three times for 39 yards to spearhead the attack. He also displayed some serious emotion after a couple of the scampers.

The score came on a 16-yard connection between the sophomore quarterback and J.P. Holtz. Mike Vukovcan of CBS Pittsburgh is impressed with what he's seen from Voytik:

The Panthers made it 31-6 early in the fourth, courtesy of Conner's second score of the day.

Houston then began a monster rally. It put together back-to-back touchdown drives of 86 and 83 yards against a Pittsburgh defense that backed off into more conservative coverages to prevent the big play.

Then, after a successful onside kick, a suddenly in-rhythm Greg Ward Jr. led the Cougars down the field again. He delivered a perfect throw on a crucial fourth down to Demarcus Ayers to get his team back within seven with two minutes to go.

College Football News noted the ferocious comeback:

With momentum firmly on their side, they tried their luck with another onside kick despite having all three timeouts left. Sure enough, it was successful again.

Ward connected with Deontay Greenberry for 38 yards on the first play of the drive to get right back in scoring range. After a couple sloppy plays, Greenberry managed to get wide-open once again down the middle of the field for the touchdown.

The Cougars had no interest in playing to tie it up. They went for the two-point conversion to take the lead, and after an extended rollout, Ward and Greenberry teamed up again for their first advantage of the contest.

Edward Aschoff of ESPN tweeted out the thoughts of just about every college football fan who was watching what had seemed like a blowout:

Pittsburgh attempted to drive back down for the winning field goal but only reached midfield before turning the ball over on downs.

ESPN Stats and Info provided some interesting numbers about the comeback:

Houston Football celebrated the win:

Despite the stunning defeat, there's still reason for optimism at Pitt. Pat Narduzzi arrives to a strong foundation on the rise. There were some ups and downs throughout the year, including today's game, but the overall outlook is positive for next season.

Houston ends the season with a 8-5 record. While that represents a solid campaign, ending it in the matter the Cougars did makes it seem a whole lot better. It's the type of win that can spark interest in the program with national signing day on the horizon.

The team never gave up despite falling behind big, and it paid off in a major way.

 

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Charlie Strong Firing Offensive Coaches Shows He Means Business

The Texas Longhorns offense struggled to put points on the board in 2014. As a result head coach Charlie Strong has released wide receivers coach Les Koenning and tight ends coach Bruce Chambers.

Koenning was in his first season at Texas, while Chambers just finished his 17th season with the Longhorns.

The firing of Koenning came as a bit of a shock considering the first-year wide receivers coach helped develop John Harris into a 1,000-yard receiver. Chambers was the only remaining coach from the Mack Brown regime. With Chambers sent packing, every coach on staff will be entirely hand-picked by Strong.

One could argue the Longhorns could have had a successful season if Texas had fielded a merely mediocre offense to complement its salty defense. But that was not the case in Year 1 of the Strong era.

 

Coach Strong will now begin a nationwide search to replace the two coaches. The Longhorns recently received a commitment from Mesquite Poteet wide receiver DeAndre McNeal and have a verbal commitment from wide receiver John Burt out of Tallahassee, Fla. It will be interesting to see if the coaching change has any impact on those recruits or any of their current targets.

Prior to the season, Strong proved he was willing to make the changes necessary to field a successful team. The first-year head coach dismissed nine Longhorns for violating his five core values—no weapons, no drugs, no stealing, honesty and treat women with respect.

The recent coaching personnel changes further prove that he means business not only with the depth chart but with the staff as well. 

The last game of the Longhorns' 2014 season ended in a 31-7 pummeling by Arkansas in the Advocare Texas Bowl. The Texas offense had a season-low 59 total yards of offense, and 29 of those yards came in the final offensive drive of the fourth quarter.

"We didn’t execute on offense," Strong said following the loss to Arkansas. "When we have one bad play it leads to another bad play. It’s like we can’t retain our focus. We can’t get back on track. Nobody’s making a play. We’re not blocking anybody. We’re not running the ball. We’re not protecting the quarterback. There are no playmakers."

The Longhorns finished Strong's first season with a losing record, which has only happened twice in the last 17 years.

This type of season is not the norm for the Longhorns, and Strong plans to make it clear to his team that mediocrity will not be tolerated.

"It will be a strong message," said Strong of what he plans to tell his team as it enters spring. "I don't want to say anything that I may regret later, but the message will be very clear to them."

Were these coaches losing their jobs part of the message? Who knows. But one thing is for certain, Strong is not messing around and will demand his coaches and players perform up to the Texas standard.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Mark Richt to Receive Extension with Georgia: Latest Details and Reaction

Mark Richt's will reportedly remain Georgia's head football coach for the foreseeable future.

According to Anthony Dasher of Rivals.com, Richt will receive a contract extension that will take him beyond the three remaining years left on his current deal:

Georgia head football coach Mark Richt will be receiving a contract extension, Bulldog athletic director Greg McGarity confirmed in an email sent out to top donors Friday morning.

The email, obtained by UGASports.com, thanked Richt for his continued service and offered an update on other projects involving the football program, including an indoor practice facility.

Terms of the deal were not available, nor has anything been finalized, but the two sides are apparently making progress on the extension.

Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph tweeted that Richt will also have the full support of the athletic department to keep the program at a high level:

Athletic director Greg McGarity's email to Georgia boosters (h/t Dasher) praised the job done by Richt's entire coaching staff and players:

The preparation by our coaching staff and our student-athletes was exceptional, and we certainly performed like we practiced leading up to the game. The level of enthusiasm and determination we displayed was obvious to everyone, and we were able to maintain that edge throughout the game and defeat a very good Louisville squad.  Ten wins and perhaps a Top 10 finish in the polls should make all Bulldogs proud.

Richt is known for his offensive prowess, building a strong stable of elite playmakers on that side of the ball during his tenure that includes current Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and this year's running back duo of Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb.

Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution even praised the work Richt has done calling plays for the Georgia offense:

Since taking over at Georgia in 2001, Richt has led the Bulldogs to nine 10-win seasons and five Top 10 finishes in the Associated Press polls—not including this season, which could make six.

Richt led Georgia to 10 wins in 2014, despite the absence of star running back Gurley due to a suspension and season-ending injury for most of the year.

The Bulldogs have been one of the most consistent teams in the SEC over the last 14 years and their commitment to the head coach ensures that will continue for a long time.

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Urban Meyer Proves He's College Football's Top Coach After OSU Conquers Alabama

As confetti rained down on the winner's podium after a classic showdown between No. 4 Ohio State and No. 1 Alabama, college football's top coach picked up the Sugar Bowl Trophy and hoisted it over his head.

A majority of the experts, oddsmakers and fans around the country expected that to be Nick Saban, the head man of a Crimson Tide team that entered the Sugar Bowl as nine-point favorites. But that distinction now belongs to Urban Meyer after the Buckeyes beat the Tide 42-35 to advance to the national championship game against Oregon. 

Meyer was growing tired of hearing about the SEC's superiority and how the Big Ten couldn't hang with the elite teams in college football. He was on a mission Thursday night to change that narrative. 

“We're a bunch of good coaches and players that worked their tails off and investing in a lot of resources into these traditionally great programs," Meyer said, according to Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors. "Because at some point it gets exhausting when you keep hearing and hearing [about the conference hierarchy] and then you start believing.”

But Meyer changed that perception with a brilliant performance against Alabama on college football's biggest stage. 

It wasn't supposed to unfold that way. The SEC West was touted as the best division in college football earlier this season after it placed four teams (Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss and Alabama) in the top six of the first rankings released by the playoff selection committee. All four of those teams fell flat in the postseason, though, going 0-4 in their New Year's Eve and New Year's Day bowl games.

Alabama was undone by a coach and a team with something to prove. 

Meyer spent a majority of the 2014 season overcoming adversity that would have hampered most coaches. The Buckeyes lost the two-time Big Ten MVP before the season even started when quarterback Braxton Miller reinjured his shoulder in fall camp. Three months later, in the regular-season finale against Michigan, Ohio State lost the Heisman Trophy candidate who emerged in Miller's place when J.T. Barrett fractured his ankle.

That was no problem for Meyer, who plugged in third-string quarterback Cardale Jones with six days to prepare for Wisconsin's second-ranked defense in the Big Ten title game. The result was a historic 59-0 thrashing that vaulted Ohio State into the College Football Playoff.

Many questioned whether the Buckeyes belonged, as the selection committee left Big 12 members Baylor and TCU on the outside looking in. With a quarterback who only had one game of starting experience under his belt, how could the Buckeyes possibly beat an Alabama team that had more than three weeks to prepare?

Meyer had the answer.

He found a way to run on the Tide's vaunted front seven, which came into the game leading the country in run defense, as it hadn't allowed a single rusher to gain more than 83 yards all season. That was before Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott gashed Alabama for 230 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 carries, which included the game-clinching 85-yard touchdown jaunt late in the fourth quarter.

Meyer got Jones to settle down and beat Kirby Smart's complicated defensive scheme after a rough start that included five straight incompletions at the beginning of the game and a bad second-quarter interception.

He schemed perfectly against the best wide receiver in college football as Amari Cooper was limited to just 71 receiving yards, his third-worst output in a season that set team and SEC records for total receptions.

Most importantly, Meyer found a way to overcome a 15-point first-half deficit to beat the Tide. After Ohio State fell in a 21-6 hole, it went on a 36-7 run before closing out the seven-point victory.

When the clock hit zero and the Buckeyes swarmed the field in celebration, ESPN's Holly Rowe asked Meyer if his team was finally good enough to play with the elites of the college football world.

“That was a sledgehammer game,” Meyer said, via the ESPN broadcast. “That was a classic. We are good enough.”

The Buckeyes were good enough because they have the best coach in college football at the helm. 

 

All stats via NCAA.com

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

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College Football Championship 2015: Top Oregon vs. Ohio State Matchups to Watch

Every football game features a number of smaller matchups that ultimately decide the outcome, and there will be no shortage of those when Oregon and Ohio State clash in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 12.

Both teams are stacked with elite-level talent on both sides of the ball, and all of those players want to be responsible for helping to win a national title. That comes down to execution, but executing is easier said than done when going up against some of the nation's best players.

With the CFP National Championship looming, here is a closer look at some of the most intriguing matchups that will decide which team hoists the trophy.

 

Devin Smith vs. Troy Hill

The Oregon defense rarely receives much credit due to the offense's elite status, but the Ducks turned in a total effort when they defeated Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl.

Oregon's defense forced five turnovers, and it can be argued that nobody was more impressive than senior cornerback Troy Hill. He has been elevated to No. 1 status in the absence of injured corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and he proved against FSU that the role wasn't too big for him.

Hill was tasked with covering star wide receiver Rashad Greene for most of the Rose Bowl, and he held him to just six receptions for 59 yards. That may have surprised some observers, but Hill expected to play at that level, according to CSNNW:

It is unclear if Hill will shadow an Ohio State receiver in the title game, but one can only assume that he will be matched up with senior wideout Devin Smith quite often.

Smith is averaging nearly 28 yards per catch this season, and he caught a 47-yard touchdown against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Interestingly enough, the Buckeyes are undefeated over the course of Smith's career when he catches a touchdown, per Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch:

With that statistic in mind, Oregon will undoubtedly do everything in its power to keep Smith out of the end zone. That is easier said than done, but Hill showed in the Rose Bowl that he can hang with the very best wide receivers in the nation.

 

Oregon OL vs. Ohio State DL

Games are so often won and lost in the trenches, and that may very well be the case when Oregon and Ohio State lock horns.

There is no denying the fact that the Buckeyes have one of the most talented and dominant defensive lines in all of college football. Tackles Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington generate a constant push up the middle, while ends Joey Bosa and Steve Miller feed off making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

Bosa has racked up 13.5 sacks this season as a sophomore, which means Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will have to be cognizant of him at all times. Entering the Sugar Bowl, Bosa made it clear that the OSU defensive line would be a handful, according to Tony Barnhart of the SEC Network:

His words were prophetic, as the Crimson Tide struggled to block the Ohio State defensive line at times, and it stands to reason that Oregon could have similar difficulties.

With that said, the Oregon offensive line has been much better this season than most have given it credit for. The Ducks rank 18th in passing, 11th in rushing and second in points per game this season, which means that their line can do a little bit of everything.

After it rushed for over 300 yards against Florida State, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit made a major declaration regarding Oregon's offensive line, per SportsCenter:

Most will probably favor the Buckeyes defensive line in this matchup entering the national title game, but Oregon's offensive line has been up to the task each and every time this year.

If the Ducks can get a push similar to the one the line provided in the Rose Bowl, then they will undoubtedly have a major advantage.

 

Marcus Mariota vs. Ohio State LBs

Mariota is unquestionably a dangerous passer, with over 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns through the air this season, but the main thing that sets him apart from other quarterbacks is his ability to make big plays with his legs.

The Heisman Trophy winner has mystified opposing defenses all season long, and he has put up some monster numbers on the ground as well, according to SportsCenter:

Mariota has had more dazzling rushing performances than what he did in the Rose Bowl, but there were multiple occasions that saw him burn the FSU defense with gashing runs right up the middle.

He ended up with 62 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, and many of those runs were right into the teeth of the defense. The Seminoles failed in terms of preventing him from picking up large chunks of yardage, which is something Ohio State can't afford to do.

The Buckeyes must do everything possible to funnel Mariota toward the sidelines when he runs, which is where the linebackers come in. Senior middle linebacker Curtis Grant figures to be used as a spy for much of the game, which means he must always be aware of Mariota's intentions.

Outside linebackers Joshua Perry and Darron Lee must also help in that regard since they'll have to clean things up when Mariota manages to get outside the pocket.

Ohio State isn't naive enough to believe that it will completely shut down Mariota from a rushing perspective, but as long as it can prevent him from making big plays like the ones he manufactured against the Seminoles, the Buckeyes will have a fighting chance.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Despite Sugar Bowl Loss, 2014 Alabama Team Will Enjoy Positive Legacy

Expectations can be a fickle thing at Alabama. Redshirt senior safety Nick Perry summed it up best during Alabama’s bowl prep two weeks ago.

"I’ve been on great teams, and I’ve been on teams that lost three games,” Perry said. “So I’ve seen both ends of it.”

That’s the reality in Tuscaloosa. A three-loss season—like Alabama suffered in 2010, Perry’s freshman year—represents an unmitigated disaster unthinkable in this era of Crimson Tide football that Nick Saban is presiding over.

Where 95 percent of college football teams would be happy with that 10-3 season that concluded with a total destruction of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, it’s seen as an anomaly in Tuscaloosa, a season spoken of only in hushed tones.

So it stands to reason that 2014, a season that started with so much promise but ended with heartbreak at the hands of Ohio State, will be largely lost in the annals of Alabama football history.

Perhaps in 50 or 100 years, when the Bryant Museum is a virtual reality machine that you fly through telepathically on a hoverboard, fans will gloss over the part about the 2014 season.

But for now and the near future, when Alabama fans still have to drive to the museum and walk through it, they will look fondly on this season and team—one that started with low expectations compared to others under Saban, developed some very likeable players on both sides of the ball and overcame its few deficiencies to produce some exciting moments.

A lot of this starts and ends with Blake Sims, who is right up there with Mark Ingram for most likeable Alabama stars in recent memory.

It’s not that fans hated AJ McCarron. But the two-time national champion quarterback didn’t exactly endear himself to the fanbase late in his career and even after he left. From throwing players under the bus after the Sugar Bowl loss, to his exceedingly public relationship and marriage to Katherine Webb, to his wildly overrated draft projections, to his criticism of the current leadership at Alabama, fans tired of the Mobile product very fast.

In a lot of ways, Sims was a character foil for McCarron, a feel-good story that won’t be forgotten any time soon.

He was a fifth-year senior who had waited his turn very patiently, playing several positions before winning a quarterback battle that was heavily tilted against his favor. Sims made no off-field news to speak of, and Saban couldn’t compliment him enough as a player and teammate.

Alabama was also looking to replace former stars like C.J. Mosley and leaders like Kevin Norwood. Out of those losses came likeable personalities and emerging playmakers like Reggie Ragland and DeAndrew White.

And then there’s Amari Cooper.

Just about everyone knew that the Crimson Tide’s star receiver was extremely talented. But Cooper exceeded just about every expectation put before him to become a Heisman Trophy finalist and one of the faces of this season.

Like Sims, Cooper was also extremely likeable off the field—a humble superstar who is as genuine and likeable as they come.

This team came together for some memorable moments, too.

Memories of Landon Collins’ interception against Arkansas leading to a massive on-field celebration won’t fade very soon. Neither will those of Sims rallying the team with 50 seconds left at LSU to tie, and ultimately win, one of the most exciting games in that series’ history. And Sims bouncing back from three interceptions to win the highest-scoring Iron Bowl ever might be the high point of the entire year.

There will also be hardware to remember the season by. This team still won a championship, even if it was “only” one of the SEC variety. There will be tangible pieces of evidence for this great run.

But Alabama teams are measured by national championships. 2014 will not hold up to 2009, 2011, 2012 and any others that Saban may win in Tuscaloosa in that regard.

It will, though, stir positive emotions from fans and not be lost forever, remembered for its positives instead of forgotten for its failures.

 

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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Is Oregon or Florida State Braxton Miller's Best Transfer Option?

There were plenty of takeaways from Ohio State’s breakthrough College Football Playoff victory over Alabama Thursday night. But one of the most important developments concerning the 2015 season was this: Braxton Miller needs to find a new home for his final season of college football.

When the Ohio State senior was sidelined with shoulder surgery last August, the Buckeyes’ quarterback situation appeared uncertain, at best. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett and sophomore Cardale Jones were unproven, and Urban Meyer faced a choppy 2014. Or so it seemed.

Following a slow start, Barrett was a breakout star, throwing for 2,834 yards with 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while adding 938 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns before breaking his ankle in the regular season finale at Michigan.

When Barrett went down, Jones stepped right into the breach, leading the Buckeyes to a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and performing very capably in the Sugar Bowl while displaying a huge arm and impressive confidence. He averaged 250 passing yards per start while totaling four touchdowns against one interception.

Both Barrett and Jones will return next season, which leaves Miller as the proverbial odd man out in Columbus. He has already graduated and can take advantage of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule, which allows players who’ve graduated to transfer and spend their final season of eligibility elsewhere.

Before the Sugar Bowl, Meyer told reporters at a news conference he expects Miller to return.

“There are a lot of things that go on out there that are out of his control," Meyer said. "So, we've had conversations, and I expect him to be back at Ohio State."

However, it’d be a surprise if that actually happens.

Per Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post, Miller has been connected most prominently to Florida State and Oregon, which makes sense. Both programs expect to lose standout quarterbacks to the NFL draft in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, respectively.

But the best fit for Miller, both on the depth chart and in terms of style, is Oregon. If Miller and the Ducks have mutual interest, he’d be a perfect fit in Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost’s fast-paced offense.

First off, though, let’s examine Florida State’s situation.

Assuming Winston departs, the Seminoles would have an open competition for the job. Sophomore Sean Maguire completed 25 of 49 passes for 339 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions this season, but he did lead FSU to a victory over Clemson, throwing for 304 yards when Winston was suspended for yelling a vulgarity on campus. Florida State also has a redshirting freshman in J.J. Consentino and oral commitments from three standouts in the class of 2015.

Deondre Francois is rated by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 4 pro-style quarterback and a 4-star recruit. Kai Locksley is rated by 247 as the nation’s No. 16 athlete prospect and a 4-star recruit. And De’Andre Johnson is rated as the nation’s No. 13 dual-threat quarterback and a 3-star recruit by 247.

There’s also the matter of how Miller would fit into the Seminoles’ offense. While Winston has some mobility, Jimbo Fisher runs a pro-style offense. Miller operated in more of an up-tempo spread with Meyer and Tom Herman at Ohio State.

His stats showed it, too. In three seasons, Miller has thrown for 5,292 yards with 52 touchdowns against 17 interceptions, rushing for 3,054 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground.

His skill set is the closest match to the one Mariota, a mobile quarterback who can throw on the run, leaves behind. This season, Mariota has excelled in Oregon’s offense, throwing for 4,121 yards with 40 touchdowns against three interceptions and rushing for 731 yards and 15 scores.

If Mariota leaves, Oregon’s quarterback depth chart is unaccomplished.

Sophomore Jeff Lockie served as the Ducks’ backup this fall. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown, operating exclusively in garbage time.

"We have total confidence in him," Helfrich told The Oregonian’s Tyson Alger. "If we had to go in a game and had to play X amount of snaps, the playbook would be open."

Behind Lockie is a pair of redshirts. Former Georgia Tech quarterback Ty Griffin, a dual-threat type with excellent athleticism, is redshirting after a transfer. And freshman Morgan Mahalak, a 4-star recruit per 247, is also redshirting. Oregon also has a commitment from class of 2015 recruit Travis Waller, a 4-star recruit, per 247, rated as the nation’s No. 5 dual-threat quarterback.

Oregon’s offense fits Miller perfectly. He has experience in a spread offense that favors a mobile, multi-talented quarterback, and there’s plenty of talent surrounding him, most notably standout freshman tailback Royce Freeman and a deep backfield.

If Miller decides his time in Columbus is over, Eugene would be an ideal landing spot to finish a stellar college career.

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Cold Hard Fact for Friday, January 2, 2015

Fact: Teams from Alabama, Mississippi & Florida now 0-8 in bowls this season.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: Brett McMurphy

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Notre Dame Football: 5 Best 2014 NFL Seasons by Irish Alums

With yesterday’s start to the College Football Playoff and this weekend’s commencement of the NFL playoffs, let’s check in on some of the former Notre Dame football players at the next level.

Irish alums litter NFL rosters, from recent stars such as defensive linemen Stephen Tuitt (Steelers) and Louis Nix (Texans) to former starters in the Tyrone Willingham era such as tight end Anthony Fasano (Chiefs) and defensive end Justin Tuck (Raiders).

We’ll narrow everything down into the five best 2014 NFL seasons by such former Irish greats, emphasizing individual performance and overall value to a player’s team.

And for a complete look at how each Notre Dame football alum fared in the NFL this season, Andrew Owens of Blue & Gold Illustrated has an in-depth compilation.

Begin Slideshow

TaxSlayer Bowl 2015: Live Score, Highlights for Iowa vs. Tennessee

The Iowa Hawkeyes and the Tennessee Volunteers will meet Friday afternoon in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.

Iowa (7-5) is appearing in its 12th bowl game under longtime coach Kirk Ferentz but is seeking the program's first postseason win since 2010.

Sophomore quarterback Josh Dobbs leads Tennessee (6-6), who achieved bowl eligibility for the first time in four years.

ESPN will broadcast the matchup, which is scheduled to kick off at 3:20 p.m. ET. Bleacher Report will provide scoring updates and analysis. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

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Army All-American Bowl Roster 2015: Game Info and Recruits to Watch in Showcase

Some of the nation's next big collegiate and pro stars will descend upon San Antonio this Saturday for the 2015 iteration of the Army All-American Bowl.

Collegiate fans know the deal—legendary names such as LeSean McCoy and Andrew Luck are veterans of the contest who moved on to greater things after using the event as a launching pad.

Expect more of the same this year. Fans of programs who have commitments from recruits in attendance can use the event as a way to get a glimpse of the future. Programs still in the running for undecided recruits can hope for good news while enjoying the show, too.

One of the collegiate football calendar's marquee events, this game is not one to miss.

 

Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

When: Saturday, January 3

Start Time: 1 p.m. ET

Watch: NBC

Live Stream:NBC Live Extra

 

U.S. Army All-American Bowl Roster

Roster courtesy of USArmyAllAmericanBowl.com.

 

Recruits to Watch

Trent Thompson, DT, Georgia

Few defenders hold a candle to Georgia Bulldogs commit Trent Thompson.

A 5-star recruit and the nation's No. 2 overall player, Thompson is a man on a mission in San Antonio, as Jake Reuse of UGASports.com captures:

Let's just say Thompson has a great chance of doing just that if a play captured by UGA Football Live is any indication:

The Westover High School product who calls Atlanta home comes in at 6'4" and 292 pounds and is clearly a force in the trenches in a number of ways.

Big things are clearly in Thompson's future, although his motivations for Saturday's contest are clear. Expect a dominant performance as he guns for the No. 1 slot.

 

Torrance Gibson, ATH, Ohio State

Torrance Gibson, a 4-star recruit and No. 74 overall player in the class, is about to make things interesting.

Listed as the No. 5 overall athlete in the class, Gibson is a dual-threat quarterback who weighs in at 6'4" and 200 pounds with a 4.5 mark in the 40-yard dash.

As Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue points out, though, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native still has work to do on the recruiting trail:

On the field, Gibson is as explosive as they come.

This will be clear enough Saturday, as he will surely run a heavy dosage of the read-option. It will make for an interesting test given the amount of defensive talent that will be on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.

For a future Ohio State quarterback who gets to play in Urban Meyer's offense, Saturday will be a big step in the right direction for Gibson.

 

Brady White, QB, Arizona State

Few recruits in Friday's contest are as important to a single program as Brady White is to the Arizona State Sun Devils.

White is a 4-star recruit and the No. 3 overall pro-style quarterback, but his commitment may also mean the Sun Devils get a 4-star wideout out of the deal as well, per Donohue:

Back to White, though.

While the Hart High School product needs more bulk due to a 6'2" and 190-pound frame, a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash does not imply he is a statue in the pocket. West Coast teams clearly understand the upside, as Arizona and California were in a close race for his commitment, too.

Saturday, White is one of the top quarterbacks to watch. While he is not as elusive and dynamic as others at the position, his traditional abilities with his arm are still a remarkable sight, even at this stage in his development.

 

Player rankings based on 247Sports' composite ranking system. All recruit measurements and stats courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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