NCAA Football

7 Reasons the SEC Will Be Back in the National Title Game in 2015

For the first time since the Rose Bowl following the 2005 season, the SEC won't place a team in the national title game. Instead, Ohio State will take on Oregon after the Buckeyes took down Alabama 42-35 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl national semifinal.

Is that an anomaly or the start of a trend?

Ohio State has built an SEC-style monster in the Big Ten, which is widely regarded as a weaker conference top to bottom. Florida State, which won the title following the 2013 season and lost to the Ducks in the Rose Bowl national semifinal, has followed the same path to success.

Out west, Oregon has branded itself as the Pacific Coast power in a Pac-12 that is on the rise with potential powers USC, Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA.

Will the SEC get back to the title game following the 2015 season? Here are seven reasons why it could.

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Which Recruits Are the Biggest Freak Athletes in the 2015 Class?

Every recruiting class is filled with superior athletes who are faster, stronger and smarter than those who came before them. But the 2015 class is full of dynamic youngsters intent on making their marks at the next level.  

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer dish out which recruit they believe is the most explosive.

Which 2015 recruit is the best athlete? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet Jarrett Stidham: The King of Friday Night Lights and Texas Football

The end of each week in the Fall means only one thing to so many communities across this nation: Friday Night Lights.

And in Texas, where cities and towns alike are woven so tightly by football, those lights seem to shine just a bit brighter, just a bit hotter, than anywhere else.

Stephenville, Texas is one of those towns. It's located 90-miles west of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but seemingly serves as the heart of the state's football identity.

Stephenville is the home of the five-time champion Yellow Jackets, and currently, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country - Jarrett Stidham.

Given his stature and talent, Stidham is one of the most sought-after high school quarterbacks in the country and the hope of a football-crazed town seeking glory.

In this video, you'll meet Jarrett, hear why he's so talented and join him on his pressure-filled journey toward a coveted sixth state championship.

 

Some video courtesy and a special thank you to:
Stephenville High School
Wayne Trimble
Cliff Jones

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Fact or Fiction Leading Up to National Signing Day 2015

National signing day is nearly upon us, and many of the nation's top high school football players remain undecided about where they will be playing football in 2015. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate the biggest topics heading into national signing day. 

Who will have the nation's best recruiting class?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

The national championship showdown between Oregon and Ohio State is being billed as a clash between the Heisman-winning Marcus Mariota and the third-stringer Cardale Jones or the historically dominant Urban Meyer against the up-and-coming Mark Helfrich. 

However, the two quarterbacks (or the two coaches for that matter) are not on the field at the same time. The outcome will ultimately come down to more immediate and direct matchups between different units that actually square off with each other.

With that in mind, here is a look at a couple of marquee matchups to watch in the title game.

 

Ohio State Red-Zone Offense vs. Oregon Red-Zone Defense

Oregon’s offense is getting plenty of attention heading into the national title game, and rightly so, but Ohio State brings one of the country’s best units to the table as well. The Buckeyes were fifth in the nation in scoring offense, 10th in rushing and just dropped a cool 42 points and 537 total yards on Alabama’s supposedly shutdown SEC defense.

However, the Buckeyes had to settle for two field goals after getting stopped inside the 10-yard line on their first two scoring drives in the Sugar Bowl.

Oregon’s defense, on the other hand, epitomized the bend-don’t-break approach against Florida State in the Rose Bowl, allowing 528 yards of total offense but only 20 points. Included in that effort was a fourth-down stop of Jameis Winston at the goal line and five forced turnovers, many of which ended promising drives.

Statistically, Ohio State was 54th in red-zone scoring percentage, but a more impressive 20th in touchdown percentage, while Oregon’s defense was 56th in opponent red-zone touchdown conversions. 

Ira Schoffel of Warchant.com and Fox Sports 1 and Greg Biggins of Scout.com pointed out the importance of Oregon’s defensive efforts in the red zone, while Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat noted that the Ducks defense was different closer to the end zone:

That last tweet from Clark highlights a key issue in the title game. Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones should be able to run the ball on the Ducks considering they just dominated Alabama on the ground, but Florida State was able to move the ball on the ground as well. You saw how well that worked out for the Seminoles when they couldn’t convert with touchdowns.

It is nearly impossible to topple the Ducks and their high-flying attack by settling for field goals on the offensive side. 

Mariota and company are going to score points, regardless of how impressive Ohio State’s defense can be at times. The Buckeyes have to take advantage of their own scoring opportunities more effectively than Florida State, otherwise they will find themselves behind early and fighting an uphill battle all game.

 

Marcus Mariota/Oregon Offensive Line vs. Ohio State Defensive Line

Everything Oregon does on offense relies on two things—the offensive line’s ability to give Mariota the time to make decisions and Mariota’s ability to escape pressure and make the correct reads.

Mariota’s decision-making on read-option plays is the engine that drives the Ducks. Even some of Oregon’s pass plays are read-option type of designs where Mariota has the choice between handing it off, keeping it himself or throwing to the receiver in the flat or up the seam. Considering he won the Heisman Trophy and has his team in the title game, he usually makes the right decision.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer discussed Mariota on the ESPN telecast after the Sugar Bowl, via Bill Bender of Sporting News: “I think their quarterback is outstanding. I love their people. It’s a program I have a lot of respect for.”

For as excellent as Oregon’s quarterback is, decision-making is much more difficult when you are under constant pressure. Ohio State’s loaded defensive line could make life particularly difficult for Mariota if it plays up to its capabilities.

The Buckeyes feature Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Steve Miller and Adolphus Washington as one of the best groups in the country, and their pressure up front forced Alabama quarterback Blake Sims into a number of crippling mistakes in the Sugar Bowl.

Bosa (13.5 sacks, first-team Associated Press All-American) and Bennett (third-team Associated Press All-American) get most of the credit as the two superstars and future NFL players, but Miller turned in the critical pick-six in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, while Washington often took advantage of the two blockers on either Bennett or Bosa and generated a push up the middle.

A consistent pass rush will give the Ohio State secondary a better chance to keep up with Oregon’s speedy wide receivers (just like it helped the corners at least contain Amari Cooper from going off in the Sugar Bowl) and possibly even force Mariota into a rare mistake. What’s more, a consistent push against the run will give the linebackers more freedom to operate in space and potentially put the Ducks behind the chains on first and second downs.

Oregon’s offensive line was only 86th in the country in sacks allowed, but that is a bit misleading because the Ducks were without multiple offensive linemen because of injuries earlier in the season. The unit is largely healthy now and protecting Mariota much more effectively.

However, Ohio State’s defense is eighth in the nation with 43 sacks, so Oregon’s front is going to have its hands full.

The Ducks are one of the most dynamic offenses in all of college football (second in scoring, 11th in passing and 18th in rushing), but even they will have trouble moving the ball without proper protection up front.

The main reason Ohio State beat Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl was the defensive line’s ability to dominate up front. LaMichael James, Jeremiah Masoli and company only racked up 260 yards of total offense, which was shockingly low for the Oregon attack. 

Granted, that was a much different Oregon team, but if Bosa and the rest of the Buckeyes defensive line can dominate up front like their 2010 counterpart did, we could see a similar result.

 

*Stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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Ranking the Top 10 Plays from the 2014-15 College Football Bowl Season

With 38 bowl games played over 13 days, you caught every single great play…right?

Just in case you couldn’t break away from your Yule log or glass of bubbly long enough to tune in to every one of the 2,280 minutes of regulation play, check this out.

It’s 10 of the best of the best, the cream of the crop—the highlight reel for the 2014-15 bowl campaign.

Some decided the outcome of a game, while others represented nothing more than a jaw-dropping individual moment. All are worth a second look.

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College Football Championship 2015: Unheralded Players Who Will Decide Title

Whether or not you predicted it (probably not), Oregon and Ohio State will now compete for a national championship.

The Ducks were led by yet another great performance from Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who threw for 338 yards in a 59-20 win over Florida State. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes came through with a 42-35 upset win over Alabama behind 230 rushing yards from Ezekiel Elliott.

When these two teams battle in the final game of the college football season, fans should expect more big efforts from star players. However, this matchup will also come down to the performances of a few competitors who might not be household names.

These players have not always been in the spotlight, but they will be vital for each team's chances of victory.

 

Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

Ohio State's biggest strength is clearly the defensive line behind Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and others. Opposing teams have to focus on keeping those players out of the backfield in both runs and passes.

However, teams that use double- and triple-teams to stop those players will be forced to give up a free lane to sophomore Darron Lee. The linebacker played a big role in the Sugar Bowl, finishing with seven tackles, three for loss with two sacks.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated noticed the play of the talented youngster:

While Bosa led Ohio State in both sacks and tackles for loss, Lee was right behind him to rank second on the team in each category. He gives the defense yet another weapon that can penetrate past the line and disrupt the offensive game plan.

If he can help pressure Mariota and stop him from running wild, the Buckeyes will have a much better chance of winning.

 

Dontre Wilson, RB/KR, Ohio State

Everyone knows at this point that Ohio State has struggled with injuries to quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. However, another major injury was that of running back Dontre Wilson.

The versatile sophomore has 400 yards from scrimmage this season, averaging more than 10 yards per touch in nine games. He also makes a big impact on special teams, where he averages 9.7 yards per punt return and 24 yards per kickoff return.

Only Elliott averages more total yards per game than Wilson's 118.2.

However, the speedster has been out since Nov. 8 with a foot injury. He had a chance to compete against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl but apparently wasn't 100 percent.

The good news is he should be ready to compete against Oregon. When asked about the chances he will play in the upcoming game, Wilson responded, "100 out of 100. I'm back. I'm back," via Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

On a team full of big-play threats, such as Devin Smith and Michael Thomas, Wilson will give the team yet another weapon.

 

Erick Dargan, S, Oregon 

The Oregon secondary suffered a huge blow when Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of the national semifinals. However, Erick Dargan has picked up the slack.

Dargan helped seal the win over Florida State with an interception in the fourth quarter, continuing a run of big plays in big moments:

Only two players in the nation have more interceptions than Dargan's seven. He also ranks second on the team behind Troy Hill with 13 passes defended on the season.

While Dargan has been getting it done all season long, he will be even more important against Ohio State. The Buckeyes love to throw the ball down the field, especially to Smith, who has five catches of 39 yards or more in the last two games.

If Oregon is going to slow down the Ohio State offense, Dargan will have to be all over the field and make sure no one gets behind him. If the safety can force some turnovers in the meantime, it will be even better.

 

Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon

Like Wilson, Hroniss Grasu has missed much of the season due to injury. The difference is that he was able to play in the national semifinals against Florida State.

After so much time lost, he felt good getting back into the action in the Rose Bowl, via Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard:

This is big for Oregon, as the senior center is a leader on the offensive line. He keeps things together on pass plays and can clear space for Royce Freeman and Mariota to boost the rushing attack.

Of course, things will not be easy against the Ohio State defensive line. Bosa, Bennett and Adolphus Washington are all likely future NFL stars and will not be pushed around easily in this game.

Grasu needs to come through with his best effort to help the Oregon offense move as well as usual.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Bulldogs

The 2014 season has come to an end, and the Georgia Bulldogs were able to finish the season with a 10-3 record. Despite missing the SEC Championship and despite not having Todd Gurley for half the season, the Bulldogs showed  they are still a team to watch in the SEC moving forward thanks to the play of young players such as Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Isaiah McKenzie, Brandon Kublanow and Leonard Floyd.

Watching the young players develop will be one of the things to watch this offseason. But is that one of the biggest offseason storylines for the Bulldogs?

 

Finding an Offensive Coordinator

One of the first things the Bulldogs need to do is find an offensive coordinator to replace Mike Bobo, who is now the head coach at Colorado State. Bobo was able to lead a Georgia offense that was first in the SEC in terms of points scored and points scored per game.

According to Seth Emerson of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, former Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will interview for the open position this week. Roper is possibly the best fit because he uses a pro-style offense, which is the same style of offense Georgia has used for years.

However, another candidate to look at is Mike Bloomgren, who is the Stanford offensive coordinator. The Cardinal were ranked 77th in the country in total offense, but Bloomgren has history with Richt because when Richt was the offensive coordinator at Florida State, Bloomgren was a graduate assistant. Also, Bloomgren is the offensive line coach at Stanford and the Bulldogs need a new offensive line coach because Will Friend went with Bobo to Colorado State.

Hearing Kurt Roper interviewing for UGA OC job early this week. Western Kentucky's Tyson Heton also a possibility

— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) January 4, 2015

It will be interesting to see whom Richt decides to go with. Roper seems like the likely choice, but the Bulldogs can go a different direction and hire somebody out of left field.

 

Replacing Hutson Mason

Once the offensive coordinator is in place, that person will have to find a new quarterback, as Hutson Mason will not be back. Brice Ramsey was Mason’s backup, and he was solid whenever he had a chance to get snaps. Ramsey finished the season with 333 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Then there’s Faton Bauta, who was the backup for Mason in 2013. Bauta’s skill set is different because he’s built like Tim Tebow. But he’s strong and athletic, and he plays well in a pro-style offense.

Jacob Park will be coming off a redshirt season and probably is the most talented of the three. Park has a strong arm, has quick feet and makes good decisions. He has a good of a chance as anybody to be the starter, especially with a new offensive coordinator in the mix.

 

The Early Dawgs

Park was the only recruit last year to enroll early. That will not be the case this offseason, because eight of the committed players have now enrolled to get a head start.

Of the eight early enrollees, six are from high school, one is a junior college transfer and the other is a transfer from UAB (which shut down its football program after the end of the 2014 season).

The one early enrollee to watch from high school is Jonathan Ledbetter, a defensive lineman from Tucker, Georgia. Ledbetter has the size, speed and toughness to start in the defensive line this upcoming season. The defensive line itself was a mixed bag, to say the least. Adding a guy like Ledbetter will give them a chance to be much improved.

Another transfer to watch is former UAB linebacker/safety Jake Ganus, who was the leading tackler for the Blazers this past season. It will be interesting to see how he fits in with the defensive scheme. Ganus recorded 70 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2014.

 

Marshall's Final Stand

One of the veteran players to watch this offseason is Keith Marshall. With Todd Gurley going to the NFL, it will more than likely be the Nick Chubb and Sony Michel show in 2015. But if Marshall can get healthy this offseason, he will be in the mix as well.

It has been an up-and-down career for Marshall in Athens. After a very successful 2012 season, Marshall missed nearly all of 2013 and 2014 due to various injuries. It’s important for him to have a productive offseason so he can end his career in Athens on a high note and give the Bulldogs another weapon in the run game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Cornhuskers

Nebraska football fans have long memories—long enough to remember the recruiting hype for the freshmen who redshirted last year and have extended their careers in Lincoln as a result.

Of course, there is no real data available to make any kind of informed analysis about where the redshirt freshmen stand. 

Having said that, we do have recruiting rankings available to give at least some idea of a player’s potential.

We can also look at the opportunities available to the players—from roster attrition and a new coaching staff—and make informed projections about how these players might fit in next season.

 

Recruiting ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Virginia Tech Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Hokies

The Virginia Tech Hokies finished 7-6 for the second time in three seasons in 2014. Not exactly the record that longtime head coach Frank Beamer had in mind before this season began.

However, there is reason for optimism in Blacksburg. Some of Tech's top contributors in the recently completed season were freshmen. Names like Isaiah Ford, Marshawn Williams and Greg Stroman immediately come to mind. But, they were true freshmen in 2014.

The Hokies also received outstanding contributions from a few redshirt freshmen, too, such as tight end Bucky Hodges, but was he their top redshirt freshman in 2014?

Here is a look at Virginia Tech's top redshirt freshmen from this past season and a look at how they could impact 2015. 

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Oregon Isn't a Lock to Beat Ohio State in National Championship Game

Legendary Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp once said, “That’s why we play the game to see who wins.”

The Oregon Ducks, fresh off a 59-20 pounding of defending national champions Florida State in the Rose Bowl, are the prohibitive favorites heading into the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

According to Odds Shark, the Ducks are 6.5-point favorites over the Buckeyes. Moreover, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives the Ducks a 62.8 percent chance of claiming their first national championship.

There’s no denying the fact that Oregon is and should be the favorite heading into this clash. That being said, the Ducks are by no means a lock to win the title. In fact, once you dive into the statistics a bit, you find that these two teams are eerily similar.

Offensively, the Ducks have the advantage, though it’s not as pronounced as one may think. Oregon’s offense, led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, leads the nation in offensive efficiency, points per drive and touchdown percentage. The Ducks are also No. 2 in points per game, No. 3 in total yards and No. 2 in yards per play. Needless to say, the Ducks can score at will, and stopping them is a herculean task.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes offense will be led by third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. Jones, a 6’5”, 250-pound sophomore, has thrown for an average of 250 yards per game in his two starts and has thrown four touchdowns and one interception in those games. In his first two starts of the year, against Wisconsin and Alabama, Jones has looked like anything but a third-stringer.

On the season, Ohio State ranks No. 5 in points per game, No. 9 in yards per game and No. 6 in yards per play. It features the No. 10 rushing offense in the country, led by sophomore sensation Ezekiel Elliott, and has been successful through the air regardless of who has been taking the snaps.

Defensively, the Buckeyes look to have the advantage; however, Oregon’s defense has been on a roll over its last six games.

Ohio State’s defense is ranked No. 17 in yards per game, No. 16 in pass defense, No. 34 in rushing defense and No. 18 in yards per play allowed. While those rankings far outdistance the Ducks, the Buckeyes defense has been trending a bit downward in terms of points per game allowed.

Over the past six games, Ohio State has allowed an average of 25.2 points per game, a statistic that includes the 59-0 trouncing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship.

Excluding that game, the Buckeyes allowed 30.2 points per game to those other five opponents (Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan and Alabama). Comparatively, the Buckeyes allowed a paltry 19.9 points per game over their first eight games of the season.

The Ducks, on the other hand, have gotten much stronger defensively down the stretch. Oregon struggled mightily defensively earlier in the season and had allowed 25.9 points per game over its first eight games. However, over the past six games the Ducks have limited opponents to 17.5 points per game.

The two defenses also compare favorably when you compare turnovers gained. The Ducks rank No. 10 in the country in turnovers created with 30, while the Buckeyes rank No. 6 with 32 turnovers. Ohio State outpaces the Ducks in interceptions (24 to 12), but the Ducks have forced and recovered 18 fumbles to Ohio State’s eight.

In five games against ranked opponents this season, the Ducks have forced a total of 15 turnovers and have only committed three, which is one of the reasons why they lead the nation in turnover margin this season.

In four games against ranked opponents, Ohio State has created nine turnovers—seven of which have come in the past two games—and has committed eight turnovers. The Buckeyes rank No. 17 in the nation in turnover margin this year.

So which team possesses the better defense? The Buckeyes seem the tougher group on paper, but there’s something to be said for getting hot at the right time. Oregon’s defense may be the hottest in the country right now, and the group seems to have a nose for the football. 

We could compare statistics all day and find slight differences between the two teams; however, in big games such as this sometimes the statistics can be overvalued.

Coaching, intangibles and preparation could decide this game. Or, it may be an individual performance that carries either the Ducks or Buckeyes to the top of the mountain.

While Mark Helfrich has had an incredibly successful two-year run as the head coach of the Ducks, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer may be one win away from cracking college football’s head coaching Mount Rushmore.

Meyer, who is in his third year as Ohio State’s head coach, has a career 141-26 record and won two national titles as coach of the Florida Gators. At Ohio State, Meyer is 37-3 and has yet to lose a Big Ten game.

While Helfrich is criminally underrated and underpaid and sports a 24-3 career record, he’s doesn’t have the big-game experience that Meyer has. Meyer is a head-coaching savant. If there’s a single reason why the Ducks aren’t a lock to win the title, it’s due to the fact that Meyer will be on the opposing sideline.

Of course, it’s the players on the field who will ultimately decide the outcome. If there’s one player who could win the national championship by himself, it’s the Oregon quarterback.

Marcus Mariota has had one of the finest collegiate seasons in history and is 60 minutes away from a perfect career. 

He’s already claimed a Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl victory and the first Heisman Trophy in school history this season. All that’s left is a national title. He’s the most consistent player in college football, has thrown a touchdown in every game of his college career and is the first FBS player to ever throw for 40 touchdowns in a season and run for 15 more.

If there’s one player on the field who has a chance to put up a Vince Young-type championship game performance, it’s Mariota.

With Mariota at the helm, the Ducks are in a better position that they’ve ever been to claim a national title and finally be considered one of college football’s “blue blood” programs.

As Bleacher Report’s Greg Couch explained after the Rose Bowl, the national championship is Oregon’s to lose:

Oregon football isn't a gimmick anymore. Until now, the Ducks were some far-out team from a far-out part of the country doing crazy things in uniforms that were, well, far out there. There was still no final proof, really, that this could work against the nation's blue bloods or against real football at the highest level.

Well, that's gone now. Oregon clobbered defending national champ Florida State 59-20 Thursday in the Rose Bowl to advance to the national championship game against Ohio State. And afterward, several Ducks players and some Oregon celebs were saying that they still aren't sure people will believe.

But forget that. Oregon is going to win the national championship. This beatdown was just too meaningful, too reshaping.

This won’t be the first time Oregon and Ohio State will have met with a national championship on the line. The two schools met in the inaugural NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 1939. The Ducks won 46-33.

Now, in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Ducks and Buckeyes will meet again for a national championship. Perhaps it was predestined. Perhaps the Ducks are bound to win.

The Ducks may be the heavy favorites; they may have destiny on their side. But by no means are they a “lock” to win their first national title.

The Buckeyes are too talented and well-coached to be overlooked. This is Oregon’s time, but nothing in sports is ever simply handed over on a silver platter.

LeBron James, who will be rooting for the Buckeyes on Jan. 12, likes to use the phrase “earned, not given.”

The Ducks have earned their spot in the national championship game. They’ve earned their reputation as one of the best programs in the country. They’ve earned the right to be considered the favorites. But now is not the time to just hand them the trophy. 

This national championship will be earned on the field. Nothing is a lock. Nothing is a given.

  

Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Isn't a Lock to Beat Ohio State in National Championship Game

Legendary Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp once said , “That’s why we play the game to see who wins...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Shane Ray Declares for 2015 NFL Draft: Latest Details and Reaction

The 2015 NFL draft got a big boost of talent with the addition of Missouri standout defensive end Shane Ray reportedly declaring for the pros.     

According to Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports, Ray made the decision to forgo his senior season with the Tigers to start his professional career:

Anyone who has seen Ray play at Missouri likely isn't surprised by his decision. He's been at or near the top of most rankings since the Tigers' season started and nothing that happened diminished his stock. 

In fact, Ray continued to get better with each passing week. Tennessee head coach Butch Jones was quoted as saying before the Volunteers played the Tigers in November some even speculated Ray could be the No. 1 overall pick, via Rocky Top Insider:

There's no denying Ray's ability as a pass-rusher. He set the Missouri single-season record for sacks with 12 against Kentucky, when there were still three games left in the regular season.

All of that production led to increased attention by opposing teams, which Ray said has helped him improve the way he attacks beyond the line of scrimmage, via Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com:

Every week somebody throws something kind of different at me. They might keep a fullback in or slide my way and do things to keep me away from the quarterback. But the best thing I can do is just continuing to play as hard as I can. When the plays present themselves, just make the play. Schemes are tough to combat sometimes but you just have to keep going.

One scary thing about Ray, as noted by Rob Rang of CBSSports.com, is his electric speed and dazzling talent are just starting to materialize:

Voted the conference's Defensive Lineman of the Week three times, Ray is proving that his phenomenal athleticism—he's been credited with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and 40-plus vertical jump—translate well to the gridiron. Ray may wind up a top-10 pick, as the perception in the scouting community is that he is just scratching the surface of his potential.

Another thing that could help Ray's draft stock, at least superficially, is Missouri's recent history of producing Sheldon Richardson and Aldon Smith, both of whom are NFL standouts who came from the Tigers' system. At 6'3" and 245 pounds, Ray has the tangibles and intangibles to play at that level. 

In a league where being able to stop the opposing quarterback is everything, Ray's stock will only grow as teams get a chance to watch him work out. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Longhorns

2014 was an intense year for the Texas football program. The Longhorns hired a new head coach and replaced almost every assistant coach, dismissed nine players from the program and underwent the second losing season in the last 16 years.

Change is often followed by rough times, which is exactly what the Longhorns endured in 2014.

Texas ended year one of the Charlie Strong era with a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, and the Longhorns finished with a 6-7 record.

Even though the loss stung Texas fans, the future appears to be bright with Strong at the helm, and his recent recruiting success proves it.

 

National Signing Day

One could argue a team that struggles on the field will also struggle in recruiting. That is simply not the case for the Texas Longhorns.

The 2015 recruiting class will be the first true class Strong will sign as the head coach of Texas. And this class has the chance to be a big one for the head coach.

Strong has received the verbal commitments of 5-star linebacker Malik Jefferson, 4-star defensive backs Davante Davis and Tim Irvin, 4-star linebackers Cecil Cherry and Anthony Wheeler, 4-star tight end Devonaire Clarington and 3-star wide receiver Gilbert Johnson over the last month.

A handful of prospects will take official visits to Texas in January, including 4-star quarterback Kai Locksley.

It will be interesting to see if the Longhorns can land more talent for the 2015 signing class leading up to national signing day.

 

Coaching Changes

Strong knew something needed to change following the 6-7 season. And he took action into his own hands.

The head coach released first-year wide receivers coach Les Koenning and 17-year tight ends coach Bruce Chambers. With these two coaching spots open, Strong will need to find viable replacements.

Even though Strong has not made any official hires, and no media outlet has officially reported names of expected candidates, the rumor mill is swirling that the Longhorns are looking at a variety of options. 

It's always interesting to follow coaching changes, and when it happens at a school like Texas, it is must-follow news. 

 

Quarterback Competition

It wouldn't be recent Texas football if there weren't a quarterback issue, right? As much as it pains Longhorns fans to hear, Texas will not return to the top of college football ranks with the current state of the quarterback position.

That may come off as harsh, but it's the reality of the situation.

Does it mean Texas is doomed? No, because there are viable options on campus and coming to Austin who could change the course of the lackluster quarterback play since 2009.

The one name every Texas fan knows is Jerrod Heard. The redshirt freshman had all year to learn the offense and adjust to the college game. Strong said the quarterback position will be open for competition, which means Heard can snag the job during spring practice.

The positive news for Texas fans is the Longhorns finally have a redshirt quarterback who has four full years of eligibility. And if you saw Heard in high school, you know what kind of difference the talented quarterback can make.

The progression of Heard and the quarterback competition will be one of the most important storylines to follow throughout the entire offseason.

Regardless of the time of year, the Texas Longhorns typically tend to make headlines. There will likely be more storylines to follow as 2015 progresses, but these three topics are must-follow stories for any and all Texas fans.

 

Recruiting information via Rivals.com.

Unless otherwise noted, 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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2016 4-Star Recruit Chauncey Gardner Tweets Decommitment from Florida

Florida head coach Jim McElwain suffered his first significant recruiting setback Monday when 4-star defensive back Chauncey Gardner decommitted from the Gators. A seven-month pledge officially ended when the in-state standout tweeted his intentions:

Gardner, a 5'11", 170-pound junior at Cocoa High School, is among the most coveted 2016 prospects in the Sunshine State. He created a verbal pact with former Florida coach Will Muschamp in June, flipping from Miami in the process.

The Hurricanes landed a commitment from Gardner in 2013 shortly after his freshman year. Now he could be looking for a third collegiate program, though the Gators remain "high" on his list. 

Gardner, an impact varsity player since 2012, enjoyed his finest season this past fall. He recorded 49 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions according to MaxPreps.

Rated 11th nationally among cornerbacks in 247Sports' composite 2016 rankings, Gardner also does damage with the ball in his hands. He averaged nearly 10 yards per carry as a junior en route to 303 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Gardner tallied 29 receptions for 503 yards and five scores during the past two campaigns. 

His commitment showed signs of wavering in September when he tweeted a top-five list. Aside from Florida, that collection included Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida State, per Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com.

Auburn could also potentially become a program to watch as things progress. The Tigers hired Muschamp as defensive coordinator in December, so there's obvious familiarity there for Gardner.

Gardner may not have ruled out a reconciliation with the Gators, but he clearly opened the door to explore other possibilities 13 months shy of his national signing day.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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What Impact Will Monster DT Christian Wilkins Bring to Clemson in 2015?

According to Christian Wilkins' official Twitter page, the star defensive tackle from Suffield, CT, has committed to Clemson University to play for the Tigers. Wilkins, teaming up with DE Albert Huggins, should put a smile on Tigers fans' faces. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down Wilkins' game and what type of impact he will have at Clemson.

Where will Wilkins fit in with the Tigers? Check out the video and let us know! 

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The Huge Hurdles That Will Prevent Everett Golson from Transferring

Even though Everett Golson has a semester to go before he graduates from Notre Dame, the rumor mill has already started to churn about potential transfer spots for the Irish quarterback. A report from Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune claims Golson reached out to LSU about potentially spending his final season of eligibility with the Tigers. 

That Notre Dame just beat LSU in the Music City Bowl makes the timing of the alleged inquiry more than interesting. But after seeing the quarterback play the Tigers got out of Anthony Jennings, Golson would likely have an open door to the starting lineup even with promising rising sophomore Brandon Harris on the roster. 

It took just minutes for Golson to throw cold water on the report, taking to Twitter to presumably refute the report. But it shouldn't just take a Golson denial to understand why there are significant roadblocks to a transfer. 

A few of the biggest hurdles:

Golson doesn't graduate until May, making any decision to explore options now more than a little premature. That means Golson will be on campus—and on the roster—for spring football, 15 very important practices for a team with lofty aspirations in 2015. If Golson is already looking for a way out, that isn't likely to sit well with his head coach, let alone his teammates. 

Also clouding the situation is Golson's actual eligibility to play for LSU. According to The Times-Picayune report, while a ban on allowing graduate transfer players has been lifted, Golson's admission at any SEC school would need to go through a waiver process. 

LSU is exploring the possibility but would have to obtain a waiver from the conference office since Golson was declared academically ineligible for the 2013 season. The SEC rule allows graduate student transfers without waivers if the student maintained eligibility, had no significant disciplinary issues at the old school and earned all possible APR points. 

The academic suspension that Golson served during the fall semester that cost him the 2013 season is worth pointing out. It was the first opportunity Golson had to transfer away from Notre Dame, opening the door for him to play for another program essentially free of charge (Golson would've had to sit out a season but would've been able to practice with the team, a better fate than the one he received in South Bend). That he returned but wants to leave now feels at the very least contradictory. 

While he wasn't made available after the Music City Bowl victory, Golson confirmed to Irish Illustrated that he would be back on campus for the spring semester and graduating in May. He also said he would've benched himself after two first-half turnovers against USC. That's not necessarily the talk of a player with one foot out the door. 

Any potential transfer is sure to get the heart rate up of Irish fans anywhere. But this is a story that literally can't advance until May, when Golson earning his diploma would considerably open up his options. From there, a departure from South Bend would mean Golson believes he's better served learning a new offense in 60 days than fighting for his job. That's quite a gamble for a quarterback many still believe has an NFL future.

Like Dayne Crist and Andrew Hendrix before him, the last two fifth-year quarterbacks in Brian Kelly's program have exited for greener pastures. But after starting 12 games and leading the Irish offense to its most prolific output under Kelly, any move by Golson is a scenario that still feels unlikely.

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Transferring from Notre Dame to LSU Would Be Smart Move for Everett Golson

Everett Golson doesn't need a fresh start, but he could sure use one, which is why he's kicking the tires on potential graduate transfer opportunities.

And he may have found the perfect destination.

Less than a week after playing—but not starting—against LSU in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Golson reportedly reached out to the Tigers about joining their program next season, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune.

Golson's academics, however, pose a roadblock to the proceedings. He was was ruled academically ineligible for his redshirt sophomore season in 2013 and would thus need to apply for a waiver from the SEC to have his transfer granted, as Kleinpeter explains:

LSU is exploring the possibility but would have to obtain a waiver from the conference office since Golson was declared academically ineligible for the 2013 season. The SEC rule allows graduate student transfers without waivers if the student maintained eligibility, had no significant disciplinary issues at the old school and earned all possible APR points.

Graduate transfers are required to make progress toward a graduate degree, otherwise the school won't be able to apply the grad-student exception in that athlete's sport for three years.

For the sake of argument, let's pretend that waiver gets granted. Golson graduates in May from Notre Dame and is eligible to join LSU for fall practice, the same way Jake Coker joined Alabama.

Should he do it?

There are reasons to contend that he shouldn't. Rising sophomore Malik Zaire started over Golson in the bowl game, but Golson still saw meaningful playing time, finished with superior passing stats and completed four of five passes for 50 yards on the game-winning field goal drive at the end of the fourth quarter.

As Bleacher Report's Keith Arnold put it: "This isn't a career backup looking for a lifeline. This is Everett Golson."

But isn't that sort of the point?

This is Everett Golson—the guy who led Notre Dame to a 12-0 record, a No. 1 BCS ranking and a spot in the 2012 national title game. Everett Golson—the strong-armed leader whom NFL scouts said "can start in our league," per Dane Brugler of CBS Sports. Everett Golson—the player who in mid-October was the No. 4 favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, per Odds Shark.

How does one tell that guy to win his job back?

Golson would be the favorite to start at LSU next season despite entering a new system, and he owes it to himself to spend his final season of eligibility playing football. There's a chance—maybe even a coin-flip chance—he could beat Zaire for the job at Notre Dame, but the momentum of public sentiment is against him.

Why should he take the risk?

At LSU, Golson would be hailed as a potential savior. There will be questions about his decision-making—the curious, compoundable mistakes that led to his 22 turnovers in 2014—but he will still be a breath of fresh air for a team that sorely needs it.

Neither Anthony Jennings nor Brandon Harris got the job done this season. LSU finished No. 116 in the country in passing yards per game despite a deep (albeit young) group of pass-catchers and an offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, who likes to throw the ball downfield.

Golson has the vertical arm to excel in Cameron's offense, stretching the field to targets such as Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, John Diarse, Trey Quinn and incoming 5-star receiver Tyron Johnson. He also has the mobility to run some dangerous two-man stuff (play-action rollouts, zone reads, etc.) with all-world running back Leonard Fournette.

More than that, though, he will not have the short leash (that he earned) from Notre Dame's fanbase. He will not feel the pressure of a chorus of boos after every interception. Chants to PUT IN ZAIRE make sense, because Zaire has never looked short of incredible.

Chants to PUT IN JENNINGS do not (and will never) exist.

Golson has the physical tools of an All-American/NFL quarterback. At risk of sounding like an armchair psychologist, it seemed his late-season problems were mental. If he erred once, the game was over; he couldn't stop one mistake from turning into two, three, four.

So while Golson has tacitly denied Kleinpeter's report—his exact words: "Don't believe everything you hear"—it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for him to spend a year in Baton Rouge. He could get away from whatever the heck went wrong in South Bend and start anew.

"There will be plenty of scouts who use [Russell] Wilson's success as evidence that Golson can thrive as a pro," Bucky Brooks of NFL.com wrote of Golson before his late-season meltdown, comparing the undersized Notre Dame QB to the undersized Seattle Seahawks QB who in college exercised a graduate transfer from NC State to Wisconsin (where he won the Rose Bowl).

Wilson has long been the most flattering comparison for Golson—his "best-case" scenario, if you will.

Why not try to follow in his footsteps?

Wilson never spent a year behind a sophomore.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

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Nebraska Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Cornhuskers

It was quite the end to the 2014-2015 football season for Nebraska. From Bo Pelini being fired to Mike Riley being hired, it's been a whirlwind.

To put a bow on it, the Huskers lost 45-42 in the Holiday Bowl to USC. Needless to say, most Nebraska fans are ready to move forward.

It's going to be an interesting offseason, too. In anticipation of what Riley will bring to the table, Husker fans will have plenty to talk about before September rolls around. If nothing else, it'll help make the time pass more quickly.

So, what are the biggest offseason storylines for Nebraska?

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Will Undefeated Become Irrelevant for the College Football Playoff?

The College Football Playoff selection process is far from perfect, but say this for it: It's the anti-BCS. Yes, that's still a good thing.

Had the BCS still been in place this season, the general consensus is that Florida State and Alabama—likely in that No. 1 and No. 2 order—would have been playing for the national championship. Oregon and Ohio State, the two teams actually competing for the playoff championship on Jan. 12, would have been left out.

In that sense, the first season with the playoff should be considered a success. At the very least, the committee got one thing right that the BCS would not have: Florida State wasn't the No. 1 team in college football even though it was the only undefeated team remaining after the regular season.

There had been too many close calls, too many come-from-behind victories needed against lesser opponents. This was obviously not the same dominant Florida State team that went undefeated in 2013.

The committee felt as much by making the Seminoles the No. 3 seed against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. “I ain’t worried about No. 1,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said via Marc Tracy of the New York Times after winning the ACC Championship against Georgia Tech. “We’ll be in the playoff.”

Fisher was right, and so was the committee.

You know the result by now: A 59-20 rout in which Florida State's miscues, which had been a problem all year, finally became insurmountable.

The Seminoles could overcome stretches of poor play against the likes of North Carolina State, Louisville, Miami and Florida. Oregon is far and away a better team than any of those others and thus Florida State paid dearly for five second-half turnovers.

That poses two questions: Was Florida State ever one of the four best teams in the nation? Along those lines, is an undefeated season relevant to a playoff push?

There's no easy answer to the first question because it's clouded by hindsight. The Rose Bowl loss, coupled with TCU's convincing 42-3 win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, provides the opportunity for second-guessing.

However, the selection committee felt that Florida State earned its place among the final four. At the time of Selection Sunday, the debate wasn't whether Florida State or TCU should get in the field. It was about TCU, Baylor or Ohio State, all one-loss teams.

If the committee had a crystal-ball view into the semifinals, well, we wouldn't need a selection committee at all.

As Graham Watson of Yahoo Sports writes, any other decision would have set an incredible precedent:

By leaving the only undefeated team out of the playoff, if such a thing comes to pass, the College Football Committee risks setting a dangerous precedent. It’s essentially saying that no matter the result of a contest, teams are subject to the whimsy of the committee and how it feels a team should have played versus how it did play even if it won. 

With that said, the committee certainly showed that the number of wins and losses alone do not dictate seeding. Otherwise, the order would be simple: All undefeated teams would rank ahead of one-loss teams, which would rank ahead of two-loss teams and so on.

In fact, the Seminoles dropped in the playoff rankings behind one-loss teams—from No. 2 to No. 3, and from No. 3 to No. 4—two times during the regular season.

Is going undefeated irrelevant, though? Not in a Power Five conference like the ACC. It's tough to envision an undefeated team from any power conference being left out barring multiple other undefeated teams from similar conferences.

The committee will still look at strength of schedule, the so-called "eye test" and more. Going undefeated will be a factor and therefore relevant to the discussion.

It's simply too difficult to go undefeated in any conference for it not to be a consideration. Florida State may have been America's most hated team, but that doesn't mean the Seminoles didn't accomplish plenty during its 29-game winning streak.

One loss won't forever alter how undefeated teams are viewed.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.

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