NCAA Football

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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Everett Golson Would Be 'Clear Upgrade' for LSU Tigers

According to Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune, current Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has reached out to LSU about a possible transfer for the upcoming season.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder explains what sort of impact Golson could have on the Tigers. 

Do you think this is a good move for Golson?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Christian Wilkins to Clemson: Tigers Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Clemson's defense just got a whole lot bigger.  

Christian Wilkins, a 4-star defensive tackle prospect who has starred at Suffield Academy in Connecticut, announced his decision to attend Clemson on Monday, adding the latest coup to the Tigers' 2015 class.

Wilkins chose Clemson over a group that included Penn State and Ohio State. Well more than 20 schools in all expressed interest during this process, a majority of which coming from the ACC-Big Ten region—where high school coaches got pretty familiar with Wilkins' brand of dominance.

A 6'4", 290-pound defensive tackle, Wilkins is considered the No. 56 prospect in the nation and eighth-best player at his position by 247Sports' composite rankings. He's also the top-ranked prospect in the state of Connecticut.

Given Connecticut's overall shakiness as a hotbed of Division I talent, Wilkins has consistently been at a size and skill advantage throughout his high school career. His ability to overpower opposing offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage made him impossible to block without double- and triple-teams.

A starter since his freshman season, Wilkins recorded 57 total tackles and seven sacks as a junior, according to MaxPreps, despite coaches scheming to mitigate his effectiveness.

More impressive is Wilkins' overall versatility for a kid his size. He also lined up occasionally at tight end in the Suffield offense, going for 209 yards through the air as a sophomore. It's highly unlikely that he'll get any time on the offensive side of the ball in college—outside of some possible jumbo sets—but his ability to step in speaks well for his athletic profile.

"He has great athleticism for his size," Suffield Academy coach Drew Gamere told ESPN's Jared Shanker (h/t ESPNBoston.com's Brendan Hall). "I forget he's 300 pounds all the time." 

In mid-May, 247Sports' crystal ball said he was a 91 percent certainty to attend Ohio State, with Notre Dame coming in at a 9 percent chance. Now in early January, the crystal ball changed dramatically, as Penn State was favored at 81 percent, followed by Ohio State at 16 percent and Notre Dame at 3 percent.

Thus, Wilkins' decision may come as a surprise to many considering those were more well-informed guesses than anything. Wilkins did a great job of keeping his options open. He is going to have an adjustment period to deal with the uptick in competition, which the Tigers should be able to afford him. It would be surprising if he played all that much as a freshman.

Wilkins is a tantalizing talent and bolts off the snap for someone his size. He's just not equipped with the necessary moves and counters needed to deal with actually going against players his size. What's more, Wilkins will also be making the adjustment from defensive end to defensive tackle—similar positions, but ones with entirely different responsibilities.

For someone so physically gifted and already equipped with a college body, Wilkins is a bit of a project. There's no reason to think he won't develop with Clemson's infrastructure in place. We're just more likely to hear about Wilkins' ascent as a junior and senior rather than an instant domination.

Considering Wilkins was looking at schools in direct competition with the Tigers, it's safe to say they'll be more than happy to express a little patience.

 

Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:


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Will Ohio State Stop Marcus Mariota and Oregon's Stellar RB Crew?

The Oregon Ducks have one of the most explosive offenses this season. The Ohio State Buckeyes defense continues to improve with every single game. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate who has the edge in this national championship match. 

Who has the upper hand: the Oregon offense or the Ohio State defense?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

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2015 Early Enrollees Who Will Make Biggest Impact

A new trend in recruiting is the wave of top prospects who forgo their final semester of high school in order to enroll early at the school of their choice.

Last year, Cameron Robinson (Alabama) and Dalvin Cook (Florida State) were among the notable first-year players who took advantage of getting a jump on their college careers.

The 2015 class has a handful of elite talents who are arriving on campuses sometime this month.

Which early enrollees have a chance to be impact players this fall?

 

Note: Players listed in alphabetical order.

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Everett Golson Transfer Rumors: Latest Buzz and Speculation Surrounding Star QB

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson is considering leaving South Bend to play out the final year of his NCAA eligibility. Sources tell NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter that Golson is interested in joining the LSU Tigers.  

Here are the details of Golson's reported interest in taking his talents to Baton Rouge, as the signal-caller's academic background is creating some complications:

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 [Academic Progress Rate] points.

Shea Dixon of 247Sports.com reported what he was hearing regarding Golson and the Tigers:

Golson himself commented on the rumors via his Twitter account:

Golson threw for 3,445 yards and 29 touchdowns to 14 interceptions in 2014, but he slumped somewhat down the stretch as the Irish lost their final four regular-season games.

The senior did help Notre Dame to a 31-28 victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl, albeit in a timeshare situation with Malik Zaire. Losing grip on the starting job had to give Golson incentive to prove something greater if he has any hope at a football future.

LSU doesn't have the greatest quarterback situation, so Golson can capitalize on a situation with little competition. Dual-threat QBs Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris haven't established themselves as the clear-cut answer under center.

Running a pro-style offense coordinated by former NFL coach Cam Cameron also offers Golson a chance to bolster his professional prospects. Stepping up to SEC competition should be an indicator of what Golson is truly made of as a quarterback as well.

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8 Burning Questions Heading into the Boise State Broncos Offseason

It's safe to say no one expected Boise State to bounce back this fast.

After losing their head coach late last year, along with the majority of the coaching staff and a few recruits, it seemed as though the Broncos were destined for regression.

Athletic director Mark Coyle and university president Bob Kustra had other ideas though, and on December 11, they inked a deal for former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to return to take over as head coach. 

During his press conference, Harsin made several references to the past, and in the following weeks he began to fill out his coaching staff with former Broncos, each of whom had gone on to find success elsewhere.

He brought Mike Sanford, who was coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers at Stanford while coordinating the Cardinal recruiting effort, in to run the offense and call plays, and lured Marcel Yates, who had been co-defensive coordinator at Texas A&M, back to run the defense.

Boise State became the only program in the nation who had alumni running the offense, defense and calling the shots as the head coach.

After a few weeks the motto for the 2014 season emerged: "Attack the Future."

And attack they did. After getting steamrolled in the season opener against Ole Miss, the Broncos rebounded to win 12 of the next 13 games, including eight in a row to finish the season.

They played hard, set numerous school records and sprinkled in just enough trick plays to remind everyone that this was Boise State back to its roots. They clinched an at-large berth in the Fiesta Bowl and held on to win a nail-biter against 10th-ranked Arizona, clinching the school's eighth 12-win season since 2002.

So what does Harsin have up his sleeve for an encore?

Believe it or not, the outlook for next year is even brighter, despite the fact that the Broncos will have to replace record-setting players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the questions that Harsin and Co. will need to find answers for before kickoff of the 2015 season.

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UCLA Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Bruins

The storylines for UCLA football’s 2015 season might look quite a bit different than a year ago at this time.

UCLA embarked on 2014 with lofty expectations—both internally and externally.

Outside expectations included contention for a berth in the College Football Playoff. Head coach Jim Mora repeatedly downplayed the praise of pundits who tabbed the Bruins for the national title, but emphasized that a Pac-12 Championship was the team’s primary focus.

Both goals eluded UCLA.

After falling short of both outside and internal expectations, the Bruins must remedy what went wrong to navigate to a title in 2015.

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UCLA Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Bruins

The storylines for UCLA football’s 2015 season might look quite a bit different than a year ago at this time. UCLA embarked on 2014 with lofty expectations—both internally and externally...

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Toledo Player Knocks Teammate Down with Celebratory Head-Butt

During the third quarter of Sunday's GoDaddy Bowl between Toledo and Arkansas State, MACtion got a little bit crazy.

After making a tackle on a kickoff, Rockets defensive end John Stepec was pretty fired up and in the mood for celebratory head-butts. Two of his teammates were able to absorb the blow, but defensive tackle Treyvon Hester was not as lucky.

The 6'3", 245-pound Stepec knocked the 6'4", 300-pound Hester to the turf with a strong head-butt.

Luckily, these players will be able to laugh about the moment because it came during a 63-44 victory.

[YouTube, h/t The Big Lead]

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Oregon vs. Ohio State: TV Info and Odds for College Football Championship 2015

Jameis Winston, Amari Cooper and others potentially head to the 2015 NFL draft, while those left behind have something to say about the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship. 

Marcus Mariota's Oregon Ducks and Cardale Jones' Ohio State Buckeyes tout plenty of talent set to move on to the next level, but for now, January 12 in Arlington, Texas is all that matters.

There, a team with a supposed third-string quarterback that somehow took down Alabama's dynasty clashes with a team that has yet to hiccup or be too small, slow or shocked in the face of the best of the best.

On such an important stage, a few key names will decide the outcome.

 

College Football Playoff National Championship Odds and Schedule

 

Early X-Factors to Watch

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State 

Faced with compensating for a third-string quarterback under center, Ohio State sophomore back Ezekiel Elliott erupted against an elite and still-sixth-ranked Alabama defense to carry the Buckeyes to a 42-35 win.

Of course, Elliott is no stranger to pressure or big games. He torched a strong Michigan State defense for 154 yards and two scores in a 49-37 win. He ran for a minimum of 121 yards and two scores against Michigan to close the season and against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Somehow, that all pales in comparison to what he accomplished against the Crimson Tide, though. Backs are lucky to hit around 70 rushing yards against the unit—he ran wild for 230 and two scores.

ESPN Stats & Info puts things into perspective:

Elliott needs one more repeat performance if the Buckeyes are to win the title.

His ability to control the pace of the game on the ground opens things up for Jones through the air. It also means less time on the field for this year's Heisman winner.

The door is open, too—Oregon allowed Florida State back Dalvin Cook to rush for 103 yards and the Seminoles as a whole to gain 180 and a score on a 4.6 per-carry average.

 

Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon

Oregon freshman wideout Darren Carrington is a hero in the eyes of fans. 

The Ducks lost top wideout Devon Allen against the Seminoles. All Carrington did to fill the void? A gaudy seven receptions for 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Not bad for a player who only hit seven catches or surpassed the 100-yard mark just one other time all season.

As NFL.com's Bryan Fischer captures, Carrington is now assuming a bit of a leadership role for the offense:

Carrington remains Mariota's top deep threat, hence his average of 19 yards per catch. He proved against Florida State that he can be much more than that, though, which is a requirement for his Ducks to move past a stingy Ohio State defense.

The title game figures to be a shootout considering both teams average more than 45 points per game. Carrington will need to lead the way for the aerial attack.

 

Joey Bosa, LB, Ohio State

Ohio State needs Joey Bosa at his best to stand a chance against the Ducks. 

Make no mistake, Bosa is an elite player—he is a sophomore, but he already generates NFL buzz. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida native owns 14 sacks this season but will need his best performance to date in order to fluster Mariota.

Look at it this way. Mariota is the best passer under pressure in the collegiate game. Despite the loss of key linemen such as Tyler Johnstone, he threw just two interceptions all season long.

Thanks to designed rollouts and his sheer running ability—he has 731 yards and 15 rushing scores this year—Mariota is deadly enough to evade Bosa and hurt the Buckeyes deep down the field.

Bosa and Ohio State flustered Alabama's Blake Sims into a trio of interceptions to go with two scores, another 29 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Mariota is more experienced and will hurt a questionable Ohio State secondary in a big way if Bosa does not hit home in a consistent manner.

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

 

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What QB Will Have a Dak Prescott-Style Breakout Season in 2015?

Dak Prescott was the breakout star of the 2014 season, going from under the radar to in the national spotlight in what seemed like moments. Which quarterbacks have the chance to break out next season?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate who will be the 2015 edition of Prescott.

Who will be the breakout star of the next college football season?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Ohio State Linebacker Darron Lee Is College Football's Best-Kept Secret

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the moments following Ohio State's 42-35 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Urban Meyer found himself flanked by the game's pair of MVPs on the postgame podium.

To Meyer's right was running back Ezekiel Elliott, who had just rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense. A former 4-star prospect, this was the type of effort that the Buckeyes' staff expected from Elliott when it fought tooth and nail to pry him from his home state of Missouri two years ago.

That also happened to be the same year that Meyer "recruited" the Sugar Bowl's defensive MVP on his other side, a high school quarterback from nearby New Albany. And while Lee's path to Ohio State couldn't have been any dissimilar from Elliott's, he's proven to be equally important to a fourth-seeded Buckeyes team that will take on No. 2 Oregon in next Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

"I still believe that this is all about the checkers," Meyer said. "Checkers are valuable things, man. And I got two very talented checkers right next to me."

Only Lee wasn't supposed to be this valuable of a piece for Meyer to play with—at least not yet. And yet here he was, the Sugar Bowl defensive MVP, having racked up seven tackles, three tackles for a loss and two sacks against the nation's top-ranked team.

That's hardly the type of production that the Buckeyes expected from Lee in the summer of 2012, when they made the 3-star prospect earn his scholarship offer with not one, but two appearances on the summer-camp circuit. Having grown up ingrained in Ohio State culture—his mother a television anchor at the Columbus NBC affiliate—it didn't take long for Lee accept his invite to play for the Buckeyes, giving his verbal pledge to Meyer on June 26, 2012.

"I love being a Buckeye," Lee said.

At that point, Lee's acceptance at Ohio State could have been considered a victory in and of itself, the local kid earning his way onto the roster of his hometown team. But in a star-studded recruiting class, the 630th-ranked prospect in the 2013 class was an obvious afterthought, with the likes of Joey Bosa, Vonn Bell and Dontre Wilson standing at the forefront.

That manifested itself in the form of a redshirt season in 2013 for Lee, who made the move to outside linebacker upon arriving at Ohio State despite weighing just 205 pounds coming out of high school. That didn't stop the New Albany native from setting sky-high goals for himself, claiming that he'd be the player who would one day replace All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier.

“I was like, ‘Sure, buddy you are,’” said Bosa, Lee's freshman roommate. “He came in here as a safety or something and he played scout team linebacker and I just didn’t believe him.

"He was maybe 195 [pounds]."

"I was actually 215 at the time," Lee insisted.

It didn't take long for Lee to prove the doubters—Bosa included—wrong, as on the first day of spring practice in 2014, he found himself starting in the weak-side linebacker spot formerly occupied by Shazier. "All of a sudden he’s in spring and he’s killing people," Bosa said. "He got huge."

A strong spring carried over into a starting role in the fall, where Lee—now weighing 228 pounds—made an instant impact. With the Buckeyes trailing Navy in the second half of their season opener, Lee drew back on his days as a playmaking quarterback, returning a Bosa forced fumble 61 yards for a touchdown in what would be a 34-17 OSU victory.

That proved to be the first of many big plays for the redshirt freshman in his debut season, which has thus far included 50 tackles, 16.5 of which have come for a loss, 7.5 sacks, two interceptions and two touchdown returns. Those aren't Shazier-like numbers quite yet, but it's been enough for Meyer to single out Lee as one of the reasons why a young Buckeyes team finds itself unexpectedly playing for college football's national title.

"Did I think Darron Lee would perform like an All-Big Ten linebacker?" Meyer asked rhetorically after it was announced that Ohio State had made college football's first-ever playoff. "He's not there yet, but he's darn close."

And while Lee was in fact snubbed from any of the Big Ten's all-conference teams—honorable mentions included—that hasn't prevented the 20-year-old from carrying himself with the confidence of an established veteran, something that hasn't gone unnoticed by his older Buckeyes teammates.

"D-Lee, you are cocky," Lee recalls senior linebacker and captain Curtis Grant telling him.

"Would you rather it be the other way around?" Lee responded. "Would you rather me be scared?"

Grant's answer, obviously, was no, which served Ohio State well in its upset of the Crimson Tide. Whether it was pressuring quarterback Blake Sims or containing running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, it was impossible not to notice Lee in the Sugar Bowl, as he did his best to debunk the myth of "SEC speed."

“Somebody’s got to do their homework,” Lee hummed in the locker room after the game. "I was telling [OSU linebacker Joshua Perry] today, 'I don't think they've been doing their homework enough.' Everybody has that SEC bias crap or whatever. Honestly, just do your homework."

With Alabama and the SEC now in the Buckeyes' rearview mirror, Lee's attention now turns toward Oregon, against which he'll undoubtedly again play a key role. Whether it's spying Heisman Trophy-winner Marcus Mariota in the same way Arizona's Scooby Wright found success against the Ducks in their lone loss of the season or containing Oregon's explosive perimeter run game, it's hard to imagine Ohio State capturing its eighth national title in program history without a big day from college football's most underappreciated player.

"Just another day at work," Lee said, rolling his eyes when told that the Ducks are favored by seven points over the Buckeyes.

For Lee, the role of underdog is nothing new.

 

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

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Miami Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Hurricanes

The Miami Hurricanes have entered what is expected to be a tense, intriguing offseason, and a few storylines loom large over the program.

Following a 6-7 campaign that contained a four-game losing streak, the pressure to make personnel changes is higher than ever. Any coaching moves could affect recruiting, though the uncertainty surrounding "The U" seems to already be disturbing the 2015 class.

However, no matter which prospects sign with the school, the 'Canes must replace 12 starters, including a few team leaders.

The school proclaims a rallying cry of "It's great, to be, a Miami Hurricane," but right now, it's more "complex" than anything else.

 

Will Any Coaching Moves Be Made?

Whether or not someone believes Al Golden is the right man for the head-coaching position at Miami is an opinion. However, the fact is athletic director Blake James said Golden will continue at the helm, per the Sun Sentinel's Christy Cabrera Chirinos (subscription required).

So, barring an unexpected change of plans, it's time for everyone to bury the hatchet and accept that, for better or worse, Golden is leading the Hurricanes next season.

What isn't set in stone, of course, are the assistant jobs at Miami. Three matters are called into question for this topic: Loyalty, stubbornness and realism.

Golden is loyal to defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio, defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and defensive backs coach Paul Williams, each of whom was brought from Temple when Golden was hired in 2010.

D'Onofrio has been on the fanbase's verbal hot seat for, oh, about two years now. Franklin's front line has struggled to maintain consistent production after encouraging starts to the last couple seasons, while Williams' secondary noticeably regressed in 2014.

As for stubbornness, Golden needs to hire a special teams coach because the current one—Golden—struggled immensely last season. Add four kicks blocked to the following table, and it was a forgettable season for the unit.

Will it happen? Don't bet the rent on it, but don't be surprised if it happens.

Nevertheless, Golden needs to be realistic with himself, which entails addressing loyalty and overcoming stubbornness to potentially make a few changes.

Offensive coordinator James Coley should stay with Miami—excluding a promotion elsewhere, which doesn't appear likely. Plus, Coley's relationship with and trust in quarterback Brad Kaaya is undoubtedly valuable.

The running backs were solid under the leadership of Tim "Ice" Harris, most notably Gus Edwards starting to run like the powerful 6'2", 230-pound talent he is rather than a finesse back.

Additionally, tight ends coach Larry Scott and O-line headman Art Kehoe are probably safe—and for good reason. Behind those four, though, a shakeup might be coming.

 

How Will the Recruiting Class Shake Out?

National signing day is less than one month away, and the 'Canes must find a way to finish strong on the recruiting trail. They currently sit at No. 20 in the 247Sports Composite Rankings.

Dexter Williams recently backed out of his commitment, leaving 4-star running backs Mark Walton and Jordan Scarlett verbally tied to Golden and Co. The latter, though, has been mentioned in various rumors of a flip to Florida State.

Lawrence Cager pledged to the Hurricanes at the Army All-American Bowl, though his commitment was overshadowed by rumblings of parental pressure, per 247Sports (subscription required).

Miami is looking to snag 4-star defensive back Marcus Lewis to cap a very solid DB haul that includes Jaquan Johnson, Michael Jackson and newly committed Robert Knowles.

The coaching staff addressed two of the team's biggest needs admirably, earning six pledges from offensive linemen and four on the D-line. Plus, Miami isn't finished in that department since Kendrick Norton, Fredrick Johnson and others are still available.

Linebacker is the one position with a lingering question mark, however, because Charles Perry is the lone commit at an already thin spot. Marques Gayot moving from safety to weak-side linebacker helps, but Miami should be looking for an inside linebacker.

Note: The school is switching its apparel sponsorship from Nike to Adidas, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post. Though there certainly might be a marginal influence on a few recruits, it's a negligible factor in a majority of cases.

 

How to Replace Key Players

The Hurricanes have a solid group of seniors heading toward the NFL draft in Phillip Dorsett, Clive Walford, Shane McDermott, Jon Feliciano, Anthony Chickillo, Olsen Pierre, Denzel Perryman, Thurston Armbrister and Ladarius Gunter.

Plus, Duke Johnson and Ereck Flowers elected to forgo their respective senior seasons and declare for the professional level. And, oh by the way, Miami obviously has to replace every last of one of them.

Wide receiver Rashawn Scott and edge-rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad are expected to return after missing the recent season. Standish Dobard should take over at tight end, Jermaine Grace should appear at outside linebacker and Corn Elder should grab a larger role at corner.

Many members of the 2014 class—Joe Yearby, Braxton Berrios, Nick Linder, Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling, Chad Thomas, Courtel Jenkins, Anthony Moten, Darrion Owens and Juwon Young—will battle for the vacated positions.

But can they replace what is leaving the Hurricanes?

Miami is losing a career record-holder (Johnson), the top two receivers (Dorsett and Walford), 111 starts on the offensive line, a four-year starter (Chickillo) and the man with the ninth-most tackles in school history (Perryman).

It's a tall task, but someone needs to step up. Actually, make that 12 someones.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of CFBstats.com. Recruiting information via 247Sports.

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

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