NCAA Football

Inside Oregon's Influence over Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Program

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For more than 40 minutes, Urban Meyer stood at his lectern in front of the team meeting room packed full of reporters, dutifully answering questions in advance of Ohio State's appearance in Monday's national championship game. But when the Buckeyes head coach was asked about what he's learned from Ohio State's upcoming opponent, Meyer did something that he doesn't often do.

He stopped himself.

"I'm not here to promote Oregon," Meyer had to remind himself out loud.

Nevertheless, the similarities between the Buckeyes and the Ducks programs are undeniable, from their uptempo offenses to penchant for alternate uniforms—although Oregon has an obvious leg up on the latter.

Meyer's history with the Ducks dates back more than 25 years thanks to a personal relationship with former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, but it was strengthened just three years ago when Meyer enjoyed a one-year retirement in 2011.

It was during that time off from coaching that Meyer toured the country as an analyst for ESPN, taking in practices while simultaneously studying how to improve himself as a head coach. His stop in Eugene particularly stood out to Meyer, as he found himself in awe of then-Ducks head coach Chip Kelly.

"You go in there, they are playing Lion King music. They have like a D.J. at practice. Bizarre stuff now. I remember even I was like, 'What is this?' I worked for Earle Bruce," Meyer recalled. "Chip and I are good friends, and he says, 'You know, this is the only way to do it.' I looked at him and said, 'What are you talking about this is the only way to do it?'"

What Kelly meant wasn't a reference to his no-huddle offense—although they'd get to that later—or even the music that blared over their conversation—now a staple during Ohio State practice sessions.

No, what Kelly meant was a program that was completely in-sync, one where the mission was clear from the secretary who greets you at the door to the ball boys on the sideline and everybody between. It's a philosophy that Meyer wasn't unfamiliar with at the time, having studied New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick extensively, but never had he seen it functioning so highly at the college level.

"For Chip Kelly to create a culture—and Belichick talks about it all the time—where everyone's aligned, everyone, you walk in the facility, it's about 'Win the day,'" Meyer said, quoting Oregon's famous motto before redirecting his answer toward Ohio State.

"People walk in the Ohio State football facility now, and it took a little while. But from Amy [Halpin], my assistant, to everybody associated with the facility, people, everyone, this is the way we do it. Really not a whole lot of conversation about it."

Of course Meyer and Kelly's conversations eventually evolved into X's and O's, as the latter was finding success with a spread offense similar to the one that helped Meyer win two national titles during his time at Florida. Only Kelly had upped the ante, implementing a no-huddle element that ran opponents off the field, with the Ducks averaging 43.8 points per game from 2009-2012.

Used to the leadership qualities that quarterback Tim Tebow would display in the Gators' huddles, Meyer was apprehensive to follow suit.

"In the old days, the stories of Joe Montana looking at Jerry Rice and winking at him, and there's still that intangible value of this great game of football; Let's you and me do this," Meyer said. "It's harder when that guy you're winking at is 25 yards away."

But upon arriving at Ohio State, Meyer gave in, hiring offensive coordinator Tom Herman on the recommendation of Kelly. Having worked with the no-huddle approach during his time at Rice and Iowa State, Herman would instill the same ability into the Buckeyes' spread offense, with Meyer finally caving from his preference for his teams to huddle.

"I didn't want to lose that huddle," Meyer reiterated. "Obviously we've lost it."

The results, however, have spoken for themselves, with the Buckeyes accumulating a 37-3 record as the rest of the Big Ten is yet to have caught up. Herman, meanwhile, has parlayed his success in Columbus into a head coaching job at Houston, although Meyer has insisted that Ohio State's uptempo approach is here to stay.

"This is the Ohio State offense," Meyer said. "Next year, guess what it's going to be? The Ohio State offense."

Playing style isn't the only apparent similarity between the two programs, who have battled on the recruiting trail even after Mark Helfrich took over as Oregon's head coach once Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite being located more than 2,000 miles apart, the Bucks and Ducks have duked it out on numerous occasions in recent years, most notably for onetime Oregon commit and now-Ohio State H-Back Dontre Wilson.

And while the Buckeyes have a built-in advantage with recruits thanks to their storied history, Oregon has managed to make an obvious splash in the last decade, thanks in large part to its relationship with former Nike CEO and prominent booster Phil Knight. The Ducks currently possess more than 500 combinations of uniform options to wear for any given game and, according to UniformCritics.com, "dominate" the retail jersey market.

Per the website, "It's not even close."

"Every school has their niche, and God bless Oregon for finding their niche," Meyer said. "That is a huge part of it."

Meyer's taken note, which is why when he enters a prospect's home, he does so carrying a binder full of Nike concepts for potential Ohio State alternate uniforms. More times than not when the Buckeyes have hosted a big recruiting weekend in Columbus under Meyer, they've done so while wearing their Nike Pro Combat uniforms in hopes that the sparkle of their chrome helmets will catch the eye of a 5-star prospect.

Meyer's even gone as far as to state he'd be OK with Ohio State one day adding black uniforms to its repertoire. Although on Tuesday, the 13-year head coach maintained that he'd prefer the Buckeyes stick with a traditional look.

"You start going too far and there's a lot of old-timers out there—me included—that get a little nervous, you start straying away from the old traditional stuff," Meyer said. "I bring pictures and all that, act like I like it. I become a proponent of it."

In the modern age of college football, Meyer doesn't seem to have a choice. Whether it's uptempo offenses or alternate uniforms, Oregon has created an edge for itself, one which Meyer has attempted to instill in his traditional power.

But with advancing offenses and flashy jerseys becoming commonplace in today's day and age of college football, what matters most to Meyer is the overall philosophy of his program. That's one that will be shared by the Buckeyes' opponent on Monday night, something that Meyer doesn't see as a coincidence.

"It's something I always believed," Meyer insisted. "When you see teams fail, it's not because of bad players, it's not because of bad coaches. It's because of alignment issues. I'm convinced of that more than ever after being in this business for so long."

 

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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5 Bold Predictions for 2015 National Championship Game

Picking a winner is easy. Guessing the final score isn't too hard either. But predicting specific instances of the first-ever College Football Playoff championship game? There's the real challenge.

We've been making bold predictions about the 2014 season since before it began, and while most of those haven't come close to happening a few have hit the mark. Now comes our final chance to go out on a limb and make some courageous choices, ones that are sure to thrill some fans and anger plenty of others.

Ohio State and Oregon are two championship-worthy teams that should make for a great title game. At this point, picking who will win is the only prediction that really matters, but we're going to throw out a few more guesses and see if we get lucky.

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Trent Irwin to Stanford: Cardinal Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Stanford's offense will likely be finding the end zone more often in the coming future thanks to the addition of wide receiver Trent Irwin.

After a lengthy recruiting process, Irwin announced his decision to commit to the Cardinal, according to Adam Gorney of Rivals.com:

Irwin, who checks in at 6'2" and 190 pounds, is a 4-star prospect out of William S. Hart High School in Santa Clarita, California, per 247Sports’ composite rankings. He's rated as the 10th-best wide receiver recruit in the country, the 76th-best prospect overall and the 13th-best player out of California in the 2015 class.

Bryan Fischer of NFL.com believes he is a sure-handed receiver: 

There were more than a dozen notable programs that recruited Irwin, many of which reside on the West Coast. Arizona State and Stanford were the favorites for quite some time, but UCLA, California, Washington State, Colorado, Vanderbilt and Minnesota, among others, were all in on Irwin at one point.

It’s no secret why so many schools were hoping to land his services.

He isn’t the fastest receiving prospect in his class (247Sports posted his 40 time as 4.60), but his game is very polished. With crisp route running and notable strength, Irwin is able to get open on the sidelines or across the middle of the field, and he never shies away from a hit.

Irwin would work well in a spread offense that features a number of wide receivers on the field at one time. In that scenario, the offense could line him up in the slot to run underneath routes, while speedsters draw the attention of the safeties on the outside. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Irwin put together a productive college career by catching five- to 15-yard passes and running after the catch, although he is capable of going deep.

What’s more, he is a solid blocker, so Irwin can develop into a three-down receiver in the majority of offenses, including David Shaw's.

The two things that jump out immediately with Irwin’s game, though, are his soft hands, which allow him to catch almost anything within his vicinity, and his nose for the end zone. Jeremy Crabtree of ESPN.com’s RecruitingNation and Brandon Huffman of Scout hinted at such:

Perhaps the best praise a scout or coach can give a young prospect is to point out his work ethic, and that is exactly what Scout.com director of scouting Scott Kennedy did when discussing Irwin, via Doug Haller of azcentral sports:

Reggie Miller wasn't an elite athlete, but he worked his ass off to get open on every single play and then he had an elite skill, which was to finish the 3-pointer. That's how I view Trent Irwin. He works harder than anybody on that field. He will never take a play off, and he's going to be a pain to cover every single snap. And if you get the ball anywhere near him, he's going to catch it. That's his elite skill.

If Irwin is drawing comparisons to Reggie Miller before he even steps on a college football field, regardless of sport, he is clearly doing something right.

As he continues to develop and fill out his frame, Irwin can become a valuable weapon for Stanford as a reliable target in the passing game.

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Who Will Be the Out-of-Nowhere College Football Playoff Contender in 2015?

TCU went 4-8 in 2013 before contending to make the College Football Playoff. Auburn went 3-9 in 2012 before making the BCS National Championship Game.

The point here being that in college football, teams rise from the bottom to the top with regularity. This isn't English soccer or *cough* the NBA. An out-of-nowhere team can contend—and often does contend—for the ultimate prize in the sport.

ran this exercise after last season, trying to find which team would be "the Auburn of 2014." I'd like to say I came pretty close. The four losing teams I studied included TCU, Arkansas and West Virginia, although I sadly also had high hopes for Florida.

This year I have slightly tweaked the process, accounting for a common thread between Auburn and TCU. For the most part, though, the factors for progression stayed the same.

Which team that didn't make a bowl game in 2014 has the best chance of making the College Football Playoff next season?

Sound off at the bottom and let me know what you think. 

 

The First Factor: 2014 Performance

There are two types of out-of-nowhere contenders: the type that truly turns their season around, and the type that played better than their record one year prior.

Auburn in 2013 qualifies as the former. It was exactly as bad in 2012 as its 3-9 record indicated—and maybe even worse. It went from No. 105 in the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders to No. 4.

TCU in 2014 qualifies as the latter. It wasn't nearly as bad in 2013 as its 4-8 record indicated, ranking No. 44 in the F/+ ratings. The same can be said of Utah, which missed a bowl despite finishing No. 31.

Per the F/+ ratings, here are the six best power conference teams that finished the regular season with a losing record in 2014:

No team here qualifies as a true lurking giant, although Virginia compares closely with TCU in 2013. The Horned Frogs last season had the No. 94 offense and the No. 12 defense and finished three spots lower than the Wahoos. That is something to keep an eye on.

To be honest, though, none of these teams deserved to make a bowl game. They were all as below-average as their records indicate. But for some teams, playing below-average football is an improvement. For others, playing below-average football is a regression.

Which brings us to our second factor.

 

The Second Factor: Five-Year Performance

"The strongest indicator of how a college football team will perform in the upcoming season is their performance in recent seasons."

The above quote is a "basic" at Football Outsiders. It explains their methodology for college predictions, which use not only one year's performance but five years of data to analyze teams.

They elaborate on that process as follows:

It may seem strange because graduation enforces constant player turnover, but college football teams are actually much more consistent from year to year than NFL teams. Thanks in large part to consistency in recruiting, teams can be expected to play within a reasonable range of their baseline program expectations each season.

Our Program F/+ ratings, which represent a rolling five-year period of play-by-play and drive efficiency data, have an extremely strong (.76) correlation with the next year’s F/+ rating.

The point here is avoiding recency bias. It is tempting, after one bad season, to forget how well a program has performed in the past. But one bad season can be chalked up to myriad factors—injuries, close-game luck, etc. The five-year sample is a little more telling.

This is why Arkansas, TCU, Florida and West Virginia made last year's version of this article. They all finished with losing records in 2013, but they all enjoyed success the four years prior. And they all played better (some more so than others) in 2014.

Here is how the six teams above have fared over a five-year sample:

Michigan, predictably, stands out.

The Wolverines finished No. 37 in the F/+ ratings in 2013, No. 20 in 2012 and No. 9 during their Sugar Bowl run in 2011.

The steady decline in performance is disconcerting, but that they ranked so high so recently gives hope for the future. So does the fact that, according to Bud Elliot of SB Nation, they have recruited at a top-10 level despite their failings the past few seasons.

Beneath the Wolverines, teams like Oregon State, Northwestern and Texas Tech have all been slightly above average since 2010, and they've all had their highlights. The Beavers went 9-4 and were at one point ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll in 2012. Northwestern won 10 games that same season. The Red Raiders have won eight games in three of the past five years.

Virginia and Cal were better than Oregon State, Northwestern and Texas Tech in 2014, but they fail the longevity test. That doesn't mean they can't or won't contend for the playoff—in Cal's case, especially, there are reasons to believe they can.

But they'll have to overcome the odds to get there.

 

The Third Factor: Turnover Regression

"Turnover luck" is a shorthand definition for something a tad more complex. Good teams create turnovers, and bad teams fall victim to turnovers, and a lot of that is skill and discipline.

But a lot of that is also, for lack of a better term, random.

The ball takes a weird bounce on the turf. A defensive end bats the ball into the air instead of down to the ground. A safety drops a pass he should have caught. All of these things happen with regularity, but they're difficult for teams to control.

Because turnovers have such a massive impact on a game, however, certain outcomes are decided, in effect, by randomness. If the ball keeps bouncing the wrong way, a team that might have otherwise won seven or eight games might instead win four or five.

Hence, teams with fluky turnover margins tend to regress or progress to the mean the following season. Florida State, for example, finished No. 2 in the country with a plus-17 turnover margin in 2013. It finished No. 104 with a minus-six turnover margin this season. That is one of many reasons this year's 'Noles were not as good as last year's.

Here is how our bounce-back candidates stack up:

Texas Tech is an interesting case study. The Red Raiders struggle consistently with turnovers, having accrued a margin of minus-40 the past three seasons.

The easy stance to take is one of scapegoating: Kliff Kingsbury's system is too aggressive. He's too reckless. He doesn't train his players to take care of the ball. As long as he's in Lubbock, Tech will struggle with turnovers.

But the opposite stance suggests something different: that Texas Tech is "due" for a year of good turnover luck. Kingsbury has, after all, entrusted the offense to true freshman quarterbacks for most of the past two seasons. Whether Davis Webb or Patrick Mahomes starts in 2015, Tech will have more experience under center than it's had at any point since Kingsbury was hired.

There are reasons to believe in the defense next season, also.

Which brings us to our fourth (and final) point. 

 

The Lurking Factor: Coaching Changes

It doesn't take long to find the common thread between Auburn in 2013 and TCU in 2014.

Both teams made massive schematic changes.

Auburn hired Gus Malzahn as its head coach and Rhett Lashlee as its offensive coordinator and fixed its weaker unit to a staggering degree. TCU hired Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham as its co-offensive coordinators and fixed its weaker unit to a staggering degree.

Three of our six candidates fit the profile for next season.

First—and most noteworthy—Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh to be its new head coach. His track record at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers precedes him, and the fact that he brought his former offensive line coach, Tim Drevno, over from USC to be his offensive coordinator should help Michigan fix its weakest area (the trenches).

Oregon State, meanwhile, hired Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen after longtime boss Mike Riley left for Nebraska. It's hard to say for sure whether this was an upgrade or a lateral move, but it should be noted that Andersen is 29-9 the past three seasons (two in Madison, one at Utah State) and has a run-first mentality that fits the personnel in Corvallis, which includes star running back Storm Woods and five returning starters along the offensive line.

Finally, Texas Tech hired Houston defensive coordinator David Gibbs, whose attacking style helped the Cougars lead the country with 73 forced turnovers the past two seasons. Whether or not you believe in turnover luck, that is something. And even if the turnovers subside, Gibbs should bring a spark to the TTU defense.

"What they [Gibbs and new TTU defensive assistant Zac Spavital] were able to accomplish in their short time at the University of Houston is incredible," Kingsbury said in an official statement. "... Coach Gibbs will bring experience and ingenuity to our defensive unit."

Ingenuity turned a stale TCU offense into a playoff-worthy unit in 2014. Why can't it do the same for a stale TTU defense?

Might Texas have two turnarounds in a row?

 

In Conclusion

From the factors above, two teams stand out as potential out-of-nowhere playoff contenders: Michigan and Texas Tech.

The subjective part of me would offer Cal as a reasonable candidate, but the Bears don't fit the trends of this study. Sonny Dykes is a great head coach, Jared Goff is a great quarterback and the offense is dripping with potentially great skill players, but there's no precedent for a team with such a low five-year F/+ rating to contend at the national level. They might be next year's Utah or something.

But they won't be next year's Auburn or TCU.

The ultimate choice between Michigan and Texas Tech comes down to a matter of semantics. The Wolverines have a better chance to be good than the Red Raiders, and they fit the parameters of the study because they didn't make a bowl game this season.

But are we really willing to call Michigan, the winningest program in college football history, an "out-of-nowhere" contender? Is it really going to come from "out of nowhere?" Can we really say that with a straight face after Harbaugh decorates TV screens and magazine covers all offseason?

For posterity, I'd like to say the Wolverines are the most likely non-bowl team to make next year's playoff. But it's hard for me to call them a dark horse. This is Michigan. It's not coming out of nowhere. It's coming from the loudest 5-7 season in America.

The truest out-of-nowhere contender is Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are an active punch line—Kingsbury signed a contract extension for how long!?—but have the pieces in place to go far.

They have two capable quarterbacks. Both leading rushers return. So do seven of the top eight pass-catchers and (potentially) four starters along the offensive line. All-Big 12 tackle Le'Raven Clark has yet to declare for the NFL draft, and he still might, but the thought of his return makes this offense look scary on paper.

Also coming back next year (potentially) is Big 12 sack leader Pete Robertson at outside linebacker and all-conference honorable mentions J.J. Gaines and Justis Nelson in the secondary. That and the addition of inside linebacker Mike Mitchell, a former top-60 recruit who sat out in 2014 after transferring from Ohio State, gives Gibbs some pieces to work with in his first year with the defense.

Texas Tech has lost 13 of 18 games since starting 7-0 last season, but why look at the glass as three-fourths empty? The glass is also one-fourth full! Texas Tech was on a seven-game winning streak!

The Raiders play TCU at home and Baylor on a neutral field next season. They have a chance to score a quality nonconference road win at Arkansas. They weren't very good in 2014, but neither was TCU in 2013 nor Auburn in 2012. These things happen. It's football.

It's college football.

Guns Up! for 2015.

 

Note: Recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

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Gerald Willis Dismissed by Florida: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The Florida Gators have reportedly dismissed former 5-star recruit and defensive lineman Gerald Willis III from the team. 

Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun has the report:

Mark Wheeler of Inside the Gators has more:

The true freshman appeared sporadically for Florida this year, finishing with just 10 tackles on the season. He ran into trouble throughout the year with the program, even getting into a fight with quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg in October.

Willis made the most headlines when Florida faced Florida state in late November, however, as he shoved Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston in the face while he was standing on the sideline. The Florida staff sent him to the locker room for the duration of the game after the incident.

“If I was still the head coach, he’d be kicked off the team,” coach Will Muschamp told Jesse Simonton of the Miami Herald after the incident. “Ridiculous.”

After a season with more than one incident, it doesn't come as a huge surprise that the program has decided to part ways with Willis. Given the fact that he is a true freshman that obviously possesses huge upside and talent, however, Willis will likely land on his feet with another school

 

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X-Factors Heading into the CFB Championship Game

Ohio State and Oregon will square off in the first national championship game of the playoff era in college football.

Unlike previous national title games during the BCS era, there will be no long wait for the title game to unfold. The Buckeyes and Ducks will meet just 11 days after winning their semifinal games against Alabama and Florida State respectively.

That means both teams should be sharp and on top of their games, and neither team will be at a disadvantage as a result of a long layoff.

From a strategic point of view, the Buckeyes will improve their chances of winning if they can sustain their offense and put long drives together. This will not only help their productivity, but it will keep Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota off the field.

Both teams are loaded with overpowering talent, and in this feature we look at the X-factors from both teams who will likely have a huge influence on this title game.

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5 Stud Recruits Who Could Flip Heading into National Signing Day

The nation's top high school football players are coming down to the wire to decide where to play their college football, while other kids are changing their minds. 

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson sits down with 247Sports National Recruiting Analyst JC Shurburtt to discuss which top recruits could flip to other schools. 

Which recruit is most likely to flip?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Why Jim Mora Would Be a Fool to Leave UCLA for the Jets

It's probably a whole lot of nothing now. That much deserves to be stated right away. 

Before 2014 came to an end, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily Newstweeted that Charley Casserly, who was consulting for the New York Jets about their head coaching vacancy, reached out to UCLA head coach "Jim Mora's camp to inquire about buyout details in [his] contract." 

That turned into a report from Bruin Report Online (subscription required) that Mora was set to interview with the Jets...which turned into another report from the same outlet that Mora was not going to interview with the Jets. 

So here we are, full circle, and Mora is still the coach of the Bruins. 

But it's not like Mora has never been the subject of other coaching rumors at both the college and NFL levels. Recently, he was connected to the San Francisco 49ers job even before the franchise parted ways with Jim Harbaugh.

The coaching fraternity is a tight one. Chances are Mora, who has NFL head coaching experience with the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, will be a name that pops up in the coaching rumor mill for a while. Other than a brief graduate assistant stint at the University of Washington, his coaching resume has been at the NFL level. 

Mora has a great thing going at UCLA, though. He took over a program with a ton of potential in December of 2011 and has won 29 games in three years, including back-to-back 10-win seasons. In 2012, Mora's first season, he led the Bruins to a Pac-12 South title. 

In his own words on The Rich Eisen Show, Mora quashed any rumors of him going to New York (h/t Chris Vannini, CoachingSearch.com): 

I love college football. I really do. It fits me very well. I relate well to the players. They appreciate the emotion and the passion I coach with. I love UCLA. I think we've been able to do some good things. I love the young men I coach. When you make a commitment in recruiting to the families of the players, saying, 'I'm going to be your coach,' I take that seriously. It's not something I want to run out on.

Mora is recruiting at a high level as well—certainly high enough to keep the Bruins competitive in Pac-12 South/Pac-12 title races. 2014 was a tad disappointing—as disappointing as 10-3 with an Alamo Bowl win can be—in that preseason playoff hype wasn't reached.

It was also largely a young team, and Mora is setting up UCLA long term to finally meet those expectations. Roughly two-thirds of UCLA's starting 22 by the end of the year were either freshmen or sophomores, according to Ourlads

Josh Rosen, a 5-star pro-style quarterback, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, has enrolled early and is expected to be the future face of the team with Brett Hundley's departure. As Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News explains, Rosen would have plenty of help around him if he plays in 2015: 

If Rosen does win out this coming spring, he'll have the benefit of an offense that returns almost every significant piece — including a fully intact offensive line. [Center Jake] Brendel, a redshirt junior, said he has requested an NFL draft evaluation, but is definitely returning for his senior year. He will likely anchor a unit that includes four juniors.

Mora also brought in the No. 7 recruiting class in the country in 2013 and a top-20 class a year ago. If the recruiting season ended today, the Bruins would have the No. 15 class in the country. 

The important thing is not just that UCLA is pulling in top-25 recruiting classes, but that it's regularly recruiting at or near the top of the Pac-12. Talent should under no circumstances be an issue for Mora going forward. 

It's fun to joke that Mora would be leaving UCLA for lesser talent if he, hypothetically speaking, went to the Jets. That goes along the lines of, "Could Alabama beat the Jacksonville Jaguars?" The answer is a resounding "no." But the projection is that Mora won't be the coach that wins only with the previous guy's (Rick Neuheisel) players. 

And there is truth to the fact that the Jets have serious question marks, namely at quarterback. Mora knows firsthand the pressures of winning right away in the NFL. In 2010, he was fired as the Seahawks head coach after just one year. 

Compare that to UCLA, where Mora has tremendous administrative support. In December of 2013, he agreed to a six-year extension to take him through the 2019 season. The details of that extension dictate that Mora will make an average of $3.5 million a year through the life of the contract. 

If the rumors that NFL organizations are interested in Mora are a leverage play, UCLA is probably willing to shell out more. 

There may be a day when Mora returns to the NFL. It's a hard call not to consider. However, those decisions also regularly revolve around fit and timing. The backtracking from initial reports connecting Mora to the Jets would indicate the fit and timing isn't there.

Besides, Mora appears to be building something great at UCLA. There's nothing wrong with riding that out. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports

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Why Jim Mora Would Be a Fool to Leave UCLA for the Jets

It's probably a whole lot of nothing now. That much deserves to be stated right away. Before 2014 came to an end, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News tweeted that ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Alabama Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Crimson Tide

The dust has just about settled from Alabama’s Sugar Bowl defeat at the hands of Ohio State, and the Crimson Tide and their fans can firmly set their eyes toward the start of the 2015 season, which will kick off at AT&T Stadium against the Wisconsin Badgers.

But there are massive amounts of work to be done between now and September 5. Holes must be filled by departing players, next year’s roster needs to solidify, and players who haven’t seen much playing time will have an opportunity to step up. And of course, Alabama will also be looking for its third starting quarterback in as many years.

There will be no shortage of storylines to follow during the next few months.

Let’s take a closer look at what all will play out.

 

Fifth straight No. 1 class?

Alabama has pulled in 247Sports’ No. 1 recruiting class every year since the 2011 cycle. If the Crimson Tide could do that one more time, that would give them five straight No. 1 recruiting classes, meaning every player on Alabama’s roster was part of a No. 1 class.

Nick Saban and Co. already have 24 commitments for the Crimson Tide's 2015 class, which has a sizable lead for the top class once again. Can they pull off the feat for a fifth straight year?

Alabama is still waiting on a few of its top targets to announce. CeCe Jefferson and Damien Harris, both 5-stars, would be quite the finish for another recruiting class.

Crimson Tide coaches will be all over the road these next few weeks as national signing day nears, putting the finishing touches on 2015’s class, while getting a head start on 2016.

 

Possible staff changes

Now that the regular season is over, Alabama can hop on the coaching carousel that is already in full effect.

There likely won’t be any major shakeups at the top of the coaching food chain. Nick Saban can’t reiterate enough that Alabama will be the last stop of his career. Lane Kiffin told AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky that he will also be back for 2015:

Still, there are always a couple of shakeups at the positional level. Last year, Bo Davis returned as defensive line coach to replace Chris Rumph. And Kevin Steele moved from player personnel to inside linebackers coach to replace Kirby Smart, who moved to coach the secondary (in addition to being defensive coordinator) for the departing Greg Brown.

Where will changes come this year? Those will likely play out sooner rather than later to nail down the 2015 coaching staff in time to send new coaches on the road to recruit.

 

Another QB battle

It won’t get any bigger than this as far as offseason storylines.

Blake Sims is gone after his whirlwind run as a one-year starter. Jake Coker, now a fifth-year senior himself, will take another crack at the starting job after losing out to Sims a year ago. The strong-armed Florida State transfer showed off his physical tools but lagged in his grasp of the offense in a short time after enrolling in May.

Behind them, rising redshirt junior Alec Morris has the most experience of the bunch in terms of time on campus but has only seen a handful of garbage-time snaps, only handing off or kneeling down.

Cooper Bateman, a former 4-star from Salt Lake City, will be a redshirt sophomore. He showed promise at A-Day, throwing for 154 yards and a touchdown in a White team win. Bateman also brings a little bit of mobility to the position that was valuable for Sims in Kiffin’s offense.

David Cornwell was the star quarterback of the 2014 class and has a year under his belt redshirting. Blake Barnett, the highest-rated quarterback Saban has signed at Alabama, is already on campus and will go through spring ball as an early enrollee. A mobile type himself, the 5-star could be a dark horse to win the job despite his youth.

 

The next superstar?

Alabama is expected to lose the face of both its offense and defense to the NFL. Wide receiver Amari Cooper and safety Landon Collins, both juniors and the stars for their respective units, will likely be first-round picks in the 2015 NFL draft.

Cooper was Alabama’s biggest playmaker and star on offense, breaking just about every school receiving record, earning unanimous All-American status and being named a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Collins led the team in tackles and made several game-changing plays in the secondary.

In addition, Alabama loses Sims and likely running back T.J. Yeldon, too. While all of those players were stars on the field, they were also recognizable faces of the program. They were all over promotional material like posters and game programs.

Who will be the next batch of stars?

Running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake will get increased roles next year. Alabama will likely have three new starting wide receivers, too.

On defense, the focus star-wise should shift to the defensive line, where Jonathan Allen and A’Shawn Robinson will be in their third years. D.J. Pettway and Jarran Reed should make that unit extremely deep and talented.

And of course, whoever ends up as the quarterback will feel the spotlight bright and clear.

 

Defensive adjustments

Last offseason, we saw an overhaul of offensive philosophy.

Kiffin came in and was given near-complete control of that unit, changing things in a big way.

Alabama ran a lot more tempo and came out in more spread looks. It helped that Sims could use his legs on rollouts, read-options and designed runs. Kiffin used a number of different formation looks, too, and a focus on his star players to break single-season offensive records in 2014.

It was important, because Saban realized that his traditional offensive styles weren’t necessarily suitable in this climate of high-octane shootouts. He adapted, and it paid off.

Is it time to do the same on defense?

Saban and Smart have developed one of the most complex schemes in all of football. Former Alabama and current Atlanta Falcons cornerback Javier Arenas said last summer his NFL playbook is “not as complex as it was at 'Bama.”

Their system is built on a system of checks and substitutions from the sidelines and from players on the field to be able to defend every nuance of an offense after seeing where it lines up.

A lot of that breaks down, though, when teams go uptempo.

Alabama gave up nearly 500 yards per game over the last three games of the season against teams—Auburn, Missouri and Ohio State—that run some version of tempo. When teams go fast, Alabama can’t substitute the way it wants to and make all the necessary calls.

Will Saban and Smart overhaul their defense the way it did with the offense last offseason? Or will it be more of the same in 2015?

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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NCAA Unveils Program to Help Athletes' Families with Travel for Final Four, CFP

The NCAA is taking steps to help families see their student-athletes play on the biggest stage by creating a pilot program to cover travel expenses for the men's and women's basketball Final Fours. It also granted a waiver to allow the College Football Playoff to take similar steps for this year's national championship.

The NCAA made the announcement Tuesday afternoon:

The association's release shared details about the pilot program:

The NCAA will pay up to $3,000 total in travel, hotel and meal expenses for family members of each student-athlete who competes in the Final Four semifinal games but don't advance to the championships. The NCAA will pay up to $4,000 in expenses for each of the student-athletes who compete in the men's and women's basketball championship games. The College Football Playoff may provide up to $3,000 in travel expenses for families of each competing student-athlete.

NCAA President Mark Emmert commented on the program, per the release:

Championship experiences like the Final Four create memories of a lifetime for student-athletes, and we want to make sure their families are there to support and celebrate with them.

From multiyear scholarships to opportunities to return to school and complete their degree on scholarship, we have been dedicated to further improving the student-athlete experience since our presidential retreat in August 2011. Providing travel expenses for student-athletes' families is another example of this progress.

Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman commented on what the cost of the program would be for the College Football Playoff in the context of its revenue for the title game:

While the issue of paying student-athletes has been on the radar for the past few years, the transportation of families to watch their children play in high-profile sporting events is another topic that needed to be addressed. By implementing this pilot program, the NCAA has taken the steps necessary to make it possible for families to experience these moments together. 

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