NCAA Football

UCLA Football: Holiday Wish List for the Bruins

'Tis the holiday season for Jim Mora and the UCLA football program. For those adults longing for the days in which you can revert back to an eager youngster ready to ravage through gifts, this piece is for you...

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Pac-12 Football: Holiday Wish List for Every Team

Not every Pac-12 team is going bowling this holiday season, but everybody could use a few presents, and we're here to help pick out the very best ones.

For the league's lone playoff participant—the Oregon Ducks—there's nothing Nike Chairman Phil Knight can't buy that he hasn't already bought, and with the team going 12-1 and getting a shot at a national title, the wish list isn't too long.

On the other end of the spectrum, Colorado and Washington State could use a number of presents ranging from improved defenses to better recruiting and everything in between.

But whether your favorite team is coming off a two-win season or leaving behind a 12-win path of destruction, there's always room to improve. Let's take a look at the holiday wish list for every team in the Pac-12.

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Pac-12 Football: Holiday Wish List for Every Team

Not every Pac-12 team is going bowling this holiday season, but everybody could use a few presents, and we're here to help pick out the very best ones...

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Texas A&M Football: Why Kyle Allen Needs to Have a Big Liberty Bowl

The Texas A&M football team will play the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Liberty Bowl on December 29. Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen needs to have a good game for a number of reasons. 

The Aggies are 7-5 and going through a transition year. They are a very young team, and that youth extends to the quarterback position, where Allen is starting as a true freshman.

Allen has displayed the ability to win big games in the Aggies' 41-38 road victory over Auburn. He can write his place in Aggie football history if he were to lead the Aggies to a bowl win in his first year.

This is a look at why Kyle Allen needs to have a big game in the Liberty Bowl against West Virginia.  

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Florida State Wise to Extend Jimbo Fisher's Contract Before NFL Comes Calling

With a national title under his belt and a shot at another coming up in the next few weeks, Jimbo Fisher has the kind of resume that figures to make him an enticing option for NFL teams looking to dip into college for their next coach.

Florida State has recognized this, announcing Tuesday it inked Fisher to an eight-year contract extension through the 2022 season that should make it easier to keep him from jumping to the pros.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the release said Fisher—who was paid just under $3.6 million for this season—will be "one of college football's highest paid coaches." Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweeted that Fisher's average salary would be around $5.5 million, trailing only the Alabama's Nick Saban and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio.

Fisher's name hasn't been mentioned for potential NFL openings like other college coaches, such as Brian Kelly at Notre Dame or Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, but that could change soon, especially if he leads the Seminoles to a second straight FBS title next month.

The 49-year-old has spent his entire coaching career in college, with this being his fifth season in charge of FSU, but his combination of age, experience and success makes him a viable NFL candidate.

"I never had an urge to go to the NFL," Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi, who advocated for the Miami Dolphins to fire Joe Philbin to lure Fisher from FSU in the Dec. 17 column (though since then, Miami owner Stephen Ross announced Philbin would be retained for 2015). "I like college kids. I don't think you ever say never in this business—I've learned that—but I don't have a drive to go to the NFL; that's not an ultimate goal."

Fisher's public statements regarding the NFL can only be believed so much, since money can mean a lot. NFL teams can pay much more than college teams, as his reported $5.5 million average salary in the extension would only put him 11th if it were a pro contract.

Another motivating factor to head to the NFL would be avoiding dealing with major roster turnover again this offseason. This happens in the pros, too, but teams have a little more control over it than in college, where seniors graduate and some underclassmen declare early for the draft. FSU figures to lose quarterback Jameis Winston, among others, and this could lead to a rebuilding year in 2015.

But there was a similar concern heading into this season, yet FSU has a 29-game win streak going. And the recruiting success that Fisher and his staff has had should minimize the effect of the roster attrition, especially with Fisher's reputation for developing quarterbacks and commitments from two highly regarded passers for 2015.

Fisher also seems to genuinely like the challenge of the recruiting landscape, telling Bianchi, "I like the interaction of recruiting and then developing these college kids when they're 18-22 (years old). It's fun. It really is."

The move by FSU to ink Fisher to this long-term deal makes sense, and not just because it's easier than having to deal with a new coach search in the near future. He's winning, he's loved by the fanbase and his players, and he's managed to weather losing multiple coordinators to other programs without any on-field performance backslide. He's also helped steer the ship during the rough seas of controversy that have swirled around the program beyond just what Winston has been involved in.

While Fisher might be criticized by some for defending Winston and others in hot water too unwaveringly, that can also speak to his dedication to the program in that he's trying to separate football from non-football situations. It's also been cited by at least one incoming recruit, running back Jacques Patrick, as a reason for choosing FSU over other schools, as Josh Newberg of 247Sports.com reported:

After a season like this, with seemingly the entire college football world waiting (perhaps, hoping) for FSU to fall from its perch, the idea of bolting for a more lucrative gig in the NFL could have been very enticing. Fisher likely wouldn't have signed this deal if that was really an option for him, though, and Florida State wouldn't have made this extension if it didn't think Fisher was the guy it wanted to ride with for a long, long time.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Poinsettia Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Navy vs. San Diego State

The Navy Midshipmen and the San Diego State Aztecs are getting ready to do battle in the Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The game will kick off at 9:30 p.m. EST, and it will be televised on ESPN.

Navy comes into the game with a 7-5 record and automatically got the Poinsettia Bowl bid as soon as it defeated South Alabama. The Midshipmen have won five of their last six games because of their running game, which averages over 340 yards per game.

The Midshipmen are going up against a San Diego State team that also has a 7-5 record and can also run the ball. Running back Donnel Pumphrey leads the Aztecs. Pumphrey comes into the game with 1,755 rushing yards and only needs 88 yards to break the single-season school record.

Be sure to come back to this blog as soon as the game kicks off for the latest scoring updates, highlights and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Boca Raton Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Marshall vs. Northern Illinois

Marshall 17, Northern Illinois 7—Early 2nd Quarter

The Northern Illinois Huskies (11-2, 7-1 MAC) and Marshall Thundering Herd (12-1, 7-1 C-USA) are battling in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl.

ESPN is televising the meeting between conference champions. Bleacher Report is providing scoring updates and analysis. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

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Who Has More Impressive Coaching Tree, Urban Meyer or Nick Saban?

Urban Meyer and Nick Saban are more than just great head coaches; they're also great mentors, each sporting a long list of disciples who have succeeded on their own. 

Meyer's tree blooms from his two years at Bowling Green (2001-02), his two years at Utah (2003-04), his six years at Florida (2005-10) and his three years at Ohio State (2011-Present).

Saban's tree blooms from his one year at Toledo (1990), his five years at Michigan State (1995-99), his five years at LSU (2000-04), his two years with the Miami Dolphins (2005-06) and his eight years at Alabama (2007-Present).

Both trees are plenty impressive in their own right. But because everything between Meyer and Saban is a contest, we have to ask: Whose tree is more impressive?

To answer that, we've ranked each protege based on two factors: (1) how much they have accomplished since working under Meyer/Saban and (2) how influential Meyer/Saban were in their mentorship.

There is one current FBS head coach, for example, who falls on Meyer's coaching tree after serving one year as Utah's defensive line coach in 2004. His resume is more impressive than some of the students ranked above him, but he still ranks lower because Meyer played a less instrumental role in his development.

After ranking each coach, we pitted the five best Meyer pupils against the five best Saban pupils for a head-to-head comparison, then added some categories at the bottom to account for depth.

We'll score each matchup like a boxing round: 10-10 if the sides are even, 10-9 if there's a slight winner, 10-8 if there's a decisive winner and 10-7 if there's a blowout winner. At the end, we'll add up those grades to see which Sugar Bowl head coach has the better tree.

Meyer vs. Saban … ding ding ding.

 

1. Dan Mullen (Meyer) vs. Jimbo Fisher (Saban)

 

Breakdown

Mullen Under Meyer

  • Quarterbacks Coach, Bowling Green (2001-02)
  • Quarterbacks Coach, Utah (2003-04)
  • Offensive Coordinator, Florida (2005-08)

Fisher Under Saban

  • Offensive Coordinator, LSU (2000-04)

 

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has a better resume than Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. He has the better winning percentage. He's had the better teams. He's won three conference titles and one national championship.

But as members of Meyer's and Saban's respective coaching trees, the matchup is closer than that first table makes it appear.

Mullen is a true Meyer product. He followed Urban from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida, then left to take an SEC head coaching job. There was no in-between period in which he was mentored by, say, the second-winningest coach in college football history (and first if you listen to the NCAA record book), Bobby Bowden.

Fisher is less a Saban protege than a composite of Saban, Les Miles and Bowden, all of whom he served as offensive coordinator for multiple seasons. There were five years between Saban and Fisher's breakup and Fisher's first head-coaching gig. Mullen went straight from serving Meyer to running his own program.

That's enough to keep this one close.

Verdict: Saban 10, Meyer 9

  

2. Charlie Strong (Meyer) vs. Mark Dantonio (Saban)

 

Breakdown

Strong Under Meyer

  • Defensive Coordinator, Florida (2005-09)

Dantonio Under Saban

  • Defensive Backs Coach, Michigan State (1995-99)

 

Charlie Strong predated Meyer at Florida, serving as the defensive coordinator under Ron Zook in 2003 and 2004 and the interim coach when Zook was fired before the 2004 Peach Bowl. He was the only member of the previous regime that Meyer kept around, and the pair accomplished great things before Strong went to Louisville in 2010.

Mark Dantonio, like Jimbo Fisher, coached under Saban for five years but didn't become a head coach as soon as he left. Instead, he plied his trade under Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel for three seasons, then went off to become the head coach of Cincinnati in 2004.

Comparing Strong with Dantonio is difficult, if only because the latter has a six-year head start.

Strong has not accomplished what Dantonio has accomplished—i.e., lifting a program to its first Rose Bowl since 1987—but he's ahead of the curve. His Louisville teams were better than Dantonio's Cincinnati teams, and his first Texas team finished the regular season 6-6.

Dantonio's first Michigan State team finished 7-6.

On merit, these two are a wash. But again, Meyer gets the small edge for context. Strong was his defensive coordinator and left directly for his first head coaching job. Dantonio was Saban's defensive line coach and left for a three-year immersion program under Tressel.

Verdict: Meyer 10, Saban 9

 

3. Steve Addazio (Meyer) vs. Jim McElwain (Saban)

 

Breakdown

*Accepted head coaching position at Florida in December. 

Addazio Under Meyer

  • Offensive Line/Tight Ends Coach, Florida (2005-06)
  • Offensive Line/Assistant Head Coach, Florida (2007-08)
  • Offensive Coordinator (2009-10)

McElwain Under Saban

  • Offensive Coordinator, Alabama (2008-11)

 

Florida poached Jim McElwain away from Colorado State after the Rams went 10-2 this regular season. His hiring marks the second former Saban assistant (the first of whom we'll get to in a bit) the Gators have employed since Meyer left four seasons ago.

One in-house option they didn't get was Steve Addazio, who left Florida with Meyer and became the head coach at Temple. His 2011 Owls went 9-4 and posted their highest Simple Rating Score since 1986, which helped Addazio land the Boston College job in 2013.

Addazio and McElwain have similar reputations as smart offensive coaches. They have similar resumes, too. They have won more games the past two seasons than their talent level probably dictates.

McElwain landed a so-called "big job" before Addazio, but Addazio has already proved he can win in a power conference. Florida is banking on McElwain's upside, but we can't know for sure if he'll succeed.

This feels like it has to be a wash.

Verdict: Meyer 10, Saban 10

 

4. Kyle Whittingham (Meyer) vs. Jason Garrett (Saban)

 

Breakdown

*Garrett has only coached in the NFL; never college.

Whittingham Under Meyer

  • Defensive Coordinator, Utah (2003-04)

Garrett Under Saban

  • Quarterbacks Coach, Miami Dolphins (2005-06)

 

Jason Garrett's first coaching gig was under Saban, who hired the former quarterback as an assistant with the Miami Dolphins in 2005. Garrett bounced around the league as a backup for the better part of the previous decade and actually ended his career with a short stint in Miami in 2004—just one year prior to coaching there.

Kyle Whittingham was a Utah assistant for nine years before Meyer arrived in 2003 and retained his role as defensive coordinator with the new regime. After the Utes went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl in 2004, Meyer left for Florida and Whittingham succeeded him.

It's hard comparing Garrett's NFL career with Whittingam's college career, although it should be mentioned that both just enjoyed resurgent seasons. Garrett led the Dallas Cowboys to an NFC East title (and counting) after three straight 8-8 years, and Whittingham led Utah to a 9-4 record after two straight 5-7 years.

(It should also be mentioned that Whittingham won the biggest game of his career over Saban in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, capping a 13-0 season with a 31-17 romp over previously unbeaten Alabama.)

Still, the cache of Garrett (a) leading a Super Bowl contender after (b) starting his career under Saban gives him the slight edge in terms of impressiveness. Whittingham is more of a Ron McBride creation than a Meyer creation, no matter how well they fared in 2004. 

Verdict: Saban 10, Meyer 9

 

5. Doc Holliday (Meyer) vs. Will Muschamp (Saban)

 

Breakdown

*Fired as head coach at Florida, effective after regular season.

Holliday Under Meyer

  • Safeties/Associate Head Coach, Florida (2005-07)

Muschamp Under Saban

  • Defensive Coordinator, LSU (2001-04)
  • Assistant Head Coach, Miami Dolphins (2005)

 

Will Muschamp is the only non-head-coach on the featured section of this article. He was fired after losing 21 games in four seasons at Florida and is now the defensive coordinator at Auburn.

Doc Holliday was a valuable member of Meyer's defensive staff in Gainesville, where he helped coach Reggie Nelson into a Thorpe Award finalist. He left in 2008 after three seasons under Meyer and Charlie Strong, spent two years under Bill Stewart at West Virginia and has since done a fine job as the head coach at Marshall.

Muschamp is one of the best defensive coaches in football but didn't have the acumen to run a program—or at least he didn't at this stage of his career. Who's to say what the future might hold? Lane Kiffin has revamped his image after getting fired as the head coach at USC and enlisting as a coordinator under Saban. Muschamp does enough things well to enjoy a similar redemption on the Plains.

Until then, though, choosing Holliday over Muschamp is easy. He learned enough in his three years with Meyer to successfully rebuild the program at Marshall. There are benefits to coaching out of the spotlight, so the book on these coaches is still being written.

But right now, it's a decisive win.

Verdict: Meyer 10, Saban 8

  

6. Additional FBS Head Coaches

 

Breakdown

*Accepted head coaching position at Houston in December

 

Our first knockout blow!

Saban's tree lost an important branch when Muschamp flopped at Florida, the same way it lost an important branch when Derek Dooley flopped as the head coach at Tennessee.

But Meyer's tree supports nine current FBS head coaches, a total that just increased when Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman accepted the head coaching job at Houston.

"I've learned a couple things in my 16 years as an assistant," Herman told reporters at his introductory press conference. "Most of them were the last three years under Meyer, who is a fantastic mentor to me: one of the great champions in our great sport's history."

Gary Andersen only spent one year under Meyer at Utah but has quickly established himself as one of the 20 best head coaches in the country, and Tim Beckman just got Illinois to a bowl game. All around the country, Meyer proteges are leading FBS programs.

Saban only has the three. 

Verdict: Meyer 10, Saban 7

 

7. Additional FBS Coordinators

 

Breakdown

*Accepted defensive coordinator position at North Texas in December.

**Held a similar but less important assistant role from 2007-09.

 

Meyer's former assistants band together, which is how you end up with Vance Bedford running Charlie Strong's defense at Texas and Bill Gonzales and John Hevesy running Dan Mullen's offense at Mississippi State. Meyer has worked with all three of those coaches but functions more like their grand-mentor than their mentor.

Saban's former assistants disperse from one another. The only two who work together are Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison, but Craig and Harbison are from different eras of the Saban line.

Still, it's hard to pick one group of coordinators over the other.

Bedford, Gonzales and Hevesy are great at what they do. So are Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and Florida defensive coordinator (and current interim head coach) D.J. Durkin.

But Jeremy Pruitt won a national championship under Saban protege Jimbo Fisher last season, Todd Grantham coaches a heck of a Louisville defense and James Coley turned true freshman Brad Kaaya into one of the breakout quarterbacks of the season at Miami.

This seems like another wash.

Verdict: Meyer 10, Saban 10

 

8. Additional Non-FBS Coaches/Coordinators

*Also served as graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1997-98.

 

Breakdown

Saban left the NFL on terrible terms—so terrible that Pat Forde once wrote a column titled "Saban only lied when his lips were moving" for ESPN.com. And he was not the only one who felt that way.

But despite his own exit from the professional level, Saban's impact can be felt in just about every single corner of the league.

Four defensive coordinators are former Saban assistants, highlighted by one of the best: Dan Quinn of the Seattle Seahawks. And two of the top offenses in the NFL—those of the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots—are run by former Michigan State staff members Pat Shurmur and Josh McDaniels.

Meyer's only connection with the NFL is Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who is not a bad name to counter with. The Lions defense has been one of the best (and most surprising) units in the league, making Austin a hot name in coaching circles.

Combine that with Meyer's FCS connection—two former coordinators and a one former assistant are head coaches as the Championship level—and it's hard to call this a knockout. But the names on Saban's list are too good to call it a close round, either. 

Verdict: Saban 10, Meyer 8

 

Final Scorecard

Meyer wins the contest by a nose, riding the depth of his coaching tree past Saban even though Saban's four best disciples (Fisher, Dantonio, McElwain and Garrett) have a small edge over Mullen, Strong, Addazio and Whittingham.

The magnitude of FBS head coaches who once coached under Meyer is alarming. In six fewer seasons as a head coach, he has three times more proteges running their own programs. And two-thirds of those proteges (six of nine) are coaching in a power conference.

Ironically, one of the biggest things holding Saban back against Meyer is one of the biggest reasons for Alabama's success: the fact that Kirby Smart is still his defensive coordinator.

Smart has been the Strong to Saban's Meyer during the current Alabama "dynasty," keeping the defense stable over time. He has been vetted by bigger jobs but never found the right opportunity to spread his wings and fly without his Mama Bird.

If he had, this conversation might be different.

It's also important to remember that a big part of this breakdown was subjective. Like an actual round-by-round boxing match, I do not expect one judge's scorecard will look the same as the next. Whether Meyer won by unanimous decision, majority decision or didn't win at all is up to you. There's a chance I'm the dissenting opinion.

So chime in with your own grades below!

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Sugar Bowl Will Be Monumental Audition for Ohio State's Cardale Jones

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The cliche goes that you play for the name on the front of your jersey, not the one on your back. But Cardale Jones knows that when he takes the field for the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day, he'll be playing for both.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, given Jones' status as Ohio State's third option at quarterback this season. When you're as unproven as Jones, who has started just one game in his college career, every opportunity is a chance to show just what you're capable of and why you're deserving of more playing time.

Only most auditions don't come on a stage as large as Jones' will, a national semifinal matchup with Alabama in the first-ever College Football Playoff. But that's exactly the situation that the redshirt sophomore signal-caller currently finds himself in, with a still-uncertain future looming past Jan. 1.

Because even as Jones has the opportunity to lead the Buckeyes to a national championship, the future of Ohio State's quarterback position still appears to be J.T. Barrett.

A third-team All-American and the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, Barrett rewrote the Buckeyes' record book as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and is expected to be fully recovered from the fractured ankle he suffered against Michigan in time for the start of 2015 fall camp.

Jones knows this, which is why as the 2014 regular season drew to a close, he questioned whether or not he'd remain with the Ohio State program moving forward. According to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, a transfer seemed inevitable after Jones discussed his status with Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman.

“Dude, come on, let’s do the math here. J.T. is younger than me, he’s the future right there," Jones said, per Thamel. "You want me to stick around and be the third quarterback forever?”

Barrett's injury put any transfer talk for Jones on the back burner, as did his MVP performance in Ohio State's 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. But with Barrett returning—and injured two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller potentially doing the same—the Sugar Bowl remains an audition for Jones in front of an audience of more than just one.

Just who will be keeping an eye on Jones' big day?

 

Ohio State

Even with all that will be on the line, it remains almost inconceivable that Jones could do enough in the Buckeyes' next game (or two) to unseat Barrett. But then again, stranger things have happened.

After all, nobody expected Barrett to play as well as he did in Miller's absence, seemingly giving him the inside track to be Ohio State's starting quarterback in 2015 in the process.

If Jones plays as well as he did against Wisconsin (12-17, 257 YDS, 3 TDs) while leading the Buckeyes to a national championship, the 6'5", 250-pounder would certainly have a compelling case to turn an already budding quarterback controversy in Columbus into a three-man race.

That may be putting the cart before the horse given that beating the Crimson Tide will be a tough enough task in and of itself, but it's worth noting that of Barrett, Miller and Jones, only Jones is expected to be at full strength for the start of spring practice.

Three impressive games would be an awfully small sample size for Urban Meyer to use as the basis for a potential program-altering decision, but should Jones bring the Buckeyes a national championship, it's hard to imagine that the idea of sticking with him won't at least be discussed at Ohio State.

And for Jones, that may be enough to stay, considering the Buckeyes' current question marks at quarterback. Between Barrett's injury and the potential that Miller leaves for the NFL or as a graduate transfer, Jones could very well take his chances staying in Columbus with whatever momentum he gains in the coming weeks.

 

 

Transfer Destinations

A transfer to another school for Jones would be tricky, given both his age and limited remaining eligibility. And if it's Jones' goal to get on the field as soon as possible, it wouldn't seem to make sense for the 22-year-old to sit out 2015, per NCAA transfer rules, in order to start somewhere as a senior in 2016.

But as Thamel mentioned, it's an idea that Jones has entertained before, so it's something that must be discussed. It's also possible that he could transfer to a Division I-AA/FCS school, where he would be granted two years of immediate eligibility.

Should the former 3-star prospect take the FCS route, one school that would seem to make sense as a potential destination would be Youngstown State.

Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini just took over the Penguins program, and YSU president Jim Tressel was the head coach who first recruited Jones to Ohio State. Also, Jones' mentor and high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr., has maintained a close relationship with Tressel, and on the surface, a return to Northeast Ohio would seem to make sense for all parties involved.

That, however, is purely speculation, as Jones is yet to publicly state a desire to leave the Buckeyes program—regardless of the outcome of the Sugar Bowl or anything beyond. In fact, to this point, he's said all the right things, maintaining that his focus has been directed toward beating Alabama.

"At some point, but this is not the point," Jones answered when asked if he's focusing on how his playoff performance could affect his future. "Next season is so far away. We're trying to do something that's bigger than all of us, period."

 

The NFL

This is the unlikeliest of scenarios, as the limited tape on Jones would make it difficult for any professional team to use a valuable draft pick on the third-year sophomore. But a big outing against Alabama and subsequently either Oregon or Florida State could conceivably put him on NFL teams' radars, especially considering how he already performed against the Badgers' second-ranked defense.

That's not all that would be working in Jones' favor either, as his size is also ideal for a pro passer. His arm strength (he claims to be capable of throwing the ball 80 yards) would likely leave scouts drooling, and has already been compared to that of former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell.

Personal problems derailed Russell's career with the Raiders, and teams would certainly question Jones' pattern of admitted immature behavior throughout his time in Columbus. Quite frankly, it's just hard to believe that Jones will be capable of doing enough in the next three weeks to convince a team to draft a player with just three—or fewer—career starts to his credit.

But at 22-years-old and with a newborn daughter, Jones may opt to think about his professional prospects sooner rather than later. He certainly has the raw skills to catch on at an offseason camp or at least land on teams' radars for 2015 or 2016.

And with the backdrop of the College Football Playoff and a high-profile opponent like Alabama, he also has the stage to make the most of his next audition. The fact that he's even in a position to potentially turn one of these possibilities into a reality just goes to show that you shouldn't rule anything out when it comes to Jones' football future.

 

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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Jimbo Fisher and FSU Agree to New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

After leading Florida State to a national title last season and to the first-ever College Football Playoff this year, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher signed an extension with the school.

FSU announced the new contract:

Florida State University Director of Athletics Stan Wilcox announced today that the school and head football coach Jimbo Fisher have agreed to a new eight-year contract through the 2022 season. Fisher's new contract will include an increase in salary that will make him one of college football's highest paid coaches.

Fisher spoke about the decision to extend his tenure at FSU in the school's announcement:

I am honored to be the head coach at Florida State University, which I've said many times before. I appreciate that FSU believes in what we are doing and supports our goal of maintaining one of the best programs in the country. It is a privilege to coach the young men in our program. It is truly a family.

Florida State is a very special place. I appreciate the support of the administration in accomplishing some great things. We have improved in a number of areas over the years, and the commitment to providing the very best in academics, facilities and maturation and growth opportunities for our young men has been key to our success. I look forward to continuing to build on what we are establishing.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports provides more contract details:

Fisher is 58-10 in five seasons with the Seminoles, leading the team to three straight ACC championships. The Seminoles are currently in the midst of a 29-game winning streak though extending that streak to 30 games will be a tough task against Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and the explosive Oregon Ducks. 

Where Florida State was often dominant last year, it seemed to survive this season, winning seven games by a touchdown or less. That left some to question if Florida State would even reach the playoff despite being undefeated this season while others felt the team should have been the No. 1 seed as the only undefeated team in the country.

Fisher only cared that the team reached the final four teams, as he told Joe Schad of ESPN:

Regardless, Fisher has certainly proved he's up to the task at Florida State. Replacing a legend like Bobby Bowden is a tall task for anyone, namely someone who had no previous head coaching experience at any level, but Fisher has handled the role with aplomb.

And it appears he'll continue doing so for many years down the line.

Starting quarterback Jameis Winston is widely expected to enter the 2015 NFL draft. Winston has shined in his two seasons under center, so it will be interesting to watch how Fisher's team fares with a new leader at the position.

The Seminoles already have four 5-star recruits in the 2015 class, a group that ranks second overall in the country, per 247Sports' composite rankings, so they certainly have a new wave of talent on the horizon. There's little doubt Fisher will make the most of it.

 

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The Memphis Blueprint for Rebuilding a College Football Team

A team that won a total of 10 games over the course of four lifeless, talent-deprived seasons matched that number in less than four months in 2014. 

After a flood of offense, a gravity-defying 54-yard game-tying field goal in overtime, a game-winning interception in double overtime and a wild postgame fracas unlike any in recent history, Memphis did more than conquer BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl.

It emerged from program purgatory. 

Between 2010 and 2013, the Tigers were outscored by 305 points. They were the poster child of a dysfunctional program. They were hopeless and helpless. In 2014, thanks to one of the nation’s premier defenses followed by a flurry of touchdowns at the season’s conclusion, they flipped the script entirely. 

This was no fluke. By taking various steps—headlined by finding the ideal head coach (and staff) poised for the makeover—Memphis broke through. It was unexpected, but it was BY design.

As a result, it is now the blueprint for countless others to follow.

 

The Rise, Fall and Rise of Memphis Football

Dave Woloshin remembers rock bottom. He remembers narrating the week-to-week ineptitude of one of the worst programs in college football, a stretch in which Memphis won five games over the course of three seasons.

“I would sit through the first quarter and start using every note that I had for the broadcast,” Woloshin, the radio voice of the Tigers, said. “By the second quarter, it was already fill time.”

Since 1986, Woloshin has helped relay Memphis athletics to the masses. He has worked on television and radio, watching the football program undergo various makeovers.

As bad as it was, Woloshin recalls some program highs—like when his friend, former Memphis coach Tommy West, guided the Tigers to new heights and national respect with the helping hand of the magnificent DeAngelo Williams, one of the best collegiate running backs of our time.

After putting the program on the map in the early 2000s, however, West couldn’t sustain the expectations he helped create. In 2009, after a two-win season, West was relieved of his duties as head coach.

Before he exited, West delivered a memorable, uncensored press conference that highlighted the obstacles hindering the program. This was not rock-bottom, although it was close.

Larry Porter, the coach tabbed to follow West’s footsteps, left his station as running backs coach at LSU to lead a different set of Tigers. He lasted two seasons, winning just three games.

“It was sad,” Woloshin said. “Memphis had proven that the town could get turned on by football. We were getting 40,000 to games not long before this.”

Interest plummeted. Hope vanished. Fans who were on the fence about supporting the program—something West had touched on during his departure—removed themselves from the picture entirely.

“The Tigers announced a crowd of 14,992 on Saturday,” The Commercial Appeal’s Geoff Calkins wrote after a loss to Central Florida in late November of 2010. “If there were more than 4,000 in the place, I'm DeAngelo Willams.”

This was rock-bottom. This was the most unwatchable team in the nation now looking for another head coach after only two seasons.

After dabbling with the possibility of hiring Jim McElwain—Florida’s most recent hire—it settled on an unproven offensive coordinator in his mid-30s.

Justin Fuente was lured away from TCU and was named the Memphis head coach in 2012. Untested and unknown, Fuente was handed an impossible program with no expectations to speak of.

 And then, his team hit the field.

“The very first practice I ever went to, I knew we had something,” Woloshin said. “I saw that and said that this guy was different.”

He was.

On Monday, Fuente led Memphis past BYU 55-48. This was the Tigers’ first bowl win since 2005 and their first 10-win season since 1938. He did so with a new five-year contract that will pay him $1.4 million in the first year and escalate throughout, according to Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated.

From 3-9 to 10-3 in one calendar year—with two of the three losses against UCLA and Ole Miss, two Top 12 teams at the time—Fuente has brought the program back from the dead.

Along the way, he left a trail to follow.

 

Step One: Find Your Template

All rebuild efforts have to start somewhere. For Memphis, it began in Fort Worth.

Before Fuente could implement his program foundation, he first had to take the job and abandon his post as co-offensive coordinator at TCU. Given everything the Tigers’ program had been through in recent years, this was a decision that took some massaging.

“I thought long and hard about it,” Fuente told Bleacher Report. “I went into it with my eyes wide open, and I knew it hasn’t been a healthy situation. But I also knew it wasn’t that long ago that they had success.”

Ultimately, he decided to take the leap of faith. Fuente alerted TCU head coach Gary Patterson that he was leaving and received Patterson’s blessing as he packed up the U-Haul. He arrived at TCU still fresh, with some experience at Illinois State to draw from. He left with a wealth of knowledge on how to run a program.

Fuente didn’t dive into this endeavor by his lonesome. He leaned on the advice and direction of former Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship—who just so happened to be his coach back at Union High School in Oklahoma, where Fuente was a star quarterback—and Patterson, who Fuente studied intently at TCU.

“I’m not sure either one had specific knowledge of this job as much as specific knowledge of how to go about building a program,” Fuente said. “We had a system that worked. To me, that was something you could hold on to. That was a constant for me.”

Fuente came from a place that went 55-10 in his time at the program—including 36-3 during his final three seasons.

Why wouldn’t he bring these proven philosophies with him?

“I had a great relationship with Gary Patterson when I worked for him, and I wanted to take everything we did program-wise from there and put it here,” Fuente said. “I’m not talking about the eight-man front or the way we ran the offense. I’m talking about the way we practiced and the way we ran our offseason.”

From a structural standpoint, Fuente shocked the system by channeling enormous influence from one of the nation’s most successful head coaches. On a more individual level, he also brought with him the mentality his mentor displayed during the week-to-week grind.

“Gary’s drive fascinated me,” Fuente said. “His ability to put aside a victory and immediately turn his focus toward the next opponent was uncanny. He was completely dialed in on the opponent throughout the entire week, and that was fascinating on a personal level.”

This year, Fuente was named one of eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. Joining him in this honor were Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, Mark Helfrich, Art Briles, Bryan Harsin and the eventual winner, Gary Patterson.

 

Step Two: Work Your $% Off

Woloshin’s rave review of the first Fuente-led Memphis practice he was in attendance for was not the sentiment felt within. In fact, the head coach tasked with reshaping the program didn’t exactly match his response.

“It was a nightmare. It was awful. We couldn’t even make it through it, first of all,” Fuente said. “We weren’t physically conditioned enough to do it. It was as an everyday battle, and it still is. It’s still not where I want it to be. I wouldn’t want Coach [Patterson] to see us.”

His thoughts years later mirrored his impressions following the team's first practice in pads.

While practices were a struggle early on, Fuente was not without talent to work with.

Recruiting is a critical part of any rebuild; it’s also vital in sustaining a certain level of success. While Fuente’s predecessor had been unable to deliver tangible results, Porter did attract marquee talent who eventually paid off.

Still, that talent had to develop. And while Fuente had more in place than many realize—something that ultimately led him toward the job—turning potential into something more is where most rebuild efforts do a nosedive.

That’s where practice comes in; it’s the heart and soul of every sports team at every level and an enormous part of Fuente’s success. Working alongside defensive coordinator Barry Odom—one of the brightest defensive minds in the country—the two zeroed in on improving and developing through repletion.

“It’s the most crucial part,” Fuente said on the importance of practice. “You have to get the most out of your time on the field, and it’s still not where I want it to be. If Coach Patterson were to come to our practice, I’m not sure he would say it’s where it needs to be. But that’s what we’re striving for.”

Fuente’s frustration early wasn’t about learning a set of plays or a given system; it was simply a matter of being able to take reps at the intended pace. Woloshin, having attended hundreds of practices in various places in his time covering the sport, recalls what he watched.

“It blew me away,” Woloshin said. “It was choreographed, it was on the move, and those guys never stopped. It was like watching a hockey line change.”

It’s one thing to take a proven plan and mimic the ingredients. It’s another to exhaust all resources to ensure that it is followed.

This, in a way, is the easy part. The path to success is defined by the work you apply. Doing it over the course of years—and ensuring that time and progress are on the same distinct upward path—is another battle entirely.

 

Step Three: Savor The Journey and Celebrate Small Victories

Not every step of the rebuilding process revolves around work, repetition and planning. Most do, but not all.

In fact, appreciating the growth and celebrating the results—as insignificant as they might appear to those outside of the building—is fuel to move forward.

Winning a national championship is always the goal. Of course it is. But when you start at the bottom, there’s something to be said about admiring the climb. In many ways, this is where the satisfaction lies.

“It’s hard to do this and you don’t have to tell anybody about it,” Fuente said. “But inwardly you have to take some satisfaction in small steps. If not, you drive yourself crazy.”

Although Fuente’s team only won three games in 2013, the progress was evident.  Even though it took a small step back in terms of overall wins—winning three games versus four in his debut season—Fuente saw the change in the works. 

Practices got better. Players developed. The performance, despite what the win column said, improved. This was the year that set the table for 2014, especially on the defensive side. It was no setback.

The Tigers made life difficult on former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, almost beating Louisville. Memphis also lost to UCF, an eventual BCS bowl winner, by only seven points.

“We were close to winning games last year,” Fuente said. “We played very good defense, we just didn’t score many points. We played some really close games against good people.”

Close losses will eventually get you fired. But given the way Memphis was trending prior to last season, this was a critical step forward. It didn’t come with wins—not yet, at least—but it set the foundation for things to come.

It is in our nature to be consumed by results and, in particular, wins. Pull back the box score, however, and you can find (and appreciate) small improvement.

For a head coach navigating this enormous operation, simply acknowledging these developments can be vital. It can tell you where you need to focus, but more importantly, it can justify the message and methods being taught.

Take note of Fuente’s barometer of success, fellow coaches.

“A win is the end goal and you have to do that to keep your job, but being able to see it moving forward has got to be able to fuel you and drive you.”

 

Step Four: Develop a Personal Covenant

The main ingredients are rather obvious, although the last part of the rebuild is where most efforts derail. You need to find that special something, that one missing element you can’t quite put your finger on. Along those lines, your message can’t be lost along the way.

You need to find your own Memphis Family Covenant.

“If we could adhere to the Covenant,” Fuente said on the 2014 season. “I thought we had a chance.”

The Memphis Family Covenant, according to Fuente, boils down to playing “selfless” football. It’s about “playing for each other,” he added.

It’s not something we could ever understand, even with his description laid out on the table. It’s something exclusive to the team and locker room, which is precisely why it’s so valuable. To know it, you must experience it.

As a result, playing for Memphis has become a luxury. And that was the case long before the Tigers won 10 games.

“We have a group of seniors here that have been through a lot,” Fuente said. “Seeing the health of the team, the kids enjoying playing football and having success, that’s where my satisfaction comes from.”

Along the way, Fuente has been able to adjust his style and slowly drift away from what got him to this point. That might seem strange given the level of success he has worked toward, although the plan was to never simply hold serve, especially for a coach still in the infant stages of his career.

As Fuente has settled in—and as his players have bought in—he’s eased into his comfort zone. With a 10-win season and a bowl win on his resume, this part of his voice should only continue to evolve.

“I think I’m more myself than I was the first couple of years,” Fuente said. I can’t be Coach Blankenship or Coach Patterson; I’ve got to find a way to adjust my style to my personality so we get the results these coaches have gotten.” 

This is Fuente’s own personal covenant: the satisfaction of appreciating results and the endless search for more.

“Other people watch us and say we’re doing a good job,” Fuente said. “But we’re not there." 

What began with the methods of some of the sport’s brightest minds has morphed into something spectacular, something that’s far easier to outline than it is to execute.

To rebuild a program from the ground up, you need to follow the steps Fuente laid out. You need to find success through others and incorporate the wisdom of people who have done it before. You need to make the most out of your practice, exhausting each and every hour given in creative ways. You need to celebrate, build on and learn from success, even if these conversations don’t take place in plain sight. 

The one final item necessary for a true rebuild just so happens to be the most important. It's also the most difficult to achieve and ultimately the place so many teams will fail and have to reset once more, hoping to get it right the next time. 

It’s also not a point that Fuente touched on while articulating the necessary blueprint, nor would you expect him to.

You need to find a Fuente to begin. Good luck.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 College Football Recruits with Most Star Potential

Reinforcements are on the way.

The sadness that comes with the end of a college football season can be tempered by knowing there's a large pool of talent waiting to show up on campuses and contribute right away. The 2015 recruiting class is as strong as any in the past decade, and with freshmen making more of an impact than ever, many of these prospects will end up starting next fall.

And several have the chance to be stars right out of the gate.

The 2014 class featured the likes of LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook among the many true freshmen who have already become stars.

Who's in line to do that from the 2015 crop? Check out our list of some of the recruits that have the most star potential.

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Did Sports Illustrated Purposely Leave Jameis Winston's Name off Its Cover?

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston received the honor of being on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated this week, but there is a pretty glaring omission.

Sports Illustrated came up with four regional covers as part of its College Football Playoff preview. Take a look at all of the covers:

For some reason, Winston is the only cover athlete whose name is not in bold letters on the cover. Alabama's Blake Sims, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Cardale Jones each had their names featured on the cover. Winston did not.

The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner did receive a special little blurb in the corner of his cover that none of the other cover athletes got, but it focused on his off-field issues.

Of course, Seminoles fans would only notice that Winston received "special treatment" if they saw all four covers. 

It's not known if Winston's cover was different intentionally, but it does seem a bit odd that each cover did not follow the same template.

[FSU FootballSports Illustrated; h/t Twitter, The Big Lead]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Mariota Named 2014 Associated Press Player of the Year

The accolades keep coming for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Two weeks after being named the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, the junior has been named The Associated Press Player of the Year.     

According to a tweet from SportsCenter, Mariota has become the first player from the school to win the AP honor:

Per Ralph Russo of The Associated Press, Mariota was a landslide winner in the balloting conducted by members of The AP Top 25 panel:

Mariota won the AP vote in the same landslide fashion he won the Heisman Trophy. He received 49 of the 54 votes submitted by the AP Top 25 media panel. Alabama receiver Amari Cooper drew three votes. Wisconsin running back (Melvin Gordon) and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston had one vote each.

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich commented on Mariota, via Russo.

"He's an absolute competitor, an incredible perfectionist," Helfrich said.

In addition to this AP honor and the Heisman, Mariota has also won the Maxwell Award (College Player of the Year), Walter Camp Player of the Year, Davey O'Brien Award (Nation's Best Quarterback) and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. 

Mariota is busy preparing his Oregon team to play Florida State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 as part of the inaugural College Football Playoff. He's also poised to be one of the top players taken in the 2015 NFL draft if he decides to leave school early. 

He has already done plenty to distinguish himself as one of the top football players in the country, though a strong showing in the Rose Bowl would be a great way for him to finish an already terrific season.

There's little doubt that NFL teams at the top of the draft will be eager for a chance to land Mariota as a potential franchise player under center in the near future.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Davon Durant to Arizona State: Sun Devils Land 4-Star LB Prospect

The latest decision from coveted recruit Davon Durant is in. The talented inside linebacker chose Arizona State, providing a major boost to the Sun Devils' 2015 class.

Doug Haller of AZCentral.com confirmed the school choice:

Davon Durant, considered the top junior-college linebacker in the country, on Tuesday signed with Arizona State, a key boost to the Sun Devils' 2015 recruiting class.

Durant (6-2, 240 pounds) had committed to ASU in October, but recently considered Oregon and Mississippi. He brings impressive credentials.

It's been a whirlwind process for the junior college star. He originally committed to South Carolina before switching his allegiance to Arizona State. The recruitment continued, however, with Oregon and Ole Miss among the programs that jumped into the heated race.

He told Andrew Nemec of The Oregonian earlier in the month that his parents' input was going to play a major role in the final decision.

"I'm still deciding. I'm waiting to hear back from my parents and see what they think about stuff," Durant said. "Once the (Oregon) coaches get out to meet my parents, I'll know for sure. Right now, I'd have to say I'm leaning toward Arizona State. They've already met my parents."

Durant is a 4-star prospect who rates inside the top 10 among junior college prospects, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also checks in as the best inside linebacker coming out of the JUCO ranks for the 2015 class.

He played in five games for Butler Community College in Kansas this season. The sophomore racked up 46 total tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.

The experience he gained at that level should allow him to make a smooth transition. As a result, he figures to make a quick impact following the jump. He's definitely got the skill set necessary to become an impact defender.

Durant has good size (6'2'', 240 pounds) and has excelled in run defense. He attacks the line aggressively, shedding blockers with ease. And while he's not the best overall athlete in the class, he features enough short-area quickness to fill the key role in the middle of the defense.

The one area where he'll be tested is when he's called on in coverage. Athletic tight ends who can stretch the field vertically could give him problems. Aside from that, he's filled the numerous role of an inside linebacker very well.

Greg Powers of Scout notes he's also showed some promised coming off the edge:

Durant is a player who currently spends most of his time on the edge of the defense, shutting down his half of the field. He has a scary size/speed combination and will chase plays and run down ball carriers from one side of the field to the other. He is big and physical and makes sound tackles. Coming off the edge he asserts an abundance of pressure on the opposing offense. Instant impact LB.

It's a situation where the defensive coaching staff could move him around the defense to create matchup advantages. He'll likely spend most of his time on the inside. That's where he was able to set himself apart as a top recruit for 2015.

Durant should have little trouble making a swift impact next fall. His ranking and the widespread interest illustrate his talent. Now he just needs to prove it on the field.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Davon Durant to Arizona State: Sun Devils Land 4-Star LB Prospect

The latest decision from coveted recruit Davon Durant is in. The talented inside linebacker chose Arizona State, providing a major boost to the Sun Devils' 2015 class. Doug Haller of AZCentral...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Class of 2015 College WRs Deserves More Respect, Will Make Big Impact in NFL

The 2014 wide receiver draft class was billed by publications like USA Today, Sporting News and Scout.com as perhaps the best class ever. It featured five first-round selections, and the production from rookies thus far has matched the hype. 

Go down the list of names—Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans—and the talent is once-in-a-generation worthy. 

But what do you say about the group that comes after the best draft class? That's the perception battle the wide receiver class of 2015 is fighting. Amari Cooper (Alabama), DeVante Parker (Louisville), Kevin White (West Virginia) and Devin Funchess (Michigan) are just some of the names looking to show they're every bit as good as members of the '14 class. 

"It's not as deep as last year's class," said Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller. "Last year was unreal. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans were rare talents.

"But it's that second tier—White, Strong, Funchess—that is as good as last year's."

How does this year's group stack up against the '14 class? The list is incomplete as more underclassmen could declare for the NFL draft. USC's Nelson Agholor, for example, hasn't officially declared for the draft but is considering his options, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times

Furthermore, combine/pro-day results can shuffle the order of things. However, here's how the upcoming '15 class looks on the surface.

 

Key Names

(*Underclassmen who have not officially declared for the draft.)

The first thing to know about this group is, at the top, it's full of big-bodied players. Then again, big guys are almost always going to get the first look. An exception, for example, would be a speedy receiver who offers another dimension, a la Tavon Austin. 

"Amari Cooper is not the biggest guy, but he is prototypical," Miller said. "Then you look at Parker, White and Strong—these are huge receivers, Demaryius Thomas types." 

The other thing to know is that the top of the class is largely raw in talent. Whether it's Strong or White coming in from the JUCO ranks, or Funchess transitioning from a tight end to a wide receiver, this group has a lot of learning to do. What franchises are banking on is that these players meet their upside. 

"Sammie Coates is a fantastic athlete, but he's raw," Miller continued. "Strong is still learning how to be a route-runner. Funchess is a hybrid guy. 

"Even Parker, a finished product, was hurt this year and had to pick things up again."  

 

Under-the-Radar Names

Like any other position, sometimes the mid-to-late-round wide receiver picks come through in ways no one thought possible. They may not have the best measurables but are extremely productive. 

No one seems to embody that type better than Kansas State's Tyler Lockett. The senior leaves as K-State's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, passing his father, Kevin Lockett, along the way. 

Lockett isn't the biggest receiver, but he is a polished route-runner and simply knows how to get open. How he'll translate to the NFL remains to be seen, but Miller thinks Lockett will find a spot somewhere. 

"You know guys like Tyler Lockett and Rashad Greene could be third-round picks, but you know they'll be super productive," Miller said. 

 

Who Will Shine?

Predicting which players will transition successfully to the NFL is, at its core, a guessing game. High-risk picks can come through, and sure things can fizzle quickly. 

However, early indications are that the '15 wide receiver draft class could have some touted prospects. 

Seven receivers made Miller's latest top 64. In other words, seven receivers are considered among the best 64 players available at this time. Again, that is likely to change over time, and "best available" doesn't always equal being selected. 

For reference, though, the 2014 draft saw 12 receivers go in the first 64 picks. 

But what matters most is not when receivers get selected, but where. That, Miller said, is the best indicator of production. 

"There's no guarantee [Giants receiver] Odell Beckham Jr. would be playing as well as he is without Eli Manning. There's no way to know how [Eagles receiver] Jordan Matthews would work in San Francisco," Miller said. "You have to wait and see."

The '15 wide receiver class likely won't carry the same buzz as the one before it. It may not be as great at the top or as deep, but don't mistake that for a total lack of star power. The wide receivers from this year have the raw talent to be future No. 2 and No. 1 guys in the NFL. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ronald Jones Sets Decision Date: Is USC or Notre Dame Best Bet for 4-Star RB?

Texas running back Ronald Jones is ready to decide where he'll play college football. The McKinney North High School standout will select either USC or Notre Dame when he announces his commitment Jan. 2 at the Under Armour All-America Game, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

Jones, a 6'0", 185-pound playmaker, previously pledged to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys lost grips on that commitment earlier this month after an eight-month verbal pact. 

He already spent official visits at both of his finalists, fueling speculation that a decommitment was imminent. Jones, rated ninth nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, rushed for 4,400 yards and 67 scores during the past two seasons. 

Now that this pursuit is down to a two-team race, let's examine his top options to find an ideal fit.

 

Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish added a verbal pledge from 3-star Pennsylvania running back Josh Adams in June, but the search for a second option has never slowed. Brian Kelly is also targeting fellow Texas product Soso Jamabo and recently offered prolific Tennessee rusher Ke'Shawn Vaughn

Notre Dame should be content to land one of the three uncommitted backs on its radar. 

Leading rushers Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant are both expected to return in 2015 though no player erupted for a dominant campaign on the ground in South Bend this year. Quarterback Everett Golson led the team with eight touchdown runs during the regular season. 

Folston certainly solidified himself as a viable option with four 100-yard rushing games, but he was limited to less than 80 yards in seven of the other eight contests. 

The door is open for a true freshman to command significant carries next fall at Notre Dame. A strong training camp could put Jones in position to carve out a role on opening day and expand it as the season progresses. 

 

USC

Steve Sarkisian must address the running back position, as the Trojans are suffering from a lack of options looking ahead. Past scholarship restrictions decimated depth across the roster, and the offensive backfield is no exception.

"It's one of the positions the sanctions probably hit the hardest," Sarkisian told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

The Trojans risk losing leading rusher Javorius Allen, a candidate to declare early for the NFL draft. Sophomore Justin Davis has displayed a quality skill set this season though it remains to be seen whether he has workhorse potential. 

USC is seeking a solution by bringing in multiple backs with plug-and-play potential. The Trojans already carry a commitment from 3-star rushers Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware, another Texas prospect. 

Jones would add to the mix and carries more clout in national recruiting rankings than either current Trojans pledge. 

"I always remember Pete [Carroll] saying, 'You can never have enough tailbacks because you just don't know...,'" Sarkisian told Klein.

 

The Verdict

USC and Notre Dame have serious needs in the backfield, so both present intriguing options for Jones, who stands to compete for immediate reps with a strong start on campus. Each team has built quality offensive foundations during this cycle, with 4-star quarterbacks Ricky Town and Brandon Wimbush serving as catalysts.

The Fighting Irish provide an strong path to playing time given the program's current depth chart and recruiting class. USC should have a stronger aerial attack than Notre Dame next season, especially if quarterback Cody Kessler returns to school, so there's more pressure on Kelly to enter 2015 with a stable group of rushers. 

The Irish have other options like Vaughn and Jamabo, but Jones has a chance to seize that open slot and hit the ground running in South Bend next summer.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 College Football Recruiting: 6 Prospects Likely to Start as Freshmen

A trend that has gained steam in college football in recent years is the emergence of true freshmen taking on bigger roles almost immediately upon arriving on campus.

A quick example of this can be found when taking a look at the running backs who will start in the national semifinal Rose Bowl matchup between No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State. 

Royce Freeman leads the Ducks in rushing with his counterpart Dalvin Cook pacing the Seminoles ground attack—despite the fact that both players were putting the finishing touches on their prep careers at this point a year ago. 

The 2015 cycle has a handful of talents who are capable of coming and making a similar impact to Freeman and Cook.

Which 2015 recruits have a chance to earn a starting role as true freshmen next fall?

 

All players listed in alphabetical order.

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Nick Saban's Defense of D.J. Pettway

Right Message, Wrong Idea

Alabama head coach Nick Saban went off on a passionate defense of defensive lineman D.J. Pettway's second chance at Alabama this week.

Pettway returned to Alabama from East Mississippi Junior College this season and registered 21 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack, disrupting plays in the backfield early and often. More importantly, he graduated in three-and-a-half years.

His return was certainly controversial.

Pettway was dismissed from the program in February 2013 after a robbery on campus, which sent his career on the one-year detour to junior college. When asked about Pettway's 2014 season, Saban fired back at critics of his methods on Saturday, according to Drew Champlin of AL.com.

"Where do you want them to be? Guy makes a mistake," Saban said. "Where do you want them to be? You want him to be in the street or do you want them to be here graduating?"

Saban's message is on point. The goal for every college football coach is to win games and give players the chance to live their dreams and prepare them accordingly, even if there are some speed bumps along the way.

It's going to fall on deaf ears, though.

Being involved in an on-campus robbery, even if you're not the primary participant, is more than a speed bump though. People who already have their minds made up on how Saban handled the Pettway situation aren't going to be swayed by his justification for his methods, and all this does is bring the situation back to the forefront during a time when even more eyes are on Alabama than normal.

 

Right Man for the Job

One more coaching domino has fallen.

Missouri has named the replacement for departed defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who left the program in December to take the head coaching job at Missouri State. The school announced on Tuesday that Memphis defensive coordinator and former Missouri Tiger Barry Odom will take over as the leader of Missouri's defense.

"It goes without saying how excited I am to have this opportunity," said Odom in the release. "I have such a deep respect for the success that Coach Pinkel and his staff have had since I've been away. Transitioning to a new conference is very challenging, and all they've done is get better at everything."

It's a home run hire for head coach Gary Pinkel and Missouri, as USA Today's Dan Wolken notes.

Odom was at the forefront of Memphis' return to dominance. Under Odom's guidance, Memphis finished fourth in the American Athletic Conference in total defense (349.5 yards per game) and second in yards per play (4.74). His defense posted 30 sacks and a conference-best 87 tackles for loss.

That bodes well for Missouri, which has rose to prominence in the SEC East over the last two seasons with a stifling pass rush and the ability to consistently put opposing offenses behind the sticks. That trend will continue with Odom running the show, which will keep Missouri in the hunt even if key pieces of the roster turn over again this offseason.

 

Belk Bowl Dripping with Coaching Intrigue

If you're looking for a coaching matchup that's just dripping with intrigue, look no further than the Belk Bowl between Louisville and Georgia.

Former Georgia and current Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will take his Cardinals defense—which ranks sixth in the country (293.3 yards per game)—up against his former program, which wasn't exactly thrilled with his performance during his final two seasons in the Classic City.

On top of that, Georgia head coach Mark Richt could return to his roots and call plays for the Bulldogs for the first time since 2006 now that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has taken the head coaching job at Colorado State.

If he doesn't, it could serve as an opportunity for one of Richt's assistants to audition for the role full time or for Georgia to try out a system with two coaches working together, like Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee do on the Plains.

If that isn't enough, the idea of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino teaming up with Grantham to beat the Bulldogs won't sit well with Georgia fans who double as Atlanta Falcons fans on Sundays.

 

Recruiting Bust

One of South Carolina's most promising players may be on the way out.

Wide receiver Shaq Roland—a former "Mr. Football" in the state of South Carolina in 2011—has left the team, according to John Whittle of 247Sports. Often in the doghouse, this appears to be a Roland's decision and not one dictated by the coaching staff, according to the report.

Roland caught 26 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns this season and has totaled 891 yards and 10 touchdowns in his three years in Columbia.

The former 4-star prospect and 40th-ranked player in the class of 2014 showed flashes of brilliance during his Gamecock career, but he never developed the consistency as a deep threat that the staff wanted to see when they signed him out of Lexington (South Carolina) High School.

 

Quick Outs

  • Marcus Lattimore will be an ambassador for South Carolina, according to David Cloninger of The State. This was reported ever since injuries forced Lattimore to retire from the NFL, but now his role is a little more defined. He'll work with South Carolina's administrators and coaches essentially as a special assistant. 
  • Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp thinks it's realistic that Auburn's defense could be top 10 nationally in 2015, according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com. Those are lofty expectations, no doubt, and perhaps unattainable in Year 1. For Auburn to be successful, though, he doesn't really have to meet them. As long as there's at least marginal improvement, Auburn will be in the thick of the SEC West and playoff races.
  • It appears LSU head coach Les Miles is still playing coy regarding quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, based on his comments following practice on Monday. Jennings will likely be the No. 1 option vs. Notre Dame, but if Harris doesn't see significant time, you have to wonder how legitimate an offseason quarterback battle really is. 

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee

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