NCAA Football

Ohio State's Receivers Will Be a Matchup Issue for Alabama

When Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State in January 2012, he wasn't high on his receivers, referring to the young group as a "clown show."

Over the past three years, though, that clown show has matured into a strength that could lead the fourth-ranked Buckeyes to a win over No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

That's an advantage Meyer has been working toward since the moment he settled in at Ohio State. It started with the maturation process of two then-sophomores who have become senior leaders for this year's team. Devin Smith, the Buckeyes' blazing deep threat, and Evan Spencer, the unit's do-everything wideout, serve as the foundation for one of the most explosive groups of receivers in the country.

Meyer built on that foundation with his unparalleled ability to recruit playmakers who fit his system. In 2012, the Buckeyes brought in Michael Thomas, who was ranked the No. 3 prep wide receiver in the country. A year later, he brought in 4-star prospects Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall to play H-back (commonly referred to as the Percy Harvin Position), making Ohio State's offense much more lethal. 

That group helped the Buckeyes transition away from the run-heavy strategy deployed last year with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in the backfield. With a bevy of talent on the perimeter, Meyer was comfortable putting the ball in the air more frequently, which has led to a more balanced attack. 

A season ago, the Buckeyes ranked 90th nationally in passing yards, averaging just 203.3 yards per game, according to cfbstats.com. This year, the Buckeyes are up 41 spots, averaging 246.8 passing yards per game. 

Play-calling and improved receiver play are the key factors in that spike. Not only that, but the Buckeyes' top three receivers—Smith, Thomas and Marshall—also have all shown the ability to take over a game or dramatically change its momentum. 

Ohio State's receivers pose a big issue for Alabama.

While the Crimson Tide rank 11th overall in total defense, their secondary has been exposed consistently throughout the year. In the season opener against West Virginia, Alabama surrendered 365 passing yards in a 33-23 victory. Those issues didn't go away as the season went along—the Tide gave up an average of 339.3 passing yards to their last three FBS opponents. That included the Auburn game, which featured Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall torching Alabama for a career-high 456 yards and three touchdowns.

The reason for those gaudy numbers? Saban explained them away as a result of "technical" issues, according to Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser.

I just think that we try to correct the mistakes that we made and show a guy why things happened the way they did. Whether it was eye control, not maintaining position on the receiver, not keeping a guy cut off, not playing the right leverage on the guy when you have help. I think these things are technical in nature, and obviously we want to execute a little better than that. That's how we correct things in the film, and that's what we'll do.

Now, the Tide will need to stop one of the most dynamic groups of playmakers in the country in order to advance to the national championship. Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones knows the challenge that lies ahead.

"Just a lot of guys that can stretch the field and a quarterback who has a live arm," Jones said of the Buckeyes, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "In the back of it, we've just got be in tip-top shape, just knowing what to expect in certain formations and stuff like that and what they like to, what routes they like to run the most. Just being ready."

If Alabama isn't ready, Ohio State has the talent to make them pay.

 

All recruiting information via 247 Sports. Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michael Dyer Ruled Academically Ineligible, Won't Play in Belk Bowl

Louisville running back Michael Dyer has been ruled academically ineligible just a week before the No. 21 Cardinals get set to take on No. 13 Georgia in the Belk Bowl. 

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had the report:

ESPN 680's Mark Ennis first reported the news.

Further details are unknown, but this continues a tumultuous college career for a player who was once considered one of the brightest young stars in the country. 

In his first two years with Auburn, Dyer tallied 2,351 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns. He broke Bo Jackson's freshman rushing record and was named the MVP of the 2011 BCS national title game after running for 143 yards against Oregon. 

But after reportedly failing a drug test, he was suspended by the team and ultimately released from his scholarship so he could follow Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State. Less than a year later, he was then dismissed from that team, as well, following a traffic incident that involved a handgun

Dyer then attended Arkansas Baptist College before enrolling at Louisville last year with two years of eligibility remaining. 

He seemed to have carved out a nice role with the Cardinals, rushing for 173 yards against NC State and then racking up 134 and three scores against Florida State, the defending national champions. 

But this is yet another setback, further decreasing his hopes of earning a late-round NFL draft pick.

As for the Cardinals, leading rusher Brandon Radcliff will handle the majority of the backfield work against Georgia, while senior Dominique Brown is likely to see his role increase. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marshall vs. Northern Illinois: Score, Twitter Reaction for 2014 Boca Raton Bowl

In a battle of two teams looking for respect after outstanding seasons, Marshall (13-1) took down Northern Illinois (11-3), 52-23, to claim the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl.

Marshall Football provided a look at the final score and reaction from FAU Stadium:

Rakeem Cato led the Thundering Herd, going 25-of-37 with 281 passing yards, 25 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. Fellow senior Tommy Shuler also went out on a high note, with a staggering 18 receptions, 185 receiving yards and one touchdown. Devon Johnson also tallied 131 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Cato capped his illustrious career with the Herd by extending a record he set prior to Tuesday night, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

That list includes an already successful NFL quarterback in Russell Wilson and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Needless to say, Cato has enjoyed plenty of collegiate success.

Cato's final game was an emotional one, as he wore the No. 31 jersey to honor linebacker Evan McKelvey, who suffered an ACL injury earlier this season. He also played in his hometown for his season finale, something he spoke about prior to the game.

"It is only fitting," Cato said, via Scott Alan Salomon of the Sun Sentinel. "When I found out that I was going to play my final game [in Boca Raton], I fell to my knees and thanked the Lord. ... These four years have been a blessing. I came to Marshall as a boy, and I am leaving as a man."

Grant Traylor of The Herald-Dispatch also pointed out how huge the night was for Shuler, who set several career marks:

While Cato shined during his final game, it was NIU that got the upper hand early. Drew Hare connected with Juwan Brescacin on a 19-yard touchdown that put the Huskies up with 7:33 remaining in the first.

Marshall wasted no time in responding. On the ensuing kickoff, Deandre Reaves returned it for a touchdown. ESPN College Football provided a look at the massive return:

Cato got the offense going on the next drive with a five-play, 42-yard drive that he capped with a five-yard rushing score.

Northern Illinois clawed back with two field goals in the second quarter, but a Devon Johnson rushing touchdown kept Marshall in control. The Herd carried a 24-13 lead into the half thanks to their success on the ground.

That would change in the second half, as Cato's arm stole the show.

A 24-yard Cameron Stingily rushing touchdown was sandwiched between two Cato passing touchdowns to Shuler and Angelo Jean-Louis respectively. Those were then overshadowed in the fourth quarter by a 27-yard strike to Deon-Tay McManus.

Traylor noted just how impressive the final touchdown pass was for Cato:

Even with four touchdowns at that point, Cato wasn't quite done. He capped off his huge night with yet another score on the ground, this time from four yards out after a 41-yard drive.

ESPN College Football provided a look at Cato's final touchdown of his career:

Despite the loss, Northern Illinois still has a lot to be proud of after another successful season. Heading into a huge part of the recruiting season, the Huskies can hold their heads high following a fifth straight 10-plus-win campaign.

Much like its opponent, Marshall heads into next season with a ton of confidence. Even with the loss of several senior leaders like Cato and Shuler, the Herd should be competitive again in Conference USA in 2015 and have a shot at another bowl win.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Practice Report: Trojans Have Been in Nebraska's Shoes

LOS ANGELES — Members of the USC football team commemorated their last practice at Howard Jones Field on Tuesday by switching jerseys: Leonard Williams sported Hayes Pullard's No. 10, Nelson Agholor wore Khaliel Rodgers' No. 62 and so on. 

"I got it figured out when Randall Telfer [was] running with Chad Wheeler's [No.] 72," offensive line coach Tim Drevno said. 

A little bit of role-reversal in the Trojans' Holiday Bowl preparation is fitting—as Nebraska is an opponent in whose proverbial shoes USC has walked. 

The Cornhuskers come to San Diego in transition, much as the Trojans were a year ago.

After seven seasons as Nebraska's head coach, Bo Pelini was fired on Nov. 30. Just a few days later, a familiar face from the Pac-12 was tabbed as his replacement: former Oregon State sideline general, and USC alum, Mike Riley. 

But because Riley will not coach his first game until next September, Nebraska heads into Saturday's encounter with USC at Qualcomm Stadium at 8 p.m. ET with run-game coordinator and tight-end and offensive-line coach Barney Cotton filling in. 

Cotton is in the same position as Trojans offensive coordinator Clay Helton last December. Helton was the interim to interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who quit just prior to the Las Vegas Bowl after current head coach Steve Sarkisian was hired. 

"It was tough," quarterback Cody Kessler said. "But it's about the players on the field." 

For that reason, USC knows intimately not to take a team in flux lightly come bowl season. 

Kessler threw for a then-career-high four touchdown passes in the Trojans' 45-20 romp over Fresno State last year. 

USC wants to avoid the role-reversal with Nebraska reflecting a similar outcome, with the team in transition coming out on top. 

Thus, despite the fun of a pre-practice jersey swap, the Trojans' last practice on campus before heading south to San Diego was intense. 

"I'm for it when they practice really well," Sarkisian said. "And they practiced good today." 

 

Dueling Defensive Stars 

Another way in which Nebraska reflects USC—and vice versa—is that the Cornhuskers have one of the nation's premier lineman anchoring their defense. 

Randy Gregory is a potential top-five pick in this spring's NFL draft, much like USC's Williams. Each is a handful for opposing offensive lines, capable of wreaking havoc in the backfield. 

"They're very similar in terms of football awareness," Drevno said. 

Gregory comes into the Holiday Bowl with seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for the loss on the season. And as opponents prepping for the Trojans have had to all season, USC is devoting plenty of focus to adjusting for Gregory's versatility up front. 

"They use him a variety of ways," Sarkisian said of Gregory. "He's not just an edge-rusher. They'll bring him on interior pressures [and] they'll put him in an odd-front." 

Nebraska's use of Gregory is similar to that of USC's with Williams—not necessarily an end, not necessarily a tackle, but wholly a threat. 

Freshman Toa Lobendahn will have the unenviable task of matching up with Gregory on the outside, but Sarkisian said stopping the Nebraska star isn't solely the duty of the converted left tackle. 

"We can't go into the game thinking 50 times [of] Randy Gregory vs. Toa Lobendahn is going to go 50-0," Sarkisian said. "So we're going to have to use a variety of protections, different schemes, whether it's the running back, tight end [or] slide to him.

"And that goes for their defense," Sarkisian added. "We have to mix it up on them." 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Practice Report: Trojans Have Been in Nebraska's Shoes

LOS ANGELES — Members of the USC football team commemorated their last practice at Howard Jones Field on Tuesday by switching jerseys: Leonard Williams sported Hayes Pullard's No...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tennessee Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Vols

In an attempt to overhaul the roster as quickly as possible, second-year Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones started an inordinate number of freshmen in 2014.

With so many youngsters forced into action, very few new arrivals were able to use their first year on campus lifting in the weight room and studying film. 

Instead, players like Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett and Todd Kelly Jr. not only played early and often against top competition—they thrived.

Out of Tennessee's 30-plus-strong 2014 class, only a handful of players didn't see action on the field this year.

While these redshirt freshmen may not have received the valuable in-game reps that their peers benefited from, they had the luxury of adding weight and adjusting to the speed of college football.

Here are five of Tennessee's best redshirt freshmen who will have the biggest impacts on the team in 2015. 

Begin Slideshow

Tennessee's Butch Jones' Christmas Present to Walk-On Turns into Scholarship

In the spirit of Christmas, Tennessee coach Butch Jones gave Volunteers tight end Alex Ellis the best present a walk-on player could ever ask for.

During a team meeting, Jones announced that he was going to hand out bowl gifts to some deserving players. That's when he called Ellis up to the front of the room and gave the redshirt junior a fantastic present: a scholarship.

Ellis' family is going to have a tough time topping that present. 

[UT SportsFootball]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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. 

In terms of a wish list, there are three items that UCLA would love to collect during this season of spirit. 

Two of the potential "presents" deal directly with recruiting. A third item on the list strictly revolves around the bowl game vs. Kansas State on Jan. 2 at 6:45 p.m.

 

Sign an elite skill player on offense

When looking at UCLA's current crop of commitments for the 2015 class, Scout.com 5-star tight end Alize Jones stands out as the highest-ranked skill position player committed.

The Bishop Gorman High School product is a walking mismatch. He truly represents the new-age player at the position with his ability not only to line up as a traditional tight end but also to split out wide as a bigger receiver.

Jones would instantly impact UCLA's depth chart and would likely play early as a freshman. 

However, his level of commitment could be described as shaky at best. Notre Dame has been—and continues to be—a fixture within his recruitment. 

Jones' high school teammate and good friend Nicco Fertitta is committed to the Fighting Irish. The two have traveled to South Bend multiple times together, and Fertitta is undeniably trying to bring his teammate with him to college. 

Should UCLA not be able to hold onto Jones, there are two players in particular whom it can pivot to. 

Staying at the tight end position, UCLA is targeting Chris Clark. Rated as the top tight end in the country by Scout.com, Clark is a different player compared to Jones. 

He's much more in the traditional mold of a true tight end—something UCLA hasn't had since the days of Joe Fauria. Clark could theoretically act as a security blanket for whomever will man the quarterback position while also acting as a bigger option blocking on the line in run situations. 

UCLA can also point to its solid track record of putting tight ends into the NFL. Cory Harkey, Logan Paulsen, Marcedes Lewis and Fauria have all made impacts this year playing on the next level. 

Additionally, there's no question UCLA could use a bit more explosiveness out of its offense. One player fitting the bill considerably in this case could be elite running back Soso Jamabo. 

Rated as the best back in the nation by 247Sports, Jamabo has long considered UCLA as one of his favorites. According to many pundits from the site, UCLA could be the favorite at this point to land him. 

Potentially combining Jamabo with Paul Perkins would give UCLA a very good one-two punch in the backfield. 

Signing either (if not both) Clark and Jamabo would go a long way in helping UCLA's offense become even more productive and explosive. 

 

Finishing off the recruiting season well

Staying with the theme of recruiting, UCLA should hope to finish off this recruiting cycle strong. This includes not only signing prospects but also holding onto the commitments it has currently. 

As previously stated, holding onto Jones will likely be an endeavor lasting all the way up until signing day in February. 

Recruiting in general is extremely fluid and fickle in nature. These are impressionable young men at a young age. There's no telling how an official visit will impact one's commitment level to any school. In the case of UCLA, it appears as if most of the commitments are solid. 

From sheer speculation, one commitment in question could be linebacker Victor Alexander. It's always a tricky proposition garnering a commitment from the other side of the country. The Jacksonville, Florida, native committed to UCLA over a year ago.

With that said, he's still yet to visit the campus in any capacity. 

As signing day gets closer and closer, the allure of staying closer to home (and attending either Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech) could prove to be too much. Running back T.J. Simmons (also from Florida) could fall into the same category.

In terms of trying to garner commitments, UCLA is pursuing players from all across the country.

In terms of feasibility, the prospects UCLA could have the best chance with include Clark, Jamabo, Osa Masina, Jeffery Holland, DeChaun Holiday, Nathan Meadors, Josh Wariboko, Carlos Strickland, Fotu Leiato, Maea Teuhema, Tyrone Wheatley, Benning Potoae and Jojo Wicker.

Kyon Clark and Semisi Uluave also could be possibilities. 

Scout.com has UCLA with the No. 7 recruiting class in the country. When looking at average star ranking per commitment, the Bruins are tops in the nation—with a 3.89 star-rating-per-recruit average. 

 

A win versus Kansas State

A victory over a very tough Kansas State team in the Valero Alamo Bowl would be the perfect way for Mora and his program to start the 2015 season. 

The matchup alone is intriguing for a variety of reasons. For one, this could be the best bowl game outside of the major ones. This game pits two highly ranked teams from power conferences in a complete clashing of styles. 

Bill Snyder is also one of the best coaches in football—regardless of level. UCLA will have to play with a tremendous amount of focus and energy. The Wildcats rarely beat themselves and are more often than not a team with terrific discipline and physicality. 

A win versus a highly respectable opponent in a good bowl game would be another notch in Mora's belt. It could continue to signify UCLA's ascent as a hot program in the landscape of college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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.

Begin Slideshow

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...

Begin Slideshow

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.  

Begin Slideshow

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Begin Slideshow

Pages