NCAA Football

SEC Football Announces Awards for 2014 Season

Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper highlighted the SEC's individual awards, which the conference announced Wednesday.

The junior wide receiver was named the Offensive Player of the Year, the only award that went to a member of the conference champion Crimson Tide.

Cooper leads FBS in receptions (115) and yards (1,656) along with 14 touchdowns. He had 12 catches for 83 yards in Alabama's SEC title game win over Missouri.

"To do what he does every Saturday is impressive, man," Alabama tight end O.J. Howard told The Associated Press (h/t Yahoo Sports). "We're like, 'Wow.' We knew he could do it, but he's doing more. So that's impressive. Without Coop I don't know where we'd be right now."

East Division champion Missouri picked up three awards, with junior defensive end Shane Ray earning Defensive Player of the Year honors and senior Marcus Murphy getting named Special Teams Player of the Year. Tigers coach Gary Pinkel was chosen as Coach of the Year.

Ray led the conference with 12.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. Murphy is fourth in the country in kickoff return average, at 29.88 yards per return, along with two TDs. And he also had a punt return score.

Pinkel previously was named Mid-American Coach of the Year in 1995, when he was at Toledo, and was co-Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2007.

Georgia players were honored as Freshman of the Year (running back Nick Chubb) and Scholar-Athlete of the Year (senior wide receiver Chris Conley), while LSU senior offensive tackle La'el Collins was named the Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner.

Chubb ran for 1,281 yards and 12 TDs, gaining at least 100 yards in each of the last seven games. Conley, set to graduate this month with a degree in journalism, has a 3.32 GPA.

Collins is projected by CBS Sports as a first-round draft pick.

The SEC individual awards were voted on by the league's head coaches, who could not choose their own players.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Why Auburn's Offense Will Be 'Explosive and Dynamic' in 2015

The Auburn Tigers are losing a lot of talent in Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne, but that doesn't mean they won't remain an elite offensive team.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the potential Auburn offense in 2015.

Will Auburn's offense remain at the top in 2015? Check out the video and let us know!     

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Texas Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

After a debut season filled with ups and downs, Texas head coach Charlie Strong is busy preparing for a big-time run over the final weeks leading up to national signing day.

The Longhorns currently have 19 commitments in their 2015 class, per 247Sports.

Here's a look at the latest news, top targets and commits for the Longhorns.

 

Latest News

Wednesday, Dec. 10

Texas lost a commitment on Wednesday, as 4-star running back Jordan Stevenson announced plans to reopen his recruitment, per his Twitter account.

The loss leaves Texas with 19 commitments in its 2015 class and only one from a running back—3-star rusher Tristian Houston.

However, the 'Horns are still in the running for 4-star running back Chris Warren, who has Texas among his four finalists. 

 

Top Targets and Commitments

Wednesday, Dec. 10

One of the Longhorns' top remaining needs in the 2015 cycle is at linebacker. Per Colt Barber of Horns247, Strong visited top target and 4-star linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. on Tuesday evening. 

Kirkland recently announced plans to commit at the U.S. Army All-American Game on Jan. 3, and the Longhorns join Ole Miss, Oklahoma and Tennessee as one of his four finalists.

Landing the 6'2", 235-pounder would be a huge coup for Strong, who also has Texas squarely in the hunt for 5-star linebacker Malik Jefferson.

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted

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Maps Show Where College Football Playoff Teams Recruit From

The college football programs that can recruit all over the country typically have the most success. That's why it should come as no surprise that the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff aren't limited to recruiting regionally.

The Alabama Crimson Tide, the Oregon Ducks, the Florida State Seminoles and the Ohio State Buckeyes are among the teams that tend to get the best recruits in the country, which has translated into a lot of success on the field. 

In order to give fans an idea of where each team has gotten its recruits from, John Nelson of IDV Solutions has put together some maps that show the hometowns of each team's players.

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State

As most fans could probably guess, Oregon's Air Mile Index (27.0) is the highest of the four playoff teams. A score of 30 means that the team is able to recruit just about anywhere, and the Ducks are pretty close to that mark. The other three teams are in the 14-17 range.

With the amount of high school talent in the state of Florida, the Seminoles don't have to go very far to recruit. They have been able to get players from many other states, but the Sunshine State is where the majority of their players come from.

 

Maps for each individual team can be seen on the IDV Solutions website.

[h/t SB Nation]

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Ohio State's Tom Herman Is the Next Future Head Coaching Star

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Tom Herman arrived at Ohio State in late 2011, he did so with little fanfare, better known for his membership to Mensa than his work at Iowa State.

Whenever Herman leaves—and that day may be sooner rather than later—he'll do so as one of the hottest commodities in the college coaching ranks.

Herman's work since coming to Columbus to work for Urban Meyer has spoken for itself, as he's helped transform what was a broken offense and inexperienced quarterback into a juggernaut that has ranked in the top four in national scoring in each of the past two seasons. The Buckeyes offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach's performance in 2014 has been his most impressive yet, turning a backup into a Heisman Trophy candidate and a third-stringer into a Big Ten Championship Game MVP.

"It's the hand we were dealt, and we played it," Herman said, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

Herman played that hand all the way to this year's Broyles Award, which is presented annually to college football's top assistant. Beating out Alabama's Lane Kiffin, Oregon's Scott Frost, TCU's Doug Meacham and Missouri's Dave Steckel, Herman asserted himself as one of college football's most talked-about coaches—just as the sport's yearly carousel of coaching changes begins to turn.

Herman has maintained that he's only focused on being Ohio State's offensive coordinator, especially as the Buckeyes prepare take part in the first-ever College Football Playoff. But his name had previously been linked to the head coaching vacancy at SMU that was eventually filled by Chad Morris as well as the Nebraska opening, which went to Mike Riley.

Herman has also been mentioned as a possible front-runner for the yet-to-be-filled Houston head coaching job, which would make sense on a lot of levels. But regardless of where—and when—Herman takes his first head coaching job, it's hard to imagine that his next employer will regret hiring the 39-year-old rising star.

While the Buckeyes' spread offense has always been Meyer's baby, Herman has managed to put his own spin on it, implementing a no-huddle element that the rest of the Big Ten is yet to have found an answer for. Meyer has been quick to credit Herman for Ohio State's "jet" tempo, as it's not a pace that the two-time national champion head coach has been used to playing at.

"He's an expert at it," Meyer said of Herman. "This is the first time I feel very comfortable with the tempo because that's not something [we did] at Florida, Utah, Bowling Green. We never ran tempo offenses."

And although the hurry-up has been Herman's calling card, it's been his quarterback development that's brought him to the forefront of college football.

When Herman first arrived in Columbus, Braxton Miller's raw talent was apparent, but his passing skills were still unrefined, as evidenced by his 54.1 completion percentage in his freshman season. In his first season under Meyer and Herman, Miller upped that percentage to 58.3, a year before completing 63.5 percent of his passes in his second of back-to-back Big Ten MVP Award-winning seasons.

And Herman's signal-caller resume doesn't end there.

When Miller went down with a season-ending torn labrum two weeks prior to the start of the Buckeyes' 2014 season, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was thrust into the Ohio State lineup. After a couple of shaky starts—including a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech—Barrett put together the greatest statistical season in Buckeyes quarterback history, breaking the school record for total offense and the Big Ten record for total touchdowns.

Barrett's emergence thrust Ohio State back into the playoff picture, with a spot in the final four seemingly on the line for the Buckeyes in their Big Ten Championship Game matchup with Wisconsin. Only Ohio State would find itself down to its third-string quarterback, as a broken ankle suffered against Michigan brought Barrett's freshman season to a premature end.

Anything less than a convincing performance against the Badgers, and the Buckeyes would likely be left out of the playoff field.

Enter QB No. 3 for OSU, Cardale Jones, who did that and then some, throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-0 walloping of Wisconsin. If there was any doubt about Herman's ability to develop quarterbacks, it was put to rest in Indianapolis, as the Buckeyes earned the chance to play for the national championship with their second backup quarterback of the season.

"Tom Herman is an excellent coach. His unit the first year was very average," Meyer said following the Big Ten Championship Game. "Now, it's one of the strongest units on the team. He's done a marvelous job."

His cutting-edge scheme and ability to develop the most important position on the field aside, Herman has a commanding presence with the media. More importantly, he has shown that the area where his talent might stand out most is on the recruiting trail.

In just two years, Herman has single-handedly built a pipeline from Texas to Columbus, reeling in Barrett, Dontre Wilson, Mike Mitchell and Demetrius Knox from the Lone Star State. He has also played a key role in the recruitment of 2015 commit Torrance Gibson of Plantation, Florida, who at one point Ohio State seemed to be a long shot to land.

Recruiting connections in Ohio, Texas and Florida? That's not a bad base for a future head coach to build his program on.

And while Herman's next job will likely be a stepping stone job where he can cut his teeth as a head coach—like Colorado State was for new Florida coach Jim McElwain—get used to hearing his name. Because as the announcement of the Broyles Award showed, there may not be an assistant in college football with a future brighter than Herman's.

 

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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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: The New, Humble Lane Kiffin

Lane Kiffin Speaks

The folks at 103.7 The Buzz in Little Rock, Arkansas got the interview equivalent of catching a unicorn on Tuesday when they landed an interview with Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. He was in town as a finalist for the Broyles Award, which is given to the nation's top assistant coach.

Saban's assistants only speak publicly once during the preseason, once during bowl preparation and when they're nominated for awards.

Considering his team was just given the No. 1 seed in the upcoming College Football Playoff and star wide receiver Amari Cooper was just nominated for the Heisman Trophy, it was perfect timing.

Of the many nuggets in the interview, one of the most interesting tidbits was the time he spent examining the Alabama offense last December, before he even got the job.

"He brought me in there for eight days and said 'Hey, just hang out and look around,'" Kiffin said. "People said, 'What the heck is Lane Kiffin going to say to Nick Saban?' I was thinking the same thing. But that just shows you how he is. He's always wanting to get better.

"A couple of weeks later, a job became available and he brought me in for a formal interview, and it's been great. I couldn't be more appreciative for doing that. It wasn't an easy thing for him to do. He took a lot of criticism and heat for it. I'm really proud that it worked out, for him especially."

Humility?

Who is this man and what has he done with Lane Kiffin?

It bodes well for Kiffin's future that he was successful this season under Saban. Whether it's Jimbo Fisher, Jim McElwain or others who have come from Saban's coaching tree, Kiffin's ability to coach within Saban's structure while still pushing Saban and the Alabama offense to evolve will get him looks as a head coach sooner rather than later.

This year? Probably not considering Kiffin is oil to Michigan's water. If others open down the road either this year or next, don't be surprised if he gets a look.

That humility, of course, will help open those doors.

How humble is he? He even joked about the "conversations" he has with Saban on the sideline, Saban's policy on assistants speaking to the media and Saban's height during his Broyles Award speech (3:15 mark).

Apparently, he's a comedian now too.

 

A Unique Challenge

Mississippi State will head to its first Orange Bowl since 1941, and when it gets there, it'll face a unique challenge.

The stout Bulldog front seven will have nearly a month to prepare for the triple-option Georgia Tech attack which has racked up 333.6 yards per game—the third-best mark in the nation.

"We try to be a very sound defense," head coach Dan Mullen said on Sunday's Orange Bowl teleconference. "You have to be very disciplined and sound when you play an option football team. We've run some option, albeit a very different style than what [Georgia Tech coach] Paul [Johnson] runs at Georgia Tech. The big challenge is simulating what they do in a practice format."

Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days provide a solid one-two punch at running back, but it's the quarterback and leading rusher Justin Thomas who really makes the offense tick.

Thomas, a Prattville, Alabama native, came to Georgia Tech as a highly touted athlete who can run and throw. 

He's the perfect man to run the triple-option and nearly impossible for Mullen to replicate in practice. Who will play the Justin Thomas role for the Bulldogs in bowl prep?

"We have a freshman who we're redshirting this year, Nick Fitzgerald, who ran an option offense in high school," Mullen said. "He would probably be our best guy to do that because he has a little bit of a background of running option football."

While you won't see him on the field at the Orange Bowl, Fitzgerald is the most important player on the Bulldog roster. If he can give the defense good looks in practice, nothing it sees inside Sun Life Stadium will surprise it.

 

Opposites Attract

TCU will bring one of the top offenses into the Georgia Dome for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl when it takes on an Ole Miss program that has been living off of its stingy defense.

Wait, what?

TCU head coach Gary Patterson is known as a defensive guru, while Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze got his job in Oxford on the heels of his potent, high-octane offense.

The irony of the two teams' strengths isn't lost on Freeze.

"He's the defensive guru that I wanted to learn from, and I probably have been more on the offensive side of the ball," he said. "It'll be an interesting matchup, one in which we're looking forward to representing our conference and our great university there."

If you're looking for defense in this one, you will see it—although the scoreboard might not reflect it.

Ole Miss is one of the hardest-hitting units you'll see in college football, but under the direction of co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, this Horned Frog offense will find ways to move the football.

Quarterback Trevone Boykin and the wide receiver tandem of Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee will put pressure on that vaunted "landshark" defense and put a dent in the scoreboard.

It'll be up to Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace to keep up and give his defense a chance to make some game-changing turnovers in the fourth quarter. If "Good Bo" shows up, expect the secondary to act as the closer late to lead Ole Miss to a 10-win season.

 

Worth It

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones parlayed the Vols' first big bowl into a contract extension on Monday—with, of course, a little help from that Michigan job remaining open.

According to a release from the school, the second-year head coach agreed to a deal that will keep him on Rocky Top through the 2020 season.

Athletic director Dave Hart spoke about the decision:

When you are rebuilding a program you face a lot of challenges in an effort to change the culture. It takes a tireless effort in everyone in the organization to make that come to fruition. Clearly the most critical piece is leadership and we have the right man leading our football program at the University of Tennessee.

He's right. Sure, the 11-13 overall record and 5-11 mark in the SEC over the last two seasons aren't exactly something to write home about, but the progress of the program can't be ignored.

With a roster that's loaded with underclassmen, Jones' team broke through that glass ceiling this year and earned a bowl trip—and critical bowl practices—despite one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Couple that experience with an incoming class that's ranked fifth in the nation, and the future looks bright.

Jones deserves a lot of the credit for where it is and where it's going, and Hart is wise to lock him up. Had he not, other athletic directors would be beating down his door next season.

 

Quick Outs

  • Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is relieving assistants of their duties with "SEC speed." Defensive coordinator David Kotulski, offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell, receivers coach Marc Lubick and conditioning coordinator Bill Hughan have all been let go. Of course, a 3-9 record and a winless SEC season tend to bring about such outcomes—especially for a program coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons.
  • Will Muschamp watch...continues. It seems like the favorite among South Carolina, Texas A&M and Auburn changes by the hour, although ESPN.com's Travis Haney (subscription required) reported that Auburn is the favorite. Wherever he lands, the future is bright for Muschamp—yes, even as a head coach.
  • Brandon Harris really needs to see time at quarterback vs. Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl. There's going to be another quarterback battle between Harris and starter Anthony Jennings this offseason anyway, so at least give Harris more snaps in games for experience and make it a fair fight.
  • Texas head coach Charlie Strong and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema are super-pumped for the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl press conference. See?

 

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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Miami vs. South Carolina: Biggest X-Factors in 2014 Independence Bowl

The Miami Hurricanes and South Carolina Gamecocks will battle for an Independence Bowl victory, and a few X-factors will help decide the postseason matchup.

Although two players are undoubtedly common suspects, the weaknesses of their respective opponents make them difficult to overlook.

Before those athletes are addressed, however, a collective effort will provide the difference between a win or loss for both teams.

 

Note: Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 27, and ABC will broadcast the game.

 

Third-Down Conversions

The Hurricanes succeed when their defense gets off the field quickly. It sounds and is obvious, but it's still the truth.

Georgia Tech slammed the door on Miami by sustaining drives and tallying more than 40 minutes of possession. That kept the Canes' potentially explosive offense on the sideline.

In six wins, Miami scored 31 touchdowns and averaged 39.3 points per game, and its defense ceded just 16.2 points. During six losses, however, the team tallied just 14 touchdowns and 20.5 points and surrendered 32.5 per contest.

Conversely, South Carolina's attack maintained its explosiveness regardless of result, tallying 36.7 points in victories and 30.0 throughout its losses. The Gamecocks defense was the clear problem, considering it allowed 22.3 points compared to 40.0.

Time of possession is a negligible difference, since Steve Spurrier's team controls the ball for nearly 31 minutes per game, whereas Miami is a shade above 29.

But unless Brad Kaaya hits Phillip Dorsett downfield, the Canes don't have a quick-strike attack. If South Carolina can improve upon its already respectable 42.9 percent third-down conversion rate, the Gamecocks will control the ball, the clock and the Miami offense.

Otherwise, the Hurricanes will receive multiple chances to exploit a South Carolina defense that has been shredded on numerous occasions.

 

Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina

Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds should put together a solid performance on the ground, and the Gamecocks have the SEC's leading passer in Dylan Thompson.

The most important player, though, is sophomore wide receiver and all-around weapon Pharoh Cooper. He racked up 60 receptions for 966 yards and eight touchdowns this season, adding 24 carries for 198 yards and two scores.

Plus, Cooper has thrown a pass in five consecutive games—two of which resulted in touchdowns—and he also has returned punts.

"Pharoh can throw, run, catch. He's a ballplayer that can do a lot," Spurrier said, per Josh Kendall of The State. "We've used him a lot lately. Looking back, should have used him more in some games at certain times."

Cooper isn't simply a big-play threat—though he certainly provides that deep option. His longest reception during eight of South Carolina's 12 games was 30 yards or fewer.

Miami's secondary only allowed 10 passes of 30-plus yards, which ranked sixth-best in the nation, so Cooper will be limited in that regard.

However, the Canes employ a two-deep zone defense, which opens vacant areas at the intermediate level. As long as Thompson locates those soft spots, Cooper will shred the underneath coverage.

The Gamecocks consistently find ways to get their electric athlete the pigskin, so Cooper needs to take advantage of those opportunities.

 

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

He's the unquestioned star, and South Carolina will be looking to contain the running back, but Miami needs another terrific performance from Duke Johnson.

After all, the Independence Bowl may be the final time Johnson—the school's newly minted career rushing leader—wears a Hurricanes jersey. The junior is expected to declare for the NFL draft.

Consequently, Johnson would surely love to end his Miami career on a dominant note, and South Carolina's run defense—or lack thereof—may afford him that chance. The Gamecocks surrendered 214.4 yards per game on the ground, which ranked 109th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Now granted, a running back relies heavily on his blockers, so the Miami offensive line must dominate the trenches, too.

The Ereck Flowers-led unit has done that before, evidenced by the 30-6 win over Virginia Tech in which the Hurricanes called 53 runs compared to 16 passes. Johnson finished the rivalry meeting with a career-best 249 yards.

But his offensive line carries additional responsibilities in the upcoming matchup. Clive Walford—Brad Kaaya's season-long security blanket—may be sidelined, as noted by Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post.

Beyond Walford, Johnson and Dorsett, the Miami offense hasn't had another legitimate threat to catch passes. In order to make up for the tight end's possible absence, the Canes must create manageable, short-yardage third-down situations.

And that all starts up front on the offensive line, opening running lanes for Johnson on initial snaps. Then, it's up to the school's best running back to attack the empty spaces.

 

Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com and HurricaneSports.com.

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

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UCLA Faces Tough Challenge Replacing Butkus Award Winner Eric Kendricks

No. 14 UCLA's Alamo Bowl date with No. 11 Kansas State on Jan. 2 is the swan song for linebacker and 2014 Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks' collegiate career.

After Kendricks dons the Bruins' blue and gold for the final time, head coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich won't just be left replacing a player recognized this week as the nation's top linebacker.

They aren't simply replacing the all-time leading tackler in UCLA football history, either.

When Kendricks leaves UCLA to embark on his NFL career, UCLA must replace what Ulbrich described as "the heart and soul of this team."

As its heart, it's appropriate Kendricks played prominently in the center of the Bruins defense. His work at inside linebacker in each of the three seasons since Mora and his staff arrived was integral to what Ulbrich called a "changed culture."

UCLA morphed from a team sometimes characterized as soft to one that Kendricks described as "scrappy."

And few exemplified the scrappy attitude more than Kendricks, both on game day and on the practice field.

His tenacity shows in a ball-hawking style against the run, which has produced 467 career tackles. His 135 this season are sixth-most in the nation.

But when Kendricks takes the next step, UCLA won't just lose a proven run-stopper. The Bruins won't just be replacing a game-changer who forced some truly pivotal turnovers in the 2014 campaign.

"He leads by example, by being that same guy every single day," Ulbrich said. "He's been a great example and he makes our job as defensive coaches easier...I've been honored to coach him."

That consistency to which Ulbrich alluded is an attitude fellow linebacker Myles Jack said resonates through the locker room.

"He's seen the ups and downs of the program," Jack said. "He just knows how to stay steady and keep his composure."

Kendricks made his first career start in UCLA's 50-0 loss to USC in 2011, which he said contributed to the "chip on [his] shoulder," a key motivator in the program's turnaround.

Bruins like Jack, who came to UCLA in the years thereafter, never experienced the same lows as Kendricks witnessed in 2011. With three straight nine-win seasons—a feat never before accomplished at UCLA—the crop returning for 2015 is accustomed to winning.

Adopting Kendricks' mindset is a must for the remaining linebacker corps to fill the cavernous void he'll leave next season. Jack said that's easier said than done.

"You'll never see a lull in his game. You'll never see him get tired. He's always running, he's always vocal and he's just the same guy every day," Jack said. "As a young guy, that's hard to do."

UCLA will need some youngsters to take on that responsibility next season, however.

The leading candidate is freshman Kenny Young, whose role grew down the stretch of the regular season. He recorded 11 of his 34 total tackles in the Bruins' final three games.

"He's an excellent football player," Mora said of Young last month.

"When we're in nickel," Mora continued, addressing a formation Ulbrich used heavily in 2014, "He's Eric Kendricks' backup, and it's pretty hard to take Eric Kendricks off the field. But when we go to our base stuff, and he plays, he plays well...It's just a matter of getting him the snaps."

Getting Young those snaps will be no issue next season. Among the Bruins' linebackers, he was third in tackles behind Kendricks and Jack.

Young was one of two high-profile linebacker recruits added last national signing day. The other was 4-star Houston product Zach Whitley, a highly touted prospect who never quite got going in a tumultuous first year.

Whitley was injured in preseason training camp, saw the field sparingly throughout the campaign and was rumored to have been dismissed from the program last week. As Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times noted, though, that does not appear to be the case:

He is still on the roster at UCLABruins.com, and should that be the case into next season, Whitley meeting his lofty potential should go a long way toward UCLA replacing at least some of what it loses from Kendricks.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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UCLA Faces Tough Challenge Replacing Butkus Award Winner Eric Kendricks

No. 14 UCLA's Alamo Bowl date with No. 11 Kansas State on Jan. 2 is the swan song for linebacker and 2014 Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks' collegiate career...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Heisman Watch 2014: Previewing the Finalists' Bowl Matchups

They're Heisman finalists for a reason. No matter the obstacle (or opposing game plan), the trio of Amari Cooper, Melvin Gordon and Marcus Mariota have proved to be pretty much unstoppable during the 2014 season.

But now each faces one final hurdle, matching up against a defense that will have more than three weeks to prepare for these individual superstars.

Yes, football is a team game, but with players of this caliber, there's no doubt that extra practice time and drills are devoted to limiting what they are able to accomplish in the bowl games. The fact that two of the finalists are involved in playoff games adds to the intrigue of just what their opponents are going to do to try to slow them down.

Here's a breakdown of the matchups that each Heisman finalist faces in their upcoming bowl games:

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (Jan. 1 vs. Ohio State)

The junior has proved to be pretty much unguardable this season, leading FBS with 115 receptions and 1,656 yards along with 14 touchdowns. Take away Alabama's game against FCS Western Carolina and an anomalous effort against Arkansas, and Yeldon is averaging 10 catches and 144 yards per game.

"It's arguable that 6-1, 210-pound sure-fire NFL first round pick is the best individual talent Ohio State will face this year," wrote Bill Landis of Cleveland.com.

But Ohio State, Alabama's semifinal opponent in the Sugar Bowl, just showed that it can shut down a superstar, having keyed so heavily on Wisconsin's Gordon that the Badgers were forced to throw far more than they'd like. The Buckeyes are 17th in FBS in pass defense, allowing 188.2 yards per game with 13 touchdown passes against 21 interceptions.

Teams averaged only 5.8 yards per pass attempt against OSU this season, but the Buckeyes have had mixed results stopping top wideouts. They held Michigan State star Tony Lippett to just five catches for 64 yards, but Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton had 14 catches for 126 yards and in September they got torched by Cincinnati's Chris Moore for three touchdown catches of 60 or more yards.

 

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (Jan. 1 vs. Auburn)

Coming off his worst game of the season against an FBS opponent—76 yards on 26 carries in the 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game—Gordon has a chance for a huge bounce-back game when Wisconsin faces Auburn in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.

The Tigers ranked 46th in rushing defense this season, allowing 149.5 yards per game, but look at the game-by-game results, and you'll see that Auburn got run over by teams that like to rush the ball. Alabama was the most recent one, gaining 227 yards and four touchdowns in the Iron Bowl.

Other poor efforts by Auburn against the run this year include giving up 223 yards and four TDs to Mississippi State and 289 yards with three scores to Georgia. In its four losses, Auburn yielded 228.8 yards per game and 5.55 yards per carry.

Gordon has rushed for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns, with a high of 408 yards against Nebraska that stood for one week as the single-game FBS record. He needs 293 yards to become the single-game rushing record-holder, something that seems possible based on the matchup, but only if Wisconsin doesn't fall behind early and is forced to throw.

Against Ohio State, Gordon had 11 carries in the first 17 minutes but then ran it only twice more in the first half.

Since this will be Gordon's final college game, as he announced Tuesday he was forgoing his senior year to enter the NFL draft, he may just try to go out with a bang.

 

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (Jan. 1 vs. Florida State)

The junior has been as close to unstoppable as any player in the country this season, accounting for 53 touchdowns (38 passing, 14 rushing, one receiving) with 4,452 yards of total offense while tossing only two interceptions. That's what defending national champion Florida State has to deal with in the Rose Bowl semifinal game.

FSU's saving grace, according to coach Jimbo Fisher, might be that Mariota could be worn out from having to do so many public appearances in conjunction with the numerous awards he's expected to haul in this month.

"I think it definitely is [taxing] and sure [Oregon will] have a great plan for that and what goes on, but I don't know if you can ever prepare for it," Fisher told Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel. "Because it's the time away and you feel so obligated because so many people are giving you so many great outstanding awards."

Short of fatigue, what Mariota will have to most concern himself with is a Florida State defense that hasn't particularly shone against the pass this season but still has some playmakers that could cause problems. Sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey has developed a reputation of making big plays late in games, when FSU has either been trying to rally or hold off a last-ditch comeback.

Ramsey only has two interceptions, but the last one came as Miami (Florida) was driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter last month.

Mariota has run for 669 yards and 14 TDs, scoring nine times on the ground in his last five games. FSU gives up 160.1 rushing yards per game, but in its last three outings it has fared well against mobile quarterbacks. Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas had 104 yards in the ACC Championship Game, but he was kept out of the end zone, as was Florida's Treon Harris, while Boston College's Tyler Murphy had a TD but his 48 rushing yards was the third-fewest for the season.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Tigers Who Will Benefit Most from Extra Bowl Practices

LSU needs work. 

The Tigers played one of their better games against Texas A&M to close the season. The 23-17 win helped propel them to a berth in the Music City Bowl against Notre Dame. 

But the victory over the Aggies was the only time they were victorious in November. LSU head coach Les Miles acknowledged on Sunday that bowl season is a critical time for his team to grow. 

"We need as many practices as we can. We’re a youthful team and we need to grow them up," said Miles via phone to a room of reporters on Sunday. "We look forward to a number of practices in preparation for this bowl. We’ll practice that second team extensively, not only to prepare them for this game, but to prepare them for the future."

Miles is right. These practices could serve as a crucial time for young players, particularly on offense, to jell together.

Here are four players who could benefit the most from the extra practices. 

 

Malachi Dupre

Malachi Dupre's freshman season was a success.

Dupre finished as the team's second-leading receiver in yards (318) and touchdowns (five). This is impressive considering he missed the season opener against Wisconsin with an injury.  

But Dupre's season could have been better. He failed to accumulate more than one reception in each of LSU's final seven games. 

Dupre was more effective when fellow freshman Brandon Harris was under center, which makes sense considering they worked out together during the summer. Harris has not played much since his lone start in early October against Auburn. 

The extra weeks of preparation before Notre Dame will allow Dupre to work more with sophomore Anthony Jennings. Their best connection of the season came via a corner route against the Aggies on a 41-yard dart

The future looks bright for the 5-star receiver out of New Orleans. The Tigers have had three 5-star pass-catchers under Miles all be productive college players, per Rivals. Terrence Toliver, Rueben Randle and Jarvis Landry all finished with fewer receptions, yards and touchdowns than Dupre as freshmen. 

Dupre has all the makings of a No. 1 receiver. The extra weeks of practice should give him time to take the next step to be an elite deep threat. 

Notre Dame could be a breakout game for Dupre. The Fighting Irish allows more than 239 yards per game through the air, which would rank higher than only Mississippi State if they were in the SEC. 

 

Brandon Harris

Now is the time for Harris to prove himself. He feels himself becoming a better football player. 

LSU's quarterback play has been painful to watch. Jennings' paltry numbers proves he is a game manager at best. 

Fans have clamored for Jennings to be benched. He began November with two games under 100 yards passing. But he was efficient against Texas A&M, combining for 226 yards and a touchdown. 

Miles would love to get Harris on the field. But for him to do that, the freshman must prove himself in practice first. 

Miles said after the shutout loss against Arkansas that Harris takes "50 percent" of the snaps in practice. With an extended period of preparation for Notre Dame, he should take the initiative to perform at a higher level.  

 

Jalen Collins

One of the pleasant surprises of LSU's season has been junior cornerback Jalen Collins.

Starting corner Rashard Robinson was suspended indefinitely in November by Miles, per The Advocate. Collins stepped up in the place of Robinson and has played at a high level.

Collins said on Sunday that he put his name up for evaluation by NFL scouts. He moved up to the No. 6 cornerback prospect in Bleacher Report's Matt Miller and Walter Football's big board.

A strong performance against Notre Dame could propel Collins to the pros. He held his own against Alabama's Amari Cooper, who Collins said was the best receiver he ever faced.  

Collins' wonderful work ethic will be adored by NFL scouts, but not nearly as much as his 6'2'' frame. As Greg Bedard of MMQB.com notes, taller corners are in high demand thanks to the success of the Seattle Seahawks secondary.

Collins will have his hands full with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish's 6'1'' William Fuller and 6'5'' Corey Robinson are their best two receivers. How he performs against them could determine if he declares for the NFL draft. 

There is no other LSU player with as much at stake than Collins. Expect him to hit the practice field and weight room hard in the new few weeks. 

 

Colby Delahoussaye 

There is a kicking controversy at LSU. 

Miles yanked kicker Colby Delahoussaye after blowing a chip-shot field goal early against Texas A&M. He was replaced by Trent Domingue, who would then go 2-of-3. Miles then reinserted Delahoussaye late in the fourth quarter for a 43-yard attempt, which he barely made to give LSU a 23-17 lead. 

Delahoussaye missed two makable kicks in the previous game against Arkansas. He was once 10-of-11 on attempts, but his recent struggles have now made him 11-of-15. 

LSU has talented backups on the roster that can overtake Delahoussaye. Domingue and true freshman Cameron Gamble have stronger legs and are capable of being successful college kickers. 

Notre Dame has played in three games this year decided by three points or fewer. The Tigers could easily play a nail-biter against the Fighting Irish.

Delahoussaye must show in practice why he has been a reliable kicker in the past. If not, he could be benched again. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.comESPN.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.     

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tony Sanchez Is Inspired Choice to Be UNLV's Next Football Coach

In this era of college football head coaching, when so many of the men being hired are simply recycled from the current group already at the FBS level, UNLV is trying to do something new that will hopefully lead to a new breed of appointments. 

According to Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Rebels are set to hire Tony Sanchez following the resignation of Bobby Hauck. 

If you are wondering who Sanchez is, Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated has a short answer:

Sanchez, 40, won his sixth consecutive Nevada Division I state championship and capped a 15-0 season at the Las Vegas powerhouse on Saturday. He also likely clinched the program’s first mythical national title, as Bishop Gorman is ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps.com and USA Today. Sanchez’s record is 85-5 at the affluent private Catholic school.

Sanchez isn't a household name who is going to get casual fans excited, but this is UNLV we are talking about. The Rebels have been irrelevant in the Mountain West Conference for years, finishing under .500 12 times since 2001 and winning two games in eight of those seasons. 

Established college coaches at the FBS level weren't going to be beating down the door to take the UNLV job, so the school had to find another person to help it escape this decade-plus drought. Sanchez may not be the biggest name, but he's the right choice for UNLV. 

Tomm Looney of The JT The Brick Show on Fox Sports Radio noted on Twitter that Sanchez was a strong fit for what UNLV needs:

Sanchez should have no problems recruiting in the area. He knows the high school scene very well, based on his success at Bishop Gorman and his long tenure at the school. 

When a school hits rock bottom, as UNLV obviously has, risks have to be taken. There's more to the Rebels' problems than just who is coaching the team. 

In Anderson's report on the hiring of Sanchez, being able to upgrade the facilities is crucial for UNLV to compete in the Mountain West:

UNLV’s football program needs all the financial help it can get. (Athletic director Tina) Kunzer-Murphy and (interim President) Snyder have talked about how the school needs to upgrade its facilities in an effort to compete for recruits. The Rebels lag behind most of the other Mountain West schools in facilities, and Colorado State received approval on Friday to build an on-campus stadium.

A separate report from Anderson on December 1 noted that Lorenzo Fertitta, who is CEO of UFC and resides in Las Vegas, could offer financial support to the football program:

Lorenzo Fertitta, CEO of Ultimate Fighting Championship and vice chairman of Station Casinos, said he has not spoken to anyone at UNLV regarding a financial commitment to the school’s football program.

Rumors have swirled the Rebels would hire Bishop Gorman High School coach Tony Sanchez to be their head coach with the financial backing from the Fertitta family.

While that doesn't sound like anything is imminent, any discussion of additional money to upgrade a compound would be a huge help to this program. 

Former head coach Mike Sanford, who was at UNLV from 2005-09 before being fired, said at his exit press conference five years ago that there is a bigger issue than just the head coach, via Ryan Greene of the Las Vegas Sun:

In the last 20 years that UNLV has played close to or at BCS-level competition, no football coach has left this program with a winning record, which includes a man — John Robinson — who is being inducted into the college football Hall of Fame next month. In my opinion, this must be a systemic, infrastructure and commitment issue, and not a coach issue.

There's a mentality (within the community) of 'Well, let's see if they win, then we'll jump on the bandwagon and help them.' And that's not going to work. It hasn't worked, like I said, for 20 years. UNLV keeps changing coaches, and that's not the answer.

Here we are five years later: UNLV has had one winning season since Sanford left, and things aren't any better. Finding the right head coach is a crucial step in the process, and Sanchez has the makings of a star at the college level. 

Rebuilding a college program does take money and facilities as well, but there are coaches who can make an impact right away. It's going to be a learning process, as with any new job, though the best parallel might be with Gerry Faust. 

Notre Dame memorably hired Faust away from Archbishop Moeller prior to the 1981 season. He struggled in five years with the program, posting a record of 30-26-1 before resigning.

There won't be nearly as much pressure on Sanchez at UNLV, which is good, as it allows him the chance to develop in ways that Faust really wasn't going to get with Notre Dame at the peak of its popularity in the sport. 

Thinking outside the box is what makes sports great. Sanchez is a local product who undoubtedly understands where UNLV is and where it can go. He will need help to get it there, but given the time and resources, he should turn the Rebels into a consistent bowl contender. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

Auburn is searching for its second straight top-10 recruiting class—with Gus Malzahn and his staff already having put together a solid group of commitments heading into the final stretch before national signing day.

The Tigers currently have 19 commitments in their 2015 class, per 247Sports.

Here's a look at the latest news, top targets and commits for the Tigers.

 

Latest News

Wed. Dec. 10

It will be an old-fashioned battle between Alabama and Auburn for 5-star defensive tackle Daron Payne.

The 6'2", 325-pounder—who is scheduled to announce his commitment on Jan. 2 at the Under Armour All-American Game—told Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover that the Tide and the Tigers are running "even" for his services.

Considering that defensive tackle is one of the Tigers biggest needs in this cycle, Payne is almost a "must-have" type of recruit. 

 

Top Targets and Commitments

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.  

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: 5 Positions Tigers Must Re-Evaluate in the Offseason

AUBURN, Ala. — Turnover is inevitable on the Plains this winter.

The Tigers will have to replace star seniors at several key positions—quarterback Nick Marshall, running back Cameron Artis-Payne, center Reese Dismukes, defensive tackle Gabe Wright and safety Jermaine Whitehead, to name a few.

But for a lot of those spots, Gus Malzahn and staff already has an established backup system, from sophomore quarterback Jeremy Johnson to the still-abundant crop of running backs that will be at Auburn for years to come.

Some positions aren't as easy thanks to possible early NFL draftees, a growing number of starter-quality players and untested underclassmen filling in the gaps.

After an 8-4 season that started with national-championship dreams, change is definitely coming. Here are five positions that might feel the impact first this offseason.

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Cardale Jones Has the Skill Set to Succeed Against Alabama

Just two short weeks ago, Cardale Jones was a second-string quarterback who was known more for his social-media blunders than his play on the football field. 

But when J.T. Barrett's season-ending ankle injury thrust him into the spotlight, the backup proved that he had more to offer with an all-time performance in the Big Ten title game.

Jones was brilliant in Ohio State's 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin last Saturday, completing 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns (with no interceptions). Despite making his first career start, he helped the Buckeyes pile up 558 total yards against the Badgers' second-ranked defense—earning title-game MVP honors along the way.  

He also showcased a skill set that could give Alabama problems when the two teams meet on New Year's Day.

The Tide are strong defensively (they rank 11th in total defense), but they've been mediocre against the pass, allowing opposing teams to throw for an average of 223.7 yards per game. That ranks 58th nationally—behind eight teams Ohio State has already faced this season.

Those are surprising numbers. With Nick Saban at the helm, Alabama's pass defense has been consistently great, but it's cracking this season. The Tide have struggled in their last three SEC matchups, surrendering an average of 339.3 passing yards to Mississippi State, Auburn and Missouri. 

It was Nick Marshall and the Tigers, though, that did the most damage. In the highly anticipated Iron Bowl, Auburn torched Alabama for a school-record 456 passing yards. Receiver Sammie Coates consistently got behind the the Tide secondary, hauling in five catches for an incredible 205 yards and two touchdowns—averaging 41.2 yards per reception.

The Tide went on to win that game 55-44, but Saban credited the poor secondary play to technical issues—vowing to fix it before their matchup against Missouri in the SEC title game, according to Duane Rankin of The Montgomery Advertiser.

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.

But they didn't correct the issue. Alabama routed Missouri 42-13, but Tigers receiver Jimmie Hunt torched the Tide for 169 yards on six receptions. 

The Tide's defensive woes are the result of uneven cornerback play. Rotating in and out all season, Bradley Sylve and Tony Brown have failed to settle in, and the Alabama defense has suffered because of it. 

That's the weakness Jones and the Buckeyes could exploit. 

Against Wisconsin last Saturday, Jones showed the arm strength and the accuracy to burn a defense deep. All three of his touchdown passes went for 39 yards or longer, complementing Ohio State's quick-strike offense perfectly. 

The Buckeyes would be smart to attack Alabama's defense the same way. With a quarterback who can throw the ball 75 yards with a flick of his wrist and a deep-threat receiver like Devin Smith—who has averaged 39.1 yards on his 29 career touchdown receptions—Ohio State is strong where Alabama is weak. 

Jones' mobility will also be a huge benefit. While no one will confuse the 6'5", 250-pound signal-caller for Braxton Miller or even Barrett, Jones has the athleticism to extend a play and either get the ball upfield or roll out to find a receiver. 

Quarterbacks with that skill set, along with teams that run an uptempo offense, have given the Tide fits over the years. Oklahoma and Auburn out-paced the Tide in victories a season ago. Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M did the same in 2012.

Can the Buckeyes repeat that success in their semifinal matchup against Alabama? That possibility certainly exists, especially if Saban and the Tide secondary fail to correct their past mistakes.

 

All stats via NCAA.com and B/R research.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Nobody Wants the Michigan Head Coaching Job

One of the most prestigious coaching positions in all of sports remains open, as the Michigan Wolverines have yet to name a new head coach for their football program. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate why the vacancy has yet to be filled. 

Who should be the next head coach at Michigan?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Notre Dame Will Be a Playoff Contender in 2015

Notre Dame has quite a bit of quality talent coming back next season. The expectations will be high, but that is something that goes along with playing for the Fighting Irish.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss what Notre Dame can accomplish next season. 

How will the Fighting Irish fare next year?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Best Bets for 2014-15 College Football Bowl Season

Bowl season is Handicapping Christmas.

According to Mike Pickett of of Odds Shark, it is right up there with the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby in terms of becoming a "must-bet" event each year.

Last year I swung and missed with my 10 Best Bets of bowl season, giving out three winners and seven losers. And I have spent the past 12 months with my tail between my legs. It was ugly. I know.

I'm sorry.

Fortunately, I come into this bowl season on a hot streak, ready to atone for my mistakes. I went 31-13 against the spread in the last three weeks of the season, as documented here, here and here. And that was when I was forced to pick every Top 25 game.

During bowl season, I am allowed to parse the board for value wherever I can find it. Big game, small game—it doesn't matter. And while I can't guarantee the 70-percent clip I have been on the past three weeks, I can call my shot and hope for at least going 6-4.

Anything over 57 percent would be a Handicapping Christmas miracle!

 

All odds courtesy of Odds Shark unless otherwise noted.

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Wisconsin Football: How Badgers Will Replace Melvin Gordon in 2015

After a season that could end up being the most productive in FBS history, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon officially put his name into the 2015 NFL Draft on Tuesday.

This seemed like a foregone conclusion for the 6'1", 213-pound Heisman Trophy finalist. He's rushed for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns in his junior season and (briefly) held the FBS single-game rushing record when he ran for 408 yards against Nebraska on Nov. 15.

He needs 293 yards in Wisconsin's bowl game, which takes place Jan. 1 against Auburn in the Outback Bowl, to surpass Barry Sanders' record of 2,628 yards.

Now that the Badgers know for certain they won't have Gordon in the backfield in 2015, it's time to look at exactly how they'll manage without such a prolific rusher. Look at Wisconsin's overall rushing numbers, though, and it won't be as difficult as you'd think.

Wisconsin ranks fourth in the FBS in rushing offense, with 314 yards per game. Gordon was responsible for 179.7 of those, or 57.2 percent of the overall output, but he was by far the only rushing option.

Sophomore Corey Clement looks to be the main beneficiary of Gordon's departure, and his production over his first two years bodes well for the 5'11", 210-pound running back to be able to step nicely into the featured role.

He ran for 844 yards and nine touchdowns on just 132 carries this season—an average of 6.4 yards per carry.

Gordon commented on Clement back in August, per Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

He can do it all. ... He is really, really, really aggressive. When he hits the hole, he is so low that you can barely tackle him. You really have to get your pads low when you play against him. He is fast, too. He has a burst, quick feet. He definitely brings a different element to the game.

Clement had three 100-yard rushing games this season, despite being the backup. That comes after a freshman campaign in 2013 in which he averaged 8.2 yards per carry and scored seven rushing TDs despite only running it 67 times.

Wisconsin also has a pair of freshman runners, Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw, who redshirted this season. Both were rated as 3-star prospects in the 2014 recruiting class by 247Sports.

Whoever is carrying the ball will be working behind a revamped offensive line, as Wisconsin is set to graduate three starters with a combined 95 starts.

Junior guard Ray Ball, who has appeared in 30 games over his career, figures to slide into openings in either the left or right spot. The other guard spot and right tackle Rob Havenstein figure to be replaced by young backups Trent Denlinger and Hayden Biegel.

Left tackle Tyler Marz should be back for his senior year, bringing with him 37 starts, along with center Dan Voltz, who has started 24 games over the past two seasons.

The key to replacing Gordon's production, though, lies in the direction Wisconsin goes at quarterback.

Juniors Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy split time at the position this season, with the pro-style Stave missing the first four games with an injury before taking the bulk of the snaps over the final nine games.

He struggled, though, completing only 53.6 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.

McEvoy, a run-first quarterback, was third on the team in rushing with 574 yards and six TDs and an 8.8 yards-per-carry average.

Also expected to be in the mix: redshirting freshman D.J. Gillins, a 4-star recruit who was rated as the seventh-best dual-threat passer in the country last year.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Bold Predictions on How College Football Playoff Will Impact Recruiting

The much-anticipated first edition of the College Football Playoff is finally a reality, and its impact is bound to spread to the recruiting trail between now and national signing day.

Alabama and Florida State—two perennial recruiting powers—made the playoff, and the schools occupy the top two spots in 247Sports' team rankings.

Meanwhile, Oregon and Ohio State are hoping to break through and end the streak of the last five national titles coming from either the state of Alabama or Florida.

What are some potential ripple effects of the upcoming College Football Playoff on the recruiting trail?

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