NCAA Football

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Oklahoma Sooners Betting Odds, Analysis

Two of the Big 12’s best teams not named the Kansas Jayhawks will meet in Norman on Saturday when the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (14-1) host the 11th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers (15-1).

The top-ranked Jayhawks (14-2) suffered their second loss of the season at West Virginia as one-point road favorites, 74-63, on Wednesday and could be giving up their ranking to the Sooners pending this result.

Oklahoma is listed as a six-point home favorite at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark and will try to avoid being the next upset victim of the Mountaineers, who are a perfect 4-0 in Big 12 play.

The Sooners suffered their lone setback at Kansas in triple overtime but beat the spread as seven-point road dogs on January 4. They have won two in a row since then against the Kansas State Wildcats and Oklahoma State Cowboys, although they did not cover either game.

West Virginia’s only loss took place on the road against the Virginia Cavaliers, 70-54, as 4.5-point road dogs on December 8 of last year, with the team currently riding an eight-game winning streak and going 4-4 against the spread during that stretch.

The Mountaineers are 3-3 ATS on the road and will be trying to cover their third straight overall.

The key for West Virginia will be holding Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield in check. Hield ranks second in the country in scoring with 26.6 points per game, and he totaled 21 in each of the two meetings a year ago.

The Mountaineers won the first game between the teams, 86-65, at home as 4.5-point favorites and lost the second, 71-52, on the road as 5.5-point dogs. The Sooners had won five of the previous six meetings both straight up and ATS, according to the Odds Shark College Basketball Database.

Hield scored a career-high 46 points on 13-of-23 shooting (57 percent) in the loss to the Jayhawks, and he has stayed hot in the last two games. He scored 31 against Kansas State and had 26 versus Oklahoma State, making 21 of 31 shots from the field (68 percent), including 12-of-20 (60 percent) from beyond the three-point arc.

The over is 5-1 in Oklahoma’s last six, with Hield averaging 31 points per game.

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Derrick Henry Discusses NFL Draft Grade, Preferred Destination, More

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry racked up the yards, accolades and trophies during a junior season that was one for the record books.

However, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner didn't agree with the second-round draft grade the NFL's draft advisory board handed him.

"I feel like, just because I got my grade, it doesn't mean I'm not going to be first round," Henry said. "I feel like what I do and how I test at the combine and work out. I feel like I will be first round. There's no doubt in my mind that I won't be."

After racking up 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns—both SEC records—Henry expected a first-round grade. Yet many consider the Ohio State Buckeyes' Ezekiel Elliott to be the No. 1 back in the draft, while Henry sits at No. 2.

Even with just one running back ahead of him, CBS Sports projects the player who ran for 158 yards and three touchdowns in a national championship game win over the Clemson Tigers to go in the late first or early second round.

Henry, who told Casagrande he hopes to land with the Dallas Cowboys, will have one advantage over other backs. 

"Nobody is going to outwork me," he said. "I'm going to push and work hard every day. I feel fee like hard work pushes you over the limit and makes you who you are. I'm going to work hard every day. Nobody is going to outwork me."

However, no amount of hard work is going to land Henry with the Cowboyswho hold the No. 4 selection—in the first round unless they trade down.

One knock on Henry is that some experts feel like he benefited from a talented offensive line at Alabama. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller provided a stat that proves he ran behind talented run-blockers:

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports wrote about Henry's weaknesses:

Like most big backs, Henry needs some space to get moving. He's not nearly as powerful running east to west. He also lacks ideal balance for the position, sporting a top-heavy frame and long legs which make it easier for defenders to tackle him low. This forces Henry to lunge, on occasion, rather than drive forward.

However, Henry is confident in his abilities and is going to focus on what he can do to get better.

"No, I'm not satisfied," he said, per Casagrande. "I'm never really satisfied. But all I worry about [is] what I can control."

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Breaking Down Alabama's Depth Chart Following NFL Draft Departures

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Apparently playing in Dallas twice this season, where the University of Alabama football team won more games at AT&T Stadium than the National Football League’s Cowboys, made quite an impression on running back Derrick Henry.

When asked if there’s any NFL team in particular he’d like to play for, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner said “the Cowboys, but any team that drafts me."

"(They’re) not my favorite team, just a team that I feel like has a great organization."

Henry hasn’t gone as far as look at any team’s roster, but even with his and A’Shawn Robinson’s departure, as the junior defensive lineman also declared himself eligible for the 2016 draft on Friday, the team they’re leaving behind remains pretty loaded as well.

Of the 85 scholarship players Nick Saban compiled for the 2015-16 season, 18 were initially considered 5-star recruits by 247Sports and another 47 were 4-star players. That worked out to 76.5 percent of the roster.

Here’s the scary part:

Of all the players leaving the program, only two were considered 5-star recruits. They just happened to be the two who just declared for the NFL draft together, Henry and Robinson.

“I didn't do a draft grade,” said Robinson, who could be the first defensive lineman selected and appears to be almost a first-round lock. “Coach Saban talked to coaches for me to see where they'd draft me.”

Heading into the weekend the Crimson Tide already know they're losing:

Seniors: Quarterback Jake Coker, linebacker Denzel Devall, running back Kenyan Drake, tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith, tackle Dominick Jackson, cornerback Cyrus Jones, center Ryan Kelly, nose guard Darren Lake, linebacker Dillon Lee, guard Isaac Luatua, safety Geno Matias-Smith, wide receiver Richard Mullaney, tight end Michael Nysewander, defensive lineman D.J. Pettway, linebacker Reggie Ragland, defensive lineman Jarran Reed, cornerback Bradley Sylve and defensive back Jabriel Washington.

Juniors declaring for the draft: Henry and Robinson.

Transfers: Quarterback Alec Morris and wide receiver Chris Black.

All indications are that defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and tight end O.J. Howard are still weighing their NFL options (and both were 5-star recruits).

Linebackers Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams have already announced their return, as has starting strong safety Eddie Jackson—who just made the move from cornerback this past season.

Players have until Monday afternoon to declare early for the draft.

“A lot of guys will step up next year,” Matias-Smith said. “Alabama will be back.”

Although playing until mid-January will delay the team’s offseason conditioning program, the next position battles will begin during spring practices sometime in March. But there may not be as many competitions as expected.

On offense there are just four. Alabama will have another quarterback competition, this time between just three players instead of last year’s five: Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Barnett.

At running back, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough are expected to form the tandem to handle the majority of snaps, while the offensive line has to replace center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Dominick Jackson. Alabama already has players who could step in tomorrow if it had a game.  

On defense, the entire starting line will need to be replaced should Allen bolt, but Alabama had a nine-man rotation, 14 if you include the linebackers serving as pass-rushers, so the losses figure to be felt more on the back end.

At linebacker it appears that Reuben Foster will return in hopes of becoming Alabama’s next great player in the interior.

“When you think about Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Mosley the next in line is Reggie Ragland, and Reuben Foster will next year be a first-round possibility,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I think it would be smart for him to go back and be the leader of that defense just as Reggie Ragland was.”

Williams and Rashaan Evans will try to take the next steps in their development with Anderson a natural fit to be the full-time Jack, the full-time linebacker/defensive end hybrid position in Saban’s scheme.

Meanwhile, the secondary will lose the leadership of Cyrus Jones, but Saban started restocking a couple of years ago, and the back end could be a real team strength.

All in all, with so many players getting experience this national championship season, there’s really not much retooling that has to be done, and Alabama will sign another top-notch recruiting class next month as well.

One has to wonder how many of them might eventually leave early for the NFL, which has become a pretty regular thing every year as the coaches reload the roster.

"We've had 20 guys go out early since 2009 and 13 of them have been first-round draft picks, which we're very, very proud of,” Saban said. “I think as always, every player—which was really demonstrated at the national championship game out in Phoenix this year when we had over 20 guys that were former players here that played in the NFL now—they were all on the sidelines with their team and in the locker room as if they were a part of the team.

“These guys know and it's a part of our tradition that we're very proud of their accomplishments, we're very concerned about their futures, and we're always here to support them. They're always welcome to come back to Alabama, and we certainly encourage them to come back and get their degree."

Robinson made a point of saying that he will get his degree.

“I'll miss everything,” Henry said. “This program is…just everything. I loved playing here. I loved going to school here. I'll miss everything about it. The fans, football, everything.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Top Targets Heading into Final Stretch of 2016 Recruiting Cycle

Auburn's coaches resurrected from the "dead period" earlier this week. Now it's time for them to nail down what they hope will be another strong top-10 recruiting class.

Gus Malzahn and his transitioning staff currently have the No. 10 class in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings—a collection of the industry's top rankings. What's impressive is that Auburn has already achieved that high ranking while only landing pledges from 17 recruits.

That means there is still plenty of room left for Auburn to pick up even more highly touted recruits between now and the end of signing day in less than three weeks. 

This upcoming weekend is set to be a huge one for the Tigers' recruiting efforts, with a mixture of 11 top targets and current commitments currently scheduled to be on the Plains, per Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports. 

With just a short time remaining until the end of the 2016 cycle, here are 10 of Auburn's top targets left on the board and where they stand with the Tigers at this point in the frenzy.

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The Epic College Football Legacy of Alabama Running Back Derrick Henry

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When the clock expired and the confetti started to fall at University of Phoenix Stadium, Deshaun Watson wanted to find one player in particular from the opposing sideline, Derrick Henry.

The University of Alabama running back and Watson had gotten to know one another and it was a relationship that the Clemson quarterback wanted to continue. Not only had they become friends, but Henry had achieved the two things that had barely eluded him during the 2015-16 season: the Heisman Trophy and national championship.

“I'm trying to do the same thing and just learn from guys who have been there and done it,” Watson said.

There are a lot of people who will be studying Henry’s Crimson Tide career, which officially came to a close with the announcement of his decision to enter the 2016 NFL draft on Friday.

Although offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin sort of gave away the decision by saying at the Cotton Bowl: “We’ll replace a Heisman Trophy winner just like we did a Biletnikoff winner the year before,” there really wasn’t much for Henry to come back for, especially when compared to the money he’ll soon be making.

"I just felt like this is the way to go out," Henry said. "With everything that happened this year I've been very fortunate."

Granted, Henry may soon be doing Heisman House ads, but he may not end up being a first-round selection, which is usually the standard Nick Saban uses for giving his blessing for players considering leaving school early unless one probably can't improve his draft stock.

The NFL's advisory committee gave Henry a second-round grade. 

"Henry doesn’t have enough wiggle and change of direction to attract first- and maybe second-round interest," ESPN draft analyst Kel Kiper Jr. said. "Maybe third round for him. He’s a build-up-to-speed kind of guy, he doesn’t have that initial quickness through the hole kind type of player you need for the NFL.

"For Henry I’ll say third round, maybe second."

Nevertheless, he's already considered the best running back in Crimson Tide history.

Among Henry's accomplishments:

  • Even though he wasn’t considered Alabama’s starting running back until this season, he’s already the program’s all-time leading rusher. Henry had 3,591 yards to top Shaun Alexander’s 3,565 (1996-99).
  • His 2,219 rushing yards for the season shattered Trent Richardson’s record of 1,679 (2011), a difference of 540 yards.
  • Henry had 10 100-yard performances in 2015 and 16 for his career, both setting a school record.
  • His 28 rushing touchdowns set a season record, and the career mark of 42 tied Mark Ingram (2008-10).
  • The last time Henry failed to score a touchdown in a game was against LSU in 2014. His 28 rushing touchdowns set both a school and Southeastern Conference record that was previously 23 (Tim Tebow and Tre Mason).
  • Henry became the 25th back in NCAA history to rush for 2,000 or more yards in a single season but the first in the SEC. He topped Herschel Walker’s league record of 1,891 yards on 385 carries set in 1981.

The numbers are even more remarkable considering that Alabama’s initial approach this past season was to use a two-back attack.

“I didn't know who would be more productive, Derrick Henry or Kenyan Drake,” Saban said.

But while Drake ran into some injury issues and the only other running backs on the roster were freshmen, Henry carried more and more of the offense, especially during the second half of the season. When he started approaching and surpassing the benchmark numbers achieved by Bo Jackson and Walker, awards voters couldn’t ignore him.

Since the Doak Walker Award for best running back started being handed out in 1990, Henry’s just the fourth player to win it along with the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp player of the years awards all in the same season (Ron Dayne in 1999, Ricky Williams in 1998 and Eddie George in 1995).

Against nine ranked teams he ended up rushing for 166.6 yards per game (1,499), exceeding 200 against three of them. The only one in which Henry didn’t get at least 125 yards against was Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, a 38-0 victory during which the coaches clearly held him back.

“We haven't really played anyone that big” Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough said. “But what he does well is he doesn't go down. Takes him two, three, four guys to take him down and he's always falling forward. So he makes the two-yard gains turn into five or six. If you continue to do that for an entire game, you know, it wears down the defenses. That's what you see what happens as the third, fourth quarter comes around.”

He did get his yards against Clemson on the biggest stage of his career, rushing for 158 yards on 36 carries and scoring three touchdowns after Dabo Swinney called him “A whole different animal.” Henry probably would have been named the offensive MVP of the national championship game if junior tight end O.J. Howard hadn’t had 208 receiving yards.

“It's tough to go one-on-one with him,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said. “It's like old-school football, if you're not ready to go before he touches the ball, then it won't work out.”

Consequently, when it comes to Henry’s legacy he’s in very exclusive company, and you’re splitting hairs when trying to separate him from the best running backs to ever play the game.

Overall, there have been only four running backs in SEC history to have four 200-yard games in one season: Walker, Jackson, Henry and LSU’s Leonard Fournette just joined them with his 212-yard performance in the Texas Bowl. He’ll have a better shot of challenging Walker’s 171.9 rushing yards per game in 1981 and 159.4 for his collegiate career.

Moreover, Henry was technically only a starter for one season and is not in the top 10 of all-time SEC rushing leaders, a prestigious list topped by Walker with 5,259 yards from 1980-82, followed by Arkansas’ Darren McFadden (4,590), LSU’s Kevin Faulk (4,557) and Jackson (4,303).

But none of them led his team to a conference and national championship while playing a schedule like Alabama’s, nor as a co-captain of his team. They also never quite did what Henry accomplished in back-to-back games against Auburn and Florida in the SEC Championship Game.

“I didn't think I would see that ever, 90 carries in seven days—and then I think he could have kept going,” Kiffin said. “He was in the locker room afterwards like he just was warming up.

“Somehow he just continues to get stronger, and that goes back to how he works, the way that he practices, the way that we're in the sprints in the practice—and he's not worried about anything else except for getting himself better.”

“I think our team kind of [took] on his persona and physical nature,” former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said.

Perhaps that’s Henry’s true legacy and the one that will be widely overlooked. He didn’t just have as much drive and determination as anyone else, but the Crimson Tide did as well.

That’s what earned him the honor of being a co-captain on the nation’s most high-profile team despite being just a junior. It's also what helps make him comparable to college football's greatest running backs.

“That's just the culture that our program and our coaching staff has created here at Alabama,” Henry said. “We work as hard as we can and try to get better week after week. It all comes down to hard work.” 

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

A'Shawn Robinson Declares for 2016 NFL Draft: Latest Comments and Reaction

One of college football's most dominant defensive players is making the leap to the pros, as Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson declared for the 2016 NFL draft on Friday.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported Robinson's intentions.

The 6'4", 312-pound Robinson was dominant during his junior campaign in 2015, as he registered 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide. 

While the Fort Worth, Texas, native was excellent in each of his first two seasons at Alabama, he made some changes leading up to the 2015 campaign that made him even more dangerous and difficult for opposing offensive lines to handle.

According to Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated's Campus Rush, Robinson dropped some weight, which added to his athleticism and ability to wreak havoc.

"It's been good for me. I feel great. My body feels a lot better," Robinson said. "I'm stronger and quicker. I'm faster off the ball."

That certainly manifested itself, as Robinson was a handful all season long. He was a factor in essentially every game, but the contest that truly put him on the map was the Tide's victory over the LSU Tigers.

In addition to holding running back Leonard Fournette to just 31 yards, Robinson blocked an extra point by leaping over the offensive line in remarkable fashion.

While the national audience was taken aback by seeing a 300-plus-pound player pull off such an incredible feat, Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson claimed he and the rest of his teammates weren't surprised.

"That's just A'Shawn," Anderson said, per John Zenor of the Associated Press. "He can do that kind of stuff. Most people don't believe it, but he's a freak. That's what kind of stuff we're used to seeing him do."

That level of athleticism should serve Robinson well in the NFL, and all signs point toward it making him a first-round pick, although the lengthy draft process still has to play out.

With defensive linemen such as Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and Leonard Williams making an instant impact as rookies in the NFL over the past couple of seasons, there is likely to be plenty of interest in Robinson.

He appears to be NFL-ready in terms of his body and physicality, which is why it is tough to argue with his decision to leave Alabama a year early.

Robinson accomplished essentially everything at the collegiate level, and his NFL stock may never be higher than it is right now.

There is no question that Robinson upheld Alabama's reputation as a defensive power, and he promises to be the latest in a long line of Crimson Tide defensive players to thrive professionally.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Teams with Biggest Question Marks Heading into Offseason

Every college football team has some questions it hopes to answer before the 2016 season comes around, and there's plenty of time to get this done. For some teams, though, these puzzles aren't that simple to solve.

Not every team has the luxury of just plugging in backups for departed stars and expecting the same results, since most don't know for certain yet who the replacements will be. Other teams are dealing with staff changes and don't know how that will affect their success.

The questions vary from team to team, and there's at least one for every school in FBS. We're focusing on the ones whose question marks stand out more than others.

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Way-Too-Early 2016 Big 12 Football Power Rankings

The Big 12 finally made it into the College Football Playoff in 2015, though the appearance was short-lived. Despite being one of the hottest teams in college football in November, Oklahoma fell to No. 1 Clemson, 37-17, in the Orange Bowl.

However, the Sooners are looking to reload and get back to the playoff in 2016-17. Do head coach Bob Stoops and Co. have what it takes to win yet another conference championship and finish in the top four? Let's take a peek at the way-too-early power rankings for the Big 12 based on returning starters and talent, as well as trajectory. 

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