NCAA Football

X-Factors Heading into the CFB Championship Game

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Stud Recruits Who Could Flip Heading into National Signing Day

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

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

Which recruit is most likely to flip?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Alabama Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Crimson Tide

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

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

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

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

 

Fifth straight No. 1 class?

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

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

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

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

 

Possible staff changes

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

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

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

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

 

Another QB battle

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

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

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

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

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

 

The next superstar?

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

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

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

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

Who will be the next batch of stars?

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

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

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

 

Defensive adjustments

Last offseason, we saw an overhaul of offensive philosophy.

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

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

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

Is it time to do the same on defense?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

The NCAA made the announcement Tuesday afternoon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

12 Players Who Helped Their Draft Stock the Most with Great Bowl Games

Some of the best young players we'll see on Sundays next fall just gave themselves a heck of a send-off on a different day of the week.

With bowl season in the rearview mirror, attention starts turning toward the NFL draft. Players are declaring early, and outgoing seniors are making preparations for all-star games and combines. But before all of that, many players had one last game to shine on the college stage.

For some, that final game served as a stock booster. Thanks to a national stage and a big performance, certain players will see their names rise on draft boards after how they fared in their bowls.

Here's a look at 12 players who saw their stock rise the most as a result of their final college games.

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5 Bold Predictions 1 Month Away from National Signing Day

With less than one month remaining until national signing day, the winners and losers of the 2015 class will be shaped by what happens during the next few weeks.

The coaching carousel has mostly ran its course, with schools such as Florida and Michigan hoping to salvage classes that currently rank as the worst groups in their respective leagues.

There are still a handful of top prospects who have yet to make a commitment, and there are others who are still looking around despite early pledges.

What surprises are in store for the closing moments of the 2015 class?

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Oregon vs. Ohio State: Top Player Matchups in College Football Championship 2015

When the No. 2 Oregon Ducks square off against the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes on Monday, January 12 for the 2015 National Championship, all eyes will be watching to see which program becomes the inaugural College Football Playoff champion.

Oregon earned its spot in the title game by beating the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles in decisive fashion, 59-20. On the other hand, Ohio State stunned the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, 42-35, to catapult itself into the national championship.

Here is all the vital viewing information for the 2015 College Football National Championship and the top player matchups to watch.

 

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Monday, January 12

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

 

Marcus Mariota vs. Ohio State’s Secondary

Oregon comes into the game with plenty of momentum and a Heisman trophy-winning quarterback under center. If the Ducks want to win the 2015 national title, Marcus Mariota will have to lead the team to victory with his arm.

Mariota has thrived under pressure and shown why he is the best in the nation. Whether it was accounting for five total touchdowns (two passing, three rushing) against Arizona in the Pac 12 Championship or racking up over 400 yards of all-purpose offense and another three touchdowns against Florida State, the junior quarterback has flourished.

Despite the immense amount of success he found during the regular season and against the Seminoles, Mariota spoke to ESPN.com, showcasing his composure and focus, saying, “It's incredible. I'm so proud of these guys right here. We've got one more to take care of.”

The Ohio State secondary will not go down without a fight, though. The Buckeyes gave up 237 yards and two touchdowns to Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, but the unit managed to rack up three interceptions as well.

Mariota is the best quarterback Ohio State has seen all season and he will capitalize on any of the mistakes the secondary makes. In the same vein, the Buckeyes defenders will take advantage of any mistakes Mariota makes.

It’s the ultimate on-field tactical battle.

 

Cardale Jones vs. Oregon’s Front Seven

When the season began, Ohio State sophomore Cardale Jones was the third-string quarterback for the Buckeyes. Now, he has led the team to back-to-back wins in the Big Ten title game and the Sugar Bowl.

In the College Football Playoff semifinal, Jones was supposed to be outmatched against Alabama, but he showed confidence in his ability and was a key reason Ohio State managed the upset over the Crimson Tide.

Skip Bayless of ESPN spoke glowingly of Jones and his performance against Alabama:

For Oregon, stopping Jones on the ground will be even more important than shutting him down through the air. The quarterback’s 243 passing yards were impressive, but it was his ability to run for 43 yards against the stout Alabama defense was a real difference maker.

Jones will face a tough test against a tough Ducks defense in the national championship, though, finishing 27th in the nation allowing 22.3 points per game. Oregon may have allowed 180 rushing yards in the Rose Bowl to Florida State, but the team shut down Jameis Winston, holding him to -15 yards on the ground.

If Ohio State wants to win the national title, Jones must find success running the ball against the Ducks front seven.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ray Lewis III to Transfer from Miami to Coastal Carolina

Ray Lewis III is done following in his dad's footsteps. 

According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, the son of former University of Miami star Ray Lewis has decided to transfer from the Hurricanes to Coastal Carolina:

Lewis III posted a picture of Coastal Carolina's mascot on his Instagram account with the following caption: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, if opportunity doesn't knock... build a door!#Round2"

He was recruited as a running back but switched to cornerback during his first season on campus, which he redshirted. Even with the position change, though, he never saw the field, playing zero snaps in 2014. 

As the Miami Herald's Manny Navarro noted, the new environment—and fresh start—could be exactly what he needs:

The Chanticleers had an impressive 2014 season, finishing 11-2 with a trip to the FCS quarterfinals. While Lewis should be able to find playing time, he shouldn't take anything for granted at the very solid program. 

As for Miami, transfers are never good to see after 6-7 seasons, but these kinds of things happen when kids aren't seeing the field. While its disappointing to lose the son of a school legend, it shouldn't prove detrimental to Al Golden's team. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston: Latest Comments, Speculation Surrounding 2015 NFL Draft Decision

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will be one of the most talked about prospects in the 2015 NFL draft should he decide to make the jump. That said, a final decision on his status reportedly isn't expected until after the National Championship Game.    

David M. Hale of ESPN.com reports the latest comments from the redshirt sophomore's father, Antonor Winston, suggest no announcement will come before the title game between Oregon and Ohio State:

"Antonor Winston said the timetable for an announcement will be sometime after Monday, which means at least another week of waiting for Florida State fans, many of whom have already assumed the star quarterback will depart," Hale reported.

Winston is an interesting case. He was nothing short of outstanding during his freshman campaign en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. His numbers dipped this season, however, which along with some off-field issues could raise flags for front offices around the NFL, as the report notes.

It would be a major surprise if he decided to return to the Seminoles, though. He's still considered an elite prospect who will likely battle with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to become the first player at the position off the board this spring.

Safid Deen of Nole Sports states FSU director of compliance Derrick Coles had sent out a message of support for three underclassmen, including Winston, believed to be strongly considering going pro. It was quickly removed:

Going back to school would represent a serious risk for the quarterback. If the decline continued, he would be putting himself in position to see his stock drop off considerably.

It sounds like a final decision should come early next week. The absolute latest date for Winston to make a choice is Jan. 15, the deadline for underclassmen.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: How John Chavis Will Fix Aggies Defense

The Texas A&M football team made a monumental statement when it went out and hired John Chavis to coach its defense. Chavis will fix the defense in 2015 and make the Aggies into a championship contender.

The Texas A&M offense under head coach Kevin Sumlin has had elite offenses. The defense has struggled to stop opposing teams, and that necessitated a change at defensive coordinator.

Sumlin fired defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and replaced him with John Chavis. The decision to go out and hire one of the top defensive coordinators in the country is a testament to the commitment of Sumlin and the Aggie program to winning.

Chavis' defense coupled with a typical Sumlin offense should make the Aggies competitive for SEC and national championships every year. His hire will be a game-changer for the Texas A&M program.

This is a look at how Chavis will mold the Aggies defense into one of the best units in the country.  

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Can Former Texas DC Manny Diaz Succeed in the SEC?

Fair or not, most people have already made up their minds on whether new Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is a good defensive coordinator.

Some remember him for his work at Mississippi State in 2010 when his Bulldogs forced 28 turnovers—the third-most in the SEC—and held opponents to 19.8 points per game and the second-best red-zone touchdown percentage in the conference (42.5 percent).

Others, on the other hand, remember his demise.

Lured away by Texas following the 2010 season, the Longhorn defense got progressively worse under Diaz, and it culminated when Texas gave up 679 total yards—550 of which were on the ground—in a road loss to BYU on Sept. 7, 2013.

Diaz was fired the next day, but his resume as a hotshot coordinator who couldn't live up to the hype was etched in stone.

Or was it?

Diaz was hired for his second go-round at Mississippi State on Monday, replacing Geoff Collins, who left to become Florida's defensive coordinator.

"When you look at the new standard Mississippi State has set and the national prominence that has come with the accomplishments of 2014, we want to continue to raise the bar here," Diaz said in a release from the school. "This is a tremendous place to develop players on and off the field and ultimately compete for championships."

It's a fantastic move for Diaz and for Mississippi State. 

This is the place where Diaz really made a name for himself, and he did it shutting down potent offenses.

Auburn won a national championship that season with quarterback Cam Newton at the helm, but Diaz held the Tigers to just 348 yards in Starkville and was a big reason why Mississippi State had the ball late with a chance to tie or win. 

Kentucky's offense finished the season averaging 427.8 yards per game behind quarterback Mike Hartline, running back Derrick Locke and wide receiver Randall Cobb. Against Mississippi State, the Wildcats managed just 347.

Those were two of the more creative offenses in the SEC at the time, and over the last four seasons that number has only increased.

As former Bulldog quarterback Matt Wyatt of Head To Head radio in Mississippi notes, he was a tremendous coach during his lone season in Starkville:

There will be some speed bumps. 

Continuity played a big role in Mississippi State's success in 2014, and that won't continue in 2015.

P.J. Jones, Kaleb Eulls and and first-team All-SEC defensive end Preston Smith will all be gone from the defensive line, first-team linebacker Benardrick McKinney could jump early and two starters in the secondary—Jamerson Love and Jay Hughes—have exhausted their eligibility.

That doesn't mean Diaz can't recapture the magic.

There's still a solid foundation up front with former 5-star recruit Chris Jones at defensive tackle and a leader at linebacker in Beniquez Brown, who finished second on the team in tackles (62). 

Diaz can build around them and continue the tradition of Mississippi State producing physical and punishing front sevens. After all, he was one of the men who helped build the tradition.

Don't be fooled by Diaz' time at Texas. It was a sinking ship at the time, and Diaz was thrown off before it went under. He can still coach, and will succeed at Mississippi State during his second stint in Starkville.

 

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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'Finish' Is Keyword for USC Football in 2015 Season

As is often the case with departing seniors, linebacker Anthony Sarao left his USC football teammates with some words of wisdom after his final game, a 45-42 Trojans win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Dec. 27—or, more accurately, one word of wisdom.

“If you really think about our team and this season, finish has been the word in our locker room,” Sarao said. “That’s been the story of our team: Arizona State, we didn’t finish. Utah, we didn’t finish.”

Those losses to which Sarao referred both came on the final possession of each game. Had USC closed out either contest successfully, it would have faced Oregon in the Trojans’ first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game appearance.

“It took until the last game for our team to come together and finish, and it's great to see," Sarao said. 

He added that the positive trend from the Holiday Bowl should "roll over into the next year." 

Parlaying USC’s successful close of its last game of 2014 into the 2015 season “will be a huge focus…throughout this entire offseason,” according to head coach Steve Sarkisian.

“The one consistent we can get out of this: [If] we want to be a championship-caliber football team, we have to be better in the fourth quarter,” Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian was an assistant coach on the last championship-winning USC team. The 2008 Trojans claimed the conference title with an overall, fourth-quarter edge of 105-32.

When the 2004 USC team won the program’s last national championship, it outscored opponents 110-26 in final frames.

This year’s Trojans were on the wrong side of a combined 86-72 fourth-quarter disparity.

However, the fourth quarter was merely the culmination of a trend. Season-long point totals show a quarter-by-quarter regression: from USC advantages of 167-53 in first quarters, to 117-96 in the second, to 110-92 in the third and the fourth-quarter disadvantage.

The decline suggests USC's sanction-thinned roster did indeed impact the Trojans over the course of games, though Sarkisian did not offer this conclusion. 

"Maybe there’s a sense of maybe not being quite as aggressive in the fourth," he said. "Maybe we’re just not doing a well enough job of getting our players to understand some of the adjustments we’re making, so we’re not getting the execution we want."

Execution is critical in end-of-game situations, and the Trojans showed improvement to this end in the Holiday Bowl. For example, wide receiver Nelson Agholor was on the field for Nebraska’s final heave, giving USC an additional player with a nose for the ball to attack.

And attack he did, batting down the Cornhuskers’ Hail Mary to avoid a repeat of the Arizona State finish.

But complicating the process of remedying its fourth-quarter woes is that the nature of these struggles varied from game to game.

“We have to be better offensively in our ability to score points,” Sarkisian said. “And we have to be better defensively at getting those critical stops at the most critical moments.”

Scoreless stretches late made otherwise dominant games against Arizona, Cal and Nebraska a bit too close for the Trojans' comfort. USC also failed to capitalize on opportunities in fourth quarters, such as Agholor's fourth-down run at Utah that would have likely iced a win. 

But then, there was the Arizona State game, in which the Trojans scored twice and amassed 150 yards of offense. The failure of that game was giving up 20 points, 13 of which came in all of 42 combined seconds.

Since the struggles were all-encompassing, so too will be how the USC coaching staff addresses them in preparation for next year. 

“It won’t just be physically, it won’t just be emotional,” Sarkisian said. “It will also be tactical.”

 

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

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'Finish' Is Keyword for USC Football in 2015 Season

As is often the case with departing seniors, linebacker Anthony Sarao left his USC football teammates with some words of wisdom after his final game, a 45-42 Trojans win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Dec...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

TCU's Claim to the 2015 National Championship

Oh, yes. The hype machine for TCU in 2015 has been warmed up. A sharp pull of the starting lever, a quick whiff of ozone and it's up and ready to go. 

That's the result of the Horned Frogs' 42-3 rout over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. With the exception of Oregon's 59-20 victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl, it was as impressive a showing as anyone in the postseason. 

It also added more ammunition to the debate over whether TCU should have been included in the playoff. Heading into the final week of regular-season games, the Frogs appeared to be securely ranked at No. 3 before falling a whopping three spots even though it took care of business against Iowa State. 

Was it a matter of TCU's "brand" not being strong enough? Did the Big 12 co-champions title/lack of a conference title game hurt? There are a lot of theories out there. 

Know this, though: TCU, projected to finish seventh in the Big 12 this past season by media members, won't sneak up on anyone in 2015. Quite to the contrary, the Frogs are already bathing in preseason hype. Nationalchamps.net has TCU as its preseason No. 1 team. 

Among those looking at TCU as a playoff contender in 2015 is Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples

The Horned Frogs could return as many as 16 starters from a team that went 11-1 during the regular season, so they’ll probably be the preseason favorite in the Big 12. And if you read this week’s Punt, Pass & Pork, you know Boykin is basically in the same -- albeit healthier -- place that Oregon’s Marcus Mariota was at this time last year.

Staples points out a key distinction about preseason expectations. Bowl season "momentum" is largely a myth. Yes, it ends the year on a positive note and it gives head coaches a drum to beat in the offseason booster/alumni circuit. Offseason workouts are a little more enjoyable. Any carry-over from a performance standpoint, though, is nonexistent. At some point, the game is in the past and forgotten. 

Oklahoma, which had lofty playoff expectations after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last January, sputtered to an 8-5 season and got clocked in the Russell Athletic Bowl by Clemson. Offseason hype didn't exactly help the Sooners there. 

"I talked to them [TCU players] about teams that had great seasons, that were highly ranked, that weren't there anymore," Frogs coach Gary Patterson said after the Peach Bowl (via Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). "The common mistake that those teams make is that they don't think they have to go back to the beginning. We'll go back to the bottom."

All anyone can look at is what TCU has returning, which is 10 of 11 offensive starters plus co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. The addition of Meacham and Cumbie last offseason proved to be incredible and the results showed immediately. This past season, TCU's offense finished third in the country with 46.5 points per game; that's three full touchdowns more than 2013's total (25 points per game). 

Beyond the numbers is the development of a sleeping giant on offense, starting with quarterback Trevone Boykin. Boykin, who in two years had to play the role of reliever rather than starter, once appeared bound for a position change. Instead, and with a full offseason as the No. 1 guy, he led the Big 12 in total offense (354.5 yards per game).

In many ways, Boykin became the dangerous offensive weapon many thought Oklahoma dual-threat quarterback Trevor Knight was going to become after his lights-out Sugar Bowl performance. 

The development goes beyond Boykin, though. TCU's wide receivers, an underachieving group in 2013, became one of the more productive units in the Big 12. In the absence of injured starting running back B.J. Catalon, Nebraska transfer and former blue-chip recruit Aaron Green finally emerged with four 100-yard performances in the final six games. The offensive line, a revolving door in '13, was finally healthy with the first team starting all but one game together. 

All of those players return. That's nightmare fuel for opposing defensive coordinators, and it's also why TCU might rely on some traditional Big 12 shootouts to win another conference title next season. 

TCU's key losses are on defense—and at every level. Gone are defensive tackle Chucky Hunter, linebacker Paul Dawson, defensive back Kevin White and safety Sam Carter. That's the team's anchor in the trenches, leading tackler and two great defenders. That's a lot of star power to replace. 

Patterson is a defensive guy, and 2015 will test his abilities once again to coach up another crop of players. 

The path to the playoff is the intriguing part for TCU because it's so similar to 2014—and everyone saw how that went. A road game at Minnesota remains the key nonconference game and a season-ending home game against Baylor could once again decide the Big 12 picture. If there's one thing that potentially hurts TCU, it's that the Frogs do not play in the first weekend of December. Should TCU be in the playoff conversation, would it be out of sight, out of mind? That won't be known for another year. 

With a loaded offense returning, though, TCU should be preseason favorites to win the Big 12. Win enough games along the way and the Frogs will without a doubt be in the playoff picture. There's no secret about what TCU will offer in 2015: lots of offense with perhaps some defense to boot. 

The question is whether that will that be good enough next time around. How things shake out from a strength-of-schedule perspective is always a wait-and-see thing. But the perception of TCU football has changed in a hurry, and for the better. Another successful season and the Frogs will have some credibility, some staying power on their side. That could be the biggest difference. 

 

Ben Kercheval is lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dorial Green-Beckham Will Enter 2015 NFL Draft: Latest Details and Reaction

Supremely talented wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is set to put a troubled collegiate career behind him as it was announced Tuesday that he will declare for the 2015 NFL draft.    

According to Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman, University of Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops made the announcement:

Green-Beckham began at the University of Missouri in 2012 as perhaps the most highly touted recruit in the country. He racked up nearly 900 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2013, and he seemed destined for greatness with the Tigers.

Things changed shortly thereafter, however, as he was dismissed from the team following an alleged assault. DGB subsequently enrolled at Oklahoma, but he was ineligible to play for the Sooners in 2014.

Even so, he was able to practice with the team, as pointed out by Rotoworld's Josh Norris:

Former Oklahoma wide receivers coach Jay Norvell revealed in September that the initial plan was for Green-Beckham to remain at Oklahoma for the 2015 season, per Dean Blevins of News9.com:

He's made a commitment to be here, he wants to go to school here and he wants to play football here at Oklahoma, so obviously we are going to help him improve here every day. This is not a year off for him, he's out there working every day, he's helping on the scout team and he's also trying to improve his skills as a receiver, as well as the off the field things, so it's an important development time for him.

Things may have changed after Norvell was fired Monday, though, according to Norris:

With that said, Stoops denies that Norvell's status impacted DGB's decision, per Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman:

Whatever the case, Green-Beckham is prepared to pursue an NFL career. He obviously enters the league with some character concerns, but his talent is undeniable.

If he can prove that he has improved as a person, then one can only assume that a team will take a chance on him fairly early due to his difference-making ability.

He is a true boom-or-bust prospect, but the potential payoff is certainly tantalizing.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Best Candidates to Replace John Chavis as LSU Defensive Coordinator

It has been a rough couple of weeks for LSU head coach Les Miles. The Tigers not only lost to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, but they also saw their most talented coach leave. 

Defensive coordinator John Chavis has bolted to take the same position at Texas A&M, though the Aggies have yet to make it official. The news was first reported by 104.5/104.9 ESPN Baton Rouge's Jordy Culotta before the start of the Music City Bowl. 

Chavis was dominant as LSU's "Chief" of the defense. Since taking over in 2009, the Tigers never finished below fourth in the SEC in scoring defense. He helped develop All-Americans Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid. 

The move for Chavis had more to do with LSU's struggling offense than it did the slight pay increase, a source told Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune. No matter the reason, The Chief is gone, and the Tigers must move swiftly and thoroughly to replace him. 

Chavis' departure will be brutal in the short, and possibly the long, term for LSU. The Tigers were hoping to land more elite defensive recruits for the 2015 class, but that becomes more difficult as one of college football's brightest minds is heading to a rival SEC West school.  

The search for finding Chavis' replacement will be an arduous one for Miles. Former Florida head coach Will Muschamp has already taken over as Auburn defensive coordinator. Former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has taken the same job at Youngstown State. Both Muschamp and Pelini were former national championship-winning defensive coordinators at LSU and could have potentially fit back in nicely in Baton Rouge.

Since those high-profile names are off the table, here are some other candidates Miles could possibly be evaluating in the next couple weeks.  

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Will Oregon's Defense Slow Down Ezekiel Elliott and Surging Ohio State Offense?

Ohio State's offense is on their third-string quarterback, but it doesn't seem to matter. The Buckeyes continue to be explosive, and they continue to show they're one of the most dangerous teams in college football.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate if the Oregon defense can stop the Ohio State offense. 

Who has the edge: the Ohio State offense or the Oregon defense?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Best Candidates to Take Oklahoma Offensive Coordinator Job

Oklahoma has fired its second co-offensive coordinator in less than a week, this time sending a pink slip to school legend Josh Heupel—who quarterbacked the Sooners to a national title in 2000—per Thayer Evans of SI.com.

Heupel confirmed the news with a letter to the fans on Twitter.

Heupel joins Jay Norvell as collateral damage after an 8-5 season that ended in ugly fashion against Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Tigers beat OU 40-6 in front of a national audience and sent the Sooners spiraling into an offensive identity crisis.

Head coach Bob Stoops has lost some luster this past half-decade, and the failure to maximize what appeared to be a talented roster in 2014 has led to anxiousness down in Norman.

Where might the head coach look to replace Heupel and Norvell?

Here are five names to keep an eye on.

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