NCAA Football

Texas Football: Don't Expect Charlie Strong to Land Many Florida Recruits

Who says new Texas head coach Charlie Strong isn't good at schmoozing?

Numerous times during his introductory press conference Monday, Strong deliberately mentioned high school coaches in the State of Texas. Every time, he was complimentary. 

"Nationally, the Texas high school coaches are king," Strong said. "My staff and I will be committed to closing the borders on this great state. 

"We will recruit with fire and we will recruit with passion. We're devoted to making Austin the state capital of college football, as well as the state capital of [Texas.]" 

Strong's intensity comes through loud and clear. That, along with his impressive resume, earned Strong the Texas job.

But one of the concerns about Strong was the unfamiliarity he has with the state's high school recruiting map. Strong's Texas ties amount to a whole year, 1985, when he was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M. 

Of course, former Longhorns coach Mack Brown didn't have deep Texas ties either when he took over the program in 1998, but Strong isn't going to have 16 years to turn things around.  

A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Baylor head coach Art Briles, meanwhile, are rooted in the Texas high school scene. No two programs have benefited from the Longhorns' mediocrity in recent years like the Aggies and Bears. 

Though Texas maintained top-five recruiting classes in 2011 and '12, Baylor and A&M have closed the gap. Both successfully recruited Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks—Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, respectively—and A&M's move to the SEC is beginning to pay dividends on the recruiting trail. 

There's no doubt that Strong's introduction to Texas will be used against him by other college coaches. 

Strong knows he can't shy away from the challenge, though. Staying entrenched in Texas is crucial to the long-term success of the program. Recruiting is more than building a relationship with a prospect and his family; it's about developing rapport with high school coaches. 

Strong is already known as a great recruiter because he connects with young people.

Texas has 21 verbal commits with National Signing Day less than a month away. His first job will be to keep that class, ranked 17th, together.

Strong's connection, as well as his staff's connection, to coaches across the state is what will be tested. It's important, then, for Strong to get off on the right foot. 

"There are great coaches here, coaches who do an unbelievable job," Strong said. "That's why the doors here will always be open to these high school coaches. I want them to be here and I want them to be a part of it. This is their team. 

"We represent this whole state, we represent this country, but we will also represent these high school coaches." 

Don't expect Strong to move his recruiting efforts to Florida, where he has deeper ties from his days as the defensive coordinator for the University of Florida. 

"I want to make sure I control this state and then we will cherry pick outside this state, whether it's Florida...or Georgia," Strong explained. "I want the high school coaches to understand that, when we leave this state, don't think your player isn't good enough to play here." 

Not only would abandoning Texas be a poor recruiting decision for Strong, one that would likely result in his firing, it could potentially screw over the coach who succeeds him.

A bad hire can set a program further back than a good hire can propel a program forward. Putting Texas high school players on the back burner could be nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. 

So don't expect Strong to have the presence in Florida he used to have. His focus is within the borders of Texas now. It's a grand experiment, as was Texas athletic director Steve Patterson's decision to hire Strong.

There's no denying Strong and his coaching staff can develop talent. Marcus Smith came to Louisville as a quarterback recruit in 2010 and leaves as a highly touted defensive end prospect for the NFL. 

Rather, the question will be whether Strong can keep persuading that talent to come to Austin. The success of Patterson's decision, and of Strong's tenure, will be closely tied to it. 

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All recruiting rankings reflect 247Sports. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.

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James Franklin Reportedly Will Become Head Coach at Penn State

Penn State was looking for a big name to replace Bill O'Brien, and it reportedly managed to land one of the most sought-after head-coaching candidates in America.        

According to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, former Vanderbilt leader James Franklin, following the Commodores' second straight nine-win season and bowl victory, is expected to agree to terms with the Nittany Lions:

Feldman's report was confirmed by ESPN's Brett McMurphy:

Franklin, who is 41 years old and a Pennsylvania native, resurrected the Vanderbilt program. Taking over for a school that went 4-20 in the two years preceding his hire, he led the Commodores to a an impressive 24-15 record and three bowl appearances in three seasons.

In a conference like the SEC, which is widely regarded as the most difficult in the nation, and in his first job as a head coach, Franklin did a marvelous job with less talent, and it wasn't surprising that he drew such heavy interest. 

James Shurburtt of 247Sports mentioned that those qualities make him a perfect hire for Penn State:

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, one official from the Houston Texans called Franklin, whose name also came up for open NFL jobs as a "star on the rise":

But the Nittany Lions were lucky enough to land him, and he has some big shoes to fill. 

O'Brien took the job at Penn State when no one else wanted to, leading the Nittany Lions to a 15-9 record over the past two seasons. In 2012, he won the Big Ten Coach of the Year award and Bear Bryant Award for national coach of the year. 

Still, as difficult as it may be to live up to O'Brien's job, Franklin has at least two seasons to build around stud quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He also gets some solid players back on the defensive side of the ball and will have 80 scholarships to work with in 2015.

There is always some type of fallout when colleges switch head coaches (4-star quarterback commit Michael O'Connor has already opened up his recruitment), but the young and full-of-energy Franklin should have little trouble selling kids on the program.

Even if he does have trouble, he has proven the ability to win at one of the highest levels in college football, continually racking up victories despite Vanderbilt typically landing near the bottom of the SEC in recruiting rankings.  

Only time will tell for sure, but this looks like a positive move for all parties involved. 

 

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Ranking Most Amazing, Confounding Moments from Auburn's Stunning Football Season

Although the team fell short of its ultimate goal, there’s no doubt that the Auburn Tigers had a 2013 to remember.

From the opening kickoff to the closing seconds of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, Auburn’s season was filled with electrifying moments.

For some, the highlight was the jaw-dropping finish at the Iron Bowl. Some even point to the Hail Mary against Georgia as the most memorable. Others think the mere presence of head coach Gus Malzahn along the sidelines takes the honor.

All in all, there were more than a handful of moments that stand out from the Tigers' sensational season.

Luckily, B/R has taken a closer look and ranked 10 of the best for your viewing pleasure.

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Who Really Had the Better College Football Career, AJ McCarron or Aaron Murray?

The SEC is losing some of the better quarterbacks in conference history this offseason, but among the sea of Mettenbergers, Shaws and Manziels, two names stick out for both the quality and breadth of their careers.

AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray.

Neither player ended his career the way he'd hoped. Murray tore his ACL against Kentucky and had to miss his final two games, capping a Georgia season that was plagued with injuries from the get-go. McCarron, on the other hand, stayed healthy but lost back-to-back games for the first time in his career after starting 36-2.

Still, McCarron and Murray are two of the best players in league history—if not college football at large. The former won two national titles as a starter (and three overall), while the latter holds career SEC records for completions, passing yards, total yards and passing touchdowns.

That brings up an interesting question: Whose career was better?

On face value, this appears to be a question of philosophy. Do you prefer a quarterback who puts up stats (Murray) or a quarterback who wins football games (McCarron)?

Upon closer review, however, it's not so cut and dried. Murray shattered the SEC record book, but he had the added advantage of starting as a redshirt freshman. Looking beyond some of the non-volume related numbers, McCarron holds up statistically.

Not only does McCarron have the (far) superior record, the SEC championships and the national title rings, he also has better non-volume numbers. His career passer rating is better than Murray's, as is his completion percentage, adjusted yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio.

That being said, it's hard to penalize Murray for starting as a freshman. If anything, taking the reins of a mediocre 2010 Georgia team was noble and self-effacing. He took his lumps, playing the first four games without suspended receiver A.J. Green, and the team went 6-7, but for a 19-year old kid, making the postseason itself was impressive.

Let's discount 2010, in some spots, when comparing McCarron and Murray side-by-side. No matter who Murray was losing to at the time, it was more impressive than McCarron sitting on the bench behind Greg McElroy.

Starting in 2011, once both men were officially starters, here are Murray and McCarron's records against ranked opponents:

McCarron checks in with a better record and rating than Murray, though something curious does pop up. For both quarterbacks, the season their team did the best against Top 25 opponents was the season they did the worst. Conversely, the season McCarron's team did the worst against Top 25 opponents was the season that he did his best.

Interesting.

I'm not sure what to make of that, other than the fact that quarterback wins are an overrated commodity. Teams win football games; quarterbacks just help. It's unfair to hold a guy with a crummy defense accountable for his crummy defense. Performance is all that should matter.

So far, though, McCarron appears to have the edge in both performance and record. If that holds up, he would be an obvious choice over Murray for the career achievement title. But there's one last thing to look at—especially since those rating numbers were so close to one another.

Not all Top 25 teams are created equal. McCarron, for example, got to face Texas A&M's defense this season and call it a quality opponent. Anyone who watched the Aggies play in 2013 knows that's not the case.

Here's a look at Murray and McCarron's passer ratings, against all FBS teams, sorted by the strength of opposing pass defense (per Football Outsiders' S&P+ ratings):

This calls into question some of the numbers above, along with the notion that McCarron is who you'd prefer in a "big game" against the "best teams." Not only is Murray more experienced against top-20 pass defenses, he's also been more successful.

These numbers also discount what Murray can do with his legs. Billed as a dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, he showed on numerous occasions that he could be a threat running the football. Not in a Michael Vick way so much as in an Aaron Rodgers way, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Still, as we saw above, sometimes a quarterback's numbers get inflated when his team doesn't perform well. He's forced to throw more, occasionally against prevent defenses and softer coverages, so his final rating might be a bit misleading.

Contextually, McCarron's 137.4 rating against top-20 pass defenses isn't the indictment it may seem (when compared with Murray's). His two national titles came against teams ranked second and 12th, respectively, against the pass, and both times McCarron completed more than 67 percent of his passes.

In the biggest game of his career, against McCarron's fourth-ranked Alabama pass defense, Murray played merely decent, going 18-of-33 for 265 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Choosing between these two quarterbacks is splitting hairs. They both enjoyed fantastic careers, and though McCarron would seem an easy answer as to whose was better, the competition is far closer and far more complicated than it seems.

But if forced to choose, I would still roll (tide) with AJ.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Power Ranking the Best Individual Offensive Performances of 2013

The 2013 LSU Tigers were carried by the offense. 

LSU surprised all pundits with its offensive prowess, finishing in the top half of the SEC in passing and rushing. First-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron turned out to be a spectacular addition to the coaching staff.

But as great as Cameron was, the Tigers also had experienced playmakers return to key skill positions. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. all played at a high-level throughout the season.

The explosive offense produced memorable individual performances. LSU needed them badly, as the Tigers were uncharacteristically porous on defense.

It is impossible to quantify which performance was the best, but it is worth a try. The only prerequisite was that the opponent must be a BCS-conference school. 

Feel free to contact Carter Bryant on Twitter (@CarterthePower) with your thoughts on the list. 

 

 

 

 

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Louisville Re-Hiring Bobby Petrino Is a Big Gamble, but It's Worth the Risk


"Forgiveness is the fragrance, rare and sweet,
That flowers yield when trampled on by feet."

                                      -Ella A. Giles, "Forgiveness"

Often on his own accord, Bobby Petrino has worn out his welcome at every single stop of his head coaching career, burning the bridges between himself and athletic directors (or professional owners) into charred, ashy flakes.

So thorough is the arson job he incites on each bridge, that it never seemed possible for one to be properly reconstructed. It never seemed practical either.

Until now.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich sucked up his pride on Thursday, re-hiring Petrino to replace new Texas head coach Charlie Strong:

Pat Forde of Yahoo! reported the hiring's imminence on Wednesday, detailing the sordid history between Petrino and Louisville, even before he left to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in 2006:

Petrino was coach of the Cardinals from 2003-06, compiling a 41-9 record. While winning more than 80 percent of his games, including the program's first-ever BCS bowl victory, Petrino also serially shopped for other jobs.

He famously interviewed behind Jurich's back for the Auburn job in 2003—at first denying it, and then admitting that he met with officials from the school while it still was employing Tommy Tuberville. The next year, Petrino interviewed with LSU five days after accepting an extension and pronouncing his loyalty to Louisville. That December he also interviewed with Notre Dame and had conversations with Mississippi about its opening. And a few months after signing a lucrative new deal at Louisville in 2006, he left for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

In short: Every year he would interview for other, better jobs. Every year he would deny interviewing for other, better jobs. Eventually Louisville signed him to a rich new extension. He immediately left for another, better job.

Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons after (less than) one season to become head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. There, he found rare success in the SEC between 2008 and 2011 but had to resign after getting into a motorcycle crash alongside his mistress, Jessica Dorrell, a much younger woman whom he hired to be part of the football staff.

Oops.

But I'm not here to defend Petrino as a human being. As much as one can tell without actually meeting face-to-face, he seems like a vile one. He lies and he schemes and he cheats. He might not only care about himself, but he certainly cares disproportionately in favor of his own interest.

He also wins football games:

When Petrino takes over a team—even a previously good team—he quickly gets it over the hump and onto the next level. The last two seasons, Louisville has been far better than a "good" team. It has been a great one.

How high does the next level go?

That shouldn't be all that matters, and it isn't. But it certainly matters a lot. This is the seedy world of major college football, after all, not the Emerald City of Oz or some overly righteous, Nick Jr. fantasyland like "Lazy Town." Hands sometimes need to get dirty, sacrifices need to be made.

Now more than ever, with the Cardinals about to join the ACC in the midst of major turnover, fielding a competitive team must be paramount.

Ideally, you could find a winner who's also a decent human being. Ideally, had you already found that person, he wouldn't leave your employ and accept the head coaching job at Texas. Ideally, you wouldn't have to replace a program-changing coach and quarterback before the biggest season in program history.

The world is not an ideal place.

Petrino is a Hail Mary, but he's a chance worth taking. There's risk involved and there's beef to squash, but if everything works out, it could work out in a big way.

On football acumen and football acumen alone, he might be the best offensive mind on the market—if not the country. And he comes at a way cheaper price than, say, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris would have fetched.

By re-hiring Petrino, Jurich is banking on a new-and-improved version of the head coach, someone who was humbled by the affairs he left at Arkansas. He can't just be in it for the short term, with the goal of restoring his brand or again coaching in the SEC.

As noted by Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated, doing so would cripple the program:

Louisville can't afford for that to happen.

After Petrino left the first time, Jurich told Eric Crawford of WDRB, "We had to clear out a lot of discipline issues. And our numbers suffered. We cleared 21 kids out of here, and that's a lot. That's a big hit for anybody to take."

"We want to do things the right way." 

Some might now call Jurich a hypocrite. Hiring Petrino back to the scene of the crime, especially after his subsequent transgressions, hardly seems like "doing things the right way." But maybe his confidence can forge a new side of the head coach, can force Petrino's heart to grow three sizes.

It all comes back to the epigraph above. Petrino trampled on the Louisville program seven years ago, but with the power of forgiveness, Jurich has sprinkled his feet with a sweet, infectious fragrance. He's agreed to let bygones be bygones and promoted Petrino from the Sun Belt to the ACC. 

His stock still poison to power-conference programs, Petrino needed someone to stick out his neck and offer a lifeline. That it came from the least likely of places—that one of the bridges he burned has been rebuilt—is something he cannot take for granted.

Petrino has earned another chance, unthinkably, on the strength of his athletic director's gamble. It's time for him to pay things forward, put a program ahead of himself, stick his roots in the ground and finally settle down.

"Bobby's convinced me he's a changed man," Jurich said on Thursday, according to Adam Himmelsbach of the Louisville Courier-Journal. If Jurich is getting played, once again, which is entirely possible, the joke might be on him.

But if he isn't, the joke might be on the rest of the ACC.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5-Star CB Jalen Tabor Flips Commitment from Arizona to Florida

The Florida Gators picked up a late addition for spring practice Thursday when standout cornerback Jalen Tabor switched his collegiate destination from Tucson to Gainesville. The 5-star prospect decommitted from Arizona one week after pledging to the Wildcats, he confirmed on Twitter, and is now headed to Florida.

Tabor will arrive on campus next week as an early enrollee. It's a late boost for Will Muschamp's 2014 recruiting class, which will be relied on immediately to help rebound from a disastrous 4-8 season.

The Friendship Academy (Washington, D.C.) standout initially announced his allegiance to Arizona on Jan. 2 at the Under Armour All-America Game. One week later, Rich Rodriguez lost his grips on the Wildcats' top target.

Tabor, a 6'1", 182-pound prospect, spent an official visit at Florida in early December. He also looked closely at Alabama and Maryland, visiting both programs.

Florida is set to welcome three consensus 5-star prospects to the team this year. Tabor joins defensive tackle Gerald Willis (New Orleans, La.) and quarterback Will Grier (Davidson, N.C.).

Grier will also be in Gainesville for the spring semester. Fellow cornerback Duke Dawson (Cross City, Fla.), a 4-star recruit, is another early enrollee.

The class currently features 21 players and ranks seventh nationally, per 247Sports.

Tabor is rated the nation's No. 4 cornerback and No. 24 overall prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings. With Willis and Grier already on board, the Gators hold commitments from three of the country's top 32 prospects on that list.

Tabor helped lead his high school squad to a second consecutive sectional title-game appearance in 2013. He finished the season with five interceptions and 17 pass breakups, according to The Washington Post.

Expect him to compete for early playing time in Gainesville. Florida cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy each left school early to enter the NFL draft.

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With Doug Nussmeier out at Alabama, Should Nick Saban Consider Lane Kiffin?

The coaching silly season has now officially become silly.

According to CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman, Doug Nussmeier has been hired away from Alabama to become Michigan's offensive coordinator. He spent the previous two seasons running the Crimson Tide offense.

Surprise move? You bet. Nussmeier's departure from Tuscaloosa came out of nowhere.

Michigan backed up a Brinks truck to Nussmeier, according to Feldman, which certainly cancels out the relative instability into which he's walking from the Alabama to the Michigan staff.

So where will Alabama go?

Former USC and Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin spent some time during bowl practices in Tuscaloosa, and he runs a pro-style system similar to the one that Saban has preferred for quite some time. 

He will interview for the position as early as Thursday, according to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com.

The Tuscaloosa News' Cecil Hurt commented on the Kiffin speculation on Twitter on Wednesday night.

I'd be surprised if Lane Kiffin came to UA. But not shocked.

— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) January 9, 2014

Should Saban really consider going in that direction?

Yes.

Before everyone goes off on an anti-Kiffin rant that's filled with anger stemming from his one year at Tennessee and follows it up with a criticism of his most recent offense—which averaged 380.4 yards per game in five games this season before Kiffin was fired—just stop.

He's a good offensive coach and a good recruiter, which would be his two primary job responsibilities as an offensive coordinator no matter where he is. It's the other responsibilities associated with being a head coach where he struggles.

The question here becomes whether Kiffin can operate in a controlled environment like the one Saban runs. He may be able to, and the biggest question facing Saban is whether he wants to take that risk.

Alabama is going to be Alabama, regardless of who's coordinating the offense.

Nussmeier came to Alabama with a wide-open system fresh off of a 56-point, 620-yard performance in a loss to Baylor in the 2011 Alamo Bowl. He adjusted to Alabama, not the other way around.

Kiffin would do the same.

When you have a new quarterback and T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake in the backfield, guess where the ball is going to go? It's going to go to the running backs, and the quarterback will throw off of play action. Even if a hurry-up, no-huddle coach is brought in, there's no way that won't happen. 

Plus, he can develop a quarterback along the way.

This season at USC was a bit of a disaster, but he helped Matt Barkley become a second-team All-Pac-12 performer in 2011, and former Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton threw for 2,800 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 picks in his one season with Kiffin.

It's still a long shot for Kiffin to land with Alabama.

Promoting from within and giving Billy Napier more responsibilities is one possibility, or bringing back a guy Saban is familiar with, like current Chicago Bears wide receivers coach and former 'Bama assistant Mike Groh, could be the more likely option. 

But Kiffin to Alabama isn't something that should be written off just because "he's Lane Kiffin." When you get past the noise and his reputation, he's certainly qualified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star DT Zaycoven Henderson Flips Commitment from Texas to Texas A&M

Four-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson (Longview High) teased Texas Longhorn fans on Wednesday evening, first decommiting from the program before reportedly having a "good conversation" with new head coach Charlie Strong and re-affirming his vows to play in Austin, according to Max Olson of ESPN.com.

Soon after that report, however, Henderson tweeted that he would instead be playing a couple hours east for the Texas A&M Aggies in College Station:

Henderson is the No. 278 overall player and 23rd-ranked defensive tackle in the Class of 2013, per the 247Sports composite. He doesn't have ideal height for the position (6'1'', 280 lbs) but with a strong, thick build, he should be able to plug gaps against the run and become a solid rotational lineman.

Wednesday was just the latest, and not necessarily the last, wild turn in Henderson's recruitment. According to EJ Holland of The Dallas Morning News, he originally committed to TCU in February but flipped his choice in December, choosing Texas over Baylor and Texas Tech at the time.

If he was to leave the Longhorns, most people thought, it would be for Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders in Lubbock, which always appeared to be more on his radar than Texas A&M. The Aggies weren't even mentioned on his 247Sports "Crystal Ball" predictions.

Henderson and fellow 4-star tackle DeShawn Washington join 5-star end Myles Garrett and 4-star end Qualen Cunningham to give Texas A&M a deep, impressive class of talent along the defensive line. It's a much-needed influx, too, after Kirby Ennis was injured in 2013 and the lack of depth in the trenches was exposed.

Until Henderson signs his letter of intent, it's hard to say whether his commitment should be written in pencil or pen. He has been fickle throughout the entire process, so one more sudden turn would come as a shock to no one.

But for now, he appears solidly in favor of the Aggies.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: 9 Recruits Trojans Must Land on National Signing Day 2014

With the February 5 national signing day drawing near, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and his newly christened staff will be pulling double duty trying to deliver the Trojans a top-flight recruiting class for 2014...

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USC Football: 9 Recruits Trojans Must Land on National Signing Day 2014

With the February 5 national signing day drawing near, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and his newly christened staff will be pulling double duty trying to deliver the Trojans a top-flight recruiting class for 2014.

Already very active on the recruiting front since arriving, Sark doesn't have many scholarships to work with as he puts the finishing touch on a class already consisting of 17 verbal pledges to its credit, which includes four early-entrant players already enrolled and taking classes at USC.

Theoretically, that leaves Sark only two available scholarships, although that number is very likely to change, as there are three "soft verbals" included in those pledges. Some may wind up elsewhere, either by their own choice or with a soft "nudge" from the recruiting department.

Because of the limitations of those few available scholarships, Sark is not in a position to pursue a gaggle of high-profile recruits, but no matter what, there are a few who—by nook or by crook—USC must have in this recruiting class.

This slideshow will look at these mega-recruits and explain why they are so needed. In addition, there is a few extra recruits profiled just in case the Trojans fall short with their primary targets.

So, without further delay, here are the guys Sark must land in February...

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Auburn Football Recruiting: Breaking Down Top Prospects in Tigers' 2014 Class

The Auburn Tigers capped off an astonishing turnaround from a 3-9 record by almost upsetting the mighty Florida State Seminoles in the BCS National Championship Game.

Although they fell approximately 13 seconds short of college football's ultimate glory and lost 34-31, head coach Gus Malzahn has restored the Tigers to prominence, to say the least.

That should help the program's recruiting immensely in the coming years—and Malzahn was optimistic about the future even after coming away from Pasadena without The Coaches' Trophy, per AL.com's Joel A. Erickson.

"We're going up," said Malzahn. "The experience that we had, and we got most of our guys coming back, recruiting is going great, and our goal is to get back here, and I really believe we'll do it."

The incoming 2014 class indeed has a promising crop of prospects ready to ride the "Gus Bus." Below is a look at the best commits Auburn has to look forward to this coming season.

 

Racean Thomas, RB

The in-state star out of Oxford High School is a 5-star prospect on 247Sports.com and is ranked third at his position and 17th overall in the country, per the outlet's composite rankings.

Racean Thomas ran for 2,211 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2013 and is 5'11" and 196 pounds with a 4.48 time in the 40-yard dash. His combination of a well-built frame and speed should translate well to the next level, as Thomas will have the mature body to handle the punishment of SEC competition.

Even more bulk could be added to make Thomas a force, but he already possesses the ability to shed tackles and would be an ideal complementary player in his first year at Auburn.

The Tigers' relentless rushing attack led the nation in averaging 328.3 yards per game, so tossing in a talent like Thomas shouldn't hurt.

What stands out most about Thomas on tape is how quickly he can make the transition from cutting to getting north and south without losing any acceleration. It's no wonder he created so many explosive plays.

How much of an impact Thomas has as a true freshman depends greatly on whether junior Tre Mason decides to forgo his final collegiate season and declare for the 2014 NFL draft.

If Mason does, Thomas could get a ton of carries and be a big contributor alongside Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne.

 

Tre' Williams, ILB

Another excellent player from within the state, Tre' Williams hails from Saint Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile and has been staunchly in Auburn's corner since May 2013.

In fact, it's kind of eerie to look back on an interview he did with ESPN after his initial commitment to the Tigers, where he discussed how he thought the Tigers were due to return to the top in the coming years:

Even Williams probably could not have foreseen the turnaround Auburn was in for in 2013, but his faith in the program has evidently been rewarded.

What plagued the Tigers and cost them the national title was inconsistency on defense—something Williams can help with. The 6'2", 230-pounder had 119 tackles in his final high school season, displaying a nose for the football and a knack for being in proper position the majority of the time.

Although 247Sports.com doesn't give him outstanding marks in terms of athleticism, reactive quickness or lateral movement—all seven out of 10 ratings—Williams knows how to diagnose a play and get the job done.

That discipline should help Williams get some early playing time. Whether he'll start remains to be seen and will depend on how he adjusts to Auburn's schemes.

 

D'haquille Williams, WR

Unlike the aforementioned two stars who are hard commits at this point, D'haquille Williams has signed his letter of intent to attend Auburn—and what a great pickup he is.

Beyond Sammie Coates, the Tigers didn't have many viable playmakers in the receiving corps this season, leaving a void for Williams to fill as the top junior college transfer in the nation, per 247Sports.com.

Williams is a tantalizing prospect coming from Gulf Coast Community College. He has 4.40 speed in the 40-yard dash and a 6'3", 213-pound body.

It's hard to imagine more of a ringing endorsement than the one Williams got from Auburn receivers coach Dameyune Craig, per Rivals.com's Justin Hokanson on Jan. 2:

The sky seems to be the limit when it comes to how much of a boost Williams can bring to the Tigers passing game. Quarterback Nick Marshall should take a big step as a passer in 2014 with Williams and Coates on the outside, giving Auburn more balance on offense.

That's a scary thought for the rest of the country, which couldn't stop the Tigers' mostly one-dimensional scheme this past season. Highlights provided by AL.com's Matt Scalici give an indication of Williams' skills.

Bottom line: Williams is a special talent and could very well exceed the 1,000-yard plateau in his first year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Wolverines Add Pedigree, Prestige with New OC Doug Nussmeier

In what can only be considered as a power move executed by athletic director Dave Brandon on Wednesday, the Michigan Wolverines parted ways with offensive coordinator Al Borges and signed up Doug Nussmeier for the job, according to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports.

Nussmeier, the former OC at Alabama, inherits an offense that was absolutely dreadful under Borges in 2013. With the exception of a 41-point spurt against Ohio State and a RichRod-esque 63-point eruption against Indiana, Borges’ play calls led to the Land of Ineptitude all the way to the bitter end, a 31-14 shelling by K-State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

The advantage for Nussmeier is simple: He knows how to mold talent, something Borges failed to prove during three years in Ann Arbor.

With stops at Auburn and Michigan State, two nationally prominent programs, Nussmeier has the necessary experience and knowledge to fully utilize what’s waiting for him at Michigan—an offense that has potential but needs a makeover.

While calling plays for Nick Saban this past fall, Nussmeier orchestrated a running game that produced 205.6 yards per game (No. 28 overall). In 2012, Nussmeier’s suggestions and coaching gave the Tide 226 yards per game (No. 12 overall).

Oh, and Alabama won a national championship with A.J. McCarron, a previously underappreciated quarterback who lost just four times during his career in Tuscaloosa. Nussmeier’s guidance likely helped McCarron become a Heisman-caliber arm and household name, not to mention a young man with the confidence and ability to march his team to the championship.

That’s where Michigan wants to be—at the top of the heap when it’s all said and done.

Coaching at rival Michigan State from 2003-2005, Nussmeier helped develop Drew Stanton into an all-time Spartans quarterback.

Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News hit Twitter with a response from Stanton, who highly respects Michigan's newest coach:

Stanton admires Nussmeier's approach, via Chengelis:

And did you hear that? Nussmeier makes the game "fun." Winning the Big Ten is anything but play time, but having a good time while pursuing a conference crown certainly wouldn't hurt Michigan, which was out of the league race by early November after falling 29-6 to Stanton's favorites. 

It's clear that Nussmeier, who's a spry 43-year-old, has the energy and determination needed to hold the reins of the country's third-most valuable offense (in terms of dollars, via USA Today).

 

Nussmeier, Big Picture

For starters, Nussmeier is a lefty. Yup, just like sophomore-to-be Shane Morris, who completed 63 percent of his passes during the bowl loss. Being a former NFL and CFL quarterback, Nussmeier likely has a wealth of information to share with one of Michigan's brightest young stars. 

As for the running game, the main deficiency of Team 134's horrid offense, the Wolverines should be in good shape under their new OC.

Nussmeier has worked with backs such as T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, so he's aware of the amount of preparation required to produce a top-notch backfield. And for those who say, "Yeah, but he had 'Bama talent," hold on just a minute. 

Hart was once bound for Michigan, but he decommitted in 2011 and headed to Tuscaloosa. Derrick Green, the heir apparent to Team 135's No. 1 spot, was offered by Alabama. Incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers, a superior all-around athlete, and Drake Harris, a top wideout, were also offered by the Tide. 

It's not like there's a great disparity in talent here. Far from an apples-to-oranges comparison, Nussmeier's pool of players at Michigan will be similar to what he had at Alabama, minus the NFL-ready O-Lines of years past. 

But Nussmeier can help combat the inconsistencies that ravaged Taylor Lewan's league of extraordinary gentlemen. The young trio in the middle—Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis and Jack Miller—needs attention, and Nussmeier, along with line coach Darrell Funk or whomever, can use the image of Alabama's fearsome fronts to develop the same thing in Ann Arbor. 

It'll take time. Nussmeier doesn't make Michigan into 'Bama North by any means. But his success in SEC country can't be denied, and the Wolverines are in desperate need of an accelerated scoring attack, one which effectively produces and holds onto the ball. 

 

Herbie Likes Hire

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, a proud Ohio State Buckeyes alum, approves of Brandon's decision to reload with Nussmeier. 

 

Hoke on Borges

In a send-off released by Michigan via MGoBlue.com, Hoke said he was thankful for Borges' efforts.

Decisions like these [firing a coach] are never easy. I have a great amount of respect for Al as a football coach and, more importantly, as a person. I appreciate everything he has done for Michigan Football for the past three seasons.

Like writing on the wall, Borges' eventual departure seemed all but obvious to most media members and fans. There was no real reason—not even Brandon's staff-will-return declaration—that Borges would step foot in The Big House after being embarrassed by Jake Waters, a former JUCO quarterback, and the Wildcats during a relatively meaningless postseason encounter. 

Borges is yesterday's news. It's now time for Nussmeier to make headlines. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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SEC Football: 35 Players Who Will Be Toughest to Replace in 2014

Bowl season in the SEC means coaches need to start evaluating players to replace quality talent that the NFL inevitably and habitually claims via the draft each year.

This year will prove no different, with several programs facing substantial changes at key positions.

With that in mind, here is a list of the 35 SEC players who will be the most difficult to replace. Seniors and draft-eligible players who seem likely to go pro are included on this list.

Several factors go into ranking how hard a player will be to replace. Ability, of course, gets taken into the equation, as do intangibles, such as leadership and experience.

This list also examines who each specific team has returning to the positions in question.

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College Football 2014 Predictions: Better, Worse or the Same for Top 25 Teams

The 2013 college football season is in the books, with Florida State clearing space in the trophy case for some crystal and the rest of FBS wondering what it needs to do to get one of those fancy trophies.

There's roughly 33 weeks until the next real games happen again, which leaves us with nothing but our thoughts, beliefs and desires—and plenty of time to speculate.

Based on who's staying and who's coming back and using the final Associated Press Top 25 poll as a gauge, we're projecting whether the top teams of 2013 will be better, worse or the same in 2014.

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Big Ten Football: Which Division Dominated Legends/Leaders Era?


When the Big Ten football conference added Nebraska in 2011, competitive balance was the order of the day with the establishment of Leaders and Legends Divisions. But was competitive balance actually achieved, or did one of the divisions dominate this short-lived, three-season era?

As the final season of the BCS winds down, there are many articles analyzing teams and conferences from the 16-year Bowl Championship Series era, including several (here and here again) about the Big Ten. However, the Legends and Leaders division era also now comes to a close with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland, causing a more logical, geographic realignment.

Three seasons may not have been long enough to develop a lengthy narrative, but it was more than long enough to generate some relevant data on competitive balance.

Factors to consider when determining stronger divisions include: conference championships and bowl game success, cross-division and nonconference records, and major individual awards such as All-Americans.

So who should go down as the winner of this short-lived 12 team alignment of the Big Ten's football history? Let's take a look.

 

 

1. Conference Championships and Bowl Game Success

 

Conferences are often judged on postseason success, so why should divisions within a conference be treated any differently? For division comparisons, the most relevant piece of postseason evidence is the Big Ten Championship.

Big Ten Championship Results

  • 2011: Wisconsin 42, Michigan State 39 (Leaders 1-0)
  • 2012: Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31 (Leaders 2-0)
  • 2013: Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24 (Leaders 2-1)

Even though the Legends Division made an important statement by knocking off the Buckeyes this season, the Leaders Division will forever hold the edge, thanks to Wisconsin. At least there's one positive lasting legacy of the Bret Bielema tenure in Madison.

Turning to bowl results, each team other than Indiana took part in bowl games over the past three seasons. Results and recaps of the games can be found for 2011, 2012 and 2013 on BTN.com, but here is a summary for each division.

Leaders Division Bowl Results

  • Illinois (1-0): Def. UCLA in 2011
  • Indiana (0-0): NONE
  • Ohio State (0-2): Lost to Florida in 2011, Lost to Clemson in 2013
  • Penn State (0-1): Lost to Houston in 2011
  • Purdue (1-1): Def. Western Michigan in 2011, Lost to Oklahoma State in 2012
  • Wisconsin (0-3): Lost to Oregon in 2011, Lost to Stanford in 2012, Lost to South Carolina in 2013
  • TOTAL: 2-8, 0-3 in BCS Bowls

Legends Division Bowl Results

  • Iowa (0-2): Lost to Oklahoma in 2011, Lost to LSU in 2013
  • Michigan (1-2): Def. Virginia Tech in 2011, Lost to South Carolina in 2012, Lost to Kansas State in 2013
  • Michigan State (3-0): Def. Georgia in 2011, Def. TCU in 2012, Def. Stanford in 2013
  • Minnesota (0-2): Lost to Texas Tech in 2012, Lost to Syracuse in 2013
  • Nebraska (1-2): Lost to South Carolina in 2011, Lost to Georgia in 2012, Def. Georgia in 2013
  • Northwestern (1-1): Lost to Texas A&M in 2011, Def. Mississippi State in 2012
  • TOTAL: 6-9, 2-0 in BCS Bowls

Pretty clear advantage there, despite the dismal results by both divisions when taken as a whole. Not only was the Legends Division twice as successful in bowl games (40 percent win), the disparity between being undefeated in BCS bowls and winless is incredible.

Additionally, the top-tier programs of each division tell a disparate story, favoring the Legends Division as well. While the Spartans and Cornhuskers carried the league banner with a 4-2 record (including the only two bowl wins in 2013), the Buckeyes and Badgers slunk home 0-5 over the past three seasons.

If the bowl games were closer, the nod would have to go to the Leaders Division for owning more Big Ten championships in this era. But with the Leaders Division fizzling at every level and bringing shame with three BCS losses, there is only one conclusion to this factor.

Advantage: Legends Division, by a significant margin

 

2. Cross-Division and Nonconference Records

 

Although less high-profile than postseason play, the reputation of a conference and a division is also built by playing and winning the big games outside the division. Similar to the postseason statistics above, the more important set of records when comparing two divisions is play against one another.

Here is how the Legends and Leaders fared against one another, including the Big Ten Championship games (results listed here and here, for example):

Leaders Division Cross-Division Records

  • Illinois: 1-8
  • Indiana: 1-8
  • Ohio State: 6-4
  • Penn State: 5-4
  • Purdue: 2-7
  • Wisconsin: 8-3
  • TOTAL: 23-34

Legends Division Cross-Division Records

  • Iowa: 3-6
  • Michigan: 6-3
  • Michigan State: 9-2
  • Minnesota: 5-4
  • Nebraska: 7-3
  • Northwestern: 4-5
  • TOTAL: 34-23

Despite having lost two of the three Big Ten Championship games, the Legends Division has outpaced the Leaders Division by winning about 60 percent of the time.

The only team with a significant winning margin from the Leaders is Wisconsin, thanks in large part to Ohio State going 0-3 in 2011. But the real lodestones weighing down the Leaders Division are the trio of Indiana, Illinois and Purdue.

Meanwhile, Iowa is the only program pulling down the overall Legends Division record. Considering the improvement in the Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers this season, the clear advantage of this division became even more pronounced.

Just like bowl games, non-conference play also brings the only opportunities for the conference as a whole to gain perception-enhancing wins against major outside competition. The story stays the same when looking at the past three seasons of September football, as evidenced by the records below:

Leaders Division Non-Conference Records

  • Illinois: 8-4
  • Indiana: 5-7
  • Ohio State: 11-1
  • Penn State: 8-4
  • Purdue: 6-6
  • Wisconsin: 10-2
  • TOTAL: 48-24

Legends Division Non-Conference Records

  • Iowa: 8-4
  • Michigan: 10-2
  • Michigan State: 9-3
  • Minnesota: 9-3
  • Nebraska: 10-2
  • Northwestern: 11-1
  • TOTAL: 57-15

Once again, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue do the conference and the Leaders Division no favors. While the worst team record in the Legends Division is Iowa at 8-4, only two of the six teams in the Leaders Division better that mark.

The proof really comes out when looking at these games between the divisions and outside the conference. The Legends Division is deep, while the Leaders Division is top-heavy. Which leads to one inevitable conclusion.

Advantage: Legends Division, by a significant margin

 

 

3. Major Individual Awards

 

Another of the signs of national and conference prestige is sweeping the major awards.

On the conference level, the Big Ten hands out ten individual awards for the best player at each of the major positions. In addition, all-conference awards are handed out by the coaches and media, causing a select few players to earn consensus all-conference merits.

There are also national awards extending from the Heisman Trophy to position-based awards. Five media outlets honor All-American teams, and again, consensus and unanimous All-Americans are determined for a small number of players in college football.

Here is a summary of the major individual awards (all-conference and All-American honorees must be consensus or unanimous) won by each team:

 

 

 

 

Unlike the numbers above, the major individual awards are evenly split between the two divisions. The only real notable edge is the Leaders Division having twice as many consensus All-Americans (six compared to three) and a slight edge in consensus All-Conference team members.

Wisconsin certainly carried the flag early in this Legends-Leaders setup, but Nebraska also earned a lot of praise in 2011 and Michigan State evened everything out with tons of awards in 2013. Star power is present all over the conference, even if the results on the field were a bit lopsided.

Advantage: Leaders Division, by a highly narrow margin

 

The result is pretty clear when putting the statistics and the awards on paper over the past three seasons. The 12-team alignment of the Big Ten conference was dominated clearly by the Legends Division, thanks in large part to a depth advantage overall.

For a conference alignment based on nothing more than competitive balance, the three-year experiment appears to have failed. It will be fun to see how the trends develop when the East and West Divisions have a few seasons under the belt later this decade.

But for this part of Big Ten history, the Legends Division owns the bragging rights.

Congrats "Iowa and the M's and N's" (the mnemonic for remembering who was in the Legends that will blissfully be forgotten now), you are the champions!

Besides, it wouldn't make much sense for Legends to trail Leaders

-----------

Thanks for reading! David is the Featured Columnist for Big Ten Football at Bleacher Report, and he can be reached in the comments below or on Twitter. Please provide your opinion below on whether the Legends Division was the best, or if an argument can be made for the Leaders Division.

Until next time, be #B1G

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Best and Worst Moments of the BCS Era

With the BCS era officially coming to an end, it's time to reflect on the many highs and lows experienced by the Pac-10/12 over the past 15 years.

From USC's dynasty to the rise of Oregon under Chip Kelly, no other conference has seen such a mix of styles, players and formulas in the time of the BCS. You saw quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck; running backs Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew and LaMichael James; and a host of other top offensive players as part of a list much too long to include here.

Defense may have taken a backseat in recent years, but let's not forget the elite linebacking corps the Trojans boasted in the 2000s or the dominant defensive lines of the Stanford Cardinal in recent years. Again, listing all the key contributors would be a lengthy exercise, but rest assured that there was no shortage of talent on defense in this league.

So how can you take the entire BCS era and whittle it down into the very best and worst moments for the conference? Well, we'll start by focusing on moments that brought a spotlight on the West Coast, which means BCS games are at an advantage to begin with. The opposite is true as well, as any game, player or controversy bringing shame to the conference goes to the top of the list of worst moments.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the best and worst moments from the Pac-10/12 during the BCS era, and feel free to share some of your own favorite memories in the comments!

 

All stats and information via ESPN.

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Pac-12 Football: Best and Worst Moments of the BCS Era

With the BCS era officially coming to an end, it's time to reflect on the many highs and lows experienced by the Pac -10/12 over the past 15 years...

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College Football: Was 2013 Florida State the Most Dominant Team of the BCS Era?

Florida State placed itself in the pantheon of dominant BCS-era champions, ironically, with its narrowest win of the season.

Little came easy for the Seminoles in winning the BCS Championship Game over Auburn on Monday night at the Rose Bowl.

It marked the first time all season FSU didn’t steamroll the competition.

The dominance Florida State displayed over the course of the regular season speaks for itself. Its closest regular-season game came in a 14-point victory at Boston College, and regular-season opponents never held FSU to fewer than 37 points.

As B/R's Kyle Kensing pointed out during the immediate aftermath of the national championship, Florida State dominated in a way rarely seen during the BCS era.

Will history remember the 2013 Florida State team as the most dominant, though?

Statistically speaking, an argument can be made for the Seminoles even against great teams of the era such as 2001 Miami, 2004 USC and 2005 Texas.

(To be considered for “most dominant,” teams should be required to go undefeated. That rules out 2008 Florida. As dominating as that team was, the home loss to Ole Miss—which, incidentally, prompted the famous Tim Tebow speech—leaves the Gators out of the conversation.)

Of those three elite teams, none averaged a greater margin of victory than Florida State’s 39.5.

The 2005 Texas team had two one-possession wins and the 2004 USC team escaped with four one-possession victories. Miami and 2013 Florida State, meanwhile, only had one such close call.

For all the criticism of Florida State’s schedule, the Seminoles finished the season having beaten five teams in the Top 25 when they played. Those five wins also include three victories over teams ranked in the Top 10.

The 2001 Miami team also played five teams in the Top 25, but only one of those—Nebraska in the Rose Bowl (that year’s BCS National Championship Game)—ranked in the Top 10 at kickoff time.

Even the Nebraska win comes with some tarnish. The Cornhuskers were ranked No. 4 by the Associated Press, were coming off a 62-36 loss to Colorado and failed to win their division.

Few would argue that the 2013 Miami team, which was No. 7 before Florida State pummeled the Hurricanes 41-14, belonged in the Top 10.

However, the Seminoles also went on the road to dismantle Clemson, which finished the season ranked eighth in the AP Top 25 and seventh in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

That Florida State concluded its perfect campaign with a win over SEC champion Auburn only further solidifies the schedule advantage over 2001 Miami.

Just about any argument levied against the 2013 Florida State team falls short.

 

2001 Miami

2004 USC

2005 Texas

2013 Florida State

Wins by 1-8 points

1

4

2

1

Wins by 9-16 points

1

1

1

1

Wins by 17-plus points

10

8

10

12

Wins vs. Top 10

1

2

3

3

Wins vs. Top 25

5

3

4

5

Average Margin of Victory

32.9

25.2

33.8

39.5

 

Throughout the regular season, Florida State never allowed an opponent to pull to within one score. Only Boston College played in the fourth quarter within two scores of FSU.

The Seminoles trailed in the fourth quarter in only one game—to Auburn during the BCS National Championship Game.

All that deficit did was set the backdrop for Florida State to stage what might be the most dramatic comeback win for the national title in the BCS era.

In securing the victory—even a narrow one—Florida State gave itself a perfectly valid statistical claim as the most dominant team of the BCS era.

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Pac-12 Football Early Enrollees You Need to Know More About

National Signing Day marks an important milestone in the college football season, but some recruits choose not to wait until then to get started.

Early enrollment is an opportunity for collegiate newcomers to acclimate to campus and integrate into the lineup during spring practices.

A few potential instant-impact recruits are enrolling at their chosen Pac-12 universities in the coming weeks. Look for them to make a splash in the offseason.  

 

Star ratings are via 247Sports.com composite rankings. 

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