NCAA Football

Why Brady Hoke Needs Doug Nussmeier at Michigan, Even If Just for Now

Michigan announced the signing of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama on Friday, just one day after firing former OC Al Borges.

At Michigan, Nussmeier will be among the five highest-paid assistants in college football, per CBSSports’ Bruce Feldman. And if successful, he’ll deserve every penny of his new salary. Nussmeier faces an uphill task of bringing the Big Ten’s No. 9-ranked offense in 2013 back to prominence. If the Wolverines’ offense flounders again in 2014, both Nussmeier and head coach Brady Hoke may soon be unemployed.

Since going 11-2 in 2011, the Wolverines have finished 8-5 in 2012 and 7-6 in 2013. Perhaps more surprisingly, Michigan has yet to find a consistent offensive identity under Brady Hoke, and its running game has been among the Big Ten’s worst over the past two seasons.

In two years at Alabama, Nussmeier directed one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, finishing in the top 10 in Football Outsiders' S&P offensive metric in both 2012 and 2013.

Alabama’s total offense ranked No. 33 nationally last season, averaging 38.2 points and 454.1 yards per game, while Michigan’s offense ranked No. 44 in the country with 32.2 points per game and No. 87 in total yards with 373.5 yards per game. The Tide were No. 3 in the SEC, averaging 205.6 yards per game on the ground, while Michigan was No. 11 in the Big Ten, averaging just 125.7 rushing yards per game.

Though Nussmeier had more offensive talent at Alabama than he’ll inherit in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s quarterback arsenal of Devin Gardner and Shane Morris provides a high ceiling for a coordinator who specializes in maximizing his signal-callers’ potential.

Nussmeier’s coaching career includes stops at Michigan State, where he worked with Jeff Smoker and Drew Stanton as the Spartans’ quarterback coach, and the NFL’s St. Louis Rams—where he coached Marc Bulger to career bests in passing yards (4,301) and touchdowns (24) in 2006. After a year at Fresno State, Nussmeier was Jake Locker’s offensive coordinator at Washington and coached AJ McCarron to a school-record 30 touchdown passes in 2012 and several national awards in 2013.

But if successful, how long can the Wolverines count on Nussmeier to stay? Already considered one of the nation’s top coordinators, the 43-year-old is entering his 14th season as an offensive assistant—and was a semifinalist for both Southern Miss’ head-coaching vacancy in 2012 and Washington’s head-coaching job in 2013.

For now, it doesn’t matter. Both Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon understand Michigan’s need to win in 2014, and they selected the best available offensive coordinator to help the Wolverines do that right away.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football Stars Most Likely to Start in the NFL in 2014

As college football turns the page to another offseason, those stars that have either graduated or left school early are prepping for the 2014 NFL draft. 

Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Jadeveon Clowney are each considered top-five picks, while guys like Sammy Watkins and C.J. Mosley are projected to go in the first round in nearly every mock draft. 

With that, check out the 10 stars from the 2013-14 CFB season that will be starting on Sundays. 

Note: All draft projections are according to CBS Sports, unless otherwise noted. 

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Ohio State Football: Braxton Miller's Road to the Heisman Trophy in 2014

After pondering an early jump to the NFL, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is set to return to Columbus, Ohio for his senior season. 

The big news, announced by the school's official Twitter account, is huge for the Buckeyes, who will be poised to make a run at major college football's first playoff. For Miller, though, one more year means one more chance to win the Heisman Trophy.

The Buckeyes' signal-caller has thrived under Urban Meyer, piling up 6,472 yards of total offense and 64 touchdowns (39 passing, 25 rushing) over the last two years. Miller finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy race in 2012 and ninth in 2013.

To take home the most prestigious award in college football, Miller will need to overcome some big obstacles in 2014.

 

Finding the Support

The Buckeyes will be losing four starters along one of the best offensive lines in the country. Seniors Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall won't be back to protect or open running lanes for Miller, so the front line will likely be a work in progress.

Miller will also be losing his most reliable target at wide receiver. Corey Brown, who has led the Buckeyes in receiving yards and receptions over the last two years, is set to graduate. Brown accounted for more than 25 percent of Ohio State's receiving touchdowns in 2013, and while the Buckeyes have a number of talented underclassmen, replacing him will be very difficult.

Of course, the biggest loss the offense will suffer comes with the departure of running back Carlos Hyde. If Meyer and the Buckeyes can't find a suitable replacement for the bruising running back, defenses will key in on Miller in the running game.

 

Consistent Excellence

Because of those losses, Miller will need to make big strides next season, especially as a passer.

Miller notched career highs in completion percentage (63.5), passing yards (2,094) and touchdowns (24) during his junior season. Those improvements came after enlisting the help of quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. during the offseason, and Miller showcased better mechanics and patience in the pocket as a result.

Consistency will be the biggest key.

During a four-game stretch against Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State, Miller was erratic, completing just 46.2 percent of his passes for 544 yards and seven touchdowns against two interceptions.

A lull like that next season will eliminate him from the Heisman race.

 

Staying Healthy

Miller will also need to avoid the injuries that have plagued his collegiate career.

In each of his first three seasons, Miller has been knocked out of a game completely (Nebraska in 2011, Purdue in 2012 and San Diego State in 2013). During his sophomore season, he had to be spelled during the Michigan State, Indiana and Michigan games. This season, he missed most of three games after spraining his knee against the Aztecs. 

That injury knocked Miller out of 2013 Heisman contention early. Another stint on the sideline during his senior season will have the same result.

 

The Competition

Of course, Miller will have some stiff competition. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is set to return to Florida State, and Nick Marshall, who dueled Winston in the national title game, will be back at Auburn.

Miller certainly has a long road ahead of him if he wants to win the Heisman. He's proven over the last two years that he's one of college football's most exciting players, so watch for him to make a strong run in 2014.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Denzel Perryman & Anthony Chickillo Right to Wait on Jump to NFL

Two key Miami Hurricanes defenders recently tested the waters regarding an early jump to the NFL—linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive end Anthony Chickillo.

Both players submitted paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board and were waiting on results, which have since been received, all questions answered.

Perryman is expected to be a third-round pick, while Chickillo is said to fall somewhere between the fourth and fifth rounds. Because of that, the defensive end has pledged to return next season while Miami's best linebacker continues weighing his options.

The Hurricanes are coming off of another lackluster year defensively, especially late in the season.

Florida State unsurprisingly tagged Miami for 41 points and 517 total yards, but Virginia Tech and Duke? The Hokies and Blue Devils somehow combined for 90 points and 1,092 yards against the 'Canes.

Even Virginia—a two-win ACC cellar-dweller this season—torched Miami for 483 yards in a loss the following week. All the more reason for two Hurricanes veterans to return—helping to bring some talent and leadership, while also upping their stock for the 2015 NFL draft.

The 6'0", 240-pound Perryman led Miami with 108 tackles, including five for losses, and had 1.5 sacks with a forced fumble. Having become a first-time father mid-November, there was in-season speculation that a need to earn a paycheck would trump increasing his skills set as an amateur.

Instead, the then-junior candidly admitted weaknesses in his game to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald, leaving the door wide open for a return.

"To be honest with you I don’t have perfect games either," Perryman said before the home finale. "I probably don’t make enough plays. There are still things I need to focus on like run fits. This past game [against Duke] there were times I wasn’t in my gap and it caused big runs."

Chickillo has 34 consecutive starts under his belt, having seen consistent action since his freshman campaign in 2011. As a junior, the 6'4", 277-pounder recorded 46 tackles, with 7.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries.

An early fan favorite due to his orange and green bloodline, Chickillo earned instant fame during the recruiting process as "3G," a nod to him being a third-generation Hurricane, as father Tony and grandfather Nick both played for Miami.

The Tampa native took to Twitter on Wednesday night, sending a message that there would be one more year repping "The U." 

While a less-than-stellar draft status arguably played a role in the decisions of both, their thought process and efforts deserve applause, especially in light of some recent blunders by past Hurricanes.

Miami saw a mass exodus of underclassmen after the 2011 season came to a close, with the first two to declare being the least ready and falling hardest as a result.

The Hurricanes wrapped Al Golden's season with a late November loss to Boston College en route to a 6-6 record and a self-imposed bowl ban. Ten days later, junior wide receiver Tommy Streeter and defensive lineman Marcus Forston both declared early before even hearing back from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

Streeter—coming off of a 46-reception, 811-yard, eight-touchdown season—wound up a sixth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens. Prior to his breakout junior campaign, the lanky wide receiver had six career receptions for 156 total yards and one score and was expected to build on that with another year at Miami, but he declined.

To date, Streeter hasn't caught one pass in the NFL, was cut by the Ravens in August and has since been signed to Tampa Bay's practice squad.

Forston's tale could be even more tragic. A one-time can't-miss prospect, the 5-star defensive tackle exploded as a freshman, but he suffered injury as a sophomore and earned a medical hardship. With another shot at "year two," Forston was effective and finished with a respectable 37 tackles over 13 games.

Forston sat out the 2011 season-opener, suspended for his alleged dealings with Nevin Shapiro and returned to start three games, but he was hit with a season-ending knee injury. Two months later, feeling NFL-ready despite being sidelined, Forston waved adios to Miami.

"I feel like I'm ready," Forston told Jorge Milian of the Palm Beach Post. "My best football is going to be at the next level."

Forston went undrafted, was signed by New England, waived, re-signed to the practice squad and saw action in one game as a rookie. The sign, waive, re-sign process happened again in 2013.

Forston earned one start, replacing injured Patriots star Vince Wilfork—another former Hurricane who jumped to the bigs a year early, but Wilfork ultimately achieved success. In two seasons, Forston has only seen action in four games.

Streeter and Forston were part of the Hurricanes' top-ranked 2008 recruiting class. Both were from Miami Northwestern and made headlines, as eight Bulls from that national championship squad signed on with second-year UM head coach Randy Shannon.

At the time, the Bulls-to-'Canes connection seemed serendipitous—hometown high school champs signing with a former Miami player-turned-coach, all ready to put the "305" back on the map.

Instead, the experiment fizzled top to bottom, flame-outs and unreached potential being the narrative, especially regarding Streeter, a victim of some half-baked family advice.

Days before the 2012 NFL draft, Navarro caught up with Tommy Streeter Sr., who had a "you never know" attitude regarding his son's ability to sneak into the first round, while backing the choice to forgo a get-better senior season, regardless of the outcome:

It was the right decision 100 percent. There's really nothing he can look back on and say if I stayed I probably could have been a first rounder. That's not on his mind. I think he felt like it was just time. If you looked at it, if he would played with [quarterback] Jacory [Harris] from the get-go this would have been the year he came out anyway. A lot of people can say if he stayed one more year this might of happened, he could have gone higher. But you never know what could have happened. He could have gotten injured. You can't wait on that. You make a decision and you move on.

ESPN's Todd McShay disagreed, feeling that Streeter needed one more year.

"Tommy Streeter should have come back to school," McShay said weeks after the draft. "He knew the risks. I thought he could have used more time."

Contrast that Streeter advice to the wisdom and logic Desmond Perryman, father of Denzel, shared with his son over the past few weeks regarding the linebacker's stay-or-go situation, as reported by Susan Miller Degnan at the Miami Herald:

We’re big on education, but he has to live his life. He has a family, but his daughter will be taken care of. I would like to see him stay another year because I personally think it would do him good. A lot of the kids jump to the NFL based on what someone else tells them, but they don’t really understand what’s at the next level. You might be dominant in college but you’re playing against the best of the best in the NFL. My thing is the NFL is not college – it’s a job. A lot of the kids get stuck on, ‘I get a chance to make some money’ without really understanding the business part. In the NFL, it’s your responsibility to do everything.

The elder Perryman also went on to say that his son was, "very happy that Coach Golden stayed," regarding rumors that the Miami head coach was in the running for a vacancy at Penn State.

Golden, who dealt with this process at Temple and now with three years leading the Hurricanes, offers sound advice for his players when deciding whether to return or move on, which he shared with Degnan in the same piece:

I think we provide a great process here. We've really grown in that area, not just the evaluation but affording them the opportunity to have data on the draft, to talk to NFLPA people, to meet with agents here at the Schwartz Center. All of those things allow them to go through a process and make a real business decision. Other than that I don’t get involved really. It's important for me to provide them that process and then allow them to make that decision. Certainly some of them will have a question or want my opinion, but it's really important that they go through that process with their family. When it's final from our standpoint we will release that or give them the opportunity to tell you that in a press conference format.

Two years back, Golden came off shell-shocked regarding the five Miami players who departed early—including running back Lamar Miller, defensive end Olivier Vernon and offensive lineman Brandon Washington, another one of the Northwestern eight—as none even petitioned the Advisory Board in regards to NFL draft status.

"In 15 years of coaching, I've never seen that," Golden said to Milian at the Post. "It's a function of what the young person is listening to."

Thankfully for Perryman, the family sales pitch was rooted in long-term best interest, and regarding "Team Chickillo," the longtime U Family explained that the risk certainly didn't outweigh the reward.

No. 71 is on board to return, and whether No. 52 suits up for the Canes next year or jumps to the NFL, there's no doubt the decision was properly mulled over.

The same can't be said for some past Hurricanes who leapt before they looked and wound up paying with their careers.

 

Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Football: 3 Verbal Commits Nittany Lions Can't Afford to Lose

The first order of business for Penn State's next head coach is making sure the current recruiting class is still fully committed. 

On Thursday, it was being reported by multiple sources, including Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, that Vanderbilt's James Franklin was prepared to accept an offer to become the Nittany Lions' head coach. A formal announcement did not materialize, and Vanderbilt's athletic department has even denied the reports. 

Until an official announcement is made regarding any coach, some members of Penn State's 2014 class are in wait-and-see mode. No players have decommitted to date, but there's always a level of uncertainty that comes with not playing for the coach who recruited you. 

There are a handful of players Penn State absolutely needs to ink on national signing day. In rating which ones are the most vital to the Nittany Lions' immediate and future success, two factors were considered. Depth and the talent pool at a player's particular position was the biggest factor, followed by how big of a prospect the individual is. 

Here are the three verbal commits Penn State can't afford to lose due to a change in regime. 

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USC Football: How Steve Sarkisian Can Convince Draft-Eligible Juniors to Stay

As much as Steve Sarkisian has to recruit outside of USC, he also is facing the challenge of convincing draft-eligible juniors to stay in Troy.

Since he came on board, five have declared for the pros (S Dion Bailey, DT George Uko, C Marcus Martin, TE Xavier Grimble and WR Marqise Lee), all from positions of need for the Trojans. Defensive back Josh Shaw, linebacker Hayes Pullard and running back Buck Allen are the next upperclassmen on the block who haven't made a decision yet, and keeping them at USC is critical.

Sarkisian needs to make recruiting these three a priority.

Keeping soon-to-be seniors in Troy undoubtedly has an impact on Sarkisian's ability to succeed early at USC. As USCFootball.com's Ryan Abraham points out, the Trojans are sorely lacking veterans, and losing any more could be a huge problem:

With just 11 seniors, younger players will be asked to shoulder the load. As we have seen over the past two seasons with the secondary in particular, younger players can make for headaches come Saturday. If Shaw, Pullard and Allen were to leave early, Sarkisian could find himself up the creek without a paddle before the season even starts.

On Tuesday, Sarkisian went on ESPN Radio to talk about the depth problems the Trojans are facing and how that impacts preparation for the 2014 season: 

When we get to training camp, we’ll have between 65-70 scholarship players that are healthy and ready to go. When you think about that, compare it to everybody else in the country that have 85. We’re 20 players less, essentially, at practice. Practice is when most people work with the [first string] and [second string] and sometimes [third string]. We’re going [first] and maybe [second string].

Clearly, USC needs all the able and experienced bodies it can get. Fortunately, Sarkisian is in a good position to convince these three important playmakers to stay.

Sarkisian can sell Shaw on the fact that in 2014 he will only line up at safety, which is what he would play in the NFL, according to NFL.com's Charles Davis. He doesn't have a full season under his belt at that position; he has rotated between there and cornerback thus far in his career.

At safety, Shaw has really flourished. He had  61 tackles (5.5 tackles for loss), six pass breakups, three interceptions and one blocked punt returned to the house in 2013.

If Shaw stays for 2014, he can show NFL scouts what he can really do at safety and improve his draft stock. Sarkisian needs to stress to Shaw that it is in his best interest to get another year of college under his belt, because leaving for the NFL can be disastrous if done prematurely. 

For Pullard, Sarkisian can sell a similar story. 

As productive as he has been for USC, he doesn't have enough game-changing plays in his portfolio to leave early. In 2013 he had just one interception (and only two in his career), 50 tackles (5.5 for loss) and six deflections. He had six sacks between 2011 and 2012, but none this past year. 

Like Shaw, Pullard needs another season under his belt to develop as a player, put on some more weight, and really learn how to be a mike linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. Doing these things will make him a valuable commodity in the NFL. 

Since USC has managed to stay relevant during the sanctions, being a high-profile contributor on this Trojan squad will also turn the heads of NFL scouts. Furthermore, new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's bend-but-don't-break scheme will grant Pullard more opportunities to showcase his skills in coverage. His true range as a linebacker will be put on display, and that will boost his draft stock.

Convincing Allen to stay might be the easiest job for Sarkisian; the star running back is the least experienced of these three playmakers.

Sarkisian needs to remind Allen that he doesn't have an entire year of starting experience to his name, and he needs that if he wants any kind of serious consideration at the next level. His success in 2013 was undoubtedly remarkable, but he needs to do it again and stay healthy while he's at it. 

Aside from that, Allen could just use some more grooming at the collegiate level in general. 

If Sarkisian can convince Shaw, Pullard and Allen to come back for one more year, he can exhale a slight sigh of relief this spring. He still has a challenge ahead of him in filling USC's 19 scholarships and dealing with the limited amount of veterans that he has inherited.

But if he can pull it off, the presence of experienced veterans could be the difference between Sarkisian turning lemons into lemonade or leaving a sour taste in the mouths of Trojan fans in his inaugural season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: How Steve Sarkisian Can Convince Draft-Eligible Juniors to Stay

As much as Steve Sarkisian has to recruit outside of USC, he also is facing the challenge of convincing draft-eligible juniors to stay in Troy...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Oregon Football: An Early Look at the Ducks' 2014 Season

With the release of next season's Pac 12 schedule, it appears the Oregon Ducks have another manageable slate in 2014.

While Oregon will miss USC and Arizona State for a second consecutive season, the schedule won't be lacking marquee matchups.

The early season schedule is highlighted by what could be the nonconference game of the year as Rose Bowl champion Michigan State will take its rugged defense to Autzen Stadium. The first matchup between the two programs since Nick Saban manned the sideline for the Spartans should feature a pair of top five.

In conference play, the Ducks get to host a pair of revenge games with Stanford and Arizona both traveling to Eugene. The Ducks will also host the rival Washington Huskies as they look to extend their streak to 11 straight wins against their rivals to the north.

The road schedule is manageable but the early October matchup with UCLA at the Rose Bowl will likely have Pac 12 and national championship implications. It could also have a major impact on the Heisman Trophy race as quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley both returned to school despite high marks from NFL scouts.

It won't be easy, but the Ducks will need to overcome their recent November woes. Four of Oregon's six losses since the beginning of the 2010 season have come in the month of November.

The Ducks will start the season's final month by facing the Cardinal, who have won consecutive games against the Ducks. After Stanford, Oregon has tough road trips to Utah and Oregon State to look forward too.

With the Spartans, Cardinal and Bruins all being national title contenders, the Ducks will have their work cut out for them in 2014. If they are able to win those marquee matchups and make it through the season at 12-0 or 11-1, a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff is likely headed their way.

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Oregon Football: An Early Look at the Ducks' 2014 Season

With the release of next season's Pac 12 schedule, it appears the Oregon Ducks have another manageable slate in 2014. While Oregon will miss USC and Arizona State for a second consecutive season, the schedule won't be lacking marquee matchups ...

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Arkansas Football: Razorbacks' Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

The Arkansas Razorbacks are in for a long offseason. After finishing 2013 with a 3-9 record and no wins in the SEC for the first time since joining the conference in 1992, head coach Bret Bielema and his staff have a ton of work to do.

It's not just one or two things either that need improvements. There's numerous areas that the Hogs must make major strides in if they want to avoid another dreadful year. 

While Bielema and the coaching staff are going to be putting their focus on recruiting leading up to National Signing Day, once it has passed, their focus will shift to preparing for the start of spring practices and what the Razorbacks have to get better at.

But, what are the biggest concerns heading into the offseason? Read on.

Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals. 

All recruit stats courtesy of 247Sports.

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Can Mark Leal Successfully Replace Logan Thomas at Quarterback in 2014?

Logan Thomas finished his career at Virginia Tech on Dec. 31 as the school's career leader in passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense. Thomas broke numerous single-season and career records in his three years under center for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech fans should be devastated, right?

It's actually quite the opposite. Hokie fans seemingly can't wait to get rid of Thomas, and many hold him responsible for the team's offensive struggles and 11 losses over the last two years. 

Sure, Thomas has had his ups and downs each of the last two seasons after a breakthrough sophomore campaign in 2011.

But to blame him alone for the team's overall lack of success is farcical.

Now that Thomas has moved on and is preparing for the NFL draft, rising senior Mark Leal is up next at quarterback for the Hokies.

Leal, who has thrown just 48 career passes—25 of which came in last week's Sun Bowl loss to UCLA—will be VT's most experienced option come spring practice.

Sophomore Brenden Motley and true freshman Andrew Ford figure to be Leal's primary competition. Motley, at 6'4" and 219 pounds, is a physical specimen in the mold of Thomas. Motley lacks experience as a passer at this point and is likely a long shot to start in 2014.

Ford, however, is someone to keep an eye on. A 4-star recruit from Camp Hill, Pa., Ford is more of a dropback passer than Thomas was. Perhaps most importantly, he is offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler's first handpicked quarterback.

Ford will enroll later this month and is a full go this spring. Will that give him enough time to unseat Leal?

According to head coach Frank Beamer, via Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post, probably not. Beamer told the assembled media after the Sun Bowl that Leal was "the next guy in line here."

In fairness to Leal, he deserves the opportunity. The only extensive playing time he's received in his four years on campus was against UCLA after Thomas was knocked out of the game. As expected, Leal wasn't crisp and forced things. Both, obviously, a result of not receiving any practice time with the first team.

Leal isn't the answer for VT at quarterback, but the hope is with several returning starters on offense next year and a full offseason with Loeffler, the supporting cast will be much improved.

The Hokies will return four starters along the offensive line, all of their running backs and the team's top four pass-catchers. Leal will not be asked to carry the offense like Thomas did on a weekly basis.

Thomas was built to carry the ball several times per game. Leal, at 6'1" and 213 pounds, isn't.

Physically, Leal reminds one of former Hokie Bryan Randall. Randall, who started in parts of four years for Tech, didn't break through until his senior season when he led the Hokies to an ACC title in their inaugural season in the conference.

Can Leal repeat that feat?

Probably not. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of the national champion Florida State Seminoles returns next year. Barring a major upset, FSU should win the ACC again.

However, that doesn't mean Leal won't be successful in 2014.

He will receive all of the first-team reps this spring at quarterback for the first time in his career and will not have to look over his shoulder. Beamer is extremely patient and loyal to his upperclassmen.

What would actually define a successful season for Leal in 2014? Winning the league, or simply improving upon the eight wins Tech recorded in 2013?

Virginia Tech fans will likely miss Thomas more than they realize next season, especially if Leal gets off to a slow start. However, Leal represents the Hokies' best chance of a successful season in 2014 and Beamer will stick with him. Hokie fans should give him that chance, too.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma State Football: 5 Incoming Freshman to Watch in 2014

The Oklahoma State Cowboys ended the 2013 season with two heart-breaking losses and a disappointing 10-3 record.

However, with a week or so to digest the Cotton Bowl loss, fans now have the opportunity to look ahead to 2014 and see which new players will come in and make an impact for the Pokes.

This year's recruiting class might be one of Mike Gundy's best and the five players covered here should make an immediate impact when they take the field next fall.

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Georgia Football: Scott Lakatos' Resignation Makes Defensive Improvement Unlikey

The outlook for a Georgia Bulldog defense in desperate need of development took a major step backward as a position coach stepped down on Thursday evening.  Secondary coach Scott Lakatos' resignation makes defensive improvements unlikely for a unit that ranked 10th in the SEC in points allowed in 2013.

According to a statement released by the University, "personal reasons" were cited as the cause for Lakatos' sudden departure and head coach Mark Richt offered the following:

We are very appreciative of Scott's contributions to our program over the last four years and I have a great amount of respect for him as a coach and as a person.  We wish him and his family nothing but the best.

Lakatos was criticized much of the 2013 season thanks in no small part to the Dawgs' poor performance against the pass, which was highlighted by Auburn's miraculous go-ahead score in November and a 99-yard touchdown pass by Nebraska last week in the Gator Bowl.  Nonetheless, he found success in the first three years of his tenure in Athens.

 

More Bad News for Georgia's Defense 

His departure comes laced with bad news for the Bulldogs.  With national signing day just a few weeks away, this undoubtedly damages Georgia's chances at landing in-limbo defensive back recruits like Wesley Green.  Furthermore, Richt and athletic director Greg McGarity are now tasked with the inauspicious decision of either rushing to find a replacement to offer stability to recruits or waiting to tab a new assistant after a more thorough search. 

Lakatos' absence does not bode well for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, either.  Grantham arrived in 2010 and quickly assembled a staff that included just one holdover (Rodney Garner, now with Auburn) from the previous regime.  Four years later, the entirety of that group is gone, leaving Grantham as the lone survivor.

Once a new hire is made, Grantham, whose performance has been questioned regularly since a stellar 2011 campaign, will face the daunting task of getting yet another assistant up to speed with terminology, strategy and coaching methods.   

Such a transition will require more than a mere crash course.  As the young 2013 Bulldog defense demonstrated, Grantham's 3-4 scheme is not the easiest to master.  Even Georgia's most talented defensive backs were consistently out of position, allowing for big plays in the passing game time and time again.  

 

Looking Ahead 

Georgia returns a wealth of talent in the defensive backfield.  Unfortunately, that star-studded cast has yet to produce a consistent on-field product.  As Mark Richt stressed to Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph in early December, stability was something needed within the Bulldog coaching staff.  "Continuity," Richt said, "is a good thing for Georgia." 

Now, the defensive unit most in need of the continual progress that a returning coach brings is awaiting another transition.   

Scott Lakatos was keenly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of players like Damian Swann, Shaq Wiggins, Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons.  A new coach will have to spend valuable time learning these nuances. 

Lakatos was, at least in theory, poised to groom his unit into the next generation of Dawg defender.  After all, he'd already helped the likes of Brandon Boykin, Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams thrive in the Grantham's defensive system and earn spots in the NFL.

The next man, no matter how good he may be, has a deck stacked against him as he enters into a job as an assistant to a coordinator whose seat is hot and with players who remain unproven. 

That kind of pressure does not necessarily yield success.  It certainly did not for Lakatos in 2013.

The 2014 defense was supposed to be much improved as 10 returning starters continued their development.  Instead, Georgia Bulldog fans will never know what might have come from continuity.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin Football: 3 Recruits Badgers Must Land on NSD 2014

When a high school athlete verbally commits to a school, that generally means said athlete will be attending said school. But it's not until National Signing Day when you can be sure, which is a day Wisconsin football and over 100 FBS institutions are anxiously awaiting.

A perfect example is 4-star defensive tackle Craig Evans, who verbally committed to Wisconsin before the departure of head coach Bret Bielema (via 247sports). After reevaluating his options, Evans decided he would remain in-state to play for the Badgers and Gary Andersen.

On Feb. 5, we'll know for sure that the players verbally committed to play for the Badgers in 2014 and beyond will be attending Madison, and we could also add a couple of new names to that list. Currently, Wisconsin stands at 25 commitments for the class of 2014, so there isn't much work—if any—left to be done.

Even if the Badgers recruiting class happens to be set, Andersen and his staff will still be going hard after these three players, and several others, until National Signing Day arrives.

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Georgia Football: Could Keith Marshall Get the Redshirt in 2014?

Ever since Keith Marshall got injured in the Tennessee game, the talk has been how he will be back with a vengeance in 2014.

And according to the Macon Telegraph, the plan is to have Marshall ready for the first preseason practice. However, the report also says that there’s a chance he could not be ready for the first game of the season and the coaches could put a redshirt on him.

So the question is: Should Marshall redshirt in 2014 to be 100 percent in 2015?

Now that may seem a little out of the ordinary, but one has to look at it from a bigger perspective. Todd Gurley will be at full strength when the season begins, barring any other injuries during spring practice, as well as fall camp. Gurley showed what he can do not only running the ball, but also as a receiver, catching 37 passes for 441 yards and six touchdowns.

So, Gurley will be more involved in the offense, which could lead to fewer touches for Marshall.

That said, Marshall was no slouch in the receiving department either. In the five games he played in this past season, Marshall had eight catches for 111 yards and one touchdown. His best game was against South Carolina, catching two passes for 54 yards and one score. He also had 58 rushing yards in the win.

But even if Marshall is ready to go, the backfield will be very crowded next season. With Gurley and Marshall, there’s also J.J. Green, Brendan Douglas, A.J. Turman, who redshirted last season, and the new incoming freshmen, if they stay committed to Georgia, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

Gurley and Marshall will be the No. 1 and No. 2 backs, but if Marshall has to miss preseason work, which he will, the other backs will see more action with Gurley. And there’s a chance one or two of the backs could impress the coaches and become the No. 2 back instead of Marshall. Also, because of the depth at running back, there is no need to rush Marshall back in the lineup, which is the plan.

Odds are Marshall will not get the redshirt if he’s near or at 100 percent. But if his injury does not heal as fast as the coaches would like, and the other running backs produce, it may not be a bad thing for him to redshirt for the sake of his college and potential NFL career.

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Michigan Football: 3 Recruits Wolverines Must Land on NSD 2014

Let’s get Jabrill Peppers out of the way.

He is, without a doubt, the recruit Michigan can’t afford to lose prior to National Signing Day 2014.

The Wolverines would probably be more comfortable having the 247Sports 5-star athlete in Ann Arbor at this very moment—along with the other seven early enrollees—but considering that Peppers once contemplated visiting other schools, having his verbal pledge will suffice.

At 6’1” and 205 pounds, the multifaceted Paramus Catholic (N.J.) defensive back/receiver/running back/kicker/punter—OK, the last two were a joke—should immediately contribute to the defense, headed by Greg Mattison, and the offense, which is now under the control of former Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier.

Projecting Peppers as a coordinator and head coach’s dream in 2014 isn’t too far of a stretch. During the Under Armour All-America Game, coach Herm Edwards gushed about Peppers’ potential, saying the following to Sam Webb of GoBlueWolverine.com (via the Detroit Free Press):

[Peppers is a] special young man. Mentally tough guy, has great transition speed, can get out of cuts and breaks, competitive, team guy, too. Has a lot of humility. He has fun practicing and is a little bit of a talker, which I like. I get it; I played the position. He’s going to have an excellent college career.

Peppers wants to be better than Charles Woodson, whose wondrous two-way play and incredible returns led to the 1997 Heisman Trophy and a share of the national title.

During Under Armour All-America practice sessions, Peppers trained with Neon Deion Sanders (or Leon Sandcastle, if you prefer), one of the greatest all-around athletes to hit a field of competition. 

As the following video from Under Armour shows, the former Atlanta Falcons/Braves superstar liked what he saw in Peppers. 

Peppers is important. He's vital. He's necessary. 

However, he's not the only one critical to the success of Team 135. 

 

Rule Your Backyard, Get Lawrence Marshall

Wins and losses aside, when it comes to recruiting, Brady Hoke has proven to be fantastic. He obviously needs to work on winning on the field, but he's quickly becoming a champion on the trail.

After successfully snagging Grand Rapids Christian's Drake Harris from the grips of Michigan State, Hoke claimed another in-state victory by gaining a verbal from Southfield's Lawrence Marshall, a 6'3", 240-pound defensive end who carries a 4-star rating from 247Sports. 

Not yet signed, Marshall represents more than a spot on the roster, he's symbolic of what's going on in the Great Lakes State. For once, the Spartans and Wolverines clamor for the state's elite. In the past, Michigan usually had its pick of the litter, leaving scraps for the team in East Lansing. 

But over the past five years or so, that's changed. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio has secured the best in the Mitten on several occasions. If Michigan wants to remain king of its own block, Hoke can't let local talent escape. 

Throw in the need for defensive ends, and Marshall serves as a solution to a couple of issues. Not only will he work with Mattison, one of the game's top defensive minds, but he'll also be part of a much-needed resurgence. 

As of early January, 247Sports predicts Michigan State to win Marshall, who is the No. 9 WDE and No. 172 overall recruit of 2014. 

The road to glory starts in Hoke's own neighborhood—the corner of Defense and Wins Championships Streets. 

 

Depth at TE Requires Bunting

At 6'6" and 210 pounds, Ian Bunting is similar in stature to the old Jake Butt, who threw bulk on his lanky frame prior to the conclusion of his respectable freshman season as the Wolverines' No. 2 tight end. 

A move to receiver could be in the cards for Devin Funchess, leaving Butt as the top choice for the position. If Bunting performs in the same way as Butt did this past fall, Nussmeier may opt for him over A.J. Williams, giving Team 135 a pair of tall, sure-handed bookends. 

According to 247Sports' crystal ball, Bunting will choose Michigan. Considering that Bunting has seemed 100 percent committed since the get-go, worrying about him doing otherwise would be a waste of time. But things aren't official until he signs the LOI. 

Based on pure upside, Bunting seems like a sure thing. Imagine him with Funchess, Butt and Harris, or Jehu Chesson...or Amara Darboh. 

Stacked at receiver, stacked at tight end. That's not a bad problem to have. Bunting's arrival to Team 135 is essential.

Swimming in talent once again, Hoke has the opportunity to really define his tenure with this year's recruits, who, in a perfect maize and blue world, should fit well with existing top-10 classes at Michigan. 

 

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

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Notre Dame Football: 5 Recruits the Irish Must Land on NSD 2014

The initial stages of college football's offseason are jovially referred to as the "silly season," with national signing day being its high point.

As Notre Dame has experienced in recent years, "silly season" hasn't been the most enjoyable of times for the Irish, though that hasn't changed the program's pressing needs leading up to national signing day on Feb. 5.

As it stands, head coach Brian Kelly and his program have 22 commitments in the 2014 class, which originally held firm at 23 prior to San Mateo, Calif., defensive end Matt Dickerson's decommitment and ensuing commitment to UCLA, per 247Sports.

Dickerson's spurning of Notre Dame will now allow the Irish to take up to 28 commitments in the class, a figure that considers fifth-year decisions, transfers and early entries to the 2014 NFL draft.

Given the overwhelming need for defensive linemen, expect the Irish coaching staff to turn up the heat on its pursuit of the remaining prospects among the front seven still interested in Notre Dame. One such prospect has been a target of Notre Dame's for quite some time.

 

Solomon Thomas, DE

Hailing from the same hometown—Coppell, Texas—of current Irish running back Cam McDaniel, Thomas has cooled on Notre Dame in recent weeks, though an intensified interest could come as a result of immediate playing time.

A 4-star prospect per 247Sports.com, the 6'2", 258-pound defensive end officially visited UCLA on Dec. 14 and has upcoming officials scheduled to Stanford (Jan. 18), Arkansas (Jan. 25) and Ohio State (Jan. 31).

With only four official visits on his slate, he has room for one more, although it doesn't appear that he will take another visit given that his schedule is already booked. And with Stanford currently in the driver's seat for Thomas' services, it's unlikely that Notre Dame will secure a commitment.

However, college football recruiting always has many twists and turns; he could cancel one of his previously listed official visits in favor of an official to Notre Dame. Only time will tell.

 

Thomas Holley, DT

Originally thought to be a Notre Dame lean, Holley eventually cooled on Notre Dame in favor of a commitment to Penn State.

However, as timing would have it, the 4-star defensive tackle has recently expressed some doubt in his commitment to the Nittany Lions in the wake of head coach Bill O'Brien departing to take the Houston Texans' head coaching job.

Julian Garcia of the New York Daily News spoke with Holley's head coach at Abraham Lincoln High School (Brooklyn, N.Y.) about where the 6'4", 285-pound defensive lineman stands in his recruitment. Coach Shawn O'Connor said the job status of Penn State's defensive line coach Larry Johnson will play a pivotal role.

If Larry stays, I think Thomas is comfortable staying. But if they bring in a head coach who decides to redo the whole scheme, we'll have to see where that leaves Thomas. But I think Larry Johnson being named interim head coach is a positive sign for Thomas.

According to Jeff Lockridge of USA Today, CBSSports.com and ESPN report that Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin is expected to accept the Penn State job, and his decision of whether to retain Johnson will likely sway Holley one way or the other.

Thus, if you're an Irish fan, you'll be hoping for Franklin to clean house should he accept the Penn State job.

 

Isaiah McKenzie, WR

What would be a firm commitment to Notre Dame from McKenzie has been delayed by academic matters.

McKenzie, a 3-star recruit is awaiting SAT scores to send to Notre Dame, which, if satisfactory, would be the final piece to the puzzle in his recruitment, aside from signing his national letter of intent on Feb. 5.

However, with the 5'9", 172-pound receiver currently in academic limbo with the Irish, McKenzie's recruitment has taken on an added twist in recent days, as Oregon entered the fold via a scholarship offer on Tuesday.

Recruiting process has just got crazy!!! 😳 #oregon

— Isaiah McKenzie (@JoyStick_izzy) January 8, 2014

With that offer now on the table, it's tough to envision what will transpire in McKenzie's recruitment. Will sufficient test scores be enough to reaffirm his pledge to Notre Dame? We'll have to wait and see.

 

Michiah Quick, WR/ATH

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly predicates his offense on getting the ball into the hands of explosive athletes in space.

One such athlete who would thrive in that role would be Fresno, Calif., receiver/athlete Michiah Quick, a 4-star recruit. The 6'0", 170-pound prospect has narrowed his recruitment to Notre Dame and Oklahoma, which are the only two schools he has officially visited.

However, Oklahoma would appear to have taken the lead in the race for his services, as the Sooners are coming off an exclamatory 45-31 victory against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And considering two of Quick's former Central East High School teammates and former Notre Dame recruiting targets—L.J. Moore and Hatari Byrd—attend Oklahoma, it would make perfect sense for the Sooners to hold a distinguishable edge.

Thus, it would be a coup for Notre Dame to secure a commitment from Quick.

For now, those thoughts are purely semantics, as Quick and his camp have been all too quiet during the recruiting process.

 

John "JuJu" Smith, WR/S/ATH

For the better part of the recruiting process, Notre Dame has been a legitimate player for Smith, a 5-star prospect, per 247Sports.com.

While Notre Dame appears set at receiver and safety for the foreseeable future, an elite talent such as Smith can't be ignored, particularly when he's shown interest. The Long Beach, Calif., native developed an even stronger interest in the program when he visited campus on Oct. 18 to take in the Irish's 14-10 victory against USC.

Interestingly enough, USC is in the lead for Smith's services, despite the Trojans undergoing a coaching change in recent weeks when Steve Sarkisian replaced the ousted Lane Kiffin.

Regardless, the 6'1", 200-pound athlete has scheduled an official visit to meet with Sarkisian and his assembled staff on Jan. 17, which all but signifies an impending commitment to the Trojans. However, nothing is certain in college football recruiting until pen hits paper on national signing day.

Notre Dame is still in the chase, though securing a commitment from Smith should be considered a long shot at this point.

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Texas Football: Meet Blake Whiteley, the 1st Commit of the Charlie Strong Era

It has been a whirlwind week for Texas Longhorn fans, full of people losing their jobs and decommitments.

But the light at the end of the tunnel came when the Longhorns picked up the first Texas commit of the Charlie Strong era. Arizona Western Community College tight end Blake Whiteley became Strong's first Longhorn commit Wednesday.

The 6'5", 240-pound Whiteley took an official visit to Austin the weekend of the Texas football banquet on December 13, one day before Mack Brown resigned. 

"I do think Coach Strong is a great coach," Whiteley told Jason Suchomel of Orangebloods.com. "However, for me as both a blocking and a pass catching tight end, I still need to hear what kind of offensive philosophy and coordinator he is going to choose. For other positions, it won't matter as much, but for me having caught over 70 passes in my senior high school year, it really does."

Apparently, Strong won over Whiteley because, as of Thursday, the Longhorns have not named an offensive coordinator.

Whiteley will fill a major void for Texas, as the only two tight ends on campus, Geoff Swaim and Greg Daniels, will be seniors in 2014. 

Tight ends Swaim and Daniels' primary focus in 2013 was on blocking for the Longhorns run heavy ground attack. The duo combined for only six catches and 42 yards. In his one season at Arizona Western, Whiteley caught eight passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns, according to 247sports.com, and he caught 76 passes for 1,228 yards and 18 touchdowns in his senior year at West Vancouver Secondary, according to Scout.com.

 

What does Whiteley mean for Texas?

Whiteley's senior season stats prove he is versatile and can be a threat in the passing game, which is something the Longhorns have not had for years.

With Swaim and Daniels entering their final season, Whiteley's arrival will add the much needed depth and a long-term solution for the tight end position.

 

Taylor is Bleacher Report's Lead Writer covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar

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Has Nebraska's Bo Pelini Turned over a New Leaf for 2014?

Nebraska was one of two Big Ten teams to win bowl games this season, so the team and its fans have a right to celebrate. But it appears as though head coach Bo Pelini may have let the party go on a bit too long. 

Either that or he has turned over a new leaf and made a New Year's resolution to be less of a curmudgeon.  

It all started the night of the BCS National Championship game, when Pelini apparently had a rare moment of funny. 

Yes, that is Bo Pelini poking fun of the fake Bo Pelini account on Twitter. 

It has since taken on a life of it's own, with the best of the best put together at Omaha.com for your viewing pleasure.

Again, Bo Pelini was being funny in public. Let that soak in for a minute, because it is rare proof that Pelini is something other than a crazed, profane and mean human being. 

It's also a major change from the guy who dropped the f-bomb on live television following a loss to Iowa in the Heroes Game and dared his athletic director to fire him.

Don't forget he's also the one caught on tape ripping into "fair-weather fans" earlier this year, as well. 

To say Pelini's pattern of behavior would suggest he's a warm, cuddly and funny guy is a bit much. 

In three years of covering the Big Ten, Pelini laughing has happened maybe twice, and getting him to smile during press conferences or other dealings with the media has been a rarity.  

However, it appears that Pelini is stepping up his game on Twitter and possibly turning over a new leaf in his public persona.  

Perhaps this is all part of his mad, evil-genius plan to take over the Big Ten, though. After all, two obscenity-laced tirades in one year weren't enough to get him fired. 

So, maybe letting go of control and showing some more of his personality (don't forget about him doing the Harlem Shake, as well) is his way of making up for all the bad that took place in 2013. 

There's no doubt Pelini's funny moments get just as much attention as the bad, and having another head coach in the athletic department that's used humor as a great way to promote his program doesn't hurt either. 

Just take a look at the attention Nebraska basketball gets thanks to its quirky and funny head coach, Tim Miles. 

He's a guy who doesn't mind being candid and funny, or poking fun at other's in the coaching fraternity: 

No matter the motive, it is working because people are seeing another side of Pelini, and seeming to be more accessible to the public is a PR win for Nebraska and its head coach. 

The question is, is this truly a head coach ready to let the anger go and show a bit more of who he is with the public, or is this just a temporary thing to keep the Huskers brand in the headlines? 

If there's more of what we saw on Monday, bring it on, because that version of Bo Pelini is far more likable. 

The college football world would be far better off with the funny Pelini than the curmudgeon we've gotten to know over the last six years. 

 

Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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Nebraska Football: Why Ameer Abdullah Was Right Not to Leave Early for the NFL

On Thursday, Nebraska football fans collectively let out a sigh of relief when I-back Ameer Abdullah announced he was returning to Lincoln for his senior season. As reported by the Omaha World-Herald, Abdullah said:

I have come to realize that life is bigger than football, and that my chances of long-term success in life will be greatly enhanced by completing my college education.

Although I have always wanted to play in the NFL, at this time I would like to formally announce my intentions of returning to Nebraska for my senior season.

If playing in the NFL is truly in God’s plans for me, then God will again present this opportunity to me after I complete my college education.

Abdullah is a smart and thoughtful kid, and it is clear from his statement (which you can read in full at the World-Herald site linked above) that he put a lot of thought into his decision. But there are a number of reasons, even beyond what Abdullah said, as to why a return for his senior season was the right call.

 

His Draft Status Was Questionable

From a purely practical standpoint, the biggest question about Abdullah leaving early for the NFL was where he would be drafted. Matt Richter of The Prediction Machine said that Abdullah was “at best, a third-round pick.” The position rankings for draft prospects at CBS Sports had Abdullah ranked as the No. 10 running back … in the 2015 NFL draft. Abdullah isn’t listed in the 2014 draft, but if you look at 2015 players who are also listed in the 2014 draft projection, Abdullah projects as a seventh-round pick or a free agent.

Of course draft projections are just that, projections. And Abdullah certainly informed his decision with information from the NFL itself in terms of where its experts projected Abdullah to go if he came out after his junior year.

But it is fair to say that Abdullah’s draft stock in 2014 is far from certain. If he had given up his senior year to enter the draft, he would have been taking a huge risk.

 

He Has A Chance For Glory

After his junior season, Abdullah has 2,997 rushing yards, putting him at No. 8 all time in Nebraska history. He would need 1,783 yards—a massive, but not inconceivable accomplishment—to pass Mike Rozier and end his career as Nebraska’s all-time rushing leader. Abdullah is also third on Nebraska’s all-time total yardage list, and is on pace to set the record at the completion of his senior campaign.

Additionally, Abdullah is just now getting on the radar screen nationally, particularly after his performance against Georgia in the Gator Bowl. A strong senior season, combined with a successful Nebraska season, could see Abdullah in line for major national awards, perhaps even Heisman Trophy consideration.

And then there are the team goals. After the Gator Bowl win, head coach Bo Pelini said that he was looking forward to “championships to come.” It’s pretty clear that Pelini is bullish on 2014, with a lot of defensive talent returning and the chance to mold an offense around Abdullah with either Tommy Armstrong or Johnny Stanton at quarterback.

If Abdullah is the key offensive component in the team that returns Nebraska to a conference championship—and perhaps even a longshot berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff—his place in Nebraska lore will be cemented. And he could have the chance to be legendary on a national stage as well.

Sure, coming back to college for his senior season is a risk. Abdullah could get hurt, or just underperform, and see his draft stock fall. But the opportunities for glory in his final year in college—and the rise in his draft stock that would surely follow—seem to make it worth the risk.

Certainly Abdullah thought so, which is why he will be wearing scarlet and cream in 2014.

If you'd like to contact Patrick, send an email to patrickrunge@gmail.com.

Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.

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