NCAA Football

Pac-12 Offenses Will Be Stacked in 2014: Can Defenses Keep Up?

Marcus Mariota. Brett Hundley. Sean Mannion. One Pac-12 quarterback after another spurned the NFL draft, giving the conference the deepest crop in the nation

Quarterbacks are coming back, and defensive stars are leaving. Ten of 12 1st Team All-Pac-12 defensive selections were seniors in 2013. Among the names are UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, Stanford linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy and Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly. 

And that’s not including the early departures to the NFL, including USC defensive end George Uko and safety Dion Bailey, Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell and Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton. 

Defense has reigned supreme in the conference known for its offense the last two seasons with Stanford’s nationally top-10 ranked unit. The Cardinals completed their second straight conference championship campaign in December by stymieing the 40-points per game spread offense of Arizona State.

An exodus of upperclassmen exit the Stanford defense that set the standard in the Pac-12 the past two seasons, but there's no shortage of returning talent. Defensive end Henry Anderson and linebacker A.J. Tarpley will not enter May's NFL draft, and their veteran experience will spearhead the development of a talented bunch stepping into the departing seniors' vacancies. 

More importantly, defensive coordinator Derek Mason is back leading the group for another season. Mason's success against zone-read offensive schemes has made him a hot commodity and one of the most celebrated assistants in the nation, and other Pac-12 programs are in search of their own answers to the conference's many potent offenses.     

Defensive coordinators the caliber of Mason come at a premium. New USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, who brought Justin Wilcox to Washington in 2011 to kick-start the Huskies' struggling defense, brought the coordinator to Heritage Hall. 

Jettisoned USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is without a home. That shouldn't last long. Under Pendergast's direction, the Trojans were the nation's No. 16 scoring defense.   

No Pac-12 defense needs an immediate solution more desperately than Cal, which gave up more points than any team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, save Idaho. Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes reassigned Andy Buh, and The San Francisco Chronicle reports Pendergast, a Cal assistant from 2010 through 2012, could be a top target. 

"Defense is a critical part of the equation in winning championships," Dykes said in his statement on CalBears.com

Cal is not alone in its search for a new defensive coordinator. The retirement of long-time Oregon coordinator Nick Aliotti in December leaves head coach Mark Helfrich with a vital hole to fill.

All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is returning for his senior season to rejoin 2013 defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Tony Washington, and linebacker Derrick Malone. 

The development of Oregon's defense under its new coordinator is among the more intriguing storylines to unfold this offseason into 2014.  

"No matter what happens, who’s leaving, who’s staying between players or coaches, we have one common goal," Malone said per The Daily Emerald after Oregon's stellar defensive performance in last month's Alamo Bowl, a 30-7 win over Texas, alluding to the program's dreams of winning a championship.

 

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Pac-12 Offenses Will Be Stacked in 2014: Can Defenses Keep Up?

Marcus Mariota . Brett Hundley . Sean Mannion . One Pac -12 quarterback after another spurned the NFL draft, giving the conference the deepest crop in the nation . Quarterbacks are coming back, and defensive stars are leaving...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Top Sleeper Recruits in the 2014 Class

The 2014 recruiting class is filled with top athletes who have been in the spotlight for some time now.

However, there are a lot of prospects that have not received as much attention and have flown under the radar.

2014 ATH Neiko Creamer has committed to play for Tennessee next season, and Volunteer fans should be ecstatic. The 6'3", 220-pound star has the physique of an NFL player and has an extremely high ceiling.

Who else made Bleacher Report's sleeper list for the 2014 class?

B/R experts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee break down who to watch out for in the future.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

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Longhorns Linebacker Shawn Izadi Plays in the Band and on the Football Team

Texas Longhorns fourth-year linebacker Shawn Izadi shared this photo on reddit of his double threat capabilities as a member of the football team and a saxophone player in the team's band. And as if this weren't impressive enough, Izadi is also a pre-med major. 

The top question in the comments section asks, "Does that mean you have to bully yourself?" To which Izadi replies, "Sometimes, I give myself the worst wedgies." So it appears he has a good sense of humor, too.

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Should Big Ten Be Encouraged by Rose Bowl Win or Demoralized by Other Losses?

The annual disappointment that is New Year's Day in Big Ten country was not so disappointing this year, thanks to Michigan State winning the Rose Bowl and the conference going 2-2 on the day.

Instead of its usual drubbing, the conference could actually hold its head high when the Rose Bowl Trophy was presented to the winner.

Before you get overjoyed, though, let's remember the conference couldn't win any other game besides Nebraska beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl. 

So, should we be celebrating the Rose Bowl Trophy making its way back to Big Ten country for the first time since 2010, or should we be sad that once again the conference couldn't represent itself better when it was all said and done?

The answer comes in the details of what took place during bowl season. 

Yes, the Big Ten went 2-5 and the lasting memory was that of Ohio State walking off the field as losers in the Orange Bowl, but let us remember that the Big Ten didn't exactly embarrass itself this go-around. 

If there is a silver lining in this bowl season, it's not just the Rose Bowl win—it's that the Big Ten actually gave it the good old college try. 

Outside of Michigan not showing up to play in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the other four defeats for the conference all were by 10 points or less. 

Wisconsin lost by 10 to South Carolina, Minnesota lost by four to Syracuse, Iowa lost by a touchdown to LSU and Ohio State went down by five points to Clemson in a crazy Orange Bowl. 

Some of the best games played all bowl season involved the Big Ten—it just so happened the league representative was on the losing end of those close games.

But let's also be honest—silver linings are for losers, and well folks, that's just what the Big Ten was for the most part in the 2013-14 bowl season.

Yes, be happy to see the Big Ten get a major Rose Bowl victory in the final year of the BCS, but also remember that for yet another bowl season, the conference's best efforts weren't good enough against other top conferences. 

The reality of how pundits like myself see college football is based on the only true measure of where a conference is—matchups between each other. 

If the Big Ten wants to repair its image and be known as one of the best conferences out there, it needs to flip those close losses to close wins and the occasional blowout in its favor.

Just imagine what the rest of the media would be saying had Iowa found a way to take advantage of LSU's mistakes or Ohio State's defense found a way to slow down Sammy Watkins just once. 

What if Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave doesn't throw an interception off his offensive lineman's foot and the Badgers score on that drive? How about if Minnesota could've found a passing game against a soft Syracuse defense?

Again, therein lies the problem—the Big Ten is left playing the "what if" game for another offseason, and at some point it just becomes too painful to take. 

For this writer, though, the 2014 bowl season showed that the Big Ten was drawing closer to respectability—rather than slipping another rung on the college football ladder.

Come the 2014-15 bowl season, things will look a lot different thanks to a new lineup of bowl games, and the Big Ten won't be at such a scheduling disadvantage.

Now it's time for the league to prove that with more even competition it can beat the big boys of the SEC, ACC and Pac-12. 

At least, that's the hope of those in the Big Ten offices in Rosemont, Illinois.

Call me crazy, but as the saying goes, "I'll believe it when I see it."

Talking about improvements is great, but in the world of college football, W's do the walking, and until that happens, Big Ten fans have every right to be demoralized.

 

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

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Tennessee Football: 5 Recruits Volunteers Must Land on NSD 2014

With 33 verbal commitments and 14 early enrollees in the fold, the Tennessee Volunteers' 2014 recruiting class is very close to wrapping up.

But that doesn't mean UT head coach Butch Jones and his staff are lounging on a beach somewhere, sipping Mai Tais and waiting on national signing day to pass. The Vols are still very much in maintenance mode with a couple of coveted recruits, and they're still trying to land some big fish to the Big Orange.

By all accounts, Tennessee's recruiting class is highly regarded, sitting at fifth on 247Sports' current team rankings. It's deep, it's talented and it fills plenty of needs. But there are a few guys out there who could really strengthen the team immediately.

Let's take a look at three major targets and two potentially shaky pledges the Vols need to close with in order to really make this a memorable haul on the trail.

Here are five recruits UT needs to land between now and Feb. 5.

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BCS Years in Review: 2006, the Dawn of SEC's Reign in College Football

Part 9 of a seriesOver the next few weeks, I will be reviewing each of the 16 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. Here is a look back at who got lucky, who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear throughout December and January.

Part 1: 1998, A New Beginning for College Football

Part 2: 1999, FSU Ends Michael Vick's Quest for Perfection

Part 3: 2000, FSU-Miami Sows Seeds of Controversy

Part 4: 2001, Nebraska Fiasco Rocks College Football

Part 5: 2002, Controversy On-Field Mars Perfect Ending

Part 6: 2003, Nightmare of Split National Championship

Part 7: 2004, Unbeaten Auburn Left Out in the Cold

Part 8: 2005: Perfect Season Ends With Epic at Rose Bowl

---

BCS had its dream season in 2005. Too bad it had to wake up for 2006.

Throughout most of the year, it looked as if the BCS would have its first intra-conference rematch, pitting Ohio State against Michigan. The Big Ten's bitter rivals matched each other game-for-game on a collision course of unbeatens while other contenders fell away.

Then on the eve of the 1-vs.-2 showdown at the Horseshoe, Bo Schembechler, Michigan's legendary coach (and former Ohio State assistant), passed away.

The two teams joined battle with raw emotions, if very little defense. The surprisingly high-scoring game was more or less decided by Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable's hit on Ohio State QB Troy Smith late in the game. The Buckeyes won, 42-39.

But Michigan stayed at No. 2 in the BCS standings even after the game, making a rematch in Arizona a real possibility. Then the Wolverines began to fall, for two straight weeks, without playing a single down.

First, they were passed by USC, after a thrashing of overrated Notre Dame at the L.A. Coliseum. And then, just when it appeared that the Trojans would play in their third consecutive BCS title game, they suffered a monumental choke job against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Michigan's rematch with Ohio State was on again.

Only for a few hours, as it turned out. After Florida dispatched Arkansas, with some difficulty, in the SEC Championship Game, the Gators leapfrogged the Wolverines (is that physiologically possible?) and got the coveted date with the Buckeyes.

Ruining the rematch turned out to be a good thing in this sense: Both Ohio State and Michigan proved to be...frauds. The Buckeyes were mauled by Florida in a game that was never close after Ohio State scored on the opening kickoff. Michigan was likewise annihilated by USC in the Rose Bowl.

Florida got its first national championship under Urban Meyer thanks to a lucky break—USC losing against a 20-point underdog UCLA—and a massive voter defection (more on that later). But at the end, very little argument may be made about the Gators' legitimacy as the BCS national champion. It was the first undisputed national champion from the SEC since 1998—the inaugural season of the BCS—and the first of seven straight from that conference.

This was also the first year of the double-host format, where the bowl hosting the BCS National Championship Game also would have its regular bowl game. With this arrangement, teams qualifying for BCS bowls would increase from eight to 10.

The main beneficiary of this change was supposed to be non-BCS conference teams, now with better access to BCS bowls. And undefeated Boise State took full advantage.

In the same University of Phoenix Stadium that was to host the BCS title game, Boise State shocked and enthralled college football fans with its delightful 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos tied the game in regulation on a hook-and-ladder, won the game on a Statue of Liberty and capped it off with a marriage proposal as running back Ian Johnson got down to one knee in front of girlfriend Chrissy Popadics on national TV.

She said "yes!"



Final BCS Standings: 1. Ohio State, 2. Florida, 3. Michigan.



Alternative Methods

Using 1998-2003 (BCS I) Formula: 1. Ohio State, 2. Florida, 3. Michigan.

Likely four-team playoff: Ohio State vs. USC; Florida vs. Michigan.

With its high-ranking and season-long hold on the No. 2 spot, the Wolverines likely would've earned an at-large entry, along with the three top conference champions.



Controversies

Michigan fans won't soon forget how fickle voters defected from their team. After losing to Ohio State, the Wolverines were still comfortably ahead of both USC and Florida in both the Coaches and Harris polls. But that soon changed.

Entering the final week of the regular season, Michigan was ahead of Florida by 86 points in the Harris Poll and 40 points in the Coaches Poll. But after Florida's win over Arkansas, the Gators went ahead of Michigan by 38 points in the Harris Poll (a swing of 114 points) and 26 in the Coaches Poll (a swing of 66 points). In both cases, the voters were determined to avoid a Michigan-Ohio State rematch. With Florida and Michigan dead even in the computer rankings, the voters' wish carried the day.

This would be the first of two occasions when there was a possibility of an intra-conference rematch in the BCS title game, as the nearly exact same scenario took place five years later. But in 2011, the voters decisively opted for a rematch (more on that in a future installment).


BCS Formula Review: With the formula now set, the only revelation in 2006 was that the Harris Poll proved to be no better (or worse) than any other human polls. The Harris voters, like the coaches (and the writers in the AP poll), defected from Michigan to push first USC then Florida into the BCS title game. As the human polls now accounted for two-thirds of the BCS formula, essentially the computer rankings were rendered meaningless in a tight race.

 

Final analysis: Did the right team win the BCS Championship? Perhaps. But had USC not inexplicably gagged against a team that it beat, 66-19, the year before and had won seven straight against, Florida would never have made it to the title game. There would've been protests from both Michigan and Florida after USC presumably walloped Ohio State.

The two best teams of the season, as indicated by bowl results, never got to play each other. USC blew its chance at a third national title in four years, but the Trojans and Gators would never have gotten a chance to play each other anyway. Not with Ohio State being insulated in the Big Ten and going undefeated.

History would repeat itself in 2007...and 2008.

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Big 12 Football: Best Individual Performances from the 2013-14 Season

With a full seven months and some change between now and the start of next college football season, there's a lot of time for reflection.

Might as well reflect on some of the best individual performances in the Big 12 from the 2013-14 season, then.

From Iowa State quarterback Grant Rohach leading the Cyclones in a come-from-behind victory against West Virginia to walk-on Baker Mayfield's first game as Texas Tech's starting quarterback against SMU, there were plenty of memorable moments. 

It's tough to narrow down the list of individual efforts when there were so many good ones, but here are 10 of the best performances from the 2013-14 season. 

 

Oklahoma Quarterback Trevor Knight vs. Alabama (Sugar Bowl) 

Where was this guy all year? Because the quarterback who threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama in a 45-31 Sugar Bowl win was most definitely not the same one who started the season completing 39 percent of his passes against Louisiana-Monroe. 

Knight played possessed against the Tide, dropping dimes downfield and throwing lasers in the intermediate passing game. Alabama's cornerbacks may not be as good as they have been in years past, but still, this was Knight's best performance of the season by a country mile. 

What's more is that Knight, once thought of as only a running quarterback, had just seven yards on five attempts. He beat Alabama entirely with his arm. 

 

Texas Tech Tight End Jace Amaro vs. Oklahoma State (Nov. 2) 

Texas Tech's Jace Amaro led the Big 12 with 1,352 receiving yards—as a tight end. From October to early November, he had four straight games of at least eight receptions for at least 100 yards. The final game in that streak came in a 52-34 loss to Oklahoma State. 

Still, Amaro was a force with 15 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown. Oklahoma State had talent on defense this year with the likes of defensive back Justin Gilbert and linebacker Caleb Lavey. To slice through that group as easily as Amaro did is a testament to what a matchup nightmare he is. 

Amaro has declared for the NFL draft, and he's going to make some pro franchise very happy. 

 

Baylor Quarterback Bryce Petty vs. Oklahoma (Nov. 7)

This was the game that Baylor, as a program, had been waiting for: the chance to knock off perennial power Oklahoma on national TV to take a firm grip in the Big 12 standings. 

The Bears seized the moment, beating Oklahoma 41-12. Petty only completed 50 percent of his passes, but he accounted for 249 total yards and five touchdowns: three passing and two rushing. 

With receiver Tevin Reese and running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin out with injuries, Petty stepped up as the game's MVP. 

 

Oklahoma State Cornerback Justin Gilbert vs. Texas (Nov. 16)

Oklahoma State had a comfortable 21-10 lead on Texas with under 30 seconds remaining in the first half. Then, Longhorns quarterback Case McCoy made an ill-advised pass, one of many on the day, and Gilbert took advantage.

Gilbert undercut his receiver's route and picked off McCoy, going 43 the yards the other way for a score that put the Pokes up 28-10 on the 'Horns. The look on Texas head coach Mack Brown's face? Priceless. 

Gilbert finished the day with two interceptions and nine tackles.  

 

Kansas State Wide Receiver Tyler Lockett vs. Oklahoma (Nov. 23)

Lockett didn't lead the Big 12 in receiving yards, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone better than him. The junior was a crisp route runner and made circus catches all year long. 

But his best performance came on Nov. 23 against Oklahoma when he hauled in 12 catches for 278 yards, most of which came in the first half, and three touchdowns. 

Simply put, the Sooners couldn't put enough defensive backs into coverage to contain him. It seemed like every chance K-State quarterback Jake Waters had, he was looking downfield for Lockett. Oklahoma won 41-31, but it was as entertaining a game as there was in the conference all season. 

 

Texas Defensive End Jackson Jeffcoat vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 28) 

The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year was a nightmare for Texas Tech's offense during Texas' 41-16 win on Thanksgiving night.

Jeffcoat recorded 10 tackles, a good number for any player, but it was his three sacks that made him a difference maker.  There are some questions about whether Jeffcoat can be more than just an elite pass-rusher at the next level, but he was playing on another level that night. 

 

TCU Cornerback Jason Verrett vs. Baylor (Nov. 30)

Verrett's performance in a 41-38 loss to the Bears can be tough to measure since he only had one tackle and two pass breakups. 

But, consider this: Verrett allowed Bears receiver Antwan Goodley to catch just one pass for 12 yards. One. And Goodley finished with more receiving yards (1,339) than any other wide receiver in the Big 12. 

There were a lot of reasons TCU lost to Baylor, just as there were many reasons the Horned Frogs finished 4-8. Verrett was not the root cause of any of those struggles. 

 

Kansas Running Back James Sims vs. West Virginia (Nov. 16)

Recording 211 yards and three touchdowns is a nice way to help your team break a 27-game conference losing streak. That's exactly what Kansas running back James Sims did in a 31-19 win over West Virginia. 

Sims, who had been a workhorse for the Jayhawks, finished the regular season with a conference-best 1,110 yards. Sims' 22 carries were a career high, and the 211 yards were a season high. Sims never won many games in Lawrence, but that will go down as perhaps his best college performance. 

 

Oklahoma State Quarterback Clint Chelf vs. Baylor (Nov. 23)

Baylor's Bryce Petty, the top quarterback in the conference, was out-dueled once this regular season. That was at the hands of Oklahoma State's Clint Chelf. 

In a 49-17 win over the Bears on a freezing November night, Chelf had the game of his career with 370 yards passing and three touchdowns, plus another rushing touchdown. 

Chelf always battled with consistency issues, but on that night, no one played better than he did.

 

Texas Linebacker Steve Edmond vs. West Virginia (Nov. 9)

Texas' 47-40 overtime win over West Virginia in Morgantown will go down as one of the most exciting games of the season in the Big 12.

But it ended thanks to Longhorns linebacker Steve Edmond, who grabbed the game-sealing interception in the end zone.

Texas' defense was far from stout that night, giving up 399 yards, but Edmond was superb with 12 tackles and a pair of quarterback hurries. When the game was on the line, Edmond stepped up big time. 

 

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Florida Gators Flip Top CB Recruit Jalen Tabor

A week ago, ESPN's No. 15 overall (No. 5 CB) prospect Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy) had narrowed down his final choices to Alabama and Arizona.

During the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game, Tabor chose the Wildcats. Today, Tabor's mother confirmed her son has flipped his commitment to the Gators, according to Gerry Hamilton of ESPN.

Tabor now becomes the Gators' highest-ranked recruit on ESPN's Top 300. The 6'1", 188-pound prospect gives the Gators three defensive backs in the 2014 class, not including two "ATH" players—No. 10 ATH J.C. Jackson and No. 11 ATH Chris Lammons—who could play defensive back for the Gators.

The Gators are also expected to be in the lead for No. 7 overall and No. 2 CB prospect Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Ca./Junipero Serra High School).

Tabor is expected to enroll at the University of Florida and be on campus by Monday, per Hamilton.

He initially took official visits to Arizona, Maryland, Florida and Alabama before cutting his final two choices to Alabama and Arizona on Jan. 2.

Tabor's pick of the Wildcats may have been influenced by the commitment of his friend and teammate, Jonathan Haden, who is committed to Arizona. Haden is the younger brother of former Gators cornerback and current Cleveland Browns Pro Bowler Joe Haden.

After Tabor's flip to Florida, he announced on his Twitter account that he will wear the No. 5 jersey for Florida, the same number Joe Haden wore for the Gators in his college days, to which he received congratulations and well wishes from Haden himself.

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National Signing Day Predictions: Picks for Top 10 Uncommitted Recruits

National Signing Day is less than a month away, taking place on Feb. 5, and with its approach, the recruiting cycle has taken on a feverish pace.

Thirty-one of the top 40 players in the country have already committed to a school for next year, according to the 247Sports composite. Few (if any) teams should feel safe until a player signs his letter of intent, though, as this is prime season for recruits to be poached and commitments to be flipped.

Outside of those politics, however, some of the best players in the country remain uncommitted, refusing to even hand out a verbal. By landing one or more players from that field, a class can go from bad to decent, decent to good or good to great.

Here's where the top 10 unsigned players might land.

Rankings via the 247Sports composite.

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Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah Will Return to Cornhuskers in 2014

On the heels of an impressive Gator Bowl victory over the Georgia Bulldogs 24-19, the Nebraska Cornhuskers received more reason for optimism in 2014: Running back Ameer Abdullah will be returning for his senior season, via ESPN’s Brett McMurphy:

Huskers.com later confirmed the announcement on Thursday afternoon, providing official statements from Abdullah and head coach Bo Pelini.

Nebraska fans should be thrilled, as the team will be returning one of the top backs from last season.

In 13 games, the junior rushed for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns on 281 carries. He also caught 26 passes for 232 yards while finding the end zone twice.

Furthermore, he topped the century mark on the ground in all but two games for the Huskers. That includes a stretch of eight consecutive weeks from Sept. 21 to Nov. 23.

One of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back, Abdullah was named to the All-Big Ten First Team and the AP All-America Third Team.

Look for the Homewood, Ala. native to take the pressure off whoever is starting at quarterback for Nebraska next season.

Pelini had this to say, via Huskers.com:

We look forward to having [Abdullah] represent the Nebraska football program for another season. [He] has the opportunity to leave a legacy at Nebraska that will put him among the all-time greats to play here. He is a young man that is deserving of being a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and other national awards in 2014.

With several top names such as Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk and Auburn’s Tre Mason declaring early for the NFL draft, Abdullah made a wise move to wait a year.

More than likely, he’ll be one of the top names coming off the board in 2015.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Nebraska Football: Why Ameer Abdullah Was Right to Forgo NFL Draft

In a statement released by the team's official website, Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah announced on Thursday that he will return for his senior season.

After a quiet couple of weeks, the news did come as a shock to many. Some people believed that the lack of news from Abdullah was a bad sign for the Huskers. The I-back proved that notion to be wrong.

In his official statement, Abdullah made it clear that his education is more important than playing in the NFL. While the goal will still be there after next season, Abdullah has set his sights on his college degree.

Did the I-back make the right decision? All signs point to yes.

As long as Abdullah can stay healthy, the 2014 season will offer him a slew of opportunities. In 2013, Abdullah missed hitting the 100-yard mark in only two games. He can change that next season.

Additionally, Abdullah will likely get some buzz for many national awards in 2014. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and third-team AP All-American honors in 2013. He also was one of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back.

With top honors already under his belt, Abdullah will be in a good position to be recognized even more on a national scale in 2014.

All in all, the decision was a good one for Abdullah. While Husker fans would have supported him either way, it's hard not to be pleased with the choice he made.

There will be some concern around his health. Former Nebraska I-back Rex Burkhead faced injuries during his senior season with the Huskers. However, Burkhead was still drafted in the sixth round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Another concern is Abdullah's draft stock. MLive.com's Mike Griffith reported that ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected the I-back as a third- or fourth-round pick. Any injuries could drop him to a lower pick in 2015, but another strong season like 2013 could improve it.

Regardless, Abdullah is not worried about the NFL at this time.

"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," he said in his official statement.

If that's what matters most to Abdullah, then he made the right decision. The NFL will always be there next year.

For the time being, the Huskers get to keep their star.

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Adjustments Kyle Allen Must Make to Land Texas A&M's Starting QB Job in 2014

The new era of college football in College Station began on Wednesday, when quarterback Johnny Manziel officially left Texas A&M in favor of greener pastures in the NFL.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist closed the book on his college career after writing chapter upon chapter littered with eye-popping statistics, mind-boggling highlights and, yes, quite a few parties.

So who's the next man up?

Matt Joeckel is the veteran, Kenny Hill—who I wrote should get the job—is the electrifying dual threat who's as much of a Manziel clone as there is on the roster and incoming freshman Kyle Allen is the new kid on the block.

According to 247Sports.com, Allen is a 5-star prospect in the class of 2014 and ranked as the top pro-style quarterback prospect in the country. He signed a financial aid agreement with the program, will enroll this semester and participate in spring practice.

What will it take for Allen to win the job?

 

He Doesn't Need to Be Fast, Just Quick

Head coach Kevin Sumlin has already has that he is willing and able to adjust his system to his personnel.

The wide-open, air raid attack he utilized with Case Keenum at Houston isn't the same as what he employed with Manziel over the last two seasons, even though they do share similarities. Sumlin adjusts to his personnel and his personnel is used to having a quarterback that can move.

Allen won't be breaking any records in the 40-yard dash, but can move enough to buy himself some time. He does have to work on his footwork, though.

When he gets moved off of his launch point, sometimes he takes a while to get going. That doesn't hurt him at the high school level all that much because his first option is usually open and he gets the ball there on time.

At the college level, however that will change. Defenses are faster and more creative, which means that he is going to have to react quickly when the heat gets dialed up. Consistently recognizing and reacting to that is job No. 1.

 

Familiarize Himself with the Playbook and Personnel...and Vice Versa

Sumlin has already proven that he can adjust to his quarterback, but can his players?

After two seasons with the most dynamic player in college football, the onus is also on them to get to know how each of the new quarterback contenders think and throw.

That's on them as much as it is on Allen, and despite having the luxury of going through spring, he'll be fighting an uphill battle against Hill and Joeckel, who are already relatively known commodities to the rest of the Aggie roster.

The door is open, and the one thing Allen—or any contender—doesn't want to do is have it shut with him standing on the outside. 

Manziel was great during his Heisman Trophy year of 2012, but progressed as a passer in 2013 due to his ability to go through his progressions quickly, without panicking, and find the open target—even if it was his third or fourth option. 

Allen doesn't have Manziel's wheels, so making sure he has this aspect of his game down during spring practice is imperative.

 

Find a Go-To Receiver

Manziel had his ultimate insurance policy in wide receiver Mike Evans, but the 6'5", 225-pounder will join Johnny Football at the next level.

Different quarterbacks click with different wide receivers and Allen can make up for the fact that he's the new kid on the block by developing that chemistry with a wide receiver early when coaches aren't around so that he has confidence once he hits the practice field.

If Allen can find one guy he has confidence in, it will provide him with a solid foundation to work off of once the battle begins.

He doesn't need to win the job this spring, he just has to be within shouting distance. If he can do that, he'll have a shot.

 

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Auburn Football: How Tigers Will Replace Tre Mason in 2014

Auburn's Tre Mason will forgo his senior season and make himself eligible for the 2014 NFL draft, the running back announced Thursday afternoon.

"It's been a dream since I was young," Mason said, via Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News. "I'm a dream chaser, and now I'm just trying to make a dream into reality."

In 2013, Mason rushed for a school-record 1,816 yards—besting Bo Jackson's longstanding record from 1985—and a school-record 23 touchdowns. Mason led the Tigers all the way to the BCS National Championship Game, and scored a go-ahead touchdown on a 37-yard run with one minute and 19 seconds to play, which could have been the game-winner.

The Tigers ultimately fell short—but Mason will still be remembered for years to come on the Plains as one of the greatest running backs to ever play at Auburn.

That's pretty tough to do at a place they call "Running Back U."

But as Mason rides off into the sunset and joins the professional ranks, Gus Malzahn and the Tigers coaching staff will begin to contemplate just how they will manage to replace his production as Auburn looks to make another run in 2014.

For five straight years, Auburn has featured a 1,000-yard rusher, going through Mason and Mike Dyer back to Ben Tate in 2009. Even in the Tigers' dismal 3-9 season in 2012, Mason rushed for 1,002 yards.

But in 2014, it would appear that the Tigers will be forced to take a by-committee approach, without any proven workhorses projected for the fall roster.

That doesn't mean the Auburn run game is slowing down any time soon. What the Tigers will lack in star individuals, they will make up for with quality depth.

Rising seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will be back to play a major role in Auburn's bid to repeat as SEC Champions—after each already rushed for 600-plus yards this season.

Artis-Payne arrived on the Plains last spring by way of junior college, contributing all this season in relief of Mason as a between-the-tackles runner. Grant, the speedy Alabama transfer, had a breakout season in 2013, fitting in Gus Malzahn's offense by taking carries around end and racing defenders to the edge.

If Malzahn chooses to play them that way, the one-two punch of Artis-Payne and Grant could emulate past tandems during Malzahn's tenure at Auburn as an offensive coordinator. Artis-Payne would act as the Dyer or Tate back, running between the tackles inside, while Grant compliments him and works the outside, a la Onterio McCalebb. 

Of course, at a more sturdy 210 lbs., Grant has shown more capabilities as a downhill runner than McCalebb—which should only prove to add to this tandem's flexibility in attacking SEC defenses in every-down situations in 2014.

Behind Artis-Payne and Grant, the 2014 Tigers will feature a wealth of talent rounding out the depth chart. Rising sophomore Johnathan Ford, who switched to cornerback for much of 2013 based on need due to injury, could return to the offensive side of the ball and vie for carries this fall. Running back Peyton Barber spent 2013 redshirting and playing on the Auburn scout team, but will hope to burst onto the scene in a big way in 2014.

Next fall, Auburn fans will also likely see the debut of 5-star running back recruit Racean Thomas, who is a firm Auburn commit with national signing day approaching on Feb. 5. Thomas, a highly-touted prospect and an Under Armour All-American, could see significant playing time even as a freshman in 2014.

Regardless of who is in the Auburn backfield on a given play next season, they will be lining up next to Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall—who rushed for 1,068 yards himself in 2013 as part of Auburn's zone-read attack. As a senior, Marshall will have an even better grasp of Malzahn's system in 2014, after having a chance to go through spring camp with the Tigers coaching staff for the first time.

If Marshall continues to improve, it can only mean big things for the Auburn running backs by proxy.

Auburn shocked the world in 2013, putting together a thrilling run to the BCS National Championship Game on the legs of one of the most potent rushing attacks that college football has seen in years.

While no one is going to be able to replace Mason right away, someone will find a way to step up and carry the load—the way Mason did after Dyer, and Dyer did after Tate, Tate after Kenny Irons, and Irons after Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.

They always seem to find a way at Running Back U.

 

Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Improvements FSU QB Jameis Winston Must Make This Offseason

After capping off one of the greatest freshman seasons of all time with a BCS National Championship, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston looks to baseball and, on the football side, improving his game. Even after a stellar year, the quarterback has to work on his footwork, pocket presence and continue to sharpen his decision-making process.

On the surface, Winston really achieved all he could in just his first season of college football. As Dan Levy points out, from an achievement standpoint there's not much more for the quarterback to do at the college level. Levy's absolutely correct; every trophy that Winston could claim has been grabbed by the now 20-year-old.

But, as far as his game goes, the third year in Tallahassee will be different from the first two. The initial year was about gaining command of the offense. Pushing to understand how head coach Jimbo Fisher wanted his quarterback to play. Year 2 was about finally stepping out of the redshirt shadow and into the spotlight. It was about the kid handling the car once he was given the keys.

Next fall, as Winston balances baseball and spring football, will be about taking the next step at the position. This year the nation watched Johnny Manziel go from playmaker to quarterback, and in 2014 Winston will be looking to make a leap of his own. The Seminoles signal-caller is already one of the nation's best pocket quarterbacks, and his next step will be growing his consistency in the little elements of the game.

Winston's initial drops are fantastic. He is a quarterback who gains ground on his steps away from the center, and he stands tall as he gets to the top of his drop. However, as the game happens around him, he is still working on sliding within the pocket:

The redshirt freshman campaign showcased a big kid in the pocket. That size and the ability to do things like that against Maryland led to Winston sticking in the mix longer than he should. Against Boston College, instead of stepping up here, the quarterback hangs in the pocket without moving up, allowing Kasim Edebali to get the sack:

Winston's clock runs a little slower than other quarterbacks because he's big enough to shake off tacklers. Moving into 2014, look for the quarterback to sharpen his clock, feel pressure coming from the edge or the interior, and respond accordingly. Although he will never be as elusive as other, quicker passers, he does have the athleticism and ability to move within the pocket and give himself space to make plays.

Fisher's quarterback has the skills and has shown the ability; it is simply a focus and consistency issue with Winston. The improvements in footwork will elevate his pocket presence and lead to the Seminoles surrendering fewer sacks than in 2013. With the offensive line going through some transition, it will be paramount for the quarterback to get the internal clock up and running.

The other big push for Winston will come in the decision-making process. Decision-making is not simply about interceptions. The quarterback only threw 10 picks in 2013; his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4-to-1 is admirable in the grand scheme of things.

Rather, for Winston, decision-making speaks to the quarterback making his mind up and sticking to the decision he has made. Here, against Miami, people notice the interception, but the issue is Winston's double clutch in throwing the ball that creates the problem.

The hitch in his throw gives the high safety a chance to break on the ball, and as the ball comes out on the second attempt, the defender is in good position to make a play. The hesitation is merely indecision. The same thing happens here with Winston trying to decide whether to run the ball or stay behind the line to push it down the field with his arm.

Winston has to work to apply the same decision-making process that he has in the face of the blitz to his regular passing scenarios. The redshirt freshman showed no indecision as teams brought extra rushers, and he also was poised in working the two-minute drill for the quick passing game. That approach has to carry over to his play action and standard five-step drop work.

When Winston is going to throw, he needs to let the ball fly. When he elects to run, there is no need to hesitate and look one more time to pass; just get on the horse and get down the field. Whether it is run or pass, the point is for Winston to decrease some of the indecision and improve his footwork. Both will lead to even more success and fewer sacks.

Entering the 2014 season, the Seminoles quarterback will sit at or near the top of the quarterback heap. Making small improvements to his game will likely be the final push that cements him as the top player at his position for the 2015 draft.

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How BCS National Title Will Impact Florida State's Recruiting

The Coaches’ Trophy isn’t the only reward the Florida State Seminoles received from winning the 2014 BCS National Championship.

In fact, the team also received a significant boost in terms of its recruiting.

When Florida State outlasted the Auburn Tigers on Jan. 6, 34-31, the entire college football world paid close attention. But none watched with more interest than several of the top recruits across the nation.

For some—those who had already committed to joining the Seminoles next season—the victory served as vindication of a decision well made:

#WeCantBeStop🏈 #FSU #NoleNation 6_awol __magic4 lane_to_live We up next💯 http://t.co/3KVW1SIMwg

— Treon Harris (@t5_harris) January 7, 2014

But what about the players who had yet to commit to a school? How would Florida State’s triumph affect them?

For one such recruit—4-star defensive tackle Kendrick Norton of the Class of 2015—he saw it as the icing on the cake for his decision to commit to Tallahassee:

And don’t be surprised if more follow in the near future.

Over the years, winning the BCS title has typically been synonymous with recruiting success. In fact, the champions are almost guaranteed to land a top-10 class.

Just take a look at how the past 10 have fared:

*Class rank not final


As you can see, seven of those teams finished with the No. 1 class in at least one of the two seasons following their championship triumph.

For the Seminoles, this BCS title victory will be especially sweet.

From 1987 to 2012, the school had put together a remarkable 257-71 record. However, in those 26 years, Florida State had only managed to win two national titles.

For quite some time, that was a knock on the program to future recruits.

“Florida State has always been one of those marquee national programs, but recruiters were able to use the ‘they recruit well, but they never are able to win the national championship’ thing,” said ESPN recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree, via The Palm Beach Post's Anthony Chiang. “That pitch to prospects is now thrown out the window.”

In its place, recruits will now see a Seminoles squad that will see the return of heralded quarterback and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston along with other key playmakers on both sides of the ball next season. Furthermore, odds are high that the team will open 2014 as the preseason No. 1.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Not to mention, after dominating the state of Florida over the last decade, the Florida Gators have seen their grip on recruiting loosen quite a bit. A 4-8 season tends to have that effect.

It’s already provided seismic results, as 247Sports’ No. 2-ranked running back Dalvin Cook recently flipped his verbal commitment from Florida to Florida State.

“Florida’s down tick and transition on offense, and Miami’s up-and-down season has really helped Florida State capitalize on the state of Florida, especially in South Florida,” Crabtree continued. “If you’re looking for a clear-cut winner of the Sunshine State this season, it’s absolutely Florida State.”

To date, 16 of the Seminoles' 29 verbal commits are from the state of Florida. In comparison, the Gators only have 12.

With every passing commitment, Florida State continues to re-emerge as one of college football’s national powerhouses.

As Winston said moments after winning the school’s third national title, “If we’re going to do it, then we’re going to do it big.”

By the looks of it, seems like the Seminoles have followed suit.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Michigan Football: What Al Borges Departure Means for Brady Hoke

It all seemed to happen in a matter of seconds. On Wednesday, Jan. 8, Brady Hoke swiftly announced the firing of much-maligned offensive coordinator Al Borges and replaced him with a shiny new one in former Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier, as ESPN's Joe Schad initially reported. 

Enticing Nussmeier to leave Nick Saban's staff at Alabama is an impressive feat by Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon. While Nussmeier won't be able to replace Michigan's offensive line with Alabama's, Nussmeier will bring a fresh perspective to an offense that has been wildly inconsistent. He's also a great recruiter and has an excellent track record of developing young quarterbacks. This is a great hire for Michigan. 

But looking beneath the surface what does Al Borges' departure really mean for coach Hoke? 

It means that he has no more excuses, and no more scapegoats. It's also a clear indicator to Michigan fans that the program won't settle for mediocrity and that regressing in back-to-back seasons won't be tolerated. 

It couldn't have been easy for Hoke to part ways with Borges, who becomes the first assistant to leave the program since Hoke's arrival in 2011. The move contradicts Hoke's statement to the press back on Dec. 2 at an event to support the National Child Identification Program, in which he said that he expected to retain his full staff of assistant coaches. 

Interestingly, when Brandon strongly backed Hoke as the "Right Leader for Michigan Football" in his Nov. 27 manifesto on mgoblue.com, there was no mention of Borges. Brandon did laud defensive coordinator Greg Mattison in his note, saying that, "The transformation and improvement of our defense under the leadership of coach Greg Mattison has been outstanding." 

Could Brandon have forced Hoke's hand on this matter? It's certainly plausible, but we'll probably never know the entire extent of their closed-door discussions at Schembechler Hall. 

What we do know is that Michigan has made a major decision to move away from Borges, and it will invest an even larger amount of money in Nussmeier. Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports reported that Nussmeier will be one of the five highest-paid coordinators in the country. But as salaries go up, so do expectations. Hoke and Nussmeier will be expected to make significant strides on offense next year—this can't be a multi-year process. 

So with no more potential scapegoats left in Hoke's cabinet, will he be able to deliver the necessary results in Ann Arbor in 2014? 

 

Follow Tom on Twitter @TomLogan_BR

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Why Tennessee Is the Most Surprising Recruiting Class in the Country

Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 6 in the country, according to 247 Sports. How can a team that finished sixth in the SEC East bring in so much talent? 

For starters, the Volunteers landed Jalen Hurd, the No. 4-ranked athlete in the country. He is expected to put in time at running back and fill the shoes of senior RB Rajion Neal. What other strengths does the Tennessee recruiting class possess? 

Watch Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder break down the most surprising recruiting class in the country. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

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Every SEC Team's Biggest Concern This Offseason

Household names like Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron will no longer grace the sidelines of the Southeastern Conference due to a jump to the NFL or graduation, hailing an offseason that will bring significant changes not only to the SEC's teams but to its long-term power structure.

Following a season that will be remembered for its offense, half of the conference's teams lose their starting quarterbacks. Half of the SEC's leading wide receivers are also gone, as are a third of its top running backs.

As with any offseason, the coaches of the nation's most elite conference now turn their eyes toward player development and patching up holes left by departing players. Though some are still waiting to learn the fate of their most talented athletes, as many have yet to make their decision on whether to declare for the NFL draft, others are looking to make a leap up the ultra-competitive food chain with an experienced returning core.

Taking for granted that those who have not declared for the draft will return, we now look at what concerns each SEC team will need to address to stay competitive in both the conference and the nation.

Follow me on Twitter for daily commentary: @SEC_Nerd.

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Who Will Be Alabama's Quarterback in 2014?

AJ McCarron's career came to a disappointing end in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, handing him the first back-to-back losses of his career with no chance to redeem them.

Still, McCarron's time in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is something to be celebrated. He won 36 of his first 38 games as a starter and left the program with three national championship rings on his fingers. That is the stuff of legends.

As with any legend, McCarron leaves big cleats to fill in the Alabama backfield. Whoever assumes starting duties will have the benefit of T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper, Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard—the latter two for more than one season. That's the good news.

The bad news is that with great weapons comes great responsibility. Alabama is expected to win every time it lines up, and with talent like that around him, the team's new QB will be blamed for every loss the Tide might incur.

But who might said quarterback be?

 

The Candidates

This was already a wide-open competition, and the departure of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who reportedly accepted the same job at Michigan, opens it up even more. Last year's depth chart is no longer as applicable.

Walk-on Luke Del Rio, the son of famous coach Jack Del Rio, surprised many by winning the No. 3 job behind McCarron and Blake Sims last season. He was never pressed into action, allowing him to keep his redshirt intact, but the loss of Nussmeier would seem to hurt him more than anyone.

Though he was offered scholarships to Oregon State, UCLA and Oklahoma State (where he briefly committed), Del Rio is viewed as an inferior physical talent to some of the other quarterbacks in camp. He was Nussmeier's "guy" among the younger crowd, but now that title is more open.

Sims might seem an early and logical favorite, if not for any reason other than experience. He's been on this team far longer than any of the other candidates, spent the most time learning under AJ McCarron and generally has the best understanding of the offense.

But how high is his ceiling in that offense? Nick Saban has never employed a shorter, running quarterback full time, which is what Sims would be. He doesn't have the height to run a pro-style offense in a pro-style way, which casts his prospects into doubt.

"Not at all," Saban said, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, when asked if Sims was the natural successor to McCarron. "Not at all."

Alabama fans might be rooting for David Cornwell to step in and assume the job. He's the highest-touted quarterback recruit the Tide have landed in quite some time, and at 6'5'' with a massive arm, he probably has the best physical gifts.

Still, look at the trend among the candidates above. Not a single one of them saw the field as a true freshman, instead taking a redshirt. That includes AJ McCarron as well. With Cornwell rehabbing from a knee injury that ended his senior season of high school, can he really be expected to walk in and usurp this position?

According to Ryan Aber and Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman, Cornwell expects his knee to be fully recovered by spring camp, and he expects to make a run at the starting job. "A lot of [the other] guys have experience on me," Cornwell said. "It'll all start (in the spring) and then be won in fall camp. I'll build on that and make a run during the fall camp."

That type of confidence is not uncommon for players Cornwell's age—especially ones with his physical profile, who have been shredding high school defenses for the past few seasons. But that doesn't make him ready to win the job so soon at a school like Alabama.

His time might come at some point, but it will probably be later.

 

The Big Three

Despite some of the qualms laid out above, I expect this to eventually become a three-horse race by the second week of fall camp. Sims will be the tentative favorite, followed closely by Del Rio and fellow redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman.

Bateman is an interesting case. He was the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2013, and though he didn't perform poorly in practice last season, it was a bit disheartening to see Del Rio beat him out for the No. 3 job.

Still, other than Cornwell, Bateman probably has the highest ceiling of any quarterback on the roster. It's hard to project if he'll make major strides from 2013 to 2014, and if he does, he might be a threat to steal this position. For now, however, he's my guess to end up at third string.

As for the starting job, I think Del Rio and Sims will be co-starters entering the season. So was the case after Greg McElroy left in 2011, when McCarron and another Sims, Phillip, split time in the opener against Kent State.

Soon it became apparent that McCarron was the better option, and history was written from there. If I had to predict now, though it's hard to be confident, I'd say that the same thing will happen during the first couple games of 2014.

And unthinkably, once again, I think a "Sims" will be relegated to second string.

"I like Luke a lot," McCarron said of Del Rio, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "He’s always around me trying to learn everything. Sometimes you’ve got to try to hide from him, get away.

"He’s a really smart kid, throws a really good ball, and I think he’s going to be a heck of a player in the future. I really do."

Take this with a grain of salt, since the season is so far away. So much can change, and I could see any of five guys stepping up to claim the job.

But if forced to choose right now, give me Del Rio in a minor upset. Why not?

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