Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan has won all 10 of his career starts against ranked opponents, which is important to consider when making your picks in the 2014 Rose Bowl, as he prepares to face the Michigan State Spartans on New Year's Day.
Sports bettors will find that the Cardinal are 4.5-point neutral-site favorites in the college football odds, with the betting total sitting at 42.5 in the market.
Let's take a closer look at this Big Ten/Pac-12 Conference matchup from a betting perspective while offering up a prediction along the way.
Gambling stats via SBR Forum
Texas head coach Mack Brown announced his retirement Saturday following a whirlwind of drama this season, including a victory over Oklahoma and closing the year one win away from a Big 12 Title. Brown's resignation marks the end of an era in the program's storied history, and will serve as a landmark tenure for decades amongst the fanbase.
In Brown's time with Texas, the head coach compiled a 10-4 record against long-time rival Texas A&M, starting his career with a 26-24 victory in 1998 and ending it with a 27-25 win in 2011, the last time the two programs clashed on the gridiron.
Off the field, Brown has defeated the Aggies more than just 10 times, sealing commitments from top-tier prospects consistently since taking over Texas in the late 1990's. Brown's recruiting classes have outpaced any and all teams regionally since his arrival, averaging a No. 6 national ranking since 2002 and currently sitting at No. 11, per 247sports.com.
With Brown out of the picture, though, the door to arguably the nation's richest recruiting pool will open up for multiple regional programs, including—but not limited to—Texas A&M.
Since realigning to the Southeastern Conference in July 2012, A&M has excelled on the recruiting trail, racking up a top-notch class while making a giant splash on the field all in the same season. However, with Brown and Texas still holding the virtual keys to the state, the Aggies continue to fall to second in many recruits' minds.
In part due to A&M's recent success on the field and head coach Kevin Sumlin's aggressive recruiting style, the Aggies have situated themselves in prime position to take over Texas if the Longhorns should falter. And despite UT finishing with an 8-4 record, Brown's sudden resignation marks a stumble from the state's top power, leaving room for A&M to mix up the hierarchy.
Additionally, with Nick Saban off the table in terms of replacement and questions surrounding the program as to who will replace Brown, A&M has the opportunity to thrive with in-state prospects. And no matter who takes over the program down the road, Sumlin and his staff have the edge due to their roots within the Texas high school football system.
Overall, the loss of Brown for Texas will mean more than just seeing your head coach resign, but possibly falling to second or third statewide in recruiting. The Longhorns picked the wrong time to replace their top-tier coach, as an A&M program on the rise stands in perfect position to dethrone the long-time King of the Hill.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand
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He dealt with a lot of criticism this summer after becoming the first ever freshman to win the Heisman, and then went on to actually post better statistics in his sophomore campaign.
His perceived small size and running-dependent style of play have caused a lot of people to say that he won't be successful in the NFL.
Manziel's style is certainly unorthodox, but his talent is undeniable as well. Let's delve into some film analysis and statistical breakdowns of Johnny Football.
Footwork and Mechanics
Manziel worked with quarterback guru George Whitfield this past offseason, and his mechanics were noticeably better this season. His springy athleticism allows him to bounce and run around to make plays, but in 2012 he would often resort to poor mechanics unnecessarily.
These two plays show his bad habit that has led to more than a few interceptions, but has been improved a lot in 2013.
Notice how he's blurry in the first picture. This is because he's falling off to the side after he releases the ball, which means he had his weight on his back foot and didn't re-set his feet before making the throw.
Sometimes rushing to get the ball out is necessary when a quarterback is throwing as he's about to take a hit, but Manziel obviously had plenty of space on this play.
Manziel does have a compact throwing motion when he stays with good fundamentals, however, and his throwing motion in general is pretty smooth when he does it right. But he has to stay consistent with his motion.
There are other times when he waits and decides to force a ball, which is never a smart decision.
But Manziel makes it worse at times by trying to get the throw off as quickly as possible and throwing either off his back foot or just opening up his body and heaving it.
The second picture shows this mistake, which leads to an interception against Ole Miss even without any immediate pressure in front of him.
Instead of stepping into his throw, staying balanced and having his momentum moving forward behind his throw, Manziel's weight is on his back foot, his left knee is practically locked, and his body is wide open. He was trying to squeeze a ball into a tight window here, and the throw predictably lacked velocity and was picked off.
He doesn't have that high release point and pretty overhand motion that Tom Brady employs to perfection, but is more of a slinger who gets the ball out quickly and is useful for a quarterback who improvises as much as Manziel.
He simply needs to consistently drive through his throws and make sure to re-set his feet and shift his weight when he's prepared to throw the ball. His bad throws almost always occur when he doesn't use proper mechanics, although his arm is still underratedly strong.
Arm and Anticipation
One of the biggest critiques of Manziel is that he does not have the arm to make throws in the NFL.
It's true that he doesn't have a cannon like Colin Kaepernick, but he doesn't need to throw 50-yard bullets to be successful.
His throws can flutter sometimes as well, but that's often due to his mechanics and trying to improvise and throw on the move instead of an actual lack of arm strength.
He is also more than capable of placing the ball along the sidelines and down the field, and he has shown the ability to get on top of the ball and drive it into small windows.
There's a lot to like about Manziel's arm, and while people say that it's gotten "stronger" since last year, I really think his mechanics and the way he approaches things are better, which allows him to showcase his arm.
This throw shows Manziel's ability to put the ball on a rope and also anticipate when this tight window will open.
Manziel steps into his throw, sees he has some space before the safety gets over to help the corner and delivers a perfect throw right to his receiver's chest along the sideline.
He isn't always a fantastic deep-ball thrower, however, which can impact what teams look at him and how they will use him in the NFL.
But when Manziel is feeling confident, stands tall in the pocket and locks in on his receiver, he can deliver a strike. On this throw, Manziel is strong in the pocket and shows his ability to hit a small and rapidly closing window down the field.
His touch is really impressive here because it's a far throw and he needs to put it in a spot where only his receiver can catch it. Gary Danielson goes crazy because it really is one of the more impressive throws you'll see from a college quarterback.
Defenses are often pretty spread out to try to stop Texas A&M's offense, so Manziel isn't often forced to make those ultra-tight window throws on slants.
But he does show great timing with his receivers, especially when he gets them one-on-one down the sideline.
This throw is a perfect example of that. Manziel showed great anticipation and placement here, throwing this ball roughly 30 yards downfield and all the way to the sideline.
Mike Evans adjusts and turns at just the right time, and the corner doesn't have a chance to make play. Manziel keeps the throw high and right on Evans' back shoulder.
Manziel's arm certainly shouldn't be looked at as a negative at all.
It's more than strong enough at this point, and he's only 21 years old. There's plenty of time to continue developing, but he already throws a great ball when his mechanics are solid. He just needs to stop letting his mechanics break down when he has plenty of time to throw properly.
This is one aspect that people don't really talk much about in regards to Manziel, but he really has to improve maneuvering WITHIN the pocket and not breaking down any time he feels a little pressure.
People also don't talk enough (as usual) about his offensive linemen, or specifically his tackles. In 2012, he had two of the five best tackles in the nation in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.
Matthews has slid over to the left and become the undisputed best tackle in college football this year, and Cedric Ogbuehi has been outstanding on the right side and will warrant first-round consideration if he declares.
That talent, plus the fact that defenses usually leave linebackers back to prevent big scrambles, leads to a lot of pockets like this one.
Manziel will not get anywhere near this much space and time in the NFL, but he's used to having it regularly in college. He needs to show more confidence standing tall when the pocket collapses a little.
That is something he's improved on this season, but he still rarely "climbs the ladder" and steps forward into a collapsing pocket in order to deliver a throw.
As I've highlighted already, he can let his mechanics break down way too easily, which leads to some errant throws. He also looks to scramble too quickly, although with his athleticism, that's not always a bad thing.
As pretty much everyone knows, Manziel's athleticism is his best attribute. There are few players who have his unbelievable escapability and breakaway speed.
He has made some jaw-dropping runs like this one against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl that showed how he can take a set draw play and make multiple guys miss in the open field.
But even more impressive than his quickness and speed is his ability to juke, change directions and accelerate out of trouble in the pocket. This ability to improvise may not come around quite as often in the NFL, but it's still a very special talent nonetheless.
Manziel is more than just quick and elusive—he's a smart runner who sees lanes, avoids taking big hits and endures relatively little punishment for a mobile quarterback.
Other than the one hit when he uncharacteristically ran up the middle into trouble against Auburn (and subsequently hurt his shoulder), he usually avoids contact and is very good at sliding.
He may have a tendency to look to escape and run too often, but sometimes you just have to let a kid go when he's this talented. There hasn't been a college quarterback who can make plays like these in a long time.
Both of these plays show Manziel's ability not only to escape and accelerate out of trouble, but also to keep his eyes up the field and find the right throw. His ability to throw on the run is underrated, which will serve him well at the next level.
His NFL coach will rein him in somewhat, but I fully expect him to still be successful with this in the NFL because he's not just scrambling errantly—he's a smart runner who doesn't take big hits and has very good vision.
Measurables and Intangibles
Manziel certainly has a lot of naysayers.
These people claim that he's too small, relies too heavily on running, is injury prone because of his running and has a bad attitude that will make him a team cancer.
I guess I can see where a shallow analysis of him would cause people to feel this way, but I don't see these problems.
First off, he's bigger than people think. Some compare him to Russell Wilson, who is a short but solidly built guy. Wilson, who was 23 years old when he was drafted, was listed at 5'11", 204 lbs. Manziel, just 21 years old, is currently listed at 6'1", 210 lbs.
Others compare him to Doug Flutie, who was listed at 5'10", 180 lbs. Wilson, Flutie, and Drew Brees have proven that shorter quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL.
Manziel also has also missed just a little bit of time during the aforementioned Auburn game when he hurt his shoulder. He was starting the next week, however, and if he can run as much as he does all over SEC defenses, there's no reason to think he'll suddenly become any more injury-prone than RGIII, Wilson, or any other mobile quarterback.
There's also absolutely no way anyone can question Manziel's heart and desire to win.
He makes tons of plays like this, and is incredibly fiery on the field. I love watching his intensity, and it's clear his passion rubs off on the rest of the team.
And everything that happened this past offseason was overblown by the media. There's no doubt Manziel didn't handle everything perfectly, but you can't expect a 21-year-old to flawlessly handle the sort of immediate fame which rushed his way.
At the end of the day, he may have made some old-school people mad and definitely made a lot of guys jealous, but he didn't actually do anything illegal, didn't get in trouble, and prepared like crazy to come back and have a successful season, which is exactly what he did.
There's one word that perfectly describes Manziel on the field: fearless. Nobody really mentions that, but it's that fearless quality that allows him to make some of the incredible plays that he does.
So many quarterbacks have all the talent in the world, but are too unconfident and hesitant, and never make full use of their potential. Manziel will definitely not have that issue in the NFL.
I also think that in a way, this past offseason, along with his growing up with money, should actually help him transition to the NFL. Few college players have come into the NFL with this much fame and notoriety already.
Manziel has already done a lot of the adjusting and growing that other rookies go through once they've gotten into the NFL.
There are too many examples of guys who came from nothing, got everything as soon as they signed that first contract and promptly crumbled. Manziel is more ready for that than anyone else.
Manziel is a phenomenal talent who could be an incredible NFL player if he gets the right coaches and system. He's locked in to a first-round grade for me, and I think he can continue elevating his stock if he tests well. Haters gonna hate, Johnny.
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Alabama Crimson Tide offensive guard Anthony Steen reportedly underwent surgery to repair a partially torn labrum at the conclusion of the regular season.
Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com reported the news on Monday, Dec. 16, citing a source with knowledge of the situation.
Although it's not much of a surprise given the severity of the injury, Fowler also indicated that Steen would likely miss BCS No. 3 Alabama's Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl matchup with the 11th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in New Orleans' Superdome.December 16, 2013
This would be a big blow to the Tide in the offensive trenches, leaving either freshman Alphonse Taylor or center Chad Lindsay to take Steen's place.
The senior Steen was an All-SEC selection and has helped drive a dynamic rushing attack (212 yards per game) led by sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon. Plus, quarterback AJ McCarron has been sacked just 10 times in 2013, compared to 22 last year.
Part of that is sound decision-making and understanding what the opposing defense is doing, but Steen should get a lot of credit for keeping his signal-caller protected so well. In October, head coach Nick Saban praised his consistency, per Alex Scarborough of ESPN:
Nick Saban says RG Anthony Steen “has been the most consistent performer we’ve had on the offensive line.”— Alex Scarborough (@AlexS_ESPN) October 14, 2013
Steen was overshadowed by future first-round NFL draft picks in Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker last season, along with versatile center Barrett Jones, who is also in the pros.
That was in spite of the fact that Steen yielded zero sacks and committed no penalties. Now, the athletic guard is viewed with much higher regard after the Tide lost all that talent and hardly missed a beat.
The Sooners rank No. 13 in total defense, per NCAA.com, so it will be interesting to see how the expected loss of a premier offensive lineman will impact the Tide's offense in the bowl game.
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Bowl season is rapidly approaching, providing college football fans all over the country a much-needed escape from visiting with the in-laws.
The Big 12's six bowls are full of storylines, from Mack Brown's last game at Texas to Oklahoma being a major underdog in a BCS bowl.
The Sooners aren't alone, however. Four Big 12 teams are listed as underdogs, according to VegasInsider.com, three of which are by double digits.
Bowl season could be rough for the Big 12. Or, it could be remembered as the year the conference rose to the occasion.
Which storylines stand out in the coming weeks?
If the Florida Gators’ 2013 campaign wasn’t bad enough, the school now has to deal with less depth at quarterback.
That’s because Tyler Murphy—who graduated on Saturday—has decided to transfer from Florida:
Murphy will take advantage of the NCAA rule that allows graduate transfer students to play immediately and not have to sit out a year.
His departure makes him just the latest player to decide to leave the program. Last Thursday, the Gators announced that six players were set to transfer, via The Associated Press (h/t Foxnews.com).
One of those six players was freshman quarterback Max Staver.
Now, Florida will enter 2014 with just two scholarship quarterbacks on the season. However, the school does expect to sign the No. 3 quarterback in the nation, Will Grier, in January.
In relief of injured starter Jeff Driskel, Murphy threw for 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions on 60.5 percent passing in seven starts. He also added another 61 yards and three scores on the ground.
Maybe Murphy left because he felt the quarterback position was Driskel’s to lose in 2014 and he simply wanted a chance to play.
Or maybe the Gators’ misfortunes this season were more than enough to convince him to bail.
The school finished 4-8, losing its final seven games of the year. That includes an embarrassing loss to the FCS’ Georgia Southern, 26-20, on Nov. 23.
It marks the first time that Florida has finished below .500 since 1990 and the program’s fewest wins since going 0-10-1 in 1979.
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Now that we finally know that Mack Brown will not be returning to Texas next year, let's take a look at who might take over the Longhorns in 2014.
Nick Saban has signed a contract extension with Alabama and has publicly said that he never considered going to Texas.
Who has the best shot at replacing coach Brown?
Watch Barrett Sallee break down the odds on who the next head coach of the Texas Longhorns will be.
Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.
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The best part of the college football bowl season is the number of unheard of players who make names for themselves.
With much of the attention focused on the proven stars of each team, lesser-known players have a chance to steal the spotlight. These players are presented with an opportunity to seize college football stardom.
Some of these players will be looking for the exclamation point after an impressive late-season charge, while others will simply benefit from extended playing time.
All in all, these are players that college football fans will remember as we turn the page on the final chapter of the 2013 season.
Here are seven of those players who will be ready for their close-ups.
The Texas coaching situation was silly before, but "silly" had only verbally committed to Texas while Mack Brown was still employed in Austin.
Now, "silly" has signed its letter of intent.
Brown announced on Saturday that the Alamo Bowl versus Oregon would be his last in the burnt orange and white, ending his 16-year run as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns.
"We built a strong football family, reached great heights and accomplished a lot, and for that, I thank everyone," Brown said in a statement released by Texas. "It's been a wonderful ride. Now, the program is again being pulled in different directions, and I think the time is right for a change."
Thus begins the wildest coaching search in college football history.
Money is no object to Texas. If new athletic director Steve Patterson and president Bill Powers want to go out and hire an NFL head coach, they can. If they want to pay north of the reported $7.5 million that Alabama head coach Nick Saban's extension will bring him, they can.
It's wide open.
So where will they go? Let's examine some possible replacements who currently reside in SEC country.
Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin
Franklin is one of the hottest up-and-coming coaches in the nation. He's led Vanderbilt to three straight bowl games, back-to-back eight-win seasons and its 15-4 record over the last 19 games is tied with Texas A&M for the second-best mark in the SEC over that period.
His program beat Georgia, Tennessee and Florida in the same season for the first time in school history in 2013, and it has elevated itself into a legitimately competitive program during the height of SEC superiority.
Sure, Brown himself said that eight wins won't cut it in Austin, and Franklin has averaged 7.6 per season in nearly three years in Nashville. But this is Vanderbilt—the team formerly known as the doormat of the SEC.
The Texas job requires media obligations that aren't typical of college football head coaches, which Franklin should be able to handle. At 41 years old, he's full of energy and charisma, which will play perfectly on the Longhorn Network and at alumni events.
He's not the big name Texas fans may dream of, but he'd be a perfect fit in Austin and get the program back to national relevance in a hurry.
Of all the coaches with SEC ties, Franklin is the most likely to land with the Longhorns.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart
Smart has been groomed to take over the Alabama head coaching job seemingly since he took over as defensive coordinator before the 2008 season. But after head coach Nick Saban agreed to a long-term deal on Friday that will keep him in Tuscaloosa, Smart may be looking for an out.
Since taking over as defensive coordinator, Smart's defenses have not finished outside of the top five nationally in total defense, or outside of the top seven in coaching defense.
Saban's process keeps Smart out of the media spotlight except in specific situations that require assistant coaches to speak, like BCS National Championship Game appearances. But Texas named former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp as Mack Brown's coach-in-waiting before he took the head job at Florida, so we know Texas isn't opposed to taking a risk on a coach with no head coaching experience.
If it can't get Saban, why not go after a Saban clone?
Like Franklin, Smart would be a risk for Texas. But a risk that could be worth taking.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
You're going to see Malzahn's name appear on several of these lists of potential replacements, like it did on CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman's.
For good reason.
Malzahn led one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college football history in his first year on the Plains, as the Tigers went from 3-9 a year ago to 12-1, SEC champs and earned a spot in the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State.
That turnaround earned Malzahn a new contract from Auburn that pays him $3.8 million in the first year and increases by $250,000 every year for six years. Feldman notes that just because coaches agree to extensions, it doesn't mean that they've either signed them or that they'd be in the way of a program like Texas.
But Malzahn's extension is different, according to Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com.
Upon reading a report linking his name to Texas, Malzahn and athletics director Jay Jacobs took no more than two hours to work out the extension two days before Auburn's 59-42 SEC Championship Game win over Missouri.
That indicates that his commitment to Auburn is legitimate, but just how legitimate will it be if Texas starts throwing money at him?
He's a realistic possibility, sure. But he's still a long shot based on the specifics of how things have played out over the last few weeks.
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In today's age of coaches using helicopters and "hot sauce" pitches that tell recruits anything they want to hear just to get a signed letter of intent, Tennessee coach Butch Jones is winning over prospects with good, old-fashioned honesty.
Perhaps that's the chief reason why, even in the wake of the Vols' third consecutive bowl-less season, Jones has kept a potential program-changing recruiting class ranked second by 247Sports largely intact.
Nothing that happened this season to UT was a surprise to any of the Vols' verbal pledges; Jones told them it was coming.
His bluntness about the current state of the program has paid off. No surprises in the recruiting pitch has led to minimal defections.
GoVols247's Ryan Callahan covers Tennessee recruiting, and after talking with dozens of prospects multiple times, the lack of attrition from the Vols' class isn't surprising to him. Their commitment list actually has grown to 34 commitments with the pledges of 4-star prospects Josh Malone and Charles Mosley. Said Callahan:
The vast majority of Tennessee's class has remained intact because Butch Jones and his staff have done an unbelievable job of setting realistic expectations and letting recruits know where the Vols are in the rebuilding process. They were telling kids months before the start of the season not to worry about this year and that Tennessee's record this season wouldn't be any indication of what their future there would be like. And it's one thing to deliver that message to kids and their parents, but everyone seems to be understanding and not really worried at all about how things played out this year.
I've been telling people for months that a 5-7 type of season probably wouldn't hurt Tennessee's class much, if at all, because I've been hearing recruits say the same thing about it for months. They've been sold on being the class that comes in and turns everything around, so they're not worried about what happened this season.
Jones' pitch is honest, and it has rang loudly to young men up and down the commitment list. All over Twitter, UT commitments talk about "Team 118" (2014's Vols will be the 118th team the university has put on the football field) and how this class is going to turn around the program.
Also, when Jones sells immediate playing time, players are buying it as well. All they have to do is look on the football field and see it.
While Jones' words have helped UT take advantage of a bumper crop of in-state talent and with a year where an abnormal amount of prospects with family ties to the program are college-ready, the honesty resonated elsewhere, too.
Illinois tight end Daniel Helm saw a major opportunity for early playing time and NFL visibility in Knoxville. When he connected with Jones' genuine nature, it was enough for him to give the Vols his commitment over teams like Ole Miss and Michigan.
Helm identified with that integrity almost immediately.
(Jones) is very honest, or at least it appears that way. He seems to care about his players as if we're part of his family. When me and my dad went on my official visit a couple of weeks before I committed, we identified with his Christian faith, and we thought he was a very trustworthy guy, and I just wanted to play for a man I could trust.
Words like that resonate with a fan base scarred by the lies of Lane Kiffin and the deficiencies of Derek Dooley. When Tennessee played poorly this season, Jones didn't make excuses; only dubbed it unacceptable.
UT fans sick of excuses nodded their collective heads as he said things like that. Then, it's easier for them to believe Jones when he vows that he's going to turn things around.
Jones told Vols fans that he'd focus on fixing the program's woeful Academic Progress Report scores, and following a perfect 1,000 grade in the classroom last semester, that's exactly what happened.
With the renewed excitement around the program and taking care of things on the periphery such as the APR, it removed some of the external obstacles blocking Jones' path of a big recruiting season.
The academic progress was huge for a player like 4-star defensive lineman Derek Barnett, who ultimately chose UT to spend his next four years after graduating from prestigious Brentwood Academy outside of Nashville.
Despite being recruited by top-shelf salesmen such as Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Vanderbilt's James Franklin, Barnett connected most with Jones, he said.
I can ask him anything, and I feel like, when he speaks to me, he's always honest. I'm not surprised by this at all. Coach Jones does a great job recruiting. He expressed to me very early in the recruiting process that this year would be this way. That really stuck with me. That let know that he was always going to be honest with me about things.
Perhaps no recruiting job Jones did this year was more impressive than landing Malone. With UT fading from that race just a few months ago, the head coach reasserted things. He assigned ace recruiter Tommy Thigpen to help land the elite receiver, and Jones himself began leading the recruitment of Malone and paying extra attention to him.
Malone ultimately committed to UT a couple weeks ago.
"A couple of people close to Malone marveled at just how hard Tennessee tried to land him," Callahan said.
That recruiting victory was the cherry on top of a phenomenal class, one that really has the potential to set the foundation of the program.
It's not unprecedented for a first-year coaching staff to have success on the recruiting trail. As a matter of fact, it's fairly common because, as Callahan noted, "coaching staffs have a chance to recruit well in their first year at a program…because they're selling the potential of the future."
But this kind of class after three losing seasons and so much turmoil in the athletic department due to financial struggles and coaching turnover is surprising and a bit unexpected.
Tennessee currently has commitments from 17 4-star prospects and 1 5-star prospect, according to 247Sports. During Dooley's three-year tenure, his recruiting classes averaged eight 4-star players and one 5-star player per class, according to an analysis of rankings listed by 247Sports.
The reason for the state of the program is that, of those 74 players Dooley recruited, 26—or 35% of the prospects—left the program early for reasons other than turning pro. That number will be even higher with this year's necessary attrition.
That's a major reason why UT can sign such a large class, but it's also why the Vols have suffered one of the lowest ebbs in program history. Jones hasn't sugarcoated any issues with any of the players or fans, but he doesn't use them as excuses for losing, either.
The players who have stuck around within the program believe in Jones. So, when a group of jaded UT players longing for a leader find someone they can trust, they share that with the prospective athletes, and that further perpetuates the pitch.
The current players have helped Jones build for the future as well, Callahan said.
Most of the recruits I've talked with over the past year just seem to love Butch Jones' enthusiasm, his concern for his players and his vision for Tennessee's program, and they think he's genuine in everything he's telling them. He sells them on being part of a family, and, to his credit, Tennessee's players have helped him sell that after being around him for the past year. UT's players are confirming to prospects that what Butch Jones is telling them is true, telling kids that they love playing for him and his staff, and that's invaluable in recruiting.
The Vols haven't had a lot to be excited about recently, and another bowl season will come and go with them watching from their campus couches.
But just because that is the current state of the program doesn't mean it's going to be that way forever. National college writers everywhere have taken notice of one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. As UT adds to that list, more positive publicity generates more buzz.
According to Chattanooga Times Free-Press sports editor Jay Greeson:
In truth, recruiting has far and away been the high point of Butch Jones' first year, and that's a good thing. He made that pledge when he was hired, and he has delivered on it by amassing a collection of pledges from high school standouts that some experts in matters of recruiting believe Jones' bevy of ball-players is the nation's second-best group.
Helm admittedly looks at the recruiting rankings a lot. He has been stunned and excited to see just how huge and talented his class has become. Jones told him during the recruiting process how relentless he'd be in selling UT to the nation's top recruits. He told Helm that this was the beginning.
It was just another promise Jones made that came true.
"I think our class looks at it like we'll be the one to get UT back," Helm said. "I think everybody knows Tennessee is a sleeping giant. It's just a matter of time before it awakens."All quotes in this article were gathered firsthand for this story unless otherwise noted.
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We've spent the entire 2013 high school football season surveying the nation on a weekly basis to uncover premier performances by top collegiate prospects. These efforts have included dominant defensive efforts, unstoppable passing displays and ridiculous rushing statistics.
State champions have been crowned throughout the country, with several senior standouts rising to the occasion when it mattered most. We take a look at 10 college-bound players who punctuated their seasons with outstanding performances in our final edition of the fall.
La Mirada (Calif.) High School 4-star tight end prospect Tyler Luatua verbally committed to the University of Notre Dame on Monday, Dec. 16.
The precocious player discussed his decision in more depth with Irish Illustrated's Jake Brown, hinting that his family preferred one of his choices over the myriad of others:
It feels pretty good right now. My mom sat there and talked with them and she's happy for me. I'm with my mom and dad and my sister right now. They're feeling pretty good and my cousins are too. All my family wanted me to go to Notre Dame. They're happy for me.
Luatua is the No. 3 rated tight end according to 247Sports.com's composite rankings and is the 146th-rated prospect in the country, which is a respectable standing given the specialization of his position.
That's especially so considering that Luatua was deciding between whether to go to South Bend or join Nick Saban's powerhouse at the University of Alabama.
Tom Loy of 247Sports.com highlighted those two programs as Luatua's top choices while also indicating that Irish wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock had put special priority on recruiting Luatua.
ESPN.com's scouting report (subscription required) sheds a bit more light on Luatua's skill set:
Can present a nice receiving target (experience at H) as he displays very good ball skills and the ability to consistently extend and snatch the ball away from his body. Has good body control to adjust to balls thrown off target and demonstrates the ability to pluck on the run.
In the end, head coach Brian Kelly landed the talented youngster, who is 6'4" and 230 pounds with exceptional athletic ability and the hands to be an excellent receiver at the collegiate level.
It helps that Notre Dame has had tight ends that have enjoyed recent success—most notably Tyler Eifert, who went on to be a 2013 first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Now Luatua will team up with massive 6'7", 270-pound tight end Troy Niklas, along with a fellow 4-star recruit in 2014 classmate Nic Weishar. He is also a viable pass-catching threat and is listed at 247Sports.com as 6'5", 233 pounds out of Chicago's Marist High School.
The future appears bright for the Irish offense. With tight ends being used as often as ever in passing games as weapons to exploit mismatches, it seems the upside for Luatua is very high.
Plus, quarterback Everett Golson has been readmitted to Notre Dame after being away due to a suspension for "poor academic judgment."
As for Luatua, it may be difficult for him to see a lot of snaps behind the physically formidable Niklas, but in two tight end sets, he could very well see a lot of action even as a true freshman thanks to his viability as a receiver.
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Dimitri Miles, a junior linebacker at Troy University, was arrested on Dec. 15 and charged with murder after allegedly shooting 26-year-old Marquise McClendon at a local apartment complex, the Troy Police Department has confirmed.
According to a police report obtained by AL.com, the department responded to an off-campus housing complex in Troy after hearing reports of a gunshot. After police found McClendon shot, emergency personnel brought him to a local hospital, but he was pronounced dead later in the day.
Miles, 21, was later found and charged with his connection with McClendon's death. Police have not released details on Miles' motives or any inciting incidents that may have caused the altercation, as this is an ongoing investigation.
A walk-on who started seven games in 2012, Miles recorded 44 total tackles and one sack and was considered a key to Troy's 2013 campaign. However, he was ruled academically ineligible for this past season and spent his year on the scout team.
Troy athletic director John Hartwell released a statement on the charges and Miles' involvement with the program:
First and foremost, anytime there is a loss of life it is a tragic event and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and his family. Dimitri Miles was a walk-on student-athlete on our football team who was academically ineligible to compete in competition this past season, but practiced as a member of the scout team. His association with our football team and the Troy Athletic Department has been terminated as a result of these charges which are associated with an incident that occurred off campus.
Miles was also dismissed from the university, pending the result of the charges.
Left without a scholarship coming out of high school as a receiver, Miles moved to linebacker upon his arrival at Troy. Overall, he appeared in 22 contests in two seasons at the school.
Miles is currently being held at Pike County Jail on $100,000 bond.
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The Silly Season does not understand reasoning.
It’s why Nick Saban staying at his current school is an enormous development. It’s why Chris Petersen—a Boise State lifer, or so it seemed—turned down looks at prestigious programs for years to settle at a nice secluded program on the West Coast. It’s why the hiring of Steve Sarkisian at USC was dissected like a class project. And it’s why Texas has embraced the silliness in full.
Hiring a head coach is no longer about acquiring a master sideline navigator or someone who can provide you with a hopeful bump in recruiting. It’s a process that is detailed and evolving, confusing and mysterious, exhausting and frustrating. It is also critical to a football program and the overall financial health of a school.
This is not just about appointing a new face for the program. This is about (hopefully) hiring a ceiling-less revenue stream.
“It is truly the CEO of an organization,” Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said. “This is part of the business, and you have to figure out how to manage it.”
Words like “CEO” and “business” ring true at a time where the sport is thriving. This is about embracing a school's brand and ensuring that it continues to thrive. Or, it is about jumpstarting it altogether.
The only thing that isn’t robust in the booming world of college coaches is the time a staff is allowed to be average or below. This intense yearly cycle of hiring, firing and changing addresses is now an assumed chaos, one that turns over on time. It always arrives.
As soon as the regular season ends, the Silly Season begins. Sometimes a different course of action is taken—like Pat Haden’s midseason, middle-of-the-night firing of Lane Kiffin. But the anxious silence before the bowl season typically serves a unique purpose. While there might be brief football silence, there is plenty of action behind the curtain. Especially this year.
The Booming Business Of College Football Coaching
Pete Roussel now makes a living off the bizarre and unpredictable coaching carousel.
He is both an asset and a resource, spending the better part of November and December choosing when to pick up his phone that rings 60 or so times a day at this time each year.
“Unless they’re giving me information, I can’t answer,” Roussel said. “I’ve got to go to work."
The CEO of Coaching Search Consulting Inc. and the owner of the website CoachingSearch.com, Roussel has worked with Stanford, Ole Miss, Memphis and other programs before embarking on a new career.
He is a resource to coaches and athletic departments looking to garner buzz or land interviews. He is also a microphone to the public that is always looking for the latest bit of interview information or rumor with backing. The Coaching Search Ticker—the most prominent feature on his site and one of the great resources out there—is a product of just how silly the season has become.
This is all made possible for Roussel because business is booming. Coaches need jobs, departments need names and the public needs information. The interest has exploded, and the money involved is everywhere, a theme felt throughout the sport.
This begins, of course, with the salaries for head coaches—and their assistants—which are now outpacing most successful corporate rock stars. USA Today documented this phenomenon late last year:
Coaches' pay has even outpaced the pay of corporate executives, who have drawn the ire of Congress and the public because of their staggering compensation packages. Between 2007 and 2011, CEO pay — including salary, stock, options, bonuses and other pay — rose 23%, according to Equilar, an executive compensation data firm. In that same period, coaches' pay increased 44%.
In 2006, nine head coaches made more than $2 million annually. In 2013, 50 coaches were at or above this salary, a robust movement that is a product of a handful of trends.
And it’s not just the top dogs either. Fifty-four assistant coaches made $500,000 or more in 2013, and 23 made $600,000 or more. These numbers have more than doubled since 2010. And yes, three assistants now make more than $1 million annually.
The money is there for a taking; it’s just a matter of who’s taking it. More importantly, it’s a matter of why.
The turnover for head coaches reached new heights in 2012, a trend that is a product of the booming market and the pressure to win immediately.
Coaches are leaving for better opportunities; others are being told to leave early with the pressure to win being more pressing than ever. Both situations are a product of the current landscape.
In the BCS era, the annual turnover rate for coaches is at 17 percent. That's a lot of new faces, pink slips, team-centric ties and, of course, raises.
You’re Not Just Hiring a Football Coach
Speaking to an entire nation on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Alabama chancellor Dr. Robert Witt summed up head football coach Nick Saban’s value to the university in one simple statement.
"Nick Saban is best financial investment this university has ever made,” Witt said. “We have made an investment that's been returned many fold."
Since 2009, Alabama’s revenue has gone up 43 percent. Since 2006, it is up 112 percent, according to Jon Solomon of AL.com.
This increase is a product of a dominant football program in the midst of one of the most successful runs in the history of the sport. It has brought notoriety to the program, allowed it to build new state-of-the-art locker rooms and weight rooms and has made several people associated with the school a lot of money. This includes Saban, who just signed yet another contract that will pay him more than $7 million a season.
Given what he provides, it’s still a bargain. Other schools have searched endlessly for this lightning-in-a-bottle scenario, while few have actually been able to realize it while operating under different financial means. It's not easy, and it's also why the carousel is operating at such a feverish pace each year.
A team that understands the value football can provide is Oregon, and the Ducks have done a brilliant job of snowballing success into creative marketing into further success. They are examples for everyone else.
Overseeing it all is athletic director Rob Mullens, a man with a strong athletic background at his various stops before Eugene. Before taking over the neon machine, Mullens was the Deputy Director of Athletics at Kentucky, overseeing the athletic department's 22 sports. Prior to that, he had stops at Maryland and Miami, where his focus was the business aspect of operations.
Now the head of one if the brightest athletic departments in the country—and this works in many ways—Mullens had the difficult task of replacing one of the most successful college coaches in recent memory.
With the departure of Chip Kelly to the NFL, Mullens assessed potential candidates with a broader sense of desired qualities.
“The position requires so much more than Xs and Os and recruiting,” Mullens said. “For us, football revenue pulls this entire train.”
Overseeing a neon football factory, Oregon football generates 70 percent of the university’s resources and funds 19 programs. While these numbers are specific to the Pac-12’s poster team, the scenario is similar elsewhere.
Football drives revenue, and the head coaches of these programs are expected to do more than make bowl games. They are the key figures in a lucrative business that can be both kind and cruel.
So You’re Hiring a Head Coach… Now What?
For Mullens, the scenario was both chaotic and deliberate. Chip Kelly’s departure to the NFL in January of 2013 came a year after he showed serious interest in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coaching vacancy.
Once the school learned that Kelly had a desire to coaching in the NFL, it reacted.
“We wanted to make sure that we were thorough, because it was a critical hire for us," Mullens said. "Chip was outstanding. He elevated our program to another level."
While Kelly was an outstanding college coach, he was also honest about the possibility of his departure. While his final leap to the pros was not without its turbulence, the school was prepared.
“Chip was very honest and upfront with us that he was intrigued with the NFL,” Mullens said. “Fortunately, he remained at Oregon for another year, and that gave us an opportunity to prepare for what was likely to happen at some point in the near future.”
In that time, Oregon did its homework. It had nearly a full year to do its research on potential candidates that would fit its brand, a luxury most teams simply don’t have. Typically, this might come down to weeks or months, although the process to hire begins well before this is ever public.
“It was not a race for us,” Mullens said. “We were fortunate in that we had multiple internal candidates that have invested a lot of their life’s work in this program. We were able to do our due diligence with the internal and external candidates, and we had some conversations with people that we could lean on for valuable insight.”
In the end, the Ducks decided to promote from within and went with Mark Helfrich.
For most schools, the time to hire comes down to timing and ensuring that all of your bases are covered. From background checks to interviews to deciding on whether or not a search committee is needed or not, the process of finding the right head coach is usually in the details.
Pete Roussel has been on both sides of this process, having to navigate a lot of moving parts and track down just where those parts might be headed. It’s a process—a big part of which occurs in the utmost secrecy—and it also comes down to getting everyone in agreement.
“It’s about setting a timeline," Roussel said. “You probably have a pretty decent list of coaches together for at least a couple of weeks before making a change. You map out needs with your AD, and agents make a lot of calls during this time. You also need to decide if you’re going to use a search firm, search committee or do the hire yourself.”
The Role of Search Committees
For Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, his decision on whether to use a search committee in 2011 was simple.
"You're looking at the search committee,” he said at his press conference with the utmost seriousness, courtesy of CougCenter.com. After mentioning his “short list” and dancing around all Mike Leach-related questions, he wasted little time hiring… Mike Leach.
Of course, using a search firm or committee isn’t assumed protocol yet, although it’s not far off. USC's athletic director Pat Haden announced during the season that the school would be using one, obtaining the services of Korn/Ferry International, according to Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports.
“Almost everyone uses one,” according to Roussel. “They can range from $25,000 in cost to $200,000 on the high end, and most of these executive search firms typically have a flat fee.”
The cost will be largely dependent on what services are used. Some of these firms will simply provide background checks and do the necessary research before a candidate is seriously considered.
Call it the George O’Leary stage, when essential information is gathered and simple hurdles are cleared.
Now the coach of Central Florida, O'Leary landed the Notre Dame job in 2001. The problem? He had to resign only five days after being introduced because it was determined that he exaggerated achievements on his resume.
This was a game-changer of sorts, and firms are tasked to ensure that this kind of embarrassment is avoided.
Others will be more involved, perhaps sitting in on interviews and offering feedback to questions—some of which they might have generated to gauge a response. Many of these firms only conduct three or four searches a year, so the process can be engulfing if the school allows it to be. It depends greatly on the desired involvement, a responsibility the athletic director will determine very early on.
But it isn’t always perfect, and much like the process as a whole, there are no guarantees. Homework doesn’t guarantee victories, and fresh eyes don’t mean a hire will mesh with a program. The value of the committee or firm can also come into question depending on how the hire matriculates.
“One head coach told me that a school hired a firm to hire him,” Roussel said. “The school then hired him eight minutes after he picked up the phone for the first time. It was done like that.”
As for Oregon, a program that was looking for a head coach earlier this year, it did not use a firm when promoting Mark Helfrich.
‘We did not use a committee, because confidentiality was so important,” Mullens said. “We didn’t feel like we needed one. Our homework was done throughout the year. We’ve used committees on other coaching searches, and they have been extremely valuable. It just depends on the circumstances.”
The Hiring Checklist
Finding a head coach that suits your program remains an inexact science. The exciting names—the Sabans, the Sumlins, the Malzahns—will be tossed around early on, but it’s about more than just making a big splash.
It’s all about finding the coach that best fits the landscape.
“You have to have that leader who believes in your culture,” Mullens said. “For us, that culture has been able to separate us. It didn’t have to be someone internally, but fortunately, we had someone who came through the process.”
Finding the right coach for the school is dependent upon a variety of factors: location, familiarity with the recruiting pipelines, track record and, like basically everything else in this process, money.
The money is what makes the college football coaching carousel go round. Whether it’s re-upping at a school with ample leverage (see: Saban, Nick) or capitalizing on your value when the time is right (see: Petersen, Chris), the hiring of coaches is an inexact science that usually ends in bigger paychecks.
Yet it should be considered as more than just an enormous amount of money being paid out to one person. Others look at it the other way, like buying a house.
“When you talk about hiring a coach, people automatically think about the expense side,” Mullens said. “That’s a key element, as is the market place, but another key element is the opportunity of revenue.”
Another key piece of hiring a head coach is filling out the rest of the staff.
1. Will a head coach bring assistants with him?
2. Will he be able to offer up more money?
3. How much money is left?
4. Will the head coach have complete control of the hirings and firings of his staff?
While "money" is a word the sport knows best, "recruiting" isn't far behind. That's where a staff looms large. Consistently winning football games doesn't just come down to the talent of the players, but it makes the likelihood of this goal that much easier.
Assembling a staff that has the high school coaches on speed dial certainly doesn't hurt. If you're going to coach in Texas, you need to know Texas.
It's not just about the one person, despite the enormous press conference picture and sound bites that are broadcasted on major websites when a hire is made. This is about surrounding this one person on the poster with a group of people that can thrive together. In 2013, this group has gotten significantly larger and more focused.
“The football organization has become far more complex,” Mullens said. “It’s not just the head coach’s salary; the assistant pool is critical. The support staff is critical. It’s not just a strength coach; now, it’s five strength coaches. It’s not just a trainer; it’s multiple trainers.”
Finding the right coach is no longer good enough, but it’s certainly a start. Putting together a staff that will consistently attract marquee talent is an equally important piece of the overall picture.
Perception and Social Media
The art of flight tracking is real. Yes, you can search all the major cities—with a focus on college campuses—to see if a plane is headed from one college town to another at a time when rumors might be kicking into gear.
Does it mean a head coach is on the plane? Of course not, but that hasn’t stopped the Internet from taking certain flight trackers and running with it on message boards and social media.
And every so often, the resourceful computer users might be onto something. After all, this trip from Boise, Idaho to Seattle was dug up and highlighted:
PLANE TRACKING: Seattle to Boise? Is this the Chris Petersen plane? pic.twitter.com/v4oVvyIP1Q— Jeremy Mauss (@JeremyMauss) December 6, 2013
A few days later, Petersen was introduced as the new head coach of the Huskies.
It’s a new day of coverage, as social media has drastically altered the way coaching searches are covered, for better and worse. The flow of information is constant and exciting, but it is also regularly incorrect.
For further verification of this, type “Nick Saban” and “Texas” into the Twitter search and watch the fascination pour in.
While social media can often cause a circus, it presents an interesting obstacle for those on the other side of the hiring process. Working in secrecy is more difficult that it has ever been, and social media is a big reason why. While it isn’t always right, the rate at which news travels is incredible.
Keeping interviews and details out of the public eye remains important, although doing so is not the easiest task.
“It’s extremely hard, both internally and externally, Mullens said. “Information is currency.”
These reports can be profitable for many. Pete Roussel—and the website through which you are reading this article—can benefit greatly by obtaining information before anyone else can. For those involved in the search at the college level, however, keeping this under wraps is integral for all parties involved.
“You want to protect the integrity of the search because you want the broadest, deepest, most qualified pool you can get,” Mullens said. “The more confidentially you can ensure, the better you’re going to get.”
Beyond the way news is processed and recycled, social media has also drastically impacted the way news is judged.
In the case of coaching hires, names are often given a collective thumbs up or thumbs down well before they ever take the podium in their team-centric tie for the first time.
There’s a balance to be had in reacting and overreacting, but approval is important. At the very least, it’s more than simply a large gathering of online strangers spewing meaningless nothings.
“You’re starting behind the eight ball if the masses don’t like your coach,” Roussel said. “The perfect example is Charlie Weis.”
Of course, social media doesn’t have all the answers. While Steve Sarkisian’s hire at USC wasn’t exactly greeted with a cavalcade of applause, the results will tell the story. The hiring process will eventually take its course, and the success (or failure) will be calculated in time.
It’s not about winning the Internet over; it’s about putting in the work, finding the ideal fit and making the difficult decisions that could prove to be incredibly lucrative for the school. The right decision isn’t always the popular one.
“At the end of the day, it’s about long-term success,” Mullens said. “That’s not to say we aren’t attune with our constituents—our fans, our donors and others—but we’re making the hire for the long-term success of our program, not to win that one press conference.”
*Adam Kramer is the lead college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand
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CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott likes to say recruiting is like shaving.
“Miss a day,” Scott has said several times over the past two years, “and you look like a bum.”
It is a constant process for Scott and Clemson’s entire staff, from Dabo Swinney on down the line, and it shows in the Tigers’ results. Over the past five years, Clemson has built one of the ACC’s most talented rosters, winning at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons (the program’s longest streak since 1987-90).
With about eight weeks left before 2014’s national signing day, Clemson’s Class of 2014 is in solid shape. The Tigers have 18 verbal commitments, and their class is ranked 19th nationally by 247Sports.com, 14th by Rivals.com and 25th by Scout.com.
“I like the way we’re recruiting,” Swinney said Saturday. “Right now we’ve got a great class. Hopefully we’ll be able to finish out strong.”
However, several key questions remain for Scott, Swinney and the Tigers’ staff to answer before fax machines hum with signed national letters of intent on the first Wednesday in February.
Let’s examine them, shall we?
How many players will Clemson sign?
Clemson has 18 commitments, but when asked Saturday, Swinney didn’t commit to a particular number he’d sign in February.
The Tigers have a very small senior class featuring only 11 scholarship players, a residue of the 13-man class Swinney signed in 2009 just after he took over as the program’s full-time head coach.
“I don’t know yet,” Swinney said when asked how many players Clemson would sign. “There’s just too many moving parts to say, ‘Boom, this is what we’ve got right now, here’s a guy, I’ve got my number.’”
A reasonable expectation would be for Clemson to add three or four more signees, but that is uncertain. Much depends on transfers and juniors who leave early for the NFL draft.
Late last month, junior defensive tackle Josh Watson said he’d give up his final season of eligibility but quickly recanted his decision.
Junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins is projected as a mid-first-round selection, and Swinney himself has said several times that he feels Watkins is a top-10 selection.
Junior defensive end Vic Beasley said Saturday that he would lean toward declaring if he received a first-round projection from the NFL’s draft evaluation committee. He is among the nation’s top 10 in both sacks and tackles for loss and was named a first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation.
Junior wide receiver Martavis Bryant said he’d consider leaving if he was projected as a second- to third-round selection. Swinney does not recommend players leave unless they’re a first-round pick but supports decisions regardless.
Junior middle linebacker Stephone Anthony could also have a decision to make as the Tigers’ leading tackler.
“We’ve got to see what happens with a couple of our junior guys,” Swinney said. “That affects it. Sometimes you have a guy who comes to you like [former quarterback] Morgan Roberts who says, 'hey, I want to go to Yale.' Those are things you never know. It’s a fluid situation.”
Can Clemson sign another elite wide receiver?
With Watkins, Bryant and Adam Humphries finishing their junior seasons (and 2013 starter Charone Peake, a junior, redshirting following a torn ACL), Clemson needs wide receiver depth. Four-star receivers Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester will enroll in January, but Swinney and Scott would like to add at least one more.
Five-star prospect Josh Malone spurned the Tigers, picking Tennessee over Clemson and Georgia. But standouts like 4-star Trevion Thompson of Durham, N.C. are still considering Clemson. Thompson, who stands 6’3”, 188 pounds, has Clemson among his four finalists with N.C. State, Ohio State and West Virginia.
Can Clemson get a commitment from Raekwon McMillan?
McMillan, a Hinesville, Ga., native, is a 5-star middle linebacker who is considered among the nation’s top five MLB recruits. The 6’2”, 230-pound prospect is an aggressive player who would be a perfect fit in the middle of Clemson’s defense and an obvious heir apparent for Anthony whenever he departs. McMillan is announcing his choice Monday afternoon between Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State. A Clemson choice would give the Tigers’ class a huge boost.
Can Clemson add an impact pass-rusher?
With Beasley pondering an NFL jump and Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes entering their senior seasons, Clemson has room for a defensive end in its class. Ebenezer Ogundeko redshirted this fall, but the Tigers must add depth on the line.
Greensboro, N.C., end Lorenzo Featherston fits the bill. He stands 6’7”, 270 pounds and is a 4-star recruit. He is considering the Tigers along with Florida and Florida State and is friends with early enrollee Chris Register, a fellow Greensboro native.
Clemson is also among the suitors for McDonough, Ga., defensive end Andrew Williams, a top-30 end prospect who is considering LSU, South Carolina, Auburn, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Notre Dame, among others.
Notre Dame defensive end commit Richard Yeargin III, rated among the top 15 ends in his class, visited in late November.
Any member of that trio would make an excellent addition to the Tigers’ pass-rushing stable.
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Editor's note: This is the fourth installment of Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through December, with National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for more rankings.
Which offensive tackle grabbed the nation’s top spot in 2013?
The college football landscape is littered with a myriad offensive schemes that shape offensive line play. Some teams run variations of the spread, while others opt for a more traditional pro-style attack. Some squads opt to pass more than they run, while others are primarily run-focused schemes.
With that in mind, in putting together B/R’s CFB 250, we factored both pass protection and run-blocking into evaluating the offensive tackles from across the nation. Once the criteria were established, players were viewed through that scope and given their grades. In the case of any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.
Keep in mind, these offensive tackles are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. To see where these players may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projections at the end of each player's slide.
With the participants decided, travel arrangements made and individual awards decided, the postseason picture in college football finally feels like it's starting to cement.
Now, all that's left is the wait. The long, agonizing wait. For some BCS-bound teams, the long, agonizing more-than-month-long wait.
Perhaps the biggest flaw (and that's saying something) in the BCS bowl system is how long it makes teams wait between their final regular-season contest and the biggest game of their year. It has long been a tradition for games to be played on New Year's Day, but as the bowl list grows more expansive by the year, it seems the season is ending later and later.
Auburn and Florida State won't cap off the campaign until Jan. 6—nearly a month after they closed out their regular seasons with wins in their respective conference title games. Both sides have the same layoff, so if you hear one team is "rusty" while the other is "rested," please disregard that as nonsense. The better-prepared team will win, as they usually do, but one has to wonder just how much that month layoff affects the level of preparation.
Could Florida State prepare for Auburn's defense in a week? Or does the month-long film session prove invaluable in stopping the vaunted Tigers rushing attack?
There is something to be said for each side of the argument, and it's fair to wonder whether your eyes just kind of gloss over after three or four weeks of film on the same team.
But every year, the wait is there. It's hovering over every Jameis Winston pass, Tre Mason run and Nick Saban scowl. With that in mind, let's check in on our most important bowl games of the season, highlighting the best matchups and noting when every game will be played.
Most Intriguing BCS Bowl Matchups
Rose Bowl: No. 5 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 4 Michigan State (12-1)
When: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Look, I don't blame you if you'd rather dump embalming fluid on yourself than watch this matchup. I get it.
People like different things in their football. If your favorite thing involves things like "points" and "scoring," then watching the 2014 Rose Bowl will be about as entertaining as the script for Grown Ups 2. You do you and spend your New Year's afternoon watching parades or something.
For those who miss the days of throwback, grind-it-out football, however, this matchup is a godsend.
Neither the Michigan State Spartans nor the Stanford Cardinal play the most entertaining brand of football. The Cardinal offense essentially consists of grinding their opponents into a whimper with Tyler Gaffney—and then forcing them into an outright sob. Gaffney rushed for 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns during the regular season, helping atone for a shaky end to the season from quarterback Kevin Hogan.
Hogan had two multi-interception games in November and has frankly only had two elite games since the beginning of October. David Shaw's system doesn't necessarily engender 300-yard, three-touchdown outings, but the Cardinal will need a semblance of balance against Michigan State's elite defense.
The Spartans allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 47.2 percent of their passes this season, third best in FBS. When you couple that with a 12-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 167.4 yards per game average, the picture of arguably the nation's fiercest secondary takes shape.
That, of course, is without mentioning the Spartans' true defensive strength: stopping the run. Mark Dantonio's unit tied with Louisville for the best yards per carry average (2.7) in the nation, and they tied for third with seven touchdowns allowed.
If that seems bearish in Stanford's respect, don't worry—the Spartans have just as tough of a matchup. Michigan State's offense, built on the back of Jeremy Langford's power running and Connor Cook's ability to avoid mistakes, faces a defense that grades out nearly as well as their own. The Cardinal finished third in the nation against the run, and while there have been some struggles in the secondary, they've come up with big plays when they need them most.
Football Outsiders ranks Stanford as the fourth-best defense in the nation. This matchup is coming down to the final possession, and I'm going with the Cardinal simply because I believe in the Gaffney-Hogan duo more than Langford-Cook.
Score: Stanford 20, Michigan State 17
Orange Bowl: No. 12 Clemson (10-2) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (12-1)
When: Friday, Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla.
How long does a conference-championship-game hangover last? Is it like a one-too-many-Jagerbombs hangover? Or more like a "you ought to go to rehab" hangover?
The answer may determine our Orange Bowl entertainment value. On the surface, this looks like a matchup between two teams separated by the thinnest of margins. Both sides boast exceedingly entertaining dual-threat quarterbacks, top-tier skill-position players and defenses that have a propensity for being lax.
If there's any game where you can feel comfortable betting the over, this is probably the one.
Nevertheless, the Buckeyes have to feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment. After 24 straight wins, Urban Meyer's team was finally on the verge of being rewarded and blew it at the least-opportune time. Now, instead of smelling the roses, Ohio State is tasting the citrus. And I'm guessing these are the most bitter oranges any of the players have ever eaten.
A month-long layoff can do a lot to quell disappointment, but could you blame the Buckeyes for coming out flat? It's not something one would expect to last the entire contest—pride eventually takes over—but it's definitely something to watch in the first couple of possessions. In a game where the two sides are separated by such a thin margin, giving away one or two scoring chances is enough to swing the entire outcome.
Here's what we know: Tajh Boyd will be good. Braxton Miller will be good. Sammy Watkins and Carlos Hyde, odds are, will be pretty darn good. There isn't a wide chasm between the strengths of the Big Ten and ACC; both are thoroughly mediocre.
Given a chance to make separate these two, I'll take a shot and say the Tigers will be buoyed enough in the first half to hold on late.
Score: Clemson 41, Ohio State 34
BCS National Championship Game: No. 2 Auburn (12-1) vs. No. 1 Florida State (13-0)
When: Monday, Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
The last championship of the BCS era is one of the most intriguing in recent memory. In a season where it at times felt preordained that Oregon-Alabama would be our national title matchup, we instead get two teams that weren't even ranked inside the preseason Top 10.
In fact, we get only one team that even received votes from the coaches or Associated Press way back when.
All those assumptions aside, there are no two teams that deserve this honor more.
What Auburn has done this season reveals arguably the biggest "team of destiny" in college football history. First, there was the Prayer at Jordan-Hare, a 73-yard desperation heave with 23 seconds left that gave the Tigers a 43-38 victory over Georgia. Then, there was the best ending in college football history on Chris Davis' 100-plus-yard field-goal return that knocked off No. 1 Alabama.
The Tigers have played six one-possession games this season. They've won all of them. This is a team that barely escaped Washington State and Mississippi State at home and, by the end of the season, was taking down two Top Five opponents within a week.
Florida State has exactly zero one-possession games this season. The undefeated Seminoles have eviscerated their opponents, defeating them by an average of 41.8 points per game. To put it another way, they've defeated opposing teams by nearly two touchdowns on average more than any other squad. Second-ranked Baylor is closer to No. 12 Fresno State than it is Florida State.
It's been a weekly domination that makes Florida State difficult to judge—mainly because we've seen the Seminoles look bad so few times. Their schedule was, frankly, borderline atrocious. Jeff Sagarin ranks Florida State's slate No. 63, while Auburn comes in at No. 20.
So, how do we reconcile this? How much will the uptick in opposition hurt Jameis Winston and Co.?
I have a feeling it'll be enough to give Auburn its second national title in four years. The Tigers have dominated elite run defenses all season long, and Florida State's biggest strength defensively is in its secondary. Jeremy Pruitt's run defense has still been very good, but so was Missouri's before the SEC Championship Game.
Plus, while this isn't the best reason in the world, how can you bet against the SEC? To be the king, you have to beat the king. No one has dethroned the SEC yet.
Score: Auburn 34, Florida State 28
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The regular season is over and the Heisman Trophy has been awarded to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, and now all the hype will be focused on some of 2013's best bowl games.
The final weeks of the college football season were nothing short of compelling, as unbelievable upsets and top-notch performances were the catalysts in shaking up the BCS rankings. Describing the final weeks as anything but "exciting" would be an understatement.
Heck, even "exciting" doesn't do those games enough justice.
As a result, the top bowl games on the schedule will live up to the hype.
Fiesta Bowl: Baylor vs. UCF
In terms of quarterbacks, the Fiesta Bowl features the best matchup of signal-callers out of all the BCS bowl games.
Bryce Petty of Baylor and Blake Bortles of UCF have put up stellar numbers all season. Petty put up 3,844 passing yards and 30 touchdowns with just two interceptions on the season, whereas Bortles tallied 3,280 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Both quarterbacks spread the ball around to their receivers, and both are capable of taking over a game. Needless to say, the key will be which quarterback comes out to play against an underrated defense.
Baylor and UCF each boast strong defenses that don't receive as much recognition as they should. This game won't be a shootout like we're used to seeing from these two offensive juggernauts, but that doesn't mean it won't be compelling.
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State
Clemson and Ohio State are a combined 45-6 since the beginning of last season, and these high-powered offenses will put on a show in the Orange Bowl.
Sure, the Buckeyes had high hopes of playing in the BCS National Championship Game, but a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game squashed those hopes. Instead, Braxton Miller and Co. will be motivated to finish their season on a high note.
Miller and Tajh Boyd are very similar quarterbacks in terms of style. Both are very mobile and can make plays on the ground, but they are also capable of taking advantage of teams through the air.
Miller struggled against the Spartans, completing just 8-of-21 passes for 101 yards. His ability to pass against a tough Clemson defense will decide the game.
Ohio State needs a credibility booster, and winning against Clemson would do just that. It'll be an exciting matchup.
National Championship Game: Florida State vs. Auburn
Auburn's Nick Marshall and Tre Mason will need to rack up serious yardage if they want to take down the undefeated Florida State Seminoles and their Heisman-winning quarterback.
They average an uncanny 335.7 yards per game on the ground (tops in the nation), but the Seminoles defense is very strong against the run. Mason, a Heisman candidate himself, will need to shoulder the load and keep the chains moving.
He put up 304 yards and four touchdowns against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game, and Marshall added on 101 yards and a touchdown of his own.
Winston is dynamic on the ground as well, but his ability as a pocket passer makes him the total package. This game will come down to which defense can stop the top players on either side, and because nobody has been able to do that to the Seminoles yet, it's hard to pick against them.
Then again, Auburn looks to be the team of destiny after defeating Alabama in the Iron Bowl and taking down Missouri. I expect big things from this game.
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This season’s BCS bowl games have plenty to offer.
The SEC will be looking to win a borderline ridiculous eight consecutive national titles, two of the best defenses in the country will lock horns at the Rose Bowl, two high-octane offensive attacks will light up the scoreboard at the Orange Bowl, and two of the best programs in the history of college football will tussle at the Sugar Bowl.
Let’s dig into some early predictions on the final scores and top X-factors for each of the five games.
Prediction: Baylor 51, Central Florida 24
Baylor and Central Florida will both be playing in the first BCS game in program history, so it seems almost fitting that they are pitted up against each other.
The biggest X-factor in this one is the health of Baylor. The Bears were decimated by injuries in the season’s final weeks, which ultimately contributed to the end of their national title hopes and almost their Big 12 championship aspirations until Oklahoma stunned Oklahoma State.
If critical contributors like Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese return to form, Baylor will simply have too much firepower for the Knights to match. Look for the Bears to win this one going away.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Oklahoma 17
On paper, Oklahoma’s rush-oriented offense doesn’t match up well with Alabama’s stingy defense. However, that’s assuming the Crimson Tide are motivated to play in a bowl game that isn’t for the national title following the heartbreaking loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
That is the biggest X-factor. As long as Alabama comes to play (which wasn’t the case in the 2009 Sugar Bowl loss to Utah), the Sooners are far too one-dimensional to beat Nick Saban’s bunch.
A victory in the Sugar Bowl will have Alabama poised to sit near the top of the initial rankings in the 2014 season.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Clemson 35
If you are a fan of offense, make sure to tune in as Ohio State and Clemson match wits in the Orange Bowl.
The Buckeyes are fourth in the nation in scoring offense, while the Tigers check in at 12th. What’s more, both defenses have looked incredibly pedestrian against worthwhile competition this year, so points should come early and often.
The X-factor here is Carlos Hyde. Both sides have a litany of superstars, but Hyde is best suited to control the clock and keep the opposing offense off the field. If Hyde can eat up chunks of yards and continue to move the sticks, it will keep Tajh Boyd and Co. on the sidelines in the game’s critical moments.
Prediction: Michigan State 24, Stanford 20
In today’s age of no-huddle and fast-paced offensive attacks, it’s almost refreshing to see two old-school power teams facing off in college football’s most traditional bowl game.
Michigan State and Stanford both rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense and rely heavily on the rushing attack. However, the X-factor will be which quarterback can make a play when the game is on the line.
Kevin Hogan and Connor Cook are often asked simply to preserve a win while the defenses and running backs take care of business. However, it is nearly impossible to earn a win at the Rose Bowl without a quarterback making a critical play in the fourth quarter. Look for Cook to do just that off play action on Michigan State’s final drive.
BCS National Championship Game
Prediction: Florida State 35, Auburn 17
The SEC may have seven consecutive national titles, but Florida State is simply the better team with the nation’s best college football player.
Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston will lead a Seminoles attack that ranks second in the nation in scoring offense against an Auburn team that leads the country in rushing yards. On paper, it is an offensive showdown that should feature plenty of fireworks.
However, that isn’t taking into account the X-factor of Florida State’s defense. That unit doesn’t get as much recognition, but the Seminoles rank first in the country in opposing points allowed and will slow Auburn’s one-dimensional attack enough to take home the crystal football.
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