NCAA Football

Deshaun Watson Injury: Updates on Clemson Star's Recovery from Knee Surgery

The season for Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson is over. 

There was speculation that the dynamic playmaker, who threw for 269 yards and four touchdowns against South Carolina with a partially torn ACL, would again play through the injury later this month against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl. But according to sources cited by The Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner, he will undergo surgery on Friday, effectively ending his season. 

While Watson's time on the field was limited—he needed a couple of weeks to earn the starting job, missed three games with a broken hand and missed most of two others due to his injuries—his production was not.

One of the most impressive true freshmen in the country, he completed 67.9 percent of his throws for 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 200 yards and five scores. 

Head coach Dabo Swinney, via the team's official Twitter feed, put it simply:

It's a major loss for the Tigers, but it's more important for Watson to get healthy in preparation for 2015 than to risk further injury in a glorified exhibition. 

Senior Cole Stoudt, who has been markedly less effective under center, will start in his place. 

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Michigan Football: How Wolverines Will Replace Devin Funchess

Back in September, Devin Gardner said that Devin Funchess "could probably be the best receiver to ever play here."

It was a bold statement from the former quarterback but not too far of a stretch. However, in order to attain such stardom at Michigan, Funchess would have needed an exemplary 2014 and an even better senior session.

But the breakout junior year for Funchess never happened, and the chances of him having an even better final go with the Wolverines were squashed Tuesday when the 6’5”, 236-pound wideout declared for the 2015 NFL Draft.

In a release sent by the university, Funchess thanked former coach Brady Hoke's staff, the fans and everyone associated with Michigan football. The new staff, fans and everyone associated with the team will certainly miss his services next fall. 

The absence of Funchess, who’s been a projected first-rounder since the end of 2013, will present a mountainous climb for an offense that finished in the cellar of the Big Ten this past fall in yard output, ranking No. 13 in total production at 333 yards per game, and in scoring, scraping together a puny output of 20.9 points each Saturday.

The end result of that equation was a 5-7 record.

But so much more was possible, and so much more could be in 2015. Parting is such sweet sorrow, so it’s time to add "replacing prototypical No. 1 receiver" to the to-do list for the incoming regime at Michigan.

Whether Doug Nussmeier is the offensive coordinator is irrelevant, as a meeting of the minds between the OC, quarterbacks and receivers is beyond necessary. 

Shane Morris, a 6'3", 204-pound junior-to-be, and Wilton Speight, a 6'6", 235-pound soon-to-be-sophomore, must quickly recognize and designate candidates for Funchess' replacement going into winter workouts and, ultimately, into spring practices.

Time is of the essence. But haste makes waste. This move has to be calculated. Joe Depth can't take on the load of one of the most athletic wideouts to ever run the field at The Big House. 

But there are options, such as Jake Butt and Amara Darboh, who seem like the logical successors to Funchess’ former perch.

Although listed as a tight end, Butt brings Funchess-like attributes to the table. Funchess made the move; why not Butt? At 6’6” and 250 pounds, he’s capable of shedding defenders and catching the hard-to-reach balls—he just doesn’t have the speed or balance of his former teammate.  

However, that could come in time for Butt, who played well down the stretch, finishing his sophomore run with 21 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns.

Once workouts begin, he’ll be several more months removed from an ACL tear suffered during drills in the winter of 2013. Distance from an injury is always a good thing for a player looking to find his niche.

During 2014 media day, Butt said that he’d like to become one of Michigan’s great tight ends. Instead, he could end up evolving into Michigan’s next great replacement for the guy who was billed as the program’s next great receiver.

During his first (somewhat) fully healthy year on campus, Darboh caught 36 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns for Team 135.

Overall, those aren't embarrassing numbers. Yeah, fans wanted more from him, but getting nearly 500 yards from a seldom-used option isn't bad at all. 

Darboh appears to have the required tools to secure acrobatic tosses; he's long and balanced and has sticky hands. For further reference, look back to his six-catch, 88-yard, one-touchdown showing during Michigan's 34-10 victory over Miami of Ohio.

Want more proof?

Review the tape of the Wolverines' 34-10 homecoming romp of Indiana, in which he hauled in nine catches for 107 yards and a score. With stable quarterback play, Darboh could step into the No. 1 receiver role and immediately produce. 

Jehu Chesson checked out with 11 catches for 154 yards and zero touchdowns—but Michigan’s barely seen the best of him. The 6’3”, 197-pound junior-to-be didn’t make quite the impact that was expected of him in 2014, but he has a set of hands that’ll move the chains.

Michigan's existing stable is ready to show what it has, but Chesson’s at the fore of the rotation and 2015 could serve as a springboard for his career.

Really, it has to if he wants to see the field on a regular basis, because the Wolverines have more reinforcements on the way.

That goes for the likes of Drake Harris, Freddy Canteen, Da'Mario Jones and JaRon Dukes. Together, that group returns six catches for 33 yards. Canteen has five of those for 22 yards.

Development, as always, is key in this case. They'll have to chip in with quality shifts so the offense can eventually feature a No. 1. It's like dominoes. 

That doesn't apply to just Butt, Darboh and Chesson, but also to Harris, Canteen, Jones and, among others, Dukes. The Wolverines relied heavily upon Funchess in 2014, and teams rarely, if ever, replace the caliber of a Devin Funchess overnight.

But assuming Michigan's offense takes at least one or two steps forward in 2015, and a couple of players rise from the depths, replacing his 62 catches for 733 yards and four touchdowns shouldn't be too much to overcome. 

 

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

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

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Tennessee Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the Vols' Bowl Game

In a surprise selection, the Tennessee Volunteers' postseason fortunes went from an all-but-guaranteed blustery and cold bowl game somewhere in the mid-South to a berth in the TaxSlayer Bowl in balmy Jacksonville, Florida, against the Iowa Hawkeyes. 

With potential opponents ranging from the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Louisville Cardinals and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it looks like the Vols lucked out not only on location but also on their opponent.

The Hawkeyes are a solid team that underachieved in 2014, while the Vols met expectations in an unexpected way by clawing their way to bowl eligiblity after winning three of their last four games.

Although the Vols are already reaping the benefits of making the postseason by scheduling 15 extra practices, the season won't be a true success unless the team brings home a win from Jacksonville.

And with a full month to heal and game-plan for the team's Big 10 opponent, expect Tennessee's coaches to give fans and players alike a glimpse of what the team will look like heading into 2015.

With that said, here are five bold predictions for Tennessee's matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the TaxSlayer Bowl. 

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2014 Alabama Team Is Nick Saban's Crowning Achievement

It's Alabama, so I shouldn't be surprised the Crimson Tide are a final four team. Well, I am surprised. I'm actually a little bit stunned, even with the SEC being down this season.

I mean, these guys need two wins to snatch a national championship with a squad that should have gone 9-3.

This is Nick Saban and his staff's best work at Alabama in the eight seasons he has been there. It really is.

The quarterback is 6' tall. He was a scout team quarterback. They tried to put him at wide receiver, then running back. There were all kinds of reasons not to hand the job to Blake Sims. Saban was ready to give it to transfer Jake Coker the morning of the August 16 scrimmage, a team source said, but decided on Sims. Now look at Sims. MVP of the SEC Championship game.

Here's the true measure of the coaching done by Saban and his staff this season. He has always hated the no-huddle, hurry up offense—calling it "continuous offense" (and much worse things), according to a source who has worked with him in the past. He really detested it. Then, in the first game of the 2014 season against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome, Saban watched Sims settle into a groove when the pace was fast.

I asked Saban about "continuous offense" after the SEC Championship Game. It was so un-Alabama.

"It's been very, very beneficial to us. He's the reason we do it because it's what he does best," he said. "If we didn't do it, I don't think we would be here where we are right now."

The no-huddle played to Sims' strengths, which are quick feet, quick throws.     

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin then worked with the veteran wide receiver Amari Cooper to move him around so he was difficult to double-team. Cooper learned the routes of different wide receiver positions, Saban said. That's coaching from Kiffin and second-year assistant Billy Napier. Sims and Cooper drew the defense close and then Sims threw some of the prettiest deep balls you will ever see.

Here is something else about the offense. They have a true freshman left tackle, Cam Robinson. They have another offensive lineman, Leon Brown, who they plucked from some place called ASA College in New York. They have a right tackle, Arie Kouandjio, who has had multiple knee surgeries. Alabama really needed his brother, Cyrus Kouandjio, to stay and not go to the NFL last spring.

Did you know these guys are winning without their most dynamic offensive player? I know, it's sacrilegious to say such a thing because you have been watching Cooper all season. Well, injured running back Kenyan Drake was faster than Cooper. Drake could run and catch passes. Sources around the team said Alabama had a home run play—a wheel route to Drake—that would have wrecked defenses, or made them pay so much attention to it, another play would have opened up.

The coaching on defense has been no less spectacular. Kirby Smart, the Alabama defensive coordinator, had to go fast on defense because of so many no-huddle offenses. He adapted. Instead of eight-word signals via hands from the sidelines, a source close to the team says Smart has compressed the signal to one word. Are you kidding? You are telling teenagers on the field, OK, this one word means eight things from blitz path to shade. Don't forget it.

That brings us to Trey DePriest, the Mike linebacker. Reggie Ragland is a more talented linebacker, but DePriest is more indispensable because Smart has coached him to understand those one-word signals and get the defense lined up. Saban and Smart's defense is a stuffed toolbox. They have an answer for every scheme the offense can come up with, 45 years worth of tools for Saban, and DePriest gets his guys straight on the field.

Now look at the rest of these guys on defense. Corner Eddie Jackson has a brace on his knee. He's just a sophomore and wounded. Cyrus Jones, the other corner, first played offense at Alabama, but the Tide were so weak at corner they had to move him to defense. He's green, still learning. Safety Nick Perry is good, not great.

There are first-round picks, don't get me wrong. Safety Landon Collins is one. Tackle A'Shawn Robinson is another. But look at the youth of the defensive line. Look at DePriest. He was discounted as the season started, fifth-round, NFL scouts tell me. He was named All-SEC on Tuesday.

 

Turning point

On October 11, Alabama squeaked by Arkansas, 14-13, and it was treated as a debacle. Saban fumed, but he wasn't fuming at his team. Privately, I'm told by a source close to Saban, he was fuming at fans, the media, anybody who labeled the win shameful Alabama football. He saw a team come together. Others saw a season ready to fall apart.

This is going to get sappy. Saban loves his football team. We all saw how good a team Arkansas became. Saban knew how good the Razorbacks were that week. His team showed guts with that win. He was daddy-proud.

"I really think that our team came together in the Arkansas game," Saban said. "I saw an energy and enthusiasm in our players that I hadn't really seen before. After that game you saw them play really well against Texas Texas A&M. I think it was a result of what happened at Arkansas."

That's coaching. Stand behind your guys.

Here is what's really special about Alabama besides coaching. Chemistry.

This group, more than others, an insider told me, has pushed aside that chatter about getting to the NFL as fast as you can and getting to the "second contract," where all the money is. Saban talked about chemistry in the postgame press conference at the SEC Championship Game. I mean, one of the most taciturn men in the business of football used the word "love" when describing his squad.

"I think that part of the reason that I love this team so much is we have great team chemistry," Saban said. "We don't have a lot of issues ever. Everybody really sort of supports and helps each other. I think everybody has been all in to the vision of what we want to accomplish this year."

You are talking about ambitious five-star, highly recruited athletes who usually want nothing more than to play on Sundays. Sure, it's a tribute to the players, but Saban has had something to do with that, too.

"We have lots of opportunities on our team where guys could be selfish, because we had one receiver that had a fantastic year and maybe they could have caught more balls," Saban said. "Christion Jones is out there blocking like crazy for that guy, and so is De White. Nobody really cares. Everybody really cares about having success and being successful. Everybody kind of has each other's back.

"In this day and age, the way people are, that's kind of unique, and it's really appreciated by me as a coach to have that kind of group of guys to work with."

Digest that if you are Ohio State. You have to play an Alabama team in a national semifinal that has talent, but also has the "it" factor. 

Alabama is on the cusp of another national title. Coaching got them there, not sheer talent.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. He has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA TodayThe New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

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Florida Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

With the hire of new head coach Jim McElwain, the Florida Gators are set to be one of the busiest teams in the country on the recruiting trail heading toward national signing day. 

The Gators currently have seven commitments in their 2015 class, per 247Sports.

Here's a look at the latest news, top targets and commits for the Gators.

 

Latest News

Tuesday, Dec. 9

McElwain has hit the ground running in his first week as the new leader of the Gators program. On Tuesday, he focused on the Tampa area—which has been a hotbed for the Florida program over the years. 

Per ESPN's Derek Tyson, 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart, 4-star running back Ray-Ray McCloud and Auden Tate were among the prospects McElwain was slated to visit with. 

While McElwain is still in the infant stages of rebuilding the Gators program, he's off to a good start in creating a buzz and capturing the attention of recruits in the 2015 cycle.

 

Top Targets and Commitments

 

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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