NCAA Football

Notre Dame Football: 4 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

It's never too early to commence preparation for a season nearly eight months from its start date.

With Notre Dame's 2013 season officially in the books, now fifth-year head coach Brian Kelly and his staff have developed a full-steam-ahead approach to preparing for the 2014 season, which, by all accounts, is headlined by a definitive goal of qualifying for the first annual College Football Playoff.

The first of a myriad of steps in transforming that goal into reality is addressing the lingering issues surrounding the program.

Aside from putting the finishing touches on their 2014 recruiting class—national signing day is a shade more than a month away—the Irish have a few question marks to address during the course of the offseason.

First and foremost is the state of Notre Dame's defense.


Shoring Up the Defensive Line

More than any other position group on the roster, Notre Dame's defensive line will be in need of attention and molding during the offseason.

While defensive end Stephon Tuitt still hasn't announced whether he'll forgo his senior season to enter the 2014 NFL draft, the Irish's defensive coaching staff, particularly first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, has its work cut out.

The heart of the defensive line is most worrisome, with defensive tackles Louis Nix, Kona Schwenke and Tyler Stockton each having exhausted their collegiate eligibility. One proposed solution to the loss of that trio is VanGorder's preference of four-man fronts, though the obvious retort is the lack of big bodies up the middle.

Thus, the rapid improvement and development of redshirt sophomore-to-be Jarron Jones, Nix's main replacement following the meniscus tear that knocked him out for the remainder of the season, will be a crucial factor in the efficacy of the defensive line in 2014.

However, the most significant factor for the defensive line going forward is Tuitt's decision.

Should the 6'6", 322-pound defensive end decide to return for his senior season, the Irish defense will receive an immediate boost, for Tuitt is the type of defender capable of altering a game through his own sheer dominance.

The Monroe, Ga., native must make a decision prior to Jan. 15, which is the cutoff date for early NFL draft entries.


Will There Be Any Controversy at QB? 

The early answer to this question is no, though there isn't such a thing as certainty in college football.

While former starting quarterback Everett Golson seems to be a shoe-in to reclaim his old job, redshirt freshman-to-be Malik Zaire won't go down without a fight through spring ball and fall camp.

Could Zaire legitimately challenge Golson for the starting job? Sure, but it's doubtful Golson would have made the effort to return to Notre Dame if he wasn't given some sort of indirect guarantee that the starting job would be his upon his return to South Bend, Ind.

It's also doubtful that Golson and his family would have spent the exorbitant fees for quarterback guru George Whitfield's instruction throughout the summer and fall semester (per's Bruce Feldman, Whitfield charges $200 per day for college quarterbacks).

Once spring practices begin in earnest in March, fans and coaches alike will learn whether that investment paid off for Golson.

So, through rational reasoning, it would appear that the starting job at Notre Dame is Golson's to lose. The good news for the Myrtle Beach, S.C., native is that an abundant amount of healthy competition will exist between him and Zaire for the better part of the next eight months.


Settling the Pecking Order at Running Back

Aside from the quarterback position, the most thoroughly discussed area of the Irish offense has been at running back.

Without the services of freshman Greg Bryant during the 2013 season, fellow freshman Tarean Folston and junior Cam McDaniel rose to the top of the depth chart, where they remained for the latter stages of the season.

With those two, along with every other back on the depth chart—George Aktinson III, Amir Carlisle and Bryant—the pecking order at the position will be a point of emphasis throughout the preseason.

Will Bryant, a highly acclaimed former recruit out of Delray Beach, Fla., usurp McDaniel on the depth chart and join Folston to form an explosive one-two punch? That remains to be seen, but should it happen, Kelly's recruiting pitch of the two forming a duo similar to that of former Irish backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick would ring true.

Regardless of what transpires, Notre Dame possesses more than enough talent at the position, which is a good problem to have.


Solving the Depth Issue at Middle Linebacker

Now that fifth-year linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese have played their final collegiate downs, questions have arisen regarding depth at the middle linebacker positions they've left behind.

One surefire answer there in the heart of the Irish defense is Jarrett Grace, who had supplanted Fox from his starting position during fall camp. However, Grace was lost for the season after tearing his ACL early in Notre Dame's 37-34 win against Arizona State in Dallas.

His return will be an immediate boost for the Irish defense, though the task of naming his backup, as well as the starter and associated backup next to him, remains an issue.

That conundrum made the commitment of Crete, Ill., native and 4-star linebacker (per Nyles Morgan such an important pledge for the Irish. It's fair to say that Nyles' decision to join what has been commonly referred to as the #GoldenArmy14 on Twitter is the most significant of the recruiting class.

The 6'1", 225-pound linebacker is a favorite to start alongside Grace when the Irish open the 2014 season against Rice on Aug. 30, with either Michael Deeb or Joe Schmidt providing relief duties.

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Texas Football: Impact of Charlie Strong Hire on Greg Robinson, Major Applewhite

The search for the Texas Longhorns' new head coach is over as the Longhorns announced former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong as Mack Brown's replacement. See Strong's comments in Texas' official press release here

Louisville was 15-21 in the three season's prior to Strong's arrival. In his only head coaching role, Strong led Louisville to a 37-15 record, including two back-to-back double-digit win seasons in 2012 and 2013 and a BCS bowl win over Florida in last season's Sugar Bowl. Strong is known as a dominant recruiter and has helped pick up a tremendous amount of talent from the state of Florida, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

With Strong an official announcement away from being named as the Longhorns' head coach, the future is unknown for current coordinators Major Applewhite and Greg Robinson.

A lot of criticism comes with being a head football coach at a school like Texas. And in today's what have you done for me lately type of mentality, the margin of error, especially when it comes to assistant coaches, is slim to none.


Major Applewhite

Applewhite is a household name in many recruits' minds due to his time playing quarterback at Texas from 1998 to 2001. He has been a huge recruiter for the Longhorns and helped land standout talents like Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Quandre Diggs.

Applewhite has been loyal to Texas since he was given the chance to coach as a graduate assistant from 2002 to 2004. But his time spent as play-caller for the Longhorns has been inconsistent.

To be fair, Applewhite's offense was based around quarterback David Ash's ability to run and throw the ball heading into the 2013 season. When Ash suffered a concussion in Week 2 and sat out for the majority of the year, Applewhite's scheme had to change with quarterback Case McCoy, who did not have the same talents as Ash.

Applewhite's offensive coordinator legacy is still being written. But will Ash's injury be enough of an excuse for Strong to keep him around as play-caller for another year?

Strong is a defensive minded coach, having served as defensive coordinator at Florida from 2003-2009 before accepting the head coaching job at Louisville. Every defensive coach needs a solid offensive coordinator. 

Strong's current offensive coordinator is a familiar face for Texas fans. Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was the OC at Nebraska between 2007 and 2010, where the Huskers were one of the Longhorns' Big 12 North rivals. Watson, who is also the Cardinals' quarterback coach, has led elite quarterbacks, most recently Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, who will likely be the first overall draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

It's doubtful that Applewhite will keep his current role if Watson follows Strong to Texas.


Greg Robinson

Let's be honest for a minute: When Mack Brown fired Manny Diaz—after the Longhorns gave up 550 yards rushing to BYU—and replaced him with Greg Robinson, Robinson walked into a dumpster fire defense.

Texas was coming off of the worst statistical defense in school history in 2013, only to give up 679 yards of total offense to a BYU team that finished the season unranked. But Robinson changed everything within two weeks of being in Austin.

Taking over a team's defense midseason is not an easy job. Taking over a team's defense that was ranked No. 115 nationally in total defense is even tougher. But Robinson did a successful job of turning around the Longhorns struggling unit.

The Texas defense went from allowing an average of 309 rushing yards and 491 total yards against non-conference opponents to allowing 138 yards rushing and 372 total yards per game against Big 12 teams under Robinson.

However, as successful as Robinson was in 2013, his job security is up in the air with Strong taking over the Longhorns.

As defensive coordinator at Florida, Strong's defenses averaged a No. 23 overall ranking throughout his seven seasons, and as head coach at Louisville, the Cardinals were an average No. 10-ranked defense through four seasons. In other words, Strong knows how to consistently build a solid defense.

Strong has kept a familiar face by his side since 2008. Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford coached Florida's defensive backs under Strong between 2008 and 2009, then followed Strong to Louisville in 2010. Bedford is also a former Longhorn defensive back. Strong will likely want to bring Bedford with him to help integrate himself into the school and Texas recruiting.

With Strong's vast defensive resume and his sidekick Bedford in the mix, Robinson's career at Texas could be similar to his time in Austin in 2004: one and done.


Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar

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Like Schembechler at U-M, MSU's Mark Dantonio Seems Destined to Stay Home

The chairman of the board of college football coaches in Michigan never thought he’d even consider leaving his school. He was firmly entrenched, his fan base and alumni loved him, and besides, he was a Midwestern guy all the way.

There wasn’t a lot of Texas in Bo Schembechler, except for maybe his moniker.

Schembechler was a Glenn, by birth, and he was Bo in nickname only. The University of Michigan coach wasn’t the cowboy type and never would be.

Schembechler learned his football in Ohio, like so many of the game’s greats, and he was more small town than he was “Texas big.”

But in early 1982, Schembechler had some of that Texas money thrown at him and it gave him pause.

Schembechler had just completed his 13th season in Ann Arbor, and he had come a long way since a newspaper trumpeted his hiring with the headline, “Bo WHO?”

Texas A&M came calling in January ’82. And they came hauling a bagful of cash.

The Aggies were prepared to make Bo the highest paid coach in college football at the time. There was even talk of adding athletic director to his title, or at least after he was done coaching.

A&M offered Bo nearly $3 million for 10 years. Today that’s a drop in the bucket. But in 1982, it was high stakes, Texas Hold ‘Em stuff.

It was close. Bo was tempted. He was never one to use another school to leverage Michigan, but he didn’t have to. U-M athletic director Don Canham made a counter offer, the terms undisclosed.

For several days the newspapers, TV and radio stations played “Will he or won’t he?” in regard to Bo’s future at Michigan, and whether he’d chuck it all for College Station’s money and added power of athletic director.

When A&M reached out to him, Bo was one year removed from finally grabbing his elusive first Rose Bowl victory. In a quirk of scheduling, Michigan actually won two bowl games in 1981—the Rose Bowl on January 1 and the Bluebonnet Bowl in the Houston Astrodome on New Year’s Eve.

A couple weeks after trouncing UCLA in Houston, Bo was approached by the Aggies, who tried to make a play for what would have been the Shot Heard ‘Round the World when it comes to college football.

There was some strong feeling at the time that Bo would leave Michigan, even though Texas A&M didn’t seem like a good fit for him—from a personality standpoint and from a coaching perspective.

Schembechler and Woody Hayes had combined to define Big Ten football in the 10 years they coached U-M and Ohio State, respectively, from 1969-78—before Hayes was run out of Columbus in shame for slugging a Clemson player during a bowl game.

So would Bo actually leave Ann Arbor and his Midwest roots and his CEO status among Big Ten coaches, for a stinking job in Texas of all places?

For a couple days, it was dicey. It was like a patient teetering between life and death in the hospital.

But eventually Schembechler made his decision, and in doing so everyone associated with Michigan football heaved a sigh of relief.

"Frankly, I've come to the conclusion that there are things more important in this world than money," Bo told the press in making his announcement. "For that reason, I've decided to stay at Michigan.”

And stay Bo did—for eight more seasons before retiring from coaching.

Mark Dantonio is, at this moment, the chairman of the board of college football coaches in the state of Michigan. At first he assumed the title by default, after Lloyd Carr retired in 2008. But now, Michigan State’s Dantonio has earned it, fair and square.

Dantonio, without question, currently runs the premier college football program in the state. His 2013 Spartans, Big Ten and Rose Bowl champs, represent his finest hour in coaching.

All of this heady success in the college ranks usually makes you a hot commodity and your name starts to roll off the tongues of the rumor mongers when it comes to available jobs elsewhere.

Another school in Texas has been mentioned as a possible destination for Dantonio.

The University of Texas at Austin has been reported to have wanted Dantonio to fly down and interview for their coaching job, vacated by the resignation of Mack Brown.

Those reports now appear moot, as the school is reportedly on the verge of hiring Louisville coach Charlie Strong to replace Brown.

But Texas’ hiring of Strong, if it comes to be, won’t do a thing to squash rumors of Dantonio going, well, just about anywhere. Such is the case when you become hot stuff.

Only Mark Dantonio can stop the rumors.

Like his basketball counterpart in East Lansing, Dantonio seems destined to be mentioned whenever high profile schools are looking for coaches.

Dantonio, though, is another Midwestern guy. His roots are firm here. The idea of Dantonio leaving for a money grab doesn’t mesh with his persona.

But that won’t stop the speculation.

Again, only Dantonio can snuff out the rumor mongers.

Only Dantonio can tell the media, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m happy at Michigan State and this is my home.”

Of course, there will be those who won’t believe him, even though Dantonio has no track record of flitting from job to job. In fact, he left MSU as an assistant but bounced right back, a few years later, as the Spartans’ head coach.

The fact that Dantonio hasn’t stomped out the rumors might give some Spartan boosters consternation over the coach’s intentions, but like Schembechler, Dantonio appears to be content to be a Michigander and not a Texan, or anything else.

The balance of power in college football in Michigan has unquestioningly swung to East Lansing these days. Dantonio’s program is stronger than ever.

His name will be bandied about, going forward, attached to high profile jobs across the country.

It’s just something Spartan fans will have to live with as being part of the cost of doing business as an elite college football program—which MSU currently is.

Why else would everyone across the lower 48 states want Dantonio to coach at their school?

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Charlie Strong Is a Great Football Coach, but Is He Ready for Texas Politics?

Charlie Strong, who got his first shot as a head coach at Louisville, is now leaving the Cardinals for the big-time atmosphere of the University of Texas. The Longhorns have hired away Strong, who went 37-15 in four seasons at Louisville, to lead their rebounding football program. The move became official with a tweet from Longhorn_FB:

Strong notes, with the press release at Texas Sports, his enthusiasm for the job:

Texas is one of those places that is always on your radar and a program anyone would dream of being a part of because you have a chance to compete on a national level every year. It's special because it has such great history, pride, tradition and passion for football.

This is a great hire for Texas because Strong is a truly solid coach. However, Strong meshing with the politics of the position may present quite a problem.

Strong, who just led the Cardinals on a 12-1 campaign and was set up to transition Louisville into the resurgent ACC, will be trading the bluegrass of Kentucky for the greener pastures of talent rich and just plain regular rich Texas.

But don't let the smooth taste of Austin fool you; there is also some mud that comes with the job. After working with Tom Jurich, the U of L athletic director, how Strong handles that grime is going to be the biggest question mark about him taking the position.

At Louisville, Charlie Strong was simply one thing: a football coach. At Texas, with new athletic director Steve Patterson, the head coach is going to be asked to do so much more than just coach.

Around the nation, every man in Strong's position has to control and work to elevate his program. That means working on things at the schematic level and the week-to-week game-plan level. It also means developing a culture that fosters success, as well as a plan for strength and conditioning, including offseason programs.

Every football coach also needs a recruiting battle plan to get out to schools and get kids interested. It is vital to the program's success that they take the time to build relationships with high school coaches and influential players in recruiting circles.

These are the parts of the job that coaches love doing. They want to game-plan. They want to develop the best players they can. They want to go out and recruit.

Then come the little things that coaches "have" to do for the job: the weekly television shows, the coaches' carousels, the radio spots and the media tours. All things that take coaches away from the true core of the job.  These little things are relatively easily manageable, and coaches know they are a part of the business everywhere.

Enter the next phase of the job, the schmoozing. The ego stroking. The palling around with boosters and power players in an effort to appease them and keep the money train flowing.

This is much more important at some schools (Texas) than others.  Every school has powerful boosters, but all power players are not created equal. At some places, simply winning is enough to keep the checks coming. 

Yet, at places like Texas, winning is merely a start. These folks need to feel the love. In some instances, these folks need to know that the coach "likes" them. They want to feel as though the program belongs to them as much as it does to the coaches and players who spend the majority of their time at the facility.

The nation got to see this ugly side of booster-coach relations at Oregon with Chip Kelly, as the Willamette Week pointed out in December of 2012. The Ducks boosters' frustration with Kelly's aloofness is hardly a unique situation.

Schools with deeper tradition and deeper ties are faced with similar issues, but to a higher degree. Texas certainly fits into this space.  There's a reason the school needed an eight-person search committee: juggling the input and voices to arrive at a choice that pleases the masses.

Strong is moving from an athletic department that insulated him from the outside and allowed him to simply do the coaching element of his job, into a space that wants so much more.

Mack Brown gave the Texas fans plenty of extra. He was a brilliant crowd pleaser who made everyone feel welcomed and as though they mattered to the program. Flipping from Brown to Strong is going to be quite the culture shock for folks.

Keep in mind, as WHAS's Adam Lefkoe pointed out back in 2012, Strong likes to control the message. He likes to be in charge of the media much like guys like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Jim Mora. If Strong is displeased with what the media is doing, he's going to make their job more difficult.

Controlling the message at Louisville was relatively easy because people just wanted to win ballgames. At Texas, winning comes first, but information is a must. With the Longhorn Network as part of the package, the reserved and football-focused Strong will be thrust into doing the things that he worked to avoid at Louisville, most notably, giving more access.

More access to his process. More access to his football team. More access to himself. Mack was an available guy, whereas Strong has been less so during his time as a head coach. Juggling that quality with the demands at Texas is going to be the biggest challenge with the new job.

Seeing how much Strong truly wants to do the little things that grease the wheels at Texas is going to be intriguing. The man can coach, but shaking hands and smiling for boosters has never been his forte. If Patterson can insulate the coach from the ancillary elements, things should run smoothly, but if Strong is forced to try and duplicate Brown's efforts, there will be some feathers ruffled.

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Charlie Strong Officially Named Texas' New Head Football Coach

As expected, the Texas Longhorns have a new head coach. The program confirmed the hire of Charlie Strong in a press release on its website:

Charlie Strong named 29th head football coach.

— Longhorn_FB (@Longhorn_FB) January 5, 2014

In the release, Strong commented on his exit from Louisville to head to Austin:

I'm excited and my family is excited to have the chance to lead one of the premier football programs in the country. Texas is one of those places that is always on your radar and a program anyone would dream of being a part of because you have a chance to compete on a national level every year. It's special because it has such great history, pride, tradition and passion for football.

Strong will be introduced officially at a press conference at 12 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. local time, via Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman:

Texas' press conference to introduce new coach Charlie Strong at 11 a.m. Monday. #statesman

— kbohls (@kbohls) January 5, 2014

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated has the details on Strong's contract:

Strong's deal will be 5 years and $25 million and they've agreed to work through the $4.3 million buyout.

— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) January 5, 2014

This was the worst-kept secret in college football, as it was reported earlier in the weekend that Strong would be taking the job. Then, late on Jan. 4, ESPN's Brett McMurphy and Joe Schad reported the head coach met with Louisville's athletic director, Tom Jurich, which was likely about Strong's impending move to Austin:

Charlie Strong informed UL AD Tom Jurich tonight he was leaving UL for Texas a source told @ESPN

— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) January 5, 2014

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer sums up the attitude from the general consensus of college football fans:

Happy for Charlie Strong, bummed for Louisville, hopeful for Texas, glad it's over. The coaching carousel is weird, man.

— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) January 5, 2014

Strong replaces the legendary Mack Brown, who announced his resignation on Dec. 14.

Brown leaves big shoes to fill. His 158 wins over 16 years are the second most in school history, nine behind Darrell Royal's 167. Brown also won two conference championships and one national title.

In the release, Strong talked about taking over for a coach of Brown's stature:

To follow a future Hall of Fame coach like Mack Brown, who built a program that had great success and a reputation of doing it with class and integrity, is extra special. The National Championship, BCS Bowl wins and all he accomplished in 16 years built on the Longhorn legacy and makes it such an exciting place to be.

Coach Brown developed such a strong bond with his players, the lettermen, community and high school coaches in this state, and that's something I hope to build on. He made everyone feel at home. I had the opportunity to speak at the High School Coaches Clinic in Austin a few years ago and Coach Brown introduced Coach (Darrell) Royal, and everyone gave him a standing ovation. Meeting Coach Royal and being around him that day is something I'll never forget.

It was obvious Texas wouldn't waste any time in announcing a new head coach. It was imperative for the Longhorns to begin the rebuilding process as quickly as possible, especially to assure potential recruits that the team's future is in the right hands.

There's little doubt that Strong is one of the best men for the job.

At Florida, he built a reputation as one of the best defensive minds in the country. The Gators suffocated opposing teams en route to two national titles during his time as defensive coordinator.

He took over at Louisville in 2010, where he compiled a 37-15 record over four seasons. The highlight of his time with the Cardinals was a 33-23 win over Florida at the 2013 Sugar Bowl.

Under Strong's stewardship, Louisville saw a marked defensive improvement. Per ESPN Stats & Info:

During his four seasons, the Cardinals were in the top 10 in the FBS in points per game, yards per game, yards per play and sack percentage. In the three years before Strong’s arrival, Louisville ranked 75th or worse in each of those categories.

This season Louisville’s opponents converted an FBS-low 26.7 percent of third downs. Strong’s teams also featured sure tackling. The Cardinals defense allowed just 14 broken tackles, which led all schools from automatic-qualifying conferences this season. Louisville allowed just one touchdown of 20 or more yards this season, fewest in the FBS (Florida State ranks second with three).

Jurich discussed Strong's departure at a press conference, via Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News:

Jurich on Strong to Texas: "I don’t think he went into this thinking he would be head coach at Texas. It evolved into that."

— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) January 5, 2014

Strong and Jurich met at Strong's house for an hour last night. "I knew he was going to Texas." Wanted to show his appreciation to Strong.

— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) January 5, 2014

It's the perfect tonic for a team that surrendered 550 yards to the BYU Cougars in a 40-21 loss this year. The Longhorns finished 68th in total defense, giving up 224.2 yards a game through the air (52nd) and 183.1 yards a game on the ground (83rd).     

With Strong in the fold, Texas should see immediate improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

Nobody can say for sure whether Strong will be the man to bring the Longhorns back to the summit of college football, but few would seem as well equipped to pick up from where Brown left off. 

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Texas Hires Charlie Strong, Opens Up Florida Recruiting and Terrifies Big 12

If Texas wanted the anti-Mack Brown to lead its football program in a new direction, they certainly got it. 

Following a scattered coaching search that, at one point or another, reportedly included names ranging from Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers to Vanderbilt's James Franklin, the Longhorns found their guy. It just took a little bit of waiting. 

It wasn't for Nick Saban, either. Or Jimbo Fisher. Or Art Briles. 

Texas announced on Sunday that Charlie Strong, formerly of Louisville, would succeed Mack Brown, who stepped down last month after 16 seasons with the 'Horns. 

"I'm excited and my family is excited to have the chance to lead one of the premier football programs in the country," Strong said in a statement. "Texas is one of those places that is always on your radar and a program anyone would dream of being a part of because you have a chance to compete on a national level every year. It's special because it has such great history, pride, tradition and passion for football."

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated writes that Strong's deal is for five years and worth roughly $5 million annually. Strong's previous deal with Louisville, which was updated a year ago, paid the coach an annual base salary of $3.7 million plus incentives. 

The initial impression is that Texas made a sound hire, even if Strong wasn't the "first" choice. He is one of the hottest young coaches in the country. He has led the Cardinals to a 37-15 record in four years, 23-3 in the last two, and his starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, should be among the first players selected in the 2014 NFL draft. 

Strong has developed a reputation as a great recruiter who connects well with young people. That will be important as he familiarizes himself with the Texas high school scene. His no-nonsense attitude that stems from his history as a defensive coach will be equally as important in Austin as the Longhorns have lacked a championship attitude lately. 

The edge of a Strong team was fully on display in Louisville's last two postseason victories against Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl and Miami in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl. The Cardinals Floridian laden lineup (roughly one-third of the Cardinals' roster hails from Florida) outscored Florida and Miami by a combined 69-32 in a pair of dominating performances. 

Yet, the amount of respect Florida players showed Strong following the Sugar Bowl was a reflection of his deep ties to the program and the area. He's served four different stints with the Gators as an assistant (1983-84, 1988-89, 1991-94, 2003-09), so he knows many those players as well as those on his own roster. 

Despite the qualities that make Strong such an attractive candidate, he's an outsider to the region. Other than a brief stint at Texas A&M in 1985 as a grad assistant, Strong doesn't have ties to the state of Texas. That doesn't mean he can't entrench himself in one of the most talent-rich states in the country—Brown wasn't rooted in Texas when he came from North Carolina in 1998—but it does bring about an interesting recruiting angle. Pro tip: look for Strong to try and bring Louisville defensive coordinator and former Texas DB, Vance Bedford with him help him make quick in roads in Texas high schools. 

Once he gets to Austin, will Strong continue to heavily mine Florida for players, or will he build his own brand in Texas? Understandably, Brown and his staff recruited the in-state talent almost exclusively. Most likely Strong will utilize a combination of the two.   

As Max Olsen of ESPN tweets, it would behoove Strong to keep Director of Player Personnel Patrick Suddes to help in that department. 

Imagining the 'Horns getting the cream of the Texas and Florida recruiting crops could be nightmare fuel for other Big 12 programs. Though Texas had fallen back into the middle of the Big 12 pack, the terrifying reality is that it is one competent coach away from swiftly ascending back to the top of college football. 

There's no denying Strong embodies that excellence as a coach and recruiter, but he will be out of his comfort zone in Texas. Beyond being transplanted to the southwest, Strong isn't known for being the media-savvy face of the program like Brown was. While the obligations of the Longhorn Network, an ESPN-Texas television partnership, aren't the most important aspect of the job, they are nevertheless a unique add-on to the gig.  

It's not that Strong can't handle those duties, it's just that he's never had to before. Add in the excessive politics and glad-handing of Texas athletics and the surrounding media circus, and Strong has far more to deal with than he ever would at Louisville. How he handles this part of the job will have a huge impact on the Horns' success. 

Of course, Texas and its fanbase want results, something they haven't had to their satisfaction since Brown took the Longhorns to the BCS National Championship during the 2009-10 season. If Strong wins and wins often, the frivolous media and political obligations will, to an extent, take care of themselves. 

And Strong can win at Texas. As Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports opined last month, it's the "kind of job that almost can't be screwed up.

"You can slip about 25 different guys in there, and if they are supported, work hard and don't self-destruct under the pressure, the victories will come," Wetzel wrote. 

No great coach can do it alone, though, and Strong will need a solid group of assistants around him—starting with an offensive coordinator. 

That may or may not be Shawn Watson, who has been with Strong since 2011. Under Watson, Bridgewater has developed into the best pure passer in college football. Louisville's receivers have quietly become an excellent group filled with future pros like DeVante Parker. This past season, the Cardinals averaged 35 points per game. 

However, Thamel tweeted Friday night that two NFL teams have inquired about hiring Watson. 

If Watson were to take another job, Strong will likely face his most important hire right away. Defenses have been stout under Strong, but the ability to score a lot of points, something Texas hasn't been able to do consistently since the departure of quarterback Colt McCoy four years ago, will be paramount in the Big 12. 

The name being floated around in the event Watson does not join Strong is Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Unlike Strong, Morris has extensive ties to Texas recruiting thanks to 15 years of coaching at the high school level in the state. Morris' potent offenses have made him the highest-paid assistant in major college football at $1.3 million annually, according to USA Today

If there's room in the coaching budget, and there's little reason to think there wouldn't be, it's possible Texas could lure Morris away from the Tigers. The thought of Strong and Morris working together, even if it's in passing, is almost unfair. 

Texas could potentially spend a lot of money on coaches in the hopes that it rediscovers the success it once had, and it appears the program is willing to do that. However, the mixture of money and expectations leaves marginal room for error for Strong, especially as a coach who didn't initially register on many media radars. 

"Splash hires" can be overrated, though. If Strong wins, no one will care how many coaches were offered the job before him or how many turned it down. Brown wasn't Texas' first choice when he was hired in 1998; the university originally wanted then-Northwestern coach Gary Barnett. Yet, Brown went on to claim a BCS National Championship in 2006 over USC and won at least 10 games every year from 2001-09. 

Still, Texas needed a new direction. For all the concerns about Strong and how he "fits" in Austin, the fact remains that he's replacing a coach who fit perfectly—but who couldn't get it done on the field at the end of his tenure. It's only natural for Patterson to want to try something new.  

Strong may be the opposite of Brown, but there's no reason to think yet that he can't have the success Brown once did. 


Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

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BCS National Championship Game 2014: Why Auburn's Luck Will Finally Run Out

Few will ever forget the name Chris Davis thanks to his 109-yard return of a missed Alabama field goal. It's a play many believe put Auburn in Monday's BCS National Championship Game against Florida State. 

However, it was just one of a series of lucky plays and fantastic breaks the Tigers got in 2013 to put them in this position. 

First there was the game-winning touchdown in the final 20 seconds against Mississippi State in Week 3. 

Auburn's luck also came through again against Georgia, when two Bulldogs couldn't get enough of a last-ditch heave from Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall. 

As the saying goes, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

But while being lucky may have worked against the likes of Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama, Florida State isn't any of those teams. It will take a lot more than luck to beat the Seminoles for the national championship on Monday night, and the numbers suggest that Auburn's luck will be in short supply.  

See, FSU has the one thing that none of those teams Auburn beat on lucky plays had: defense. 

That's right, for all the hype and Heisman Trophy platitudes around Jameis Winston and the Seminoles offense, the most important ingredient to Florida State's undefeated season has been a stifling defense. 

The Seminoles come into the BCS National Championship Game allowing just 10.7 points per game on the year—No. 1 in the country in scoring defense. But FSU isn't just stingy on the scoreboard; its defense is stingy in all ways: 

If there is one thing those numbers prove, it's that if you're going to beat Florida State, you're going to earn it the hard way. There will be no luck involved in getting points against this defense. Auburn will simply have to out-execute and out-game-plan the Seminoles.

Of course, that's a task that is far easier said than done.  Just ask Clemson, who was supposed to give FSU a game. Instead it turned into a 51-14 pounding. 

In three ACC regular-season games against Top 25 competition, the Seminoles proved to be the most complete team in the country, winning by a combined score of 155-28. Against all four ranked opponents this season, FSU won by a combined 200-35. 

That's about as dominant as you can be, winning by an average of 50 to 8.75. 

Sure, Auburn has a very good offense that can give FSU a challenge, but the Seminoles' track record against high-powered offenses suggest they actually play better against better competition. It's not to say the Tigers aren't capable of being on the same field or winning the game against FSU, but they'll need to actually outplay and not out-luck the best opponent they've faced all season.

Florida State's combination of a talented and efficient offense and a very stout defense won't provide the margin of error for Auburn to be able to create situations in which to get lucky. Come Monday, Auburn will have to instead rely on doing the old-fashioned way—earning it by outplaying its opponent.


You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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LSU Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

A makeover will inevitably occur on the LSU Tigers offense in 2014. Understandably, the new parts installed in the offensive system could provide Tiger fans with plentiful concerns.

No, the Tigers won't have Zach Mettenberger slinging the rock next season, and if Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill join him in the 2014 NFL draft, the Tigers will have to look toward multiple freshmen, both redshirt and true.

Anthony Jennings, who will be a sophomore next season, is the favorite to replace Mettenberger, but does his Outback Bowl performance against Iowa suggest he can fill that void properly?

And though much experience was gained on defense in 2013, junior and senior departures have defensive coordinator John Chavis looking toward his bench for eventual substitutes. Should LSU fans worry about any particular position? 

You betcha. Come on inside and embrace the panic.




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Auburn vs. FSU: Full Preview for 2014 BCS National Championship

When the No. 2 Auburn Tigers (12-1, 7-1 SEC) take on the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 8-0 ACC) Monday night in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, the entire college football world will be focused on the event.

This is undoubtedly the biggest game of the year.

With a four-team playoff being implemented starting next season, this battle between the SEC and the ACC should be the perfect way to cap off the BCS era. The change will be welcomed by fans tired of the hypocrisy of the current structure, but the final matchup determined by the old system should make for an exciting championship game.

Here is all of the vital viewing information, key details and a full prediction for the biggest matchup of the 2013-14 season.


Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

When: Monday, Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Line (via Covers)

Over/Under: 67, Spread: Auburn (+9)


Auburn Injuries (via USA Today)


Florida State Injuries (via USA Today)


Top Storyline: Can Jameis Winston Complete the Perfect Season?

After finishing the 2013 season with an undefeated record and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was awarded for his outstanding play with the Heisman Trophy.

Winston unquestionably deserved the award after not only leading the Seminoles to a perfect season but also amassing one of the most impressive statistical campaigns for a freshman in college football history.

Even Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is impressed with Winston:

The quarterback connected on 237 of 349 passing attempts for 3,820 yards and an impressive 67.9 completion percentage. With just 10 interceptions compared to his 38 touchdowns and 190.1 passer rating, Winston’s ability to protect the football and make smart choices in the heat of battle has been his biggest strength.

Auburn’s tough SEC-style defense has given some of the best quarterbacks in the country fits this season—allowing just 24 points per game—but the Tigers have not faced a player with as much raw talent as Winston.



Auburn deserves immense credit for its stellar season, including beating Alabama in historic fashion during the Iron Bowl, stopping Missouri in the SEC Championship and winning nine games in a row to end the year, but this is a year of destiny for Winston and the entire Florida State program.

Led by Winston and the impressively balanced offensive attack, the Seminoles have averaged an astonishing 53 points and 529.4 yards of total offense per game this season. As well as the Tigers have played defensively, the program has not played a team with this much depth and skill.

As well as Florida State’s offense has played in 2013, the real difference will be the team’s elite defensive unit. The Seminoles have allowed only 10.7 points per game during their undefeated campaign and have given up an impressive 17 or fewer points in 12 of 13 matchups.

When asked to talk about the comparisons between Florida State’s defense to SEC-style defenses, Nevada head coach Brian Polian told Paul Myerberg of USA Today about the similarities:

They physically look like an SEC football team. The one thing that struck me was that in today's world of spread-out, basketball-on-grass, they were physical in all three phases of the football game. They were physical in the kicking game, they were physical on offense and they were physical on defense.

They play SEC-type football, for what it's worth, whatever people think that means. They can line up with a fullback and come downhill and knock you backwards. In the ACC, where you see so much spread and people want to turn it into a space game, this team has the ability to line up and be physical with you on both sides of the ball.

Auburn has been one of the most impressive stories of the college football season, but history will be made when Winston and the entire Seminoles program cap off the perfect season with another victory.

Predicted Final Score: Florida State 38, Auburn 24


*Stats via

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Jadeveon Clowney Hangs out with Jay Z at Charlotte Concert

Jadeveon Clowney may not have signed with Jay Z, but that didn't stop the defensive star from hanging out with the rapper after a concert in Charlotte.

Clowney posted a picture of the two on his Instagram account:

As Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported, Clowney picked sports agent Bus Cook over Jay Z and Roc Nation Sports to represent him.


Hat tip to Next Impulse Sports' Mike Johnson for the find.

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BCS Championship Game 2014: After a Month, Auburn and FSU Coaches Are Ready

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The hype, the talk and the buildup are now in the rearview mirror. It's time for No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn to kick off the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night, with the crystal football on the line.

Both coaches are ready.

But are they too "ready?"

The monthlong layoff provided the Seminoles' Jimbo Fisher and the Tigers' Gus Malzahn plenty of time to hit the film room, but both coaches were wary of giving their staffs too much information.

"As far as the number of practices, what we did to game plan, and the other thing is not trying to do too much," Fisher said. "Sometimes you know so much about your opponent and you try to do too much. You have to play five more games to get all the plays in you want. You have to make sure you keep doing things you do well."

Malzahn agreed that overanalyzing the opponent could hurt a team once it takes the field.

"Anytime you have 30 days you're going to have all the information and then some, and then as a coach you've just got to filter all that and predict the best you can on what they're going to do offensively, defensively and special teams," Malzahn said.

Part of that time is spent going back to the drawing board for the coaches. 

It isn't so much what your opponent does as it is what's going on in-house that's important. What tendencies emerged during games? Which players showed signs of life late that could be X-factors in the title game?

"I think it's very important that you self scout yourself," Malzahn said. "So we've tried to do a great job of that, even like we're our own opponent just to see what they're seeing, and then you match up."

Filtering information is tough for a coaching staff for such a big game, which is why you should expect the BCS National Championship Game to feel more like an old-school heavyweight boxing match between two champions.

"The first quarter is a feeling-out time, and then after that things usually settle down and then you can actually get in a rhythm," Malzahn said.

The final pregame press conference of the year for both coaches served as a the final chapter of a novel filled with analysis. 

It's up to each one to decide which chapters to pay attention to and which ones to disregard. 

Whichever chooses best will be the one taking home that crystal football on Monday night.


*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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Cold Hard Fact for Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fact: The first bowl game, the precursor to the Rose Bowl, was played in Pasadena, California, in 1902 by Stanford and Michigan. Michigan wins by a score of 49 to 0.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: CNN

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Cold Hard Fact for Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fact: The team leading at halftime is 13-0 in BCS National Championship Games (in the 2009 game, Florida and Oklahoma were tied at halftime).

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.


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BCS National Championship 2014: Debunking 'If It's Close, FSU Will Lose' Theory

It is a theory that Auburn fans and many in the national media are clinging to in a major way: the idea that should the BCS National Championship Game be a close affair late, then Florida State is ill-equipped to win.

And it is a theory that needs to be stopped in its tracks.

Yes, Auburn has been locked into more close affairs that required the team to play in high-pressure situations. Yes, Florida State flies into Pasadena on the wings of a season full of stomping out opponents. Yes, it makes sense to look for a close game out of the Seminoles and the Tigers.

But, no, it does not make a ton of sense to assume Florida State will simply fold in a close game. The Seminoles have not had to manage end-of-game scenarios because they are the nation's most complete team, both physically and mentally. Jimbo Fisher's team ran opponents off the field because not only were they the better team, but they also played like it from the opening kickoff.

Keep in mind, this has absolutely zero to do with Auburn. The Tigers' experience in close games is tied to some of the deficiencies in the team. If Gus Malzahn's team could have blown every opponent out, it certainly would have. Winning by a few touchdowns is the ideal situation, not living on the edge hoping for good breaks late.

This theory is not about Auburn; it is about an effort to pull down Florida State rooted in, at best, a hope that this team cracks under a possible pressure situation. Why would Florida State, a team that has been so good in every scenario it has been presented, suddenly be bad in an expected football situation?

Nothing about this Florida State team speaks to the inability to handle pressure. This team has stepped out on to the field 13 times expecting to get its opponent's best shot, prepared to do whatever it must to get the W. It just so happened that Florida State was able to shut teams down and score points in a way that allowed them to avoid end-game scenarios.

But the Seminoles did not avoid pressure.

It's been casually dismissed on a large scale due to the final scores, but it does Florida State a disservice to deny that the team rose to every occasion and answered every bell in 2013. Starting a freshman on the road on Labor Day? Did that and responded well.

Starting safety goes down in the third game and the team is forced to move a true freshman corner to safety compensate? Did that and responded well.

Seconds away from going into halftime tied up in a game the team expected to roll in? Did that and responded well.

Taking on the No. 3 team in the nation, on the road, in a conference rivalry game in a loud and hostile environment? Did that and responded well.

Home game against a rival thirsty for resurgence and a marquee victory, ranked in the Top Ten? Did that and responded well.

Conference championship game against a team riding a major win streak and feeling good about itself? Did that and responded well.

Florida State has done everything that football has asked them to do. So why, pray tell, would this team stop responding to football situations in the BCS National Championship Game? Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan expresses the same point to the Tallahassee Democrat's Natalie Pierre, saying the 'Noles are going to fight regardless of the scenario:

Fighting is what the Seminoles have done all season, and fighting is what teams have to do to win the BCS Championship. At no point in BCS history does the idea of a dominant team being wildly inept in a close end-game scenario hold water; why would it start now?

This chart shows the undefeated BCS Champions with the five highest margins of victory:

This chart shows the teams that entered the BCS Championship undefeated, only to lose, with the five highest margins of victory:

A look at the winners and the losers shows one major point: handling close, end-of-game situations is not the problem. The 2005 and 1999 seasons are the years where both opponents make the list for spending the season winning big. 

2005's end of game was an epic affair between Texas and USC where both heavyweights exchanged blows and Texas was the last team standing, despite USC having more "close game" experience. In 1999, there was nothing close about the game as the Seminoles dominated Virginia Tech on the way to a 46-29 victory in the Sugar Bowl.

In 2010, after beating everyone by an average margin of 28.3 points, the Ducks did not mismanage the end of the BCS National Championship Game. Rather, in losing to Auburn 22-19, Oregon had the score tied 19-19, looking to force overtime before a miracle run by Michael Dyer put Auburn in a position to kick a winning field goal.

In 2000, Oklahoma was a high-powered offense that only mustered 13 points as it rode the defense to a 13-2 win over the Florida State Seminoles. In a tight game through three quarters the Sooners, who were rarely tested on the year, were not bothered by the close margin of the game, and Bob Stoops' team found a way to win.

Perhaps some will point to the Miami Hurricanes, a team with a 19.1 average margin of victory, as proof that close games could be problematic. The problem is Miami responded well to the tight ball game, despite being a heavy favorite over Ohio State, and the controversial pass interference call, plus a critical injury and a well-timed blitz to end the game, went a long way in deciding that contest.

There is no reason, beyond wishful thinking, to believe that this Florida State team will not respond. Those before them have responded, and answering the bell has been a hallmark of the Seminoles' season. This team's focus has been its best weapon in 2013, something Lamarcus Joyner hit on and USA Today's Dan Wolken pointed out back in October:

Should the game be close and Florida State lose, it will be because they get outplayed, not because they are poorly prepared to play in a close game.

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

The Pac-12's investment in the outcome of this past Wednesday's Rose Bowl was immeasurable. The party celebrated both Granddaddy's 100th birthday and next year's inauguration of the College Football Playoff.

Bidding farewell to the infamous BCS, it's only fitting then that Stanford stabbed West Coast dwellers in the gut as those last few rose petals were plucked. Despite holding the upper hand in experience, Michigan State's No. 4 defense cooked up an upset with superior physicality, two key fourth-down stops and cushioning from freshman Connor Cook's 332 passing yards.

The loss was an eyesore for the Cardinal and the conference, and yet it failed to make our cut in the Pac-12's top-five worst BCS moments. Surprisingly enough, it isn't one of the best either.

The BCS has supplied college football fans with plentiful highs and lows—from thrilling game-clinching performances in the waning seconds to all of the heartbreaking snubs and blasphemous selections. Many a New Year's resolution ceased to exist as a result, and the Pac-12 will surely miss it.

No automatic-qualifying conference not named the SEC posted a better winning percentage in the BCS era. Most of that 13-8 record wasn't vacated and left to wither away in the bushes, so which moments will be remembered dearest in Pacific Standard Time?

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

The Pac-12's investment in the outcome of this past Wednesday's Rose Bowl was immeasurable. The party celebrated both Granddaddy's 100th birthday and next year's inauguration of the College Football Playoff ...

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BCS National Championship 2014: Viewing Info, Projected Score for Auburn vs. FSU

The BCS National Championship Game kicks off at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 6, where the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles will try to stave off the resilient No. 2 Auburn Tigers.

There will be no shortage of storylines entering this one, but the headliners are Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston and Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn.

FSU has an incredible team top to bottom, which ESPN Stats & Info indicates has led to a historic level of dominance this season:

The freshman Heisman Trophy-winning Winston is the leader of the bunch with his uncommon composure, incredible talent and advanced honing of the QB craft. Dan Wolken of USA Today Sports goes so far as to say that, with a win, the Seminoles would be considered arguably the greatest team ever:

Meanwhile, Malzahn has molded a program that was 3-9 a season ago into a national finalist, mentoring a talented but raw signal-caller of his own in Nick Marshall en route to the SEC title.

Let's take a look at when and where to catch the action for what should be an epic showdown, along with a projected final score and analysis.


Projected Score: Florida State 38, Auburn 31

What this really comes down to is whether or not the Tigers can succeed in spite of the stout Florida State rush defense, which has yielded only five touchdowns on the ground this season.

That has been the case for Auburn to date. No matter the opponent, the dynamic tandem of running back Tre Mason and Marshall seems to gash the opposition on a consistent basis.

Even the athletic, disciplined front sevens of Alabama and Missouri couldn't prevent Auburn from accumulating a whopping 841 yards over those two games to close out the regular season.

USA Today Sports' Paul Myerberg reveals that FSU middle linebacker Terrance Smith has a good grasp of what his defense has to do to stymie the Tigers:

Everyone's going to have to do their responsibility and take responsibility for their gap because they have a pretty good running back in Tre Mason.

To stop them you're going to need really good eye discipline. They try to mess you up with a lot of their different motions and a lot of their window dressing, to get you out of position and to hit the big plays. If we can stay sound and everybody does their responsibility I believe we'll be able to handle them.

However, it hasn't mattered that Marshall is still very much a project pocket passer—he's done enough to keep defenses honest to the point where he, Mason and a mauling offensive line can manhandle defenses.

Part of the reason Auburn has been so successful is because the offensive staff has played to the strengths of its personnel rather than trying to force-feed a certain philosophy.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee elaborated on that point in a report by's Brandon Marcello:

You still work on deficiencies and all those things, but you really try to accentuate the things they do well. I think so many times in our game you may see people that try to make a square peg fit in a round hole and make guys do things they want them to do but maybe they're not best at, and we just try to take the opposite approach with that.

Replicating that success on this big stage against the Seminoles will be difficult, though—especially with Winston set to face the Tigers' 103rd-ranked pass defense when he steps onto the gridiron.

Regardless of scheme, the Seminoles have the athletes to stack up with any team in the country and are stronger in more areas than their impending opponent.

Should Auburn fall behind by even a moderate margin, Marshall does not have near the firepower at the skill positions that Winston has at his disposal. Forcing Marshall out of his game plan and confining him more to the pocket would go against what Lashlee preached has been so critical to Auburn's resurgence.

Mason is a tough runner who should help the Tigers keep time of possession close or even in their favor, but he is likelier to become exhausted than the three-headed monster in the Seminoles' backfield.

Even in a pinch, however, head coach Jimbo Fisher told Auburn's official Twitter account that he is confident Winston won't wilt in the face of adversity:

Between Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr., FSU has three backs capable of alleviating the load on Winston's shoulders. In addition to that, Winston is very athletic and can keep plays alive for his receivers to get open down the field on Auburn's suspect secondary.

Winston has the clear edge over Marshall under center and the Seminoles will be just a bit too deep for the Tigers to handle in what will be a fantastic, thrilling conclusion to the college football season.


Team statistics are courtesy of

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USC Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

As USC embarks on the Steve Sarkisian era, the new head coach will lead an almost equally new staff into preparation for the 2014 season.

Along the way, Sarkisian will have to address an abundance of questions that face all new staffs as they endeavor to build their program.

However, this is USC, and as the leader of one of the most storied college teams in the nation, coach Sark will find that the learning curve to return the Trojans to prominence is much shorter than at other places.

Thus, it is under the auspices of increased pressure that the new head coach will formulate a game plan to get USC back where it expects to be—which is vying for a national title.

When Sark dives into the nuances of his Trojans for the upcoming year, he will find a team with some solid components and even more question marks.

As such, here are some of the concerns he must address.

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USC Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

As USC embarks on the Steve Sarkisian era, the new head coach will lead an almost equally new staff into preparation for the 2014 season...

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Updates on Brett Hundley Reportedly Foregoing 2014 NFL Draft to Return to UCLA

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has the talent to play in the NFL, but the redshirt sophomore Bruins signal-caller reportedly will stay in school for at least another year. 

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that Hundley is expected to announce his decision this week to remain in college for his junior season and forgo the 2014 draft:

Hundley is one of several talented quarterbacks who have turned down the promise of going pro, joining the notable likes of Baylor's Bryce Petty and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, among others.

While there was some logic to his peers' decisions to return, Hundley's choice comes as a bit of a surprise. At 6'3" and 222 pounds with a big arm and awesome athleticism, NFL franchises desperate for an answer under center would have been hard-pressed to pass up on Hundley despite the fact that he's still rather raw.

Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller confirmed Schefter's assertion that Hundley is a top-10-caliber pick within the context of this year's QB class and the signal-caller's skill set:

The boundless potential Hundley possesses was on full display when he threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns while running for 161 more yards and two additional scores in the Bruins' 42-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

After that virtuoso performance on Dec. 31, the 20-year-old indicated he was uncertain about whether he'd declare for the draft, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith.

"I’m going to sit down and talk to the right people and I’ll make [a decision] from there," said Hundley.

In his final six starts of 2013, Hundley accounted for 17 total touchdowns and threw just one interception, demonstrating that his decision making is progressing.

With another year to sharpen his skills at UCLA, it seems the sky is the limit for Hundley and his NFL future. Rushing into the pros can be a mistake, and the Bruins have to be pleased that their star QB is returning for what could be a Heisman-caliber 2014 season.

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