NCAA Football

BCS Championship Game 2014: Can Jameis Winston Become the Next Bo Jackson?

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—There are only one or two legitimate dual-sport athletes per generation that can compete at the highest level of two major sports. 

Deion Sanders enjoyed successful Major League Baseball and National Football League careers in the 1990s, as did fellow Atlanta Falcons defensive back and Atlanta Braves outfielder Brian Jordan. 

Former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown was also a successful basketball, track and lacrosse player at Syracuse, and current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was once a middle-infield prospect in the Colorado Rockies organization and was drafted again by the Texas Rangers last month. 

But former Auburn running back Bo Jackson is perhaps the most notable two-sport athlete in recent memory. The 1985 Heisman Trophy winner was a star running back for the then-Los Angeles Raiders, rushing for 2,782 yards and 16 touchdowns in four seasons of playing football as "a hobby," according to The New York Times.

What was his day job? Oh, just an All-Star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals. In 1989, he was named MVP of the All-Star Game. 

A hip injury in January 1991 ended his NFL career and limited his ability as a baseball player, but Jackson is widely regarded as the top dual-sport athlete in American sports history.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston could be the next in line.

The redshirt freshman signal-caller of the Seminoles and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner doubles as an outfielder and pitcher on the Seminoles baseball team. He hit .235 with a .377 on base percentage in 119 at-bats while making 17 appearances as a relief pitcher, posting a 3.00 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 27 innings.

The Hueytown, Ala. native is a stone's throw across I-20/59 from Bessemer, where Jackson grew up. He possesses many of the same qualities as Jackson, especially his arm from the outfield, as you see above.

If that looks familiar, it should. Check out Jackson nailing former Seattle Mariners outfielder Harold Reynolds at the plate on June 5, 1989:

So could Winston be the next two-sport stud in the same vein as Jackson?

"A lot of people are going to say, 'No way. He's a quarterback. Bo Jackson was a running back," Winston said at a BCS National Championship Game press conference on Friday (password required). "The one thing I always seem to do is gain the trust of my teammates. Even being in the NFL, if I can convince those guys I can be your quarterback, I can go play baseball for the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, I can't talk about that, because I'm living in the moment right now."

He is not lacking confidence, but Winston has the utmost respect for Jackson.

"Bo Jackson, no one can beat Bo Jackson," he said. "If the guy wouldn't have got hurt, he probably would be in the Hall of Fame in both baseball and football."

Winston can come close, though.

In addition to his accolades this year on the gridiron, he was drafted in the 15th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft by the Texas Rangers and had the tools coming out of high school to go even higher, but his football future got in the way.

Would he have been a first-round draft pick had he not committed to playing football at Florida State?

"I would hope so," he said. "Obviously, I can't control none of that. I have to get better at baseball just like I have to get better at football."

While he may not know it, scouts recognize his upside as a baseball player.

"Winston could have been a first-round pick in the 2012 draft, but his strong commitment to Florida State as a dual-sport athlete, as well as the strict draft spending restrictions implemented in the first year of baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, simply wasn’t worth the risk for teams in the early rounds," said Mike Rosenbaum, Bleacher Report's MLB prospects lead writer.

It isn't Winston's dual-sport ability that could conceivably scare off Major League Baseball scouts; it's his duality within the game of baseball itself. Rosenbaum notes that he's more of a prospect as a pitcher than an outfielder, and he would have to commit himself first as a full-time baseball player and then as a pitcher to have a shot at baseball superstardom.

"The arm strength Winston showcases behind center is equally impressive on the mound," he said. "Armed with a fastball that touches 97 mph and jumps on opposing hitters, the right-hander emerged as one of Florida State’s key relievers last spring as a sophomore."

"He’s more than just a flame-thrower, though; Winston also demonstrates a feel for a hard slider in the mid-80s, throwing it early in counts for a strike and burying it to induce whiffs. He also began developing a changeup this past season, which has the potential to be a highly effective offering if he can replicate the arm speed on his fastball."

But just how likely is Winston as a legitimate dual-sport star?

If the scouts are right and he projects as a pitcher, that would require an extraordinary amount of wear and tear on the throwing shoulder of a player whom one NFL general manager will likely give the keys to his franchise, along with a contract that will pay him millions.

Can you see an NFL quarterback missing a season due to Tommy John surgery sustained while playing baseball? A general manager would be crazy to even allow that to be an option.

But before he crosses that bridge, Winston isn't thinking about pro baseball just yet. A tiny little thing called the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night is occupying his time at the moment, but a baseball decision has to be made soon regarding his future in Tallahassee.

"Right now I got one thing on my mind, win the national championship on Monday," Winston said. "Tuesday comes, I be ready for it then. I'm pretty sure [Florida State baseball] coach Mike Martin, he'll talk to me about it then. I know he's not saying nothing about baseball to me right now."

He'll have to address it soon though, because while his stock on the gridiron couldn't be higher, that guaranteed money in Major League Baseball—especially for pitchers—is hard to resist.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Winston quotes obtained on location from his BCS National Championship Game media day, and Rosenbaum quotes were obtained firsthand.


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Nathan Starks to UCLA: Bruins Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

The UCLA Bruins have reportedly landed 4-star athlete Nathan Starks of Cherry Creek High School in Englewood, Colo.

FOX Sports' Brandon Huffman had the news:

USAAAB: Englewood (Colo.) Cherry Creek ATH Nathan Starks Picks UCLA http://t.co/ZygLBZTQhy

— Brandon Huffman (@BrandonHuffman) January 5, 2014

Starks is one of the most highly regarded prospects in the 2014 class and has excelled as both a running back and safety. As a junior in 2012, he ran for 1821 yards and 27 touchdowns on just 170 carries.

According to 247Sports.com's composite rankings, Starks is the No. 12 athlete and No. 185-ranked overall recruit in the country.

It's always a bit of a shock to see the 5'11", 200-pounder go down, because Starks packs a serious punch when he hits the hole. On almost every big run he shakes off contact from multiple defenders and displays outstanding balance.

But it doesn't end there. What separates a lot of great running backs from really good ones is the ability to finish runs. When Starks is already 30 yards down the field, he is still looking for ways to maximize the play and shows incredible fluidity and deceptive quickness in his lateral movements.

That combination, along with a strong understanding of blocking concepts, makes him a threat to find the end zone every time he touches the ball. His football savvy also translates to the defensive side, where he was a first-team all-state selection at safety, as noted on his 247Sports.com profile.

Detractors will note that the competition Starks is facing isn't exactly of the highest caliber. While that is a fair point to an extent, there is no denying how special Starks is with the ball in his hands.

The 4.46 speed that Starks has in the 40-yard dash could easily be improved upon; he seems to only get faster the longer he's on his feet.

Being gifted with a unique blend of top-end speed and agility should lead to Starks making an impact at the collegiate level very quickly for UCLA. It might be a bit of an adjustment for Starks because of the raised level of competition, and it remains to be seen which side of the ball he will ultimately be on.

What is clear is that he has the chops to play anywhere for the Bruins given his skill set and instincts on the gridiron.

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BCS Championship 2014: Jameis Winston Will Validate His Heisman Trophy with Play

The Florida State Seminoles' 13-0 record, the 3,820 passing yards, 68 percent completion rate and 38 touchdown passes earned Jameis Winston the Heisman Trophy. His performance in the BCS title game will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt how special the young man is.

As talented as the 'Noles are on defense, the Auburn Tigers will move the ball against them. The Tigers top-ranked rushing attack is too good to shut down.

In every other major contest this season, Florida State's defense has thwarted offenses that some thought would give them trouble. Auburn is different. Winston and the 'Noles will have to score points to win this game.

Luckily, that's nothing Florida State has had an issue with this season, and the Tigers' defense is only ranked No. 89 in the nation. The Seminoles are the highest-scoring team in the country at 53 points per game.

The difference between this and the other "big" games" is that Florida State will have to score under pressure. No team has scored more than 34 points or stayed closer than within 14 points in a game against them this season.

The team that stayed within two touchdowns and put up 34 points was the Boston College Eagles. They featured the nation's leading rusher, Andre Williams.

The Eagles' star had 149 yards on the ground against the Seminoles. Overall, Boston College ran for 200 yards in the game—it was the only team to reach that mark against Florida State.

Most would agree Auburn's run game is superior to Boston College—and every other rushing attack in the nation. As Auburn moves the ball and scores points, Winston and the offense will find themselves in their first shootout of the season.

In this pressure-packed situation, Winston will prove just how great he is now, and will ultimately be, once he has moved on the NFL.

Winston's leadership and positive demeanor are just as important as his arm strength and accuracy. Delice Coffey of Sports Psychology For Football says Winston "epitomizes mental toughness."

Winston told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd this about how his experience in baseball has prepared him for football:

Baseball is the best sport for a quarterback to play. Because baseball is a game of failure. Playing quarterback you don’t want to fail, but you’ve got to have that baseball mentality. Next time, I can do it — the next play.

Winston has had amazing focus the entire season. He never allowed off-the-field issues to distract him or negatively impact his play. On Monday, he will stare down the Tigers' unstoppable run game and more than match their production.

 

Follow me. Sports are what I do.

 

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Power Ranking 2014 Big Ten Recruiting Classes Post-High School All-America Games

Big Ten bowl season is officially over, ending in yet another disappointing 2-5 record. That record shrinks down to 2-7 if you include its two incoming programs, Maryland and Rutgers.

Now, with 2013 in the past, it's officially time for Big Ten fans to look to the future and hope for brighter days ahead—something they are all too familiar with doing. But are there reasons now for genuine optimism?

There might be. Ohio State is killing it on the recruiting trail—what else is new?—and Michigan thinks it might have found the next Charles Woodson. Recruiting on the whole has been decent this current cycle, though nothing to write home about.

With the All-American Bowls now also in the past, along with all of their commitments, here's a look at how all 14 Big Ten teams stack up.

Note: All rankings, unless otherwise noted, via the 247 Sports composite.

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BCS Boss Bill Hancock Talks End of 1 Era and College Football's New Dawn

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—When Bill Hancock joined the BCS in 2005, his job was to catch flak and deflect it. The system, then eight-plus years old, was coming off two contentious seasons with a split national title in 2003 and unbeaten SEC champion Auburn hung out to dry in 2004.

And back then, he never envisioned that we'd be at the precipice of a new age eight years later. Monday's BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl will mark the final game of the 16-year BCS era.

"We didn't envision how big the BCS would grow and all the great things it'd do for the regular season," Hancock, the BCS's executive director, said to Bleacher Report during the BCS National Championship Game media day on Saturday. "And for the conferences that didn't have a contract with big bowl games. We really thought the BCS would just be a refined bowl-selection process. We didn't dream what it's become."

The BCS had become a fact of life for college football, but not without some growing pains. As we chronicled during the past few weeks, criticism of the BCS reached a crescendo in the mid-2000s as the standings were constantly tweaked. A bestseller, written by three Yahoo! Sports reporters—Death to the BCS—was published in 2010. 

But under the stewardship of Hancock, who took on the title of executive director in 2009, the BCS has survived and thrived.

"In the beginning the BCS was extremely popular and well received," Hancock said. "And people were thrilled with that, because it's what they wanted, having No. 1 playing No. 2 every year. But then it became de rigueur to criticize the BCS, when in fact it's done a lot of really good things. I'm not hearing the criticism now—it could be because the playoff is starting, or it could be that we've been getting it right."

The BCS will give way to the College Football Playoff starting next season. Instead of two teams vying for the national championship, there will be four. The roster of top-tier bowls will increase from four to six, with the Cotton Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl joining the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls to host the most lucrative games, including two national semifinals.

The new era comes with much uncertainty. The BCS standings, the formula for which remained unchanged for the last eight years of BCS's existence, will be discarded, with a 13-person committee taking over the duties of selecting the teams for not just the playoff but also the matchups for other major bowls.

Fans will miss the transparency and predictability of the BCS standings, as the committee will be the sole source of determining the four participants in the playoff. While four standings will be revealed during the season (presumably every other week starting at midseason, but still to be determined), the final picks will be completely at the discretion of the committee members.

Hancock said that members of the committee will be available to the media to discuss their participation throughout the season but that only he and chair Jeff Long—Arkansas' athletic director—will speak on the "actions and decisions" of the committee. He dismissed the idea that the committee should've revealed its picks for 2013, saying that it would have been a distraction to this year's proceedings.

While there's much unknown going into the 2014 postseason, there is one certainty, according to Hancock. The College Football Playoff, which will be in place for 12 years after signing a $7.3 billion deal to have all its games aired on ESPN, will remain a four-team format for its duration, even if there's a clamoring for an eight-team or even a 16-team playoff.

"We're committed to these four for the next 12 years, and it would be inappropriate for anyone to speculate what might happen after that," he said. "The things people don't realize and so many people misunderstand about BCS is that we believe the postseason and regular season are intrinsically linked.

"The people who say 'give us 16 teams' forget how important the regular season is. But those of us in the decision-making position can't forget that. We cannot and must not jeopardize the regular season, because it is the best regular season in sports."

 

Follow on Twitter @BCSGuru.

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Why Penn State Should Hire Al Golden to Fill Coaching Vacancy

In the wake of Bill O’Brien’s decision to depart Happy Valley for the NFL, a number of viable coaching candidates have been suggested for the opening at Penn State.

Over the past few days I’ve seen my fellow B/R writers make a case for Vanderbilt’s James Franklin as well as former Buccaneers’ coach Greg Schiano.

Other names, like Mike Munchak and Larry Johnson Sr., have been tossed around because of their strong ties to the university.

Munchak played offensive line at Penn State before going on to a successful playing and coaching career with the Oilers/Titans organization for over three decades in total.

Johnson Sr.’s been coaching defensive linemen at Penn State for nearly two decades and has been instrumental in the development of several NFL-caliber players. He was named the interim head coach after O’Brien departed and will surely receive strong support from fans and alumni alike.

However, it’s another former Nittany Lion who I think should be afforded the opportunity to lead his alma mater: Al Golden.

Golden played tight end at Penn State from 1987-91, and his playing days are best remembered for a game-tying touchdown catch against top-ranked Notre Dame. It should also be noted that Golden received the 1991 Ridge Riley award for “displaying excellence in scholarship, sportsmanship, friendship and leadership.”

One thing that should endear Golden to fans of “Linebacker U” is his experience coaching the position. In fact, Golden even returned to Penn State to coach linebackers during the 2000 season.

Unfortunately for Golden, he was a year too late to coach the likes of LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short. Nonetheless, he was able to get solid seasons out of Aaron Gatten (a career backup to that point) and Shamar Finney (career-high three interceptions).

From there, Golden took on the defensive-coordinator spot at the University of Virginia and proved to be worthy of the added responsibility. At the start of his tenure the Cavaliers defense ranked outside of the top 100, and over four seasons Golden turned it into a top 20 unit.

Because of this remarkable turnaround Golden was afforded the opportunity to prove he could lead a team with the Temple Owls. It took a while, but in 2009 Golden was eventually able to author another remarkable turnaround and coach the Owls to their best record in three decades.

In 2010, Golden opted to leave Temple to take one of the more high-profile jobs in college football as coach of the Miami Hurricanes. As if that weren’t pressure enough, Golden also had to contend with the 2011 scandal regarding booster Nevin Shapiro.

In the wake of that, Golden had to make the tough decision to opt out of bowl eligibility in 2011 and 2012 with NCAA sanctions pending. The move proved to be fruitful, as the Hurricanes weren’t docked any further bowl eligibility when sanctions were assessed.

Perhaps coincidentally, Golden coached the Hurricanes to their best record under him this season and advanced to the Russell Athletic Bowl.

What all this says to me is Golden doesn’t fear a challenge. He’s headed squads with miserable histories and others treading murky waters. And yet, he’s always shown the resolve to field competitive outfits.

If he's hired, leading Penn State would arguably be Golden’s biggest test to date. Nonetheless, with the resiliency he’s shown, it’d be foolhardy to bet against him.

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US Army All-American Bowl 2014: Complete Box Score and Analysis

The West dominated the East in the 14th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl by winning in impressive fashion, 28-6. It was the West's third victory over the East in the last five meetings. 

While a lot of the attention was given to recruits who were expected to make their decisions throughout the game, the performance on the field should have also caught your attention. Not every school was in the running for a top player, so being given a sneak peek from some of the kids who already committed was the next best thing.

The game was really offensively challenged, so only a couple of stars stood out statistically. However, let's take a look at the complete box score and break it down anyway. 

 

Line Score 

The first quarter got off to a slow start for both teams, but it didn't take long for the West to get things rolling.

It scored two rushing touchdowns in the second quarter and then piled on in the third to pretty much put the game away. The East had a hard time finishing drives throughout the game but did punch it in early in the fourth quarter. Freeman Jones ended up missing the extra point.

As you can tell from the line score itself, the competitiveness of this game was really lacking. It was all Team West from the start of the second quarter. 

 

Scoring Summary

Oregon commitment Royce Freeman was the obvious star of the game offensively. He scored three touchdowns for the West, pretty much winning the game by himself. His size and combination of power and speed made him a nightmare for the East to defend in goal-line situations.

The other West touchdown came from running back Joe Mixon, who committed near the end of the game to Oklahoma. He fought hard to get into the end zone from three yards out and gave a Johnny Manziel celebration after crossing the goal line:

The play of the game was a defensive touchdown by Ohio State commit Jalyn Holmes. However, due to his celebrating before getting into the end zone, the refs decided to take the score away.

Even after the penalty, Georgia commit Sony Michel was able to finish the drive and score the lone touchdown for the East, as he crossed the goal line from one yard out. With the fourth quarter just getting underway, the score did breathe a little bit of life back into the game, but a missed extra point really rained on that parade. 

There was very little scoring, and wide receivers didn't get much love in the red zone, as all five touchdowns came on the ground. 

 

Rushing Stats

Surprisingly, Jerrod Heard easily led the way with 63 rushing yards. Um, he's a quarterback, folks. Texas fans have to be excited knowing they have a dual-threat signal-caller who is so fast and explosive. The Longhorns haven't had a playmaker at the quarterback position like this since some guy named Vince Young. 

Royce Freeman's 21 rushing yards were the most among running backs. When you at this to his three rushing touchdowns, you end up with the player of the game. The East really struggled running the football, as North Carolina's Elijah Hood led the way with 16 rushing yards. Due to the West's overwhelming lead throughout the game, the East was forced to throw the ball more during the second half, which also didn't help the rushing total.

As a team, the West averaged 2.8 rushing yards per attempt, but that's still better than the lousy 0.9 per rush that the East finished the game with. 

 

Passing Yards

There wasn't a single passing touchdown! Really? The game featured some of the top high school quarterbacks in this recruiting class, and nobody could lead a receiver into the end zone? 

That was quite disappointing. 

Anyway, one player who wasn't a disappointment was Texas A&M commit Kyle Allen. The guy who many expect to eventually replace Manziel led the way with 183 passing yards and completed 12 of his 18 pass attempts. He was on fire with nearly every throw. 

Florida commit Will Grier finished second in the game with 109 passing yards, but 51 of those came on a deep pass to wide receiver Demarre Kitt. Besides that bomb, none of the East quarterbacks could find a rhythm, and they all struggled with pressure in their faces. 

While the stats may not be pretty, don't start panicking just yet if one of these kids committed to your favorite team. Quarterbacks need to be familiar with their receivers for them to truly blossom. It's tough to expect a kid to go out and fire on all cylinders playing with a bunch of guys he just met. Of course, Allen didn't help matters.

 

Receiving Stats

Although no receiver on either side hauled in a touchdown, there were still plenty of big plays in the passing game. The West had six players produce catches of at least 15 yards, while the East had the biggest play of the game with a 51-yard strike. 

Baylor's KD Cannon led the way with 65 receiving yards on only three receptions. He showed Bears fans his explosiveness and the ability to stretch the field. He's a playmaker who is going to be a joy to watch for the next couple of years. Oregon's Jalen Brown and tight end Bryce Dixon, who committed to USC during the game, each finished with more than 40 yards for the West.

If you paid attention to the East's passing statistics, you'd know not to expect much from the receivers. In fact, Michel (a running back) was the second-leading receiver on the team, with 33 receiving yards. Clemson's Kitt had the biggest game for the East, while Ohio State's Johnnie Dixon also had a nice game, with two receptions for 24 yards.

Of course, we would have liked to see more from the passing game, but many receivers still showcased their abilities in limited action. 

 

Click here to check out all of the statistics from the Army All-American Bowl. 

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BCS Championship Game 2014: Co-OC Dameyune Craig May Be Auburn's Ace in the Hole

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The BCS National Championship Game tilt between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn has been dissected six ways from Sunday, but one aspect of the game that could benefit the Tigers is the familiarity one member of Auburn's coaching staff has with the Seminoles' best player.

Former Tiger quarterback and current co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig spent the previous three seasons on the Florida State staff, and was instrumental in recruiting quarterback Jameis Winston to Tallahassee.

How important was he?

Winston went so far as to directly thank Craig during his acceptance speech for the 2013 Heisman Trophy.

"If I wasn't around a bunch of people, I probably would have started crying," Craig said. "It was really emotional for me, because he didn't have to do that. That says a lot about him as a person. For him to share the brightest moment of his life with me, meant a lot to me."

It isn't just Craig's knowledge of Winston that should be concerning for Florida State. Fisher was Craig's quarterback coach during Craig's playing career at Auburn from 1994-97, and the two were members of LSU's coaching staff in 2004.

Will that knowledge of Winston and Fisher benefit Auburn?

Despite being an offensive coach, Craig's familiarity could come in handy for a Tiger defense that's looking to gain an edge on one of the most dynamic players in college football this season.

"Yeah, I've spoken with the guys," he said. "I'm not calling the defense, so I'm not sure that'll help. But, you know, coach [Jimbo] Fisher coached me for five years, I worked one year at LSU with him and three years at Florida State. I've been in his offense. I understand his reads, I understand what he's looking for, I understand his checks."

Craig is more concerned about his wide receiver group and making sure that his guys do their job, and has only provided feedback when he and Auburn's defensive staff feel it's appropriate.

"Sometimes, you can give somebody too much information," he said. "Unless they ask me something, I really won't volunteer it."

Fisher doesn't hold any ill feelings toward Craig for making the jump back to his alma mater and Tiger head coach Gus Malzahn's staff.

"Dameyune's a great coach and a great guy," Fisher said. "When I coached him, he was a great player—one of the best players I've ever coached."

So what does Fisher think Craig's presence means for Auburn?

"Nothing," he said. "[Miami offensive coordinator] James Coley had it too."

Coley's Hurricanes managed just 275 yards against the 'Noles in a 41-14 loss in early November. But Coley only had one week to prepare for his former employer, not a full month.

We'll see what happens on Monday night. If Auburn's defense seems to be one step ahead of the Seminoles' offense, Craig's knowledge of the system could be a big reason why.

 

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

 

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Braxton Miller Reportedly Will Return to Ohio State for 2014-15 Season

After an impressive junior season, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has decided that he will return to the Buckeyes program for his senior season.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated reported the news on Saturday:

Ohio State will be keeping two of its top players on the offensive side of the ball, however. Quarterback Braxton Miller and tight end Jeff Heuerman will both be returning for their senior seasons, a source said.

Miller's return is expected. He told SI.com after the Big Ten title game that he'd be back for his senior year. Miller is not considered by draft experts one of the Top 10 quarterbacks available. His return places him as a Heisman Trophy favorite, along with Florida State's Jameis Winston and Auburn's Nick Marshall, for next season.

Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch claims OSU is unaware of the report:

OSU spokesman said he knows nothing about Sports Illustrated report that Ryan Shazier will leave and Braxton Miller will stay.

— Bill Rabinowitz (@brdispatch) January 4, 2014

However, ESPN's Joe Schad confirmed the report:

As SI and CBS also reported earlier Braxton Miller will return to Ohio State next season

— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 5, 2014

The 6'2", 215-pound star was one of the best athletes in college football this past season. Despite missing almost three full games due to an injury, he rushed for over 1,000 yards with double-digit touchdowns for the second year in a row.

Additionally, he made great strides as a passer this year, improving his accuracy and efficiency. He made smarter decisions throughout the season, and he finished among the nation's best in adjusted QBR.

However, the most impressive aspect of his college career was his ability to lead his team to success. In the last two seasons, the Buckeyes went 22-2 with Miller starting at quarterback.

While they were unable to play for a BCS title after losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, this was still an impressive couple of years for the quarterback. 

Not only will Miller vie for a championship one more time, he will have a chance to improve any knocks NFL scouts may have on his game. He does not have elite arm strength or accuracy compared to others in his class. Also, the fact that he was used mostly as a runner has limited his experience in reading defenses.

Still, his athleticism and playmaking ability give the quarterback a unique skillset that few possess. 

Ohio State returns a bevy of talented players on both sides of the ball next season and a recruiting class that 247 Sports considers No. 2 in the country behind Alabama's star-studded group.

Miller's decision to return to Columbus for one final go will make the Buckeyes a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten and in the BCS championship race once again.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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US Army All-American Bowl 2014: Top 8 Outstanding Performers

The 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl continued an annual tradition of assembling the nation's best high school seniors in San Antonio. Team West topped Team East 28-6 at the Alamodome in a contest broadcast nationally on NBC.

The game, which showcases college stars of tomorrow, gave us plenty to discuss. We rate the top eight playmakers who rose to the occasion as the country watched.

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5-Star Adoree Jackson Announces His Final Six Via Twitter

Adoree Jackson was one of several players to shine at the Under Armour All-America Game earlier this week, but he wasn't among the group of players to announce his commitment in St. Petersberg.

However, just a few days later, the Gardena, Calif., native took the next step toward making that announcement. The 5-star cornerback took to Twitter Saturday to release his final six schools: Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Tennessee, UCLA and USC.

The most notable absence from that list is Florida State. Jackson took an official visit to Tallahassee in November.

He has taken numerous visits and attended a camp at USC and has been a perceived Southern Cal lean. Of 50 forecasters in the 247Sports crystal ball, 82 percent see Jackson headed to the Trojans.

A product of Junipero Serra, several of Jackson's teammates are already committed.

Dwight Williams, a 4-star linebacker, pledged to UCLA Saturday during the Army All-American Bowl during the game's broadcast on NBC. He'll join 3-star receiver Jordan Lasley in Westwood. Matt Dickerson, a 4-star defensive end, is headed to Notre Dame, while safety Glen Ihenacho is committed to Oregon.

However, Jackson appears most likely to join 3-star linebacker Olajuwon Tucker and 3-star dual-threat quarterback Jalen Green at USC.

A multi-sport star who also excels on the track, Jackson has had his pick of programs and will have a tough decision going forward.

He is the No. 2 cornerback nationally and the No. 1 player from California. The No. 7 overall player in the nation, Jackson is the second-highest rated uncommitted prospect behind fellow corner Marlon Humphrey

An outstanding athlete with incredible leaping ability, Jackson gave his future team a taste of what he'll bring to campus at the Under Armour Game. He rose up in the back of the end zone and pulled in a pass attempt by Michigan commit Wilton Speight, touching both feet down to complete the acrobatic pick.

Whichever program ends up with Jackson, it will be adding an elite playmaker on the outside.

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Travonte Valentine Decommits from Miami: What's Next for 4-Star DT, Canes?

In the wake of Al Golden to Penn State rumors, 4-star defensive lineman Travonte Valentine has decommitted from the University of Miami, per NOLA's Andrew Lopez.

The local lineman was a key member of Miami's eighth-ranked recruiting class by the 247Sports' Composite Rankings. According to 247Sports, as a senior at Champagnat Catholic, the 6'3", 338-pounder racked up 85 tackles, tallying 31.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks.

Valentine would have improved a struggling Miami defensive line that was a major reason the 'Canes went 2-4 to finish the 2013 campaign. Defensively, Miami allowed 483 yards and 26 points over the final six games.

Lopez notes that Valentine has already named Les Miles and the LSU Tigers as his new leader. This, of course, comes as good news for fans of the Bayou Bengals. Recently, LSU missed on a few key prospects who, at the Under Armour All-America Game, announced their respective collegiate destinations.

With that being said, the Tigers snagged a pair of 5-star commitments in the nation's No. 1 player, running back Leonard Fournette, and safety Jamal Adams. Currently, 14 4- or 5-star prospects have given pledges to LSU, and Valentine would be a welcomed addition to the impressive class.

Dieter Kurtenbach of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes the importance of Valentine to the Miami class.

The Hurricanes still hold seven commitments from defensive linemen, including 4-star end Chad Thomas and 4-star tackle Anthony Moten. Behind Moten, three tackles from the junior college ranks are committed to 'The U.'

Though Valentine's decision may not have been affected by the uncertainty surrounding Al Golden, other prospective 'Canes may be waiting on Golden's coaching future.

Conflicting reports have documented mutual interest between Golden and Penn State, his alma mater. As of the late afternoon on Jan. 4, 2014, no official decision has been released concerning Golden's future.

But one thing appears to be certain, and that is Travonte Valentine will no longer be a part of the 2014 Miami recruiting class.

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Grading the Top 10 Recruits from the 2014 US Army All-American Bowl

The 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl didn't have the same star power as its rival, the Under Armour All-American Game, but there were still enough 5- and 4-star prospects to make it worth your while.

Among those blue-chippers was the top quarterback in the Class of 2014, Texas A&M commit Kyle Allen, and three running backs ranked among the 20 overall players.

Defensive tackle Matt Elam postponed his announcement date so he could take an official visit to Alabama, which took some luster off the event, but the players on the field put on a show nonetheless.

Per the 247Sports composite, here's how the top 10 prospects performed.

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BCS Championship Game 2014: Florida State's WRs Ready to Explode vs. Auburn

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State made the media rounds early Saturday morning, and wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw were quite popular.

No, not because Shaw participated in the event with Google Glass—although that was pretty cool.

The trio of Seminole wide receivers are the ones being counted on to exploit Auburn's most notable weakness—its suspect pass defense.

The Tigers boast the SEC's second-worst pass defense at 259.3 yards per game, having given up the most passing plays of 30 or more yards (27) this season.

Despite the numbers, Florida State's wide receivers are impressed with what they see from Auburn's secondary on tape.

"They are where they're supposed to be," Kelvin Benjamin said. "They don't have a lot of busted coverages. They try to be physical with you at the line of scrimmage and jam. We just have to go out there and minimize our mistakes and be consistent with our catches, and I think we'll do a pretty good job of that."

Greene also complimented the physical play of cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy.

"They have good size and they're very physical," Greene said. "They're a great secondary and they're a great defense. They play hard."

The wide receivers certainly took a class in diplomacy.

Let's be honest though. If Auburn can't get pressure with four and is forced to blitz and open up passing lanes, quarterback Jameis Winston and these receivers are going to pick this defense apart.

"Having the trio is just a blessing in my life, having the receivers is a blessing in my life," Winston said. "Kelvin Benjamin is gonna catch anything, Kenny Shaw is gonna catch anything, and Rashad Greene's gonna catch anything."

This is the unit that is going to decide the outcome of the BCS National Championship Game.

Whether Auburn's ability to rotate defensive linemen allows the back end of the defense to stay in coverage, or defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is forced to bring the heat, it's going to be up to these wide receivers to make sure that the risks Winston takes don't turn into rewards for the Tiger defense.

They've been doing it all season long, and they're going up against a secondary that's been vulnerable all season long.

Auburn's defensive line needs to help the Tigers out. If it doesn't, it's going to be a long 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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Winners and Losers of the 2014 US Army All-American Bowl

In a decidedly one-sided U.S. Army All-American Bowl, several future college football stars made their names known.

As the West smashed the East 28-6, Texas A&M commit Kyle Allen, Oklahoma commit Joe Mixon and several other high school prospects put forth huge performances.

Mixon announced his commitment in the fourth quarter in San Antonio, as did several other recruits.

Ohio State pulled in two blue-chip defensive backs, while Texas A&M, Notre Dame, USC and Virginia were among the schools to see new additions Saturday.

Click on to see which schools and players brought in the biggest hauls at the Alamodome. 

 

Note: All ratings based on 247Sports Composite Rankings, unless otherwise noted.

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Nick Marshall's Long and Bumpy Road to the 2014 BCS National Championship

Nick Marshall sat in the passenger seat of a car headed countless miles away from home.

Beside him was his new coach, Jeff Tatum, who was sitting behind the wheel and driving Marshall farther and farther away from the state of Georgia—and farther and farther from his supposed destiny.

It was February 6, 2012, and everything had just fallen apart.

Just a few days before, Marshall had been dismissed from the University of Georgia's football team due to a violation of team rules. Before he even knew it, Marshall was off to Kansas to get back in school and play for Tatum at Garden City Community College—nearly 1,300 miles from his hometown of Pineview, Ga.

"We packed his clothes up and drove out there, and started a new lease on life," Tatum said. "His mom and his high school coach thought it was the best for him to get as far away from Georgia as possible, as quickly as possible."

Marshall had ridden the first four hours or so of the 20-hour journey with his old high school coach, Mark Ledford. They met Tatum in Birmingham, Ala.—where Marshall took all of his clothes and piled them into the back of Tatum's van, before riding with him for the rest of the seemingly endless drive.

Through the trip, Marshall spent some of the time sleeping in the passenger seat. At times, the two talked about the offense they would soon be running at Garden City.

Other times, they'd talk about how Marshall was going to turn his life back around.

Here was Marshall—considered a legendary high school athlete in some circles in southern Georgia—heading West, without a car of his own, exiled to junior college with no intention of coming back any time soon.

This wasn't how Marshall's career was supposed to go.

Marshall did it all at Wilcox County High School.

He was a two-sport star and a high school sports hero, out in a rural area where there never is much going on besides high school sports.

He thrilled the community both on the football field and on the basketball court for the tiny Class A school—becoming a noted prospect in both sports in the process.

On the gridiron, Marshall became famous for his lightning-quick feet and his near-mythological arm strength. During his junior season, Marshall led the Patriots to a Class A state title—after single-handedly accounting for 331 of Wilcox County's 339 yards of total offense in its state championship game win over Savannah Christian in the Georgia Dome.

By the time his football career was finished, Marshall had set a Georgia all-classification record for career touchdown passes with 103 over four seasons.

But, at the time, football was just his second sport.

Marshall had twice been named AP Class A Player of the Year in basketball—and for the majority of his high school career, he thought that's where his future was.

That thought process ultimately led Marshall to the University of Georgia, where arrangements were made so that he could play basketball for hoops coach Mark Fox and football for head coach Mark Richt—albeit as a defensive back rather than a quarterback.

Marshall stayed in Georgia and signed with his home-state institution, becoming a part of the Bulldogs' famous "Dream Team" recruiting class in 2011, which saw a number of the state's most high-profile prospects stay close to home and sign with Georgia.

As a freshman, Marshall saw limited time for the football team as a defensive back, but he was all set to burst onto the scene in a big way during his sophomore campaign, and eventually make his basketball debut under Fox—and add to the lore of his dual-sport legend in the state of Georgia.

Everything was going according to plan, until the script flipped on Feb. 3, 2012, when Richt unceremoniously dismissed Marshall, Sanford Seay and Chris Sanders from the team. Reports indicated that the incident involved theft of money from a Georgia dorm room.

Three days later, Marshall was on his way to Kansas with Tatum.

"It was so urgent to get back in school," Marshall said at a BCS press conference Thursday. "When I made the decision to do that, I put my mind into what I needed to do to get out there and get better at playing Division I football.

Once he was in Garden City, Marshall didn't have a car of his own. He couldn't quit and go home even if he wanted.

"You really can't get in trouble," Marshall said. "There is nowhere to party. You focus on your schoolwork and football and that's the thing I did when I was out there."

What's more, Marshall wasn't going to be satisfied by earning just any spot on a Division I roster.  He was going to be coming back as a quarterback.

"I think all along his heart was to play quarterback," Tatum said. "As soon as we got in the van, and headed back to Garden City, that was the first thing. Before I put it in drive I said, 'You do understand, you're going to play quarterback for me? If that's a problem, you need to let me know right now.' And he said, 'No Coach, I think that's the best thing for me.'

"I think deep down in his heart, even the whole time he was at Georgia, I think he really wanted to play quarterback. But he is such a good kid, he didn't want to rock the boat or buck the system or anything like that."

Marshall also decided to give up basketball for the time being, focusing entirely on the quarterback position.

"After the state championship game his junior year, I think that's when he really fell in love with football and knew that would be a great career opportunity also—that he was just as good in football as he was in basketball," Tatum said.

If the Georgia Dome is where Marshall found his love for the game, Garden City is where he found his focus.

Auburn's tremendous turnaround in 2013 comes as no surprise to Tatum.

Tatum saw Marshall spark a similar turnaround at Garden City a year ago.

In fact, Tatum says he could see it coming even before that.

It started with a team-building exercise in the spring of 2012, when Tatum took Marshall and the rest of the football team on a road trip to watch an away Garden City basketball game.

The opposing school's baseball team was also there in the stands.

"Our guys are hollering at their baseball team on the other side of the court, and they're hollering back, and all of a sudden they started hollering 'two-and-seven,'" Tatum said. "(Marshall) looked at me and said, 'Coach, what are they saying?' I said, 'They're saying two-and-seven.'

"'Well why are they saying that?'

"'That's because we went 2-7 last year.'

"He said, 'Oh, I didn't know that. Don't worry about this year, Coach. We won't be 2-7. I promise you that.'"

That, Tatum says, was the moment when he knew his team would turn the corner with Marshall at quarterback.

"It wasn't one of those where he was telling me what I wanted to hear," Tatum said. "He really, truly believed that we were not going to be 2-7 because he was going to help our football team be a better team."

That fall, Marshall led Garden City to a 7-4 record, passing for 3,142 yards, and 18 touchdowns, and rushing for 1,095 yards and 19 more touchdowns.

In the season finale, Marshall returned to the game from injury to lead a game-winning drive and defeat Copiah-Lincoln, 31-29, in the Mississippi Bowl.

"In our bowl game, when we got behind there at the end of the game, I went over to him and he got a little banged up on the next-to-last drive, and I didn't want to get him hurt," Tatum said. "I went over to him and I said, 'Nick, I need two throws.' And he said, 'OK, Coach.' And when I turned around it was like, 'He's gonna do it.' And then he makes the two throws, and we go down and kick the field goal to win. To him, that was just what was supposed to happen.

"All these things that have happened positive to Auburn all year, he's one of those guys that truly expects good things to happen to him and his football team."

"It was 4th-and-18," Marshall said at a BCS press conference Thursday, recalling the miraculous play that defeated his former team earlier this year, "and we was in the huddle and Coach Malzahn gave us the play and as we were getting ready to break, Ricardo Louis looked at me and told me to throw him the ball.

"I put my trust in him and he put his trust in me to throw him the ball."

For Marshall and Louis, that play was all about trust.

So was many of the things Marshall has been able to do with the Tigers this year.

"Those guys want to play with him and play hard when he's out on the field, because they know that, when he's out there, that he believes in them and that they're going to go make plays," Tatum said.

While Auburn continued to shock the world each week this season, making the most improbable of runs to the BCS National Championship Game and completing the best turnaround in the history of college football, Marshall stayed the same calm, collected person throughout.

"He's a leader, without being a vocal kind of guy," Tatum said. "If you want into a room, he's not the guy that's going to be jumping up and saying 'let's go'—the rah-rah type guy. He's one of those that's quiet, kind of behind the scenes as a quarterback, being real positive. And then also he has that calming effect. When he talks to people, it just kind of settles them down. He's got that calmness about him."

It's from that calmness that comes belief—and from that belief, the "miraculous" plays that Auburn has been able to string together seemingly all season.

"It's like Coach Malzahn said, at the end of the game we're going to find a way to win," Marshall said. "We have been doing that the whole year."

Tatum—who has since left Garden City to become the head football coach at Mississippi Delta Community College—has been able to follow Marshall and Auburn all season. He was in attendance at Jordan-Hare Stadium for both the Georgia and Alabama games to close the season.

Marshall and Tatum still talk regularly every week. Before arriving at Auburn last June, Marshall took a few classes at Mississippi Delta during the preceding summer semester, because Tatum was there.

Now, Tatum will look on as the player he helped convert back into a quarterback goes head-to-head with the Heisman Trophy winner on the biggest stage in college football—and as the kid from rural Georgia who was supposed to be a cornerback looks to win a national championship.

No, this isn't how Marshall's career was supposed to go.

So far, it's been even better.

 

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

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Rahshead Johnson Commits to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star WR

Four-star wide receiver Rahshead Johnson (Long Beach, Calif.) committed to the USC Trojans on Saturday, capping off a very good afternoon on the recruiting trail for new head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff.

Ryan Bartow of 247Sports had the news:

Johnson has a thin, lanky frame (5'11'', 165 lbs), but he's very shifty in the open field. Capable of playing either wide receiver or cornerback at the next level, he is tentatively projected to begin his career on offense, though that is subject to change.

Previously committed to play at Washington, Johnson decommited (for the second time) after Sarkisian left for USC, where he replaced interim coach Ed Orgeron. According to Gerard Martinez of USCFootball.com, he accepted the scholarship just 20 minutes after Sarkisian offered it to him:

Earlier in the afternoon, the Trojans also landed a toss-up commitment from athletic tight end Bryce Dixon, who was choosing between them and UCLA. Not long after announcing he would play at USC, Dixon made a very impressive catch in the Army All-American Bowl, flashing his blue-chip athleticism.

Between him and Johnson, the Trojans scored a couple of very nice prospects to develop in the passing game. Quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Browne are already licking their chops.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rahshead Johnson Commits to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star WR

Four-star wide receiver Rahshead Johnson (Long Beach, Calif.) committed to the USC Trojans on Saturday, capping off a very good afternoon on the recruiting trail for new head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

USC Football: 4-Star Bryce Dixon Commits, Makes Trojan TE Corp Best in Nation

4-star TE Bryce Dixon committed to USC during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Game on Saturday.

Dixon is considered the No. 2 tight end in the nation, and his commitment to Troy gives USC the best tight end corps in the country. It already features NFL-caliber talent in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, and Dixon has the skill set to be a great addition to head coach Steve Sarkisian's new offense.  

After announcing his decision, Dixon spoke to the media about why USC is the best fit for him:

"USC has a good tradition of tight ends. They're bringing coach Sark in. It'll be a great addition and I think I can keep the tradition going of good tight ends."

Less than an hour after Dixon, 4-star WR Rahshead Johnson committed to USC, in what was a surprising decision. With Marqise Lee declaring for the NFL draft on Friday night, the addition of Johnson lessens the blow of Lee's departure.

While Dixon will need to gain some weight before he is ready to contribute, the depth he brings alone at tight end is a score for USC. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end the Trojans have after Grimble and Telfer, and we haven't seen much of him yet. 

Telfer and Grimble (if he elects to return for his senior season) will graduate next year, so Cope-Fitzpatrick and Dixon will spend 2014 learning on the practice field before becoming starters themselves.

USC has four stud tight ends, and the opportunities to fully utilize them in the Trojan offense are endless.

The 6'4", 220-pound tight end was a star at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, Calif. What makes him such an important get for the Trojans is that he has excellent hands and top-end speed. Since Sarkisian will be looking to feed the tight ends the ball more in his new scheme, Dixon already fits the mold for what Sarkisian is looking for at that position.

Like the veterans he would learn under, he can hold onto the ball in traffic as well as catch balls over the middle. He will need to improve his blocking skills before he sees the field, however.

While Dixon was thought to be a UCLA lean for much of his recruitment, the opportunity to play early likely had an impact on his decision. USC picked up an elite player at a position of need, and thought he will take an official visit to UCLA later this month, he said during the Army All-American Bowl that his decision is set.

With Dixon and Johnson in the mix, USC has 16 commits in the class of 2014, and Sarkisian is making good on his word of shoring up depth at positions of need. 

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USC Football: 4-Star Bryce Dixon Commits, Makes Trojan TE Corp Best in Nation

4-star TE Bryce Dixon committed to USC during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Game on Saturday. Dixon is considered the No. 2 tight end in the nation , and his commitment to Troy gives USC the best tight end corps in the country...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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