NCAA Football

USC Responds to Steve Sarkisian's Wrongful-Termination Lawsuit

The USC Trojans filed a response to former head football coach Steve Sarkisian's wrongful-termination lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 6, according to ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura

Sarkisian is reportedly seeking $30 million after USC fired him despite having prior knowledge of his alcoholism, but the school's official response characterized the former head coach's claims as "half-truths and, in many cases, outright falsehoods," per Bonagura.

The response proceeds as follows, based on documents that ESPN.com obtained: 

It is absolutely false that Sarkisian ever admitted to having a drinking problem, to being an alcoholic or to needing to seek treatment. The truth is he denied ever having a drinking problem, but blamed his inability to perform the essential functions of his job on marital stress, lack of sleep and anxiety for which he was taking medication.

Sarkisian was fired in mid-October after the school asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence. At the time, athletic director Pat Haden told reporters it was "clear to me that he was not healthy," per ESPN.com

Shortly before the school fired Sarkisian, an unnamed USC player told ESPN.com that Sarkisian "showed up lit to meetings again today," while another source said the coach "appeared not normal" when he arrived for a practice. 

While Sarkisian—who is now sober, according to the lawsuit—is seeking a hefty sum, Bonagura reported the school is disputing the $30 million figure since the two sides agreed to settle terminations through an arbitration process when he signed his contract in 2013. 

Although the two sides are engaged in a legal battle, Sarkisian appears focused on making a return to the sidelines. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Sarkisian has done some exploratory work regarding possible employment as a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator in the NFL. 

With a resume that includes a stint as the Oakland Raiders' quarterbacks coach, Sarkisian is a compelling—and risky—candidate for teams that are piecing together fresh staffs for the 2016 season. 

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USC Responds to Steve Sarkisian's Wrongful-Termination Lawsuit

The USC Trojans filed a response to former head football coach Steve Sarkisian 's wrongful-termination lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 6, according to ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — We’re one week into the offseason, and Notre Dame football has already watched the initial personnel dominoes fall.

Let’s analyze the biggest offseason storylines for the Irish over the next few months. Notre Dame has plenty of holes to replace in 2016 (more on that below), but the Irish are coming off a 10-win season with a crop of returning cogs.

 

Draft Departures

The conveyor belt out of South Bend started less than 24 hours after Notre Dame’s loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Redshirt junior running back C.J. Prosise, junior wide receiver Will Fuller, senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell all declared for the NFL draft following the loss to the Buckeyes, and redshirt junior left tackle Ronnie Stanley announced the same before the game.

Earlier this week, we broke down the departures of Prosise and Fuller and the impact on the offense. Fuller racked up 62 receptions for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, following up a 15-touchdown campaign in 2014. Considering the Irish also lose Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle to graduation, Notre Dame’s receiving corps—while talented—will need to prove itself.

Prosise, meanwhile, eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards. But with true freshman Josh Adams impressing, especially down the stretch, and Tarean Folston potentially returning to full health, the Irish backfield should be able to weather the storm.

Cole Luke, Devin Butler and Nick Watkins return at cornerback, and Stanley—long expected to bypass a fifth season on campus when he announced his return for his true senior season last offseason—leaves a void at left tackle.

Of course, the Notre Dame community is still awaiting word from stud linebacker Jaylon Smith, who hasn’t announced a stay-or-go decision after his knee injury suffered in the Fiesta Bowl.

Smith’s decision and how the Irish replace those departed stars—whether that group includes Smith or not—will be keys for the Irish heading into 2016.

 

Defensive Growth

Notre Dame’s 2012 defense sure seems like a relic at this point.

That unit allowed an average of 12.8 points per game—the second-best scoring defense in the nation. In 2013, the Irish surrendered 22.4 points per game, 27th in the country.

The last two seasons, however, have been a drop-off for the Irish defense. The injury-ravaged group ranked 84th in scoring defense in 2014, allowing 29.2 points per game. Notre Dame fared better in 2015, checking in tied for 39th (24.1 points per game). Asked to evaluate his defense before the Fiesta Bowl, Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was blunt.

“Inconsistent, I guess, is probably the best word,” VanGorder told reporters. “We’ve played a lot of good football. We’ve had some plays that you just shake your head, both player and coach, when it’s all said and done.”

Why is that?

“These are young players,” VanGorder told reporters. “You’re constantly pushing on the idea of developing. They all develop at a different rate, a different process for all of them.

“A lot of those things come down to also focus. That’s, again, part of the development, part of the process, for somebody to focus through some 65 to 85 plays, for some it’s a challenge. That’s player responsibility, coach responsibility through a game to make sure we maintain a great concentration and a great focus.”

So how can Notre Dame start to construct an elite defense? That should be a focus this offseason.

 

Quarterback Competition?

Would it really be a Notre Dame offseason if we didn’t discuss the quarterback position and analyze the depth chart?

DeShone Kizer now boasts 11 career starts to Malik Zaire’s three. Zaire is nearly four months removed from the season-ending broken ankle he suffered in Week 2 against Virginia.

“It will be outstanding,” Irish offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford said to reporters of the situation before the Fiesta Bowl. “Honestly, the room is in such a good position as far as those guys care for each other.

“It’s going to be competitive. We look forward to that. It already is. That’s what we want. We want a situation where each and every day you have to acquit yourself to be the leader of this football team and this offense. That’s what we look for out of that position on a daily basis, whether there’s a ‘quarterback’ competition or not.”

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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10 Recruits in 2016 Class Who Have Freakish Measurables

The college football season will officially end in a few days with the national championship game, and then fans will be able to dive right into the final frenzied weeks of the 2016 recruiting cycle.

Every recruit will have to adjust to the new systems and practices of his school once he enrolls. But one thing that will set the elite recruits apart from day one is their measurables—their raw size, speed, strength and overall athleticism.

Here are 10 players who have stood out in this year's recruiting cycle for their freakish measurables. Some tore up national testing at The Opening this past summer, while others have blown away people at weigh-ins for national all-star games.

Of course, these are just 10 of the freakish recruits in this year's class—not necessarily the 10 freakiest. You can find incredible athleticism and size all over the country.

If you know of other 2016 recruits who should get noticed for their top-notch measurements, shout them out in the comments below.

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College Football Hall of Fame More Defined by Who's Not In, Rather Than Who Is

One of the best things the National Football Foundation has done in recent memory is team up with the College Football Playoff to host the annual announcement for the newest crop of Hall of Famers.

That was the case once again Friday afternoon at the media hotel for the national championship game, as the 2016 College Football Hall of Fame class was announced to the world in a televised program that had light-years more pomp and ceremony than previous announcements that most heard about through a boring old press release.

The 16-strong group who will be enshrined later this year in December was highlighted by recognizable names such as Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks, UNLV’s Randall Cunningham, Purdue cornerback Rod Woodson and Ohio State star Tom Cousineau. Other worthy names who the casual college football fan may not recognize include Iowa State running back Troy Davis, LSU quarterback Bert Jones and Colorado defensive lineman Herb Orvis.

“This is a tremendous honor, of course. I think the football Hall of Fame and the NFF just does so many great things,” said freshly minted Hall of Famer Pat McInally, who might be better known for getting the only perfect Wonderlic score on his way to the NFL but also had an amazing career at Harvard during the 1970s. “Thank you. I was flabbergasted when I found out. Thank you.”

After the excitement and fervor had died down for this year’s class, however, it came time for the realization of who hadn’t made it. The 2016 class members richly deserve to be among the select few in the Hall, but one cannot help but wonder why some players were selected to be fast-tracked to Atlanta in lieu of others.

A lot of that blame can be placed right at the footstep of the National Football Foundation.

The easiest target is, of course, the selection criteria for players to even make it onto the ballot to begin with. To be eligible, players must have been named a First Team All-American by a recognized outlet, been out of college football at least 10 years and cannot be currently playing professional football.

It is the first bit of criteria that most people have a sticking point with, and for good reason. Joe Montana was unquestionably one of the greatest quarterbacks at any level, and his time at Notre Dame is still celebrated for some of his heroics on the field. Yet he can’t even make it onto the ballot. Joe Namath went 29-4 under head coach Bear Bryant at Alabama and won a national title. His fur coat and smooth talking won’t come anywhere near the Hall, however.

That’s to say nothing of recent players, such as Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who will never get a chance. Reynolds has been exemplary as a college football player on (including several NCAA records) and off the field, but because he played at the same time as fellow quarterbacks Deshaun Watson, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and others, he’ll never earn the recognition he deserves.

“I think it’s a standard. It’s something that has to be established,” Cunningham replied, diplomatically, when asked about the selection criteria. “At the same time, to be able to sit here and to be in is the most important thing. If I made it as the greatest trainer, it would be an honor. So it's just a blessing to be in.”

If you think that was punting on the question, you’d be right. It was appropriate, however, given that Cunningham—who almost everybody knows as a scrambling quarterback—will enter the Hall not because of his arm, but because he was named a First Team All-American punter.

“I think in any organization or school or life in general there's criteria. And we were fortunate enough to fit into the criteria that led to this selection,” McInally added. “I couldn't be prouder. And I've looked through the list of people that are in it, and I think it's—I'm very proud, humbled. But I think the selection process is pretty amazing.”

It’s an even crazier set of qualifications for coaches, who must have a minimum of 10 years and 100 games as a head coach, won at least 60 percent of them and be retired from coaching for at least three years unless they’re over 70.

That means Howard Schnellenberger (158 wins, but under the 60 percent mark) will tragically never even come up for a vote to get in, despite winning a national title and serving as a godfather for three programs (Louisville, Miami and FAU). Likewise, the builder of one of the greatest dynasties in recent college football, USC’s Pete Carroll (83 wins), will be on the outside looking in for the foreseeable future.

No offense to this year’s pair of coaches, Bill Bowes of New Hampshire and the esteemed Frank Girardi of D-III Lycoming College, but each should find himself in the same wing of the Hall as Schnellenberger and others, not there without those titans of college football history. Heck, it would have been perfect had former Clemson coach Danny Ford (who was on the ballot) been elected this year, but he’ll be back.

Just as puzzling is why the National Football Foundation insists on such a large ballot for voters. The list for the 2016 class included 76 FBS players and five coaches, plus another 92 players and 27 coaches from the FCS and below. Many are big-time names, others few know much about other than their biography line. A more focused and reasoned group could help the process as much as new selection criteria.

It was great to see the photos and highlights of some of those inducted following the announcement. Troy Davis was criminally underappreciated by non-Cyclones fans after a pair of 2,000-plus-yard seasons at Iowa State helped him get to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Seeing video of William Fuller chasing down quarterbacks at North Carolina and Wisconsin’s Tim Krumrie doing the same was great for those that need a history lesson on the game’s greats.

At the same time, though, their selections also made it more head-scratching for some of those that didn’t make it into the Hall ahead of them.

Look no further than Heisman winners Eric Crouch, Matt Leinart (first time on the ballot) and Rashaan Salaam having to wait until 2017 at the earliest to be selected. These were Heisman winners as the most outstanding players in college football for a season, and yet voters can’t tick their name off? Ridiculous. One could even argue that Leinart should be a first-ballot selection as one of the best to ever play the position at this level.

Those are not the only ones, however, highlighted by the fact that Eric Dickerson again didn’t make it in. He was only a two-time First Team All-American, holder of numerous Southwest Conference records, the leader of the infamous “Pony Express” and one of the best running backs at any level of football. Still, there he sits for another year.

All because of that gold Trans Am, no doubt.

Washington State’s Mike Utley had a distinguished career on the Palouse, but it’s hard to make sense of him getting in on the first ballot over Texas A&M linebacker Dat Nguyen, Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop or Penn State signal-caller Kerry Collins. That’s also to say nothing of the big names still waiting on the elusive call from the Hall, such as Mark Carrier, Dennis Thurman, Raghib Ismail, Ray Lewis and others.

This year really did have a wonderful group of players and coaches selected. There are some great headliners, such as Brooks, Woodson and Cunningham, who pair nicely with underrated talents like Marlin Briscoe.

But with each passing election, and the more attention that is now being paid to the College Football Hall of Fame, one cannot help but notice that the whole thing is becoming more and more a story about who is not getting in.

And that is the biggest shame of it all.

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Alabama's Playing Like a Team on a Mission

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It may have been the breaking point.

Following another third-down failure against the University of Alabama defense last week, Michigan State senior quarterback Connor Cook was shown on the big screen at AT&T Stadium walking to the sideline, and everyone could easily read his lips.

“They’re [expletive] everywhere!” he said, which was both telling and accurate as the swarming Crimson Tide went on to enjoy a decisive 38-0 victory.

Not only was it the largest shutout ever in the Cotton Bowl, but it was just the second in recent history when so much was on the line. The other was when Alabama smothered LSU in the BCS National Championship Game at the end of the 2011 season, 21-0.

That’s what has Crimson Tide fans particularly excited about this team’s chances against Clemson in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship (7:30 p.m. CT, ESPN): They’ve witnessed this before.

Once again, Alabama is playing like it’s on a mission, just like it was when defeating LSU and Notre Dame to win back-to-back national titles in 2011-12. Neither game was close.

“The older guys on this team who were there in 2012 know the focus that it takes,” senior center Ryan Kelly said. “It’s a new week this week, but we’re going about it the same way we went about it against Michigan State. I think our team is really locked in.”

So does everyone else. You can see it when junior defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson stands over a podium for a press conference and looks like he’s trying not to break it in half.

You can hear it when head coach Nick Saban’s asked how much advance work the coaching staff put in on Clemson and he responds, “We don’t look ahead, man. We were trying to beat Michigan State.”

Perhaps most importantly, it's something those around the program can feel, and when you combine that with Alabama’s talent and coaching, you’re talking about a combination that’s extremely difficult to defeat.

After all, there’s a reason why Saban has never lost when national title is on the line.

“Pete Carroll used to say that anyone can do it one time, but if you’re going to have a championship program, you have to do it again and again and again,” offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. “That’s the real sign.

“Here we’re in the middle of a dynasty because of the process with different players and different coaches. He’s had a number of coaching changes. It all goes back to Coach Saban and his philosophy, and the players buy into it.”

Have they ever this season, which was on display in the semifinal.

While Michigan State tried to out-Alabama Alabama, the Crimson Tide instead out-Spartaned the Spartans. In other words, Alabama simply did all of the things that Michigan State was known for doing well better than the Spartans.

The Spartans spent most of the game with negative rushing yards and finished with only 29 yards on 26 carries. After having just 12 giveaways in their previous 13 games, they lost the turnover battle.

MSU even got outplayed on special teams.

“You never expect that against a good team like that,” said junior linebacker Ryan Anderson, who had the first of Alabama’s four sacks. “That’s one of the best four teams in the country.”

Senior quarterback Jake Coker had a career day by completing 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns to freshman wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who posted eight receptions for 138 yards.

The game was so lopsided that Alabama pulled its starters midway through the fourth quarter and still pulled off the shutout.

“The focus that they had for this game was completely different than what we’ve ever had before,” Saban said during his postgame press conference. “I think it paid off for them and we’re looking forward to trying to do the same in the next game.”

Michigan State ran into probably the best defense around, which looked as good as advertised. The Spartans reached the red zone just once. They managed just 1.1 yards per carry and essentially had a completion (19) for every Alabama tackle for a loss (six), turnover (three), broken-up pass (eight) and hurry (one) combined (18).

“We come into every game with a mindset of dominating,” senior cornerback Cyrus Jones said. “We don’t come in just trying to get by, we came in and wanted to stick it to them.”

The perfect example was the 867-pound backfield with defensive linemen Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson both in at fullback for Derrick Henry’s one-yard touchdown plunge. Alabama wasn’t taking any chances, subtlety be damned.

Things got only more lopsided as the game progressed even though the Crimson Tide pretty much held the Heisman Trophy winner in reserve.

“You could kind of sense their frustration a little bit,” Jones said. “I could see it in their faces and it definitely gave us a little bit more hunger to keep going after them knowing that they’re getting affected by what we’re doing.” 

By the time Jones made the score 24-0 with his 57-yard punt return for a touchdown, Spartans fans were having flashbacks of the previous time the two teams met: the Crimson Tide’s 49-7 victory in the Capital One Bowl at the end of the 2010 season.

That beatdown only sparked Alabama’s back-to-back championship runs in 2011 and 2012.

Yes, it all seems so familiar.

“We're two different teams, but for the most part, the focus is the same as when we went to Miami to play Notre Dame,” senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “We knew that we had a chip on our shoulder this year, and then losing to Ole Miss, we knew we had to get the job done.

“It's just one game left. Either win it all or don't.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Biggest Snubs from the 2016 College Football Hall of Fame Class

On Friday, the National Football Foundation released its 2016 College Football Hall of Fame class, a selection of 16 individuals out of 200 players and coaches. The entire list can be viewed below: 

We are extremely proud to announce the 2016 College Football Hall of Fame Class,” said Archie Manning, NFF Chairman and a 1989 College Football Hall of Famer, in a statement. “Each of these men has established himself among the absolute best to have ever played or coached the game, and we look forward to immortalizing their incredible accomplishments.” 

But as usual, there are some big names missing.

College Hall of Fame snubs are typically much harder to pin down than in the NFL. For one, the vast number of players available for the hall is much larger than in the pros. Secondly, there's an entire process that takes place before a player or coach is inducted. It starts with schools (or one of the 122 nationwide National Football Foundation chapters) making a nomination. 

Once that nomination is made, it could be years before a player or coach is selected based on back-loaded names that must get in first. 

Still, there is always a handful of snubs every year—or at the very least, names that should be in regardless of nomination criteria.

Here are some players who missed this year's cut but who should be in by now based on their college accomplishments: 

 

SMU Running Back Eric Dickerson (1979-82)

Moaning and griping about hall snubs were kept to a minimum this year, but ESPN's Brett McMurphy immediately identified someone who was once again left out: former Southern Methodist University running back Eric Dickerson. 

Yes, the "Pony Excess" scandal that would eventually lead to the NCAA "death penalty" for SMU will always be at least loosely connected to Eric Dickerson, but that doesn't take away his accomplishments on the field. 

Dickerson tallied more than 4,400 rushing yards and scored 47 touchdowns during his career at SMU. As a senior in 1982, he averaged a startling seven yards per carry and finished third in the Heisman voting behind Georgia running back Herschel Walker and Stanford quarterback John Elway.

Not a bad group. 

 

Miami Hurricanes Linebacker Ray Lewis (1993-95)

Ray Lewis will always be known first and foremost for being the face of the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL. Still, we're well past the point of Lewis not being included in the college hall. He was an All-American in each of his three years with the Hurricanes, including his freshman season. As a junior, he was the runner-up for the Butkus Award given to college football's top linebacker. 

Lewis is, hands down, one of the most dominant and feared defenders to ever play football at any level. He was a two-time First Team All-Big East selection, and he led the league twice in tackles. He'll get in the hall. It's only a matter of time. Until then, though, he'll be considered one of the bigger snubs. 

 

Colorado Buffaloes Running Back Rashaan Salaam (1992-94)

Rashaan Salaam's career at Colorado was defined almost solely by his Heisman-winning '94 campaign. That year, Salaam topped 2,000 yards on the ground—he was just the fourth back ever at the time to eclipse that mark—and 24 touchdowns. 

In all, Salaam had 3,469 yards from scrimmage and 33 touchdowns in his career. In addition to the Heisman, Salaam took home the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Doak Walker Award for the nation's top running back in 1994. 

The totality of his career (or lack thereof) might keep him from being selected sooner, but his final year was, at the time, one for the ages. 

 

Texas A&M Linebacker Dat Nguyen (1995-98)

Dat Nguyen is one of the best ever at Texas A&M. Glancing over his accomplishments, it feels weird that a Hall of Fame induction isn't part of them yet. 

Nguyen was a unanimous First Team All-American selection. In 1998, he was winner of both the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best college defensive player and the Lombardi Award as the top collegiate lineman. He also was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. In his career (51 starts), he became the only player in A&M history to lead the team in tackles for four straight seasons. He was a third-round draft pick in 1999. 

Of all the snubs selected, and the countless ones that weren't, this is among the more surprising misses. 

 

Head Coach Danny Ford (Clemson 1978-89, Arkansas 1993-97)

With Clemson ready to play for a national championship, it's probably appropriate to put Danny Ford's name on this list. After all, he helped the Tigers claim the same prize in 1981 as part of an undefeated season. He won five ACC championships and was twice named the conference's coach of the year. In all, he compiled a 96-29-4 record with the Tigers. 

On top of his accomplishments at Clemson, Ford led Arkansas to an SEC West title in 1995. 

 

Have any other major Hall of Fame snubs? Make your voice heard in the comment section below. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. Information on candidates courtesy of the National Football Foundation and sports-reference.com

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College Football Seniors Who Have Improved Their Draft Stock the Most

For players in their final year of college football, one of the many goals that drove them during the 2015 season was to make themselves appealing to NFL scouts. This worked out better for some than others.

Individual workouts and the upcoming combine will ultimately determine the fate of hundreds of draft-eligible players, but it helps to head into the offseason on the rise. We've identified 10 seniors who did the most to enhance their profile and improve their draft stock during the course of this past season.

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ESPN Reportedly Owes Nearly $20 Million in Ad Makegoods After Low CFP Ratings

ESPN reportedly owes advertisers around $20 million in makegoods after ratings for the College Football Playoff semifinal games, which aired on New Year's Eve, fell well below last year's standard.  

John Consoli of Broadcasting & Cable reported Friday the expected payments come after the games failed to reach ratings estimates with higher guarantee levels being offered. He noted companies are also concerned about future broadcasts, with seven of the next 10 years of games also slated for New Year's Eve.

Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated noted overall viewership between the two semifinals was down more than 12 million from last year's games. The first game (Clemson vs. Oklahoma) dropped 45 percent, and the second game (Alabama vs. Michigan State) dropped 34 percent in the ratings.

A drop was expected due to the timing. Last year's semifinals were played on New Year's Day, a more traditional place for college football bowl games. But the makegood amount suggests even ESPN was surprised by how much the numbers fell.

Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com spoke with CFP executive director Bill Hancock about the situation. He wasn't prepared to make any definitive statements after just one bad year and suggested the lopsided nature of both games played a role in a drop-off.

Hancock told Mandel and Feldman on The Audible podcast that "one year does not make a trend," and no changes have been discussed as part of the ongoing 12-year contract. He did leave a little room for movement, though.

"It may turn out by the time we get to Year 5, and we've had competitive games, that we say, 'You know what, it's not working,'" Hancock said. "But it's important not to jump to conclusions after one year of admittedly disappointing ratings."

Deitsch reported that ESPN always knew the planned schedule when it signed the long-term deal to broadcast the games, but it still pushed for a change away from New Year's Eve this year. Hancock decided to hold firm on the date.

Clearly, his stance hasn't changed since that initial refusal to move the games to a more fan-friendly date. The question now is whether ESPN could renew its efforts to alter the future landscape with advertisers apparently becoming concerned about such an uncertain ratings future.

Those buying ad time reportedly prefer New Year's Day or other nights in prime time away from New Year's Eve, according to Consoli, which certainly makes sense. But the CFP committee holds the power and is apparently ready to bet on a ratings rebound moving forward.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2016 College Football Hall of Fame Class Revealed

Headlined by former Florida State and Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, the 16-member College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016 was officially announced Friday on ESPNU in Scottsdale, Arizona.  

Along with Brooks, 13 additional players and two coaches were revealed as inductees, and they will officially be enshrined Dec. 6, 2016 in New York City:

The 42-year-old Brooks played for the Seminoles from 1992-1994 before the Bucs selected him with the No. 28 overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft.

The Pro Football Hall of Famer was a two-time first-team All-American, and he led FSU to the 1993 national championship by virtue of an Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska.

Brooks' inclusion in the Class of 2016 was no surprise, but he received congratulations from many for the honor, including ESPN's Anthony Becht, who was Brooks' teammate with the Buccaneers from 2005-2007:

Brooks is joined by another Pro Football Hall of Famer from the defensive side of the ball in the Class of 2016, Purdue's Rod Woodson.

The 1987 No. 10 overall draft pick made 11 Pro Bowls in 17 NFL seasons, primarily with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, but he also excelled as a cornerback, safety and return man for the Boilermakers.

Per Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, Woodson still holds 13 Purdue records.

Not every huge name made it into the Hall of Fame, though, as former SMU running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson was omitted, according to ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy, despite rushing for 4,450 yards and 47 touchdowns in his collegiate career.

While Brooks and Woodson were among the biggest names announced Friday, former Nebraska-Omaha quarterback Marlin Briscoe was perhaps the most historically significant.

Briscoe threw for 5,114 yards in his collegiate career with the then-NAIA school before the Denver Broncos took him with the 357th overall selection in the 1968 NFL/AFL draft.

He went on to play nine seasons between the AFL and the NFL doing most of his damage at wide receiver, although he was a trailblazer for black quarterbacks as well, according to Mike Ferguson of the Ledger:

Randall Cunningham was among those who Briscoe paved the way for, so it is fitting that they are 2016 Hall of Fame classmates.

Few signal-callers produced more spectacular highlights during their collegiate and professional careers than Cunningham. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, primarily with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings, and a three-time Bert Bell Award winner, which is given to the NFL Player of the Year, but it all started at UNLV.

Cunningham still holds Rebels records with 8,020 passing yards and 59 touchdown passes during his three-year tenure at UNLV from 1982-1984.

As great as Cunningham was under center, he was arguably an equally strong punter, averaging 45.6 yards per kick at UNLV and garnering two All-America selections at the position.

The 52-year-old Cunningham continues to have an impact on current players 14 years after his NFL retirement, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and Rookie of the Year candidate Jameis Winston, per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times.

"I just fell in love with him," Winston said. "I liked Randall Cunningham (because) what he brought to the game (was) excitement."

The entire College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016 left an indelible mark on the game, and it is difficult to argue against any of them taking their place in Atlanta later this year.

Much of the focus in Arizona is currently on the upcoming national championship game between No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama, and one can only assume that being surrounded by some of the greatest players in college football history will only serve as further motivation to perform well and perhaps join them in the Hall one day.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Mel Tucker's Reported Move to Georgia Won't Impact Alabama in Title Game

The last piece of new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart's staff could be falling into place, and it could come from his old stomping grounds.

According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Alabama defensive backs coach Mel Tucker will be named Georgia's new defensive coordinator after finishing up his responsibilities with the Crimson Tide—which will square off against top-ranked Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night.

Tucker came to Alabama this year after a decade in the NFL and immediately turned around the Crimson Tide secondary—the biggest sore spot on the defense. Alabama gave up an SEC-worst 133 passing plays of 10 or more yards a year ago during its College Football Playoff run but cut that number down to 94 in 2015—sixth in the conference.

Eddie Jackson was named a first-team All-SEC performer at safety after Tucker moved him from cornerback prior to the season, Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick were named to the SEC All-Freshman team, and the Crimson Tide finished with the nation's 18th-best pass defense (186.0 yards per game).

"They've got a bunch of secondary guys that are going to be first-rounders when their team comes," said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney leading up to Monday's title game, according to CollegePressBox.com. "So they're a complete group, no doubt."

With Tucker set to join Smart in the "Classic City," will that be a distraction?

Not at all. 

In fact, Georgia and Alabama have handled this transition about as well as possible.

Today is a travel day for Clemson and Alabama, so whatever distractions existed as Smart and Tucker discussed the possibility of Tucker's moving to Athens will be left in the Southeast as the Tide travel to Arizona.

Is it a coincidence that the news leaked out on Thursday night, the day before the team departed? Of course not.

The recruiting dead period lasts until Jan. 13, Tucker and Smart can't visit face-to-face with prospects anyway since they're going to be in Arizona on Friday, and the rest of the Georgia staff is essentially already in place.

For Georgia, you had to give Smart time.

While he was busy double-dipping as defensive coordinator of the Crimson Tide, he had to assemble his staff as the head coach of Georgia. Kevin Sherrer served as the interim defensive coordinator in Georgia's TaxSlayer Bowl win over Penn State and was retained by Smart without a title in December.

Georgia knew Smart had to be smart about how he approached hiring coaches off the Tide staff to prevent any friction between Smart and Alabama head coach Nick Saban, and it did just that.

Tucker is a tremendous hire for Georgia based on his familiarity with Smart, success at Alabama, NFL ties and specific work as a coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (2008), Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-2012) and Chicago Bears (2013-2014).

This is the perfect scenario for Georgia, for Smart and for Alabama. Smart appears to have his guy, didn't rush things and kept Saban happy as the Tide made their run to the title game.

Everybody wins.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Bleacher Report's Ultimate Guide to the National Championship Game

For a regular season that provided so much wackiness, the path to the College Football Playoff National Championship game has been straight chalk for quite some time.

The season's first playoff committee rankings, all the way back in Week 9, had Clemson at No. 1 and Alabama at No. 4. The Crimson Tide knocked No. 2 LSU off a few days later and claimed its spot.

So in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee, and most of the country, the two squads squaring off in Monday's national championship game have been the nation's best teams for two months running.

And both Clemson and Alabama proved their worth in their respective playoff semifinal matchups on New Year's Eve.

Clemson, the last undefeated team in college football, dominated the second half of the Orange Bowl against the four-seed Oklahoma Sooners, who were favored by the folks in Las Vegas. Quarterback Deshaun Watson and and running back Wayne Gallman ran around the Sooners, and a loaded defense came up with big stop after big stop on the way to a 37-17 victory.

Alabama used a steamrolling second half of its own to flatten Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, beating the Spartans 38-0. The Crimson Tide's crushing defense filled with pro prospects was too much for a team that already had its hands full thanks to a career night from quarterback Jake Coker.

Now their journeys will end in the Arizona desert Monday night.

Clemson is looking to cement its status as a resurgent powerhouse in college football and cap its storybook season with its first national championship win since 1981.

Alabama will be going for its fourth national title under coach Nick Saban, whose famous "Process" of stockpiling 5-star recruits and developing them into can't-miss NFL talent just missed out on the crown each of the last two seasons.

The oddsmakers and public opinion seem to prefer Alabama, a touchdown favorite that has been in this situation several times in the last few seasons.

But Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney have no problem rallying around the underdog role, barking out memorable postgame one-liners, and more importantly, adding one more win against the odds.

Here is Bleacher Report's ultimate guide to the Tigers and Tide's quest to become the second national champion of this wonderful new College Football Playoff era.

 

Dabo Swinney vs. Nick Saban

College football, on its biggest stage, has provided one of the best possible coaching matchups— Swinney vs. Saban, two men with contrasting styles and stories.

Clemson was Swinney's first head coaching job, and he almost lost it after his second full season with the program. An interim who replaced former boss Tommy Bowden midway through the 2008 campaign, Swinney was squarely on the hot seat after a 6-7 season in 2010.

"[The national title game is] a dynasty coach vs. a newcomer trying to climb," Bleacher Report's Greg Couch wrote. "And one thing is undeniable: Under the way the sport is run now, there is no way the climber, Swinney, should have lasted long enough to reach this height."

But Clemson's brass decided to keep the faith in Swinney. Two high-profile coordinator changes, four straight 10-win seasons, the death of the term "Clemsoning" and a stadium-wide pizza party later, Swinney is one victory away from being on top of the college football world.

The only thing standing between Swinney and that mountaintop is none other than his beloved alma mater.

Swinney was raised a passionate Alabama fan. He would later walk on for the Crimson Tide at wide receiver and be a part of their 1992 national championship team and serve as an assistant at Alabama from 1993 to 2000.

Now Swinney will have to coach against an Alabama program that is playing its most dominant ball since the Bear Bryant days he grew up idolizing.

Saban rebuilt Swinney's alma mater into a modern championship-winning machine, yet the ultimate prize has eluded his grasp each of the last two seasons.

A loss to Auburn in a legendary Iron Bowl kept the Tide from a third straight national championship in the 2013 season. Alabama then opened its own College Football Playoff era in last year's Sugar Bowl with a 42-35 loss to eventual champion Ohio State.

And even though this season hasn't been perfect from beginning to end, the Crimson Tide are back in the national championship game. In the three times they've been here under Saban—back in the BCS era—they won by a combined score of 100-35.

For a coach whose dynasty was supposedly dead and buried earlier this year, Saban is standing on the verge of another title in perhaps his best season yet.

"Having seen exactly what was necessary to win at an unprecedented level, Saban altered the formula," Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote. "He gave up on something proven with the hopes of something more ... But in 2015 we learned that Saban can win in more ways than one, and that's a scary thought."

There are storylines aplenty for this national championship game, and we haven't even gotten past the two guys in the headsets. Get ready for a colossal showdown from the coaching perspective. 

 

When Clemson has the ball

And now for the main event in college football's main event—the matchup between Clemson's offense and Alabama's defense.

Of all the all-world defenses Saban and outgoing coordinator Kirby Smart have had during their time in Tuscaloosa, this one could be legendary when it's all said and done.

A front seven that allows only 71 rushing yards per game is loaded with highly touted pro prospects, from the frighteningly massive and agile defensive line of A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen to the hard-hitting linebacking corps led by the veteran Reggie Ragland.

And while it was an Achilles' heel for Alabama last year, a revamped secondary has become a strength for the Crimson Tide this season. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 18 interceptions and posted the fourth-lowest pass efficiency rating against the Tide's secondary in 2015.

But if there's an offense designed to give Alabama's defense trouble, it's this one from Clemson.

In the last four seasons, the only teams that have beaten Alabama have run some sort of spread offense. Quarterbacks who have the ability to run have been especially troublesome: Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel; Auburn's Nick Marshall; Ohio State's Cardale Jones; and most recently Ole Miss' Chad Kelly.

As Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh noted, this year's Alabama defense has "quietly done well" against dual-threat passers this season.

"The opponent with the most rushing yards by a quarterback was Mississippi State with 38," Walsh wrote. "Collectively, they have a passing efficiency rating of just 99.47."

Still, Alabama's No. 2-ranked defense hasn't faced a test this season quite like the one that Watson should provide.

The sophomore was the nation's best quarterback this year, finishing third in Heisman voting after racking up 41 touchdowns in the regular season. He's coming off the best rushing performance of his college career, and he showed against Oklahoma he can bounce back from early adversity.

"[Watson] really is probably as fine a dual-threat quarterback as we've played against for a long, long time and certainly does an outstanding job of executing their offense," Saban said, per Walsh. "There's no question about the fact that he's an outstanding leader as well, because you can see the way the players sort of rally around him."

Clemson will look to spread out Alabama's defense and hit it with the powerful rushing game of Watson and Gallman. It's a strategy that Auburn and Ohio State used to success the last two seasons, and it will open things up for the efficient Watson downfield.

If the Tigers can get things rolling and play up-tempo football, they'll keep Alabama from rotating bodies on its elite defensive front. If they get behind the sticks early, they'll play right into the Tide's hands.

This won't be another shutout for Alabama—Clemson is too talented in its spread offense. But it won't be an unstoppable performance from the Clemson offense—Alabama is too talented in its stifling defense.

What it will be, though, is one of the best chess matches in recent title-game memory.

 

When Alabama has the ball

While offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has incorporated more spread schemes and hurry-up pace to Alabama's attack in the last few seasons, the core of the Tide's plan of attack is still the same on offense—wear defenses down.

And the Crimson Tide have the best possible running back for their "man ball" mission. Heisman winner Derrick Henry, a 6'3" physical beast of a rusher, can absorb a huge amount of punishment and still create big plays late in the game.

"In what could be the final game for the junior Heisman Trophy winner before he moves on to the NFL, expect greatness," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote. "Expect Henry to grind it out when it matters most. Expect him to prove one more time that he is college football's ultimate closer."

Clemson's No. 6-ranked defense, like Alabama's, is stacked along the front seven—an incredible feat for defensive coordinator Brent Venables and the rest of his staff, considering how much talent these Tigers lost there from last season.

"Everybody wants to talk about who's left and what you don't have," Swinney said during his press conference Tuesday, per Walsh. "Sometimes you have addition by subtraction. I mean, I don't get caught up in all that. I worry about who we've got."

Nobody in college football has more tackles for loss this season than Shaq Lawson, who will try to play after suffering an MCL injury against Oklahoma.

And the Tigers showed against the Sooners that they can still dominate an offense without Lawson, relying on the talents of Kevin Dodd, B.J. Goodson, Ben Boulware, Carlos Watkins and several other budding stars.

Clemson shut down Oklahoma's rushing attack, leaving the Sooners one-dimensional and having to play catch-up in the second half. That didn't work at all for head coach Bob Stoops and his team.

The Tigers may be able to contain Henry early on and force Coker to prove his masterful performance against Michigan State wasn't just a fluke. 

Alabama star wide receiver Calvin Ridley vs. Clemson shutdown cornerback Mackensie Alexander will be the best one-on-one matchup of the day. Both players have won several battles against high-profile names this season, and whoever takes advantage of this matchup will be a strong factor in the final result.

Also pay special attention to whenever Alabama has the ball—or is about to get the ball—in special teams situations.

Alabama kicker Adam Griffith has had an incredible redemption season and will be able to put crucial points on the board if the Tide's drives stall. Punter JK Scott came on strong during the end of the year, and his ability to flip the field is extremely valuable.

And if Clemson lines up in a punting situation, watch out. The Tigers have tried fakes in each of their last two games—one bad, one good—and the Tide have a game-changing weapon at returner.

"Much of [Alabama's special teams success] is due to the play of senior Cyrus Jones, who has returned a school-record four punts for touchdowns this season," Bleacher Report's Brian Pedersen wrote. "His 57-yard punt return score early in the second half broke open the Cotton Bowl."

But the ultimate between the Alabama offense and the Clemson defense will be how tough the Tigers can stay late against Henry, who seemingly gets stronger down the stretch.

If Clemson wears down, Henry could take over in the second half. If it can hang tough, the spotlight will fall on Coker in the final game of what has been a roller coaster of a collegiate career.

 

Predictions

The college football experts here at Bleacher Report are somewhat divided on how Monday night's title game showdown will shake out in Arizona.

Three of our experts—Sallee, Kramer and Ben Kercheval—picked the Tide over the Tigers. Sallee, who picked Alabama to win it all during the preseason, envisions a scenario where Clemson has a crucial drive late in the game and the Tide make a stop.

The other two experts—Michael Felder and Couch—are pegging Clemson to complete the perfect season and send Alabama home without a title. Felder made the bold prediction that Clemson would find running room against Alabama's front seven, while Couch sees the Tigers holding Henry to under 100 yards.

Those split opinions are just a testament to how talented and complete these two title contenders truly are.

Both have award-winning offensive stars that can wear out teams in completely different ways. Both have defenses with elite fronts and secondaries that can change momentum on a dime.

The Tigers and the Tide have different motivations and methods, but they'll be equally fired up to play on the biggest stage of them all. Both teams will get stops and scores in a back-and-forth matchup.

Clemson might be able to corral Henry early on in this game—especially if Lawson plays—and hit Alabama for some big plays with Watson and its up-tempo offense.

But Alabama is so good at adjusting and coming on strong during the middle of games that one could expect a tight game heading into the fourth quarter.

In those clutch moments, the championship pedigree of Saban and Alabama will shine bright. If it comes down to a sophomore star quarterback against arguably the best defense in college football, the advantage will ride with the Crimson Tide. 

My personal pick is that Alabama will make the one big stop it needs in the fourth quarter with a slim lead and ride Henry to one of those anaconda-like drives that have become synonymous with football in the Saban era.

The Tide will find the end zone once more to put the national championship out of the Tigers' reach and into their own strong grip.

Alabama 30, Clemson 21

 

Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Which States Are Producing the Most National Championship Talent?

When No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama line up for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday, it'll be a star-studded game full of household names and future NFL stars—not to mention an all-time great coach (Nick Saban) versus another who's creating his own path (Dabo Swinney). 

But rewind three, four or even five years ago. The two rosters competing for college football's top honor had to come from somewhere. What are the origins of a championship-caliber team? 

We traced the two-deep depth charts for Alabama and Clemson (plus a few key reserve contributors) to find out the states from which they came. Not surprisingly, there's a heavy Southeastern presence, as there have been with multiple recent BCS champs. 

Where does championship-caliber talent come from? We traced more than 80 players from both sides to find out. 

 

Winning Your Home State Actually Matters

If you've ever listened to a head coach's national signing day press conference, you've probably heard the phrase "we have to win our state in recruiting" more times than you can count. It sounds like coachspeak on the surface, but there's actually a lot of truth in it. 

Looking at this year's championship contenders as an example, it's easy to understand why. In-state prospects accounted for about about one-third of Alabama's starters and key contributors. That number drops slightly for Clemson but remains at just under 30 percent. 

The table above shows the Tide and Tigers are getting a bulk of their key players within their own state borders. However, each program also had roughly three or four pipeline states in which it acquired another high percentage of players. 

Not surprisingly, these pipeline regions are either border states or, like Florida, act as a recruiting ground for pretty much everybody in major college football.

In either case, Alabama and Clemson have geography on their side. When leaving the state, Alabama gets a bulk of its key players from Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, with some traces from Texas, Mississippi and the like. Clemson also mines Georgia and Florida but has a presence in North Carolina and Virginia as well. 

Basically, if Alabama and Clemson were the circles in a recruiting Venn diagram, Florida and Georgia would be in the center. 

Ultimately, though, winning the in-state recruiting battle is important, even if the state is not traditionally considered one of the richest talent producers. Prospects like running back Marcus Lattimore (2010) and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (2011) boosted the profile for recruiting in South Carolina—not just because they were so highly rated, but because they opted to stay home.

Neither, of course, went to Clemson, but they were part of raising the national profile of South Carolina football. That's what a top in-state player can do for a program. 

 

Origins of the Blue-Chip Players

Recruiting isn't an exact science, but there is a correlation between teams that regularly recruit at a high level and ones that win (or at least compete for) national championships. Go ahead and look at the last handful of title-winning teams, and then look at how they recruited. No one's winning with only 2-and-3-star players. 

Yet the popular contrarian opinion to have is that recruiting stars are laughable, at least when compared to coaching and player development. This is what Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel tweeted during the Orange Bowl between Clemson and Oklahoma, noting that Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield was a walk-on:

Mayfield's path to stardom certainly goes against the norm, but he's also an exception to the rule. Oklahoma's star running back, Samaje Perine—a player literally standing right next to Mayfield in the backfield—was a 4-star prospect. Go through Oklahoma's starting 22, and you're more likely to find recruits of Perine's mold than Mayfield's. 

The not-so-hush-hush insider secret of the business is that all of those factors—recruiting, coaching and development and even scheme fit—matter; nothing exists in a vacuum by itself.  

Alabama and Clemson have mastered all of those elements. Neither would be playing Monday if it hadn't. But it all starts with recruiting. According to 247Sports composite rankings, here are Alabama's and Clemson's average recruiting class rank over the last five years (to account for redshirt seniors and true freshmen):

Clemson: 12.5.

Alabama: 1. 

The Tide, in fact, had the No. 1 class in the country in each of the last five years. 

From where do the blue-chip (4-and-5-star) players over the last five years hail? In the table below, signees were charted from the following areas: home state, Florida and Georgia and the top pipeline state.

Seeing as a large chunk of Alabama's key contributors are in-state products, it makes sense that most of the blue-chip players are as well. Guys like linebacker Reuben Foster were once 5-star prospects from Alabama. Still, the Tide have succeeded in plucking blue-chip players from Florida and Georgia, like Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry and his backup Kenyan Drake, respectively.

Clemson's recruiting dominance has been more spread-out. It has to be. As mentioned before, South Carolina isn't quite on the same level as some other talent-rich states. The big-time players who have come out of that state haven't always signed with the Tigers, either. 

Linebacker Ben Boulware and receiver Mike Williams (injured) were in-state products, but some of the biggest names came from out of state. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is from Georgia. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander is from Florida. 

Clemson has been forced to win outside its state more than Alabama, but that doesn't mean it hasn't done so successfully. Clemson's presence took a major turn in 2006 when Swinney, then an assistant for the Tigers, recruited a 5-star running back by the name of C.J. Spiller out of Florida. 

Alabama has made its way to this point with lots of homegrown talent and more blue-chip players than you can possibly imagine. Clemson didn't exactly do it the hard way, but Swinney deserves a lot of credit for building a championship-caliber program at a place where the best players in the country don't line up at his door. 

 

Conclusion

With all due respect to the rest of the country, the South has a built-in recruiting advantage. You probably already knew this, but it's a fact nonetheless. The number of 4- and -5-star players per capita is simply more concentrated in the Southeast, as SbS Football tweeted earlier in the year: 

There are outliers, of course. Ohio State can pick up plenty of in-state products while having the brand to recruit nationally. Notre Dame has completely transformed its recruiting pitch by becoming a partial member of the ACC. 

Generally speaking, though, it should be no surprise that the above graphic matches the table below charting the number of national championship game appearances by state: 

Alabama and Clemson succeeded in recruiting their own backyards but also found plenty of players in neighboring states. Put simply, if you want to compete for a national championship, you have to pluck blue-chippers from states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas; the same can also be said for California, but that's in a completely different geographical region. 

But good luck with that. Every program in college football is already chasing Alabama. Soon, they could be chasing Clemson, too. 

“Those great businesses out there, those great programs, they don’t plateau. How do you do that? Well, you have to constantly reinvent, reinvest, reset, learn, grow, change,” Swinney said, via Matt Connolly of the State. “You have to do that. You don’t just change to change, but you have to always challenge yourself each and every year to say, ‘OK, well this may be how we’ve done it, but is it the right way?’" 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information compiled by 247Sports

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