NCAA Football

Tennessee Football: Volunteers' Top Remaining Recruiting Targets for NSD 2015

Most of Tennessee's top recruiting targets are already in the fold as Volunteers commitments. That's what happens when, for the second year in a row, head coach Butch Jones has compiled a class that is the envy of most programs.

UT currently sits in third place in the recruiting rankings, according to the 247Sports composite. The Vols have 28 pledges, and there are plenty of questions about just how many they'll sign after bringing 32 players into the fold in the 2014 cycle.

Unless there's a lot of attrition before signing day, the Vols could be finished right now and have a sterling haul. Even so, there are still several top players UT would love to add to its class and worry about shaking out the numbers later.

"Now we have to go assemble a top-three, top-four recruiting class—which we will—because we're building, and we have something special and great people," Jones said after UT's TaxSlayer Bowl victory, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown.

Getting another running back and an offensive tackle appear to be the top priorities, so this list will be heavy on those positions. Also, you can never have too much team speed, so that's another area Jones is targeting.

While it's possible UT can get back in on a few in-state players such as receiver Van Jefferson, offensive tackle Drew Richmond and safety Rico McGraw, there isn't a ton of buzz surrounding those players with the Vols right now, so we'll stick with the most legit options.

Let's take a look at a few players Jones and his staff would love to sign to really put the finishing touches on another awesome class on Rocky Top.

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Grading Every New College Football Head Coaching Hire

We’re approaching the midpoint of January, and for now, it appears the college football head coaching carousel has come to a stop for another year. That is subject to change, of course, if a program makes a surprising late firing or a current head coach makes the jump to an NFL opening, but as of Sunday night, every FBS program has a sitting head coach.

This winter, 14 programs made changes, from SMU (where June Jones resigned in September) to Pittsburgh (which hired Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi after Paul Chryst headed back to Wisconsin after three seasons). That’s down from a year ago, when 20 programs hired new leaders.

History says not all of these hires will work out. College football is notorious for its churn among head coaching hires. Per an analysis by Patrick Stevens of Syracuse.com, when the 2014 season began, 76 of 128 FBS head coaches had three full seasons or fewer at their current positions.

Here's a look at all of the new hires, with a grade assigned for each new coach. 

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College Football National Championship 2015: Vegas Odds Guide for Oregon vs. OSU

The stage doesn't get any bigger. The lights can't get any brighter. And the talent level can't possibly reach more elevated heights.

Thanks to the inaugural College Football Playoff, fans can feast their eyes on two deserving teams that might not have made it to this stage in previous years. Let's just say the national championship game is going to be a wild ride.

Bettors have been drooling over the possibility to line their pockets with the odds set for the big game. Between the enormous over-under and the edge of less than a touchdown given to Oregon, history tells us all we need to know about how to bet on this matchup.

Just hours away from the Bucks vs. Ducks, here's a look at the full spread information and tips for prospective bettors.

 

Game Information

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Monday, Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Spread: Oregon -6.5

Over/Under: 74

Odds courtesy of OddsShark.com.

 

Analysis

There is plenty of excitement brewing around the country for Monday's showdown. Having two of the best offensive teams in the country will do that for college football fans.

Just how exuberant are bettors for the game to finally get underway? David Payne Purdum of ESPN.com notes the game has a chance to make history after early numbers:

What will ultimately decide the final score is the play of the biggest stars.

For the Ducks, there is no bigger star than Marcus Mariota. The Oregon quarterback has compiled 56 total touchdowns to just six turnovers and can get the job done both with his arm and legs. He'll be without receiver Darren Carrington after he was ruled ineligible, but he has fought through adversity all season with success. 

Speaking of battling adversity, the Buckeyes have done just that since before the season started. Cardale Jones is the third starting quarterback, but he won't be carrying the entire load thanks to Ezekiel Elliott. The sophomore has blossomed into a superstar with a combined 450 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his last two games.

Oregon linebacker Tony Washington spoke about Elliott's ability, via Laken Litman of USA Today:

Dude is really fast, makes a lot of plays. He’s a tough guy to bring down and he’s gonna compete and work hard every rep. I noticed last game against Alabama he was making a lot of big runs and that’s because he’s determined to get into the end zone. So I mean as a defense you’ve gotta wrap this guy up because it’s going to take multiple efforts to get him down.

Essentially, that wealth of talent means there will be plenty of offense to cover the over-under projection. Then there's the fact that Oregon ranks second in the country in points scored (47.2 per game) and Ohio State ranks fifth (45.0). Oh, there will be scoring.

At the end of the game, Oregon will be the team pulling away for a decisive win. Though both will put up huge numbers, Mariota's ability to create plays and not turn the ball over will lead the Ducks to a victory. ESPN College Football notes how impressive the Ducks are at winning the turnover battle:

The Ducks won't win by a margin of 59-20—sorry, FSU fans—but they will cover the 6.5-point spread. In a battle of two teams looking to make history by winning the first-ever playoff, the Ducks will be riding high on Monday night. You can bet on it.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Notre Dame Football: Sheldon Day's Return Sets Tone for Irish Defense

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With the uncertain schedule of possible returns and looming decisions littering the Notre Dame football offseason, the Irish received important news Saturday from defensive end Sheldon Day.

Day will return for his senior season, bypassing an early exit and the NFL draft, Notre Dame announced Saturday.

Sure, there are still pivotal decisions to be made by or about left tackle Ronnie Stanley and quarterback Everett Golson, and returns from cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels would be crucial. But Day’s decision, though not particularly surprising, is the one that sets the tone for the entire Notre Dame defense—and even the team at large—moving forward.

“While the process leading up to this decision was difficult, ultimately my decision to return was easy,” Day said in a statement. “I love this school, my teammates and this coaching staff. I just felt it was in my best interest to play another for Notre Dame.”

It’s obviously in Notre Dame’s best interest, too.

“I believe we’ve got an opportunity to have a special season in 2015 and I wanted to be a part of that success,” Day said. “I was blessed to play in the national championship game as a freshman in 2012, and I want to do everything in my power to reach that stage again with my guys.”

Day was tabbed as Notre Dame’s Defensive Lineman of the Year despite missing time in three games with a knee injury. Locking him in along the defensive line provides a steadying force to a group that otherwise was without a leader and a stalwart heading into 2015.

Defensive tackle Jarron Jones (Lisfranc) emerged as a junior but is expected to miss four to six months with the injury. Kelly said in November he is hopeful to have Jones back in time for spring practice. Defensive lineman Isaac Rochell was stout and reliable throughout the season, one of just three players on the Irish defense to start all 13 games. Still, Notre Dame needed its rock.

Jaylon Smith leads the linebackers, and the position could be even stronger with a healthy Joe Schmidt, of course. The secondary, with Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russell manning the perimeter, would figure to be strong.

And Day shores up the first level of the defense. A junior captain in 2014, the Indianapolis native is both a leader on the defense and one of the team’s best players. Day finished tied for first among Irish defensive linemen in tackles (40) and tackles for loss (7.5) and second with nine quarterback hurries.

“He’s an outstanding player and makes a difference on the field for our team, but Sheldon’s impact goes beyond success on the field,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “His leadership as a captain in our program has been instrumental, and I look forward to him carrying this role into 2015.”

Notre Dame’s defense won’t be fixed overnight, however. The holes run deeper than merely the injuries that withered the Irish down the stretch.

But Day’s return is the first tone-setting step in building up the Irish squad, specifically the defense, for a potential run through the national rankings. Notre Dame’s ETA always seemed closest to 2015, with a 24-member recruiting class of soon-to-be juniors that ranked fifth in the country, per 247Sports, now serving as the team’s backbone.

And with key upperclassmen like Day committing to 2015, the Irish are still on track.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

National Championship Preview: Why Oregon Will Beat Ohio State

Midway through the college football season, an Oregon-Ohio State matchup in the national championship did not seem likely.  The Ducks had just lost to Arizona, and the Buckeyes were a one-loss team with a freshman quarterback in J.T. Barrett who was still getting his feet wet at the collegiate level.

Nobody expected the first championship game of the playoff era to be played without an SEC team in the running for the title, especially since the conference has had a representative in the final game in each of the past eight years and several SEC teams were in the playoff conversation throughout the entire season.

As the two teams prepare for the inaugural championship of the College Football Playoff in Arlington, it is not too difficult to see why they were able to finish their respective seasons without another loss.  Both teams are extremely fast and athletic, they both have dynamic offenses and both teams’ defensive units have improved as the season progressed.

I will break down Monday’s national championship game and make a prediction for the result.

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National Championship Preview: Why Oregon Will Beat Ohio State

Midway through the college football season, an Oregon-Ohio State matchup in the national championship did not seem likely. The Ducks had just lost to Arizona , and the Buckeyes were a one-loss team with a freshman quarterback in J...

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

With only eight commitments in their 2015 class, it makes sense that the Florida Gators are one of the more active schools on the recruiting trail in January.

New head coach Jim McElwain has finally filled out his staff, and the Gators went on an offer spree last week with a number of 2015 prospects.

One of the first targets for new Gators linebackers coach Randy Shannon was 3-star corner Jeremiah Dinson, who is currently committed to Kentucky.

Dinson—who also received an offer from Auburn last week—admits that the Gators' offer made an impression on him, as noted by GatorBait’s Luke Stampini (subscription required).

“That’s big for me,” Dinson told Stampini. “That’s a big school, a big SEC school that’s really good. I was surprised. I didn’t see that one coming.”

Stampini notes that Dinson will now take visits to Florida and Auburn later this month before arriving at a final decision.

According to Chris Smith of Vandy247, the Gators offered 3-star tight end and current Purdue pledge Brycen Hopkins.

The Gators joined Nebraska in offering 3-star defensive end Shareef Miller.

LinebackerRayshad Jackson and 3-star defensive endG.G. Robinson, who is currently committed to Louisville, also received tenders from McElwain and his staff.

With corner being a big need down the stretch for Florida, the Gators also offered 4-star corner Mark Fields, per Blake Alderman of Rivals.

 

Georgia DB/ATH Collects 6 Major Offers

Another player who was targeted and offered by the Gators was 3-star Georgia athlete Chris Williamson.

However, Florida was hardly alone in its pursuit of the 6’1”, 190-pounder from Gainesville, Georgia.

Williamson also picked up offers from Georgia, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech.

He could play receiver or safety on the next level.

 

Michigan After Texas, South Carolina Pledges

Like Jim McElwain, new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was also busy evaluating prospects for the 2015 cycle.

According to Steve Lorenz of Wolverine247, Harbaugh offered 3-star corner and current South Carolina pledge Damon Arnette.

The Wolverines also offered Texas commit and 3-star defensive end Charles Omenihu.

Expect the trend of Harbaugh targeting top talent to continue, whether they are committed or not. 

 

Oregon Active with 2016 Defenders

Despite spending the last week preparing for a shot at winning their first national championship in school history, Mark Helfrich and the Oregon Ducks staff were still active on the recruiting trail.

The Ducks offered four rising seniors, all of whom do their work on the defensive side of the ball.

According to Justin Hopkins of DuckTerritory, Oregon offered 3-star defensive end Thomas Schaffer. Hopkins also reports that the Ducks offered linebacker Arman Jones and 4-star defensive end Devin Asiasi.

Finally, the Ducks also tendered 5-star linebacker Caleb Kelly.

If the Ducks can defeat Ohio State for the national title on Monday night, expect the floodgates to open in terms of interest from top recruits.

 

Best of the Rest

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Bulldogs' Top 5 Remaining Recruiting Targets for NSD 2015

With seven early enrollees and 19 firm commitments, it's fair to say this is a big recruiting class for the Georgia Bulldogs. Equally accurate is the assessment that this is a stellar group.

According to 247Sports, this class, which features two 5-star prospects and 12 4-star athletes, ranks fourth in the nation. And with big names like Trent Thompson (recently ranked as the top player in the country by 247Sports) and Terry Godwin (a 5-star athlete likely to settle at wide receiver) and a host of depth, it's easy to see why experts like these commitments.

But head coach Mark Richt and his staff of capable recruiters aren't finished yet.  Here are Georgia's top five remaining recruiting targets heading into national signing day, as ranked by the 247Sports Composite.

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National Signing Day 2015: Predictions for Top Recruits Before CFP Championship

While many of the top prospects in the country have announced where they will be playing their college football, a slew of 5-star recruits remain undecided, with major programs scrambling to secure their signatures.

Below, I'll highlight three of the top prospects still picking through the offers and offer my take on where they'll end up. 

All rankings via 247Sports' Composite Rankings.

 

Martez Ivey, OT

For Martez Ivey, the decision is going to come down to two schools: Florida and Auburn. The 5-star recruit and the No. 2 player in the country has maintained through much of this process that his decision would come down to those two schools, as he re-emphasized in December, via Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel:

"Fifty-fifty still. I'm going to think about it over this break... Christmas break... This is what I need, this dead period that's about to come up. That's what I need right now, so I can think and see what's right for me. I got a feeling right now, but I ain't willing to say. ... We'll see what happens."

That dead period was supposed to end his deliberation, as it was expected that Ivey would make his announcement at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in early January. But he postponed the decision, suggesting that perhaps he is wavering on whatever his initial choice might have been. 

Could that mean that Auburn is overtaking Florida? It's certainly possible. His high school teammate and best friend, Chandler Cox, is going to Auburn. The coach that spent a good deal of time recruiting him to Florida, Will Muschamp, is now at Auburn. The Tigers have seen far more success in the past several years than the Gators. 

Ivey might have the inkling to stick with the school many people expected him to choose all along, Florida. But his delay in making an announcement suggests, at least to me, that perhaps he is starting to lean to Auburn. I'm going to predict he ends up a Tiger.

 

Iman Marshall, CB

Iman Marshall, a 5-star prospect, the top cornerback in 247Sports' rankings and the No. 5 player in the country, is tough to project going forward. USC seems to be the front-runner, but a few recent events suggest the Trojans could lose their man at the last moment.

For one thing, Marshall's last scheduled visit is at Oregon, a week before national signing day. That gives the Ducks the chance to make one last big impression, and they could be doing so as this year's national champions. 

Still, schools like LSU and Michigan (with new head coach Jim Harbaugh) could be quite appealing. Florida State is in the mix, too. But most experts believe he'll end up at USC.

And maybe he will. But the fact that Marshall cancelled a visit with Oklahoma to fit Oregon into his schedule—and the Ducks could be showing him their state-of-the-art facilities with the Dr. Pepper National Championship Trophy potentially on display as well—makes me think the Ducks will edge out the Trojans late and land Marshall. 

 

Byron Cowart, DE

Much like Ivey was expected to make his announcement during an offseason all-star game, 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart was supposed to make his during the Under Armour All-America Game. That didn't quite materialize.

"I didn't know where I wanted to go," Cowart told  Amos Morale III of NOLA.com. "So I'm still looking forward to figuring out where Byron Cowart is going to play."

But here's the main takeaway from Morale's story on Cowart:

The [LSU] Tigers however will have to play catch up with the likes of Auburn and Florida and Florida State to have a shot at the prospect. LSU also wouldn't have to sell Cowart alone, the staff would also have to recruit his mother.

Cowart said his mom's comfort level is a big deal when it comes to his recruitment. He said she was 'really hurt' when Will Muschamp left Florida and that her comfort level with him was one of the reasons Auburn was back in the picture.

While a mother's approval of a school isn't always a primary factor in a young man's decision—remember when Landon Collins chose Alabama over LSU as his mother sat glumly by his side?—it also shouldn't be ignored. Again, the fact that Cowart has delayed his decision at a time when Auburn re-entered the picture could be a coincidence, or the thought of playing for Muschamp's defense has swayed him. 

Don't be surprised if Cowart ends up at Auburn. The hiring of Muschamp could end up benefiting the school on a number of fronts this year.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the Buckeyes vs. Oregon

Urban Meyer and the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes are set to take college football's biggest stage to battle second-ranked Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Monday night. 

The Ducks, guided by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, are favored by 6.5 points, according to Odds Shark. But the Buckeyes are getting comfortable in the underdog role—they've won both of their last two games against Wisconsin and Alabama, despite facing significant odds.

Can Ohio State pull another upset to win a national title? Here are five bold predictions for the Buckeyes ahead of their big matchup with the Ducks.  

 

Ezekiel Elliott Will Break 220 Rushing Yards for the Third Straight Game

In the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin's second-ranked total defense, Ezekiel Elliott broke out for 220 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 20 carries. With a similar workload against Alabama's top-ranked rushing defense in the Sugar Bowl, he tallied 230 yards and another two scores.

He'll be even better against Oregon. The Ducks' bend-but-don't break defense will create some big opportunities for Elliott, who could break 250 rushing yards for the first time in his collegiate career on Monday.

 

Ohio State Will Pick Off a Marcus Mariota Pass

Mariota has been the most efficient quarterback in the country this season mainly because he takes such good care of the ball. The junior signal-caller has only thrown three interceptions in 408 pass attempts, and he's thrown at least three touchdowns in half of Oregon's games this season.

The Buckeyes will fluster him into throwing at least one interception.  

Ohio State ranks fourth nationally with 24 interceptions. The defense picked off Blake Sims three times in the Sugar Bowl after he threw just seven interceptions all season. Expect the Buckeyes to get another one against Mariota. 

 

Cardale Jones Will Have Twice as Many Rushing Yards as Marcus Mariota

When Ohio State is on offense, Cardale Jones will need to be patient against Oregon, which routinely keeps two safeties deep to prevent the big play. That will require Jones to check a lot of his throws down and, many times, get what he can on the ground.

Jones was, surprisingly, heavily involved in the run game against Alabama, tallying 17 rushes for a net gain of 43 yards. He'll have a similar number of rushes against Oregon, but he'll have much more success as the Ducks will struggle to get him to the ground.

On the other side of the ball, Ohio State will attack Mariota from the edges in an effort to contain his playmaking ability. That will limit his production on the ground, and Jones will double his output.

 

Ohio State Will Blitz More Than It Has All Season

Last year's Ohio State defense drove Meyer crazy because of its lack of aggressiveness. The zone schemes that allowed teams to waltz up and down the field a year ago have been abandoned for pressure packages and man-to-man looks. 

Against Oregon, expect Ohio State to put its defensive backs on an island and send the house against Mariota.

That will lead to a few big plays for the Ducks, but Meyer won't let his defense sit back and get picked apart by the Heisman Trophy winner. Ohio State will use a lot of movement along the defensive line and send linebacker Darron Lee off the edge in an effort to disrupt Mariota.

 

Devin Smith Will Catch the Go-Ahead, Game-Winning Touchdown

Devin Smith has made a number of big-time catches during his time at Ohio State, but the biggest one of his career will come late in the fourth quarter against the Ducks.

Trailing by four with under three minutes to go, Ohio State will get within striking distance before Meyer calls for a deep pass to his senior wideout. Without Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on the other side of the ball, Smith will burst past his defender and haul in a 35-yard touchdown to put the Buckeyes back on top for good. 

Ohio State's defense will hold, securing a 41-38 victory to win the national title.

 

All stats via NCAA.com and Bleacher Report research.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Did the SEC Get Shut out of the First-Ever College Football Playoff Final

The first season of the College Football Playoff is wrapping up, and for the first time since Vince Young ran Texas to a title and himself into college football immortality, an SEC team won't be playing for a chance to be college football's best.

Is this the anomaly of the start of a trend?

Oregon and Ohio State have established themselves as powers, the SEC posted a 7-5 bowl record—which isn't as dominant as it has been in the past—and Alabama lost in the Sugar Bowl national semifinal to Ohio State in a game that, according to ESPN's broadcast, marked just the third loss under head coach Nick Saban in which the Crimson Tide had a 14 or more points.

So what happened in 2014?

 

Alabama's Lingering Problems

To best explain why the SEC got shut out of Jerry World, let's start with the team that had the best chance—Alabama.

The Crimson Tide built a 21-6 lead on Ohio State midway through the second quarter of the Allstate Sugar Bowl semifinal, and it appeared that the game was about to get sideways in favor of the crimson and white. But it slipped away, the Tide made too many mistakes on both sides of the ball and Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott shut the door with an 85-yard touchdown run late in the fourth.

Forget about offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's play-calling and quarterback Blake Sims' three interceptions. While both contributed to the loss—particularly late—had Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart had their best games, Kiffin and Sims' late mistakes wouldn't have had as big of an impact as they did.

Ohio State hit every one of the weak spots that have become synonymous with Alabama's defense: plays, mobility and pass defense.

The Buckeyes ran 50 plays in the first half—a first half that culminated with two Buckeyes touchdowns in the final three minutes. Coincidence? Nope. Alabama's defense was out on the field for far too long in the first half, was clearly gassed and allowed the Buckeyes to get the game within arm's reach going into halftime.

Quarterback Cardale Jones has a cannon, and that was widely known following his three-touchdown performance in the 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. His mobility, however, wasn't on tape as much.

It is now, thanks to a 43-yard performance that was a mix of designed runs and scrambles. At 6'6", 250 pounds, Jones is a load to bring down when he gets moving, and Alabama had no answer in New Orleans.

The third issue—pass defense—has been a problem for going on two years now, and it's the one position unit that Saban has the most influence over. Against the Buckeyes, it couldn't hang. Jones threw for 243 yards, 13.5 yards per attempt, completed four of seven passes for third-down conversions and ran for four more.

In obvious passing situations, Alabama's defense can't hang. That falls on Saban and Smart, not Kiffin and Sims.

 

Big-Time Programs Doing Damage

The SEC set the tone more than a decade ago by pouring money into facilities, assistant coaching budgets, recruiting budgets and all things that make big-time programs what they are today.

Only now, though, has the rest of the country caught up.

Three Ohio State assistants—Luke Fickell, Tom Herman and Chris Ash—made more than $500,000 per year last season, according to the USA Today assistant coaching salary database. Three Florida State assistants made exactly $500,000 and two Oklahoma assistants topped the half-million mark. Those three schools are three primary reasons why the SEC has gone winless in major bowls (BCS/Group of Six) over the last two seasons.

Sure, some of those figures pale in comparison to the assistant salaries that are popping up now, but those programs around the country know they have to keep up now, and will do so when appropriate.

Urban Meyer famously called out the Big Ten's other schools for not recruiting at the level they need to in order to be competitive at the top level in college football following his first season as Ohio State's head coach.

"It's not only important, it's essential," he said on 97.1 in Columbus in January 2013 (via: Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports). "It has to happen."

Ohio State was already doing that, as was Florida State, Oklahoma and other major programs around the country. That trend is only going to continue, as super-recruiter James Franklin enters his second season at Penn State, Jim Harbaugh takes over at Michigan and Wisconsin had its head coach poached for the second time in three years.

 

No Sense of Urgency from SEC Powers

Save for Zach Mettenberger's senior season in 2013, LSU has struggled to find consistency in the quarterback position ever since Ryan Perrilloux was dismissed before the 2008 season.

Auburn—once known for its defense—hasn't finished in the top half of the conference in total defense or yards per play since Tommy Tuberville's next-to-last season in 2007.

Georgia seemingly has an inexplicable loss or two every year, which consistently prevents the Bulldogs from stepping up to the big-boy table.

Despite all of that, SEC powers got by.

Auburn won a national title and played for another, LSU won an SEC title and played in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game following the 2011 season and Georgia came within five yards of winning the SEC title in 2012 and advancing to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame.

That can't continue.

When the SEC was blazing the trail, these problems wouldn't kill seasons. That's not going to continue anymore, and when problems arise and linger, SEC programs have to address them swiftly and effectively.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Ohio State vs. Oregon Betting Tips: College Football Championship Odds, Pick

The Ohio State Buckeyes will try to cap an improbable run to an NCAA title when they square off against the Oregon Ducks in the first ever College Football Playoff Championship Game on Monday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The fourth-seeded Buckeyes upset the top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide 42-35 as 7.5-point underdogs in the Sugar Bowl, while the second-seeded Ducks knocked out the third-seeded and defending national champion Florida State Seminoles 59-20 as eight-point favorites in the Rose Bowl.

Oregon is a consensus 6.5-point favorite versus Ohio State and will look to end the season on a 10-game winning streak after earning a victory and covering the spread in nine straight games following its last loss.

The Buckeyes seem to be a team of destiny, though, so look for them to come through as dogs again and at least beat the spread in what should be a high-scoring affair with a total of 74 points.

And any Buckeye believers who bet their team back in late August are in line for a huge payout. After starting QB Braxton Miller was injured, Ohio State fell from 10-1 to 40-1 in college football future betting.

 

Ohio State Betting Tips

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones is 2-0 in two starts since replacing the injured J.T. Barrett as the starter with four touchdown passes and one interception.

He has led the team to a pair of upsets as underdogs both times, including a 59-0 rout of the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game, and sportsbooks added a passing yard prop on the third-stringer at over/under 260.5 yards.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott has 450 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the last two games combined for the Buckeyes. Elliott only failed to rush for more than 65 yards in the first three games of the season, totaling a season-low 32 in a 35-21 loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies on September 6, the team’s only setback.

Urban Meyer’s teams have gone 18-5 against the spread as an underdog during his coaching career. That includes a perfect 5-0 mark straight up as a dog at Ohio State.

 

Oregon Betting Tips

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota has been outstanding during Oregon’s winning streak, throwing 25 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. He has topped 300 passing yards in the past four games, including 338 in the Rose Bowl while also rushing for 62 yards against the Seminoles.

Mariota will be without wide receiver Darren Carrington, who had seven receptions for 165 yards and scored two touchdowns vs. Florida State. Carrington is the second-leading receiver for the Ducks with 37 catches for 704 yards and four touchdowns, but he failed a drug test.

Three of his scores came in the last two games, which are the only two starts of the freshman’s career.

The Ducks are 5-1 SU in their last six games against Big Ten schools, going 3-3 ATS. However, the one loss came against the Buckeyes in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

Oregon routed the Michigan State Spartans 46-27 as a 14-point favorite back on September 6, scoring 28 unanswered points after trailing 27-18.

Odds Shark Computer Prediction: 44-36 Oregon

 

Odds and stats courtesy of Odds Shark.

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B/R CFB 250: Top 32 Wide Receivers

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football. Brian Leigh and Kynon Codrington have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list down to a mere quarter-thousand and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 32 Wide Receivers.

Other CFB 250 Positions

Wide receiver is one of the deepest positions in college football.

As many as 50 players were considered for this list, and many of the names who didn't make it might develop into stars these next couple of seasons (and make us look stupid for omitting them).

Trimming down to 32 candidates required a detailed focus on six different traits, which can be seen in the slides that follow. But for simplicity's sake, it boiled down to three sweeping questions. Can you get open? Can you stay open? And can you make opponents pay for letting you be open?

If so, that's a pretty good start.

Before we begin, please take note that these players were graded as college receivers, not on how they project as NFL receivers.

Targeted skills such as route running are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college route running and professional route running. If a receiver can beat man coverage in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't beat man coverage against the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about college performance.

Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now.

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Oregon vs. Ohio State: Preview, Prediction for College Football Championship

It'd be hard for the tales of Marcus Mariota and Cardale Jones to be any more different. On one side is perhaps the greatest quarterback in college football history. On the other, a signal-caller with 71 more career throws than you or I.

As a freshman, Mariota was leading a BCS bowl champion. Jones was openly opining the pointlessness of classes. That the pair are lining up on opposite sidelines in Monday's College Football Championship would frankly be baffling if we hadn't seen it all play out.

Their stories at this point are well-worn. Mariota is looking to cap off one of the greatest full seasons for a quarterback in the history of the sport. The likely No. 1 overall pick has accounted for 55 total touchdowns and only six turnovers, winning the Heisman, Maxwell, Davey O'Brien, Walter Camp and Nobel Peace prize on the way.

On the surface he looks like everything a modern quarterback should be. He's tall, quick, intuitive in the pocket and plays with an admirable headiness. Over the course of his career he's thrown 13 interceptions over 1,130 pass attempts. That's barely a pick once every 100 passes, a rate so low it's a legitimate shock any time he turns the ball over.

"Our biggest concern is the guy receiving the snap every play," Urban Meyer told reporters Sunday. "I think he's one of the finest that's ever played the game, and that's our biggest issue."

Containing Mariota might be a little bit easier with one of his favorite targets still hanging out in Eugene. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich confirmed to reporters second leading receiver Darren Carrington will miss Monday's game due to an eligibility issue. The freshman made 37 receptions for 704 yards, the latter second behind Byron Marshall, and was coming into his own of late. Mariota and Carrington connected:

"It's tough," Mariota told reporters. "[Carrington] is a big playmaker for us. Next guy up."

If anyone knows something about the phrase "next man up," it's Jones. Because he was one. Or, rather, he was the third man up. The sophomore quarterback will be making his third career start Monday, having taken over for J.T. Barrett, himself a replacement for preseason Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller.

So far, Jones hasn't made anyone in Columbus miss Miller or Barrett for a second. He's thrown for 500 yards and four touchdowns against a single interception, helping the Buckeyes pulverize Wisconsin and barely squeak by Alabama. While he doesn't possess the speed on the edge of Miller or Barrett, he's a tough, grind-it-out runner in short yardage and brings a prototypical skill set from a passing perspective.

“The one thing that the new quarterback does is he has a tremendous arm,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters. “And they have some very talented receivers. And the two things that were very apparent is those things became very apparent in the last two games because of the quarterback."

Jones' arrival has allowed Devin Smith, the long-dormant deep playmaker in Ohio State's passing game, to shine. Smith has been at the receiving end of all four Jones touchdowns, torturing the Badger and Tides secondaries over the top. His six receptions have gone for an average of 37.3 yards; for the season that number is a ridiculous 27.7 yard per pop.

"They have a quarterback that can throw the ball. He'll hang in there and throw the ball 50, 60 yards to a spot," Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said, per Tyson Alger of The Oregonian. "But what makes the deep ball game go is their receivers. Those guys will go up and get the ball. They're covered, they're fighting and out-fight (the defensive backs) more often than not." 

Also making Jones' job easier is running back Ezekiel Elliott, who picked an awfully good time to have the two best games of his life. Elliott rushed for 450 yards and four touchdowns in Ohio State's two biggest contests, affirming his status as one of the nation's most dynamic playmakers in the process. The sophomore reeled off two touchdown runs of 80 yards or longer, picked up yards at more than 11 a clip and has been a safety valve for times when the moment seemed too big for Jones.

Oregon's Royce Freeman hasn't been nearly as dynamic, but he makes up for it with consistency. Freeman has rushed for at least 98 yards in eight of his last nine contests, the lone exception being a forgettable 44-yard outing against Florida State. The Ducks will need Freeman to step up against an Ohio State run defense that ranks a shaky 52nd in Football Outsiders' S&P run defense rankings.

In fact, both running backs should have an opportunity for success. Oregon has allowed more than 2,000 rushing yards this season and struggled mightily against a spread-style offense in its loss to Arizona. The Ducks rectified that loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game and are better balanced than they've been in any recent season, but it'd be a mild shock if this weren't a high-scoring contest.

Selecting a winner is entirely a trust exercise. On one side Meyer has a far superior resume to Helfrich, who to some is a mere holdover from the Chip Kelly era. On the other Mariota is one the shortlist of the greatest players in the sport's long history, while Jones' resume is almost entirely blank.

The saying goes when in doubt, trust the talent. I'll do just that. But Monday night should be a spectacle worthy of the inaugural college football playoff.

 

Pick: Oregon 42, Ohio State 31

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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College Football Championship 2015: Predictions for Top Stars in Oregon vs. OSU

When Ohio State and Oregon battle for a national championship, the scoreboard operator might want to bring a calculator.

The Buckeyes come into the game ranked fifth in the nation with an average of 45 points per game. In two postseason contests, they have been even better with 101 total points against a pair of quality defenses in Wisconsin and Alabama.

Incredibly, the Ducks have been even better with an average of 47.2 points per game. They have scored at least 40 points in each of the past nine games and put up 59 in the Rose Bowl win over Florida State.

Both sides are successful with great schemes, but it is the individual efforts of the players that really help the offenses roll. The biggest stars will all try to have big games in the spotlight, but not all of them will come through with their best effort.

Here are stat predictions for the top offensive players on each side in the national title game.

 

Quarterbacks

Marcus Mariota, Oregon

The Heisman Trophy winner will be the player everyone is looking forward to watching Monday, including the opposing head coach. Urban Meyer had high praise for Mariota earlier in the week, via Bryan Fischer of NFL.com:

Mariota has been incredibly accurate throughout his career while making few mistakes. However, Ohio State has a knack for causing more problems than normal thanks to the elite pass rush behind Joey Bosa, Darron Lee and others. 

While Oregon's offensive line is much better now that it is healthy, the unit will still have a tough time protecting its star quarterback. As a result, Mariota will be rushed and forced into more incompletions than usual and even a turnover or two.

Still, the player's pure talent should allow him to post the big numbers we are used to seeing in a quality individual effort.

Stats: 24-of-39, 307 pass yards, 3 TD, 1 INT; 34 rush yards, 1 TD

 

Cardale Jones, Ohio State

Over the last two games, Cardale Jones has been everything Ohio State fans could have wished for in a third-string quarterback. He filled in for the injured J.T. Barrett and led his team to two impressive wins while playing within himself at all times.

Considering Oregon ranks 108th in the nation against the pass, there is an opportunity to have some more big plays through the air in this one.

The Buckeyes will likely lean heavily on the run, but Jones should be able to put up some quality numbers both through the air and on the ground.

Stats: 17-of-28, 207 pass yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 41 rush yards

 

Running Backs

Royce Freeman, Oregon

Despite the two touchdowns against Florida State, Royce Freeman was relatively quiet with just 12 carries for 44 rushing yards. Both of these numbers are the lowest we have seen for the freshman since September.

When Oregon needs to make a play, we are clearly more likely to see the ball in Mariota's hands than Freeman.

Meanwhile, Ohio State boasts one of the best defensive lines in college football with Bosa, Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington. This will lead to clogged lanes and a forgettable game for the young running back.

Stats: 57 rush yards, 1 TD; 24 receiving yards

 

Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

If you didn't know his name a month ago, you certainly know who Ezekiel Elliott is now.

The sophomore running back is the reason Ohio State has been able to withstand multiple injuries at quarterback, specifically stepping up in the past two games with Jones under center, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

His performance against Alabama was something few others could even dream about:

While Oregon has fared well against the run for the most part this season, Elliott still has the speed, strength and vision to find plenty of space in this game.

Expect another huge performance for the red-hot running back.

Stats: 187 rush yards, 3 TD

 

Wide Receivers

Byron Marshall, Oregon

The last few weeks haven't been great for Byron Marshall, who has just 43 receiving yards in the last two games. However, the Ducks will need their leading receiver to step up with receiver Darren Carrington out for the national championship.

Marshall is new to the position after being a running back last season, but Matt Brown of Sports on Earth explained how the versatility makes him a real weapon:

Oregon simply needs to get its best players on the field, and in this case that meant shifting Marshall wide, where he often plays like a running back lining up on the perimeter. His lateral agility and power allow him to excel after the catch, and he's also a capable and willing blocker on the outside. Throw in his development as a pure receiver, through route-running and awareness, and Oregon has a new movable chess piece on offense who plays a pivotal role when defenses are just trying to get lined up and keep up with Oregon's tempo.

With such a big need at receiver, it's likely the Ducks keep Marshall out wide in this one and target him early and often. He has the skill to break off some big plays, but this game will likely see him become more of a consistent target everywhere on the field.

Stats: Seven catches, 107 receiving yards, 1 TD

 

Devin Smith, Ohio State

Although Devin Smith might be just a deep threat, the one-trick pony has a pretty good trick.

In the last three games, the receiver has seven catches with six of them going for 39 yards or more.

Smith has gotten into the end zone four times in the last two games.

Oregon cornerback Troy Hill has stepped up nicely for injured All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but Smith should still be able to get a few big plays against the Ducks.

Stats: Three catches, 78 receiving yards, 1 TD

 

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

 

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Texas Football: 5 Players Poised to Break out in 2015

Down 10 starters from last year's squad, the Texas Longhorns will have plenty of opportunity for players to step up and break out in 2015, including at the quarterback position.

We're still waiting on decisions from some of the Horns' top targets, many of whom will get a chance to play in their first season on campus. Depending on who ends up committing, the official class will affect the opportunities of the players on the current roster.

As it stands, top commit Malik Jefferson sits as the only freshman who is virtually guaranteed to step into a role. This is especially so because the freakish linebacker will enroll early this spring.

From there, it's a matter of a few guys who have flashed to turn their proven ability into sustained production. And for quarterback Jerrod Heard, it's finally making good on some impressive potential.

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Ohio State-Oregon Title Game Could Be Cardale Jones' Last Shot at Football Glory

Fifteen minutes of fame is usually dumb luck, good or bad. Sometimes, it's about someone stepping out of obscurity for one string of great feats. Cardale Jones might cap his 15 minutes by leading Ohio State to the national championship Monday night.

If so, that would make a blowout win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, followed by a gutsy win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal and then a national title win over Oregon. For a third-string quarterback who moved up twice when players in front of him got hurt, that could go down as the greatest, most impressive 15 minutes of sports fame ever.

But what should Jones do after Monday night? Go back next year and risk being a national championship-winning third-stringer who never sees the field? Transfer to another school—a growing trend in college football—to build up a resume and game film collection for NFL teams to see? Or just go right to the NFL now?

"He has to go back,'' said Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl. Savage is also the former general manager of the Cleveland Browns and director of player personnel for the Baltimore Ravens. "Jones would be a mid-round developmental candidate at best.''

Just guessing here, but the key words there are "at best." Before these past three games, Jones was known mostly for his immaturity. Illinois coach Tim Beckman, a former Ohio State assistant, told me that not long ago, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer wasn't even sure he wanted Jones on the team.

So all of these stories coming out now about how Jones is growing up, well, that's a little hard to swallow considering we're talking about two decades of immaturity followed by a month-and-a-half of growth.

I'm not trying to knock Jones. He has loads of talent, a huge arm and a big, durable-looking body. And there's nothing wrong with a young man taking a little time to grow up. That's what college is for.

"He's an unbelievable talent,'' Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley, a former teammate of Jones' at Ohio State, told me. "I was not surprised at all by what he's done, honestly.

"He's a great guy. He's just kind of goofy. He's not like a jerk or anything.''

There is no reason not to believe that. But Jones is the one who, just two years ago, tweeted, "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL. We ain't come to play SCHOOL. Classes are POINTLESS."

He now tweets about loving math. Whether he means it or not, it's still a step up in maturity.

But even if he has fully changed, the problem is that he hasn't had time to prove it to NFL teams, who will have to invest in him. He also hasn't had a chance to prove what he can do on the field, not over the long run.

The talk about Ohio State's quarterback spot is over which one will start next year. Everyone likes the debate of a good quarterback controversy, but Jones is in the toughest spot personally.

Starter Braxton Miller was already the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a Heisman candidate when he hurt his shoulder early this season. J.T. Barrett then became the starter, played most of the year and got into Heisman talk himself until he broke his ankle in the final regular-season game against Michigan. He is also just 19 and has time to develop.

But Jones is 22 years old. And while he has two years of eligibility left, he would have to sit out a year if he transfers.

This will be a tough call for Jones. To me, he should transfer somewhere he knows he can play. He clearly wants to have an NFL career. And if academics matters to him now, he can find a good place for that, too.

But there are many personal factors for him to weigh. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated wrote a lengthy cover story about Jones, detailing his tough upbringing. According to the story, Jones does not know his dad, and his mom worked multiple jobs while he was growing up. He does not have the best relationship with her, either, and said that she only started getting involved in his life after he became a star football player.

Jones and his girlfriend also recently had a daughter. So you can't blame a guy for taking money if it's there for him and he needs it.

But it could also hurt his career if he shows up in the NFL too soon and unprepared. Jones enrolled in a military academy and then sat out a year at Ohio State just to let Miller get closer to graduating before his own clock started ticking. But when Barrett beat Jones out for the starting job this fall, according to the Sports Illustrated story, Jones said this to offensive coordinator Tom Herman:

"Dude, come on. Let's do the math here. J.T. is younger than me, he's the future right there, and you got Braxton coming back. You want me to stick around and be the third quarterback forever?''

A third-string quarterback who won the national championship, or at least played for one. True, but 15 minutes isn't enough to fill a resume.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Nebraska Football: 5 Players Poised to Break out in 2015

Nebraska football fans will have watched the College Football Playoff National Championship (which desperately needs a better name) and spent some time dreaming about what it would be like to see NU in that game. To get there, Nebraska will need some new stars, particularly to replace players like Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory.

Nebraska’s roster has plenty of talent for new head coach Mike Riley to use next year. Here are five players who could be breakout stars for Nebraska in 2015.

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Ohio State vs. Oregon: National Championship Game Against the Spread

Last week's inaugural BCS Playoff semifinals ensured that, for the first time since 2010, there will be a champion other than Alabama or Florida State. For Ohio State, it's been 13 years since its last title. For Oregon, a victory would give the school its first-ever championship. 

Let's take a look at how the game breaks down, with lines courtesy of Sports Information Traders:

 

BETTING LINE: Oregon -6; Over/Under: 75

Last Game: In the BCS semifinals, Oregon crushed Florida State 59-20 and Ohio State upset Alabama beating them 42-37.

The offensive fireworks should come out in this game, as Oregon ranks second in the nation in points per game and Ohio State ranks fifth. In their last two games, the Ducks have totaled 110 points while the Buckeyes have had 101 points. 

The betting trends are pretty solid for both teams, but one that stands out is that Oregon is 9-0 against the spread in its last nine games overall and have covered the spread in its last four bowl games.

Since losing to Arizona in their fifth game of the season, the Ducks have won nine straight—all in blowout fashion.

During their streak, Oregon has scored at least 40 points in each game and they are 21-6 ATS in its last 27 games after scoring more than 40 points in the previous game.

Meanwhile, OSU is a solid 9-2-1 ATS in its last 12 games facing teams from the Pac-12, but that trend will not continue.

The Buckeyes forced three turnovers in their win over Alabama—all on interceptions—but they will face Heisman-winning QB Marcus Mariota, who only had three picks all season to go along with 40 touchdown passes.

On the other side of the coin, the Ducks forced five turnovers in their win over Florida State and, in fact, led the nation in turnover margin. They will be facing OSU QB Cardale Jones, who is making only his third career start; while he has been solid in his short time on the field, he was picked off in the Alabama game.

OSU is 4-1 ATS in its last five games facing a non-conference opponent and, of course, the last one covering against Alabama was huge. 

While many of the betting trends—and these teams' offenses—may point to the over, in five of the last seven bowl games for Oregon the posted total has gone under. 

The last time these teams faced each other was in 2010, with Ohio State prevailing (and also hitting the under). Five years later, the stakes have been raised. 

 

All statistics obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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