NCAA Football

Buckeyes' Status as CFB's Most Valuable Program Proves Urban Meyer's Underpaid

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The confetti has hardly been cleaned up in Glendale, Arizona, as Alabama still celebrates its 45-40 victory over Clemson to capture the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship.

But while the Crimson Tide may have reclaimed college football's throne on the field, as far as money is concerned, Ohio State remains the sport's reigning champ.

Just hours before Alabama took the field at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Wall Street Journal's Andrew Beaton named the Buckeyes college football's most valuable program for the second consecutive season.

According to Ryan Brewer (via Beaton), an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, the Ohio State football program is currently worth $946.6 million, edging out Texas ($885.05 million), Michigan ($811.30 million), Notre Dame ($723.59) and the Crimson Tide ($694.87).

And while the Buckeyes' value dipped from $1.1 billion a year ago, their status as college football's only team worth more than $900 million is nothing to scoff at.

Surely that number will find itself attractive to prospective advertisers and sponsors such as Nike, whose athletic apparel contract with the school was valued at $4.3 million in 2015. It's a deal that is looking more and more like a steal for the apparel provider as it moves toward its 2018 end date.

Of course, there's a difference between "value" and "profit," and in USA Today's annual rankings of program revenue, Ohio State trailed Oregon, Texas, Michigan and Alabama. As an overall athletic department, the Buckeyes reported revenue of $170.9 million from 2014-2015, according to CBS Sports, trailing just Texas ($179.6 million).

But Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith asserted last November, "If I wanted to just have more money than Texas, we’d have more money than Texas."

Considering the estimated value of the backbone of Smith's department, it'd be tough to disagree. Which raises the question: Why doesn't Urban Meyer make more money?

Collecting $5.8 million, Meyer made the third-most of any college coach in 2015 and just .0061 percent of his program's estimated worth. Even when the now-fifth-year Ohio State head coach hits his 2015 contract extension's average salary of $6.5 million, Meyer will make just .0068 percent of his program's current worth.

Buckeyes fans would love to believe that its team's head coach is irrelevant to its value, that if it wasn't Meyer on the Ohio Stadium sideline, it'd be another big name maintaining the football program's value. And yes, there's certainly a strong case to be made that the players on the field deserve a much larger piece of the pie than the scholarships they receive for their services.

Tradition, history and a large alumni base—and larger fanbase—all play significant factors in the Buckeyes' value as well, as evidenced by Texas' strong standing despite its recent string of disappointing seasons. But make no mistake about it: Meyer is the CEO of Ohio State football and the man most responsible for the Buckeyes' status as college football's most valuable program.

Don't believe it? Just look at the last season Ohio State spent without Meyer standing on its sideline. Mired in a scandal that resulted in the departure of head coach Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes endured a 6-7 campaign in 2011, which culminated with sanctions that handicapped Meyer's debut season in Columbus in 2012.

Off the field, the financial numbers indicated a program in need of a jolt, with the Wall Street Journal valuing the OSU football program at $520 million at the end of the 2011 season—the seventh-most valuable program in all of college football.

Accumulating a 12-0 record while dealing with postseason sanctions in 2012, Meyer helped boost the Buckeyes' value to $586.6 million, up two spots to the fifth-most valuable in college football. In 2013, Ohio State's value jumped to $674.8 million—fourth in college football—before nearly doubling from its 2011 worth with an estimated $1.1 billion—with a "b"—in 2014.

The Buckeyes' value may have slipped this year, but so did those of the rest of college football's programs. Ohio State football is still worth more than any other program in the country and is only trending upward entering 2016.

And it's not difficult to see the reason why.

In Meyer's four seasons in Columbus, the Buckeyes are 50-4 and have remained in the national title hunt every year, including a chase for the Associated Press' national championship when they were ineligible for postseason play in 2012. Meyer has inked four top-seven recruiting classes and will sign another in three weeks, proof that the future of Ohio State is in good hands, even as the Buckeyes prepare to dominate the ticker of the upcoming NFL draft.

Even if 2011 was an outlier, Ohio State football was never as valuable during the height of Tressel's decade in Columbus as it is now. In 2007, coming off back-to-back national title game appearances, Forbes slotted the Buckeyes' program as the 10th-most valuable in college football at an estimated $71 million.

As far as college coaches are concerned, Meyer's properly paid, trailing only Alabama's Nick Saban in annual salary. But with Meyer admitting that the NFL came calling this winter, the marketplace could dictate that he's in line for another raise, as it'd be hard to imagine Meyer not garnering more than the five-year, $32.5 million contract Chip Kelly signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.

According to CoachingHotSeat.com, 10 NFL coaches made more in 2015 than Meyer did at Ohio State. The demand he would draw as a big-name candidate if he were to test the waters would surely make him one of pro football's higher-paid head coaches.

"I don't want to get into that. I'm not naming teams," Meyer said when asked about receiving overtures from the professional ranks. "It makes you think, just because of the respect, but I love where I'm at."

Returning to Ohio State, Meyer will have his work cut out for him, returning just six total starters from his 2015 team. But with the way he's recruited, the Buckeyes are a safe bet to remain in the playoff conversation through the bulk of the season, which has become the standard he's set in his first four seasons at Ohio State.

"What does the future hold?" Meyer asked rhetorically last week. "The future's extremely bright."

Looking at the financial numbers, that rings true in more ways than one. And it may just mean that Meyer is in line for another well-deserved raise sooner than later.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Georgia's New DC Mel Tucker Will Help Keep Bulldogs Defense at Elite Level

Late Monday night in Glendale, Arizona, when Alabama defensive backs coach Mel Tucker left the victorious locker room after helping Alabama win the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, he walked out on top.

His team gave up yards in chunks to Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, but safety Eddie Jackson—who he converted from corner in his first and only offseason with the Crimson Tide—forced the game's only turnover, which Alabama converted into a touchdown in the 45-40 win over the top-ranked Tigers.

Now, he's on to the next stage in his life with some familiar faces.

Georgia announced Tuesday morning Tucker will be the new defensive coordinator of the Bulldogs, joining new head coach Kirby Smart and assistant/analyst Glenn Schumann as former members of the Tide staff making the jump to Athens.

The trio made a quick break out of the desert in order to get started quickly at Georgia, according to Schumann's Twitter page.

Tucker is the perfect hire for Smart and will keep Georgia's defense—the nation's seventh-best in yards per game (305.9) and 13th in yards per play (4.76)—at an elite level in 2016.

No, Tucker didn't coordinate Alabama's defense last year. But he fixed its one major problem.

The Tide gave up a league-worst 133 passing plays of 10 or more yards a year ago. The move of Jackson to safety, the play of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marlon Humphrey and Ronnie Harrison and the increased focus Tucker brought helped drop that number to 112 in 2015 despite playing one more game than the previous year.

While he has never been a coordinator at the college level other than 2004, when he was the co-coordinator at Ohio State, he did serve as the coordinator at three different NFL stops with Cleveland (2008), Jacksonville (2009-2012) and Chicago (2013-2014). His 2011 Jaguars defense gave up just 313 yards per game, the sixth-best mark in the league.

Plus, that NFL experience will undoubtedly be helpful on the recruiting trail, as former Bulldog and current co-host of WCNN 680 The Fan's Buck and Kincade radio show Buck Belue noted on Twitter.

Besides, it's not like Tucker is going to have to do it all.

He has a tremendous insurance policy in Smart as a head coach, who led Alabama to top-12 defenses nationally in all eight seasons he was in a similar role under Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban from 2008-2015.

If anybody knows the defensive-minded head coach/defensive coordinator dynamic, what it takes to successfully work together and achieve sustained success, it's Smart.

With a stud like linebacker Lorenzo Carter coming back and a solid core that includes lineman Trenton Thompson and SEC interception leader Dominick Sanders, Tucker should be able to slide right in and pick up right where former coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left off.

He's the right hire at the right time for Georgia and for Smart.

 

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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Alabama's Derrick Henry Was Feeling All Sorts of Ways During CFP Championship

Derrick Henry might've had the most forgettable 158-yard, three-touchdown game in the history of organized football on Monday night.

That's not a knock on Henry. It's not his fault Lane Kiffin decided to open the lab vault and unleash Olympic sprinter/possible Resident Evil monster O.J. Howard on the world. 

But even with Henry's contributions getting somewhat lost in the sauce of Alabama's 45-40 College Football Playoff championship win over Clemson, he still made his presence known. Specifically, he made it known on Jake Coker's attempts to put water in his mouth.

Mike Tunison posted a GIF of Henry coming in hot and nearly congratulating Coker over the bench.

That was long before victory was assured. So, you can only imagine what Henry looked like after the Crimson Tide seized victory.

Reddit user rezips (h/t SB Nation's James Dator) posted footage of the running back's postgame reaction. He could scarcely contain himself:

Or not. I don't know exactly what that look is, but it looks like the face you'd make if aliens landed and began making out with your girlfriend.

Or maybe it's just the face you make when you've spent the last four hours running at top speed and being bombarded with all of the most intense emotions known to man.

Yeah. That's probably it.


Dan is on Twitter. He hasn't made that face since Fallout 4 debuted.

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Why Nick Saban Will Never Leave Alabama for NFL

From the moment the clock struck triple zeros at University of Phoenix Stadium, the confetti fell all over the Alabama Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban began drying off after getting doused with Gatorade, you could sense what was coming next.

The offseason, and the annual event known as "Saban Watch."

Saban just wrapped up his fourth national title in nine years in Tuscaloosa (fifth overall counting the 2003 title at LSU) and, as my colleague Adam Kramer noted from Glendale, Arizona, etched his name as perhaps the best coach in college football history.

There's only one thing left for Saban to do, right? After all, his 15-17 record with the NFL's Miami Dolphins from 2005-2006 sticks out like a sore thumb on his otherwise sterling resume.

Say it with me, say it with feeling and say it over and over again until you can't get it out of your head: Nick Saban isn't going to the NFL.

And here's why.

 

Cemented Legacy

Yes, Saban failed at the NFL level. 

Do you think he cares? If you do, have you seen Saban lately?

He ditched the process-oriented robot that won titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012—while lamenting the fact he missed out on a few recruiting days—in favor of the happy, smiling, dancing T-Rex that seemed to enjoy the conclusion to this season more so than any other title in his career.

"I'd just like to reiterate once again how proud I am of our team, everybody involved in the team, the players, number one," Saban said after the 45-40 win over Clemson, according to postgame quotes released by the CFP. "This was really about doing the best we could to help them have a chance to be successful and have an experience of winning a championship."

Of course, he's always going to be concerned with what's next, the players coming in, the fight against complacency and making sure everybody buys in to "the process." What has changed with Saban, though, is that he seems to enjoy that much more than he did just a couple of years ago.

The Kick Six, the Oklahoma loss and the semifinal shocker to Ohio State over the last two years humbled him, and his response is clear.

He no longer fears losing more than he enjoys winning, which seems to have quelled any desire to welcome the final challenge. As my colleague Lars Anderson wrote last week on Twitter, he's fine just where he is:

This challenge—the challenge of building and sustaining success at an elite level in college—is good enough. 

 

He's Not a Job-Jumper Anymore

Saban was labeled as a "job-jumper" after leaving LSU for the Dolphins in 2005, only to jump to Alabama two years later after repeated denials of his interest in the opening in Tuscaloosa.

Newsflash: That was nearly a decade ago, and people change. Especially 64-year-old men who have recently become grandfathers and put down roots in a location working in an industry like coaching that's inherently nomadic.

Yes, 54-year-old Saban would likely be all for the next big challenge, notice that grass that's always greener on the other side and throw his hat in every ring imaginable.

The only one he's thrown his hat into over the last couple of years is Texas, and all that did was earn him a $6.9 million-per-year contract through 2021 along with the reassurance he can retire in Tuscaloosa if he wants to and make enough to set his family up for generations—plural.

Saban spoke about his life outside of football prior to the game, according to the CFP:

I like to spend time with my family. I like to get away. We have two places that we sort of escape to. One is in Boca Grande, which is in Florida, and one is Lake Burton, which is in the mountains on the Georgia-North Carolina border. We have a lot of good relationships, a lot of good friends. I enjoy playing golf and spending time with those people and our family.

Could he cash in at the NFL level? No doubt about it.

His current income would be near the top of the NFL pay scale, according to CoachesHotSeat.com, but he wouldn't have that stability and the family structure he has built in Tuscaloosa would be uprooted in order to scratch that one remaining itch.

As Phil Savage of the Alabama radio network and SiriusXM noted after the Cotton Bowl, Alabama is Saban's life:

At his age, another move is just not worth it.

 

Knowledge is Power

If Saban would even consider a move up to the NFL, he would almost certainly require 100 percent control of personnel moves. 

Teams could certainly offer that, but as we saw with Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles, that places the coach in much more peril if those decisions don't pay off quickly. 

Why bother?

He has all the power he needs in Tuscaloosa, has reeled in five straight top-ranked recruiting classes and has assembled some of the most impressive coaching staffs in college football history.

Even if he gets full control over an NFL franchise, he's never going to have more power anywhere in the world of football than he has right now. After all, his boss—athletics director Bill Battle—knew how important it was to keep Saban happy from the moment he got his job in 2013.

"I want to learn from that guy," Battle said, according to Ken Rogers of the Dothan Eagle. "He’s good. I mean, he’s really good."

Why would Saban bother messing with success?

 

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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Every Power 5 Conference Team's Best Returning Player for the 2016 Season

Monday night, the 2015 season wrapped up in tremendous fashion with Alabama’s 45-40 national title-game win over Clemson. It was a fun end to what had been, at times, a lackluster bowl season, but it also reminded us how exciting college football can be.

It was also a reminder that college football is always changing. We’re less than one week away from the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft, which means new players will step into more prominent roles left behind by graduates and early departures. That doesn’t mean that the game will lose its talent, though. Far from it.

College football has plenty of special players left. Here’s a look at the most talented player remaining on each Power Five program. We did not include players who have declared for the draft, per NFL.com, and stats are from ESPN.com and programs’ official websites.

Begin Slideshow

Why Clemson Is an Early Favorite to Win the 2016 National Title

The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship is over. Clemson, the No. 1 team in the country for the latter part of the 2015 season, came up just short in a 45-40 loss.

No, this wasn't the return of "Clemsoning." The Tigers lost by five points to a perennial power and now arguably the greatest college football coach of all time in Nick Saban. They fought until the absolute end, failing to convert an onside kick that would have given them a chance at a Hail Mary. 

The loss certainly stings for Clemson, but this is not the peak moment for this program. This is not the end. 

"There's no doubt that we will be back. It won't be 34 years before we're going to be back, I promise you that," Swinney said, via Cory McCartney of FoxSports.com.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee agreed: 

Clemson will be back on this stage. With all their key players returning next year, projecting the Tigers to return to this very game isn't unfathomable. In fact, it's perfectly reasonable. 

Not all teams are created equally. You know this. I know this. In any given year, there are a handful of teams capable of winning a national championship. For the sake of this discussion, Alabama, Baylor, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Stanford were given long looks based on returning players and coaches.

Every team will have question marks. This is unavoidable. For example: Alabama will need to replace quarterback Jake Coker and members of the best defensive front seven in college football in memory. The good news for the Tide is even the backups are outstanding.

And when you're an NFL factory like Ohio State, can the 2016 team pick up where the 2015 version left off? There's no Joey Bosa at defensive end and no Ezekiel Elliott at running back to anchor the defense and offense, respectively.

Of all the teams examined, the one that kept coming up was Clemson. It might seem too safe—boring, even—to select the Tigers to return to the national championship game, but there are a plenty of reasons to like them.

 

Strengths: It Starts with Quarterback Deshaun Watson

Watson is a once-in-a-generation type of talent for Clemson. That in and of itself gives the Tigers an edge over other teams in consideration. 

There's a tremendous amount of value in dual-threat quarterbacks at the college level because it gives one of the best athletes on the team the ball on every snap.

Watson isn't just an athlete playing quarterback, though. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. He made significant strides as a passer during his sophomore campaign. In September, he threw for 213.7 yards per game. By November, that number increased to 321.8 yards per game.

In a year without much star power at quarterback, Watson finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. 

Against Alabama, Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns, and he rushed for another 73 yards. In the words of offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain, there's not much Watson can't do: 

Watson was ready to play from Week 1 of his freshman season. That didn't mean Watson was going to play at a high level right away or consistently, but he was unquestionably the best option in 2014. By his third game—a 23-17 loss to Florida State in which he took over for Cole Stoudt—he threw for 266 yards. The following week against North Carolina, he tossed six touchdown passes.

He's only going to get better by the 2016 season. Watson will be a third-year player and in his second year as a full-time starter. The arsenal of weapons around him will return almost entirely intact. Leading receiver Artavis Scott will be a junior as well and the offense's best deep threat, Deon Cain, will be a sophomore.

The rapport between Watson and Cain blossomed as the season progressed. From Oct. 31 to Nov. 28, Cain had a touchdown in five straight games and caught 19 passes.

Though he was suspended for the playoffs for violating team rules, he's already enrolled in spring classes, according to ESPN.com, a good sign he's ready to compete again.

Cain is hardly the only explosive playmaker returning. Receiver Mike Williams, who missed practically the entire season with a neck injury, will be back. Aaron Brenner of the Post and Courier reported that tight end Jordan Leggett will be back as well:

Running back Wayne Gallman announced on Twitter that he's considering his options but would like to win a national title:

For all the skill guys coming back, though, the more important group will be the offensive line. It's a team effort, but the Tigers gave up just 18 sacks in 15 games. The two big losses will be guard Eric Mac Lain and tackle Joe Gore, but three starters will be back, including freshman sensation Mitch Hyatt at left tackle.

Winning up front is paramount, and it can be difficult to keep an offense playing a high level when there's excessive turnover in the trenches.

The 2016 Clemson offense should strike fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators and opposing coaches everywhere. The amount of talent returning is almost unthinkable.

 

Weaknesses: 2 Key Areas Might Need to Be Rebuilt on Defense

By now, defensive coordinator Brent Venables deserves the benefit of the doubt. Heading into the 2015 season, the primary concern about Clemson was the defense. The entire D-line had to be replaced, as well as a handful of other starters.

Statistically, this was the best unit in college football in 2014, giving up a mere four yards per play.

All Clemson did this year was finish second in the country in sacks, tied for 24th in scoring defense and tied for 24th in total takeaways. So, yeah, Venables did a remarkable job with players who didn't have a lot of starting experience.

The good news for the Tigers is they won't have to go through the same type of defensive overhaul for 2016. Defensive end Shaq Lawson will enter the NFL draft, and NFL Network's Rand Getlin suggested in December that cornerback Mackensie Alexander is expected to do the same.

Much of Clemson's returning defense depends on a couple of key decisions involving safety Jayron Kearse and defensive end Kevin Dodd, who told Tony Crumpton of TigerNet.com that he's on the fence about leaving: 

I have submitted my papers. I want some feedback. Just to see where I stand. I'm willing to come back next year and take that leadership role. If that's not the case, then it's not the case. But I have been in this program four years. I felt like I have contributed well. I'm not saying I am leaving but if I did, I don't think I would be selfish. But I do want to come back and have that dominant season, but I do want to see where I stand.

If Dodd leaves, that means Clemson will have to replace nearly 50 percent of its sack production and roughly 30 percent of its quarterback hurries. That's a monumental blow to the pass rush.

Then again, Vic Beasley accounted for about 27 percent of Clemson's pass rush in 2014, and Venables showed the production could be replaced.

All things considered, Alexander would be the biggest loss. The 5'11", 195-pound redshirt sophomore is the team's top shutdown corner. For what it's worth, Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller believes Alexander could work his way into the top corner spot for the draft:

As David Hale of ESPN.com noted last month, Alexander had the lowest completion percentage allowed per target (31 percent) of anyone in major college football. Replacing that is no easy task.

 

Why the Tigers Will Win

In the end, head coach Dabo Swinney has made us ask "Why not?" rather than "Why?"

The 2016 national championship was a game between one of the sport's greatest coaches (Alabama's Nick Saban) and one who's carving his own path to greatness (Swinney).

Since losing the 2012 Orange Bowl to West Virginia, an undeniable turning point for Clemson with the benefit of hindsight, Swinney has beaten Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma (twice), Notre Dame and Florida State.

The list of coaches able to say as much in such a short time span is, at best, short.

Swinney is recruiting at a championship-level, too. For the past five years, Clemson has averaged a top-15 class. That's just good enough to compete for a national title.

With less than a month to go before national signing day, the Tigers have the No. 11-ranked class nationally. Should verbal commits hold, blue-chip players like all-purpose back Tavien Feaster, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and defensive end Xavier Kelly should be in positions to compete for playing time right away.

But before looking ahead, you have to go back—back to Clemson's 24-22 win over Notre Dame in monsoon conditions.

In an interview with ESPN after the victory, Swinney said his players had to B.Y.O.G: Bring Your Own Guts. It's been a mantra for the Tigers during their undefeated run all the way up to the national championship game.

When you win that much, guts aren't the only thing required. In 2016, Clemson will be B.Y.O.E: Bring Your Own Expectations. Despite losing a heartbreaker to Alabama, the Tigers will have high expectations next year. The pieces are certainly there to fulfill them.

For the first time in a while, Clemson knows defeat in the worst way. Those coming back will make it their mission to never feel like that again.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Alabama vs. Clemson: Top Plays, Highlights from 2016 CFP Championship

In a thrilling game, the Alabama Crimson Tide earned their fourth national championship in the last seven years by beating the Clemson Tigers 45-40 on Monday night in Glendale, Arizona. Clemson's Deshaun Watson had an amazing game in a losing effort (405 passing yards, four touchdowns and 73 yards rushing), but Alabama got it done with a total team effort.

ESPN SportsCenter was able to capture head coach Nick Saban surrendering a smile after his team's victory:

 

The Heisman Winner

Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry had a monster game statistically. He ran for 158 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. His one-yard plunge put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. He also had a 50-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter.

If this was his last college football game, he will leave Tuscaloosa in style.

 

The Quarterback

Jake Coker has received some criticism throughout his career at Alabama, and he's had to overcome a wealth of adversity. However, just as he was against the Michigan State Spartans in the Cotton Bowl, the senior was at his best when it mattered most.

He made several crucial throws over the course of the game. In total, he completed 16 of 25 passes for 335 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. After his third touchdown strike, Coker was a little amped, per ESPN CollegeFootball:

That 51-yard touchdown pass was to tight end O.J. Howard. The junior had five receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Most of the yardage came on completions courtesy of busted coverages by the Tigers secondary, but Howard's speed is impressive for a player at his position.

The aforementioned big score was one of the three biggest plays of the game, per ESPN CollegeFootball:

 

The Pooch

With the game tied at 24 after an Adam Griffith field goal, Saban elected to try a surprise onside kick. The gamble worked, as the Tide recovered and took over just outside Clemson territory.

With Clemson still reeling from the sneak attack, Coker hit Howard for the 51-yard strike. Howard had already caught a 53-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.

The onside kick call took guts, but had it been unsuccessful, Saban and his staff would have been second-guessed. Because it worked, it'll go down as just another ingenious call by a college football coaching legend.

 

The Dive

After Watson rallied the Tigers to a field goal to answer Howard's touchdown, it was Kenyan Drake's turn to make his mark in the national championship. On the ensuing kickoff, Drake went 95 yards to make the score 38-27.

Drake had to extend and dive for the pylon to score, and the replay showed he stayed inbounds and broke the plain of the end zone. The amount of players who contributed to Bama's win are even more plentiful than the highlights presented indicate.

That's just proof that the Tide were indeed the best team in college football this season.

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Alabama vs. Clemson: Ratings for 2016 College Football Championship Revealed

The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between Alabama and Clemson received a 15.8 overnight rating for Monday night's telecast on ESPN.  

John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal passed along word of the rating from the Crimson Tide's triumph Tuesday, which he notes is a 15 percent drop from the 2015 title game.

USA Today noted last year's championship clash between Ohio State and Oregon received an 18.2 rating and 33,395,000 viewers.

Although overall viewership numbers haven't yet been released, the ratings drop continues a trend that was seen during the semifinal games, which were held on New Year's Eve.

Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated reported both matchups in the previous round saw viewership drop considerably (45 percent for Clemson vs. Oklahoma and 34 percent for Alabama vs. Michigan State). In all, the games lost more than 12 million viewers combined.

The New Year's Eve placement of those game certainly played a role in the decrease. Yet, Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com passed along comments from CFP executive director Bill Hancock, who stated there hasn't been any talk of redoing the schedule for future years.

"The contract is in place for 12 years," Hancock said Jan. 4 on The Audible podcast. "We have not talked at all about making any changes."

John Consoli of Broadcasting & Cable reported Jan. 8 that ESPN owed advertisers around $20 million in ad makegoods after ratings for the semifinals fell short of expectations.

The ratings for the title game may cause even more alarm bells to sound since it took place in its traditional Monday night slot against little sports competition. Furthermore, the game was highly entertaining with the Tide's 45-40 victory not being wrapped up until the final minutes.

Hancock told Fox Sports after the semifinals that "we all need to be careful, step back and remember that one year does not make a trend." That said, the ratings drop means the pressure will be on to produce bounce-back results at the end of next season.

 

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Alabama Team Buses Forget Lane Kiffin, Leave Him at Stadium After CFP Final

Lane Kiffin added a national championship to his resume on Monday night as Alabama held on for a 45-40 victory over Clemson in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship.

However, not everything went so smoothly for him that night.

After the game, the Crimson Tide team buses apparently left the University of Phoenix Stadium without conducting a head count. As a result, the 40-year-old offensive coordinator got left behind while he was talking to reporters.


Kiffin at least had a sense of humor about the situation.

"First, I get fired [by USC] on the tarmac, and now I get left behind at the national championship," Kiffin said "half-jokingly," according to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman.

There were a lot of people to account for, and this was no ordinary environment, so one could understand how something like this might happen, given the circumstances. Fortunately, it appears as though Kiffin and his kids eventually got a ride.

Kiffin luckily had no problem making it in time for the flight back to Tuscaloosa:

[Twitter, h/t USA Today's FTW]

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AP College Football Poll 2016: Final Rankings Unveiled for Top 25 Teams

On the heels of their 45-40 win over the Clemson Tigers in Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the Alabama Crimson Tide were recognized as the top college football team in the nation Tuesday.  

According to the final Associated Press Top 25 poll of the season, Bama overtook Clemson for the No. 1 ranking, although the Tigers did nab the No. 2 spot after playing the Tide tough in a highly entertaining title game.

Stanford and Ohio State took the No. 3 and No. 4 positions, respectively, with convincing bowl victories, while Oklahoma rounded out the Top Five despite losing to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Here is a full rundown of the AP's final Top 25 rankings with the 2015 college football season now officially in the books:

While no argument can be made against the top two spots, considering how competitive the national championship game was, the next four positions figure to ignite debate regarding the CFP's selection process.

Both Michigan State and Oklahoma earned their right to take part in the playoff, but they were both beaten handily, while the likes of Stanford and Ohio State looked entirely capable of hanging with and potentially defeating Alabama and Clemson.

The Cardinal had arguably the best player in the country on their side in the form of running back Christian McCaffrey, and the Buckeyes had perhaps the most talented overall team following a national title win last year.

Those factors were recognized by the Associated Press at the end of the season, but that is little consolation for Stanford and OSU considering they didn't get an opportunity to prove themselves against the best.

The CFP committee may not have set up the most competitive CFP semifinal matchups it could have, which will almost certainly lead to increased support for College Football Playoff expansion in the near future.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Ranking Every College Football Conference Post-2015-16 Bowl Season

Monday night's epic College Football Playoff National Championship capped a strong postseason for the SEC and a year of shifting power across the top conferences.

With the offseason officially underway, the age-old debate of the pecking order among college football conferences can return to full power. SEC fans will point to the league's return to the national championship, while others will focus on the struggles the conference had during the regular season.

But which league proved the most on the field in 2015? Here are Bleacher Report's latest college football conference rankings.

These rankings are based on the leagues' top-to-bottom strength—the number of ranked teams in B/R's final Top 25 compared to the number of teams that stayed at home this postseason—and how they fared against other top conferences.

Of course, this might not be everyone's method to sorting through the madness that is conference power ranking. Give us your personal rankings in the comments below.

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Cold Hard Fact for Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fact: Alabama has won 11 national championships in the poll era (since 1936), the most of any team.

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

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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College Football Championship 2016: Top Breakout Stars from Alabama vs. Clemson

There are three aspects to a football game: offense, defense and special teams. For as much attention as the first two receive, it can often be special teams that turns the outcome of a game one way or another.

Despite there being so many superstars and so much talent on the field in Glendale, Arizona, Monday, it was the special teams that made the difference for Alabama, as the Crimson Tide claimed yet another title and extended their dynasty another season.

It wasn’t all about the specialists, though, with the superstars carrying both teams throughout the game and setting up the thrilling finale. Alabama running back Derrick Henry was a beast on the ground throughout, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson put on his best Vince Young impression in the first half and even injured Tigers defender Shaq Lawson stepped up in a big way.

But while the headliners will, well, dominate the headlines in the morning, they weren’t the only players who stepped up, with both teams getting performances from a few less heralded players that kept them in the game.

The casual fan likely didn’t know who some of these players were before the game, but afterward, it is hard to ignore the presence of some of the breakout stars from last night's title game.

 

Top Breakout Stars

Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow

For everything Watson did to carry Clemson in the first half when seemingly nothing else was working, he had to have someone to throw the ball to, or else all of his scrambling would have been for naught. That's where Hunter Renfrow comes in.

Heading into the game, Renfrow, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, was fifth on the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, but Monday night fans would have been excused for thinking he was the team’s No. 1 target.

Despite only recording three touchdowns in the first 13 games of the year, Renfrow was on the receiving end of two scores in the opening quarter Monday that saw Clemson take an early lead against Alabama.

Even when Deon Cain returns to the team next season and forces Renfrow back down the depth chart, it is hard to imagine the young receiver disappearing completely. With Charone Peake gone, Renfrow should still have a big role for the Tigers next season even if it is as a second or third receiver.

 

Clemson DE Kevin Dodd

Perhaps it is a little unfair to call Kevin Dodd a breakout star after the regular season he had, but if fans didn’t know who he was before Monday night, they absolutely do now.

Overshadowed throughout his career by the likes of Vic Beasley and Shaq Lawson, Dodd continued to grow until he jumped into the starting lineup this season and established himself as one of the best defensive linemen in the country.

Recording nine sacks this season—good for second-best on the team behind Lawson—Dodd was a force for most of the year, but showed off his abilities to the fullest against Alabama. Finishing the game with three sacks, Dodd outplayed Lawson and was the most dominate defensive player on the field for either team.

If he elects to return for the 2016 season, Dodd will be looked at to continue the legacy of great defensive ends at Clemson after Lawson departs for the NFL.

 

Alabama TE O.J. Howard

Here’s the thing, if you have watched Alabama at any point over the last couple of seasons, you know exactly who O.J. Howard is. Since his freshman year, the tight end has been touted as one of the most talented players in the country at his position, but he has never quite reached that potential—that is until Monday.

As Alabama looked for offensive balance—only offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knows why you would when Derrick Henry is capable of running the ball 40 times—the typical course of action would be to call on No. 1 wideout Calvin Ridley. But in the title game it was Howard who stepped up, and he did so in a huge way.

Finishing the game with 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns that both gave Alabama the lead, Howard showed why Crimson Tide fans have been so excited for him to break out over the past few seasons.

Whether or not Alabama was the right fit for him to put up big numbers at tight end, Howard has established himself as one of the best in the country and provides an interesting prospect for NFL scouts.

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National Signing Day 2016: Predictions for Top Recruits After CFP Championship

With the close of college football season Monday night, fans will turn their attentions to the Feb. 3 national signing day.

While many top recruits already have at least verbally committed to their schools, 18 of the top-50 247Sports prospects have yet to announce their decisions.

The usual SEC suspects lead the way in the team recruiting rankings—with the LSU Tigers at the top—claiming six of the top-10 spots, but it's the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes that come in at second and third.

 

Top-Five Remaining Uncommitted Recruits

Rashan Gary, Paramus Catholic (Paramus, NJ), DT

Gary is the No. 1 overall prospect and has not committed, although 247Sports Crystal Ball predicts, with a 64 percent certainty, he lands in Ann Arbor with Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. 

Here are some highlights per Prep1Force.com:

At this point in the game it would be a surprise if Gary, an east-coaster, defied the odds and picked an SEC school, although it's possible. However, with the turnaround Harbaugh performed at Michigan this year—from five wins to 10—expect Gary to prove most experts right.

Prediction: Michigan

 

Derrick Brown, Lanier (Buford, GA), DT

Brown, at 6'4", 317 pounds, is the No. 8 recruit, per 247Sports. He's projected to attend Georgia by every expert with 247Sports, despite narrowing his list to Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee, per USA TODAY.

The Army Bowl shared a picture of the talented lineman who was named the American Family Insurance Defensive Player of the Year:

He's a hometown guy, and even though the Bulldogs fired longtime coach Mark Richt, it doesn't appear to have hindered Brown any with his decision.

Prediction: Georgia

 

Ben Davis, Gordo Sch (Gordo, AL), ILB

The 247 Crystal Ball experts are in agreement here as well, predicting Davis to attend Alabama in the fall. A 6'3", 240-pound linebacker, Davis will announce his decision live on ESPN during national signing day on Feb. 3, per Ben Thomas of AL.com.

Davis' list includes Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Notre Dame and LSU, "with the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs 'kind of sharing No. 1 at the moment.'"

After a 100-tackle senior season playing deep in the heart of SEC country, Davis is highly sought-after. While top recruits certainly leave their home state for other schools, it would seem Alabama have the advantage after winning its fourth national title in seven years Monday night.

Prediction: Alabama

 

Lyndell Wilson, Carver (Montgomery, AL), OLB

Wilson, a talented linebacker with a rare combination of size and speed shown in this video from MaxPreps.com, is ranked No. 13 overall by 247Sports, with a 71 percent chance of landing at Alabama.

He has narrowed his selection down to three SEC schools, per Amos Morale III of NOLA.com—Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Morale said Wilson has listed Florida as his top choice multiple times, but the Crimson Tide have been recruiting him since his freshman season, and their dynasty looms large, especially for an in-state player.

Georgia seems to be third on the list considering Wilson said he didn't know much about new head coach Kirby Smart, but he also said he has talked with Davis, his Under Armour game roommate, about playing together, per Morale.

It would be interesting to see an Alabama kid choose Florida during a time where it seems no one can beat Alabama, but it's hard to believe head coach Nick Saban would let him get away considering the Crimson Tide proved they are on another level compared to the Gators with an old-fashioned SEC Championship beatdown this year.

Prediction: Alabama

 

Brandon Jones, Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches, TX), S

Jones, the fifth defensive player in the top five, but the only defensive back, has narrowed his choices down to four schools, per Gerry Hamilton of ESPN:

The 247Sports Crystal Ball predicts a 71 percent chance for Texas A&M, compared to 24 for Texas. Per Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation, Jones remains a top target for the Longhorns:

The most important safety target left on the board for the Longhorns is Nacogdoches star Brandon Jones, who is getting a full-court press from emerging ace recruiter Jeff Traylor, the Texas tight ends coach who recently elected to remain in Austin for at least one more year.

In the past month Texas A&M has lost its offensive coordinator (although it just hired Noel Mazzone from UCLA), athletic director and two, former 5-star quarterbacks. 

It's not like the Aggies are in disarray, but there has to be an "upset" or two with some of the top recruits, and it feels like this could be the case here, as head coach Charlie Strong and the Longhorns showed some life at the end of last season with a big road win over the No. 12 Baylor Bears.

Prediction: Texas

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College Football Rankings: Early Look at 2016 Preseason Top 25

The Alabama Crimson Tide are still celebrating their national championship, but it's never too early to look ahead. 

While Alabama fans will continue to bask in the glory of this title for at least a few more days, every other school has already started the countdown to September. 

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is still a week away (Jan. 18), so 2016 projections could change up until that point. But based on the players we know are leaving and those who have indicated their early decisions, here's a very early look at how the preseason rankings could look in August. 

 

Notable Teams

1. Clemson Tigers

Clemson returns arguably the most valuable player in the nation, quarterback Deshaun Watson, who will be an early Heisman favorite in 2016. 

Redshirt sophomore running back Wayne Gallman is also likely to return, as is true sophomore receiver Artavis Scott. 

But Clemson isn't just returning the overwhelming majority of its offense, it's also adding to it. 

Wide receiver Mike Williams, who missed almost the entire season after suffering a neck injury in Clemson's season opener, is expected to return. Williams led the Tigers with 1,030 receiving yards as a sophomore in 2014 and will add another dangerous weapon to the Clemson offense. 

Clemson will have the opportunity to start 2016 with a statement, as it travels to Auburn to open the season on Sept. 3.

 

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

The full extent of Alabama's mass exodus to the NFL isn't yet known, but it will be substantial. 

Derrick Henry, Reggie Ragland, Jake Coker and Jonathan Allen are just a few key players who are graduating or expected to leave early for the pros. 

But we've seen this happen time and time again at Alabama, and head coach Nick Saban always reloads. 

Cooper Bateman will likely take over at quarterback for Alabama, with sophomore running backs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris battling it out for the carries at running back. 

Unfortunately for Alabama, there will be no time to ease in the new starters. The Tide kicks off the season with a showdown against USC in Arlington, Texas, and then travels to Ole Miss in Week 3.

 

7. Tennessee Volunteers

Perhaps no 8-4 team has ever been closer to contending for a championship than Tennessee was in 2015. 

The Vols held fourth-quarter leads in three of their four losses, including crushing defeats against Oklahoma and Alabama. 

While those losses were devastating for Tennessee and its fans, the Vols may be better off in 2016 having learned from those experiences. 

The stars of the offense, quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, return for the Vols and should both be considered early Heisman dark horses. 

Tennessee also made a significant coaching move, hiring defensive coordinator Bob Shoop away from Penn State. 

 

8. Ohio State Buckeyes

As Tim Shoemaker of ElevenWarriors.com points out, Ohio State has a lot of holes to fill in 2016:

Sixteen starters will need replaced for Ohio State next season. Number drops to 14 if you pencil in Curtis Samuel & Sam Hubbard as starters.

— Tim Shoemaker (@TimShoemaker) January 6, 2016

One of the few returning starters, quarterback J.T. Barrett is arguably their most valuable player on the offensive side of the ball and should be able to make the Buckeyes Big Ten contenders once again. 

Linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley will be the leaders of a defense seeking eight new starters. 

One of those new starters on defense will be Sam Hubbard, who primarily took the field as a situational pass-rusher in 2015. According to CFB Film Room, Hubbard generated 14 quarterback pressures during the regular season. 

 

13. Houston Cougars

Through the first two years of the College Football Playoff, the Group of Five teams have failed to make a serious push to crash the party. That could change in 2016. 

Houston enters the season with a wave of momentum, having handled Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

The Cougars will have the opportunity to make an even greater statement on opening weekend as they take on Oklahoma in NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. 

With a victory over Oklahoma, Tom Herman's squad would have the signature victory necessary to make a serious push for the playoffs. 

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The Call That Made Nick Saban the Best Coach in College Football History

GLENDALE, Ariz. — They had run the play before, time and time again, and it had failed. Over and over again, the ball had hit the ground or bounced out of bounds. It was not ready for Clemson or a stage this magnificent. 

In fact, days before Nick Saban won his fifth national championship by a very un-Saban-like score of 45-40, he watched the play—appropriately named "pop kick"—flop one last time.

In Thursday's walkthrough, having wanted to execute one more successful dry run, Marlon Humphrey let the football hit the ground.

"It was 50-50," special teams coordinator Bobby Williams said as confetti danced around him following the game, seeming completely at ease with those percentages after the fact. 

He was not alone. With a new wave of "Dead Dynasty" columns waiting to be composed and Clemson on the verge of snatching all momentum, Saban made a decision that will reshape his robust legacy. 

He pulled the trigger on a play that masterfully showcased his magnificent adaptability—a theme that has not been recognized enough. And above all, he cemented himself as the greatest ever—a living, breathing—and now gamblin'—legend. 

"If we wouldn't have got that," Saban said shortly before leaving the podium, "y'all would be killing me right now."

With a little more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter, Alabama tied the game 24-24 with a 33-yard Adam Griffith field goal.

Even with the score back to even, it had been an uphill climb all evening. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had given Alabama's impenetrable defense fits, fitting balls in tight windows and picking up yardage on the ground that had not been there for the past three months.

Alabama needed a lift—perhaps emotionally more than anything else. So, instead of turning to his Heisman Trophy-winning running back or one of the many experienced superstars at his disposal, he turned to his kicker and a redshirt freshman cornerback who was by no means a sure thing. He had seen that firsthand.

"We were tired on defense and weren't doing a good job of getting them stopped," Saban said. "And I felt like if we didn't do something or take a chance to change the momentum of the game that we wouldn't have a chance to win."

Knowing the complex relationship the school has with its kickers, Griffith took the field just like usual. But instead of blasting the kick deep, he popped it into the air—like a tennis player trying to catch his opponent at the net—and it fell right into Humphrey's arms.

A stunned stadium—both sides—tried to process what it had witnessed. It was perfect in every way.

"I knew for sure we were going to get it, to be honest," Humphrey said, unfazed by the failed practice attempts. "But it was a tie game. That was pretty gutsy."

It was out of Saban's comfort zone in every way imaginable. From the personnel to the call itself, this was not part of the process. This was something no one in the building had anticipated.

To cap it, the man who rarely smiles unleashed one for the world to see. The man who rarely appreciates his work—especially during a game of this magnitude—couldn't help but marvel at how it had all come together.

Two plays later, quarterback Jake Coker connected with tight end O.J. Howard on a 51-yard touchdown pass. The onside kick was the shot of adrenaline; this was the moment that made it whole.

"It got the sideline energized," Howard said of the kick. "Everybody was pumped up, and we went down and scored on the next drive, so it was a big momentum swing for us." 

Despite Clemson's unrelenting efforts, Alabama never trailed again. The final score told the tale of a game ripe with explosive plays and tremendous swings—things that would have crippled Saban in the past.

But that was just that—the past. 

That was before Saban went out and hired Lane Kiffin—admitting in plain view that he desperately needed help on the offensive side of the ball. The decision has worked brilliantly—and loomed large in the most significant game of the year. 

That was before Saban reconstructed his defense to generate more sacks—something that had plagued this program leading up to 2015. Along with this alteration, Saban went out and hired Mel Tucker to coach his defensive backs, fully aware new influence was necessary.

Long before Saban made the most memorable call of an incredible career, he showed the world he was capable of change. We simply didn't bother to notice.

In many ways, this play was the culmination of countless gambles taken to reach this point.

But those plays will take a backseat to a decision that will be discussed and celebrated in Alabama living rooms for generations—long after Saban retires and is recognized as the greatest to ever stroll any sideline.

They will talk about their coach and all of the championships he brought them—each more special than the next. And yes, they will recount the one time he called a play that didn't work until it absolutely had to.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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