NCAA Football

Alabama's Road Back to the College Football Playoff

Alabama players on Monday night were a little angry. They were inspired. They worked out.

It's starting to become an unusual feeling for the Crimson Tide players to be sitting at home when a championship is on the line. In 2015, Alabama will only have seniors and redshirt seniors with championship rings to show. That's a far cry from a couple of years ago when Alabama was winning three in four years.

Because of the expectations that Nick Saban's run in Tuscaloosa has created, suddenly, back-to-back two-loss seasons elicit these kinds of feelings, the us-against-the-world, backs-to-the-wall mentality. The theme of next year, and really the entire offseason, will be taking back what Alabama feels is its rightful place atop the college football world.

That starts in the College Football Playoff, which was a roaring success—except, of course, for Alabama.

How does Alabama get back? What will the Crimson Tide's road back to the top of the mountain look like?

 

Holes to fill

First things first: Alabama needs players to step up at several critical positions.

Not the least of those positions is quarterback, where the Crimson Tide will be playing their third quarterback in as many years. Can whomever the new guy is catch on as fast as Blake Sims in time for a tricky opener against Wisconsin?

Elsewhere, the Crimson Tide will have three new starters along the offensive line and three more in the secondary, if you count nickel or dime looks.

Gone are recognizable stars like Sims, Amari Cooper and Landon Collins. Who are the next faces of Alabama greats?

 

Defensive adjustments

The status quo on defense is no longer good enough at Alabama.

The Crimson Tide gave up 1,480 yards combined over their last three games of the season, all to teams that run some sort of a spread or tempo offense. On the season, Alabama's opponents averaged 328.4 yards per game, good for just No. 12 in the country. Both the yards and national ranks are Saban-era lows.

It's not clear exactly what, but something needs to change.

The game is obviously trending toward high-flying offenses, as it has the last few years. That isn't going to go away.

Can Saban and Kirby Smart come up with an answer?

 

In-season roadblocks

Alabama's SEC cross-division opponents are looking more and more menacing. The days of a brain-dead Tennessee and Vanderbilt on the schedule are gone.

No, this year, the Crimson Tide first get a trip to Athens, Georgia, to take on a hungry Georgia team with an unfair offensive backfield. Then they host a Tennessee team that looks to be reaching its potential under Butch Jones. The Vols, for example, were picked No. 23 in ESPN's early 2015 Top 25.

Otherwise, Alabama opens the season with a tricky neutral-site game against Wisconsin, which just ousted Auburn in the Outback Bowl. It travels to Texas A&M, hosts LSU and finishes the season in Auburn, where weird things happen.

This will be no easy walk in the park for Alabama, schedule-wise.

 

A rivalry renewed

If you thought we had seen the last of Saban and Urban Meyer when Meyer stepped down from Florida in 2010, boy, were you wrong.

Meyer got the best of Saban this year in the Sugar Bowl and CFP semifinal. His three national titles—at two different schools—are moving him closer and closer to Saban's mark of four.

Ohio State returns almost all of its production from its national championship team, including, potentially, its three Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterbacks.

If Alabama can make it through its SEC grind and into the playoff, there's a good chance that Meyer and the Buckeyes will be waiting once again.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Why Ohio State's Championship Is Good for Notre Dame

Urban Meyer raised the inaugural College Football Playoff trophy on Monday night, capping off one of the more improbable title runs in college football history. 

Still the apple of many Notre Dame fans' eye, the former Irish assistant who spurned an offer to coach in South Bend rode his third-string quarterback to his third national title, his first in Columbus.

After dominating Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, Meyer's Buckeyes—a controversial selection as the No. 4 seed—upset top-seeded Alabama in the first round of the playoff before dominating Oregon 42-20, emphatically confirming their place atop the college football world.

That victory put Meyer at the top of his profession, out-dueling Nick Saban in the Sugar Bowl to take that crown away from Alabama's head coach. And Meyer returning the Buckeyes to the summit also confirms that after a decade of SEC dominance, the tides have turned in college football.

Believe it or not, that's good news for Notre Dame.

No, having to battle Meyer for top players in the Midwest doesn't make Brian Kelly's job any easier. And with Michigan landing Jim Harbaugh, Kelly's job just got harder in two key battleground states.

But even with Meyer and Harbaugh, two undeniable stars, Notre Dame's place in an shifting college football landscape looks much better after a shocking bowl season.

The Irish can thank themselves for springing an upset over LSU in the Music City Bowl, but more importantly they can thank Meyer for doing some myth-killing the past few weeks.

The demise of SEC dominance this bowl season will be the biggest story of this offseason.

Alabama, Auburn and LSU all lost. So did Mississippi State and Ole Miss, with the Rebels embarrassingly shellacked by TCU. Those losses overshadowed the wins the conference managed. The story of a conference slipping from its perch overshadows any victory over East Carolina or Minnesota.

Kelly said beating LSU helps break down some of the perceived barriers that have grown when trying to recruit the Southeast.

"It certainly allows us to continue to recruit down in this area without having to apologize for who we are," he said after Music City Bowl win.

That sentiment will likely be echoed in living rooms all across America, with Ohio State's victory proving that good football isn't the territorial right of the Southeastern Conference.

Florida State winning a championship was the first step. With a trophy case in Columbus now sporting the ultimate prize for the next 12 months, the college football world is flattening out at the perfect time for an Irish team with high hopes in 2015.

When healthy, Notre Dame showed it could play with Florida State, falling a penalty flag shy of beating the defending champs in Tallahassee. Now Kelly will need to take a few lessons from Meyer and the Buckeyes if the Irish want to take the next step forward.

A power running game is the first step. The Irish showcased that ability against LSU but would be blind if they didn't notice Ezekiel Elliott flattening the Ducks on his way to 246 rushing yards.

And for all the ranting and raving of Irish fans demanding Kelly pick up the pace with his offense to move at the speed of Oregon, the Buckeyes' 37 minutes of ball possession surpassed the 36 minutes the Irish held the football against the Tigers.

In 2012, Kelly concocted a formula that helped the Irish run the table during the regular season. While they came up short against Alabama, the past two seasons have proved the SEC is mortal after all.

Meyer showed it was possible. And while it doesn't look like things in Columbus will slow down any time soon, Ohio State's victory still makes things better for Notre Dame.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Early Enrollee WR George Campbell to Play Kelvin Benjamin Role for Florida State

George Campbell is a 5-star wide receiver, per 247Sports' composite rankings, who is committed to Florida State. He is an early enrollee, which gives him a jump-start on learning the Seminoles system. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses the type of player Campbell can be for Florida State. 

What kind of impact can Campbell have during his freshman season?

Watch the video, and let us know!

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Lessons Learned from First-Ever College Football Playoff

The confetti has barely been cleared from the field at AT&T Stadium following Ohio State's victory over Oregon in the national championship game, the first crowned via college football's new playoff system. The Buckeyes are still fully in celebration mode, yet the freshness of what just happened makes this a perfect time to start looking ahead to what could happen next year.

This first-ever four-team competition was meant to eliminate all doubt and controversy, yet it brought about its own arguments. The College Football Playoff will be around for quite some time, however, based on how well it's been received during its first year.

It can get better, and we can better enjoy it, based on certain lessons learned from the initial offering.

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Breaking Down USC Running Backs for 2015 Without Buck Allen

USC's rushing leader in consecutive years, Javorius "Buck" Allen, is headed to the NFL draft, rendering an already-thin running backs corps even more so as the Trojans embark on 2015...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Breaking Down USC Running Backs for 2015 Without Buck Allen

USC's rushing leader in consecutive years, Javorius "Buck" Allen, is headed to the NFL draft, rendering an already-thin running backs corps even more so as the Trojans embark on 2015.

Allen announced his decision to forgo his final remaining year of eligibility Saturday, via USCTrojans.com's Jordan Moore

"This was a tough decision for me. I went home to Florida and talked it over with my family. I am proud to have been the first one in my family to have gone to college, and I've been blessed to say I played football in college," he said.

"We asked a lot of Buck this year and he came through with an All-Pac-12 season," head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We know he can do more of the same in the NFL."

Of course, while Allen is doing his thing on Sundays, USC needs someone to pick up the slack on Saturdays (as well as a Thursday and Friday). 

In Allen, USC loses not only its top ball-carrier for the last two seasons—though the 2,263 yards he produced in 2013 and 2014 combined are certainly tough to duplicate. Allen was also a vital contributor in the Trojans' passing attack, posting 458 receiving yards as quarterback Cody Kessler's third-favorite target. 

Moreover, Allen was the type of leader who offered to shoulder the offensive burden in good times and bad. 

With everything he brought to USC, it might take more than just a single player to fill the void. Sarkisian will be working with greater numbers but less experience in 2015.

Just one Trojan on scholarship who saw action in 2014 returns. 

 

Justin Davis 

Justin Davis rode a wave of ups and downs in his return from an ankle injury that cut short his 2013 season. He ended 2014 on a decided upswing, rushing for 81 yards in the regular-season finale against Notre Dame and another 41 on just four carries in the Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska.

Davis also scored touchdowns in each of the Trojans' final three regular-season games, showing off the full array of his multifaceted skill set with a pair on the ground and one receiving. 

"Throughout all the ups and downs in the season, it's always a nice feeling to finish out on top," Davis told Bleacher Report while also hitting on a key point for continuing his upward trajectory into 2015. 

"After [the Nov. 22 loss at] UCLA, we knew we had to be a lot more physical, because they outworked us," he said.

Davis needs to be more consistent, which means gaining more yards between the tackles—a facet in which Allen excelled.

 

Tre Madden 

Tre Madden is the sole running back on USC's 2015 roster with experience as a No. 1 option at the collegiate level.

Before a hamstring injury and Allen's breakout midway through the 2013 campaign, Madden was putting up rushing yards unseen at USC since the days of Reggie Bush and LenDale White.

He rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the Trojans' first five games and gained 93 in the fifth.

Madden's return in 2014 never came to fruition, and he instead redshirted.

The similarities in Madden and Allen's running styles are undeniable. Both are power-backs able to grind out additional yards after contact, but both have deceptive speed for their size.

There's no questioning Madden's potential, but returning after missing over a year of game action is no easy task.

 

Ronald Jones II

Ronald Jones II excelling at USC seems almost serendipitous. After all, just moments after the 4-star prospect announced his commitment at this month's Under Armour All-American Game, he broke off a 58-yard run for a touchdown.

Such plays were the norm for Jones in his time at McKinney North High School in McKinney, Texas. Last season, he rushed for 2,009 yards and 28 touchdowns, per MaxPreps.com.

Jones has the speed to be an immediate threat. He should develop into a prototypical, every-down back once he adds more muscle to his 6'0" frame—which shouldn't be a problem in strength coach Ivan Lewis' program.

 

Dominic Davis

At 5'10" and 175 pounds, 3-star commit Dominic Davis is considerably smaller than the other scholarship running backs on USC's 2015 roster.

However, the addition of such a back—one who relies on elusiveness over power—might add just the right extra ingredient to the Trojans' new, uptempo philosophy.

 

Aca'Cedric Ware

Another incoming freshman, Aca'Cedric Ware is a 3-star prospect from Cedar Hill, Texas. His 247Sports grades are modest: Aside from nine points for his 6'0", 196-pound frame, Ware scores primarily in the five- or six-point range.

However, it is worth noting that coming out of Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida, Allen was a 3-star signee who flew under the radar on his own team.

 

X-Factor

In last month's Holiday Bowl, freshman utilityman Adoree' Jackson lined up in the backfield on one play. He subsequently took a short pass from Kessler 71 yards for a touchdown.

Sarkisian said he was looking for more ways to incorporate the explosive Jackson into the offense. Don't expect to see it too often, but just know that Sarkisian has that ace up his sleeve if the moment arises.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports composite scores.

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