NCAA Football

Texas A&M Football: Final Positional Grades for the Aggies

The Texas A&M football team finished the regular season with a disappointing 7-5 record. There were a number of positional groups that did not perform up to par in 2014. 

The Aggies had a young team in 2014, and their inconsistent play on the field reflected their youth. The defense struggled for much of the year, which led to the dismissal of defensive coordinator Mark Snyder after the LSU game.  

The offense started off like gangbusters, but a quarterback change in the middle of the season and the lack of a true identity hampered it down the stretch. 

These issues kept a very talented team from achieving its potential. This is a ranking of each position group on the Aggies. 

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Hits and Misses of the 2014 AP All-America Team

After an exciting 2014 season full of outstanding matchups and great individual performances, The Associated Press released its All-America team.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee dish out their hits and misses for the All-America team. 

Do you agree with the team? Check out the video, and let us know! 

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Ohio State Football: 3 Keys to Upsetting Alabama in the Sugar Bowl

Contrary to popular belief in SEC territory, Ohio State’s fortune could not get any better than playing Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl on January 1 at 8:30 p.m. EST in New Orleans.

SEC fans, and Alabama fans in particular, are laughing right now. They are pointing to the Buckeyes' abysmal 0-10 record against the SEC in bowl games. They are highlighting the drubbing Florida and LSU put on Ohio State in back-to-back BCS championships in 2007 and 2008. They are quick to reference Nick Saban’s last two games against Urban Meyer when Alabama beat Florida 32-13 in the 2009 SEC championship game and 35-6 in the 2010 regular season. Their sense of entitlement is palpable.

Guess what? History does not matter when the teams take the field in a few weeks.

For Meyer and the Buckeyes, the stakes could not be any higher. On the line are Ohio State’s reputation, the Big Ten’s image, a potential berth in the national championship game and the title for best coach in college football. The Buckeyes can also extend the SEC’s championship drought to two years.

Despite the stakes for the Buckeyes, more pressure is on the Crimson Tide. With three championships over the last five years, Alabama has had a lock on SEC and college football supremacy. Everyone outside of Ohio expects Alabama to win convincingly. Oddsmakers have Alabama as 9.5-point favorites. Many feel the Buckeyes don’t even deserve to be playing in the game.

That’s exactly how Meyer wants it too.

Like Florida State, the Buckeyes are at their best this season when the doubters are loudest. The us-against-the-world motivational tactic works well for this team.

What is also clear is Ohio State is just beginning to realize its potential. The maturation of this team was up and down as anyone would expect from a youthful squad, but the moment has come to prove whether Meyer’s vision for this program is a reality or still a work in progress. As the saying goes, to be the best you have to beat the best. It is time to put the Buckeyes to the test.

Here are three keys to the game for Ohio State.

 

Red-Zone Offense and Defense

Alabama’s greatest strength this year is keeping teams from scoring touchdowns. Saban is a master at putting his defense in position to lock down the short field, making it nearly impossible to score. Just ask Auburn. Settling for field goals cost the Tigers the Iron Bowl this year.

On the season, Alabama’s opponents entered the red zone 40 times, and the defense gave up 15 touchdowns and 18 field goals. Amazingly, it allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season. When execution matters most, the Crimson Tide’s defense rises to the occasion.

The Buckeyes’ offense was just as efficient inside the red zone this year. In 65 trips, it scored 46 touchdowns and made eight field goals. Expect Meyer to continue being aggressive and playing with tempo inside the red zone by using misdirection, rollouts and wildcat plays to keep the defense off balance.

Alabama’s offense also capitalized on its chances inside the red zone this season. In 60 trips, it scored 41 touchdowns, 25 rushing and 16 passing. It also made 10 field goals.

The Buckeyes allowed 26 touchdowns, 17 on the ground, this season inside the red zone so expect Alabama to try to exploit Ohio State’s vulnerability with its power-rushing attack.

Offensively, Meyer’s red-zone strategy in this game will be intriguing. Sean Nuernberger is an unreliable field-goal kicker. If it comes down to going for it on fourth down or trying for three points, don’t be surprised if Meyer keeps him on the bench.

Besides stopping the run, the Buckeyes’ defense needs to put pressure on quarterback Blake Sims. He does not make a lot of mistakes, but the defense cannot allow him to sit comfortably in the pocket until receiver Amari Cooper gets open. They must contain the pocket and force him to release the ball early.

 

Third-Down Efficiency

Ohio State and Alabama are about as equal as teams can get when it comes to third-down efficiency.

Both offenses put themselves in favorable third-down situations by avoiding tackles for loss, sacks and penalties. The defenses keep opponents in 3rd-and-long by getting sacks, avoiding penalties and tackling well.

On offense, the Buckeyes are converting 51 percent of the time on third down and the Crimson Tide are converting 54 percent of their chances. Each offense is incredibly balanced and can score through big plays in the air or pounding the ball on the ground.

Defensively, Ohio State is allowing opponents to convert 37 percent of the time on third down and Alabama’s opponents are converting 32 percent of their chances. When they are on, these defenses frustrate, harass and take the will away from their opponents.

Losing does not happen often, but recent history indicates the team that executes well on third down will win this game. In Alabama’s last three defeats, the defense allowed opponents to covert 48 percent of the time on third down while the offense converted 39 percent of its chances.

In Ohio State’s last three losses, the defense allowed opponents to convert 47 percent of the time on third down while the offense converted 18 percent of its chances.

Bottom line, the Buckeyes will win this game if the defense gets off the field when it has the opportunity to and the offense consistently moves the chains.

 

Playing Physical

Given the outcome against the Badgers, it would not surprise me if the Buckeyes turned their attention to the Big Ten championship game after beating Minnesota on November 15. I don’t think Meyer overlooked Indiana and Michigan, but neither team had the talent to beat the Buckeyes.

With several weeks to prepare, Meyer showed everyone just how good his young team was against Wisconsin. The lines were dominant, defenders gang tackled, receivers routinely beat double coverage, the backs ran through tackles and special teams were on fire. Everything went right against the Badgers and the same is needed against the Crimson Tide. It won’t be easy though.

For the first time this season, Ohio State will be facing a team that matches its speed, power and athleticism. Alabama’s foundation is built on being a physical team that overpowers opponents. This game will be a 15-round heavyweight fight. It will try to wear down the Buckeyes. To win the game, Ohio State will have to take Alabama’s punches, get nasty and deliver a knockout blow late in the game.

 

Analysis

There is nothing better than having two great teams slugging it out for a chance to make it to the championship game.

Few coaches can match Saban when it comes to preparation. Meyer is one of them. Few teams can match Alabama’s tradition and standing in college football. Ohio State is one of them.

Many Alabama players have been in this position already playing in the BCS championship two years ago. It will be interesting to see how Ohio State’s young players respond on the big stage. The Buckeyes shined against Michigan State and Wisconsin. Can they do it again?

The Buckeyes might be underdogs, but they are hardly inferior. They just need to execute and not make the game bigger than it needs to be. To win, the offense will need to avoid three-and-outs, score touchdowns instead of field goals and be stronger at the point of attack. The defense needs tackle well and stop Cooper from making big plays down the field.

Meyer was hired to get the Buckeyes to this level and compete for titles. There have been a couple of minor hiccups, but his team is ready to deliver. Three years of recruiting and coaching top-level athletes has led to this moment. They are going to have to dig deep, but the Buckeyes will prevail and punch their ticket to Dallas to meet the winner of the semifinal game between Florida State and Oregon. Ohio State wins 31-27.

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USC Football: Why Holiday Bowl Is Huge for Sark's Second Year

Steve Sarkisian said No. 24-ranked USC's Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl appearance is an opportunity for the Trojans to "put [their] best foot forward." In doing so, USC will take one long stride toward contending in the head coach's second season at the helm. 

Talk of building to 2015 was already permeating in the Coliseum last month following USC's rout of rival Notre Dame. Sophomore running back Justin Davis said the Trojans are riding a wave of momentum that "hopefully carries over into next season." 

Which is not to downplay the implications for 2014, of course: There is plenty at stake for USC as it concerns Sarkisian's debut campaign. 

Beating Nebraska in San Diego virtually guarantees the Trojans finish the 2014 season ranked in the Top 25 of the final Associated Press and Amway Coaches Polls. It would also give Sarkisian the first nine-win campaign in his brief head coaching career. 

Sarkisian went 5-7 in 2009, his first season after taking over a winless Washington Huskies team, then 7-6 for three straight years before last year's 8-4 run. He accepted the head coaching vacancy at USC in early December, prior to the Huskies' ninth win over Brigham Young in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. 

But in that 8-4 record, USC is at an important junction for its direction under Sarkisian. 

"It’s easy to look at the win-loss record and say that’s who you are, which is fine," Sarkisian said. "I understand that. Ultimately, that is who we are. 

"But I look at the silver lining of a lot of things," he added. "There’s a lot in these tight games that we’re going to learn from and be better going forward."

Those "tight games" to which Sarkisian refers are defeats to Boston College, Arizona State and Utah by a combined 13 points. The Arizona State and Utah games were especially tight, with the Sun Devils and Utes both winning on touchdowns in the final minute. 

"Those tight games and those tough losses—believe me—are going to make us better in January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August and here comes September [the first month of the 2015 season]," Sarkisian said. 

And in that message, Sarkisian conveys one critical component of the postseason: While focus at USC is certainly on Nebraska, there's an eye on Arkansas State, the Trojans' Week 1 opponent next year. 

A perhaps overlooked facet of the harsh sanctions the NCAA imposed on USC in 2010 is that for two years, the Trojans were denied the 15 additional practices that come with playing in a bowl game. 

"Practice is the hardest thing," said wide receiver John "JuJu" Smith. "You practice for two hours a day, then come out [on game day] and perform for 30 minutes." 

With roughly 10 hours of practice time translating to 30 minutes of game time, the 30 hours of bowl game practice USC has is a jump start on three games through Smith's equation. 

And, indeed, postseason practices ostensibly operate as the first bridge between seasons in a vein similar to spring workouts. 

Springtime is dedicated to keeping the roster sharp and also an opportunity for some new faces to begin making an impact. For the Trojans, Holiday Bowl preparation is beginning that process. 

As Michael Lev of the Orange County Register notes, freshman defensive back Lamont Simmons is one such player already making strides. 

"The first half of those [bowl] practices are dedicated to our younger players and developing those guys," Sarkisian said. "We have so many of them, and even the guys who are playing right now [we're] going back to the basics and fundamentals of how and why we're doing everything." 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com

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USC Football: Why Holiday Bowl Is Huge for Sark's Second Year

Steve Sarkisian said No. 24-ranked USC's Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl appearance is an opportunity for the Trojans to "put [their] best foot forward...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Les Miles Smart to Spurn Michigan Reports and Show Commitment to LSU

LSU Tigers head football coach Les Miles is one of the most recognizable names in college football and a staple on the rumor mill every time a coaching position opens up with the Michigan Wolverines.

After Brady Hoke was fired as the head coach of Michigan earlier this month, Sam Webb of Scout.com reported that school officials had reached out to Miles through his agent, George Bass.

Following a practice Monday, Miles spoke to reporters, including Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune, about receiving interest from the Wolverines, and he adamantly denied contact between the school, himself or his agent.

Despite Michigan possibly making another push to hire Miles—the program tried twice in the past to no avail, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com—the veteran coach is smart to stay in Louisiana and try to win another national championship.

While there is no questioning Miles’ ties to the Wolverines as both a player and a coach, he has become a hero at LSU and has reached prominence due to his success with the Tigers. In 10 seasons with the school, Miles has reached two BCS title games and amassed an impressive 103-28 record.

At 61 years old, Miles would have to start from the ground up in Michigan. The program likely needs at least five years before it is a legitimate contender, and that is a very optimistic projection. The Tigers already have a strong core of players, and several more years of elite recruiting should bring LSU back to national prominence.

Miles spoke to Baumgardner about his players, saying, "I enjoy the players, these guys I'm capable of coaching. There's a tradition and a culture here we've kind of established. The young men that come in here really enjoy stepping into this room and being a part of that culture."

It likely wouldn’t be about the money, either. Miles is already making a staggering $4.3 million a year, according to Baumgardner, as opposed to the $2.8 million per year that Hoke was making before he was fired. Michigan would likely open the wallet to pay Miles what he wants, but LSU has proven it would do the same.

The competition is tougher in the SEC, but Miles has always been focused on accomplishing the tasks placed in front of him. After his team went 8-4 this season and 4-4 in the conference, there is still plenty of work to do with the Tigers.

Becoming the head coach at Michigan would bring Miles’ career full circle and would be a memorable moment for college football fans, but he is better off staying with LSU. If winning another national championship is the ultimate goal, he has a better chance with the Tigers.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Marcus Mariota, Melvin Gordon Headline 2014 AP All-America Team

You can add "First-Team All-American" to the growing list of postseason awards and honors for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner highlights the group of players selected by The Associated Press as the very best in college football this season. You can find the full team below.

Mariota was brilliant for the Ducks this year, accounting for 4,452 yards from scrimmage and 53 total touchdowns while leading Oregon to the inaugural College Football Playoff. His former coach and current Philadelphia Eagles coach, Chip Kelly, gushed about him on radio station 94WIP in Philadelphia on Monday, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk:

I think Marcus will be successful whether he's an NFL player, a banker, a teacher, a fireman, a policeman. I've said it before about some other players, but if you can buy stock in a human being, you buy stock in that kid because he'll always be successful in anything he does....

I felt lucky that I had an opportunity to coach a young man like that. When you listen to his [Heisman Trophy] acceptance speech, I think it's maybe a sliver of what we got the chance to experience every day to be around him. He's a special young man. I know I'm a better person for being associated with him.

Mariota seems likely to be a top-five pick in this year's NFL draft if he decides to bypass his senior season at Oregon. There are several teams near the bottom of the standings in need of a franchise signal-caller, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and New York Jets.

Heisman runners-up Amari Cooper of Alabama (115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns) and Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin (2,336 rushing yards, 29 total touchdowns) joined Mariota on the first team.

While Mariota has been collecting postseason awards left and right, Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report noted that Alabama would have been in trouble without Cooper this year, per B/R Radio on Twitter:

Other notable selections include Shaq Thompson (first-team all-purpose), who played both linebacker and running back for Washington this season, and J.T. Barrett (third-team quarterback), who took over for Braxton Miller at quarterback for Ohio State this season and accounted for 3,772 yards from scrimmage and 45 touchdowns.

Just a redshirt freshman this year, Barrett will likely head into next season as a Heisman favorite and a candidate to move up a few teams in the 2015 All-America selections.

 

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SEC Football Q&A: What to Make of Geoff Collins' Move from MSU to Florida

The coaching silly season is upon us, and the wheels just keep on spinning.

Late Friday night, former Florida head coach Will Muschamp officially made the move to Auburn to become the new defensive coordinator on the Plains. Meanwhile, at his old employer, there was a possibility that new Florida head coach Jim McElwain would retain defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin to keep some continuity in Gainesville.

Apparently, that's not happening.

Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday that Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins will join McElwain's Florida staff in the same role.

What does the move mean for Florida and Mississippi State? That question and more are answered in this week's SEC Q&A.

 

I love the hire for Florida and McElwain.

Sure, Collins' defenses haven't been stellar in Starkville. In fact, only one—2011—has finished in the top 50 nationally in yards per play. But they are lights out in the red zone, finishing in the top two in the SEC in red-zone touchdown percentage twice over the last four seasons (2011 and 2014).

He's more set in his 4-3 ways than Florida's previous regime, led by Muschamp and Durkin, but the Gators have the talent and experience to be able to pick it up without missing much of a beat.

What's really interesting is that it all but assures that Durkin will be gone and could be what sends defensive backs coach and ace recruiter Travaris Robinson packing (perhaps to his alma mater Auburn to join Muschamp). The latter would hurt recruiting, but it would also serve as a sign that McElwain is making the program his own and creating its own identity.

That's a good thing for Florida even if there are some speed bumps along the way.

For Mississippi State, the $64,000 question becomes, "Is Collins' lateral move a sign that head coach Dan Mullen could be moving on?"

I'm not so sure that's the case. Sure, there have been reports that Mullen is high on Michigan's list, but as of now, there has been no official contact, according to Michael Bonner of The Clarion-Ledger.

If it's related to anything, it's likely more related to the way the season ended.

According to Bonner, Mullen ripped his defensive staff following the 31-17 Egg Bowl loss to Ole Miss that saw the Bulldogs give up 537 yards.

"That's just absolutely pathetic," Mullen said. "That's a terrible job by our defensive coaching staff."

Could Collins' move be related to his head coach throwing him under the bus? Maybe and maybe not although Mullen didn't seem to be too much of a fan of it, according to Brandon Walker of The Commercial Dispatch.

Before everybody freaks out, yes, it is a lateral move by definition. Plus, following a 10-2 season and two years of Florida struggles, Mullen should have a high opinion of his program.

Whatever the reason for Collins' move, though, there are plenty of coaches available who could come in and take over in Starkville (Ed Orgeron and Manny Diaz, I'm looking in your direction).

 

The combination of head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will keep Auburn in the thick of the SEC West race on an annual basis and will raise the floor of a program that hasn't had back-to-back double-digit-win seasons since 1988 and 1989.

A 10-win season and a SEC West title are not out of the question. In fact, they both should be expected.

Auburn gets Alabama and Georgia at home, draws Kentucky as its rotating SEC East opponent and worked that game into a Thursday night showdown, which adds a semi-bye week into a schedule that only includes one true bye week for SEC schools.

There isn't a surefire loss on the schedule. I'll toss Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU into the "toss-up" category, and Auburn gets all but LSU at home.

I'll say 10-2, with losses to Alabama and either Ole Miss or LSU, and on the outside looking in of the SEC Championship Game. 

It would not surprise me in the least bit, though, if the Tigers make a run to the second annual College Football Playoff.

 

It's rather simple—defensive consistency.

It was something that plagued Georgia under former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and something that, while improved, still jumped up and bit the Bulldogs in Jeremy Pruitt's first year as defensive coordinator.

It would have been tough for Florida to gain 445 yards against air this year, but it managed to pull that off against a Georgia defense despite only running six passing plays. Florida was one-dimensional by necessity, and it didn't matter. That was a game Georgia needed to win to get to Atlanta, and it fell flat on its face.

The Bulldogs closed the season by getting lit up by Georgia Tech to the tune of 463 yards, marking the first loss to the intra-state rival Yellow Jackets since 2008 and second of head coach Mark Richt's 14-year Georgia career.

Another year in the system will help Georgia's talented roster become more comfortable with what Pruitt wants to do, but significant roster turnover, including cornerback Damian Swann and linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, could prevent that defense from being as consistent as it needs to be in order to make a run in 2015. 

 

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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Urban Meyer Under Immense Pressure to Hire Great Replacement for Tom Herman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When he first arrived at Ohio State in late 2011, Urban Meyer knew the question was coming. So when he was asked to explain the health problems that led to his downfall at Florida, it wasn't a surprise that Meyer had an answer that was both plausible and logical.

Given the success Meyer found in Gainesville—including a run of two national championships in three years—programs from around the country came calling to claim their branches of Meyer's coaching tree. But rather than trust his replacements for the likes of Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong, Meyer tried to overcompensate, overextending himself and wearing himself out in the process.

"If you hire quality people, they will be head coaches someday; you can’t stand in the way," Meyer told The Columbus Dispatch in 2012. "The key is when you lose someone, how you replace him."

For the first time since coming to Columbus, Meyer's ability to do just that will truly be put to the test.

With the news that Buckeyes offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman will be announced Houston's head coach on Tuesday came the realization that Ohio State will need to replace its most valuable assistant. The 2014 recipient of the Broyles Award, presented annually to college football's top assistant, Herman made a name for himself this season by transforming redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett into a Heisman Trophy candidate and one-time third-string quarterback Cardale Jones into the Big Ten Championship MVP.

But Herman's value to Meyer's staff extended beyond his work with the OSU quarterbacks, as he's also proven to be one of the Buckeyes' most decorated recruiters. In the matter of just two recruiting cycles, Herman used his Texas ties to singlehandedly build a pipeline to the Lone Star State, helping OSU land Barrett, 4-star linebacker Mike Mitchell, 4-star running back Dontre Wilson and 4-star offensive guard Demetrius Knox from 2013-2014.

In the 11 years prior to Herman's arrival, the Buckeyes had netted a total of four scholarship players from the talent-rich state.

"Tom Herman did an excellent job down in Texas, an area that traditionally has not been strong for Ohio State," Meyer said on national signing day in 2013. "I knew very well Tom had a background in Texas and I knew he's a good recruiter because I did the homework before we hired him. Very good recruiter."

That's also shown up in the recruiting of other states as well, particularly at the quarterback position. Herman played a key role in the recruitment of 2013 junior college wide receiver Corey Smith and Ohio State's last three quarterback commitments in 2014: 3-star prospect Stephen Collier, 2015 4-star signal-caller Torrance Gibson and 3-star quarterback Joe Burrow.

The loss of Herman may have even already hurt the Buckeyes on the recruiting trail, as 3-star wide receiver Lawrence Cager told Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com that he was no longer considering Ohio State, due in large part to the departure of the offensive coordinator.

"Mainly because of the coaching change," Cager said of his decision to not include the Buckeyes in his most recent top five. "Coach Herman leaving was big."

While it remains unclear how much of a priority landing Cager was for OSU—the Buckeyes have gone receiver-heavy in their last two recruiting classes and some recruiting insiders have questioned the legitimacy of Cager's Ohio State offer—it's worth pointing out that recruits have taken note of Herman's new gig. Gibson, one of the most highly touted commits to the Buckeyes' 2015 class, initially voiced concern with Herman's departure before congratulating the Cougars' new head coach.

Throw in the value that Herman added coaching X's and O's—the development of Barrett and Jones, as well as Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton in the past three seasons, speaks for itself—and it's clear Meyer will need to nail the hiring of Herman's replacement. While Meyer may be one of the fathers of the spread offense, Herman managed to put his own spin on it at OSU, implementing a no-huddle scheme that only enhanced the Buckeyes' talent advantage in the Big Ten.

"That's a big part of why [he was] hired," Meyer said of Herman in September. "I wanted to do it, and he's an expert at it.”

The most likely scenario for Ohio State appears to be promoting offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner to the position of primary offensive coordinator and bringing in an up-and-coming quarterbacks coach to fill Herman's role. Warinner gained experience as a play-caller as the OC at Kansas from 2007-09, helping lead the Jayhawks to a top-10 offense and Orange Bowl victory in 2007.

But making the right hire to replace Herman's work on the recruiting trail and with the Buckeyes quarterbacks will remain critical, especially considering that Warinner has been rumored for the head coaching vacancies at Army and Kansas in the past two years. Meyer will likely look for a quarterbacks coach/co-offensive coordinator with experience in the spread system, with the ability to call plays and recruit Texas being major bonuses.

Tony Gerdeman of theOzone.net has compiled the most comprehensive list of potential replacements for Herman, which includes Boise State's Mike Sanford, East Carolina's Lincoln Riley and Mississippi State's Brian Johnson. As we learned a year ago, Meyer will certainly look to swing for a home run hire, as he did when he replaced defensive line coach Mike Vrabel with Penn State's Larry Johnson.

Replacing a position coach, however, differs from the challenge of hiring a new coordinator, as Meyer learned at Florida. There will be no shortage of qualified candidates lining up to become the next member of Meyer's storied coaching tree, but it will be up to the two-time national champion head coach to make the right hire and keep his offense—and perhaps his program—on track.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Reliving the Biggest Upsets of the 2014 College Football Season

There wasn't an "Appalachian State over Michigan" or a "Georgia Southern over Florida," but the 2014 college football season was not without its upsets.

They were of the milder variety, sure, but an upset is an upset—and many of this year's surprising results proved important on a national scale. Seven of the eight games on this list had College Football Playoff implications as recently as championship weekend.

The upsets on the following slides have withstood the test of time. Boston College beating USC, for example, was a major surprise in the moment but doesn't seem all that weird in hindsight. The Eagles were slightly better than expected and finished 7-5; USC was slightly worse and finished 8-4.

But instead of in-the-moment upsets, let's relive the games that seem just as curious now as they did when they happened. They are the upsets that defined the regular season.

Sound off below and let us know which game you'll remember best.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Gives Mullen Best Chance for Long-Term Success

According to Michael Bonner of The Clarion-Ledger, Dan Mullen has not had any contact with the University of Michigan. However, with Mullen yet to sign an extension with Mississippi State and Michigan's head coaching position remaining vacant, the rumors continue to rage.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss the Mullen rumors.

Should Mullen bolt for Ann Arbor? Check out the video and let us know!

 

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Marcus Mariota Cracks Jokes on David Letterman's 'Top 10'

Now that he's won a Heisman Trophy, it's safe to call Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota a household name.

Following the traditional path of celebrity, we knew it would only be a matter of time before Mariota ended up on the Late Show with David Letterman

Mariota took his comedy chops to the Ed Sullivan Theater on Monday night, listing the top 10 thoughts that went through his head after he won the 2014 Heisman Trophy. The 21-year-old held his own on stage, drawing a huge laugh with this jab at New York's underachieving football teams:

Appearing on Letterman has become a rite of passage for Heisman winners. Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III have all appeared on the program.

Mariota is probably too young to get the Don Ho reference, but he makes a good point about not spiking the trophy. The Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League showed us what can happen when you don't take care of your hardware, via SB Nation's Rodger Sherman.

Next up for Mariota's Ducks are the undefeated Florida State Seminoles. Bleacher Report's Tom Weir is calling this Rose Bowl matchup "a battle for the soul of college football."

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Bo Pelini to Youngstown State: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Days after it was denied that Bo Pelini would be the next head football coach at Youngstown State, the former Nebraska coach will reportedly take the job with the Penguins. 

WKBN 27 in Ohio had the news:

Pelini will be the seventh head football coach in Penguins’ program history.

Pelini replaces Eric Wolford, who was fired after five seasons, posting a record of 31-26 and going without a playoff appearance.

Pelini is a 1986 graduate of Cardinal Mooney High School, and a 1990 graduate of Ohio State University, having played safety for the Buckeyes.

Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated also reported Pelini's hiring on Twitter:

According to Joe Scalzo of the Youngstown Vindicator, Pelini was enticed by what Youngstown State had to offer on and off the field:

Pelini will join former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel at Youngstown State, who currently serves as university president.

Matt Hayes of the Sporting News weighed in on Pelini's move:

Pelini spent seven seasons as head coach of Nebraska, winning at least nine games every year and compiling a 67-27 record before being fired on November 30. The Cornhuskers will take on USC in the Holiday Bowl with interim coach Barney Cotton leading the way. 

Youngstown State didn't contend for an FCS national title under previous head coach Eric Wolford. The Penguins' last playoff appearance was in 2006. Pelini brings instant credibility to this program, though he has a tough task ahead of him to rebuild it. 

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5 College Football Bowl Games That We Could Do Without

Whether you're of the mindset that there are too many bowl games, not enough or just enough, one thing is certain: Not all bowls are created equally.

The yearly ranking of bowl games from an interest standpoint can show just how wide the gap is between the top of the slate and the bottom. From the two playoff semifinals to traditions like the Cotton Bowl, the top of the bowl slate is stacked. 

Get down to the bottom of it, however, and there are some real snoozers. 

Which bowl games could college football easily do without? The answers are in the following slides. 

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Florida Gators' Defense Will Continue to Roll Under New DC Geoff Collins

According to Thayer Evans of SI.com, Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins will become the Florida Gators' new DC for the 2015 season.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss the impact that Collins can make on the already stellar Florida defense.

Was this a good hire for the Gators?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Why Georgia Could Be in for a Long Season in 2014

"Next year" is seemingly always the year for Georgia—a program that has been ranked No. 1 in the country, played in two SEC Championship Games and been within five yards of a national title berth since its last conference championship in 2005.

Next year won't be the year.

Even in a down SEC East, it is going to take a lot for the 2015 Georgia Bulldogs to break through that glass ceiling, win the division and contend for a spot in the second annual College Football Playoff.

The roster turnover is just going to be too much for head coach Mark Richt's crew to overcome.

No, it's not the expected loss of running back Todd Gurley. True freshman running back Nick Chubb proved that he's more than capable of picking up the slack by in Gurley's stead in 2014, gaining 1,281 yards and 12 touchdowns. He'll have insurance behind him in the form of Sony Michel and Keith Marshall.

They might have to be the offense, though.

Unlike last offseason, when rising redshirt senior Hutson Mason slid into the top spot of the quarterback depth chart after Aaron Murray moved on, there are no experienced quarterbacks that have total trust of the coaching staff on the roster.

Rising sophomore Brice Ramsey, junior Faton Bauta and freshman Jacob Park are all talented, and Ramsey and Bauta both earned mop-up snaps in 2014. That's a far cry from Mason, who served as Murray's primary backup and learned the system for nearly four years before making his first start late last year.

Ramsey will likely be the favorite. The former 4-star prospect, per 247 Sports, from Kingsland, Georgia, came to Georgia in the class of 2013 and has had some time to learn the offense after running primarily a "Wing-T" at Camden County High School. 

Is it enough time to get comfortable, though?

Sure, draft-eligible junior Malcolm Mitchell will be back, according to Tanya Sichynsky of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but Chris Conley and Michael Bennett—Georgia's top two receivers from 2014—will both be gone. Ramsey, or whoever wins the quarterback job, better develop the chemistry that Murray and Mason had built for years with that receiving corps, because Georgia is at its best when there's a consistent connection to move the chains.

On top of that, linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson will exhaust their eligibility after the bowl game, as will cornerback Damian Swann—who came on strong with 62 tackles and three picks after a rather lackluster 2013 season. Richt announced that linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins will be back, per Sichynsky, although Jenkins' return might not be entirely set in stone, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald.

There's a ton of roster turnover in Athens, and that's not good for a team that couldn't find a way to stay consistent even with veterans all over the field.

Is there anything to suggest that 2015 will be different?

Nope.

If anything, the East will be better than it has been over the last two seasons. Florida turned over a new leaf and is rebuilding the program with offensive-minded head coach Jim McElwain. Tennessee's rebuilding effort is entering Year 3 and includes a small village of talented skill players on offense and a defensive line that includes Derek Barnett and incoming monsters Khalil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle.

Georgia has a great class coming in 2015, but with Alabama in Athens and Auburn on the Plains, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville and a road trip to Tennessee on the schedule, next year won't be Georgia's year.

 

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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Tom Herman to Houston: Latest Contract Details, Comments and Reaction

Ohio State offensive coordinator  Tom Herman has been a popular head-coaching candidate since the end of the regular season. He has now reportedly been hired as the head coach of the Houston Cougars.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported the news:





Brett McMurphy of ESPN confirmed Feldman's report, and reported that the coach would remain with the Buckeyes through the College football playoffs: 

Herman, 39, was hired in December of 2011 by Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and has been a big part of the team’s success since. He also earned the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the nation earlier this month.

Feldman provided his reaction to the move:

This will be Herman’s first shot at being a head coach at the collegiate level. He is taking over for the fired Tony Levine, who went 21-17 over his three years as coach. The Houston program is coming off a 7-5 season and will play Pittsburgh in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

Houston reportedly interviewed former Florida head coach Will Muschamp in the process, but Herman is an intriguing candidate with plenty of upside. He has helped shape Ohio State's offense into a top-tier unit and has direct experience working with quarterbacks, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with the Cougars.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: Schedule, Odds and Projections for Final 4

The inaugural College Football Playoff has something for everyone.

Of course, fans of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State will be extremely interested, but it doesn't stop there. This playoff features a Sugar Bowl that will be contested between two of college football's most iconic head coaches, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. It also boasts a battle between Heisman-winning quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl.

These semifinal contests are undoubtedly must-see TV.

Unfortunately, New Year's Day is still a couple of weeks away, so we're still in for a sizable wait before these four elite squads return to the amateur gridiron. For now, let's take another look at the playoff's schedule to ingrain the essential information in our minds in an effort to ensure we don't miss a moment of action. If you plan on doing some wagering, don't fret. We'll take a look at some updated odds and predictions as well.

 

Sugar Bowl

Who: Alabama vs. Ohio State

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana

Time: 8:30 p.m. EST

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 58.5
  • Spread: Alabama -9.5

 

Prediction

Generally when a third-string quarterback—of any team—is slated to face the stingy defense of the Alabama Crimson Tide, many of us begin bracing ourselves for a nightmarish showing. However, that's not quite the case when it comes to Ohio State's Cardale Jones.

The sophomore was thrown into the fire to make his first-career start in the Big Ten Championship Game following a season-ending injury to J.T. Barrett. Making matters worse, he was set to take on a very good Wisconsin defense. Well, as it turned out, he torched the Badgers for 257 yards and three touchdowns in a brilliant performance.

After the game, Jones spoke about his team's role in his confidence during an interview with Sean Merriman of BTN.com,"There's no doubt, I was confident coming into this game. But my teammates and my coaches took my confidence to a whole new level that I've never felt before."

Not only does he have a contingent of very solid players backing him—along with a great head coach—but his showing against Wisconsin has him flying extremely high entering this semifinal clash.

Helping Jones' case, the Crimson Tide hasn't been able to thoroughly prepare for the quarterback due to a lack of film, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch:

So, should Alabama's defense be scared?

Let's not go that far. After all, this is the same defense that held five of the six ranked teams it faced this season to 23 points or fewer. Coming into the Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide is ranked fourth in the nation, allowing just 16.6 points per game, but that isn't the team's most important statistic.

Alabama is ranked 17th in the nation in first downs allowed, giving up a total of 211 during the year. That's extremely valuable for the Crimson Tide against an Ohio State team that didn't sustain a scoring drive longer than seven plays with Jones at the helm against Wisconsin. Making the Buckeyes work for first downs and methodically move the ball down the field isn't something they've had to do with their current quarterback.

Accumulating big plays against Alabama isn't exactly easy to do for any quarterback—not matter his confidence level. Expect Jones to find success against the Crimson Tide, but not enough to put Ohio State through to the championship game.

Prediction: Alabama 30, Ohio State 24

 

Rose Bowl

Who: Oregon vs. Florida State

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

Time: 5 p.m. EST

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 71
  • Spread: Oregon -9.5

 

Prediction

Marcus Mariota turned out to be the heir apparent to Jameis Winston, earning this year's Heisman Trophy. Now, the quarterbacks are set to duel in the Rose Bowl.

While Mariota certainly had his share of attention—and rightfully so—winning the Maxwell, Davey O'Brien and Heisman, he focused on his upcoming task against the Seminoles during a press conference, via ESPN.com, "I'm just looking forward to getting back on the field and playing again. We do have a team goal."

Here's what the quarterback had to say during his acceptance speech, via SportsCenter:

A focused Mariota is an enormous threat to Florida State. He won the Heisman for a reason, passing for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns against just two interceptions, adding 669 rush yards and another 14 scores. Considering the Seminoles currently hold the nation's 51st-ranked total defense that allows 378.3 yards per game, this signal-caller could be in for another big day.

Oregon has been putting up some massive points all season long. The Ducks are averaging 46.3 points per game, ranking third in the nation in that category and are coming off a 51-point performance against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Winston has his work cut out for him.

Unfortunately, Florida State's signal-caller saw a massive drop-off in production from his Heisman-winning 2013 season to this year. Here's a look at the comparison:

Those aren't the kind of numbers that will allow Florida State to earn another national championship. After all, the Seminoles struggled down the final stretch of the season, winning their last four games by five points or fewer against unranked opponents. Still, Winston will get his chances to produce against an Oregon pass defense that ranks 100th in the nation, allowing an average of 259.5 yards per game through the air.

This game will be a shootout, and while Winston has flourished under center at Florida State in the past, he hasn't been able to duplicate that prowess of late. That's not exactly a comforting fact when he's set to face off against one of the nation's most dangerous signal-callers and reigning Heisman winner.

Prediction: Oregon 42, Florida State 31

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 15.

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10 College Football QBs Poised to Break Out in 2015

Who is next season’s version of this year’s TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin?

Boykin went from averaging 150 yards per game last season to 309 this year, No. 7 in the FBS.  His passer rating improved from 122.01 to 146.63, and his record as the starter skyrocketed from 3-4 to 11-1.

If that weren’t enough, he came out of nowhere to finish No. 4 in the Heisman vote, ahead of Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Baylor’s Bryce Petty.

Though the possibilities are endless, and many of these guys still need to win the starting job, here are a handful of quarterbacks who could make a similar run in 2015. 

Keep in mind that it will take more than 5-stars to get it done.  Potential candidates will also need solid pass-blockers and talented receivers who can consistently catch the ball.

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Bowl Games 2014-15: Full Schedule and Predictions for Every Matchup

The 2014-15 college football season has been one of the wildest in recent memory, but the excitement is far from over, as the packed schedule of bowl games is just a few days from kicking off.

Add in the fact that this season will feature the inaugural College Football Playoff bracket, and fans of the sport will be treated to one of the most unique postseasons imaginable. If the bowl games are as exciting as the regular-season action, college football fans will have their expectations met.

Here is all the vital viewing information and predicted winner for every bowl game of 2014-15.

 

*All games can be live streamed via WatchESPN.com.

 

Team to Watch: Oregon Ducks

There are many teams with the ability to steal the show during bowl season, but few have the offensive firepower that the No. 2-ranked Oregon Ducks possess.

Oregon will square off against the Florida State Seminoles in the Rose Bowl on January 1.

Most football fans know the Ducks for their high-powered offensive unit. The third-ranked offense is 11th in the nation in passing yards per game with 308.9 and 22nd in rushing yards with 237.3 per game.

It’s clear that the 30th-ranked defense of Florida State (allowing 23 points per game) will have trouble slowing down Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota and the fast-paced Ducks’ offensive attack.

Oregon players are not taking the matchup lightly, though, and Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu heaped praise on the Seminoles, via Andrew Greif of OregonLive.com:

I think in college football they focus too much on what the score was. Win's a win, I always think. With Florida State this year a lot of teams have been able to keep up with them and play them tough but you see at the end of the game when it really comes down to it, they've been able to dominate at the end of the game.

While there is no denying the firepower of the Oregon offense, the defensive unit has flown under the radar all season. The Ducks have only allowed 22.5 points per game and have managed to stifle elite programs such as Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford, Utah and Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Florida State has struggled with consistency this season. The Seminoles may have the 14th-ranked pass attack (299.8 yards per game), but the run attack is a lowly 104th in the nation. With Oregon possessing a tough secondary, FSU quarterback Jameis Winston could be in for a long night.

Both teams deserve an immense amount of credit for making it to this portion of the season, but Oregon has the depth and talent on both sides of the ball to be a viable national-championship threat and move past the Seminoles.

The Ducks will earn the victory and advance to likely play the Alabama Crimson Tide for the inaugural College Football Playoff trophy.

Predicted Winner: Oregon 34, Florida State 30

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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