NCAA Football News

Notre Dame Football: From Walk-on to MVP, the Joe Schmidt Story

Stop me if you've heard this one. Walk-on football player. Humble beginnings. A lifelong dream to play football at Notre Dame. 

What? You already knew about Notre Dame linebacker Joe Schmidt? 

The Irish's latest Rudy story has long since surpassed the original legend, with Notre Dame's senior linebacker doing more than serving as a tackling dummy on the practice fields. And on Friday night, Schmidt added a page to his own feel-good story, winning the team's MVP award, as voted by his teammates. 

"This is probably the greatest honor of my life," Schmidt said from the stage, crutches under his elbows and a long cast on his left leg. 

Much has been made about Schmidt's rise. A profile by Newsweek. A guest stint on The Jim Rome Show. A glossy profile during an NBC broadcast. So unless you've been under a rock this fall—and you couldn't blame Irish fans for spending the last month in hiding—Schmidt's story isn't new to you. 

But walk-on stories usually end with one shining moment. A special teams tackle or a garbage-time touchdown. Not with an MVP award and a surefire captaincy for the 2015 season. 

Schmidt's impact on the Irish roster is incalculable. His leadership, work ethic and shining example had freshman defensive end Andrew Trumbetti taking to Twitter to name Schmidt the only worthy husband to his future daughter. (Teammate Jesse Bongiovi pointed out that Trumbetti's future son-in-law would be four years his senior. Awkward.)

That the most respected player on a roster filled with 4- and 5-star talent was once a 2-star nobody serves as the ultimate uniter. For unheralded prospects, Schmidt's ascent is a blueprint. For blue-chippers, Schmidt's a reminder that your recruiting ranking disappears once you're on campus. 

On the field, the analysis of what Schmidt brings to the team is much easier. With Schmidt playing middle linebacker, the Irish were 7-1, their only loss a narrow defeat to Florida State. Without him? The Irish are 0-4, with the defense giving up an average of 44.5 points a game. 

"As coaches, when we sat down and we looked at the most valuable football player for 2014, we looked at not just what he did on the field, but what our team did not have when he was not on the field," head coach Brian Kelly said before handing Schmidt the team's MVP award. 

"What we lacked was somebody that brought that leadership, that energy, that passion that is needed in this game of football on a day-to-day basis. So when we talked about most valuable, it was pretty clear in our minds that the 2014 most valuable football player was Joe Schmidt."

Schmidt was the first former walk-on to earn the team MVP award since consensus All-American Shane Walton did in 2002. (Walton walked on to the football team after starring on the men's soccer team.) At the time of his injury, Schmidt led the team in tackles (both solo and assisted) while limiting opponents to under 20 points a game. 

Schmidt's impact on the field will be suspended until he's healthy. Surgery performed at the beginning of November on an ankle and fibula injury makes it a waiting game before he's capable of returning to lead from the huddle. 

But as the Irish set out to prove 2014's late-season collapse was an anomaly, Schmidt's leadership will be critical to the team's success. And it's why Schmidt was short on words before sending the ultimate message to his teammates.

"I love Notre Dame. This is where I always wanted to be," Schmidt said from the microphone. "As my dad says, I've wanted to come to Notre Dame since I was five years old. So let's go beat LSU. Let's kick the hell out of them and let's get ready to win the national championship."

The Joe Schmidt story is far from over. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Who Should Replace Tom Herman as Ohio State's Offensive Coordinator?

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reports former Ohio State offensive coordinator Todd Herman is expected to be named the head coach of Houston.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses who will be Herman's replacement at Ohio State.

Who will be the next offensive coordinator at Ohio State?

Check out the video and let us know! 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

7 Way-Too-Early SEC Heisman Trophy Contenders for 2015

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota just hoisted the 2014 Heisman Trophy in New York City, but it's never too early to talk 2015.

Several stars will return in the SEC—many of them quarterbacks and offensive players, which are two key criteria for the award. 

First-team All-SEC quarterback Dak Prescott of Mississippi State was mentioned prominently in the Heisman talk into November, before two losses knocked him out down the stretch. If he returns, will he make another push for the most prestigious individual trophy in American sports? Who else from the SEC could join him in the conversation?

Our way-too-early SEC favorites for the Heisman Trophy are in this slideshow.

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The 2015 Recruits Who Will Help LSU Return to SEC Dominance

LSU head coach Les Miles continued his recruiting success, landing another impressive 2015 class chock-full of 5-star recruits. The Tigers need all the help they can get after an up-and-down 2014 season.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the future of LSU with a terrific new recruiting class that joins an already stellar roster. 

How good will the LSU Tigers be next season?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Steve Spurrier Ever Get South Carolina Back to SEC Title Game?

Steve Spurrier will be back for the next few years as the head coach of South Carolina. The Gamecocks had a disappointing 2014 season and will be looking to turn it around with some big 2015 recruits.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss whether the SEC title window has closed for the Ol' Ball Coach.

Will South Carolina be in contention for the SEC title next year?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Final 2014 Positional Grades for the Trojans

As final exams wrap up for the fall at USC, grades will be issued in the coming days. For the USC football team, the marks out of the classroom are not the only evaluations of progress made in the last few months. 

The Trojans had their struggles and failures in head coach Steve Sarkisian's first year at the helm. They aced plenty of tests, as well. 

Just one more quiz remains in USC's 2014 term: a Dec. 27 date with Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. In the meantime, the following is how the Trojans graded out for the past season.  

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5 College Football Recruits Who Had an Explosive Week

The high school football season is in its final stages, presenting opportunities for many top college prospects to capture coveted championship trophies. We witnessed some thrilling performances this past weekend from recruits looking to cap off productive careers.

Here's a review of the top efforts from another exciting span of playoff action.

 

4-star 2015 athlete Torrance Gibson, American Heritage High School (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

The 6'4", 200-pound playmaker punctuated a successful run at American Heritage with a second straight state championship. Just like last December, Gibson accounted for three total touchdowns in the decisive victory.

He led the team to a dominant 38-0 win over Godby High School, per Andre Fernandez of the Miami Herald. Given the sizable advantage, Gibson didn't need to do much damage through the air but still managed to make a big impact with limited opportunities.

The Ohio State commit completed seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. He also added a short rushing score during the second half.

Gibson, who will play quarterback in Columbus, starred again on a big stage, with his father in attendance for the first time ever.

“Words can’t describe this man, in my last high school game,” Gibson said. “Seeing my dad out here means the world to me.”

He pledged to the Buckeyes in November, spurning offers from Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Oklahoma. Gibson referenced Ohio State while celebrating his rushing touchdown:

 

5-star 2015 quarterback Kyler Murray, Allen High School (Allen, Texas)

The legend continues to grow for Allen's unbeaten quarterback. Murray improved to 41-0 as a high school starter by rallying the Eagles from an 18-point second-half deficit to defeat Dallas Skyline High School in state semifinal action.

He completed 24 pass attempts for 406 yards and and five touchdowns, leading Allen to 35 unanswered points and a 52-34 win, per David McNabb of USA Today. Murray threw four of his touchdown tosses after intermission.

Rated second nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, it's no surprise he also attacked the defense as a runner. Murray gained an additional 115 yards on the ground.

His 69 total touchdowns this season are a career high. He committed to Texas A&M this spring, following in the footsteps of his father, former Aggies quarterback Kevin Murray.

Murray aims to cap off his career in grand fashion Saturday when Allen faces Cypress Ranch for the 6A Division I title. It would be his third consecutive state championship.

“We’ve been through a lot as a team and I’m proud of us,” Murray told Matt Wixon of The Dallas Morning News. “We’ve just got one more to go.”

 

4-star 2015 quarterback Jake Browning, Folsom High School (Folsom, California)

Browning has spent his senior season smashing records and is now just one win away from securing a state title. The 6'2", 185-pound passer posted four total touchdowns in a semifinal victory over Grant High School.

He threw for 259 yards and three scores despite attempting just three passes during the second half of a 52-21 rout, per Joe Davidson of The Sacramento Bee. Browning also found the end zone as a rusher.

His high school resume measures up to any quarterback who has played at the next level. Browning is the nation's all-time record holder for career touchdowns and continues to pile on a single-season California record with 90 total scores in 2014. 

He committed to Washington earlier this year, choosing the Huskies over offers from Cal, Colorado and Oklahoma State.

 

3-star 2015 running back Aca'Cedric Ware, Cedar Hill High School (Cedar Hill, Texas)

The 6'0", 196-pound USC pledge sliced and diced the Westfield High School defense in a state semifinal victory. Ware rumbled for 152 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries during a 64-33 win that sends Cedar Hill to the 6A Division II state championship game, per Sean Shapiro of the Houston Chronicle.

He helped the team tack on 28 unanswered points during the second half, wearing the defensive front down with each carry. Ware, who committed to the Trojans this summer over Iowa, Oklahoma and Tennessee, has enjoyed an impressive senior season.

Ware has more than 2,400 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns, per MaxPreps. That production doubles his output as a junior.

 

3-star 2015 wide receiver Brad Stewart, Benedictine Military School (Savannah, Georgia)

He came up big on both sides of the ball throughout a 45-21 victory over Greater Atlanta Christian High School in the Class AA state title game. Stewart, a 6'2", 180-pound receiver and defensive back, starred as Benedictine upset the unbeaten favorites.

His performance featured two interceptions on defense, per Brent Holloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He helped limit a potentially explosive offensive attack by twice halting drives.

Stewart also caught four passes for 154 yards. He erupted downfield on a 76-yard reception that set up a score during the final possession of the first half and hauled in a 29-yard touchdown on the team's opening drive.

Stewart remains uncommitted. He visited Central Florida in October, holding an offer list that includes Cincinnati and Marshall.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Which Redshirt Freshman Is Ready to Break Out in 2015?

Many impact redshirt freshmen are ready to make noise in 2015. From Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas to Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers, these first-year players are ready to prove their worth.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate which redshirt freshman will burst onto the scene in 2015.

Which freshman will make the biggest impact?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4 Alabama Players Who Will Benefit from Extra Bowl Practices

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — An added benefit of making a postseason bowl in any capacity is the extra practice time.

Players and coaches get an extra few weeks of work in before the game that they normally wouldn’t had their season ended earlier.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has described these practices as having a “camp-like” feel—more work on basics and fundamentals, rather than an opponent-specific focus. This can be a boost to young players who were thrown into the mix in the fall and never really had time for a lot of instruction in these basics.

Derrick Henry is the perfect example of what extra bowl practice can do for a player.

Henry enrolled early last year but missed spring practice with a fractured leg. He was never fully healthy until the fall, and by that time the season was already in full swing. Henry played sparingly but couldn’t grasp the things like pass protection that kept him from being a regular starter.

He was able to pick those back up, though, during preparation for the Sugar Bowl. The result was a breakout game against Oklahoma that he’s carried over into 2014.

Who are some candidates to make similar improvement this year? Let’s take a look.

 

Da’Shawn Hand

Hand was a consensus 5-star prospect out of high school and Rivals’ No. 1 player in the 2014 class. Needless to say, he came in with some hype.

Hand enrolled over the summer and has played sparingly so far at Alabama. He’s recorded seven tackles and two sacks largely in mop-up duty. For his efforts, he was named to the SEC all-freshman team, presumably because there aren’t many freshmen playing defensive end in the SEC.

Still, Hand has a chance to contribute more on a team that likes to rotate as many defensive linemen as it can to keep fresh against uptempo teams. But he is still very much raw and learning.

He told DC Reeves of TideSports.com after the SEC Championship Game that he is learning how to use his hands as a rusher, rather than just overpowering the opposition like he was able to do in high school.

"Coming in, I was so set in my ways,” Hand said, per Reeves. “I was already taught hand technique, but coming into college they emphasize it a lot because you really need hand-to-hand combat."

Those technical adjustments are things that can be ironed out with some extra practices.

 

Tony Brown

Brown was another top defender in the 2014 class who came in with massive expectations.

Enrolling before spring practice helped Brown see the field a lot as a true freshman, though. Brown has appeared in all but one game this season and started two.

He’s had his ups and downs along the way, as is to be expected from a true freshman.

Brown recorded nine tackles and a pass breakup as part of a rotation of cornerbacks opposite Cyrus Jones, who has started all 13 games up to this point.

He also, though, has been part of a couple of defensive breakdowns.

"We lost that game, and I gave up that last post," Brown said, referring to the Ole Miss loss, after the SEC Championship Game, according to Cliff Kirkpatrick of the Montgomery Advertiser. "That was a bad feeling, but I grew from it, I got better from it and I'll probably never let it happen again."

Good doesn’t simply cut it in the secondary, where Nick Saban coaches the defensive backs and demands perfection.

So Brown has a chance to improve and finish the season with possibly a pair of starts.

 

Jake Coker

No, there is no question who the starting quarterback will be heading into the postseason, as if there would be after the fantastic season Blake Sims has turned in to this point.

Still, with a brief peek ahead to next season, these next few weeks could be crucial for Coker, who is presumably the favorite to start at quarterback in 2015.

Because Coker had to first graduate from Florida State before transferring, he had to wait until May to enroll, missing out on spring practice and valuable time in the playbook and with coaches.

So Coker was, naturally, a little behind when it came down to actually picking a quarterback.

Now, though, Coker has had a full regular season to digest the intricacies of Kiffin’s playbook and watch them play out in a game. But he hasn’t really had much opportunity to apply that on the practice field, since Alabama has been in a whirlwind stretch of games to make the playoff.

To his credit, Coker has improved in each game he’s appeared in, well after the result is in hand. Last we saw him, he completed 12 of 18 passes with a touchdown and an interception against Western Carolina.

Over the next few weeks, he’ll likely get more individualized instruction within the offense, positioning himself for a starting role next season.

 

Rashaan Evans

Arguably the biggest recruiting storyline for Alabama in the 2014 cycle, Rashaan Evans has so far shown why he was so highly coveted by the Crimson Tide and his hometown Auburn Tigers.

Evans has appeared in all but one game for Alabama this year, either on special teams, defense or both. He’s recorded 14 tackles and a sack.

“He’s come along better than anybody expected,” defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “We just feed off the extra boost he brings. He’s a versatile edge. He’s done a great job maturing throughout the season.”

Evans, though, could see an increased role in the postseason. Alabama’s sack numbers have somewhat stagnated over the last half of the season. It hasn’t recorded more than two sacks in a game October 18 against Texas A&M.

Evans could be the spark that unit needs.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Dark-Horse Candidates for 2015 Heisman Trophy

The 2014 Heisman Trophy was awarded to Marcus Mariota, the preseason front-runner and wire-to-wire favorite.

But Mariota's win was more of the exception than the rule. More often than not—and especially these past five seasons—the Heisman ends up in the hands of a less-heralded player. Three of the four winners before Mariota were first-year starting quarterbacks.

Depending on who returns to college next season, the list of front-runners will be obvious. Trevone Boykin at TCU. Dak Prescott at Mississippi State. Cody Kessler at USC. J.T. Barrett and/or Braxton Miller at Ohio State. Samaje Perine at Oklahoma. Nick Chubb at Georgia. Leonard Fournette at LSU.

The list goes on and on.

But instead of listing favorites, let's instead turn our attention to the dark horses: players who might make a Johnny Manziel-type run despite failing to move the needle at the moment.

Sound off below and let me know whom else you'd add.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

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Ohio State Football Awards for 2014 Season

The Ohio State football team still has one more game—at least—left on its slate, but the 2014 season has already been one to remember for the Buckeyes. Despite the loss of two Heisman-caliber quarterbacks and an ugly early-season loss to Virginia Tech, Ohio State finds itself preparing for the first-ever College Football Playoff, starting with Jan. 1's Sugar Bowl showdown with Alabama.

There is still plenty left for the Buckeyes to accomplish this season, including the program's eighth national championship and first since 2002. But it's not too early to look back on what's already been a remarkable year in Columbus, one that's possessed no shortage of storylines.

With that in mind, take a look at Bleacher Report's annual awards for Ohio State's 2014 season.

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LSU Football: Final 2014 Positional Grades for the Tigers

LSU went through a major transition phase in 2014. 

The Tigers declined offensively in large part to the departure of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Zach Mettenberger and Jeremy Hill. Their fast start in the NFL this season shows how much talent LSU actually lost.

Head coach Les Miles saw his team average less than 20 points per game against conference opposition. Only Vanderbilt's putrid 12.1 points per game in SEC play was worse. 

But on defense, the Tigers saw improvement. LSU only allowed 20 points per game in conference play, which is over four points better than the year before. Defensive coordinator John Chavis notes his unit finished first in total yards:

Proud of our guys for fighting back this year! #1 defense in the #SEC . #GeauxTigers#LSUpic.twitter.com/lhO8rL2Oeo

— John Chavis (@LSUCoachChavis) December 5, 2014

Some position groups on both sides of the ball were stronger than others. Here is how each graded out. 

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Alabama's Walk of Champions: The Real College Football Experience

You can't talk about college football without mentioning the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide have one of the most diehard fanbases in sports and are not afraid to show it. Before every home game, the fans gather around "The Walk of Champions" to see their team enter Bryant-Denny Stadium. Check out what Alabama football means to their fans.

A special thanks to the Ideas United group for all their hard work on this piece.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Superlatives from Kramer's Korner: End-of-Year Awards

It was just August; how exactly did we arrive here?

Each year we tell ourselves to relish each and every moment of the college football season, knowing the silent void ahead. We sign this contract, re-upping yearly, and despite our best efforts to soak it all in—from the marquee Saturday night no-brainers to the mid-week MACtion—it still speeds by entirely too quickly.

Army and Navy tied a magnificent bow on college football’s regular season this past Saturday, which means all regular-season games, sadly, have been completed. This also means that we can officially hand out the necessary hardware to celebrate yet another successful year before bowls kick into action.

While familiar awards will be handed out—starting with an obvious and deserving Offensive Player of the Year—this is a slightly different College Football Oscars from the ones you’ve come across.

This is about the people, the box-score oddities, the coaches, the teams and, most importantly, the moments.

Who came away with the most impressive catch this season? How about most impressive run? Which individual weighing over 300 pounds scored the most impressive touchdown? And why would anyone deliberately (and unsuccessfully) fake fainting during an actual live play?

Those questions and so much more will be answered below as we honor and celebrate the magnificence of another glorious college football season.  

 

Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, Oregon 

Marcus Mariota won the Heisman on Saturday night, as anticipated. In fact, the Oregon quarterback destroyed all drama in college football’s most prestigious award by doing ridiculous things to box scores all year, as anticipated.

It still seems odd to look down at 53 touchdowns and only two interceptions, like there must be a misprint somehow. I’ve double-checked it a few dozen times since Oregon’s last game and, surprisingly, it has not changed. The numbers are as absurd as they are real, and Mariota was as good as (if not better than) advertised.

Through the air, on the ground and even as a receiver, Mariota was the most spectacular offensive player of a spectacular bunch this year. Of course he’s the Offensive Player of the Year. Never has a difficult decision been so incredibly easy to make.

 

Dominant Defender: Scooby Wright, Arizona 

Scooby Wright, Arizona’s star linebacker, finished the season with 153 tackles, good for No. 2 in the nation. He finished with 14 sacks, which clocked in at No. 3 nationally. And he capped this all off with a screen-altering 27 tackles for loss, which was the best in the country.

This was one of the more dominant defensive seasons in recent memory, one that warranted the Chuck Bednarik Award (check) and Heisman consideration (check).

He was everywhere, and his individual performance helped Arizona soar past all expectations in 2014. For his efforts, Wright finished No. 9 overall in Heisman voting, which was warranted. (He probably could have and should have finished higher, although it was fabulous to see a defensive player in anti-defensive player era crack the Top 10.)

 

Video-Game Box Score: Season Edition

-Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday finished the season No. 4 in the nation in overall passing yards. His 3,873 yards through the air was a full season in terms of production, although Halliday accomplished this in far less time. Even after missing the final three games and only throwing nine passes against USC on November 1—the game he suffered a season-ending injury early on— Halliday still managed to crack the Top Five. Now that is production. 

- Louisville defensive back Gerod Holliman finished the season with 14 interceptions, tying an NCAA record in this category. There were only three games this year in which Holliman did not pick off a pass, and he never went back-to-back weeks without forcing a turnover. To put this figure in perspective, no one else in all of college football picked off 10 passes this season.

 

Anti-Video-Game Box Score: Season Edition

-If you root for Wake Forest in football, run away from this section. Go now. You do not want to hear that your team ran the ball 383 times for 479 yards in 2014, good for an average of 1.25 yards per carry. You don’t want to hear that you averaged only 39.92 rushing yards per game. You also don’t want to hear that you ran for only one more yard than Washington Stat—the nation's worst rushing offense—despite logging 140 more carries. Why didn't you run? 

-It was solid rebound for Cal and head coach Sonny Dykes despite having one of the worst defenses in the country. The pass defense, in particular, really struggled. The Bears allowed an average of 367.2 yards passing yards per game, which was worst in the nation. Even more startling, the nation’s second-worst pass defense statistically, Washington State, gave up 296.6 yards through the air per game. That’s not exactly a small gap.

 

Biggest Surprise 

When you consider that TCU’s best player, defensive end Devonte Fields, was booted from the team before the season began, you gain further appreciation for the most surprising rise in 2014. The Horned Frogs didn’t just surpass expectations; they broke through barriers and quickly became a power to be reckoned with.

It could’ve even better for Gary Patterson’s team, which is perhaps why the Horned Frogs haven’t gotten the appropriate recognition for their run. It’s easy to be consumed with the College Football Playoff and nothing more, but TCU’s surge was the most significant storyline this year.

A surprise no more, the Horned Frogs will likely return the majority of its team next season, including quarterback Trevone Boykin. Expectations are in place for yet another run at the playoff, which means they won’t be sneaking up on anyone next season.

 

Best Moment

The Ole Miss masses carried the goal posts out of the stadium, around campus and eventually into someone’s apartment. The aftermath of a program-shifting victory was a celebration that could be felt well beyond the state of Mississippi.

I wrote about the aftermath of the Rebels’ 23-14 upset victory over Alabama on October 4, and more specifically, the voyage of what is now cherished memorabilia through the Ole Miss campus.

The dream season eventually unraveled for Hugh Freeze’s team due to a variety of factors, although that shouldn’t—and won’t—undo 24 hours of madness in The Grove that will live on for generations. 

Perhaps your moment—courtesy of your own perspective—is different. This particular category is dependent on where you come and individual rooting interests. It's also why they love this sport oh so very much.

 

Quote of the Year

We have spent countless hours and endless paragraphs trying to encompass the student athletes’ current standing with the NCAA in a new revenue-driven era.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty summed up the discussion in roughly three seconds as Baylor's regular season came to a close.

Bryce Petty asked to campaign for playoff: "That's above my pay grade. All I'm not paid to do is play."

— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) December 7, 2014

 

For the Highlight Reel: Best Catch of the Season

It was over after Week 1. Once Jordan Westerkamp’s came down with an absurd, Matrix-like grab on the sideline, we could have handed out for the hardware for this category right then and there. 

Playing against Florida Atlantic, the Nebraska wideout somehow caught a deflected ball behind his back and managed to stay in bounds. This still doesn't seem feasible months later, and yet, there it is.

 

For the Highlight Reel: Best Run of the Season

A bowling ball with feet was born this past fall, and that bowling bowl was Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson. 

Robinson, operating with legs that resemble sequoia trees, showcased his ability to make hopeful tacklers come away slightly less hopeful throughout the regular season. Against Kentucky, however, he took his efforts up a notch.

Behold one human being running through an entire defense for a 22-yard gain.

 

For the Highlight Reel: Best Tackle of the Season 

Before Ohio State was a College Football Playoff participant, it was a Big Ten program with a terrifying assistant strength coach.

Anthony Schlegel does not seem like the kind of human being you want tackling you. A bold—and likely liquid-infused—Buckeyes fan found this out firsthand during an actual game this season. 

You can see the exact moment this fan had an “I’ve made a huge mistake” realization in slow-motion, right before he was brought down. 

Indeed, sir. Indeed.

 

Coach of the Year 

TCU’s Gary Patterson is a deserving selection for Coach of the Year for all of the reasons mentioned above. However, we’re going a different direction with this award entirely. In fact, this is where this entire train goes off the tracks, so be prepared. 

Our Coach of the Year isn't technically a coach. He's a sideline phone technician, which is a spectacular title built for a business card.

Dan Lehman, Minnesota’s sideline phone technician, is this year’s recipient thanks to his outstanding ice-cream consumption. Although the Gophers were playing in blizzard-like conditions, Lehman still enjoyed a televised snack coming out of a halftime.

This is a reminder that there is never a bad time to eat ice cream despite what simple people may tell you. 

 

Large Man of the Year

I will spare you the suspense: Arkansas guard Sebastian Tretola is this year’s Large Man of the Year. It really wasn’t much of a contest. He was the Marcus Mariota of large humans, and he should never have to pay for another meal again. It's only right.

At 6’5” and 350 pounds, Tretola scored one of the season’s most remarkable touchdowns against UAB in Week 9. Before we get to the actual play itself, here it what head coach Bret Bielema—a pioneer for large-man excellence—had to say at halftime following Tretola's touchdown pass.

Bielema in halftime interview: "Coming to Arkansas, if you're an o-lineman, we'll make you famous."

— Adam Alter (@Adam_Alter) October 25, 2014

He's right.

As for the pass itself, here it is in all of its glory. We can only hope that more coaches add this to their playbooks moving forward.

 

Large Man of the Year (Runner-up) 

Jake Cotton, Nebraska’s left guard, didn’t score a touchdown against Michigan State. In fact, all he did to warrant consideration for the award was fall down.

It’s the way he fell, however, that was truly special. 

With the helping hand of slow-motion along with a tune fit for the moment, Cotton gave us one of the season’s most unexpected efforts while trying to avoid a false-start penalty.

He deserves an “A” for effort and probably a "C-" for execution, but it's the effort that counts.

 

Official of the Year

Ken Williamson cares so much; that became clear during the Mississippi State-Texas A&M game on October 4.

After facing the wrong direction to deliver a call for the cameras, Williamson didn’t just turn around. Instead of quickly correcting the error without anyone really taking note of the gaffe, Williamson scolded himself in front of the entire football-watching world.

I’m proud to report that this is still hilarious more than two months later.

 

The Best, Worst Pass of the Year

It’s not necessarily the award Colin Reardon wanted, although the Kent State quarterback delivered one of the strangest, replay-necessary moments of 2014. If you’re wondering how Kent State fared against Ohio State at the beginning of the season, here is your answer.

 

Press Conference of the Year 

After a lackluster showing against Vanderbilt in Week 4—a game the Gamecocks had to battle back to win—a sweaty Steve Spurrier met with media members.

The Vine that came from this glorious day should be celebrated for generations.

 

 

Failed Deception of the Year

They practiced this.

That’s critically important to remember before you watch Arkansas State's failed fake punt. The “fainting goat” was indeed put to good use, and wideout Booker Mays executed it perfectly before the pass was thrown.

Seriously, they practiced this.

Unfortunately, the rest of the play did not develop as planned. The pass that followed was intercepted and Mays was drilled by a Miami player shortly after he tried to bring himself up off the turf. Even though it did not work out, give Arkansas State all of the awards for even dabbling with such creative excellence.

ALL OF THEM.

 

My (Personal) Favorite Moment of 2014

I had a daughter this season, on October 18—a Saturday—to be exact. I’ve enjoyed a lot of wonderful Saturdays writing and shooting videos about college football over the past few seasons, although this was the most rewarding, terrifying and exhilarating day of my life.

When the day had finally reached a normal pace and all visitors had left later that evening, I watched the final few minutes of Notre Dame-Florida State—arguably the year's best game—with a newborn baby on my chest, moving up and down with every new breath of air.

We watched it on a hospital cot, together. Nothing can possibly top this. Nothing ever will.

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Auburn Football: Final 2014 Positional Grades for the Tigers

AUBURN, Ala. — Monday marks the official start of the holiday break for Auburn students, so it's definitely time for some final grades for the semester.

The football program started out in August with a lot of promise and high hopes, but it tailed off toward the end of what was a frustrating fall.

Big moves are on the horizon for the Tigers after the departure of their talented senior class, and head coach Gus Malzahn is already building toward next season with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Before the Tigers begin their Outback Bowl practices Monday afternoon, let's review the final report card for Malzahn and his team after an 8-4 regular season.

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Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota: Who Will Prove to Be the Better QB?

There won't be a more compelling matchup of quarterbacks this bowl season than the one in the Rose Bowl. "The Granddaddy of Them All" features, as anticipated, the latest Heisman Trophy winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, and last year's Heisman winner, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. 

On top of that, it's likely going to be the final college game for one of them, as the winner will move on to the College Football Playoff championship. Some might be so bold to say that's a decent storyline. 

Mariota's numbers have been not only eye-popping, but consistent: 68.3 completion percentage, 3,783 yards, 10.2 yards per attempt, 669 rushing yards, 5.72 yards per rush, 53 total touchdowns, two interceptions and a partridge in a pear tree. 

Winston's numbers are down this season, a reflection of—but not necessarily a reason for—Florida State's inconsistent play. On the year, Winston has a 65.4 completion percentage, 3,559 yards, 8.4 yards per attempt, 27 total touchdowns and 17 interceptions. 

Which one is primed for the better game?

 

The Case for Mariota

He hasn't had a bad game all year. Not one. That's amazing considering how hit-and-miss the Ducks' offensive line has been this season. Oregon has allowed 2.23 sacks per game, but there was a stretch in late September into October when, because of injuries, Oregon had a hard time keeping a clean pocket for Mariota.  

The closest any team has been to making Mariota "just a guy" was Arizona in a 31-24 win over the Ducks in early October. Mariota was still 20-of-32 for 276 passing yards and a pair of scores, but was a non-factor running the ball and forced into two fumbles on sacks. 

The flip side to all of that is that Mariota has faced just two truly stout defenses: Stanford and Michigan State. The Cardinal and Spartans rank first and 14th in yards per passing attempt allowed, respectively, and second and 12th in points per game allowed. 

Granted, Mariota played well in both of those games, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan State and 258 yards with four total touchdowns against Stanford. The results, however limited, indicate he's not a quarterback that thrives only on weaker competition. 

What makes Mariota so good is his decision-making. Mistakes are a rarity for Mariota, but when he does show signs of being human, it doesn't affect him.

"He's freakishly smart, especially when it comes to football," Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost told Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com in November. "He sees things and processes things so quickly that he just doesn't make a ton of mistakes." 

Florida State is decent enough in getting takeaways. The Seminoles defense averages one interception a game; it's holding on to the ball that's a problem for FSU. Athletically, Florida State matches up well with Oregon. Can the Noles finally fluster Mariota? No one has done it yet. 


The Case for Winston

It's become impossible to talk about Winston solely as an on-the-field product. 

If you conducted an approval-rating survey of Winston like you would for a president, the results would be bad. There are a lot of people who don't like him because of his off-the-field antics, if you want to call them that.

Of course, those incidents—the shoplifting, the BB gun fight, etc.—are microscopic in the bigger question of whether Winston sexually assaulted a woman two years ago. (The results from Winston's code of conduct hearing should be known within the next few weeks, according to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.)

As a result, everything Winston does, like push a referee out of the way during a game, gets magnified. How others view Winston as a football player is done through the lens of his personal life. Additionally, the perception of Mariota has become that of an anti-Winston. 

But make no mistake: Winston is still a top-tier college quarterback. According to B/R's draft guru Matt Miller, Winston would be a top-five selection from a grade standpoint. 

It's true that Winston has made some bad decisions this season. Though interceptions are a team stat in that a number of things can contribute to them, Winston's four interceptions against Florida last month were mostly, if not all, on him. 

However, there are a couple of things to consider. The Seminoles didn't have much of a running game until freshman Dalvin Cook emerged in the second half of the season. That was putting pressure on Winston as a passer. Florida State is also breaking in some freshman receivers. While guys like Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane are full of promise, they are going to make freshman mistakes like running the wrong route. That can result in a pick. 

That said, Winston's ball placement is impeccable. He makes some difficult throws look easy. There's something to be said for that. He's not a gifted runner like Mariota, but he's athletic enough to move around in the pocket and make plays with his feet when he has to. 

In short: Winston didn't magically morph from the most outstanding player in college football a year ago to a nobody. In fact, Winston went from his worst game of the season against Florida to his best against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game (21-of-30 for 309 yards and three touchdowns). 

 

The Verdict

Throw out the season stats mentioned above because this one is a close call. A month to prepare might be Winston's best friend. However, there just hasn't been anything this season that indicates Mariota will be anything other than brilliant. 

It's a safe choice, sure, but not necessarily one that is indicative of the outcome. The Rose Bowl could actually become a game where an unsung hero, perhaps Cook or Royce Freeman of Oregon, takes over the game

The question will be whether Florida State's defense can do two things: play disciplined, especially against tempo, and shut down Oregon's receivers in pass defense. The Seminoles don't get into the backfield much (1.31 sacks per game, last in the ACC), so Mariota could have plenty of time to throw. 

The more an offense has time, the more likely it's going to make a play. That's all Mariota has done this year. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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DE Carl Lawson Is the Key to Will Muschamp's Auburn Success

Auburn bought the coordinator equivalent of a muscle car when it announced late Friday night that former Florida head coach Will Muschamp had agreed to a three-year deal worth somewhere between $1.6 million and $1.8 million, according to Chris Low and Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com.

If Muschamp is the muscle car, defensive end Carl Lawson is the fuel additive.

The 6'2", 261-pound Alpharetta, Georgia, native had a stellar freshman campaign in 2013, notching 20 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks while serving as a rotational defensive end. In the 2013 Iron Bowl, Lawson made a key fourth-down stop on Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon in the red zone late in the fourth quarter. That stop kept Auburn in the game, which it eventually won on a "kick six."

2014 was supposed to be the season in which he stepped up from "situational star" to "every-down stud." But an ACL injury ended Lawson's season before it started, which hampered the Tigers pass rush all year. 

Under former coordinator Ellis Johnson, the Tigers managed just 20 sacks—tied for the third-worst mark in the conference. Despite that fact, Muschamp is excited about the future of the front seven on the Plains.

"I think the front seven is very strong," he said in his introductory press conference. "Just looking at some of the guys up front, I recruited a bunch of them. I'm looking forward to coaching some of them that turned me down."

One of the players he specifically mentioned is Lawson, according to Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

According to Justin Hokanson of 247Sports, the "burst" off the edge returned in December, and Lawson will practice this month as the Tigers prepare for a showdown with Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. He could play in the bowl game, but that would burn his redshirt, and Muschamp would probably prefer to have Lawson sit and return in 2015 as a redshirt sophomore.

His return would be huge for the 2015 Tigers.

Lawson can be the next Dante Fowler.

Fowler made waves in Gainesville under Muschamp, racking up 31 tackles for loss in three seasons and earning first-team All-SEC honors from the SEC's coaches as a junior in 2014. The 6'3" 260-pounder was stout against the run but also quick off the edge, and he made a living in opponents' backfields, which caused mistakes from quarterbacks and put opposing offenses behind the chains.

If Lawson can come back and be a Fowler clone, it will complete the defensive puzzle for the Tigers.

More of a punch line than a power, Auburn still has quality players on that side of the ball—it just never seemed to come together for all of them at any point over the final two months of the season.

Cornerback Jonathan Jones was a second-team All-SEC defensive back and finished the season with six interceptions—the second-most in the conference. Linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost had up-and-down seasons, but when they shine—like they did in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game—they're two of the best. Defensive tackle Montravius Adams is a monster in the middle of the line who not only takes up space but is also quick on his feet and tough to block.

The foundation is already there for Muschamp to orchestrate a dramatic turnaround in 2015 as long as he can find a way to get pressure on the quarterback. Lawson should be that guy.

If he comes back at or near 100 percent, Muschamp's new defense could become a power sooner rather than later.

 

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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Felder's Awards: Which College Football Running Backs Had the Best 2014?

The running back position in the 2014 college football season was stacked full of big-time talent, with each back possessing a different skill set that made him excel. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder dishes out his awards for the top running back of 2014.

Which back had the best 2014?

Check out the video, and let us know! 

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Felder's Awards: Which College Football Running Backs Had the Best 2014?

The running back position in the 2014 college football season was stacked full of big-time talent, with each back possessing a different skill set that made him excel. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder dishes out his awards for the top running back of 2014.

Which back had the best 2014?

Check out the video, and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Can Ohio State Disrupt the Blake Sims-Amari Cooper Connection?

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims and receiver Amari Cooper have formed one of college football's most dynamic and powerful connections.

If Ohio State can't find a way to disrupt that connection in the Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide could roll over the Buckeyes on their way to the College Football Playoff National Championship.

That will be a tough challenge for Urban Meyer's squad. Ohio State's secondary has made huge strides after a dismal season a year ago, when it ranked 110th nationally in pass defense, according to Eleven Warriors. Chris Ash was brought in as co-defensive coordinator to fix those issues—a move that worked out well for the Buckeyes, who rank 17th after allowing an average of 188.2 passing yards in 13 games this season.

But Ohio State hasn't faced a quarterback as efficient as Sims or a receiver with the game-breaking ability that Cooper possesses.

With Lane Kiffin calling the plays, Alabama's offense has evolved from its former run-heavy tendencies. The Tide have much more balance, fueled by the steady hand of Sims, who broke the single-season school record for passing yards in the SEC title game against Missouri.

In addition to his incredible production—he has 3,250 passing yards and 26 touchdowns—he's also very careful with the ball, ranking seventh overall in passing efficiency.

Sims' job is made easier by Cooper, who leads the nation in receptions (115) and receiving yards (1,656). The star junior has registered three games with more than 200 receiving yards (two of which came against top-30 pass defenses) and two games with three receiving touchdowns.

He's thought by many as the best receiver in the country, and his trophy case is starting to back that up.

Cooper was named the Biletnikoff Award winner and a first-team All-American, and he finished third in the Heisman Trophy race behind Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.

Saban told reporters what makes Cooper the "complete package":

He's exceptionally good against press, coming off the ball, but he's also very good coming out of a break. Most of the time the defender gets beat either on the release or out of the break. A lot of guys are pretty good at one and maybe not as good at the other. And he has really good hands and good ball skills.

How can Ohio State stop these guys?

The most talented quarterback-receiver combo the Buckeyes saw this year came on the road against Michigan State, when they faced Connor Cook and Tony Lippett.

Cook leads the Big Ten in passing yards with 2,900 and Lippett is the conference's best wideout with 1,124 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. But when Ohio State traveled to Spartans Stadium on November 8, it made the duo look ordinary.

Lippett was shut down by senior cornerback Doran Grant in the first half, catching just one pass for 10 yards. The Spartans found themselves in a sizable hole in the second half and tried to pass their way out of it, but Lippett still finished with just five receptions for 64 yards and no touchdowns.

"He was chirping off at the mouth in the beginning, but as the game started going he was like, 'hold up,'" Grant told reporters. "I never let it faze me. He's a great player, obviously, the leading receiver in the Big Ten, it was a great battle out there."

Lippett talked about the difference between last year's Ohio State defense and the improved unit this season.

"They came out there prepared," Lippett said. "I would just say they're more prepared this year. They came out there aggressive and not just trying to hold on."

That's a process Ohio State will have to repeat against Alabama. With three-and-a-half weeks to prepare, the Buckeyes' coaching staff must come up with a plan to stop the unstoppable. According to USA Today's Nicole Auerbach, Meyer is fully aware of what his team is up against.

Will Ohio State alter its pass coverage more toward Cooper with double-teams and extra help? Or will it leave Grant to fend for himself in order to free up blitzers to pressure Sims?

It could be a combination of both. If they're successful, the Buckeyes would have a great shot of upsetting the Tide and advancing to the national championship game.

 

All stats via NCAA.com and B/R research.

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

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