NCAA Football News

Transferring from Notre Dame to LSU Would Be Smart Move for Everett Golson

Everett Golson doesn't need a fresh start, but he could sure use one, which is why he's kicking the tires on potential graduate transfer opportunities.

And he may have found the perfect destination.

Less than a week after playing—but not starting—against LSU in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Golson reportedly reached out to the Tigers about joining their program next season, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune.

Golson's academics, however, pose a roadblock to the proceedings. He was was ruled academically ineligible for his redshirt sophomore season in 2013 and would thus need to apply for a waiver from the SEC to have his transfer granted, as Kleinpeter explains:

LSU is exploring the possibility but would have to obtain a waiver from the conference office since Golson was declared academically ineligible for the 2013 season. The SEC rule allows graduate student transfers without waivers if the student maintained eligibility, had no significant disciplinary issues at the old school and earned all possible APR points.

Graduate transfers are required to make progress toward a graduate degree, otherwise the school won't be able to apply the grad-student exception in that athlete's sport for three years.

For the sake of argument, let's pretend that waiver gets granted. Golson graduates in May from Notre Dame and is eligible to join LSU for fall practice, the same way Jake Coker joined Alabama.

Should he do it?

There are reasons to contend that he shouldn't. Rising sophomore Malik Zaire started over Golson in the bowl game, but Golson still saw meaningful playing time, finished with superior passing stats and completed four of five passes for 50 yards on the game-winning field goal drive at the end of the fourth quarter.

As Bleacher Report's Keith Arnold put it: "This isn't a career backup looking for a lifeline. This is Everett Golson."

But isn't that sort of the point?

This is Everett Golson—the guy who led Notre Dame to a 12-0 record, a No. 1 BCS ranking and a spot in the 2012 national title game. Everett Golson—the strong-armed leader whom NFL scouts said "can start in our league," per Dane Brugler of CBS Sports. Everett Golson—the player who in mid-October was the No. 4 favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, per Odds Shark.

How does one tell that guy to win his job back?

Golson would be the favorite to start at LSU next season despite entering a new system, and he owes it to himself to spend his final season of eligibility playing football. There's a chance—maybe even a coin-flip chance—he could beat Zaire for the job at Notre Dame, but the momentum of public sentiment is against him.

Why should he take the risk?

At LSU, Golson would be hailed as a potential savior. There will be questions about his decision-making—the curious, compoundable mistakes that led to his 22 turnovers in 2014—but he will still be a breath of fresh air for a team that sorely needs it.

Neither Anthony Jennings nor Brandon Harris got the job done this season. LSU finished No. 116 in the country in passing yards per game despite a deep (albeit young) group of pass-catchers and an offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, who likes to throw the ball downfield.

Golson has the vertical arm to excel in Cameron's offense, stretching the field to targets such as Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, John Diarse, Trey Quinn and incoming 5-star receiver Tyron Johnson. He also has the mobility to run some dangerous two-man stuff (play-action rollouts, zone reads, etc.) with all-world running back Leonard Fournette.

More than that, though, he will not have the short leash (that he earned) from Notre Dame's fanbase. He will not feel the pressure of a chorus of boos after every interception. Chants to PUT IN ZAIRE make sense, because Zaire has never looked short of incredible.

Chants to PUT IN JENNINGS do not (and will never) exist.

Golson has the physical tools of an All-American/NFL quarterback. At risk of sounding like an armchair psychologist, it seemed his late-season problems were mental. If he erred once, the game was over; he couldn't stop one mistake from turning into two, three, four.

So while Golson has tacitly denied Kleinpeter's report—his exact words: "Don't believe everything you hear"—it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for him to spend a year in Baton Rouge. He could get away from whatever the heck went wrong in South Bend and start anew.

"There will be plenty of scouts who use [Russell] Wilson's success as evidence that Golson can thrive as a pro," Bucky Brooks of NFL.com wrote of Golson before his late-season meltdown, comparing the undersized Notre Dame QB to the undersized Seattle Seahawks QB who in college exercised a graduate transfer from NC State to Wisconsin (where he won the Rose Bowl).

Wilson has long been the most flattering comparison for Golson—his "best-case" scenario, if you will.

Why not try to follow in his footsteps?

Wilson never spent a year behind a sophomore.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Cornhuskers

It was quite the end to the 2014-2015 football season for Nebraska. From Bo Pelini being fired to Mike Riley being hired, it's been a whirlwind.

To put a bow on it, the Huskers lost 45-42 in the Holiday Bowl to USC. Needless to say, most Nebraska fans are ready to move forward.

It's going to be an interesting offseason, too. In anticipation of what Riley will bring to the table, Husker fans will have plenty to talk about before September rolls around. If nothing else, it'll help make the time pass more quickly.

So, what are the biggest offseason storylines for Nebraska?

Begin Slideshow

Will Undefeated Become Irrelevant for the College Football Playoff?

The College Football Playoff selection process is far from perfect, but say this for it: It's the anti-BCS. Yes, that's still a good thing.

Had the BCS still been in place this season, the general consensus is that Florida State and Alabama—likely in that No. 1 and No. 2 order—would have been playing for the national championship. Oregon and Ohio State, the two teams actually competing for the playoff championship on Jan. 12, would have been left out.

In that sense, the first season with the playoff should be considered a success. At the very least, the committee got one thing right that the BCS would not have: Florida State wasn't the No. 1 team in college football even though it was the only undefeated team remaining after the regular season.

There had been too many close calls, too many come-from-behind victories needed against lesser opponents. This was obviously not the same dominant Florida State team that went undefeated in 2013.

The committee felt as much by making the Seminoles the No. 3 seed against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. “I ain’t worried about No. 1,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said via Marc Tracy of the New York Times after winning the ACC Championship against Georgia Tech. “We’ll be in the playoff.”

Fisher was right, and so was the committee.

You know the result by now: A 59-20 rout in which Florida State's miscues, which had been a problem all year, finally became insurmountable.

The Seminoles could overcome stretches of poor play against the likes of North Carolina State, Louisville, Miami and Florida. Oregon is far and away a better team than any of those others and thus Florida State paid dearly for five second-half turnovers.

That poses two questions: Was Florida State ever one of the four best teams in the nation? Along those lines, is an undefeated season relevant to a playoff push?

There's no easy answer to the first question because it's clouded by hindsight. The Rose Bowl loss, coupled with TCU's convincing 42-3 win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, provides the opportunity for second-guessing.

However, the selection committee felt that Florida State earned its place among the final four. At the time of Selection Sunday, the debate wasn't whether Florida State or TCU should get in the field. It was about TCU, Baylor or Ohio State, all one-loss teams.

If the committee had a crystal-ball view into the semifinals, well, we wouldn't need a selection committee at all.

As Graham Watson of Yahoo Sports writes, any other decision would have set an incredible precedent:

By leaving the only undefeated team out of the playoff, if such a thing comes to pass, the College Football Committee risks setting a dangerous precedent. It’s essentially saying that no matter the result of a contest, teams are subject to the whimsy of the committee and how it feels a team should have played versus how it did play even if it won. 

With that said, the committee certainly showed that the number of wins and losses alone do not dictate seeding. Otherwise, the order would be simple: All undefeated teams would rank ahead of one-loss teams, which would rank ahead of two-loss teams and so on.

In fact, the Seminoles dropped in the playoff rankings behind one-loss teams—from No. 2 to No. 3, and from No. 3 to No. 4—two times during the regular season.

Is going undefeated irrelevant, though? Not in a Power Five conference like the ACC. It's tough to envision an undefeated team from any power conference being left out barring multiple other undefeated teams from similar conferences.

The committee will still look at strength of schedule, the so-called "eye test" and more. Going undefeated will be a factor and therefore relevant to the discussion.

It's simply too difficult to go undefeated in any conference for it not to be a consideration. Florida State may have been America's most hated team, but that doesn't mean the Seminoles didn't accomplish plenty during its 29-game winning streak.

One loss won't forever alter how undefeated teams are viewed.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Everett Golson Would Be 'Clear Upgrade' for LSU Tigers

According to Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune, current Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has reached out to LSU about a possible transfer for the upcoming season.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder explains what sort of impact Golson could have on the Tigers. 

Do you think this is a good move for Golson?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Christian Wilkins to Clemson: Tigers Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Clemson's defense just got a whole lot bigger.  

Christian Wilkins, a 4-star defensive tackle prospect who has starred at Suffield Academy in Connecticut, announced his decision to attend Clemson on Monday, adding the latest coup to the Tigers' 2015 class.

Wilkins chose Clemson over a group that included Penn State and Ohio State. Well more than 20 schools in all expressed interest during this process, a majority of which coming from the ACC-Big Ten region—where high school coaches got pretty familiar with Wilkins' brand of dominance.

A 6'4", 290-pound defensive tackle, Wilkins is considered the No. 56 prospect in the nation and eighth-best player at his position by 247Sports' composite rankings. He's also the top-ranked prospect in the state of Connecticut.

Given Connecticut's overall shakiness as a hotbed of Division I talent, Wilkins has consistently been at a size and skill advantage throughout his high school career. His ability to overpower opposing offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage made him impossible to block without double- and triple-teams.

A starter since his freshman season, Wilkins recorded 57 total tackles and seven sacks as a junior, according to MaxPreps, despite coaches scheming to mitigate his effectiveness.

More impressive is Wilkins' overall versatility for a kid his size. He also lined up occasionally at tight end in the Suffield offense, going for 209 yards through the air as a sophomore. It's highly unlikely that he'll get any time on the offensive side of the ball in college—outside of some possible jumbo sets—but his ability to step in speaks well for his athletic profile.

"He has great athleticism for his size," Suffield Academy coach Drew Gamere told ESPN's Jared Shanker (h/t ESPNBoston.com's Brendan Hall). "I forget he's 300 pounds all the time." 

In mid-May, 247Sports' crystal ball said he was a 91 percent certainty to attend Ohio State, with Notre Dame coming in at a 9 percent chance. Now in early January, the crystal ball changed dramatically, as Penn State was favored at 81 percent, followed by Ohio State at 16 percent and Notre Dame at 3 percent.

Thus, Wilkins' decision may come as a surprise to many considering those were more well-informed guesses than anything. Wilkins did a great job of keeping his options open. He is going to have an adjustment period to deal with the uptick in competition, which the Tigers should be able to afford him. It would be surprising if he played all that much as a freshman.

Wilkins is a tantalizing talent and bolts off the snap for someone his size. He's just not equipped with the necessary moves and counters needed to deal with actually going against players his size. What's more, Wilkins will also be making the adjustment from defensive end to defensive tackle—similar positions, but ones with entirely different responsibilities.

For someone so physically gifted and already equipped with a college body, Wilkins is a bit of a project. There's no reason to think he won't develop with Clemson's infrastructure in place. We're just more likely to hear about Wilkins' ascent as a junior and senior rather than an instant domination.

Considering Wilkins was looking at schools in direct competition with the Tigers, it's safe to say they'll be more than happy to express a little patience.

 

Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Ohio State Stop Marcus Mariota and Oregon's Stellar RB Crew?

The Oregon Ducks have one of the most explosive offenses this season. The Ohio State Buckeyes defense continues to improve with every single game. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate who has the edge in this national championship match. 

Who has the upper hand: the Oregon offense or the Ohio State defense?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 Early Enrollees Who Will Make Biggest Impact

A new trend in recruiting is the wave of top prospects who forgo their final semester of high school in order to enroll early at the school of their choice.

Last year, Cameron Robinson (Alabama) and Dalvin Cook (Florida State) were among the notable first-year players who took advantage of getting a jump on their college careers.

The 2015 class has a handful of elite talents who are arriving on campuses sometime this month.

Which early enrollees have a chance to be impact players this fall?

 

Note: Players listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

Everett Golson Transfer Rumors: Latest Buzz and Speculation Surrounding Star QB

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson is considering leaving South Bend to play out the final year of his NCAA eligibility. Sources tell NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter that Golson is interested in joining the LSU Tigers.  

Here are the details of Golson's reported interest in taking his talents to Baton Rouge, as the signal-caller's academic background is creating some complications:

LSU is exploring the possibility but would have to obtain a waiver from the conference office since Golson was declared academically ineligible for the 2013 season. The SEC rule allows graduate student transfers without waivers if the student maintained eligibility, had no significant disciplinary issues at the old school and earned all possible [Academic Progress Rate] points.

Shea Dixon of 247Sports.com reported what he was hearing regarding Golson and the Tigers:

Golson himself commented on the rumors via his Twitter account:

Golson threw for 3,445 yards and 29 touchdowns to 14 interceptions in 2014, but he slumped somewhat down the stretch as the Irish lost their final four regular-season games.

The senior did help Notre Dame to a 31-28 victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl, albeit in a timeshare situation with Malik Zaire. Losing grip on the starting job had to give Golson incentive to prove something greater if he has any hope at a football future.

LSU doesn't have the greatest quarterback situation, so Golson can capitalize on a situation with little competition. Dual-threat QBs Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris haven't established themselves as the clear-cut answer under center.

Running a pro-style offense coordinated by former NFL coach Cam Cameron also offers Golson a chance to bolster his professional prospects. Stepping up to SEC competition should be an indicator of what Golson is truly made of as a quarterback as well.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 Burning Questions Heading into the Boise State Broncos Offseason

It's safe to say no one expected Boise State to bounce back this fast.

After losing their head coach late last year, along with the majority of the coaching staff and a few recruits, it seemed as though the Broncos were destined for regression.

Athletic director Mark Coyle and university president Bob Kustra had other ideas though, and on December 11, they inked a deal for former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to return to take over as head coach. 

During his press conference, Harsin made several references to the past, and in the following weeks he began to fill out his coaching staff with former Broncos, each of whom had gone on to find success elsewhere.

He brought Mike Sanford, who was coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers at Stanford while coordinating the Cardinal recruiting effort, in to run the offense and call plays, and lured Marcel Yates, who had been co-defensive coordinator at Texas A&M, back to run the defense.

Boise State became the only program in the nation who had alumni running the offense, defense and calling the shots as the head coach.

After a few weeks the motto for the 2014 season emerged: "Attack the Future."

And attack they did. After getting steamrolled in the season opener against Ole Miss, the Broncos rebounded to win 12 of the next 13 games, including eight in a row to finish the season.

They played hard, set numerous school records and sprinkled in just enough trick plays to remind everyone that this was Boise State back to its roots. They clinched an at-large berth in the Fiesta Bowl and held on to win a nail-biter against 10th-ranked Arizona, clinching the school's eighth 12-win season since 2002.

So what does Harsin have up his sleeve for an encore?

Believe it or not, the outlook for next year is even brighter, despite the fact that the Broncos will have to replace record-setting players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the questions that Harsin and Co. will need to find answers for before kickoff of the 2015 season.

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Bruins

The storylines for UCLA football’s 2015 season might look quite a bit different than a year ago at this time.

UCLA embarked on 2014 with lofty expectations—both internally and externally.

Outside expectations included contention for a berth in the College Football Playoff. Head coach Jim Mora repeatedly downplayed the praise of pundits who tabbed the Bruins for the national title, but emphasized that a Pac-12 Championship was the team’s primary focus.

Both goals eluded UCLA.

After falling short of both outside and internal expectations, the Bruins must remedy what went wrong to navigate to a title in 2015.

Begin Slideshow

Toledo Player Knocks Teammate Down with Celebratory Head-Butt

During the third quarter of Sunday's GoDaddy Bowl between Toledo and Arkansas State, MACtion got a little bit crazy.

After making a tackle on a kickoff, Rockets defensive end John Stepec was pretty fired up and in the mood for celebratory head-butts. Two of his teammates were able to absorb the blow, but defensive tackle Treyvon Hester was not as lucky.

The 6'3", 245-pound Stepec knocked the 6'4", 300-pound Hester to the turf with a strong head-butt.

Luckily, these players will be able to laugh about the moment because it came during a 63-44 victory.

[YouTube, h/t The Big Lead]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Ohio State: TV Info and Odds for College Football Championship 2015

Jameis Winston, Amari Cooper and others potentially head to the 2015 NFL draft, while those left behind have something to say about the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship. 

Marcus Mariota's Oregon Ducks and Cardale Jones' Ohio State Buckeyes tout plenty of talent set to move on to the next level, but for now, January 12 in Arlington, Texas is all that matters.

There, a team with a supposed third-string quarterback that somehow took down Alabama's dynasty clashes with a team that has yet to hiccup or be too small, slow or shocked in the face of the best of the best.

On such an important stage, a few key names will decide the outcome.

 

College Football Playoff National Championship Odds and Schedule

 

Early X-Factors to Watch

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State 

Faced with compensating for a third-string quarterback under center, Ohio State sophomore back Ezekiel Elliott erupted against an elite and still-sixth-ranked Alabama defense to carry the Buckeyes to a 42-35 win.

Of course, Elliott is no stranger to pressure or big games. He torched a strong Michigan State defense for 154 yards and two scores in a 49-37 win. He ran for a minimum of 121 yards and two scores against Michigan to close the season and against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Somehow, that all pales in comparison to what he accomplished against the Crimson Tide, though. Backs are lucky to hit around 70 rushing yards against the unit—he ran wild for 230 and two scores.

ESPN Stats & Info puts things into perspective:

Elliott needs one more repeat performance if the Buckeyes are to win the title.

His ability to control the pace of the game on the ground opens things up for Jones through the air. It also means less time on the field for this year's Heisman winner.

The door is open, too—Oregon allowed Florida State back Dalvin Cook to rush for 103 yards and the Seminoles as a whole to gain 180 and a score on a 4.6 per-carry average.

 

Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon

Oregon freshman wideout Darren Carrington is a hero in the eyes of fans. 

The Ducks lost top wideout Devon Allen against the Seminoles. All Carrington did to fill the void? A gaudy seven receptions for 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Not bad for a player who only hit seven catches or surpassed the 100-yard mark just one other time all season.

As NFL.com's Bryan Fischer captures, Carrington is now assuming a bit of a leadership role for the offense:

Carrington remains Mariota's top deep threat, hence his average of 19 yards per catch. He proved against Florida State that he can be much more than that, though, which is a requirement for his Ducks to move past a stingy Ohio State defense.

The title game figures to be a shootout considering both teams average more than 45 points per game. Carrington will need to lead the way for the aerial attack.

 

Joey Bosa, LB, Ohio State

Ohio State needs Joey Bosa at his best to stand a chance against the Ducks. 

Make no mistake, Bosa is an elite player—he is a sophomore, but he already generates NFL buzz. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida native owns 14 sacks this season but will need his best performance to date in order to fluster Mariota.

Look at it this way. Mariota is the best passer under pressure in the collegiate game. Despite the loss of key linemen such as Tyler Johnstone, he threw just two interceptions all season long.

Thanks to designed rollouts and his sheer running ability—he has 731 yards and 15 rushing scores this year—Mariota is deadly enough to evade Bosa and hurt the Buckeyes deep down the field.

Bosa and Ohio State flustered Alabama's Blake Sims into a trio of interceptions to go with two scores, another 29 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Mariota is more experienced and will hurt a questionable Ohio State secondary in a big way if Bosa does not hit home in a consistent manner.

Betting information courtesy of Odds Shark. Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What QB Will Have a Dak Prescott-Style Breakout Season in 2015?

Dak Prescott was the breakout star of the 2014 season, going from under the radar to in the national spotlight in what seemed like moments. Which quarterbacks have the chance to break out next season?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate who will be the 2015 edition of Prescott.

Who will be the breakout star of the next college football season?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Linebacker Darron Lee Is College Football's Best-Kept Secret

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the moments following Ohio State's 42-35 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Urban Meyer found himself flanked by the game's pair of MVPs on the postgame podium.

To Meyer's right was running back Ezekiel Elliott, who had just rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense. A former 4-star prospect, this was the type of effort that the Buckeyes' staff expected from Elliott when it fought tooth and nail to pry him from his home state of Missouri two years ago.

That also happened to be the same year that Meyer "recruited" the Sugar Bowl's defensive MVP on his other side, a high school quarterback from nearby New Albany. And while Lee's path to Ohio State couldn't have been any dissimilar from Elliott's, he's proven to be equally important to a fourth-seeded Buckeyes team that will take on No. 2 Oregon in next Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

"I still believe that this is all about the checkers," Meyer said. "Checkers are valuable things, man. And I got two very talented checkers right next to me."

Only Lee wasn't supposed to be this valuable of a piece for Meyer to play with—at least not yet. And yet here he was, the Sugar Bowl defensive MVP, having racked up seven tackles, three tackles for a loss and two sacks against the nation's top-ranked team.

That's hardly the type of production that the Buckeyes expected from Lee in the summer of 2012, when they made the 3-star prospect earn his scholarship offer with not one, but two appearances on the summer-camp circuit. Having grown up ingrained in Ohio State culture—his mother a television anchor at the Columbus NBC affiliate—it didn't take long for Lee accept his invite to play for the Buckeyes, giving his verbal pledge to Meyer on June 26, 2012.

"I love being a Buckeye," Lee said.

At that point, Lee's acceptance at Ohio State could have been considered a victory in and of itself, the local kid earning his way onto the roster of his hometown team. But in a star-studded recruiting class, the 630th-ranked prospect in the 2013 class was an obvious afterthought, with the likes of Joey Bosa, Vonn Bell and Dontre Wilson standing at the forefront.

That manifested itself in the form of a redshirt season in 2013 for Lee, who made the move to outside linebacker upon arriving at Ohio State despite weighing just 205 pounds coming out of high school. That didn't stop the New Albany native from setting sky-high goals for himself, claiming that he'd be the player who would one day replace All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier.

“I was like, ‘Sure, buddy you are,’” said Bosa, Lee's freshman roommate. “He came in here as a safety or something and he played scout team linebacker and I just didn’t believe him.

"He was maybe 195 [pounds]."

"I was actually 215 at the time," Lee insisted.

It didn't take long for Lee to prove the doubters—Bosa included—wrong, as on the first day of spring practice in 2014, he found himself starting in the weak-side linebacker spot formerly occupied by Shazier. "All of a sudden he’s in spring and he’s killing people," Bosa said. "He got huge."

A strong spring carried over into a starting role in the fall, where Lee—now weighing 228 pounds—made an instant impact. With the Buckeyes trailing Navy in the second half of their season opener, Lee drew back on his days as a playmaking quarterback, returning a Bosa forced fumble 61 yards for a touchdown in what would be a 34-17 OSU victory.

That proved to be the first of many big plays for the redshirt freshman in his debut season, which has thus far included 50 tackles, 16.5 of which have come for a loss, 7.5 sacks, two interceptions and two touchdown returns. Those aren't Shazier-like numbers quite yet, but it's been enough for Meyer to single out Lee as one of the reasons why a young Buckeyes team finds itself unexpectedly playing for college football's national title.

"Did I think Darron Lee would perform like an All-Big Ten linebacker?" Meyer asked rhetorically after it was announced that Ohio State had made college football's first-ever playoff. "He's not there yet, but he's darn close."

And while Lee was in fact snubbed from any of the Big Ten's all-conference teams—honorable mentions included—that hasn't prevented the 20-year-old from carrying himself with the confidence of an established veteran, something that hasn't gone unnoticed by his older Buckeyes teammates.

"D-Lee, you are cocky," Lee recalls senior linebacker and captain Curtis Grant telling him.

"Would you rather it be the other way around?" Lee responded. "Would you rather me be scared?"

Grant's answer, obviously, was no, which served Ohio State well in its upset of the Crimson Tide. Whether it was pressuring quarterback Blake Sims or containing running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, it was impossible not to notice Lee in the Sugar Bowl, as he did his best to debunk the myth of "SEC speed."

“Somebody’s got to do their homework,” Lee hummed in the locker room after the game. "I was telling [OSU linebacker Joshua Perry] today, 'I don't think they've been doing their homework enough.' Everybody has that SEC bias crap or whatever. Honestly, just do your homework."

With Alabama and the SEC now in the Buckeyes' rearview mirror, Lee's attention now turns toward Oregon, against which he'll undoubtedly again play a key role. Whether it's spying Heisman Trophy-winner Marcus Mariota in the same way Arizona's Scooby Wright found success against the Ducks in their lone loss of the season or containing Oregon's explosive perimeter run game, it's hard to imagine Ohio State capturing its eighth national title in program history without a big day from college football's most underappreciated player.

"Just another day at work," Lee said, rolling his eyes when told that the Ducks are favored by seven points over the Buckeyes.

For Lee, the role of underdog is nothing new.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Hurricanes

The Miami Hurricanes have entered what is expected to be a tense, intriguing offseason, and a few storylines loom large over the program.

Following a 6-7 campaign that contained a four-game losing streak, the pressure to make personnel changes is higher than ever. Any coaching moves could affect recruiting, though the uncertainty surrounding "The U" seems to already be disturbing the 2015 class.

However, no matter which prospects sign with the school, the 'Canes must replace 12 starters, including a few team leaders.

The school proclaims a rallying cry of "It's great, to be, a Miami Hurricane," but right now, it's more "complex" than anything else.

 

Will Any Coaching Moves Be Made?

Whether or not someone believes Al Golden is the right man for the head-coaching position at Miami is an opinion. However, the fact is athletic director Blake James said Golden will continue at the helm, per the Sun Sentinel's Christy Cabrera Chirinos (subscription required).

So, barring an unexpected change of plans, it's time for everyone to bury the hatchet and accept that, for better or worse, Golden is leading the Hurricanes next season.

What isn't set in stone, of course, are the assistant jobs at Miami. Three matters are called into question for this topic: Loyalty, stubbornness and realism.

Golden is loyal to defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio, defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and defensive backs coach Paul Williams, each of whom was brought from Temple when Golden was hired in 2010.

D'Onofrio has been on the fanbase's verbal hot seat for, oh, about two years now. Franklin's front line has struggled to maintain consistent production after encouraging starts to the last couple seasons, while Williams' secondary noticeably regressed in 2014.

As for stubbornness, Golden needs to hire a special teams coach because the current one—Golden—struggled immensely last season. Add four kicks blocked to the following table, and it was a forgettable season for the unit.

Will it happen? Don't bet the rent on it, but don't be surprised if it happens.

Nevertheless, Golden needs to be realistic with himself, which entails addressing loyalty and overcoming stubbornness to potentially make a few changes.

Offensive coordinator James Coley should stay with Miami—excluding a promotion elsewhere, which doesn't appear likely. Plus, Coley's relationship with and trust in quarterback Brad Kaaya is undoubtedly valuable.

The running backs were solid under the leadership of Tim "Ice" Harris, most notably Gus Edwards starting to run like the powerful 6'2", 230-pound talent he is rather than a finesse back.

Additionally, tight ends coach Larry Scott and O-line headman Art Kehoe are probably safe—and for good reason. Behind those four, though, a shakeup might be coming.

 

How Will the Recruiting Class Shake Out?

National signing day is less than one month away, and the 'Canes must find a way to finish strong on the recruiting trail. They currently sit at No. 20 in the 247Sports Composite Rankings.

Dexter Williams recently backed out of his commitment, leaving 4-star running backs Mark Walton and Jordan Scarlett verbally tied to Golden and Co. The latter, though, has been mentioned in various rumors of a flip to Florida State.

Lawrence Cager pledged to the Hurricanes at the Army All-American Bowl, though his commitment was overshadowed by rumblings of parental pressure, per 247Sports (subscription required).

Miami is looking to snag 4-star defensive back Marcus Lewis to cap a very solid DB haul that includes Jaquan Johnson, Michael Jackson and newly committed Robert Knowles.

The coaching staff addressed two of the team's biggest needs admirably, earning six pledges from offensive linemen and four on the D-line. Plus, Miami isn't finished in that department since Kendrick Norton, Fredrick Johnson and others are still available.

Linebacker is the one position with a lingering question mark, however, because Charles Perry is the lone commit at an already thin spot. Marques Gayot moving from safety to weak-side linebacker helps, but Miami should be looking for an inside linebacker.

Note: The school is switching its apparel sponsorship from Nike to Adidas, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post. Though there certainly might be a marginal influence on a few recruits, it's a negligible factor in a majority of cases.

 

How to Replace Key Players

The Hurricanes have a solid group of seniors heading toward the NFL draft in Phillip Dorsett, Clive Walford, Shane McDermott, Jon Feliciano, Anthony Chickillo, Olsen Pierre, Denzel Perryman, Thurston Armbrister and Ladarius Gunter.

Plus, Duke Johnson and Ereck Flowers elected to forgo their respective senior seasons and declare for the professional level. And, oh by the way, Miami obviously has to replace every last of one of them.

Wide receiver Rashawn Scott and edge-rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad are expected to return after missing the recent season. Standish Dobard should take over at tight end, Jermaine Grace should appear at outside linebacker and Corn Elder should grab a larger role at corner.

Many members of the 2014 class—Joe Yearby, Braxton Berrios, Nick Linder, Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling, Chad Thomas, Courtel Jenkins, Anthony Moten, Darrion Owens and Juwon Young—will battle for the vacated positions.

But can they replace what is leaving the Hurricanes?

Miami is losing a career record-holder (Johnson), the top two receivers (Dorsett and Walford), 111 starts on the offensive line, a four-year starter (Chickillo) and the man with the ninth-most tackles in school history (Perryman).

It's a tall task, but someone needs to step up. Actually, make that 12 someones.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of CFBstats.com. Recruiting information via 247Sports.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Who Should and Shouldn't Declare Early for NFL Draft

The downside of bringing in No. 1 recruiting classes year after year is the annual draft exodus that occurs for Alabama’s top junior players.

That will be in full effect once again this year, with the January 15 NFL draft decision date looming.

Last year, it was Cyrus Kouandjio, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Jeoffrey Pagan and Adrian Hubbard. Kouandjio, Clinton-Dix and Hubbard were all expected to declare early. Pagan was somewhat of a surprise.

So which Alabama players should declare this year? Should and will are two different questions here. And whether a player should or shouldn’t go depends a lot on their individual circumstance.

Nick Saban spent much of last offseason preaching about the dangers of so many juniors wanting to go pro early. Still, he typically encourages players with a first-round grade to declare.

That number slips a little bit for running backs. Eddie Lacy, for example, declared as a redshirt junior, was drafted in the second round and is off to a fine start to his NFL career. The shelf life of running backs is such that Saban is OK with backs—especially if they’ve gotten their degree, like Lacy—to go ahead and start that ticking clock.

And Hubbard wasn’t expected to be a slam-dunk NFL player. But he had already come back for a redshirt junior year to get his degree and had hit his ceiling as a player, with talent coming back around him. It made sense. Sometimes, a player also has personal or family needs that make him want to get to a paycheck—any paycheck—a year early.

“I try to encourage our guys who aren’t going to be top draft picks to stay in school,” Saban said two weeks ago. “Last year we didn’t have success in convincing everyone about that, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it this year or not.”

According to DC Reeves of The Tuscaloosa News, Cyrus Jones and D.J. Pettway have already said they’ll be back for another year. So which other top draft-eligible players should turn pro this year?

Let’s take a look.

Begin Slideshow

USC Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Trojans

In 2014, the primary plot points for USC football centered around the Trojans' adjustments in the first year under a new coaching staff.

Heading into the 2015 offseason, the storylines emanating from Heritage Hall are focused on building on those first-year adjustments in pursuit of the program's first conference championship since 2008.

The Trojans won nine games and finished in the final College Football Playoff rankings. They'll also be ranked in the last Associated Press Top 25 poll of head coach Steve Sarkisian's first season.

But Sarkisian said that USC just laid a foundation this year.

"Was there more out there for us this year? Maybe. [Losing is] part of the process," he said following USC's 45-42 Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska on Dec. 27. "That's part of laying the foundation of getting better as a program."

The build for his second year at the helm begins right away, first on the recruiting trail and in a few months with spring practices.

As the offseason progresses, the storylines for 2015 will begin to take shape.

Begin Slideshow

Starting the 2015 Hype Train for Tennessee Football

Tennessee, meet the hype train. Hype train, meet the Tennessee football program.

You two get comfortable with each other, because for the next nine months, you're going to be locked arm-in-arm.

Tennessee capped off its first winning season since 2009 with en emphatic 45-28 win in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Friday in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. The Vols jumped out a 42-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter before Iowa made it look respectable with a few garbage touchdowns in the game's final frame.

"We wanted to start fast," head coach Butch Jones said in quotes released by Tennessee. "We thought that was critical in this game. We did start fast. I believe we only had three third downs in the entire first half. When we're moving on offense, we're generating first downs on first and second down."

It capped off a 7-6 season for a young Vols team in which 38 of the 79 players to play in the regular season made their first appearances in orange and white, according to the final game notes of the season.

Hype machine, you can commence spinning. 

Others are more wary of the Vols and what the bowl performance will do to voters, who undoubtedly were impressed with the way they capped off 2014.

If, by "drastically," you're picking Tennessee to earn a College Football Playoff berth, then yes, you need to pump the brakes. But the SEC East? That's much more attainable for the 2015 Vols.

The hype is warranted, but only a small piece of it has to do with the actual bowl game itself. Here's why:

 

The Progression of Joshua Dobbs

For the first time in Joshua Dobbs' career as Tennessee's starting quarterback, he got first-team snaps in a camp-like setting leading up to the trip to Jacksonville. 

It showed.

Dobbs completed 16 of 21 passes for 129 yards, one touchdown and one pick, and he rushed 13 times for 76 yards and two scores in the rout of Iowa. A true dual-threat, Dobbs also showed the consistency in performance and the maturity to lead an offense that thrives with a quarterback who's efficient.

"Sometimes Josh has options on plays, not just pass plays but run plays, where he can hand the ball off or run the play," Jones said according to the postgame quotes. "I thought Josh did a great job of really managing the offense all game long. Some of those sweeps were him reading it, and others were pre-called."

Dobbs took over for an injured Justin Worley in the middle of the season, and he showed flashes of brilliance as a runner and a passer in an offense that had nagging injuries to a number of its wide receivers, including Josh Smith, Von Pearson, Marquez North and Jason Croom. 

Now Dobbs gets a full offseason as the unquestioned starter with a wide receiving corps that was forced to establish depth in 2014 due to injuries. On top of that, it's not like Dobbs has to throw for 400 yards every game. He's a slippery runner who's deceptively fast and adds a dimension to the the Vols offense that wasn't present under Worley.

 

Dangerous Front Seven

Texas A&M freshman defensive end Myles Garrett stole most of the freshman defensive headlines this season for breaking Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record (eight) with 11.5 on the season, but it was Tennessee freshman defensive end Derek Barnett who had a bigger impact in the backfield.

Barnett's 10 sacks also topped Clowney's record, and he finished his inaugural campaign in the SEC with the second-most tackles for loss in the conference (20.5)—two shy of Missouri's Shane Ray.

In the TaxSlayer Bowl against Iowa, Barnett squared off with star tackle Brandon Scherff. While he didn't record a sack, Jones was pleased with Barnett's performance against a player who's slated to go 17th overall in B/R NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller's latest first-round projections.

"He's a great, great player," Jones said of Scherff. "I know Derek accepted the challenge. He's one of those individuals on New Year's Eve, we did the bed check, couldn't find him. But he was sound asleep at 10:00 at night."

Toss in hybrid veteran Curt Maggitt and leading tackler Jalen Reeves-Maybin at linebacker and a front seven that included one senior on the entire two-deep depth chart at the end of the season, and the Vols are loaded.

What's more, the Vols have monster 5-star defensive tackle Khalil McKenzie, 4-star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle and 4-star defensive end Kyle Phillips, Andrew Butcher and Darrell Taylor committed in the class of 2015. 

The foundation for defensive success is already on Rocky Top. After all, they didn't finish second in the SEC in opponent's third-down conversion percentage (34.21 percent) by accident. Now that experience has been gained from the youngsters.

 

Thunder and Lightning

It's clear that the Vols have the potential to be ridiculously good up front. What's the common theme in football even in an age of exotic offenses? You have to run the ball and stop the run.

The Vols will be able to run it very well. 

In addition to Dobbs' emergence as a true dual-threat weapon at quarterback, Jalen Hurd emerged during his freshman year as a player who can be counted on to be an every-down back in the SEC. Hurd rushed for 899 yards and five touchdowns in 2014, and he capped it off with a 122-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Hawkeyes.

Hurd also realizes how important this offseason is for his progression.

"I walked in the locker room a couple weeks ago, they already have a chart," Jones said in the postgame quotes. "There's a contest between [tight end] Ethan Wolf and Jalen Hurd, a number of guys about their offseason lifting totals, what they're going to do."

Another full offseason for Hurd—who enrolled early last January—will do wonders for his progression.

He's going to have company in the backfield, too.

Jones inked junior college transfer Alvin Kamara—a 5'10", 210-pounder from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College in December. The former Alabama running back rushed for 1,253 yards and 18 touchdowns in junior college and is the second-best junior college running back in the country.

Hurd and Kamara are both true all-purpose backs who excel in different areas, which opens the playbook for Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.

It's not crazy to think that Tennessee is going to take a massive step forward in 2015. The Vols have the foundation for success, are accumulating more talent and play in a down division.

The hype train should be gaining steam this offseason. As long as it's headed on a track that has the Vols contending for the SEC East, that's appropriate.

Anything more would be a stretch—but that might not last much longer.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Who Is the No. 1 Recruit in the 2015 Class?

The 2015 recruiting class is full of top-notch talent, from quarterbacks to defensive ends, all ready to contribute to their respective programs. But who is the No. 1 recruit in all of the land?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee dish out who they believe is the best recruit in the country.

Who is the No. 1 recruit in the country? Check out the video and let us know!    

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Irish

Notre Dame’s last-second 31-28 win over No. 23 LSU in the Music City Bowl helped change the vibe surrounding the program. Now the Irish enter an offseason filled with optimism and questions.

The acidic taste of a four-game losing streak to end the regular season isn’t completely washed away, but the outlook is certainly sweeter after senior kicker Kyle Brindza buried a 32-yard field goal as time expired to topple one of the SEC’s elite. And while there are positive takeaways from the performance in Nashville, Tennessee, there are questions too.

So what are the biggest offseason storylines for Notre Dame?

 

What Happens at Quarterback?

Bet you saw this one coming.

It’s the clear-cut biggest offseason storyline for the Irish. There are multiple layers, and the potential consequences go without saying.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Malik Zaire made his first career start against the Tigers and impressed, completing 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. Zaire, a natural runner, shined on the ground, directing a nifty read-option to the tune of 96 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts.

Everett Golson, who went from Heisman candidate to punching bag while starting all 12 regular-season games, didn’t draw the same headlines that Zaire did against LSU, but Golson was needed, too.

He connected on six of 11 passes for 90 yards and thrived on Notre Dame’s game-winning drive. Golson pulled the Irish out of 2nd-and-long with a 14-yard completion to Will Fuller before finding Ben Koyack and Tarean Folston on consecutive plays for first downs. Golson’s final pass—an eight-yard toss to Chris Brown—moved the Irish within Brindza’s range.

So what happens next?

Does Irish head coach Brian Kelly truly commit to utilizing both quarterbacks moving forward? Can a platoon actually work?

If Zaire is named the singular starter, what becomes of Golson?

Meanwhile, if the Irish do turn to Zaire—either in a platoon situation or in a full-fledged starting role—is Kelly committed to deploying a run-based offense?

We’ll see.

There’s still a lot to be decided through winter workouts and spring practice, for starters.

 

Who Returns?

Even early in the season, when the Irish rolled to a 6-0 start, many Notre Dame followers realized the arrow was really pointing toward 2015, when a heaping crop of underclassmen would return with added experience.

The future is still undoubtedly bright in that regard.

Now, though, we wait and see who returns.

Redshirt sophomore left tackle Ronnie Stanley was one of four Irish players who submitted the paperwork for an evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, per B/R's Keith Arnold.

If Stanley returns, he'll immediately stabilize an offensive line that played physically against LSU and will only lose Christian Lombard.

Junior defensive end Sheldon Day also hasn’t officially announced his intention one way or another.

The decisions by arguably Notre Dame’s best offensive and defensive lineman, respectively, are critical, but so too are other potential returns.

If cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams do indeed return after missing the entire 2014 season, there will be two more starting-quality players on the defense. Russell, in particular, would team with breakout cornerback Cole Luke and offer one of the strongest cornerback tandems in the country.

There’s less clarity with wide receiver DaVaris Daniels. In late November, Kelly said Notre Dame was at the point of “determining eligibility as it relates to academics” with the athletic wideout.

And we can’t forget about all the injuries, either.

The health of middle linebacker Joe Schmidt (ankle) and defensive tackle Jarron Jones (foot), as well how quickly they can round back into form, will be pivotal for the center of the Notre Dame front seven, which was decimated by injuries and accordingly shredded by offenses down the stretch.

 

Defensive Growth

Notre Dame’s defense mashed expectations early in the season. The young group didn’t allow more than 17 points in each of the first five games, and the Irish even shut out Michigan. The final seven games of the regular season were a different story before—but especially after—the injuries mounted.

The injuries make it difficult to truly assess the defense. Were the struggles in the second half of the season closer to the norm than the stifling defense at the outset? And how much can be pinned on health?

After all, Notre Dame was healthy against North Carolina, yet the Tar Heels tallied 43 points in South Bend. And then-No. 2 Florida State notched 21 points in the second half of the showdown in Tallahassee.

The injuries started cropping up against Navy, but the Midshipmen ran the option for 39 points.

With a healthy group, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will have a chance to re-evaluate and reload.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages