NCAA Football News

Sheriron Jones to Tennessee: Volunteers Land 4-Star QB Prospect

In need of help at the quarterback position, the Tennessee Volunteers have landed 4-star recruit Sheriron Jones for their 2015 class. 

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.com, Jones made his decision to attend the University of Tennessee on Thursday:

Jones is the seventh-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country and 191st-ranked prospect overall, according to 247Sports.com. Tennessee beat out Florida, Arizona and LSU to secure its third high-profile quarterback for 2015. 

A California native, Jones had originally committed to Florida but became one of many future Gators to re-open his recruiting in December after Will Muschamp was fired, per Chris Hays of The Orlando Sentinel

Volunteers head coach Butch Jones is having a banner recruiting season so far. They currently own the No. 3 class in the country, per 247Sports, with 28 total commits, including two 5-stars and 11 4-stars. 

Steve Wiltfong wrote on 247Sports.com that the addition of Jones to an already-strong class will likely give Tennessee the best collection of talent at the quarterback position in the country this recruiting season:

Tennessee may have the nation's top quarterback class, as Jones joins Top100 dual-threat passer Jauan Jennings and Top247 pro-style quarterback Quinten Dormady, who both enrolled early. 247Sports ranks Jennings as the country's No. 5 player at his position and No. 89 prospect overall. Dormady checks in at No. 6 and No. 190. Jones is the country's No. 144 prospect overall.

Jones will have stiff competition to become a starting quarterback at Tennessee, as Jauan Jennings and Quinten Dormady have already enrolled at the school in preparation for the 2015 season. 

Tennessee's offense was a problem for most of the 2014 season, thanks to a combination of erratic quarterback play and a bad offensive line. Joshua Dobbs helped stabilize the situation late in the year because of his ability to run the ball. 

Jones has to upgrade his offensive line for the Volunteers to get back in the national conversation, but he's got this program heading in the right direction with what's shaping up to be a stellar recruiting class and more depth at quarterback than a coach can handle. 

 

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Breaking Down 247Sports' Latest Recruiting Moves in Class of 2015

The newest edition of the 247Sports rankings have revealed some changes among 2015's group of 5-star prospects, according to Barton Simmons of 247Sports.

For starters, Trent Thompson is now the nation’s top-ranked player, replacing offensive lineman Martez Ivey—who slid to No. 2.

However, there were several other players who made moves up and a few new players who earned the coveted 5-star designation.

Which players made the biggest moves in the 5-star shakeup on 247Sports?

 

Thompson Is the New No. 1

Thompson proved he was worthy of being the nation’s top overall prospect with a dominant performance all week during the practices for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Per Jake Rowe of Dawgs247, Thompson was also dominant during the game itself, notching four tackles despite mostly facing double-teams.

The Georgia commitment is still the nation’s No. 2 player in the 247Sports composite rankings behind Ivey.

However, his strong week in San Antonio cemented him as one of the potential game-changers in the 2015 cycle.

 

Biggest Risers

Five players made huge jumps of more than 30 spots into the nation’s crop of elite talents.

Headlining that list is Louisiana athlete Donte Jackson, who is now rated as the nation’s No. 10 prospect overall.

According to Sonny Shipp of Geaux247, Jackson was a standout at corner all week long at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Other Army Bowl standouts who rose into the class of 5-stars include defensive end Kyle Phillips, offensive lineman Chidi Valentine-Okeke and linebacker Osa Masina.

Phillips, who committed to Tennessee during the game, was practically impossible to block off the edge, which led to him jumping 86 spots to No. 21 in the nation.

The biggest riser from the Under Armour All-America Game is the newest member of Clemson’s 2015 class—defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.

Per Simmons, Wilkins proved himself as a top-flight talent with a dominant week of practice and a strong outing during the game.

 

Other New 5-Stars

Three additional players who were rated among the top 50 prospects overall were bumped into the 5-star realm.

Florida State corner pledge Tarvarus McFadden moved up 11 spots to No. 19 after recording an interception and a kickoff return for touchdown in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Oregon defensive end commit Canton Kaumatule moved from No. 31 to No. 26 overall. The Hawaii native put on a show at the Under Armour All-America Game and looked strong at defensive end, according to JC Shurburtt of 247Sports.

The final prospect among nation’s newest 5-star recruits is offensive lineman and Ole Miss pledge Javon Patterson, who separated himself as one of the nation’s elite interior line prospects at either game, per Simmons.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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The Coming of Age of Mark Helfrich

If we've learned anything from Hollywood, it's that every great sports team has a defining moment: an inspirational speech, a trip to a veterans' hospital or something of the feel-good nature. It's that light-switch moment when everyone finally gets it. Win-one-for-the-Gipper stuff.       

Everything happens in giant steps. That's why we'll never see a movie about the Oregon Ducks or coach Mark Helfrich, even though he'll become a national-title winning coach if he beats Ohio State on Monday. And he will.

But he looks like the guy you ask for help from at JCPenney, only to apologize later when you find out—after he helped you—that he doesn't work there.

The big issue for Oregon this season was whether things were slipping under Helfrich, who had taken over for Hollywood-ready Chip Kelly. Would Helfrich be able to make this team his own? Did he have the strength to do it?

Turned out the answer was yes, he did do it. But no, there was no defining moment. How did he make the program his?

Quietly. Smoothly. Patiently.

I asked him this week how he turned things around midseason. Last season, in Helfrich's first year since being promoted from offensive coordinator, the Ducks failed to make it to a BCS bowl for the first time in five years. This year, when they lost to Arizona at home, that made three losses in six conference games. Since then, the Ducks have posted blowout victories. 

Somewhere in there, that had to be Helfrich's moment. What happened?

"We believe very much in what we're doing," Helfrich told Bleacher Report on a media conference call Monday. "Our guys believe very much in what we're doing and how we're doing it.

"There's always—from the media's perspective or the fans' perspective—second-guessing. In our world, that's evaluation. You go back and evaluate why something happened. And you fix it."

Helfrich doesn't get it. Evaluate it and fix it? Who could play a role like that in a movie?

If there were any one moment that the program became Helfrich's, that was it. But there was no moment. He is not willing things to happen by sheer force, excessive study or a football-24/7 lifestyle. He is re-defining what a leader is in football, breaking stereotypes.

"As far as structure of what we do (between Helfrich and Kelly), it's the same format, the same routines," Steve Greatwood, offensive line coach who has been an Oregon assistant for 29 years, told Bleacher Report Wednesday night. "Mark's added a few tweaks.

"But the difference is Mark's approach to his relationship to his players and the way he leads. Chip was a very, very outspoken, dynamic guy that kind of hammered a mantra over and over and over again. Mark is a much more laid back, approachable kind of guy.

"The way he states our goals to the players—these are our expectations of you—they don't want to disappoint him. They relate to him. Mark has a very self-deprecating personality. He'll throw himself under the table and always place the blame on himself and spread the credit around."

Helfrich, 41, grew up in a small town in Oregon. He played quarterback at Southern Oregon and then for the Vienna Vikings in Austria. When he got into coaching after that, he gave up plans to be an orthopedic surgeon.

That isn't a typical background for great college coaches. 

In general, head coaches are a strange group, all alpha-male or self-isolated in a football bubble. There is usually too much personality (Jim Harbaugh) or maybe a few serious gaps in one (Nick Saban, Bill Belichick).

But no matter what it is, they somehow look like a dominant figure. 

Not Helfrich. And I'd say he's missing the leadership gene. But his results suggest that the leadership gene isn't what we think it is. You let people know you're in charge, set the tone and put that together with incredible football knowledge. Maybe that's all it is really is about.

Asked at his press conference Monday what he needs to improve on, he said:

"I definitely need to work on the biceps. That's true. I'm sure my wife will have a couple other things that I need to work on—throw out the garbage on time, stuff like that."

We keep hearing stories about how humble Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is. It's his Hawaii roots, his Samoan upbringing. Yes, but something about that made him a fit with Helfrich.

Mariota was not a highly recruited high school player. But Helfrich, who was Kelly's offensive coordinator at the time, found him while he was recruiting someone else. It was Helfrich's eye and attitude that got Mariota where he is.

"He'll joke with you; he'll find any little thing to make you laugh, " Mariota told Bleacher Report on Monday on a media conference call. "Coach Helfrich is really somebody that you love to play for. He develops that relationship with you from the moment you get here. It doesn't matter if you are a starting offensive lineman or a scout-team guy. When you feel that compassion, it makes you want to play that much harder for the guy."

Does he get angry? And if so, how can you tell?

"You'll know when he's mad," Mariota said. "His face gets red and his voice gets a little higher."

You can point to the days after the Arizona loss, but that's not really when this became Helfrich's team. It's when his approach proved itself.

The Ducks were 4-1 at the time, but not only had they lost to Arizona (on Oct. 2), they also had looked sloppy in beating Washington State a week earlier. The offensive line was a mess, loaded with injuries. Mariota was scrambling around, getting hit. The media was openly questioning whether Helfrich had it.

Greatwood said it was a tough time, but Helfrich's level-headedness kept everyone calm and focused. Now, even the line is great.

"I appreciate that," Greatwood said. "After the Arizona game, I had to look at myself first and see what I was doing. We (the linemen) weren't getting beat by mental mistakes. We were getting beat physically because of fundamentals.

"We had been spending more time on scheme than fundamentals. I need to go back to fundamentals. It's pays off. You'd think after doing this for 30-some odd years I'd have been able to figure that out sooner."

Another humble Duck? They all follow their leader, even if he does look like a biceps-challenged clerk at the JCPenney.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Jimmy Fallon Uses Puppies to Predict Winner of Oregon-Ohio State Title Game

For those who want to know who will win the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Oregon Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes, look no further.

Every college football analyst will make a prediction on the big game, but we know who the real experts are.

Puppies.

On his late-night talk show, Jimmy Fallon had a group of puppies predict who will be hoisting the trophy on Monday night. It was a very suspenseful couple of minutes, but in the end, we did get an answer.

[The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, h/t USA Today's FTW]

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College Football Championship 2015: Under-the-Radar Players to Watch

Even casual college football fans know the main pieces for both Ohio State and Oregon as the national championship game approaches, but showdowns like this often come down to the under-the-radar players.

That means someone besides Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott will have to make critical plays in crunch time.

With that in mind, here is a look at a couple of under-the-radar players who will play critical roles Monday.

 

WR Jalin Marshall, Ohio State

Ohio State’s playmakers were on full display in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

Elliott gashed the mighty SEC defense for 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Devin Smith tallied 87 receiving yards and a monumental second-half touchdown as the deep-ball threat, Michael Thomas (Keyshawn Johnson’s nephew) caught a critical touchdown pass in the closing minutes of the first half, and Evan Spencer threw a touchdown and snagged an onside kick in the final minutes.

Lost in the shuffle was one of Ohio State’s best playmakers all season: Jalin Marshall.

Marshall may not be a traditional under-the-radar threat, because he played such an important role this season, but much of the focus is now directed elsewhere. On the season, Marshall had 447 receiving yards, 142 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns.

One of those touchdowns came on a punt return against Indiana, which helped rescue the Buckeyes from a lackluster effort as the heavy favorites.

Marshall could be a problem for Oregon if he gives it a taste of its own medicine. He is a speedster who does most of his damage on end-around plays and shovel passes by bursting to the outside and getting to the edge. He is also a dangerous punt returner who could break a game open with a special teams play. 

Another aspect to consider with Marshall is the fact that he played high school quarterback. Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.com noted that Marshall was being treated like the backup in the last game:

If the Ducks load the middle to stop Elliott or drop some safeties back to contain Smith and Thomas, Marshall can get the ball in space underneath and use his speed to accelerate to the next level or perhaps even find the end zone.

 

OT Jake Fisher, Oregon

It doesn't get more under the radar than an offensive lineman, but Jake Fisher is critical to what the Ducks do on offense.

The low point of Oregon's season came when Fisher was out with injury, as the Ducks allowed 12 sacks against Washington State and Arizona. Fisher’s presence helps set the tone for the rest of the line, and the Ducks were much better at protecting the passer for the rest of the year after he returned.

Fisher has the agility and explosiveness to get downfield on running plays or stay in front of Mariota on passes. His versatility also stands out, as he was a right tackle last season but played left this year after Tyler Johnstone went down with injury.

Fisher is the No. 10 offensive tackle in CBS Sports' draft prospect rankings. His talent is clear, but he is even more important than usual in this game, and he understands who will be standing on the other sidelines, per Steve Mims of The Register-Guard:

Fisher leads an offensive line that has to deal with first-team Associated Press All-American Joey Bosa and third-teamer Michael Bennett. Bosa led the Big Ten with 13.5 sacks and spearheads a defensive group that racked up 40 sacks on the season.

Oregon's entire offense relies on the line giving Mariota enough time to either go through his progressions on passes or read the defense on speed-option plays. It is critical for the Ducks offensive line to prevent Bosa and Bennett from occupying blockers or getting to the quarterback and disrupting those plays. 

If Fisher and the rest of the front can’t do that, it could be a long day for the Heisman Trophy winner.

 

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University of Miami Announces 12-Year Apparel Deal with Adidas

The University of Miami has a new merchandise deal with Adidas, reportedly for 12 years and a substantial sum of money. 

According to a tweet from Adidas Football, the deal between Adidas and the university will begin this September:

In an ESPN.com article, a person speaking on conditions of anonymity since official financial terms are not being made public told the Associated Press that this "deal is worth 'multiple times' more than Miami's previous arrangement with Nike."

Also in the ESPN report, Miami athletic director Blake James praised the work Nike has done with the Hurricanes over the years before deciding that Adidas was the best match for the program going forward:

Credit to Nike, they've done an incredible job of creating as strong of a brand as there is in the country and probably worldwide. They have done a great job of promoting their product and we looked at all variables when deciding who was the best partner for us going forward. After that analysis, we determined Adidas was the best fit.

Former University of Miami tight end and current New Orleans Saints star Jimmy Graham shared his excitement about the new deal, via Michael Ehrlich of Adidas public relations:

Former Hurricane Santana Moss will also get new custom cleats, according to Miami's recruiting Twitter feed:

Nike has been the official sponsor for the University of Miami since 1987, a landmark deal at the time as the Hurricanes became the first college to have an all-sports contract with one partner, per Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post.  

However, Porter's report also noted there seemed to be a shift in the relationship as Adidas and Under Armour submitted bids to become the official sponsor of the school's athletic apparel and the two offers were "believed to be several million dollars per year richer" than what Nike was paying. 

The Hurricanes have been an institution in the sports apparel arena for decades, thanks to the relationship with Nike. The football program hasn't been as successful in recent years, though it remains one of the most visible brands in college sports. 

Adidas' new deal seems likely to enhance that brand, as evidenced by the merchandise shown in the tweets. September will see the official launch of the Hurricanes' merchandise, so expect a long line of fans to be ready with their wallets open. 

 

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College Football Playoff Semifinals on New Year's Eve Are Coming

ATLANTA — Based on viewership, the College Football Playoff has been a mind-boggling success.

According to a release from ESPN, the two national semifinals—the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual and the Allstate Sugar Bowl—were the two highest-rated events in cable television history.

"These record-setting numbers illustrate the enormous fan interest in college football and the wide-ranging appeal of the new College Football Playoff format," said John Wildhack, ESPN executive vice president, programming and production, said in the release.

Next year, and during most seasons of the College Football Playoff, that might not be the case, though.

The Rose and Sugar Bowls are locked in to those New Year's afternoon and night time slots whether they are national semifinals or not (except in years in which Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday), which means that, for the next two seasons and every season in which the Rose and Sugar aren't national semifinals, the semifinals will be played on New Year's Eve.

Here are the future dates and locations of national semifinals for the next two seasons:

  • 2015: Capital One Orange Bowl and Goodyear Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31, 2015
  • 2016: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and Vizio Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31, 2016

Are national semifinals on New Year's Eve a good idea?

Whether it's a good idea or not, they aren't changing.

"We won't be changing," College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock told B/R in December. "We have a 12-year schedule...well, really a six-year schedule, and we may look at it again. The Sugar and the Rose are entrenched in their spots, and that was a part of our deal from Day 1."

Is that a problem?

Next season, it could be. New Year's Eve is on a Thursday in 2015, which means that the first national semifinal will be kicking off when a lot of people are still at work—even those on the East Coast.

That's just fine in the eyes of CFB's power brokers.

"It will be interesting for the next two seasons with the semifinals on New Year's Eve," Hancock said. "It will absolutely change New Year's Eve in this country. When we go to New Year's Eve parties, they better have a television because we're going to have to be watching college football."

How do the bowls feel about that?

It's obviously not ideal, but for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, it's the norm.

The bowl's exclusive New Year's Eve ESPN time slot is a big reason why it rose from a game that—as Cory McCartney of Fox Sports noted—once had its CBS television contract pulled to one of the top bowl games in college football.

"The last two years, with the LSU vs. Clemson game and the Texas A&M vs. Duke game, we set viewership records on ESPN for non-BCS games," Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan told B/R in December. "With the semifinal games, that viewership number is just going to explode. I think people now are doing more cocooning and not going out as much, so the household viewership numbers will be unbelievable for the semifinal games on the 31st." 

It's certainly a risk to stage two of the three biggest annual events of a sport during the afternoon and evening time slots on New Year's Eve, and it is one that not only college football fans, but advertisers, will play close attention to.

If it doesn't work and the ratings don't match what's expected, the Rose and Sugar Bowls will undoubtedly be pressured to move off their exclusive time slots on New Year's Day and New Year's Night.

For four of the next five years, though, semifinals on New Year's Eve will be the reality in college football.

Plan accordingly.

 

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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Oregon vs. Ohio State: Biggest Game-Changers in College Football Championship

When the Oregon Ducks square off against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game, football fans from all over the country will be enthralled by the unexpected matchup.

Oregon overcame a loss early in the season to earn the No. 2 ranking coming into the playoffs, but Ohio State faced even more adversity. Even with season-ending injuries to the first- and second-string quarterbacks, the Buckeyes still managed to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide to earn a title-game berth.

Here is all the vital viewing information for the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship and the biggest potential game-changers for each team.

 

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Monday, January 12

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

 

Oregon’s Biggest Potential Game-Changer: Marcus Mariota, QB

Without question, the biggest game-changer for the Oregon Ducks every time the team takes the field is Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.

In 14 games this season, Mariota amassed 4,121 yards and 40 passing touchdowns with only three interceptions. Add in the 731 yards and 15 touchdowns he racked up running the ball, and it’s clear that the Oregon offense runs through Mariota.

When asked about turning his focus to the national championship and moving past any mistakes he made against Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Mariota told Tyson Alger of The Oregonian, “For me, it's a refocus. You tend to miss some things sometimes. You just have to continue to have the same mentality and don't really let it bother me.”

Ohio State’s defense has played well this season, allowing just 22.1 points per game, but Alabama proved that the Buckeyes have weaknesses. While Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims couldn’t take advantage, Mariota should be able to pick apart the Buckeyes defense.

With elite performances in the biggest moments all season, Mariota should be able to end his college career with a monumental victory over Ohio State and a national championship.

 

Ohio State’s Biggest Potential Game-Changer: Cardale Jones, QB

Just as Oregon’s biggest key to success will be the play of the quarterback, the same can be said for Ohio State and sophomore Cardale Jones. After both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett went down for the season with injuries, Jones has thrived in the starting role.

In Jones’ two starts, he beat Wisconsin 59-0 for the Big Ten Championship and went on to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. While head coach Urban Meyer has been smart to minimize how much pressure is on Jones, the quarterback must continue protecting the football.

ESPN’s Skip Bayless spoke glowingly of Jones and his natural ability:

Jones must learn from the mistakes that Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston made in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. The Ducks defense was suffocating and forced the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to make bad decisions.

Oregon will throw everything at the inexperienced Ohio State quarterback, and the Buckeyes' success will depend on how Jones handles the different looks and schemes. If Meyer can simplify the game plan and keep the sophomore out of trouble, Ohio State has a chance to win the national championship.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Georgia Football: Roster Changes the Bulldogs Should Consider

The Georgia Bulldogs are starting to get their coaching staff in order, as former St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is now the offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs. The Rams offense did not light the world on fire, but Schottenheimer is a young guy who brings new ideas and energy to the Bulldogs.

With Schottenheimer at the helm, this could mean there could be some personnel changes with the offense. But the same thing can be said about the defense as defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt enters his second season with the Bulldogs.

Shaking the roster up to help the team in Athens get to where it wants to go in 2015 is not a bad idea. Here are some roster changes the Bulldogs should consider.

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College Football Championship 2015: Key Matchups to Decide Oregon vs. Ohio State

The upcoming national championship between Oregon and Ohio State may end up coming down to one final play, but it will all be predicated upon each team's execution in some key matchups.

The second-ranked Ducks dominated almost every facet of the game in their semifinal showdown against Florida State, at least in the second half. But going up against a Buckeye squad that just knocked off the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide in their own semifinal, they should expect to have their hands full.

The same can be said of Ohio State, which is going up against an Oregon team racing at furious speeds in pursuit of its first national championship.

So much goes into a big-time college football game with everything on the line, which means a matchup or two that nobody talked about could end up deciding the outcome. With that said, let's look at some of the key matchup areas—along with one you might not expect.

 

Key Matchups to Decide Oregon vs. Ohio State

Oregon's Receivers vs. Ohio State's Defensive Backs

For all of the talk surrounding Oregon's spread offense and its unstoppable running game, the Ducks receivers certainly had a coming-out party in the Rose Bowl—and not just one of them.

Freshman Darren Carrington led the way with 165 yards, a career high. He amounted for almost half of Marcus Mariota's passing yards and both touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Evan Baylis had just 45 yards on the season prior to catching six balls for 73 yards against the Seminoles.

To show even more how well Mariota was spreading it out, leading receiver Byron Marshall finished fifth among receivers in terms of yardage against Florida State.

The Buckeyes, however, come in riding high on their defense. Alabama's passing attack that had been so potent all season was stymied by Ohio State, as Blake Sims threw three interceptions and averaged just 6.6 yards per throw.

Keeping Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White under wraps is no small task, but it pales in comparison to covering Oregon's five or six reliable targets. As if keeping Royce Freeman, Mariota and the multifaceted running game isn't hard enough, the Buckeyes defensive backs will have to be on their p's and q's against Oregon's passing game.

 

Buckeyes' Run Game vs. Ducks' Front Seven

It's safe to say now that not only was Ohio State not afraid of Alabama's burly run defense, but the Buckeyes had every answer for exposing it.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott, coming off a 200-yard performance in the Big Ten title game, continued his roll. He rushed for 230 yards on 20 carries, including an 85-yarder late that seemingly put the game away against Alabama.

That performance came against a Crimson Tide team that ranked atop the nation in run defense before that game. And considering how Elliott fared against a top run defense from earlier this year, per The Buckeye Nut, his chances should be liked:

What makes the Buckeyes' run game even more worrisome for Oregon is the lack of dominance the Ducks have shown defensively. 

As CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd uncovered, Oregon's defense will rank down there with the worst among national champions should the Ducks find a way to win against Ohio State:

Of course, if the Ducks are going to hoist their first national championship, stymying the run seems like the top priority. Cardale Jones made some big throws against Alabama but finished a pedestrian 18-for-35 passing and had to rely on Elliott as well as his own legs to keep the Buckeyes in it throughout certain stretches.

If the Ducks can follow up some offensive success with a few big stops defensively, it will force the Buckeyes to air it out.

 

The Turnover Battle

It seems to go without saying that whoever wins the turnover battle will have the inside track toward victory, but in Oregon vs. Ohio State, it could mean everything.

For those who didn't catch the Ducks' win over Florida State, all it takes is a look at the box score to show the boost Oregon received from turnovers. The Seminoles turned it over four times in the third quarter alone, all of which eventually led to Oregon touchdowns, putting the game away.

Oregon's dominance in capitalizing on turnovers should be expected from such a noteworthy offense, but avoiding the same mistakes has put them over the top, as WTVN's Matt McCoy noted:

A quick look at the Buckeyes' semifinal win also shows a need for winning the turnover battle. Two first-half turnovers for Elliott and Jones led directly to Alabama touchdowns, but a turnover-free second half along with Tide miscues helped the Buckeyes to claw their way into the lead.

Mariota only has six interceptions thrown on the season, but the Buckeyes just picked off the typically careful Sims three times in an elimination game. If Ohio State wants to receive the boost it got against Alabama, repeating the turnover advantage should be a primary concern.

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College Football: Oregon vs. Ohio State 2015 National Championship Preview

It’s the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game, and the stakes could not be higher in what should be an intense game between No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State. The two last met in the 2010 Rose Bowl, where the Buckeyes prevailed with a 26-17 victory.

The second-ranked Ducks humiliated No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 with a 59-20 win and made their claim as to why they should be playing in their second national championship game in five years. Oregon is now on the verge of winning its first national title in school history and will hope to do so with help from its explosive offense.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota passed for 338 yards, rushed for 62 yards and scored three total touchdowns against Florida State. With Mariota leading a potent offense averaging 47.2 points per game and defeating opponents by an average of 27.4 points this season, he'll look for big performances from his backfield and receiving corps as well.

Freshman running back Royce Freeman will be a physical threat against a stout Ohio State defensive line after scoring two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl, but it could be Thomas Tyner who becomes a game-changer against the Buckeyes.

Tyner, who battled through injuries for most of the season and missed four games, had one of his best outings in his career against the Seminoles, reeling off 124 rushing yards and finding the end zone twice.

In the passing game, it's been redshirt freshman Darren Carrington who has been the playmaker as of late. Carrington, who combined for 291 receiving yards and three touchdowns in Oregon’s last two wins, will continue to be the go-to guy with speedster Devon Allen doubtful for Monday’s contest.

Look for Byron Marshall and tight end Evan Baylis to get in on the action as well. 

A big matchup will be Oregon's offensive line, led by All-Americans Hroniss Grasu and Jake Fisher, against an Ohio State defensive line headed by Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Joey Bosa (54 tackles, 13.5 sacks).

Ohio State’s defense currently ranks 15th in the nation in total yards per game (328) and ranks 26th in points given up per game (22.1). It will have its hands full against arguably the best offense in college football.

Third-year head coach Urban Meyer won two national championships with Florida back in 2006 and 2008, one of which was a lopsided 41-14 victory over Ohio State.

Now he’ll hope to lead the Buckeyes to their first national championship win since 2002 with a group that has overcome adversity this season and given itself a chance to win the program’s eighth national title.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones has become one of the biggest stories at the conclusion of the 2014-15 college football season, as he looks to help his team win the College Football Playoff in just his third start under center.

So far, Jones has produced a combined total of 500 passing yards and four touchdowns in his two starts while leading an offense averaging 45 points per game (fifth in the country).

Jones could be tough for Oregon's defense to bring down because of his 6'5", 250-pound athletic build. Another player the Ducks could have difficulty tackling is 1,000-yard rusher Ezekiel Elliott, who tore through the Alabama defense and set a Sugar Bowl record of 230 yards and two touchdowns.

Ohio State will also look to test a Duck secondary, led by safety Erick Dargan (90 tackles, seven interceptions), with wide receivers Devin Smith and Michael Thomas. Smith has totaled 886 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Thomas has recorded 746 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

Don Pellum’s Oregon defense has been tough since November, holding opponents to only 17.5 points per game and converting a total of 14 turnovers.

This matchup should live up to the hype in what will be the first national championship consisting of two non-SEC teams since the 2006 Rose Bowl when Texas defeated USC 41-38.

Oregon must start quick on offense and be able to create problems for Jones, as well as not give up big plays on defense.

Ohio State, on the other hand, needs Jones to make smart decisions and avoid turning the ball over, which would give the Ducks more opportunities to put points on the scoreboard.

It’s no simple task for the Buckeye defense, as it will need to contain the best quarterback in the country and shut down a Duck ground attack averaging 241.9 yards per game.

It will be a back-and-forth game that will be decided late in the fourth quarter on a go-ahead game-winning touchdown.

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Clemson Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Tigers

The 2014 season is in the books for the Clemson Tigers, and it’s now time to turn our focus toward next season. This past year finished on a very happy note, with the Tigers downing Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl 40-6.

The season was already a success before that game, with nine wins in the regular season and a victory over South Carolina, but expectations for next season are even higher.

Here are the storylines to watch in the offseason as we enter into a new chapter of Clemson football.

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Tennessee Football: Early 2015 Season Predictions

It's never too early to look at next season, is it? Maybe so, but not when the Tennessee Volunteers finished the season 4-1, averaged 37 points per game and won their first bowl game in seven years. It's hard not to look forward to next year.

The Vols only lose five contributing players and return 10 of 11 starters on offense and eight of 11 on defense. The team built depth and experience by playing an unmatched 23 true freshmen in 2014, which will only serve Tennessee well in the years to come.

So what is a realistic record prediction for 2015? How about the starting lineups?

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Cardinals' Darnell Dockett Tries to Recruit Ohio State QB Braxton Miller to FSU

With Jameis Winston turning pro, Florida State alumnus and current Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is doing what he can to try to land a high-profile quarterback to lead the Seminoles.

On Wednesday, via ESPN.com, Winston declared for the 2015 NFL draft. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner had two years of eligibility remaining but decided to chase his dream of playing in the NFL.

That announcement has the Seminoles looking for a new quarterback. Dockett has wasted no time in trying to recruit a Heisman candidate to his school.

Braxton Miller has missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. During Miller's time on the shelf, Ohio State has not missed a beat, thanks to its second- and third-string quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett put himself in the conversation for the 2014 Heisman Trophy with a record-setting season, and Cardale Jones has led the Buckeyes to a berth in the national championship game after taking over for the now-injured Barrett.

With Miller, Barrett and Jones all succeeding at quarterback for the Buckeyes, it brings up an interesting situation. Only one of them, realistically, can be on the field at a time. The other two could either stick around and serve as backups, or they could look at transferring.

If Miller, the oldest of the bunch, decides to go the transfer route, Dockett is ready to try to sell the dynamic quarterback on a move to Florida State.

[Twitter]

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College Football Teams That Should Get Involved in the Next Realignment Craze

Who is going to be the next Louisville, Maryland or Rutgers?

When it comes to college football realignment, it's more a matter of when rather than if it will happen again. This season included another wave of schools joining or switching leagues, a fourth straight year of movement that has caused the power conferences to swell and others to fight over the leftovers.

In 2015 we'll see a small amount of change, with Navy joining the American Athletic Conference and Charlotte moving up from FCS to join Conference USA. The only move set for 2016 involves Massachusetts leaving the Mid-American Conference to become an FBS independent.

Will there be more in the near future? Probably. Who will it involve? That's where the speculation begins.

With the Big 12 getting shut out of the College Football Playoff this year—partly due to its lack of a title game—talk has already begun about whether the league should expand to 12 teams to improve its postseason hopes.

Such a move would likely start another chain reaction, like when the Big 12 was raided by the Big Ten and Pac-12 in 2011 and the SEC in 2012.

Here's a look at 10 schools that figure to be in the mix—or should get themselves involved—the next time the realignment carousel gets going.

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Georgia OC Brian Schottenheimer 'Is Not the Right Hire' for Bulldogs

Brian Schottenheimer has just been hired as the new offensive coordinator for the University of Georgia. Schottenheimer has previously been the OC for two NFL teams.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Barrett Sallee debates whether this is a good or bad decision for the Bulldogs.

Do you think this is a smart hire?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Nebraska Football: Can the Huskers Really Compete for the Big Ten Title in 2015?

Things are starting to come together for Mike Riley and his Nebraska football staff. With the addition of a few new faces, per Huskers.com, the Huskers assistant coaches are pretty much in place.

With the new year and the new coaches, Riley can finally get started. There's a recruiting class to complete and a brand new season to prepare for.

However, as it all takes shape, fans are still curious about one thing. Can Nebraska really compete for the Big Ten title in 2015? It was a question that was asked previously, and fans want an answer.

First and foremost, the Huskers will have to win the West division before the title talk can really begin. That's doable, especially with the West being the arguably weaker division in the Big Ten.

To win the West, Nebraska will have to get past Wisconsin and Minnesota. Fans can expect the Badgers to be an early favorite to get to Indianapolis in 2015, but the Gophers won't be forgotten either.

The good news for Nebraska is that Wisconsin has to travel to Lincoln in 2015. Home-field advantage could be exactly what the Huskers need in this matchup, too. The only time Nebraska has defeated Wisconsin since joining the Big Ten was at home in 2012. Maybe that's the charm.

On the flip side, Nebraska will have to travel to Minneapolis to face Minnesota this year. The Huskers have lost to the Gophers twice in a row, which will make this matchup more interesting. Being on the road will definitely add a higher level of difficulty for Nebraska as well.

Beyond that, Nebraska's 2015 schedule is manageable. There are possible hiccups along the way, but Riley and the Huskers could handle it.

From there, if the Huskers can make it to Indianapolis, it seems likely the opponent would be the Ohio State Buckeyes. That's the most worrisome part in the equation.

Ohio State will likely be the favorite to win the Big Ten again in 2015. After completely destroying Wisconsin 59-0 in Indianapolis and defeating Alabama 42-35 in the first round of the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes are now CFP National Championship contenders. That will definitely hold some weight going into next season.

Even more worrisome is that the Buckeyes has accomplished what they have with their second- and third-string quarterbacks. Under head coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have shown they are resilient. They would make it very difficult for Nebraska to win.

The good news is that the Huskers' talent looks good for 2015. A previous look at the returning talent highlights a group that will bring some good experience to the table. On offense, that includes running backs Imani Cross and Terrell Newby, wide receivers Jordan Westerkamp and De'Mornay Pierson-El and quarterback Tommy Armstrong (even if his job is up for grabs).

On defense, Greg McMullen, Vincent Valentine, Maliek Collins and Nate Gerry are all returning, just to name a few. With Riley working to find an identity for the offense, the same should be expected for the defense. How these players are developed between now and September will determine how well they'll be able to compete against programs like Ohio State and Wisconsin.

One specific area that would benefit the Huskers is improving on how the team responds to adversity. Nebraska fell a part against teams like Wisconsin in 2014 when the going got tough. If Riley can correct that, the Huskers will absolutely be more competitive in the Big Ten.

So, can Nebraska really win the Big Ten? At this point, not many are predicting it to happen. BTN.com's Tom Dienhart has already given his early prediction for who will win each division in 2015. "East, Ohio State. West, Wisconsin. Yep, I know, not real sexy," he said.

That's not to say Nebraska can't give the Badgers (or the Gophers) a run for the West division title. Riley and his new staff definitely have their work cut out for them in 2015, though. That's no secret.

There's no telling what Riley will be able to do for Nebraska. Can he win the games needed to get to the championship? That's what's hard to say.

The Omaha World-Herald took a look at how programs fare under new coaches. Based on their findings, Nebraska's chances of winning big do not look great. "Just know that when a Power Five school replaces a college football coach — as Nebraska just did with Mike Riley for Pelini — nothing is guaranteed," they wrote.

That's the key. There are no guarantees. Several months out, Nebraska's chances at winning the Big Ten don't look great. Things can change, though.

Will they for the Huskers? Only Riley, his staff and time to prepare can truly answer that question.

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Oregon Football: Ducks' Keys to Victory vs. Ohio State

There have been 845 college football games played this season. None of them holds a candle to No. 846 in Arlington, Texas.

The Oregon Ducks and Ohio State Buckeyes will face off in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 12. The Buckeyes (13-1) are coming off of two wildly impressive performances against Wisconsin and Alabama.

Meanwhile, Oregon (13-1) has been the hottest team in the country over the past two months. The Ducks have demolished their past nine opponents by an average of 27 points per game, including a 39-point beatdown of Florida State in the Rose Bowl.

According to Odds Shark, the Ducks are 6.5-point favorites over the Buckeyes. The Power Rank, a site founded by Bleacher Report’s own Ed Feng, calculates that the Ducks will beat Ohio State by 5.6 points at a neutral site. Moreover, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives the Ducks a 62.8 percent chance of beating Ohio State.

The Ducks may be favored, but they’re far from a lock to beat Ohio State. In fact, these two programs nearly mirrored each other this season.

The biggest difference between these two teams right now is the experience of their starting quarterbacks. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, will be starting his 41st consecutive game for the Ducks.

On the other side of the field, Cardale Jones, Ohio State’s third-string quarterback, will only be starting his third game as the Buckeyes QB. That being said, Jones has been dynamic in leading his team to the national title game.

This game is sure to be an instant classic as the Buckeyes and Ducks look to make history at AT&T Stadium.

Here are the keys to the game for the Oregon Ducks as they attempt to bring home the first national championship in school history.

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5 Dark-Horse Playoff Contenders for 2015 College Football Season

What? You thought you'd get through the first College Football Playoff National Championship before being subjected to way-too-early dark-horse contenders for 2015?

Where's the fun in that?

If the 2014 season has taught us anything, it's that no one should be removed from the playoff table in September and October. Otherwise, we wouldn't have Ohio State playing for the national championship. With that in mind, there are a handful of teams—at least—with a case to be a possible playoff contender next year. 

Which teams have an outside shot at making next year's four-team field? Let's take our best guesses in the following slides. 

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Insider Film Breakdown: How Ohio State Can Stop Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy, and he has led the Ducks to the CFP National Championship. The Oregon offense is extremely explosive, but is it unstoppable?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder explains how you can slow down Marcus Mariota. 

Can Ohio State slow down the Oregon offense?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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