NCAA Football News

Every SEC Team's Most Underrated 2015 Committed Recruit

For all of the chatter emanating about the potential loosening of the SEC’s grip over college football, a quick glance at the recruiting rankings for 2015 would show that top talent is still flocking toward the SEC more than any other conference in the country.

Eleven of the league’s 14 members have classes ranked among the Top 25 in the 247Sports team rankings

However, even with a number of top prospects slated to head to the SEC, there are still a number of players who have committed to SEC schools who are still flying under the radar. 

Which recruits are among the most underrated crop of prep stars who will line up in the SEC?

 

*Schools listed in alphabetical order.

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Rose Bowl: Florida State Seminoles vs. Oregon Ducks Odds, Analysis and Pick

The Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks will try to hand the ACC champion Florida State Seminoles their first loss of the season and advance to the national championship game with a victory in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks have won their last eight games both straight up and against the spread since losing at home to the Arizona Wildcats 31-24 as 21.5-point favorites.

Meanwhile, the defending national champion Seminoles have won 29 games in a row, but they have failed to cover 11 of their past 14 games dating back to last year’s BCS Championship Game victory against the Auburn Tigers.

 

Rose Bowl point spread: Ducks opened as 8.5-point favorites; the total was 71.

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 51.3-40.1 Ducks

 

Why the Seminoles can cover the spread

Florida State has not been an underdog since losing to the Clemson Tigers back in 2011 and remains undefeated this year despite failing to beat the spread a lot more often than not. Regardless, the Seminoles are still the defending national champs with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Jameis Winston.

No matter what you think of Winston, he has yet to lose a game as a college quarterback—going 27-0 in his starts—and he remains one of the most clutch players in the game. Another thing potentially working in Florida State’s favor is the layoff between games.

The time off cooled the hot Seminoles before last year’s national title game and could do the same thing to Oregon.

 

Why the Ducks can cover the spread

The Ducks have been the best team in the country since falling to Arizona, and all bettors need to do is look at their ATS record to see why. They have been absolutely relentless against their opponents, including the Wildcats during a 51-13 rout in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Oregon easily covered the spread in the rematch with Arizona and proved to all of its doubters that this team truly belongs in the national semifinals. The Ducks are playing like Florida State did last year, led by likely Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

The junior quarterback made a wise decision coming back to school this year after entertaining the idea of leaving early for the NFL draft. Mariota has a great opportunity to improve his stock here by going head-to-head with Winston.

 

Smart pick

Oregon’s offense is simply too much to handle for the Seminoles in this spot, which is why the Ducks are favored by nearly double digits. Florida State has made a bad habit of keeping its opponents in the game way too long before doing just enough to win at the end.

While that may work in the ACC, Oregon is a team full of firepower that can jump out to a double-digit lead in a heartbeat. The Seminoles will not know how to react to that situation because they have grown used to needing only one score to win.

This is clearly not the same team that won it all last year, and playing with fire will finally burn them. Watch for the Ducks to quack their way to a victory by at least two touchdowns.

 

Trends

  • Florida State is 5-0 SU in its last five games
  • Oregon is 5-0 ATS in its last five games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark. Follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Oregon Football: Who Are the Ducks' Most Important Players vs. Florida State?

Is it possible to overlook the defending national champions who are riding a 29-game win streak?

While the second-ranked Oregon Ducks are heavily favored by Odds Shark to take down the Florida State Seminoles in the Rose Bowl, there is no way that the Ducks should consider themselves better than the Noles.

Not only do the Seminoles have the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston, but also their roster is stock full of players who know how to win and have come up big in clutch situations.

Yes, the Ducks are the better team on paper this season and lead the Seminoles in a host of statistical categories. However, if the Ducks are to win the Rose Bowl and advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship, they’re going to need to play their best game of the season.

Florida State is a team that is built to come back late in games. They’ve done it numerous times this season and did it in the BCS National Championship last year against Auburn.

Meanwhile, the Ducks are the best front-runners in the country and play their best football when they’re trying to close the door on an opponent. This will make for an interesting matchup come Jan. 1.

Let’s take a look at the five players who must be at their best in order for the Ducks to beat the defending national champs.

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Heisman Finalist Melvin Gordon on His Rushing Record Being Broken: 'It Sucks'

Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon rushed for 408 yards versus Nebraska to break LaDainian Tomlinson's record for rushing yards in a game, which had stood for 15 years.

But Gordon's record lasted far shorter than 15 years. Just one week later, Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine broke it when he ran for 427 yards against Kansas. 

Bleacher Report caught up with Gordon to get his thoughts on losing the single-game rushing record, which you can hear in the video above.

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Is Paul Chryst the Right Choice for the Wisconsin Head Coaching Position?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst is the leader for the Wisconsin head coaching position. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Adam Kramer breaks down Chryst at Wisconsin and what it would mean for the Badgers.

Is this the right move for Wisconsin?

Check out the video and let us know!  

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Which League's All-Conference Team Would Win in a Playoff?

We are in the thick of superlative season: the time between the conference championship games and the bowl games, during which all major national- and conference-specific honors are presented.

Among these honors are the all-conference teams, which cobble together the best players at each position for a hypothetical depth chart in each of the 10 FBS leagues.

But what if they weren't hypothetical? Which league's all-conference team would win on the field?

For the sake of simplicity, the only leagues we looked at are the Power Five: the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. If you think one of the other conferences could compete — that's your prerogative, I guess. But the depth of talent in the major leagues suggests otherwise.

Sound off below to let us know which team you think is the best.

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D'Andre Walker Names Top 3: Which Program Is Best Fit for 4-Star DE?

D'Andre Walker set the stage for the final portion of his recruitment process Thursday by announcing a top-three list of Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia. The 4-star standout revealed the favorites in style, offering up some holiday spirit by using the "Elf Yourself" app to insert each team's logo in dancing elves' faces.

No, seriously. Take a look for yourself:

However you feel about his method of declaration—it gets a high grade from us for creativity—the details provide compelling insight regarding Walker's current collegiate outlook. The 6'2", 218-pound player is a crucial uncommitted prospect in SEC territory and presents elite pass-rushing prowess.

Walker, rated 11th nationally among weak-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, spent his upperclassman career destroying offensive game plans at Langston Hughes High School in Georgia.

He holds a list of scholarship offers that includes Clemson, Alabama, Florida State and USC. Now that Walker has trimmed things down to three preferred destinations, let's take a look at which program appears to be the best fit.

 

Auburn

Head coach Gus Malzahn has assembled another impressive class built predominately on premier prospects at skill positions. Auburn could upgrade this group in the trenches, particularly along the defensive front.

The Tigers lack a top lineman on that side of the ball in this class, though this offensive line haul features three Peach State products. If Auburn can pull another key target out of Georgia, it would greatly enhance the overall balance of this class. 

Walker is capable of growing into a role similar to the one Dee Ford filled. He would also arrive on campus with familiarity within the Tigers' defensive unit.

High school teammate and inside linebacker Montavious Atkinson committed to Auburn in March. The duo traveled to campus together earlier this year:

 

Georgia

The Bulldogs are tremendously loaded with 2015 defensive linemen, including a pair of players who fit a similar mold as Walker. Natrez Patrick and Chauncey Rivers are capable of playing with their hands in the dirt along the perimeter or attacking from a stand-up position at linebacker.

That duo is joined by more traditional defensive ends in Michael Barnett and Jonathan Ledbetter, who flipped his commitment from Alabama to Georgia this summer. Trent Thompson, the nation's top-ranked defensive tackle, serves as the anchor of a loaded class.

"Between the veterans we have returning next year and the young guys like me coming in, we're going to have a lot of great players to work with," Thompson told Bleacher Report earlier this week. "Our defensive line should be special with people filling different roles. We can be an important part of a championship team."

Walker could add to that collection, but he would risk being buried on a stocked depth chart.

 

Tennessee

Walker traveled to Knoxville last weekend for an official visit with the Volunteers. The program has a need for edge-rushers who can consistently harass the quarterback and are capable of contributing at the second level.

Tennessee holds a pledge from 4-star defensive ends Andrew Butcher and Darrell Taylor, while tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle provide substantial promise in interior roles. Walker would complement the group well and give Butch Jones another quality defender to implement in his scheme.

The Georgia star has visited Knoxville three times since June, establishing a solid rapport with the Volunteers' coaching staff. He should fully understand the team's expectations for him at this point and would continue positive momentum for a program on the upswing.

 

Verdict

Longstanding relationships with Georgia and Tennessee make this an extremely close call, but Walker's best fit is found at Auburn. He could join forces with his high school teammate in a class that currently needs more help throughout the defensive front seven than the other finalists.

His road to early playing time would be less crowded at Auburn, where he would be counted on to bulk up and patrol the perimeter with authority. Walker looks destined to land in the SEC, and the Tigers are an appropriate match.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Texas Football: Players Who Could Have a Breakout Performance in the Texas Bowl

The Texas Longhorns will have the chance to bounce back from the embarrassing regular-season finale loss to TCU with an upset win over Arkansas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.

A win over the Razorbacks could be exactly what Charlie Strong needs for added momentum heading into the offseason. But Strong will need a complete performance from his Longhorns in order to leave Houston with a win.

One of the most important players who needs a breakout game is quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.

Swoopes' performance in the Longhorns' Thanksgiving loss to the Horned Frogs was his worst game as a first-year starter. The quarterback had five turnovers that ultimately led to 24-points for TCU.

Strong made it clear the coaches have not given up on Swoopes but need to recruit better to bring more competition to the quarterback position.

A solid performance could not only help eliminate the criticism from his five-turnover game, but it could help him make a case as the starting quarterback for 2015.

In addition to making a case for his future, Swoopes will need to bring his best game to NRG Stadium against the Arkansas defense. The Razorbacks have struggled to come from behind in games this season.

The quarterback needs to get his offense off to a fast start and put up points early to force the Razorbacks to keep up with the Longhorns.

Swoopes has proven he can play at a high level and has a chance to continue to prove it against the Razorbacks.

But Swoopes will also need the help of his offensive weapons against Arkansas.

The quarterback's go-to guy this season has been fifth-year wide receiver John Harris.

Harris leads the Longhorns with 1,015 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His breakout senior season could be even more special with a standout performance against a SEC defensive unit.

The Razorbacks have allowed an average 221 passing yards per game and 19 passing touchdowns. If Swoopes can play on point against Arkansas, Harris has a chance to increase his final season numbers in the Texas Bowl.

A lot of attention will be placed on the Texas offense in the bowl game, but one could argue this game will come down to the team with the best defense.

The Razorbacks offense consists of two 1,000-yard rushers in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. The duo has combined for a total of 2,109 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Collins and Williams run behind a massive offensive line, which has helped open up the holes in the run game. Containing the backs will be an arduous task for the Texas run defense, which has allowed an average of 162 rushing yards per game and 16 rushing touchdowns.

The Longhorns' ability to stop the run could be the determining factor in the outcome of the game.

The entire defense will be tasked with containing the duo, but defensive tackle Malcom Brown and linebacker Jordan Hicks will be must-watch players for Texas.

Brown has been one of the biggest difference-makers for the Texas defense in his junior season. The 6'2", 320-pound tackle leads the Longhorns with 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.

He has been a force to be reckoned with all season and has the chance of finishing off his junior year on a high note with a standout performance against the Razorbacks.

Fifth-year senior linebacker Hicks is arguably one of the most important players on the Texas defense. The 6'1", 234-pound linebacker racked up 138 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions in his fifth year at Texas.

His ability to make one-on-one tackles is one of the biggest upsides of the linebacker and he will need to bring that talent to the Texas Bowl.

In the end, the Longhorns will have their hands full in facing 6-6 Arkansas, but all hope is not lost for Texas.

If Swoopes can play consistently well and not turn over the football while the defense can find a way to stop Arkansas' run game, Texas will leave Houston with a win. But if either of those groups fails to perform to its ability, it could be a negative end of the season for the Longhorns.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Everett Golson and Malik Zaire: Breaking Down Notre Dame's QB Situation

Not long after Notre Dame football officially announced it would battle LSU in the Music City Bowl on December 30, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said, “There’s competition at all positions.”

But the focus is certainly on the quarterback situation involving Everett Golson and Malik Zaire.

The ensuing competition is a certainty, something that wasn’t the case during the regular season when Golson was the clear-cut starter and Zaire was the etched-in-stone backup.

Beyond the confirmed competition, however, just what shape the quarterback competition will take is unclear, based on Kelly’s comments on Sunday.

“I think we have to, obviously, go into practice with a mindset of getting Everett and Malik both an opportunity to show what they’re made of and how they’re going to compete and allow us the opportunity for them to both grow but, at the same time, see what competition looks like from that standpoint of true competition,” Kelly told reporters.

As Kelly said, there wasn’t a “competitive situation” during the season. Now?

“We’re going to let them compete, and we’ll see where that puts us come game time.”

Notre Dame effectively has “another spring ball” to prepare for the future, starting with the bowl matchup against LSU.

The Irish will hold eight total practices before heading to Nashville, where there will be another five formal sessions—not to mention the other training. However, the timeframe to resolve the quarterback quandary is unclear.

“It may be eight practices. It may be a year,” Kelly said. “But I’m going to have to see what I need to see from both of them.”

Kelly said Sunday he had already had conversations with both Golson and Zaire, and he’ll now pay close attention to their work in practice.

“It will be when I see what I see will be the duration of that competition,” Kelly said.

So what is Kelly hoping to see? For Golson, it seems pretty obvious. Clean up the turnovers, which plagued the quarterback through the final nine games of the season. Golson tossed 14 interceptions and lost eight fumbles (with Notre Dame recovering four others this year) in the last nine games.

Everett Golson is responsible for 22 turnovers this year. 85 FBS teams have 21 or fewer turnovers.

— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) November 30, 2014

Of course, Golson’s problems weren’t limited to just turnovers, though better ball security would assuredly solve the bulk of his—and Notre Dame’s offensive—issues.

After completing 25 consecutive passes against Syracuse in the fourth game of the season, Golson only connected on 55.5 percent of his passes in the next eight games, a rate that would have slotted him 90th among 100 qualifying quarterbacks in the FBS, according to cfbstats.com.

Zaire, meanwhile, stepped in during the first half against USC in the regular-season finale over Thanksgiving weekend and went 9-of-20 for 170 yards and a rushing touchdown.

Kelly is looking for more consistency from Zaire in practice.

“He has a tendency to fall off his throws a little bit,” Kelly said. “I think we saw that in his game performance. Made some really good throws, but has a tendency to lose his balance in his throws a little bit. Be more in balance on throws.”

Kelly said he’s pleased with Zaire’s handle of the running game, praising his communicative ability with the offensive line.

But whether Zaire or Golson grabs hold of the quarterback job heading into the bowl game doesn’t necessarily finalize the situation moving forward. Asked if the winner of this competition has a leg up going to the spring, Kelly said he is not sure.

“I think it really just depends on upon the factors of what improvements are made, what the attitude is,” Kelly said. “All those things come into play. There’s some things that have to change at that position.

“So we’re going to have to see how quickly they are, if we’re on the right track, if we’re making progress there. That could be an extension into the spring. I really think it’s just a matter of we’re going to have to take it really step by step.”

Those steps start with the bowl preparation and could continue through the spring, summer and fall, for all we know.

“The best I can give you is there’s a way I want that position to operate, and it’s going to operate the way I want it to operate," he said. "If you operate it the way I want it done, you’ll be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame.”

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Michigan Football: Early Look at Wolverines Roster for 2015 Season

Michigan is coachless and Devin Funchess-less.

But it’s not talentless.

As a matter of fact, the new regime—led by San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh or LSU’s Les Miles or whomever—will have plenty to work with, manipulate and move to its liking in 2015.

That’s the outlook right now, anyway.

Despite having lost just about everyone from their upcoming recruiting class, the Wolverines have enough on the defensive and offensive side of the ball to win on Saturdays. Really, they had that in 2014—the only thing missing was a coaching staff capable of widely developing athletes at each position, not just a few at select spots.

Jake Butt, a tight end (maybe receiver?), and wideout Amara Darboh will be obvious keys to success when it comes to moving the ball through the air, while De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green and Ty Isaac will have to carry the load via ground game.

In light of Ray Taylor’s expired eligibility, Jourdan Lewis and Blake Countess must return as the leaders of the defensive backfield. Forget Team 135’s 5-7 record for a moment and remember that Lewis’ stock rose in 2014. However, Countess took a few steps in the wrong direction, but that’s not to say that he can’t rebound as a senior.

Sure, the program seems to be in limbo at the moment. However, once talks lead to the hiring of a coach, Michigan can set its priorities on making sure the Wolverines won’t be the Big Ten’s doormat next season.

It’s time to take a look at some of the key positions and personnel, as they’ll determine the immediate fortunes of Michigan football. That said, a full breakdown will be in order after things settle. 

 

Who’s the Quarterback?

Speculation, feelings and the direction of the wind are the only guides at the moment as the Wolverines probably haven't tabbed a leader at this juncture. 

The next likely candidate is Shane Morris, who’ll be a junior returning with 389 passing yards and five picks. As a sophomore, he completed 14 of 40 attempts for 128 yards and three interceptions.

That said, he looked much better as a freshman reliever during Michigan’s 2014 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State than he did this past fall.

But for the sake of his development, Michigan’s next coach better hope that the kid still has confidence.

During the team’s 2014 media day, Morris said that he was “100 percent ready” to start. That mentality probably hasn’t changed. However, the new staff will certainly take hard looks at incoming 4-star freshman Alex Malzone and will-be-redshirt-frosh Wilton Speight before making any decisions on who gets the top nod.

At 6’1.5” and 200 pounds, Malzone has adequate size with an above average arm. At 6’6” and 234 pounds, Speight has ideal size and returns, arguably, the team’s top arm.

There isn’t a proven commodity, but Morris has wheels and can throw. Speight regularly threw 50-yard bombs during warm-ups. And then there’s the hometown kid (Malzone) who won Michigan’s Mr. Football honors out of Brother Rice.

Not proven, but far from slim pickings.

 

Defense has Upside

Losing linebacker Jake Ryan and defensive end Brennen Beyer hurts. They were both among Big Ten leaders in tackles for loss during most of 2014. Ryan finished with 14 (No. 6 overall) and Beyer finished with 7.5, one behind Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, who was No. 20 in the league.

Defensive linemen Matt Godin, Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone are among logical successors to those posts, as are Willie Henry and Ondre Pipkins.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2014, Godin whet his appetite as a key backup for Greg Mattison’s No. 10-ranked total defense. The 6’6”, 286-pounder out of Novi finished with an unimpressive nine tackles but certainly showed a high motor.

It’s not every day that D-linemen get picks—he snagged one during Michigan’s ugly 10-9 road victory over Northwestern. Players such as Godin will help carry on the teachings of Mattison, who constructed a respectable corps in Ann Arbor during the past four years.

At 6’6” and 275 pounds, Charlton can do damage. He finished his sophomore year with 19 tackles, 5.5 of which were for a loss. Mone’s a bull. The 6’4”, 312-pounder should be one step closer to league-wide domination during his sophomore season.

And that’s even if Michigan isn’t very good overall. Mone dazzled when he was given the opportunity to smash someone.

Joe Bolden is another guy who’ll carry Mattison’s torch this fall.

As a junior, he displayed heart and leadership each week. He missed some tackles and wasn’t always in position, but he always took accountability for his transgressions—and those of others—and vowed to improve.  If anything, 2014 was a shocking learning experience that’ll aid the 6’3”, 231-pound linebacker this upcoming fall.

Along with James Ross and Royce Jenkins-Stone, his fellow-seniors-to-be, Bolden will likely be tasked with pushing underclassmen Noah Furbush, Mike McCray, Jared Wangler and Michael Ferns.

They won’t have to worry about junior Ben Gedeon. He’s on the up-and-up and could be the team’s top linebacker next season. The 6'3", 240-pounder has great instincts and knows how to hit. 

And they won't have to worry about Desmond Morgan, who sat out 2014 with an arm injury. The 6'1", 232-pounder has 31 starts to his credit. 

 

Special Teams

Now that kicker Matt Wile and punter Will Hagerup are out of the picture, it’s on Kenny Allen and Andrew David to split uprights and pin teams into corners. At 6’3” and 220 pounds, Allen has a ton of leg. David was the No. 7 kicker of the 2015 class, per 247Sports.

 

Stay Breezy

Peppers spent his freshman year pumping iron, as evidenced by a photo tweeted by College Spun. Due to a lower-body and/or ankle injury, the former 5-star recruit saw action in just three games for Michigan in 2014.

He’s listed at 6’1” and 202 pounds. It’s safe to say he’s put on at least 15 pounds since arriving to Ann Arbor. What coach wouldn’t want to coach this kid? Peppers—despite not having the chance to show off the goods—remains Michigan’s most-hyped player in years.

Imagine what’ll happen when he’s a regular. That’s something to look forward to, despite the mayhem in Ann Arbor.

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer

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Xavier Lewis Suffers Stroke: Updates on Wyoming Safety's Recovery

Wyoming sophomore Xavier Lewis suffered a stroke late Wednesday night. Luckily, teammate Eric Nzeocha was there, recognized the symptoms and rushed the safety to the hospital for potentially life-saving treatment.

Mike Vorel of the Casper Star-Tribune reports Lewis was transported from the local hospital to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado. The player's father, Quentin Lewis, told the outlet he's now resting and making swift strides in his recovery:

He's back in Colorado right now, resting and recovering. It's a work in progress. We've got a lot of faith as a family. We've all bonded together, and Xavier's coming through it. He's progressing fast.

The elder Lewis also said his son has received plenty of support from the Cowboys. Numerous coaches and players have either made the trip to visit him in the hospital or have called to send along their well wishes already.

Wide receiver Tanner Simpson was among those to post message of support on social media:

Lewis' father also praised Nzeocha for knowing what to do in a difficult situation and getting to the hospital as soon as he knew something was wrong.

"Eric Nzeocha saved him," Quentin Lewis said. "You have to give him the most accolades ever. The kids that have now stood behind Xavier, to me as a parent, that’s the best thing in the world."

Obviously things could have been a lot worse if not for those quick actions. Now, it sounds like Lewis is already making his way down the road to recovery.

 

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The Freshmen Running Backs Who Lit the World on Fire in 2014

The story of the Rose Bowl will be obvious. The Granddaddy of Them All will pair this year's likely Heisman winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, against the reigning Heisman winner, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. However, the outcome of one of the College Football Playoff's semifinal games may not specifically come down to either. 

Forget the passing games for a minute; running backs Royce Freeman of Oregon and Dalvin Cook at Florida State could be as important as Mariota or Winston. As far as impact freshmen go, you'd be hard-pressed to find a pair more crucial to their team's success in the playoff. 

Cook and Freeman were blue-chip, sought-after prospects. Specifically, Cook was a 5-star recruit and considered the No. 1 player in the state of Florida, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. Freeman was a 4-star recruit, listed as the No. 6 running back nationally and No. 4 player in California. 

That's where the similarities end. Their paths to this point have been different, not to mention that they bring different elements to their respective team's offense.

Freeman is the production guy: Only two other freshman running backs—Oklahoma's Samaje Perine and Western Michigan's Jarvion Franklin—have more yards than Freeman's 1,299. Listed at 6'0" and 229 pounds on his official profile, Freeman is the bruising back that the Ducks have missed for some time. As B/R's Adam Kramer explained in October, Freeman is more Stanford than he is Oregon. 

“You see a young freshman running back not looking like a freshman running back,” Stanford coach David Shaw told Kramer. “He’s coming into his own as a really, really good college football player.”

Cook, interestingly enough, is the opposite. The track star who once ran a 10.92 in a 100-meter race provides the spark Florida State's offense has needed when struggling. He does lead the Seminoles in rushing with 905 yards, but Cook really emerged in the second half of the season over Karlos Williams. 

That's not to say Freeman lacks speed or that Cook lacks power, but their crisscrossed styles have made each offense more complete in the most unlikely ways. 

So, what can each do in the Rose Bowl?

Freeman has the chance to feast. It's no secret that Florida State's defense is less efficient than last year's group, according to Football Outsiders' FEI rankings. Specifically, the Seminoles have given up at least four yards per rush in eight games this season. Most recently, Georgia Tech ran all up and down the Seminoles in the ACC championship. 

Of course, Georgia Tech's option offense is tough to prepare for in a week's time. Not to mention, it's a physically taxing offense to defend and shed blocks against. Furthermore, Florida State has gone up against some tough offenses

The question is whether the Ducks can continue to be physical against Florida State, as Oregon hasn't faced the toughest defensive strength of schedule this season. For what it's worth, though, the Ducks racked up 267 yards on 5.8 yards per carry against their toughest defensive opponent, Stanford. Freeman had 98 yards on 19 carries in that game. 

For Cook, it's about picking up where he left off. His breakout game came on Oct. 30 in a win over Louisville in which he had nine carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Four of his five games since have had double-digit carries. He surpassed the century mark in wins over Florida and Georgia Tech. Of Florida State's 32 rushes against the Yellow Jackets, Cook was responsible for 31. 

Florida State's offensive line has been better over the second half of the season, but Cook gives the Seminoles a speed element that Williams simply doesn't. 

The knock on Oregon, fair or not, is that it hasn't been able to match up well against physical teams like Stanford. That narrative was debunked, at least in part, in a convincing 45-16 win over the Cardinal in November. 

Oregon can debunk it for good against Florida State. However the Rose Bowl plays out, though, take a few minutes and look beyond the quarterback on each sideline. We know it could be Mariota and Winston's last college game. The future of each program could be lined up beside/behind them. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless noted elsewhere. 

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5-Star Iman Marshall Finally Gets Alabama Offer: What Took So Long?

Alabama has assembled the nation's No. 1 recruiting class by acquiring top prospects from across the country. Days after landing a commitment from coveted Georgia linebacker Adonis Thomas, Nick Saban has turned his attention to California defensive back Iman Marshall.

The 5-star Long Beach Poly High School senior shared the development Thursday evening on his Twitter account:

His offer comes as a bit of a surprise. Not because it isn't warranted—Marshall is the top-rated cornerback in 247Sports' composite rankings—but because of its timing.

The 6'1", 190-pound playmaker has collected dozens of scholarship offers during his high school career and is entering the final stretch of a frenzied recruitment. Strangely enough, Alabama waited to pull the trigger on a scholarship until eight weeks before national signing day.

Marshall mentioned the Crimson Tide as a team of interest early in the process but, without an offer, he's focused his attentions elsewhere. Stanford, USC and UCLA are still in the picture as in-state options, but he's set to explore opportunities elsewhere now that his final high school season is finished.

Notre Dame welcomes him to campus this weekend, while Oklahoma, LSU and Florida State are also expected to receive official visits. Marshall previously pegged Michigan as one of his five official visits, but the struggling program no longer appears to be part of the equation.

Could Alabama swoop in and secure an on-campus sales pitch before his decision is made?

The Crimson Tide should be aided by Marshall's placement on Team White in the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game. The event, set for January 2 in St. Petersburg, Florida, features nine Alabama commits on the same roster.

Blake Barnett, a 5-star California quarterback, is among them and has a solid relationship with Marshall.

"Receivers really have to fight to get open against him because he always seems to be on the attack," Barnett told me this summer. "He's pretty fearless. That definitely doesn't make it easy on us quarterbacks."

Top-rated wide receiver and Crimson Tide commit Calvin Ridley will also compete for Team White. He matched up against Marshall in July at The Opening, an invite-only prospect showcase at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon.

"Marshall is the No. 1 cornerback in this class," Ridley told me afterward. "I caught a big pass against him, but he was always right on me, fighting for the ball. He doesn't fall for any moves either, so he stays with you the whole time."

The Team White defensive backfield also includes Alabama pledges Shawn Burgess-Becker and Deionte Thompson.

Lauded for his physicality and smooth coverage skills, Marshall believes his off-field efforts ultimately separate him from the pack.

"Preparation is so important because it helps you react as quickly as possible, and that’s what playing defensive back is all about," he told me at the start of this season. "When you study something over and over again, nothing is a surprise anymore. You understand what’s coming—the formations, the schemes, everything."

Marshall is arguably the premier uncommitted player remaining in this cycle, putting plenty of pressure on programs to seal the deal as signing day approaches. Alabama may be late to the party, but it sure does provide some unexpected intrigue at a pivotal stage of the pursuit.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national college football recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue.

Ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Felder's Awards: Which College Football Wide Receivers Dominated in 2014?

The 2014 college football season featured a ton of great wide receivers who all possess certain skill sets that separate them from the field. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder dishes out his awards for the best wide receivers of the season.

Which wide receiver stood out the most in 2014? Check out the video and let us know!

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4-Star Recruit D'Andre Walker Announces Top 3 Schools Using 'Elf Yourself' Video

It may well be the stupidest declaration of a 4-star recruit's top three, but gosh darn it, it's probably the funniest.

D'Andre Walker, a 4-star defensive end recruit out of Fairburn, Georgia, is a prized player many schools in the SEC are recruiting.

He announced his final three options as Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee by using the "Elf Yourself" app, which allows one to place faces or pictures onto the heads of elves in a cookie-cutter-style video.

if You Want To Know What School Im Going To Here Yall Go https://t.co/XSfa8Hajou Check This Video Out

— D'Andre Walker (@LuxuryLife1K) December 11, 2014

[YouTube, 247Sports]

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Heisman Race 2014: Predictions for Award's Top Candidates

The best players in the nation have put their skills on display, and now it's up to the voters to decide who will lift the 2014 Heisman Trophy

Florida State's Jameis Winston posted an incredible season in 2013 to take home the honors, but the reigning champion isn't among the group of three finalists heading to New York. In fact, there's only one quarterback among the field to help make it five straight years that a QB has hoisted the Heisman—but his chances are awfully good.

Heisman Trophy released the finalists on Twitter:

It also marks a first for the history of the award, as Heisman.com's Chris Huston uncovered:

You never know just how it will all shake out until Saturday night's presentation. But with the individual players' season performances in consideration, it's becoming more and more clear what order the finalists will end up.

Let's predict the final order of finish for the three Heisman finalists.

 

Predicted Heisman Trophy Finish

3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Even set for a third-place Heisman Trophy finish, Amari Cooper's 2014 season should go down as one of the best from an SEC wideout in college football history.

The junior won Alabama's first ever Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top wideout, also marking just the second time an SEC receiver has ever won the prestigious award. With more than a year of eligibility left, Cooper ranks second in SEC career receiving yards.

As he's known to do, head coach Nick Saban saw Cooper's blue-chip potential a long time ago, per TideSports.com's D.C. Reeves:

The thing that was so impressive about Amari Cooper was when he came to our summer camp before his senior year, the guy was I think maybe—and we've had some good receivers that have been in our camps through the years—the most impressive, to me, in terms of his ability, his ability to change direction and get out of a break, the quickness, the acceleration of speed, good hands, hard worker. I walked away from that camp saying that this guy might be the best receiver we've ever had in our camps, and we've had some really good ones.

Cooper has been shredding the competition everywhere he's been, leaving Bleacher Report's Matt Miller to peg him as the fourth-best player in the 2015 NFL draft class. With his blend of breakaway speed, athleticism and size, few receivers in recent years have been as complete exiting college.

The best Alabama wideout ever won't end his career with a Heisman Trophy, but he has left his mark on college football in about every way possible. He'll continue to do so at the next level.

 

2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

If it weren't for an unstoppable season from the man in front of him, Melvin Gordon would have done more than enough to become the first running back to win the Heisman in five years. 

The junior out of Wisconsin comfortably leads the FCS with 2,336 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns total, breaking a single-game rushing record that happened to be broken the week after. He would need almost 300 rushing yards to break Barry Sanders' single-season record in the Outback Bowl against Auburn.

But when you consider how close he's going to finish to a record that so many Heisman Trophy-winning running backs didn't touch, it just puts into further perspective his greatness. 

He could have made a serious push to win the award with a monster game against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game but struggled with 76 yards on 26 carries. A bigger performance in that game could have boosted him, as ESPN College Football noted:

But considering he got it done against everybody else when a team packed the box like Ohio State did, Gordon has undoubtedly done enough to make a serious case as the Heisman runner-up.

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

The Heisman Trophy presentation on ESPN could save the viewing public about an hour of time by just naming Mariota the winner the moment that the broadcast begins. But even though it will be announced at the last moment possible, there's no doubting the end result.

From start to finish, nobody can contend with the Oregon quarterback. He has every box checked off—the gaudy stats, the team-on-my-back leadership and a place as one of the national title contenders entering the postseason.

He also added the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's top quarterback, which has been the writing on the wall for the Heisman winner of late, per ESPN Stats and Information:

Mariota's case started to suffer with an early loss to Arizona at home but has since bounced back in a massive way. The Ducks have bounced back from that defeat to score 40 points in every game, including a 51-13 drubbing of the Wildcats in a Pac-12 title-game rematch. 

Beating Arizona in Santa Clara, California, was the lone requirement on Mariota's Heisman checklist, and he did so in resounding fashion while Gordon struggled. 

It remains to be seen whether Mariota can get Oregon its first national championship, but he'll have no problem getting the Ducks their first Heisman Trophy come Saturday night.

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Is Ohio State 'SEC Enough' to Beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If there's anybody north of the Bible Belt who's well-versed in the dominance of the Southeastern Conference, it's Urban Meyer.

After all, he's the one who started it.

It was eight years ago that Meyer jumpstarted the SEC's streak of seven consecutive national titles, claiming the first of his two crystal balls as the head coach of Florida.

From that day forward—after the Gators had shocked Ohio State with a 41-14 pummeling of the Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game—it was clear that something was a little different down South when it came to football.

"I'm not sure what 'SEC bias' is," Meyer said on Thursday. "You'd be hard-pressed to say that top to bottom, they're not the best league in the country."

Florida State snapped the SEC's national title reign a year ago with a win over Auburn, but as college football prepares for its first ever playoff, it's Alabama that finds itself as the nation's top team. The Crimson Tide have won three of the past five national championships, setting the standard for the rest of the sport to follow.

But as Alabama attempts to continue its dynasty, it's Meyer who will get the next shot at bringing it to an end.

Now the head coach at Ohio State, Meyer and his Buckeyes will square off with the Crimson Tide in Jan. 1's Sugar Bowl, which will double as a semifinal game for the national title.

Given the time—and success—that he found down South, Meyer knows that it will take a different brand than Big Ten football to knock off Nick Saban's Alabama squad.

"The defensive front seven is the overall difference-maker, but it's a little bit deeper than that," Meyer said of the differences between the Big Ten and SEC in 2012. "I think in overall athleticism, we're a little bit behind. But we're recruiting with that in mind."

That sentiment has been backed up in the recruiting rankings, where the Buckeyes have landed three top-five classes since Meyer came to town.

That's shown up in Ohio State's recent dominance of the Big Ten, which has included a 24-0 regular-season conference record since the start of the 2012 season.

Beating up on the likes of Purdue and Michigan is one thing, but going toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide? That's a totally different task. Does the Big Ten's best have what it takes to match up with the cream of the crop in college football?

Saban thinks so.

"Urban has always done a fantastic job at utilizing what his players do well," Saban said. "Their speed is one of the strengths of their team, in my opinion."

That's certainly been an area that Meyer has placed an emphasis on, expanding Ohio State's recruiting radius beyond the borders of the Buckeye State and to the likes of Texas, the northeast and, yes, the southeast.

Ohio State will always possess plenty of players from its own talent-rich state, but one glance at the Buckeyes' roster shows that this is far from your father's Ohio State squad.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a key player on this year's Buckeyes team who wasn't wooed by a school from the SEC, as Meyer hasn't been afraid to go head-to-head with his former conference on the recruiting trail.

Meyer has been able to wrestle defensive end Joey Bosa (Alabama, Florida), running back Ezekiel Elliott (Missouri), cornerback Eli Apple (Alabama), safety Vonn Bell (Alabama, Tennessee), H-back Dontre Wilson (Texas A&M), running back Curtis Samuel (Florida, Tennessee) and linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Alabama, Georgia) away from the grasp of the SEC, while also keeping Ohioans Jalin Marshall (Tennessee) and Erick Smith (Alabama) away from the pull of America's best conference.

“We’re getting close,” Meyer said last national signing day. "We have to get our speed up with overall offensive skill, but where it was two years ago to where it is now is much different.”

But will that be enough?

After all, Saban has been recruiting for Alabama at an elite level since 2007, giving him a five-year head start on what Meyer is attempting to accomplish in Columbus.

While it's not like the OSU roster was devoid of talent before Meyer arrived, he is undeniably recruiting a different level of athlete for the Buckeyes—players who are more suited to take on an SEC opponent like the Crimson Tide.

After three years of proving themselves in the Big Ten, the Sugar Bowl will be the Buckeyes' first opportunity to measure themselves against the country's best. That's a challenge that Meyer is looking to take head-on.

"Alabama with what they've done the last five, six, seven years, they're the No. 1 program in America," Meyer said. "To take a shot and swing as hard as you possibly can...it's a very exciting time in Columbus, Ohio."

 

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

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Tennessee Football: 5 Seniors Who Can End Their Careers on a High Note

The Tennessee Volunteers' 2014 senior class has seen more turmoil and disappointment than just about any in program history.

After arriving in Knoxville as freshmen in 2010 and 2011, these players almost certainly expected to give their all for a program where bowl games were a foregone conclusion and SEC East titles were a possibility almost every year. 

Instead, their commitment was rewarded with three straight losing seasons and three straight Decembers spent sitting at home while many of their high school teammates played in prestigious bowl games around the country.

But now, during their final seasons as Vols, they will finally get a taste of postseason play in a destination bowl, no less.

The TaxSlayer Bowl matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes in Jacksonville, Florida, on Jan. 2 won't draw much national attention, but it's the biggest accomplishment to date for Tennessee's senior class and gives the seniors an opportunity to right so many things that went wrong during the past four seasons. 

Here are five seniors who can end their careers on a high note at EverBank Field three weeks from today. 

Begin Slideshow

Adjustments Texas A&M Must Make to Have Successful 2015 Season

Texas A&M struggled down the stretch in 2014, but the Aggies have much to look forward to next season. Quarterback Kyle Allen showed promise but will need help to compete in the difficult SEC West. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee explain what Texas A&M has to do to get back on the winning track.

Will the Aggies rebound in 2015?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Remembering Heisman Finalists as College Football Recruits

Before the nation knew their names through bowl games, big performances, award shows and NFL mock drafts, the 2015 Heisman Trophy finalists were just three of the countless high school football players looking for an opportunity at the collegiate level.

Marcus Mariota, Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper each carved out reputations as young players, earning scholarship offers and embarking on careers that ultimately led them to the hallowed ceremony in Manhattan. This trio of playmakers have made their mark on the college landscape just a few years after sorting through uniquely different recruiting processes.

Obviously, things have worked out well since their respective signing days. With one of these young standouts destined for college football immortality, we take a look back at the recruitments that eventually lead them to national stardom.

 

3-star quarterback Marcus Mariota, St. Louis High School (Honolulu, Hawaii)

The three-year Ducks starter didn't land on the radar for many top-level FBS programs despite a brilliant career at St. Louis. He led the Crusaders to 11 wins and a state title in 2010, completing 65 percent of his passes for nearly 2,600 yards and 32 touchdowns, per his Oregon bio.

Mariota added 455 rushing yards and seven scores as a senior, earning distinction as the Honolulu Offensive Player of the Year. He attended a camp at Oregon prior to the 2010 season, showcasing his skills for the Ducks' coaching staff.

Oregon was the only Pac-12 program to offer Mariota, who also considered Memphis. He became a necessity for the team after eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel flipped his commitment to Texas A&M.

College coaches are on a tight schedule when it comes to recruiting, so a journey to Hawaii may not make sense from a logistical standpoint.

“You never wanted to lose a day, so you always had to do the red-eye going home,” former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel told Ben Cohen of The Wall Street Journal. “That was a nightmare.”

The journey of Mariota, who was rated just 35th nationally among all 2011 quarterback prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, provides some extra incentive for a long flight.

“Every coach is going to turn over every rock to find a hidden gem like Oregon did with Marcus,” former St. Louis head coach Darnell Arceneaux told Cohen.

Despite arriving on campus rated 518th among incoming college football freshmen, he quickly forged a strong reputation in Eugene.

“He’s everything you want,” former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly told Jeff McLane of Philly.com. “He can throw the ball, he can run. He’s the most talented kid I coached in college. … When he was a freshman I remarked, ‘This kid’s going to win the Heisman.’”

Mariota, who has 53 total touchdowns and just two interceptions this season, is the front-runner to end up at the winner's podium Saturday.

 

4-star running back Melvin Gordon, Bradford High School (Kenosha, Wisconsin)

The nation's leading rusher is less than 300 yards shy of breaking Barry Sanders' all-time single-season college record (2,628). Gordon established a new single-game record this fall—though it lasted just a week—with 408 yards against Nebraska.

He also ran wild in high school, gaining over 2,000 yards and 38 scores on the ground as a senior en route to all-state honors, according to his Wisconsin bio. Gordon was a four-year impact player who tallied 15 touchdowns as a freshman.

Rated 18th nationally among running backs in 247Sports' 2011 composite rankings, Gordon received heavy interest in Big Ten territory. Offers arrived from Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

However, his recruitment never seemed to materialize much beyond the region. Tennessee was the only SEC team to extend an offer.

“I just think a lot of times they look at it like, ‘Hey, we don’t have to go to Wisconsin to get a running back because we got six or seven kids down here,’” Bradford coach Jed Kennedy told Josh Moyer of ESPN.com. “They come up here for linemen, but they don’t look at the skill kids. I don’t know why.”

Gordon, ranked 258th overall in the class, elected to stay in-state with the Badgers. He's thrived with more than 4,500 rushing yards in three full seasons, and he is expected to help carry the load in an NFL backfield next season.

 

4-star wide receiver Amari Cooper, Northwestern High School (Miami, Florida)

The Crimson Tide star carved his name into record books this season, becoming the all-time leading receiver at Alabama and the single-season receptions king of SEC football. He arrived on campus as a key piece of Nick Saban's top-ranked 2012 recruiting class that also featured defensive back Landon Collins and running back T.J. Yeldon.

Cooper, rated sixth nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, caught 33 passes for 722 yards as a senior in Northwestern's run-heavy offensive attack, per his Alabama bio. He showcased his skills in the Under Armour All-America Game, catching a 75-yard score and returning a punt 93 yards for another touchdown.

He made an official visit to Miami two months before signing day but ultimately ended up at Alabama. His offer sheet also featured Florida State, West Virginia and Ohio State.

Cooper commanded Saban's attention during his junior year, when he attended a camp in Tuscaloosa. Saban told Charlie Potter of BamaOnLine:

I walked away from that camp saying that this guy might be the best receiver we’ve ever had in our camps, and we’ve had some really good ones. … He may have been the most impressive, to me, in terms of his ability, his ability to change direction and get out of a break, the quickness, the acceleration of speed, good hands, hard worker.

That performance was a sign of things to come for Cooper, who enters the playoffs with 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He will likely be the first receiver selected in next year's NFL draft. A strong postseason would strengthen his case as one of the greatest players in Alabama's storied history.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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