NCAA Football News

Malik Zaire Named Starting QB for Notre Dame vs. LSU

After a disappointing end to the 2014 regular season, Notre Dame will look to sophomore Malik Zaire to lead the Fighting Irish in the Music City Bowl against LSU.    

Andrew Owens of Blue & Gold Illustrated passed along the news of the decision to start Zaire over Everett Golson:

Irish coach Brian Kelly offered more on the change under center, via Brian Hartnett of The Observer:

Zaire has not played much during his tenure with Notre Dame. He finished 9-of-20 with 170 passing yards, 18 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground against USC. That performance came after Golson had no touchdowns, one interception and negative-14 rushing yards in the finale.

Josh Norris of NBC Sports provided his take on what the move might mean for Golson:

Going against a tough LSU defense that ranks third in the country in points allowed per game (16.4), Zaire will be tested early in the Music City Bowl. Golson's experience might eventually help the Irish if he is given playing time, as Kelly announced he would.

Losing four out of the last five games after a strong start, it was clear change might be necessary. With Zaire now given his chance to lead the Irish, how he performs now might reveal what direction the program heads in the future.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Leonard Williams Declares for 2015 NFL Draft: Latest Details and Reaction

Arguably the best pure talent in the 2015 class, versatile USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams has declared for the NFL draft.   

According to the program: Williams announced that he will forego his senior season with the Trojans to being his pro career:

Time will tell if Williams ends up being the first player taken, but scouts have been raving about his potential for months.

In November, one NFL talent evaluator told Sam Farmer of The Los Angeles Times that Williams exceeded his expectations:

Before I went in there, I thought this guy had a lot of hype. When I saw him, I thought he is the real deal. He's got a great body, quick off the ball. He did have that shoulder surgery, so he's a little bit behind strength-wise, but he still has plenty of strength. He's got tremendous upside, and he's definitely a consideration for that top pick...

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports was asked on Twitter how Williams compared to Ndamukong Suh, who was taken second overall by the Detroit Lions in 2010:

Williams may not be in the same tier as Suh yet, the fact that the comparison to where they stood as pro prospects isn't outrageous tells you how talented the USC star is and how high the ceiling can climb. 

This era of the NFL, where quarterbacks and the passing game have taken over, finding a defensive lineman capable of getting after the passer is essential. The market has exploded in recent years with huge contracts for those kinds of players, like Suh presumably will this offseason and J.J. Watt did with Houston. 

While Williams has a long way to go before getting into the category of those players, his raw potential and performance at USC suggest that kind of impact is buried in there waiting to come out with time and experience. 

 

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Under Armour All-America Game 2015: 5 Players to Watch

A bevy of the nation’s top prep seniors will be on display Friday during the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game, where 25 prospects currently rated as 5-star recruits will compete.

With that type of star power on hand, fans will get a glimpse of some of college football’s future stars.

Which players will fans need to play close attention to during the game?

 

Players listed in alphabetical order.

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Alabama Football: Players to Watch in High School All-American Games

As the Alabama football team is in the thick of the inaugural College Football Playoff, a lot of the team’s future will be on display shortly after in the top two high school football All-Star games.

The 2015 Under Armour All-America Game will take place the day after the Sugar Bowl, on January 2 at 3 p.m. CT on ESPN2. A day later, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl will be played at noon CT on NBC.

Those two games showcase the nation’s top high school talent. Because Alabama has recruited at such a high level under coach Nick Saban, a lot of its 2015 commits and remaining targets will be playing in these games.

To make things easier for you, here are some big names to keep an eye on in these contests, both committed and uncommitted.

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Ranking College Football Playoff Teams by Their Coaching Staffs

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State could not have won their respective conferences and made the College Football Playoff without great coaching staffs.

But which staff is the best of the group?

To answer that, we've graded all four staffs by unit: head coach, offensive, defensive and special teams. The first three groups were all graded on a scale of 1-10. Special teams was graded out of five.

It's tricky to try and answer this question, too, because at least one fanbase (and probably as many as three) are going to feel insulted.

I accept that inevitability and look forward to discussing with all of you. But please trust that I (a) don't hate your team and (b) think all four of these staffs are among the 10 best in the country.

That is why they've made it this far.

Sounds off below and—gulp—let me know what you think.

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USC Football: Players to Watch in High School All-American Games

The coming weekend’s high school All-American games begin the quick transition from the 2014 season to 2015 for USC football.

The Trojans have verbally committed prospects participating in both the Under Armour All-America Game, which kicks off on Friday at 4 p.m. ET in St. Petersburg, Florida, as well as in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Some of the top-rated prospects head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff are looking to add to USC’s No. 8 nationally ranked signing class will also be in action this weekend. Expect a few of these targets to become Trojans on national signing day in February.

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Birmingham Bowl Picks: East Carolina Pirates vs. Florida Gators Odds

The AAC’s East Carolina Pirates will head to Legion Field this Saturday to tangle with the SEC’s Florida Gators in this season’s Birmingham Bowl. Kickoff is slated for noon (ET), and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

The Pirates’ first season in the AAC after jumping ship from Conference USA would have to be considered a moderate success with an overall straight-up record of 8-4, including a 5-3 record in conference play. They were just 5-7 against the spread after failing to cover in seven of their last eight games. The total went “over” in three of their final four outings.

Florida’s shaky 6-5 record (both SU and ATS) cost former head coach Will Muschamp his job, but the Gators came very close to knocking off Florida State in their season finale in a 24-19 loss as seven-point road underdogs. They ended the year by covering in four of their final five games, and the total went over in three of those contests.

 

East Carolina vs. Florida Betting Storylines

East Carolina gave another SEC team, South Carolina, all it could handle early in the season in a 33-23 loss as a 14.5-point road underdog, and then it proceeded to knock off Virginia Tech and North Carolina, out of the ACC, the following two weeks. The Pirates were one of the higher-scoring teams in the nation this season with an average of 37.2 points a game. Defensively, they did have their issues at times, allowing 54 points in a loss to Cincinnati and 32 points in a season-ending loss to Central Florida. Overall, this unit was tagged for an average of 25.7 points a game.

Quarterback Shane Carden threw for the second-most yards in the country this season with 4,309 yards on 551 attempts for a completion rate of 65 percent. He tossed 28 touchdowns while getting picked off just eight times. His favorite target was Justin Hardy, who caught 110 passes for 1,334 yards and nine scores. Overall, the Pirates were ranked third in the nation in passing yards per game (367.3).

The Gators’ overall program has slipped rather steeply over the past few seasons, and they have become an afterthought in the SEC title race. They closed out play in the conference with a 23-20 loss to South Carolina as 6.5-point favorites at home. Florida was an even 4-4 SU in the SEC this season, with the only notable victory coming against Georgia in a 38-20 romp as a 12-point road underdog.

The defense held up fairly well over the course of the year, and while it did get tagged for 42 points by both Alabama and Missouri in double-digit losses, the Gators ended the season ranked 22nd in the country in points allowed (21.2). On the other side of the ball, Florida racked up an average of 30.5 points behind a solid running game. It averaged 189.5 yards a game behind the legs of Matt Jones. He rushed for 817 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 4.9 yards a carry.

 

East Carolina vs. Florida Betting Odds and Trends by Doc’s Sports

Point Spread: Florida -6.5

Total Line: 56

The betting trends on Doc’s Sports have the Pirates covering in five of their last six games as underdogs. They are 3-5 ATS in their last eight bowl games, and the total has gone over in seven of their last nine games played at a neutral site.

The Gators are 4-1 ATS in their last five trips to a bowl game, and they are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 neutral-site games. The total has gone over in six of their last eight bowl games.

This will be the first meeting between these two teams in recent memory. The total has stayed “under” in six of the last eight Birmingham Bowls (when it was known as the Compass Bowl).

 

Birmingham BowlPicks: East Carolina vs. Florida Betting Predictions

Both of these teams have shown the ability to not only put some points on the board but also the ability to give them up in bunches against some of the better competition they have faced. Florida can’t be all too thrilled heading into this game in the middle of a coaching change, while East Carolina would love nothing more than to beat a team from the SEC. The result is a high-scoring affair that goes over the current 56-point total line.

Take: Central Florida vs. Florida OVER 56; Noon Saturday, Jan. 3

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Alabama vs. Ohio State: Key Odds, Coverage Details for Sugar Bowl 2015

There are several marquee games left on the college football schedule, but few are drawing as much mainstream attention as the 2015 Sugar Bowl battle between the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes.

As one of the two inaugural semifinals matchups in the College Football Playoff, all eyes will be on this game to see if it lives up to the expectations surrounding the postseason change. With two of the best teams in the nation going head-to-head, fans are already getting what they want.

Here is all the vital viewing and betting information college football fans need to enjoy Alabama vs. Ohio State in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

 

Live stream available via WatchESPN. Betting information via OddsShark.

 

Most Intriguing Matchup: Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer

There will be intense matchups all over the field in the College Football Playoff semifinal, but most eyes will be on the chess match being played by Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and the Buckeyes' Urban Meyer.

Between the two men, they have won six national championships. Saban holds the edge with four (one at LSU and three at Alabama), while Meyer won two with Florida. With enough combined big-game experience to level the playing field, all eyes will be on which coach outmaneuvers his opponent.

When asked about Meyer’s success, Saban told Zac Ellis of SportsIllustrated.com, “Urban has done a fantastic job as a college coach wherever he's been, and we've played some tough games when he was at Florida. We certainly have a lot of respect for the tradition and the great team that he has at Ohio State this year.”

Patrick Maks of ElevenWarriors.com shared legendary head coach Lou Holtz’s thoughts on the matchup between Saban and Meyer:

On one hand, Saban has built a perennial powerhouse that produces NFL-caliber players on a yearly basis. Alabama has racked up 37.1 points per game this season (17th in the nation) and has only allowed an average of 16.6 points per game (fourth overall) in 2014.

On the other hand, Meyer has been forced to switch starting quarterbacks twice this season due to season-ending injuries. After Braxton Miller went down for the year before the season even began, the team turned the reins over to freshman J.T. Barrett.

But after Barrett suffered an ankle injury late in the season, Meyer looked to third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. The head coach’s ability to roll with the punches and overcome adversity has been a highlight of Ohio State’s season.

Unfortunately, Alabama’s roster is much deeper and has more skill at key positions. Saban holds the 2-1 career record against Meyer, and in the Sugar Bowl, he will make it 3-1.

Predicted Final Score: Alabama 30, Ohio State 24

 

Stats via ESPN.com.

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Oregon vs. FSU: Preview, Prediction for 2015 Rose Bowl

In one of the biggest moments in college football history, Oregon and Florida State will help unveil an entirely new system. The College Football Playoff will officially kick off with the Rose Bowl as the Ducks and Seminoles vie for a spot in the national championship game.

Both teams come in after strong seasons, but the Seminoles are the only playoff team with an unblemished record. Even at 13-0, question marks surround No. 3 FSU ahead of the semifinal due to several close outcomes.

The Ducks, on the other hand, have been decisively knocking off teams since their lone loss to Arizona. Coming off a 51-13 win over the Wildcats, Oregon avenged that defeat thanks to one of the most potent offenses in the country.

Leading up to the first semifinal, below is an in-depth look at the 2015 Rose Bowl.

 

2015 Rose Bowl Information

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

When: Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live StreamWatchESPN

 

Rose Bowl Preview

Witnessing two Heisman Trophy winners battle is a rarity at the college level. In fact, it has only happened two times in the past, with the most recent coming after the 2008 season when Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford faced off.

Thursday will mark the third such occurrence with Marcus Mariota recently winning the coveted award a year after Jameis Winston. Leading up to the massive showdown, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher spoke about how special the matchup will be.

"I think it'll be great. It's what college football is all about," Fisher said, via Natalie Pierre of AL.com. "You have two of the greatest players in college football right now ... That makes for great TV and makes for great competition. It's what it's about - getting the best against the best."

For Winston, the 2013 Heisman winner will be facing an Oregon defense that recently lost one of its biggest stars. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a knee injury that will keep him from playing in the bowl game.

Regardless of who he faces, Winston has confidence he will thrive, per Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com:

Winston's 24 passing touchdowns this season prove he'll throw in the direction of any defender. However, he'll have to be much more consistent against Oregon after throwing 17 interceptions in 2014.

Meanwhile, Mariota was as dynamic as any player with 52 total touchdowns to a staggering two interceptions. The junior has three or more touchdowns in 11 games this season and has accounted for 19 in his last four games without a pick.

Much of the success for both teams is thanks to the signal-callers, but the players sharing the backfield are two of the most explosive freshmen in the country. Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook have burst onto the scene by carrying the load down the stretch.

Freeman has 1,299 yards with 16 touchdowns on the season and was named a freshman All-American. Cook wasn't asked to do much at the beginning but closed out the year with over 100 total yards in five of the last eight games and eight touchdowns.

Tim Brando of Fox Sports offered his take on the tailbacks:

In the end, both teams will likely come away with an impressive showing thanks to their offensive weapons. While FSU's defense has the edge in the matchup, Oregon's offense has been as explosive as any this season.

Mariota will eventually lead the Ducks to a national championship appearance to take on the winner of the Sugar Bowl.

Predicted final: Oregon 37, Florida State 31

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Miami Football: Players to Watch in High School All-American Games

The Miami Hurricanes' offseason begins with a kickoff of another variety—high school all-star games.

A few handfuls of prospects Miami coaches have targeted will be participating in the Under Armour, U.S. Army and Semper Fidelis All-American contests, which each take place in early January.

Between committed players and athletes still being recruited, the Hurricanes are well-represented in the showcase games—though two stick out.

 

Under Armour All-America Game

On Friday, Jan. 2, at 4 p.m. ET, the prospects will invade Tropicana Field, and Miami has its eyes fixed on five players.

Hailing from Miami Central High School, 4-star receiver Da'Vante Phillips is the No. 9 wideout in the 2015 class. According to Luke Stampini of 247Sports (subscription required), Phillips will announce his college decision during the Under Armour week but has already told that unknown coaching staff of his intents.

Granted, the 247Sports Crystal Ball shows 100 percent to Florida State, and the only two schools he officially visited were FSU and Miami.

Marcus Lewis is scheduled to take his official visit Jan. 16, having already taken trips to the other pair of programs remaining in his top three. Josh Edwards of 247Sports (subscription required) notes the 4-star athlete—who projects as a defensive back—will decide between the 'Canes, Kentucky and Washington State.

A 6'3", 305-pound 4-star defensive tackle, Kendrick Norton would fill a massive need for Miami. Per Christopher Stock of 247Sports (subscription required), Norton has scheduled an official visit to Coral Gables for Jan. 16 and will announce on signing day, Feb. 4.

John Houston will also declare his college intentions during signing day festivities. The 5-star outside linebacker visited Miami during Florida State weekend and put the Hurricanes in his final five, Stampini writes (subscription required).

Shawn Burgess-Becker committed to Alabama in mid-April, but Nate Adelson of 247Sports (subscription required) says Miami is still recruiting the 4-star athlete hard. If head coach Al Golden and Co. manage to flip Burgess-Becker, the pledge would be one of the staff's biggest victories this cycle.

 

U.S. Army All-American Bowl

Miami's pair of top commits, Jaquan Johnson and Jordan Scarlett, will take center stage at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The contest will be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio Saturday, Jan. 3 at 1 p.m. ET.

Johnson, a 4-star safety from Killian High School—where Lamar Miller played—told David Lake (subscription required) of 247Sports he wants to "make a statement" against the country's premier talent.

Scarlett is the No. 8 running back prospect, edging fellow 4-stars and Hurricanes pledges Dexter Williams and Mark Walton. According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required), Scarlett has trimmed his list to UM, Florida and Florida State but still favors Miami, especially since he could replace a departing star:

Duke Johnson is just a great back. Tough loss. I see how they get him the ball. That's the guy. I want to be the top guy.

Tim Irvin and Devonaire Clarington are the key players to watch, however, because they will both commit to a school during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Horns247 staff said (subscription required) "though neither prospect explicitly tipped their hand, it was evident both prospects are set on playing together at the college level."

The former is a 4-star athlete who has long been considered a Hurricanes lean—largely due to family ties. However, Bartow notes (subscription required) Irvin is "unsure what hats will be on the table," but Miami, Texas, West Virginia and Florida are the noteworthy suitors.

Golden and Co. seem to have cooled on Clarington, a 4-star tight end many pegged as a must-get prospect over a year ago. In early December, Clarington told Lake (subscription required) Miami hadn't contacted him in a while but was hoping the 'Canes would soon.

Rasheem Green would absolutely be a steal for Miami, where he visited Nov. 15 for the Florida State matchup. Per Adelson (subscription required), the 5-star defensive tackle included the Hurricanes in his final four with USC, Oregon and Arizona State.

Lastly, Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports (subscription required) predicts 4-star receiver Lawrence Cager will choose "The U."

 

Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl

Capping the exciting weekend is the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 6 at 9 p.m. ET.

This showcase is undoubtedly slower for Golden's staff since current commit Bar Milo and Florida Atlantic pledge Rashard Causey are the two noteworthy prospects.

Adelson notes (subscription required) Milo is "solid with Miami," and even though the 4-star offensive tackle might visit Nebraska, that trip isn't a sure thing.

As for Causey, according to Justin Rowland of Rivals (subscription required), Kentucky, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina and FAU are the schools most in touch with the local 3-star corner. Causey's 247Sports Crystal Ball shows the Hurricanes tied with Wisconsin at the top.

Recent decommit and 4-star quarterback Dwayne Lawson will also participate in the Semper Fi game.

 

Note: Recruiting information via 247Sports and quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Shawn Oakman's Return Makes Baylor Strong Big 12 Contenders for 2015

Baylor coach Art Briles has built a Big 12 powerhouse that annually produces one of the most exciting offenses in college football. So, naturally, the Bears' success in 2015 could be based on their defense. 

On Monday, Baylor junior defensive end Shawn Oakman announced that he was returning for his senior season. 

"It's what you're supposed to do. It's not my time. I've got unfinished business," Oakman told David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest

There's no doubt that Oakman, at a well-documented6'9" and 280 pounds, has the athleticism to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. What Oakman will be able to do with another year of coaching is refine his skills and grow as a player. 

By this time a year from now, Oakman could be in the conversation as the No. 1 overall pick. 

In the meantime, he's a crucial returning piece for Baylor. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett called it the "first win of the week," with the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State taking place Thursday. Oakman brings a matchup problem to opposing offensive coordinators and demands constant attention. 

Nine of Baylor's starting 11 from this season should return in 2015. The major losses will be senior linebacker Bryce Hager, who led the team with 101 tackles, and Collin Brence. Beyond that, the Bears' defensive two-deep is made up of mostly sophomores and freshmen. 

Baylor's defensive line, perhaps the best in the Big 12 this season, played a big role in the Bears giving up only 2.94 yards per rush—tied for third nationally. Baylor also finished second in the Big 12 with three sacks per game and 7.67 tackles for loss per game

Unless Beau Blackshear declares for the draft, Baylor will return its entire D-line with Andrew Billings and K.J. Smith. And, yes, that's a terrifying thought. Ohio State, Clemson and Texas had some of the best D-lines in the country this season. Baylor could assume that identity in 2015 with all the returning talent. 

Couple Oakman's return with the Bears' offensive firepower, and this team should once again be favored to finish at or near the top of the Big 12.

Like Hager's departure on defense, Baylor loses key pieces on offense: quarterback Bryce Petty and receivers Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood. From a roster standpoint, though, Baylor is in as good a position as it's ever been under Briles. Seth Russell has been excellent in relief of Petty, and freshman KD Cannon was second on the team with 833 receiving yards. 

The player with the biggest impact beyond Oakman would be junior offensive lineman Spencer Drango, should he return. 

It's a tribute to how Baylor is humming along as a program. Many teams follow the "next man up" philosophy, but few actually pull it off successfully. For example, Baylor has actually won more games since losing former quarterback Robert Griffin III, a once-in-a-generation player for the Bears, than it did with him from 2008-11. 

What Baylor loses for 2015 seems far less concerning now. Rather, what the Bears have coming back, highlighted by Oakman, should be cause for excitement in Waco. If Oakman is the first victory, many more should be coming. 

 

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

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Liberty Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Texas A&M vs. West Virginia

Texas A&M 31, West Virginia 27, Middle of 3rd Quarter

The Texas A&M Aggies (7-5) are taking on the West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5) at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Aggies entered the 2014 season with huge preseason hype, and quarterback Kenny Hill's performance against then-No. 9 South Carolina made Texas A&M look like legitimate contenders for a national championship.

The Mountaineers looked strong in their season opener against the Crimson Tide, and their season was highlighted by a 41-27 win over No. 4 Baylor on Oct. 18.

Stay tuned to this page for live updates and analysis as the game progresses. 

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Jim Harbaugh to Michigan Is Great News for Urban Meyer and Ohio State

Whenever I've done a radio interview as an Ohio State observer in the past three years, the conversation has often inevitably turned to rival Michigan.

And the tone has rarely been positive for the Wolverines.

"What's going wrong at That School Up North?" Ohio-based radio hosts have asked me, more times than I can remember.

My answer has always remained the same.

"When Ohio State had to replace Jim Tressel, it found the absolutely perfect replacement in Urban Meyer," I would respond. "Michigan's Urban Meyer is coaching in San Francisco."

I'd say I should start looking for a new answer, but it's more likely radio hosts are going to have to search for a new question.

Because in the reported hiring of Jim Harbaugh, Michigan has finally got its "Urban Meyer." Heck, the Harbaugh hiring is as big as Nick Saban's was at Alabama in 2007, a sleeping giant landing its perfect fit after more than half a decade of national irrelevance.

And although the Buckeyes' road to Indianapolis—and beyond—just got tougher as their archrival got richer, the Harbaugh hiring in Ann Arbor shouldn't be viewed as anything but a positive for Ohio State.

Because while the Buckeyes managed to make the first-ever College Football Playoff despite a Big Ten that's been perceived as down for as long as Michigan has been, the debate about who should make the sport's annual final four will only intensify as precedents are established.

And if the Big 12 opts to add a conference championship game—the biggest piece of criteria that was missing from both TCU and Baylor's resumes this season—the Big Ten will need all the help it can get to prove worthy of a playoff spot, year in and year out.

Harbaugh at Michigan should provide that, and then some, given his track record as a head coach of San Diego, Stanford and most recently, the 49ers. It's hard to imagine he won't find success on the recruiting trail, pitching his work with the likes of Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore, and even harder to imagine he won't win as often as he did in San Francisco, leading the 49ers to three straight NFC title games and an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII.

Throw in the recent success of Michigan State (23-3 in the past two seasons) and a suddenly sanction-less Penn State program on the rise under James Franklin, and if Ohio State is going to emerge from the Big Ten East in the coming years, it's going to do so by having earned its way to the conference championship game. That may now be easier said than done with the Wolverines once again becoming a formidable foe, but in a sport where perception still matters, the addition of Harbaugh only enhances that of the Big Ten.

From a big-picture perspective, a nationally relevant Michigan program is undoubtedly a positive for the Buckeyes. Playing Michigan in the final week of the regular season, Ohio State will now presumably have the opportunity to close its playoff case with two quality wins—one in the Big Ten title game, and one against the Wolverines.

But what about from a small-picture standpoint?

Do the Buckeyes truly benefit from adding another quality opponent on the field and the recruiting trail in its own region? After all, they're in the playoffs this season and have remained nationally relevant in six of the seven years in which Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke have helped bring down the reputation of the U-M program.

Does Michigan being good or bad really matter to Ohio State, in any way?

If you care about Ohio State history, it should.

Because while The Game will always be The Game to some in Columbus, there's no denying the Buckeyes' annual war with the Wolverines has lost a lot of its luster in the past seven seasons. No matter how classic each individual game may be, it simply doesn't mean as much beating bad Michigan teams, and even OSU players have begun to view other schools as their primary rival.

That mindset, however, will change quickly with the arrival of Harbaugh, who along with Meyer will give The Game its two biggest personalities since Woody and Bo roamed the Columbus and Ann Arbor sidelines more than 30 years ago. Call it "The Ten Year War Part 2" or whatever you'd like, but don't think for a second Meyer vs. Harbaugh won't make for must-watch television on the last Saturday in November each and every year.

Which is more than you could've said about The Game in recent years, as you'd have to go back to 2007 to find the last time both Ohio State and Michigan played each other with the right to the Big Ten title on the line. The Buckeyes have beaten the Wolverines in 10 of their last 11 meetings, Michigan's lone win in that span coming in 2011, when Hoke defeated interim Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell.

Meanwhile, Meyer has won his first three matchups with Michigan, accumulating a 25-1 record against the Big Ten in his first three seasons in Columbus. Yes, Harbaugh first has to find a quarterback and Meyer has had a three-year head start, but if you don't think the former 49ers coach will threaten the Buckeyes' reign over the Big Ten, you haven't been paying attention.

That could mean some losses for Ohio State, ones that wouldn't have been suffered had Hoke stuck around or the Wolverines been forced to go with Plan B, C, or D again this time around. But beating Michigan will once again mean something more than the formality that it's been for the Buckeyes in six of the past seven seasons.

Because Michigan finally has its Urban Meyer. And in a sport where only tradition means as much as perception, that's a good thing for Ohio State.

 

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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Tevin Coleman Declares for 2015 NFL Draft: Latest Details and Reaction

On the heels of a spectacular junior season at Indiana, running back Tevin Coleman has decided to go pro.   

According to ESPN's Joe Schad, the Tinley Park, Illinois, native made the official announcement Monday:

Coleman was one of the nation's best backs in 2014 as he rushed for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns for a Hoosiers team that was fairly devoid of talent elsewhere.

The 6'1", 210-pound star joins a stacked class that already includes Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Despite that, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller views him as an elite prospect at the position:

Draft value for running backs has waned in recent years, so it may be difficult for Coleman to earn a first-round grade, but there is little doubt that he will be one of the first players at his position off the board.

Coleman couldn't have possibly boosted has draft stock much more by staying at Indiana, and it isn't as if he he would have had the opportunity to vie for a national championship or even a Big Ten title either.

It is tough to argue with Coleman's decision as it may turn out to be an extremely lucrative one.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Notre Dame Defense Has Much to Prove vs. LSU in Music City Bowl

For most of us, December is a time for holiday parties, a few too many cookies and the promise that January means a move back to the straight and narrow. For Notre Dame's defense? December presents one last opportunity to prove that their November performance won't be the lasting memory of this historically woeful group. 

Brian VanGorder's young defense spent bowl preparation looking for a parachute to stop their free fall. With LSU's prodigious ground game looking to barrel through Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, the Irish defense got back to the basics as they assembled a final game plan to help finish the season on a winning note. 

Getting healthy was a big piece. Defensive tackle Sheldon Day is on pace to play 40 or 50 snaps at defensive tackle, his knee healthy enough to battle in the trenches with a running game that averages nearly 50 attempts (48.5 to be exact) a game.

Sophomore Isaac Rochell will move inside as well, doing his best to fill in for Jarron Jones at the other defensive tackle position. Rochell, who matched Jones and Day at 7.5 tackles for loss this season, will be a critical piece to the Irish's efforts up front. 

"He's extremely important," head coach Brian Kelly said over the weekend after the team's first practice in Nashville. "He's a guy that can play both inside and outside and he's going to have to do both for us."

Fortifying the front line is the first step. But erasing the memory of a seven-game run of giving up 30 points or more may have been more challenging. That's been part of the December rebuild that the coaching staff has tried to impart on a young group that hit rock bottom Thanksgiving weekend against USC. 

"Trusting their technique. Trusting themselves. Having great confidence in what they're doing," Kelly said of the internal marching orders. "We need a little bit more size up front, but we'll make up for it with some determination and grind through it. And I think we've got a good plan to find ways to minimize some of the areas where we lack."

Cody Riggs' return to the secondary will help, giving the Irish a capable pair of cornerbacks to focus on the passing game. So does the breather both Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate got, the embattled safety duo given one-on-one time with their coaches to begin negotiations on their joint extraction from the doghouse.

Les Miles has built a program around power personnel, not schematic tweaks. So the weeks spent studying LSU has the Irish prepared for what's to come. Now they'll need to prove to a more than skeptical audience that they're capable of slowing down an offense—something they haven't done since early October. 

Give Kelly credit for one thing: He's not making excuses. 

"We really only have three guys out from the Florida State game," Kelly said. We've got [middle linebacker] Joe Schmidt out, we've got [safety Drue] Tranquill out and we've got [defensive tackle] Jarron Jones out. We've only got three guys out. They're three good guys, granted, and we'd like them back. But the fact of the matter is we should be able to find a way to grind it out. And that's what we're looking to do." 

It's a big if, but if Notre Dame's defense can manage to slow down the Tigers, a victory in the Music City Bowl would be just the ticket for starting 2015 on the right track. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Twitter Map Shows County-by-County Fandom for College Football Playoff Teams

With the inaugural College Football Playoff looming, Twitter has broken down its data and figured out which team has the most followers in each county in the United States.

The four teams in the 2015 College Football Playoff—Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State—have huge fanbases. Each fanbase creates a great home-field advantage for its respective team at its home stadium. On Twitter, the playoff schools are among the most followed programs in the country.

Here's a rounded breakdown of how many followers each team has on Twitter, as of 11 a.m. ET on Dec. 29:

  • Alabama Crimson Tide (@AlabamaFTBL): 209,000
  • Oregon Ducks (@WinTheDay): 82,000
  • Florida State Seminoles (@FSU_Football): 127,000
  • Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics): 96,600

Twitter has taken its data and put together a county-by-county map that helps show just how expanded each fanbase is—based on which team has the highest percentage of followers in each county.

Are there any surprising results on the map?

[Twitter]

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How Quickly Can Jim Harbaugh Get Michigan to the College Football Playoff?

According to Bleacher Report's Jason Cole and Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, Jim Harbaugh will be the next head coach of the Michigan Wolverines.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss how long it will take Harbaugh to bring Michigan to the College Football Playoff. 

How long will it take Harbaugh to get to the CFP? Check out the video and let us know!

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Michigan Fans Plan to 'Khaki Out' Basketball Game in Honor of Jim Harbaugh

If Jim Harbaugh goes to Michigan's basketball game against Illinois on Tuesday, he's going to fit right in.

After the 2014 NFL regular season ended Sunday, Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers mutually agreed to go their separate ways, the team announced. All of the recent buzz points to Harbaugh landing in Ann Arbor, with ESPN's Adam Schefter reporting Monday that the deal is done, so Wolverines fans are preparing to celebrate the football team's biggest "victory" in years.

If the reports are true, Harbaugh could be announced as Michigan's coach by Tuesday and introduced to the Crisler Center crowd during the Wolverines' basketball game that night. That has Michigan fans searching for the perfect outfit for what could be a special night:

Oh, ESPN's Darren Rovell pointed out something that is pretty helpful for Wolverines fans:

Khakis are going to be pretty popular in Ann Arbor if Harbaugh does indeed take the job.

[Twitter, h/t CBS Sports]

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Duke Williams Suspended: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction on Auburn WR

Auburn's leading receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams has been suspended for the Outback Bowl due to breaking team rules.    

Head coach Gus Malzahn made the news official on Monday, per Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News:

The Auburn star arrived late and did not make the trip down to the Outback Bowl with the team, per Jeff Odom of the Tampa Bay Times.

Williams finished the season with a team-leading 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns. No other receiver had at least 35 catches for the Tigers, and only Sammie Coates had more than 500 receiving yards.

While the loss is critical for Auburn in the bowl game, Josh Norris of NBC Sports offered his take on his return next season:

Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft passed along his take on Williams' decision:

Losing a weapon like Williams will not be easy to replace against Wisconsin, which ranked 15th in points against (20.0) this season. Thankfully for the Tigers, they have Coates to pick up the slack and a dynamic quarterback like Nick Marshall to lead the offense.

Getting Williams back next season means the offense will have an explosive playmaker back in the fold. With Marshall leaving after the Outback Bowl, Williams gives the next quarterback a dangerous target in the future.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Kyle Whittingham Reportedly Could Leave Utah Due to Tension Within Program

Utah Utes head football coach Kyle Whittingham has found serious success since taking over 10 years ago, but his time with the school could reportedly come to an end due to tension within the program.

Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune reported Whittingham’s possible next move:

I can’t report it as a fact—not yet—but it’s what is happening, based on what I’ve been told. And I believe what I’ve been told…Utah athletic director Chris Hill and Whittingham had seen things differently on many counts for a long time, enough for the subterranean pressures between the two to finally emerge and erupt. After 10 years as the Utes’ head coach, and equally as long as an assistant before that, Whittingham will step away from the job he once loved, no longer able or willing to work for the boss who hired him.

Bryan Fischer of NFL.com agreed that a rift had formed between the coach and athletic director:

Whittingham, 55, took over for Urban Meyer for the 2005 season and has not looked back since. With an 85-43 career regular-season record and an 8-1 record in bowl games, the head coach has made Utah a consistent presence in the Top 25 polls.    

Monson suggests in-state rival BYU as a possible landing spot for Whittingham if he does indeed leave Utah.

If Whittingham does leave Utah, it would come at a terrible time for the program. Since making the move to the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah has been slowly building a reputation in one of the nation’s top conferences.

Losing its head coach would be a big step backward. Losing its head coach to a rival like BYU would sting even more.

 

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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